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Unveiling the Power of the Agile Release Train (ART)

the power of agile release train
Hello dear readers! Here, we’re setting our sights on a topic that’s been garnering much attention in the agile landscape – the Scaled Agile Framework or SAFe. If you’re part of a large organization seeking to accelerate delivery, enhance collaboration, or simply understand the buzz around SAFe, this is your go-to guide.

At its core, SAFe is a framework that allows enterprises to scale agility and lean principles across the entire organization. While agile methodologies like Scrum and Kanban work wonders for small teams, large enterprises with hundreds or even thousands of individuals need a structured approach to implement these practices.

Why is SAFe Required?


  1. Complexity in Larger Setups: With multiple teams and departments, large enterprises face complexities that can be a hurdle to fast-paced delivery. SAFe brings alignment, collaboration, and delivery across multiple agile teams.
  2. Enhancing Business Agility: As markets evolve, organizations need to respond rapidly to change. SAFe ensures that business goals are aligned with the delivery, fostering quicker decision-making and response.
  3. Unified Strategy: SAFe provides a unified strategy to deliver solutions that meet business goals, ensuring that all teams are rowing in the same direction.
  4. Improved Product Quality: By emphasizing alignment, continuous integration, and continuous delivery, SAFe ensures that quality is not compromised at any level.

Pillars of SAFe:

pillars of scaled agile framework
img source: Scaled Agile Inc

Quickly let’s have a look at the pillars of the Scaled Agile Framework:


  1. Four Configurations of SAFe: Depending on the scale of operations and needs, SAFe offers four configurations:

Essential: Features single Agile Release Train (ART), a major value delivery construct in SAFe.

Large Solution: For enterprises that need to coordinate multiple ARTs for large-scale solutions.

Portfolio: Offers a high-level strategy and investment funding view, guiding the entire organization.

Full: The most Comprehensive configuration of SAFe, and supports enterprises that build and maintain a portfolio of large and complex solutions

  1. Agile Release Train (ART): ART is a team of agile teams (usually 50-125 individuals) that plan, commit, and execute together. Think of it as the heartbeat of SAFe, ensuring that the organization moves forward in sync.
  2. Lean-Agile Principles: SAFe is underpinned by a set of Lean and Agile principles derived from Lean, product development flow, systems thinking, and Agile.
  3. Core Values: SAFe’s four core values – alignment, Respect for People, transparency, and Relentless Improvement – ensure that the framework’s practices deliver the intended benefits.
  4. Core Competencies: 7 different core competencies of SAFe help in achieving business agility.
  5. SAFe Practices: From Planning Increment (PI) Planning to Inspect and Adapt (I&A) workshops, SAFe offers a set of proven practices to achieve business agility.
  6. Roles and Responsibilities: SAFe introduces roles like Release Train Engineer (RTE), Solution Train Engineer (STE), Product Manager, and Solution Architect/Engineering, which ensure clarity and drive results.

SAFe is not just another buzzword. It’s a carefully crafted framework tailored for large enterprises looking to scale agile practices. It provides a map, compass, and navigational tools to help organizations navigate the complexities of modern business landscapes.

Whether you’re a startup looking to grow or a Fortune 500 company striving for efficiency, SAFe offers a structured approach to achieving business agility. As the digital age propels us forward, it’s frameworks like SAFe that will ensure businesses remain adaptable, efficient, and most importantly, successful.

With this idea about SAFe, Ready to board the Agile Release Train?

The journey to unparalleled business agility starts with SAFe. 🚀

What is the Agile Release Train (ART)?


Imagine a train, continuously running, with each carriage representing a different team or functionality. Just as a real train moves towards a destination, the ART propels multiple agile teams towards a common vision.

In SAFe terms, an ART is a long-lived team of agile teams, which, when on track, delivers a continuous flow of value via a fixed schedule of Planning Increments (PIs).

Agile Release Trains (ARTs) are multifaceted, possessing the essential competencies to design, develop, authenticate, roll out, where applicable, operate solutions

agile release train
img source: Scaled Agile Inc

Why Should Organizations Jump on the Agile Release Train?


  1. Synchronized Efforts:

Take, for example, an orchestra. If each musician plays their own tune without coordination, you end up with noise. But if they synchronize, the result is beautiful music. Similarly, ART ensures teams are aligned with business goals, resulting in harmonized outcomes.

  1. Predictable Delivery:

Imagine you’re waiting for a package, but you have no idea when it’ll arrive. Frustrating, right? With ART, stakeholders know exactly when to expect a new increment, bringing transparency and predictability.

  1. Facilitates Scaling:

Think of the pyramids of Egypt. Individual blocks, while significant, don’t create wonders. It’s their assembly that does. ART, by integrating the work of multiple teams, creates something far bigger and more impactful than each team could individually.

Agile Release Trains (ARTs) function as holistic virtual entities, comprising all the necessary personnel to conceptualize, develop, and deploy the intended solution. This integrated structure effectively bridges any potential departmental divisions.

cross functional agile teams with agile release train
img source: Scaled Agile Inc


In the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), the Agile Release Train (ART) is a central mechanism. One of its key strengths is its embrace of systems thinking, as highlighted by SAFe Principle #2. Systems thinking promotes an understanding of the larger ecosystem, considering not just individual parts but how they interact and influence one another. This holistic perspective ensures that decisions made within the ART consider the broader impacts, leading to more effective and harmonized solutions.

Coupled with this, the ART also prioritizes organizing around value, underscored by SAFe Principle #10. Rather than traditional organizational structures that might be oriented around roles, functions, or departments, centering around value ensures that the ART remains laser-focused on delivering outcomes that are meaningful to customers and stakeholders. In practical terms, this means that every stage of the process, from the spark of an idea to its deployment and eventual release into operations, is optimized to deliver tangible value.

By intertwining these two principles, the ART fosters an environment where cross-functional teams work in unison, breaking down silos, and ensuring that the flow of value is not just continuous, but also maximized at every juncture.

Let’s consider the real-time scenario of launching an ART:


SAFe Transformation at a Global Bank

A leading global bank faced challenges with time-to-market and disjointed teams. By adopting SAFe and launching multiple ARTs, they were able to align over 50 teams across multiple geographies. As a result, there was a reduction in their release cycles from months to weeks and a significant uptick in customer satisfaction.

Let’s consider online banking, representing a portfolio in the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), The Agile Release Train (ART) would be essential in integrating various departments and roles to streamline the delivery of value.

Here’s how different departments or roles might be incorporated into the ART for the online banking portfolio:

  1. Product Management: This team or department would be responsible for defining features and setting priorities based on market needs and strategic vision. They work to outline the functionality and improvements needed for online banking services.
  2. Development Teams: These cross-functional teams typically consist of developers, testers, and other IT professionals. They would handle the design, coding, testing, and deployment of online banking features and updates.
  3. UX/UI Design: Designers from this department ensure that the online banking platform is user-friendly, intuitive, and visually appealing.
  4. Infrastructure & IT Operations: Essential for the continuous delivery and deployment processes, they manage server health, scalability issues, and deployment pipelines, ensuring that the online banking system remains robust and accessible.
  5. Security & Compliance: Given the sensitive nature of banking, a team dedicated to ensuring the online banking platform meets regulatory standards and is safeguarded against threats is crucial.
  6. Business Analysts: They bridge the gap between product management and development teams by translating business needs into technical requirements.
  7. Customer Support & Service: While traditionally not part of development workflows, in an agile environment, their insights from dealing directly with customer issues can provide valuable feedback loops.
  8. Marketing & Communication: Responsible for communicating new features, updates, and campaigns related to online banking to the customer base.
  9. Data Analytics & Business Intelligence: These teams can provide insights into customer behavior, identify trends, and suggest areas of improvement based on data-driven decisions.
  10. Quality Assurance and Testing: Dedicated to ensuring that the features and functionalities developed are defect-free, secure, and provide the desired user experience.
  11. Release Management: This team would be focused on coordinating and managing the release of updates and new features to the online banking platform.
  12. Stakeholders: Senior managers or leaders with a vested interest in the online banking platform. They could be from any department but have the power and insight to provide direction and approve priorities.

By assembling an ART that includes representatives or teams from these departments, the bank ensures that its online banking platform is holistically managed. This comprehensive approach guarantees that all aspects, from ideation to deployment and customer feedback, are considered and integrated into a continuous cycle of improvement and delivery.

This is a typical configuration in SAFe, but the exact makeup of an ART can vary based on the specific needs and structure of an organization.

What’s the Catch?

Well, adopting ART isn’t about buying a ticket and enjoying the ride. It demands commitment, a change in mindset, and continuous improvement from everybody on the ART. The train runs on collaboration, alignment, and dedication. But once on track, the journey and destination are both rewarding.

Concluding Thoughts about ART

The Agile Release Train isn’t just another SAFe concept; it’s the very backbone that brings alignment, cadence, and synchronization to large-scale agile endeavors. By focusing on delivering continuous value and fostering collaboration, ART is the engine that powers the SAFe journey.

Cadence and Synchronization @ ART


In the Agile realm, a recurring challenge with conventional methods surfaces when multiple teams, dedicated to the same solution, proceed at their unique pace and direction. This siloed approach can lead to a scenario where individual teams might be making progress in iterations, but the broader system remains out of sync. The result? The whole system doesn’t iterate cohesively.

Such asynchronous development often leads to late-stage revelations of glitches and issues. Imagine crafting separate pieces of a puzzle, only to discover they don’t fit together when trying to assemble the final picture. That’s the risk run by disjointed Agile teams.


iterating teams
img source: Scaled Agile Inc

However, Agile Release Trains (ARTs) offer a remedy. They emphasize aligning all teams to a unified rhythm or cadence. This alignment ensures that while teams might have their independent tasks, they all march to the same drumbeat, dramatically reducing the chances of unexpected system-level surprises. In essence, with ARTs, not only do the teams iterate, but the entire system does too, collectively.
continuos integration


What are the different roles in an ART?


ART has various roles that play very important roles in the SAFe Transformation Journey.

  1. Release Train Engineer (RTE): The RTE acts as a guiding force for the Agile Release Train (ART). Their primary responsibility is to ensure that the ART runs smoothly. They tackle obstacles, manage risks and dependencies, and always look for ways to improve the process.
  2. Product Management: These individuals or teams determine the direction of product development. They draw inspiration from the overall vision, roadmap, and fresh additions to the ART backlog. Their main task is to bridge the gap between consumers, development teams, and Product Owners. Their role ensures that there’s clarity on what needs to be built and why.
  3. System Architect: The System Architect’s role is pivotal in shaping the overarching structure of the system. They operate on a broader scale than individual teams, making decisions about the main elements, subsystems, and how they interact. They’re also the ones setting Non-functional Requirements (NFRs) to ensure system integrity and functionality.
  4. Business Owners: These stakeholders hold the reins when it comes to the business outcomes of ART. Their stake in the process is profound as they’re tied directly to its results.
  5. Customers: They are the end-users or the primary beneficiaries of the solution. Their feedback and requirements are paramount as they determine the value of the solution.

Supporting Roles in ART:


  1. System Teams: These teams lay the foundation for development. They are instrumental in setting up development environments, ensuring continuous integration, and overseeing testing phases.
  2. Shared Services: This group comprises experts who, although not exclusive to one train, are crucial for ART’s success. They cover a range of specialties like data protection, information structuring, site reliability, database management, and more.

Team Interdependencies: Certain roles in ART lean on others for support. For instance, the RTE often collaborates with Scrum Masters or Team Coaches for better ART functioning. Similarly, Product Management looks toward Product Owners to bring their vision to life. Likewise, Architects work hand-in-hand with tech-savvy professionals in teams to sketch out feasible system architectures.

A seamless collaboration among these roles and responsibilities ensures that the Agile Release Train stays on track and delivers value consistently.