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The Scaled Agile Framework Enterprise (SAFe) is one of the frameworks that has emerged for scaling Agile development. The Agile Release Train (ART) is one of the core concepts introduced as part of the SAFe framework. An ART is a group of logically related effort (train cars) traveling in the same direction (destination) at predictable cadence (speed). At its heart, most everyone on a train is focused on achieving a common goal, which is delivering all types of cargo to a destination. The ART in SAFe is a long-lived team of teams organized around a significant value stream to work towards delivering a common goal. The attributes of an ART interlock to keep it on track to delivering value by ensuring it adheres ot Agile and lean principles.  An ART has the following attributes:

  1. Team of Teams within and ART typically encompass 50 to 125 people. The size limits are a reflection that large groups have issues with communication and cohesion which is problematic when pursuing a common goal and smaller groups have issues absorbing the process overheard which makes development expensive.
  2. ART teams identify and use additional roles not typically found in some Agile frameworks, such as the Release Train Engineer, release managers product management, DevOps and share resources, to name a few.
  3. Teams work with the ART on a long-term basis, 18+ months.
  4. The majority of team members are 100% dedicated to the teams they are involved with.
  5. ARTs are driven by business goals based on the organizations strategic vision and themes, portfolio management constraints and enterprise architectural vision.
  6. ARTs are operationalized and synchronized by cadence at two levels. At a macro level, ARTs leverage a longer cycle cadence called a product increment, which is generally 8 -12 weeks and a shorter Scrum team-level cadence (two weeks is typical).

The Agile Release Train is a tool to help scale Agile to the organizational/product. Conceptually the ART is similar to the operating system (OS) release trains I was first exposed to in the 1990’s. The OS manufacturer and every product manufacturer I have observed from automobile to ATM manufacturer plans the introduction of features over some period of time. An ART provides a mechanism to translate that plan into Agile teams so that organizations can communicate a forecast for the delivery of features to stakeholders and customers. Some degree of predictability is critical if other businesses or parts of a business need to use your input so they can plan their business. Real profits and jobs usually ride on those release trains.

Other frameworks can be used to scale Agile, including DAD, DSDM and arguably Scrum itself. The need for frameworks with additional overheard to scale Agile is controversial. Whether you are an adherent of scaled frameworks or not is less important than having understanding the solutions these frameworks deliver. An Agile Release Train is a tool to organize activity to deliver a common business goal while being both predictable and reacting to the dynamic business environment. At its most basic level isn’t that just a definition of Agile?

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