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Escaping The Belly Of The Beast: Creating Agile Release Trains


It is generally recommended to dip your toes into the agile waters, and focus on one value stream at a time, lest you be overwhelmed by too many offshoots and tangents. You’d rather ease your way in, and feel more secure, than jump into the deep end, and potentially, into the mouth of a monster, running out of money to fund the transformation into agile practice.


By focussing your attention on one particular value stream, and implementing agile practice into that one fraction of the organisational experience, you can learn from missteps whilst still being on track for your goals.


The question is, other than “be agile”, what exactly is the end goal here?


Agile Release Trains, often shortened to ART. These are large teams, made up of smaller agile teams, working to create new products or services to be rolled out consistently from the organisation, attract customers and accumulate revenue.


Choosing which value stream to construct an ART around can be rather complicated. In an idealised situation, highlighted in SAFe Distilled 5.0: Achieving Business Agility With Scaled Agile Framework, by Richard Knaster and Dean Leffingwell, you ought to want to have enough perspective to accurately identify the value stream which incorporates the perfect balance of leadership support, clear products or solutions, significant challenges and opportunities and collaborating teams.


This is because attaining as equal of a distribution of the above is essential for a smooth start; there would therefore seemingly be a reasonably equal amount of time allocated to implementing agile practice to inform progress.


By having supportive leaders in your first Agile Release Train, you can train these leaders into being well-versed and confident in the agile philosophy. This means that should individual employees find themselves confused, overwhelmed etc. they would be comfortable going to the leaders of the team for the support they require, as it was already there.


When there are clear product or solution goals in process for the individual value stream already, this allows the organisation to focus simply on the implementing of agile practice in this instance, instead of actually brainstorming fresh ideas, while trying to encourage a new way of thinking, which would be significantly harder.


Furthermore, when you have a significant challenge in place to overcome, it proves a training exercise and a learning opportunity for all. If you don’t undergo challenges and problems, especially at the beginning, you may encounter greater struggles in trying to find solutions to the issues within the mindset being encouraged at work. This may allow for old habits to creep back into the workforce.


Lastly, by implementing agile practice, and making your first agile release train around teams that already communicate and collaborate amongst themselves means there is room to build on potentially pre-existing rapport among these teams. Perhaps Khalid moved from design to manufacturing a few years ago, but worked closely with Hilda back when he was still on the design team. If there’s already a foundation, whether its grand or minuscule, there is something to build upon. You have a starting point, and aren’t going from the ground up.


Once you have begun this process of producing agile release trains you may find yourself in a scenario where some value streams are greater, with more components than others, and are subsequently more complicated.


There are various agile release train sizes, with each being ideal for the various value stream sizes. In SAFe Distilled 5.0: Achieving Business Agility With Scaled Agile Framework, these trains are identified as the following:


An Agile Release Train with one development value stream. Often, a single ART can realize a small value stream (50–125 people). This is common, as many development groups are already organized naturally into units of about that size.


An Agile Release Train with multiple development value streams. When several related products or solutions can be produced with a relatively small number of people, a single ART can often deliver multiple value streams. In this case, everyone in these value streams is part of the same ART.


And, lastly, a Solution Train with multiple Agile Release Trains. When many people are involved, the development value stream must be split into multiple ARTs to form a Solution Train.


Further reading into value streams are available on our blog in the articles: Flowing Through The Value Stream and Too Many Cooks Won’t Spoil This Broth.



Based in London, U.K., and founded in 2016 by Arvind Mishra, The Agile Works (www.TheAgileWorks.com), is an up-and-coming recruitment and Agile consulting company. Arvind is a Certified SAFe SPC and regularly delivers both private and public SAFe certification workshops.


He is a design thinking expert, Sr. enterprise, portfolio Agile Coach with over a decade of experience working as an Agile coach in diverse industries such as banking, pharma, retail, auto, oil, gas, consulting and government.


The Agile Works; a small team of three strive to help shape the leadership's mind-set and values in readiness for their business transformation journey challenges. With Arvind at the helm, we strive to provide you with the agility tools to make your company that can thrive, and not just survive.


To book a consultation, or for any enquiries, you can contact Arvind via the following email address: arvind@theagileworks.com

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