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Agile Release Train ( ART )

Introduction :

Agile Release Train The Agile Release Train (ART) is a long-lived team of Agile teams that incrementally develops, delivers, and often operates one or more solutions in a value stream.

ARTs are teams of Agile Teams that align to a shared business and technology mission. Each is a virtual organization (typically 50 – 125 people) that plans, commits, develops, and deploys together. ARTs are organized around the enterprise’s significant Development Value Streams and exist solely to realize the promise of that value by building and delivering Solutions that benefit the Customer.

ARTs are cross-functional and have all the capabilities needed to define, build, validate, release, and, where applicable, operate solutions. These capabilities allow the ART to deliver a continuous flow of value.

ART Characteristics :

Organized Around Value

As virtual organizations, ARTs have all the people needed to define, deliver, and operate the solution, eliminating the functional silos that may exist.

SAFe recommends four ways to organize teams (Figure 4). Stream-aligned teams are end customer-aligned and are capable of performing all the steps needed to build end-to-end customer value. Complicated subsystem teams are organized around critical solution subsystems. They focus on areas of high technical specialization, which limits the cognitive load on all the teams. Platform teams provide application services and APIs for stream-aligned teams to be able to leverage common platform services. Enabling teams provides tools, services, and short-term expertise to other teams.

ART Responsibilities :

The ultimate purpose of every ART is to deliver effective solutions to the customer. Essentially, ARTs are built for the sole purpose of establishing a fast flow of solution features. To achieve that, a train develops the solution iteratively, constantly engaging with the customer and adjusting the course of action towards an optimal solution.

1.Connecting with the Customer

Customers are the ultimate beneficiaries of the business solutions ARTs create and maintain. But connecting with the customer requires deliberate effort and a clear understanding of how to apply lean and agile practices in a unique ART context. Apply customer centricity – An ART routinely focuses on customer needs and opportunities to benefit the customer. Customer Centricity is a necessary mindset for the ART and its constituent teams. The ART works to increase and maintain customer empathy and continuously research better ways to solve customer problems. Use design thinking – A recurrent process of understanding the problem and designing the right solution—Design Thinking—enables an ART to create desirable, feasible, and sustainable solutions. Paying close attention to user personas, journey mapping, and customer benefit analysis helps an ART discover new, valuable product capabilities. The use of lightweight prototypes validates customer value hypotheses quickly and keeps the ART on the right track.  

2.Planning the Work :

Planning crucial activities for an ART enables alignment across teams and stakeholders in terms of what and how to build within the next timebox. Alignment is one of the Core Values of SAFe, and ARTs, as a building block of a SAFe organization, have built-in means for achieving and sustaining alignment. Align ART priorities with portfolio strategy – Every ART operates in a broader portfolio context and needs to align with the overall portfolio strategy. Strategic Themes orient the ARTs within a portfolio towards a common goal. However, achieving the alignment also requires an established process that involves: 1) regularly engaging with portfolio stakeholders at the ART level and 2) including ART representatives in portfolio interactions. Organizing this communication and interaction is easier around PI cadence. Epic Owners often serve as an important link between portfolio strategy and ART execution. Prepare for PI Planning – Stakeholders and teams need to prepare carefully for PI Planning. Product Management and Business Owners develop the vision and agree on priorities for the next PI: teams take inventory of their remaining work, their attainable capacity, and any new effort that may emerge in the local context. Plan the PI – PI planning generates alignment within the ART. Teams create and agree on the PI Objectives that will guide them throughout the PI execution. Business Owners have an opportunity to share business and customer context with teams and, in turn, learn how the current technology and delivery capability can be employed to create optimal business value for the enterprise.  

3.Delivering Value

ARTs develop solution features by applying a cadence that involves key activities to keep the train on the tracks. At certain points, an ART will release the newly created value to the customer.

Frequently integrate and test – A fast development rhythm requires frequent integration and testing. This helps uncover technology and implementation problems early and gives the teams enough time to respond to the findings. Without recurring integration and testing, an ART operates in excessive uncertainty and variability. Built-in Quality and Team and Technical Agility provide guidance on these practices. Develop in short increments of value – An ART implements the PI as a series of short increments, each representing a small batch of integrated, tested, and demonstrable value. The ART’s iteration cadence provides a natural pace to create these increments. Each helps the ART learn about potential implementation challenges, get customer feedback, and agree on a decision point with possible course corrections for the rest of the PI. Regularly synchronize and make adjustments – While executing the PI, an ART has multiple checkpoints in the form of an ART Sync, which includes a Coaches Sync and PO Sync (see the PI article for further description). These events increase visibility into the progress toward the current PI objectives and help the ART make timely adjustments. Build a continuous delivery pipeline – An effective Agile development process provides the means for ongoing exploration and integration of work. Additionally, the teams need to establish a continuous deployment process via building a Continuous Delivery Pipeline (CDP). This requires value stream mapping to identify the sources of excessive delay and variability. As a part of CDP, Continuous Deployment often involves purposeful system design that favors low coupling of capabilities, which enables the teams to deploy value independent of each other. Establish release governance process – Each ART establishes a governance process suitable for its release cycle. The governance process includes the ways to plan and execute the releases. This involves several activities, including: Aligning releases with strategic goals Validating releasable increments Ensuring compliance with standards and regulations Assessing customer impact Maintaining the supporting assets and activities for releasing Release frequently and continually optimize the process – Releasing frequently helps reduce time-to-market. Additionally, establishing successful continuous delivery and governance processes is only possible when the releases happen on a frequent, reliable basis. Over time, solution assets, architectures, and the infrastructure evolve and accumulate technical debt that may unexpectedly disrupt the release process. Releasing regularly helps uncover, mitigate, or even prevent those issues before they cause damage.

4. Getting Feedback

Getting fast feedback is the primary component of an ART’s high development velocity: speed comes from fast learning and adaptation rather than from ‘working harder.’ Technology feedback results from integration and testing as well as running technical spikes. The feedback on the product value comes from the customer and business stakeholders. ARTs routinely:

  1. Involve the customer in the development process –

  2. Measure business outcomes and usage

  3. Perform routine A/B testing

Test User Experience

5. Improving Relentlessly

An ART seeks to continuously improve productivity in delivering customer value. Naturally, the process requires measuring different aspects of ART operations and identifying areas for improvement:

  1. Measure competency, flow, and outcomes

  2. Inspect & Adapt at regular intervals

  3. Make small improvements on the fly

Leverage Innovation & Planning Iteration

Reference :

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