A Guide to Agile Release Trains In SAFe

For businesses and organizations, the ability to continually adapt to keep up with the competition and changing customer needs by providing value and solutions is essential for survival and success, especially regarding software development.

The Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) provides a mechanism for large organizations to utilize Agile practices in delivering customer-driven products and solutions at an enterprise, and at the heart of SAFe is the Agile Release Train (ART).

The ART is a core component of the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) comprised of multiple cross-functional Agile teams that incrementally build solutions aligned to a shared mission by applying cadence and synchronization to enable continuous flow of value.

This article provides an overview of an Agile Release Train, and drill-downs to its core components, principles, roles, and how to implement it. With a firm understanding of the ART and its implementation, you can revolutionize your software development practices and gain a competitive edge.

What is an Agile Release Train?

The Agile Release Train (ART) is a core mechanism in the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), representing a continuous flow of value delivery through aligned and synchronized teams.

It’s a cross-functional group of 50-125 individuals, encompassing roles like Scrum Masters, Product Owners, and System Architects, unified in their mission to deliver increments of value on a regular, predictable cadence.

The ART is steered by the Release Train Engineer (RTE), a servant leader role akin to a Scrum Master for the entire train. The RTE works closely with Product Management and Business Owners to define and prioritize value objectives. System Architects provide the technical perspective, ensuring the architecture supports the value delivery.

Every ART works on a Program Increment (PI) planning rhythm, typically 8-12 weeks, fostering alignment and synchronization among teams. This cadence culminates in a PI Planning event, where teams align on a common mission and vision, ensuring the customers’ needs are addressed effectively.

Agile Release Train Components

The Agile Release Train (ART) is a complex, robust framework with several key components that work in unison to deliver value.

1. Agile Teams

A key component of an ART is a group of cross-functional Agile teams of 5 to 11 members including Scrum Masters, Product Owners, developers, and testers. These teams work in alignment and synchronization driven by a shared goal to deliver value incrementally.

2. Program Increment

A Program Increment (PI) is a time-boxed planning and execution cycle, typically 8 to 12 weeks where multiple Agile teams collaborate to deliver a set of features, components, or capabilities. A PI contains several iterations, each followed by a system demo and Inspect and Adapt (I&A) workshop.

3. Cadence

This is the rhythm that dictates the frequency of value delivery. Teams adhere to a regular, predictable cadence, typically marked by a Program Increment (PI).

4. Synchronization

Teams in an ART work in sync, aligning their goals and tasks, ensuring smooth and efficient value delivery. This synchronization is evident in the PI Planning event, where teams align on a common mission and vision.

5. Roles

A core component of the ART is the key roles which include the Release Train Engineer (RTE), Product Management, System Architect, Business Owners, Scrum Masters, and Product Owners.

Agile Release Trains Characteristics

The Agile Release Train (ART) is a manifestation of Agile principles at scale. It embodies alignment, synchronization, collaboration, customer-centricity, continuous improvement, shared responsibility, and innovation.

By operating on a fixed cadence, it delivers value predictably, enabling organizations to address market demands swiftly and effectively. Here are some of the key characteristics that define an ART:

1. Teams

An ART is composed of 5-12 Agile teams, each of them cross-functional with the ability to define, build, and test a system increment. These teams, often comprised of Scrum Masters, Product Owners, and team members, are responsible for delivering a fully tested, working system increment every iteration.

2. Fixed Cadence and Synchronization

One of the primary characteristics of an ART is its operation on a fixed cadence, typically a Program Increment (PI) of 8-12 weeks. This rhythm allows teams to synchronize their efforts, driving predictability and alignment. The regular schedule reduces planning complexity and manages dependencies.

3. Alignment

Alignment is a critical feature of an ART. Through events like PI Planning, teams come together to discuss, plan, and commit to a set of objectives for the next increment. This alignment ensures everyone is moving in the same direction, working towards a shared vision.

4. Role Collaboration

An ART is characterized by the collaboration of various roles. These include the Release Train Engineer (RTE), Product Management, System Architect, Business Owners, along with Scrum Masters, and Product Owners.

The RTE, acting as a chief Scrum Master, ensures alignment and coordination between teams. Product Management steers the direction of the ART, while the System Architect provides technical leadership.

5. Value Delivery

ART is fundamentally a value delivery mechanism. It focuses on providing customer-centric solutions. Each Program Increment serves as a vehicle for value delivery, with every PI delivering an integrated, usable increment of the system.

6. Customer Focus

The ART places the customer at its core. All decision-making processes aim to ensure value is delivered to the customer. This customer-centric approach guarantees that the developed product or solution meets customer needs and expectations.

7. Inspect & Adapt (I&A)

An ART fosters a culture of learning and continuous improvement. Through the I&A workshop held at the end of each PI, teams reflect on their performance and adapt their methods and processes to improve in the next increment. This principle of ‘inspect and adapt’ is central to the Agile philosophy and is a key characteristic of an ART.

8. Shared Vision and Responsibility

In an ART, there’s a shared vision and responsibility with everyone aligned towards a common goal of delivering value. Each role contributes towards this goal, building a sense of shared responsibility and collective ownership.

9. Innovation and Planning Iteration

Every ART reserves time for innovation and planning (IP) at the end of each PI. This provides a buffer to accommodate uncertainty, a dedicated time for innovation, and an opportunity for teams to plan for the next PI.

10. System Demo

The System Demo is a significant event in an ART. It’s where the ART shows an integrated view of the new features to the stakeholders and collects their feedback. It provides an objective evaluation of the current state of the solution and adjusts the backlog if necessary.

What Are the Agile Release Train Roles?

The major roles within the Agile Release Train include:

1. Agile Teams

At the heart of the ART are the Agile Teams. These are cross-functional teams of 5 to 11 individuals who define, build, and test system increments to deliver value incrementally through iterations and sprints. They include:

  • Developers: These are the team members who build and integrate software.
  • Testers: The testers ensure software quality through testing and test automation.
  • User Experience Designers: They focus on optimizing the user experience.
  • Product Owners: The Product Owner represents the customer and business needs. They’re responsible for prioritizing and refining the Product Backlog.
  • Scrum Masters: The basic role of the Scrum Master is to facilitate team activities and improve team performance and workflow.

2. Release Train Engineer (RTE)

The RTE is essentially the train conductor, ensuring that all the teams are moving together towards the same destination. This role is responsible for facilitating the major events and processes, fostering synchronization, resolving blockers, and serving as the chief Scrum Master for the Agile Release Train.

3. Product Management

The Product Management role holds the responsibility for defining and prioritizing the Program Backlog, and providing the vision and direction for the Agile Release Train. They work closely with Product Owners, stakeholders, and customers to ensure that the ART is always working on the most valuable features and capabilities.

4. System Architect

The System Architect provides technical leadership for the ART. They work with the teams to ensure that the system is architecturally sound and that technical debt is managed. They also participate in planning, system demos, and inspect and adapt events.

5. Business Owners

Business Owners are key stakeholders who have a significant interest in the outcome of the solution. They are actively involved in the governance, compliance, and risk management aspects. They also provide feedback during the PI System Demo and participate in the Inspect and Adapt event.

Agile Release Train Responsibilities

The Agile Release Train has several responsibilities which include delivering value predictably and sustainably. It aligns and synchronizes teams, facilitates planning and continuous improvement, manages dependencies and risks, and engages customers and other stakeholders using a holistic, customer-centric approach to value delivery at scale.

The key responsibilities of the ART include:

1. Deliver Customer and Business Value

The primary responsibility of an ART is to deliver consistently deliver value through software solutions that meet customer needs and achieve business objectives. ART operates on a fixed cadence known as Program Increments (PIs), usually 8-12 weeks long, during which the cross-functional teams deliver an increment of a working solution.

2. Align Teams around Priorities

The ART facilitates alignment between Agile teams, Product Management, and business stakeholders around strategic priorities. Through PI planning and continuous feedback loops, teams gain a shared understanding of the most important initiatives and work together to advance them.

3. Build Quality In

The ART focuses on building quality into solutions through iterative development, frequent testing, inspection, and adaptation by identifying issues early and proactively fixing them to meet quality standards and customer expectations.

4. Promote Continuous Improvement

The ART fosters a mindset and culture of relentless improvement which leads to transformation. It provides mechanisms for teams to regularly inspect their performance and make adaptations to optimize value delivery, increase flow, reduce waste, and drive ever-higher performance over time.

5. Accelerate Time-to-Market

The ART streamlines the development process through fast, iterative work cycles, prioritization of the highest-value features, and quick feedback integration. This allows organizations to release software more frequently in response to changing needs. Faster time-to-market means greater competitiveness.

6. Increase Flexibility

The ART enhances flexibility and adaptability through short iterations and feedback loops giving teams opportunities to quickly pivot in response to shifts in priority, release lessons learned, or changes in strategy. The ability to adapt rapidly to change results in stronger solution fit and customer relevance.

7. Improve Visibility

The ART provides increased transparency into team progress, issues, blockers, and metrics through information radiators, demos, and financial reporting. Insight into the current state helps leadership make sound decisions and helps teams perform their own self-correction which builds trust and shared ownership between levels.

8. Optimize Resource Usage

The ART takes an economic view by evaluating team activities based on the value they provide relative to their cost or resource usage. The ART aims to maximize gains while minimizing waste or excess. This results in cost efficiency and optimal ROI.

9. Manage Dependencies

The ART is responsible for managing dependencies, both internal and external. This includes managing dependencies among teams and with other Agile Release Trains if any exist.

10. Technical Excellence

The System Architect, in collaboration with the teams, ensures technical excellence. They provide guidance to maintain the architectural integrity of the solution and manage technical debt.

Agile Release Train Principles

The Agile Release Train is governed by several key principles that help instill the right mindset across teams, guide day-to-day behavior, and drive its effectiveness and efficiency.

1. Alignment

ART ensures the alignment of teams with each other and with the organization’s strategic objectives. This is facilitated by the RTE, Product Management, and Business Owners, who guide the direction and priorities of the ART.

2. Synchronization

ART operates on a regular cadence, typically defined by a Program Increment (PI), promoting synchronization amongst teams. This predictable rhythm enhances planning, coordination, and predictability.

3. Cross-functional and Empowered Teams

ART consists of multiple cross-functional teams, each equipped with the necessary roles to deliver value. This structure promotes a culture of shared responsibility and empowerment.

4. Customer Centricity

ART is focused on delivering customer-centric value, keeping customers’ needs at the forefront of every decision.

5. Decentralized Decision-making

ART promotes decentralized decision-making. While maintaining alignment, teams are empowered to make decisions affecting their work, fostering a culture of trust.

6. Inspect and Adapt

ART practices regular reflection and adjustment. Teams inspect their performance and adapt their methods to improve, fostering a culture of continuous improvement.

7. Program Increment (PI) Planning

All teams in ART collaborate to plan for the upcoming PI. This event aligns teams, sets the vision, and outlines the roadmap for the next increment.

8. System Architecture

The System Architect ensures the system’s architecture supports the ART’s objectives, providing technical guidance and supporting teams in delivery.

9. Relentless Improvement

ART fosters a culture of relentless improvement, with the aim to continually enhance processes, tools, skills, and systems.

10. Built-in Quality

ART stresses building quality into each increment of work. Teams are responsible for ensuring their output meets the highest quality standards.

11. Flow of Value

ART aims to maintain a continuous flow of value. Through the coordinated efforts of cross-functional teams, value is delivered consistently and predictably to the customers.

Agile Release Train Sync Meetings

The Agile Release Train Sync meeting is a short but focused meeting, usually 30 minutes that brings together key stakeholders and leaders from across the various teams on the train for the purpose of keeping the Release Train running smoothly along its track.

These meetings, typically held weekly or bi-weekly, help ensure the work of self-organizing teams is coordinated in service of the Program Increment goal and key milestones.

It provides an opportunity to connect, get aligned on priorities, review progress and risks, and make any needed course corrections. Without this synchronization point, teams can become misaligned and lose sight of the bigger picture.

Agile Release Train Events for Cadence and Synchronization

The Agile Release Train (ART) operates on a fixed cadence of events that help maintain synchronization, alignment, and consistent value delivery. This predictable schedule is a critical aspect of the ART and is pivotal for managing complexity and dependencies.

Let’s look at these key events, their cadence, and their role in synchronization:

1. Program Increment (PI) Planning

PI Planning is a two-day event that marks the beginning of a Program Increment. It’s where all the teams on the ART come together to align on a shared mission and vision and to plan the work for the upcoming PI.

The RTE facilitates this event, with active participation from Business Owners, Product Management, System Architect, and all team members. The output is a set of aligned, committed PI objectives.

2. Daily Stand-up

Each team on the ART conducts a short daily meeting, or stand-up, where team members sync on their progress and raise any impediments they’re facing. This event is facilitated by the team Scrum Master and helps maintain daily synchronization at the team level.

3. Iteration Execution

Teams work in iterations, typically 2-week periods, to deliver a system increment. Each iteration includes its own set of activities, such as iteration planning, execution, review, and retrospective.

4. System Demos

At the end of each iteration, a System Demo is held. This is where the teams demonstrate the working system increment they have developed, providing an integrated view of the new features before they are released to the customers. This event is attended by stakeholders and is crucial for maintaining alignment with the customer’s needs.

5. Inspect and Adapt (I&A)

At the end of each PI, an I&A event is held. This is a time for reflection and improvement, where the ART reviews the past increment, identifies improvement areas, and commits to improvement actions in the next PI.

6. Innovation and Planning (IP) Iteration

The last iteration of every PI is an IP Iteration. This offers a buffer to accommodate uncertainty and provides dedicated time for innovation, continuing education, PI Planning, and other activities that enhance the train’s ability to deliver more value in future PIs.


Agile Release Trains (ARTs) serve as the backbone of the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), bringing together cross-functional teams and roles to deliver value predictably and sustainably.

Successful coordination of an ART requires clear roles, regular cadence, synchronization, and alignment, facilitated by robust tools. The journey of an ART is a continuous learning process, one that is driven by the rhythm of the train and the commitment of everyone on board.


Which Role Serves as the Servant Leader for the Agile Release Train?

The Release Train Engineer (RTE) serves as the servant leader for the Agile Release Train (ART). The RTE is responsible for facilitating communication, eliminating impediments, and fostering a collaborative environment, all while ensuring the ART’s successful operation.

Who Provides Agile Release Train Context and Vision during PI Planning?

During Program Increment (PI) Planning, the context and vision for the Agile Release Train (ART) are provided by the Product Management. They articulate the business context, vision, and goals to guide the teams in aligning their work for the upcoming increment.

What is One of the Agile Release Train Sync Meetings?

One of the Agile Release Train sync meetings is Scrum of Scrums.

Which Function is Responsible for Ensuring that the Agile Release Train Has the Program Vision?

The Product Management function is responsible for ensuring that the Agile Release Train (ART) has the program vision. They provide the overarching vision and direction that guide the teams in aligning their work for the upcoming increments

What are Three Good Key Performance Indicators to Check the Health of an Agile Release Train?

Three good Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to check the health of an Agile Release Train are:
Velocity: Measures the amount of work completed by the Agile Release Train in each iteration.

Predictability: Assesses how consistently the Agile Release Train delivers on its commitments.

Feature Completion Rate: Evaluates the percentage of planned features that are completed and delivered within a specific time frame.

How Often Should a System Demo Occur?

A System Demo should occur at the end of every iteration, typically every two weeks, in the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe). It provides an integrated view of the new features developed during the iteration and allows stakeholders to provide feedback.

Agile Release Train Uses Which Type of Teams?

The Agile Release Train (ART) uses cross-functional teams. These teams include individuals with diverse skills necessary to create a potentially shippable increment, including design, development, testing, and deployment skills. They work together to deliver value in a coordinated and synchronized manner.

David Usifo (PSM, MBCS, PMP®)
David Usifo (PSM, MBCS, PMP®)

David Usifo is a certified project manager professional, professional Scrum Master, and a BCS certified Business Analyst with a background in product development and database management.

He enjoys using his knowledge and skills to share with aspiring and experienced project managers and product developers the core concept of value-creation through adaptive solutions.

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