Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Launching your Agile Release Train - Preparing for the first Release Planning Event

You've decided to adopt SAFe, found your first Agile Release Train and are embarking on the launch journey.  You have a bunch of Safe Agilists who have completed "Leading SAFe", and an SPC who has done the certification but never actually launched a train.  What comes next?

If you're like most, you're now feeling a mixture of excitement and trepidation.  The maths most people do looks like this:

  • 100 people in a room for 2 days = $150-$200K
  • A bunch of senior stakeholders present = a huge opportunity for a very public embarrassment

You've been over the agenda in depth in your SAFe course.  You've read some case studies or talked to some people and been convinced it works.  The question running around and around in your head is "how do we make it work for us?"

One answer might be to go and guest at somebody else's event to glean experiential learning.  As a fresh SPC, it was certainly high on my wish list.  But I had two problems.  The first was that I was in Australia and the only people I knew doing it were overseas.  The second, of course, was that these events often deal with very sensitive information and it's hard to get an invite.  Despite my repeatedly offering to fly myself anywhere in the world to get first-hand learning, I eventually just had to learn by doing.

This is the first of a series of posts in which I'm going to share some of the lessons I've learnt along the way.  It's a mix of the things I wish I'd known, and the things I knew in theory which were emphatically reinforced in practice.

The first insight I'd offer is this:
It really is magical how much energy and alignment happens when  100 people with a common purpose collaborate for 2 days.

To be brutally honest, I'd lived on the trepidation side for a long time.  The first train I helped launch (documented extensively in previous posts) frustrated Dean no end by not adopting PSI's until well after I had moved on from coaching them.  There were lots of very good reasons.  They got an immense amount of value from "SAFe without PSI's".  But I still hadn't seen the "magic event" :)

In the meantime, I researched it, talked to people about it, and taught SAFe to hundreds of people - and the release planning component was always theoretical.  I believed emphatically in the theory.  But when I actually facilitated my first one, I staggered out at the end of it completely and utterly blown away by how powerful it was.  I have facilitated hundreds if not thousands of groups and workshops over the years, and I have never felt such a powerful movement into alignment.  A comment from the Commercial Manager footing the bill for the event sums it up pretty well:
Mark, I reckon we've just saved about 8 weeks

What's Next?

Eventually, the series should cover about 10-15 posts.  Following is the series to-date:


  1. Good intro. Looking forward to the series. Thanks Mark.

  2. Thanks a lot already, Mark! Very much looking forward to Tip #4. We are running a train with mostly component teams. Thus, we're seeing a lot of potential value in mixing teams, but still want to be able to maintain team alignments throughout the planning event.

  3. Thanks for the feedback Simon. Finally got free of a crazy month and have Tip #4 up :)

    1. #4 was a great read, showing that real-world team setups add a lot of complexity to the planning event. Thank you for sharing. I'll stay tuned for your thoughts on capacity constraints and facilitation. Keep up the great work!

    2. Glad you're enjoying it. Found with both number 4 and number 5 (now posted) that they started life as a combination rant about the evil of component teams and tips on how to deal with it and gradually edited out most of the rant :)