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Just-in-time Training for an Agile Release Train Quick-Start

Em Campbell-Pretty
Feb 16, 2017

Updated 6 February 2024 to reflect SAFe 6.0 terminology.

The three key ingredients in any ART launch are 1) teams, 2) a well-defined, force-ranked feature-level ART backlog and 3) the knowledge to execute in a lean and agile manner. In the case of the A&I ART, we now had teams and a backlog; we just needed the knowledge. This is where the SAFe for Teams training and the Scrum Master and Product Owner Orientation workshops came in. (Update: This particular ART Launch pre-dates the launch of the SAFe Scrum Master course, and at this time, SAFe Product Owner/Product Manager training was intended to be delivered post ART Launch).

Monday morning, the teams returned to the same venue we had used for the self-selection event to commence two days of SAFe for Teams training. I was thrilled that the organisation had taken our guidance and had gone all in for the event. Even the department head attended the entire two days.

There is something about all the teams on a train, including the leadership team, learning together with their Scrum Masters and Product Owners, that is just magical. Having spent many years convinced that training circa 100 people at once was nuts, then going through the process a number of times, I have to say I was wrong. If Harvard Professor J. Richard Hackman is to be believed, 30% of a team’s eventual performance is dependent on the initial launch of the team. Personally, I cannot think of a better way to launch a team of teams than two days of learning together.

Ball Game in SAFe for Teams training

As always, watching the teams competing against each other in the ballpoint game never fails to generate an amazing buzz, along with some great learnings about what it means for the agile release train to be united as one team.  The teams embraced the process as we walked them through breaking down their features into stories. It quickly became clear that some feature definitions were light on detail. This is all part of the learning as the train works out the balance between too much and too little pre-work for PI Planning.  At the end of the two days, we had nine newly trained agile teams ready to take on the world!

Agile Team in SAFe Training

The second component of the just-in-time training is the role-specific sessions for the Scrum Masters and Product Owners. It has always puzzled me that the standard SAFe Quick-Start recommends scheduling the Scrum Master and Product Owner Orientation for day five. I've always felt like the Scrum Masters and Product Owners need role clarity prior to going into PI Planning, so I have tended to hold these classes on day three.

I also like to have the Scrum Masters and Product Owners attend both orientation sessions. I was always taught that a good Scrum Master supports their Product Owner, and I also think it is healthy for the Product Owner to understand the role of the Scrum Master. To keep things interesting, I swap backwards and forwards between the Scrum Master and Product Owner material on a lesson-by-lesson basis rather than do a solid half day on each role.

This particular Quick-Start followed the above approach. Watching the Scrum Masters and Product Owners start to bond was just amazing. As the day went on, the discussion activities became harder and harder to time box as the Scrum Masters and Product Owners engaged in passionate conversations.  While it may not be "text-book", I think SM/PO Orientation on day three works. In the words of the client: "It serves as last minute decision making and therapy session before the manic of PI planning and gives the rest of the teams' a day to wrap up anything from the old world order." The other advantage of this approach is being able to roll into iteration planning straight after PI Planning.

Of course, SAFe has evolved since I facilitated this quick-start last year. The Scrum Master and Product Owner Orientations have been decommissioned in favour of the new SAFe Scrum Master (SSM) course and the latest version of SAFe Product Manager/Product Owner (PMPO). Having just completed my first quick-start for 2017, delivering these courses in the weeks leading up to the Quick-Start, I have to say I like this approach even more. Two days of focused learning on both key roles resulted in the Release Train Engineer, Scrum Masters, Product Owners and Product Manager being very well prepared for their first PI Planning.

What does this mean for the 6-day quick-start? Well, clearly, it can't be 6-days anymore! At this point I am torn, is it now 7-day? e.g. SSM, Self-Selection, SAFe for Teams and PI Planning. Or 5 days with SSM and PM/PO being facilitated in the lead into the Quick-Start? For now, the jury is out, but no doubt a pattern will emerge in due course.

As for this 6-day Quick-Start, we are now at the end of day 4. Stay tuned for the next instalment in this series, which will cover the PI Planning event in the context of a Quick-Start.

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