Written by William F. Nazzaro and Anu M. Smalley
In Planning For Your First Potentially Shippable Increment – Part 1 we recommended that organizations should properly plan for their first PSI. For simplicity, we will refer to this planning as preparatory activities for your first PSI.
What is the goal or purpose of these preparatory activities?
The goal is to be ready and able to delivery business value in the form of potentially shippable features at the end the release train.
How long should one spend on these preparatory activities?
As a benchmark, we found it useful to have this timebox be the same length as the upcoming Agile Release Train (ART). If you are planning a 12-week ART, we recommend 12 weeks for the preparatory work. It may seem like a lot of time, but there is a good deal of work to get ready for your first Potentially Shippable Increment (PSI).  Keep in mind, this is recommendation, not a rule, and the preparatory needs will vary based on your organization’s agile maturity.
Below is a collection of six preparatory activities we refer to as “Form Program & Leadership”. We recommend that these activities occur 10 to 12 weeks prior to the launch of your first Agile Release Train.
1. Validate Value Stream
A successful agile transformation or a scaling implementation needs to happen bi-directionally – top down and bottom up. Validation of the value stream brings together everyone in the value stream to ensure that all teams, leaders, and support services are dedicated and willing to meet the commitment to deliver on the value streams objectives, which is providing business value. This helps the process of identifying and disseminating the vision of the value stream.
This is ideally done with executives from IT and the business. This is to ensure that the value stream or the “kidney” is valid and complete. With an incomplete value stream the rest of the effort to stand up a release train is at severe risk. With the value stream identified and validated we are now ready to form and train the leadership of the Agile Release Train.
2. Form and Train ART Leadership Team
When considering membership for this team we will look at both the business and IT that make up the value stream. In larger organizations we will consider senior leaders that are business stakeholders, value stream champion, IT leadership, and those managers making decisions on what personnel will be part of the Agile Release Train team.
The ART Leadership need to understand what the SAFe™ framework is, how its implementation will impact their teams and the commitment to delivering business value.
While it’s recommended that we provide the ART Leadership Team with the 2-Day Leading SAFe class. We prefer to provide a shorter 1-day version that includes the following topics like Agile Manifesto & Principles, SAFe Big Picture Overview, SAFe Roles & Responsibilities, What to Expect During Your First PSI, and What Changes with Agile and What Doesn’t.
This enables them to know what they are committing to, how a release train works, and what they must do to help assure SAFe is implemented correctly.
This class is only held for the ART Leadership which will often have very different questions from the ART team members.
3. Identify Program’s Key Players & Teams
Bringing together a 100+ people within a defined value stream together for 2 days to plan for the next 12 weeks is a huge endeavor and requires some level of responsible planning. We need to ensure the correct people have been identified and are prepared to talk to the business value of the features being discussed as well as managing risks across the train.
Identifying key Agile Release Train (ART) players early on in the process is a critical step to the success of a SAFe QuickStart. Some of the key players needed early on are:
- Product Management
- Release Train Engineer (RTE)
- Release Management Team
- Business Owners
- System Team
- Dev Ops
- Scrum Masters
4. Program Team Kick-Off
From the outset it should be clear what the purpose of the Program Team is, their roles and what’s expected of them and how agile may influence their behaviors. During this time of “forming” we’ve found it advantageous to have the Program Team also establish a Working Agreement. This working agreement should outline how they plan on working together to handle prioritizations, coordination, escalations, and impediments.
5. Review Readiness Checklist
We should have the Release Train Engineer and his/her key people identified above actively work through the PSI Readiness Checklist. While SAFe’s Readiness Checklist is a good place to start you may want to adapt this checklist for your organization. Some things to consider are:
- Are all the teams on the train in place
- Is training available for these teams on agile concepts as well as any tools and processes that are part of the organization
- Has a coach been identified and engaged to assist with the teams as well as the groups on the program level
- Is the tool to be used by the train for their PSI ready and set up
- Are all support services available and committed to the release train
- Are the engineering practices to be used understood and in place
This is not an exhaustive or exact list; rather, these are ideas to guide your activities and provide you with an awareness of the amount of preparation required to work to ensure a successful QuickStart.
6. Establish Program Team Backlog
A common Program Team Backlog contains the stories the Program Team needs to keep the train on the tracks. It’s important to note that the Program Team Backlog is different from the Program Backlog. The Program Backlog contains the prioritized features. The Program Team Backlog contains the stories that:
- Remove impediments for the agile release train,
- Establish, maintain and track program-level metrics,
- Manage critical value stream relationships that are external to business or organization,
- Represent the communication to and for the agile release train,
- Drive a continuous improvement culture.
The Program Team Backlog takes time to build and these stories can impact the scrum teams’ abilities once we start the ART. Having these items identified and potentially being worked on prior to the PSI Quick Start will ensure the train is effectively moving forward on the tracks.
In Part 3 of this article we’ll discuss the “Build Vision and Backlog” preparatory activities we recommend to address 6 to 10 weeks prior to launch. In Part 4 of this article we’ll discuss the “Conduct QuickStart” preparatory activities we recommend to address 1 to 2 prior to launching your first Agile Release Train.
 Note: Not all individuals will be working full-time on the preparatory activities
 Agile Software Requirements, by Dean Leffingwell, p 485.