Using Release Trains to Get on Track

Johanna Rothman works with companies to improve how they manage their product development--to maximize management and technical staff productivity and to improve product quality. She is the author of Manage Your Project Portfolio: Increase Your Capacity and Finish More Projects and the Jolt Productivity award-winning Manage It: Your Guide to Modern, Pragmatic Project Management. She is the author of the forthcoming Agile and Lean Program Management: Collaborating Across the Organization. See her blogs and more of her writing at jrothman.com.

One problem when you have a program with agile projects and non-agile projects is how to marry the two parts. The agile projects deliver value every couple of weeks. The non-agile projects? Well, it’s possible they don’t deliver value for months to years.

In Managing Programs with Agile and Traditional Projects, I suggested that you start with deliverable-based planning and provide incremental delivery of something. One way to do that is to use release trains.

What Are Release Trains?
When you use release trains externally, you commit to yourself and to your customers to release your product on a particular date every quarter. The quarter is the iteration. If you are a program manager, you can ask your non-agile teams to consider an iteration of somewhere between six weeks and eight weeks. At worse, you can ask your non-agile project teams to commit to an iteration of 12 weeks.

In a program, you are not an external customer--you are internal. Because you are working with project teams--feature teams--you don’t need marketing collateral or training to be ready internally; you only need the software to be integrated and possibly to be married to the hardware. That is difficult enough--you want the non-agile project teams to start learning how to use deliverable-based planning in small chunks, and to focus on what the customer will be able to use…

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