Release trains are a core capability in the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe). They help you coordinate and synchronize feature delivery into an orderly stream of releases. With them, you release high-quality software predictably, with reduced risks and minimal stress. But keeping those trains running on time isn't easy.
To maximize your release train efficiency, you need tools that help coordinate, manage, and monitor their various activities. You need release orchestration because it helps identify and resolve bottlenecks, automate repetitive tasks, and minimize the risk of errors or delays.
Let's take a closer look at release trains and see how you can use release orchestration to ensure that they're running as efficiently as possible.
Understanding Release Trains and Release Orchestration
What is a Release Train?
Release trains are agile development processes that deliver new functionality in a predictable, time-boxed, manner. A typical SAFe release train comprises multiple teams working together to deliver a series of increments or features that add value to the end-users or customers.
A release train operates on a fixed cadence or schedule, usually spanning several weeks to several months. Teams plan and execute a series of iterations or sprints, each focused on delivering a potentially shippable increment (PSI) of the product. At the end of each iteration, the teams review and show their work to the stakeholders and assess their progress towards the release goals.
*Agile Release Train, Scaled Agile, Inc., 2023-03-14, https://scaledagileframework.com/agile-release-train
Why Use Release Trains?
The primary purpose of release trains is to synchronize and align the efforts of multiple teams towards a common release objective. They help ensure all your teams are working towards the same goals, and that their overlapping dependencies are managed effectively.
Additionally, the use of fixed cadence and carefully timed iterations helps to create a predictable rhythm of development and delivery, enabling the organization to release high-quality software more frequently and with greater confidence. After adopting SAFe and release trains, Johnson Controls was able to ship new releases 2x - 4x more often.
What is Release Orchestration?
Release orchestration is coordinating and automating the various stages of software releases, from planning and development to testing, deployment, and monitoring. This streamlines the software release process, reduces errors, and similar to release trains, ensures that all teams are working in sync.
Automated software release processes are common, especially in enterprises that span multiple teams. But release orchestration connects those automated processes and prevents islands of automation that lack cohesion and coordination.
Release Orchestration is coordinating and automating the various stages of software releases, from planning and development to testing, deployment, and monitoring.
Release Orchestration in Agile Development
Work that spans short, iterative cycles and delivers incremental updates is a key aspect of agile development. By working in short sprints that produce a steady stream of new code, you make it easier to gauge quality and measure your progress. Cisco Systems saw a 40 percent decrease in defects after implementing SAFe and continuous delivery.
Release orchestration plays a crucial role in this approach by:
Streamlining the communication and collaboration between your cross-functional teams
Ensuring that you deliver your releases on time and meet quality standards
Providing visibility into the release process
Making it easier for you to identify and address issues quickly, and at a scale
Facilitating continuous integration and deployment
Release Orchestration vs. Release Automation
It’s common for people to conflate release orchestration and release automation. They’re both involved in the release process, and both use automation to improve your ability to deliver quality software.
But, while release orchestration and release automation are related and overlapping technologies, they’re not the same thing.
Release orchestration's primary focus is coordinating the activities and teams involved in the software release process. It ensures you complete tasks in the correct sequence and that your processes manage dependencies effectively.
Release automation, on the other hand, uses tools and technologies to automate tasks within the release process, such as code integration, testing, and deployment.
In other words, release orchestration is a broader concept, and release automation is one of its components. Automation and orchestration work together to create a seamless, efficient, and error-free software release process.
Orchestration harnesses automation, along with management and monitoring, to help organizations achieve the following benefits:
Shorter release cycles
Improved collaboration between teams
Enhanced visibility into the release process
Reduced risk of errors and downtime
CloudBees Release Orchestration for Efficient Release Trains
Release orchestration enables optimizing and managing the release process from planning to deployment. It does this by aiding you in areas such as alignment and synchronization, standardization and automation, and continuous feedback and improvement.
Alignment and Synchronization
Aligning release train components and teams is essential for seamless and efficient delivery of software releases. CloudBees CD/RO does this by providing a centralized platform for planning, scheduling, and tracking releases. With it, teams coordinate their work, share information, and collaborate effectively, ensuring that all components of the release train are moving forward in harmony.
CloudBees CD/RO aids in identifying and resolving dependencies among various components and teams. By providing a clear view of the entire release process, it catches bottlenecks, addresses them proactively, and maintains a smooth-running release train.
Standardization and Automation
Standardized release processes increase the efficiency, predictability, and quality of the software produced by your release trains. They reduce errors, simplify decision-making, and enforce best practices across teams.
Release Orchestration promotes standardization with common processes, tools, and monitoring for all teams involved in the release train. With consistent and repeatable release management practices, you gain reliable and efficient software delivery.
Continuous Feedback and Improvement
Continuous feedback loops are the cornerstone of agile development. They enable you to identify issues and areas for improvement and create a culture of continuous learning and adaptation. Without this constant feedback and iterative improvement, you're not really agile and will struggle to create software releases aligned with customer needs and expectations.
CloudBees CD/RO's real-time visibility in the release process and performance metrics supports continuous feedback and improvement. With this data, you can identify opportunities for improvement and implement changes to enhance the release process further.
Effective communication with stakeholders is crucial for successful release trains, too. Release orchestration tools streamline communication with customizable dashboards, reporting, and notifications, keeping all stakeholders informed of progress, risks, and accomplishments throughout the release process.
CloudBees CD/RO's real-time-visibility in the release process and performance metrics support continuous feedback and improvement.
Release orchestration is a robust tool for maximizing release train efficiency. By aligning and synchronizing teams, promoting standardization, optimizing automation, and enabling continuous feedback and improvement, you get shorter release cycles, improved collaboration, enhanced visibility into the release process, and reduced risk of errors and downtime.
Agile development relies heavily on continuous improvement; in order to succeed, you must continually evaluate your processes to identify areas for improvement. By exploring and implementing release orchestration tools like CloudBees CD/RO, organizations can streamline their release process, reduce errors, improve communication with stakeholders, and ultimately deliver better software faster.