What is a Release Train Engineer?

I saw a picture tweeted by Alex Yakima with this picture of the RTE Canvas and it inspired me to talk about this role more.

You can find the tweet here – https://twitter.com/alexyakyma/status/793491699515273216

In the canvas, he highlights five key responsibility areas for the Release Train Engineer. They are:

  1. People
  2. Program Increment
  3. ART Success Indicators
  4. Improvement Roadmap
  5. Coaching & Education

I really like the fact that he put the people first. In fact, I’d reorder the responsibilities this way:

  1. People
  2. Coaching & Education
  3. Improvement Roadmap
  4. Program Increment
  5. ART Success Indicators

In this case, I’m putting the people-focus stuff (team health, coaching, and retrospective based improvement roadmaps) well out front in the focus of the RTE. I want the RTE to be an organizational coach first. A coach who is focused on guiding and developing the teams within their release train activity.

Then as a secondary focus, they facilitate the Program Increment’s progress and create success metrics for it. This would fall on the dashboard and communication side of things. They would also facilitate “corrective actions” or “PI commitment adjustments” if they are needed.

While the latter two are very important, the first three are what builds and improves their team’s performance.

The RTE can be a “trap”

What I find in my real-world travels though is that the RTE role is largely filled with traditional project managers or PMO folks. And their focus is solely (or over 90% focused) on the tracking side of the Program Increment.

Status gathering and communication becomes a majority part of their roles. As does preparing (pre-planning, getting Features ready, negotiating) for the next Program Increment. And what happens is that the “loose their teams” as a result. The teams are agile, but they’re effectively going through the motions without coaching guidance.

If you look under the covers, it’s the RTE who is accountable for results and not their teams. And this is that traditional posture of command-and-control leadership that we know so well.

I don’t think the SAFe folks emphasize it enough that the RTE is a servant-leadership role and that the primary people they serve…are their teams. And not the organizational leaders and managers.

What is a good role model for the RTE?

When folks ask me for a good mental role model for the RTE, I talk about a very seasoned ScrumMaster. One who not only has mastered the role within their team or teams. But one who effectively mentors other ScrumMasters and is good at upward coaching within the organization as too. In other words, they have a broader span of and capacity for influence.

That’s the view I’d like every RTE to have of themselves. One great book to read that focuses on Scrum Mastery is the Geoff Watts book by the same name. I think it should be a well-worn member of every RTE’s bookshelf.

@ Velocity

At Velocity Partners, we have defined the role of a Solutions Manager who is effectively an RTE for multiple teams. These teams could be with one client or cross clients. The role is less focused on execution planning, as that is left to the client and each team.

However, the role is focused towards:

  • Helping the Client and Velocity Partners integrate practices, approaches, and tools as part of our Sprint #0 onboarding process.
  • Assisting leadership with interviewing, staffing, and balancing each team.
  • Kicking off the project with the team.
  • Playing a part-time role, working with each Team Lead & ScrumMaster to ensure the team is well-functioning and delivering effectively.
  • And if there are challenges, they help facilitate retrospectives and corrective actions to resolve issues quickly.

In other words, they are the clients “partner” in working with our teams, while the RTE has that same level of “partnership” organizationally.

If you engage Velocity in a nearshore project, be prepared to meet one of our incredible Solutions Managers. And don’t be surprised if they take a people-focus first. What we’ve found is that if you tidy up the teams, then incredible business results follow.

Wrapping Up

If there’s a key point to this article, it’s that the RTE should focus inside or team ward first. And that, in most SAFe organizations, this will feel uncomfortable. As there will be a magnetic attraction to spend most of your time serving outward demands for information.

Don’t give into it. Always remember that the results come from within your TEAMS!

Stay agile my friends,

Bob.

 

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Bob Galen

Bob Galen

Bob Galen is an Agile Methodologist, Practitioner & Coach based in Cary, NC. In this role he helps guide companies and teams in their pragmatic adoption and organizational shift towards Scrum and other agile methodologies and practices. Contact: [email protected]