5 things to consider – as a Release Train Engineer (RTE) in a Lean/Agile transformation

Do you want to know how to facilitate all the needs of an Agile Release Train?  (An ART, a team of teams/tribe working together towards common, realistic, value-driven goals)

If your answer is yes, then you are in luck: this article is meant for you!

Let’s dig into what the role is all about…and what it is NOT!

  1. If you are looking for a job role that requires:
    • Managing projects and projects costs, allocating and reallocating people, stopping and starting projects.
    • Chasing the elusive triangle of “fixed cost AND fixed date AND fixed scope”.
    • Micromanaging people to ensure compliance on all details and 100% resource utilization.
    • Focusing on rewarding only on an individual level (and God forbid – punishing mistakes).
    • Combining your Line Manager or Project Manager duties with the RTE duties.

    …Then you will be disappointed with the role of Release Train Engineer!

  2. If you are looking for a job role that requires:
    • Being a true Servant leader, guiding, assisting, and coaching your teams based on Lean/Agile values and principles.
    • Being in charge of the collaborative effort that is PI Planning (aka Big Room Planning) where Business, Development and Operations join forces to create Quarterly objectives, (with Built-in adjustments per Sprint).
    • Collaboration with Business for all levels of Backlogs constantly refined and prioritized “Just in time”.
    • Collaboration with Architects/Tech Leads DevOps engineers to ensure focus is on building a Continuous Delivery Pipeline, including Continuous Exploration, Integration and Deployment & Release on Demand.
    • Coach, facilitate and encourage personal growth for individuals and teams fostering Transparency, Collaboration and Empowerment, in a Continuous Learning environment based on System Thinking (“Optimize the whole”).
    • Working with promoting Relentless Improvement and Innovation (license to fail fast – and learn fast!).
    • Working with lean/agile leaders in transforming the whole enterprise towards the “Endgame” – Business Agility.

    …Then Release Train Engineer could be a job for you! (Hey! I´m not saying it is easy… But it is rewarding and fun!)

    Now you have got the gist of the article. Based on my own experience (4 years as RTE and + 20 PI Planning) and that of my fellow RTEs, below are some more details and recommendations.

  3. RTE = “Servant Leader”: My first Scaled Agile Instructor once suggested that instead of using “Servant Leader”, which for many sounds too…servant, why not use “Party Host”. Picture a party in your own house, as a host, it is your job to ensure everybody is having fun and have the stuff to do. In different rooms (= teams) different activities may be ongoing, they will need different stuff and have different goals, but they are ALL at the same party/share common objectives! (I admit, it took me a while to convince my then Manager that “working should be like a party”…)
  4. RTE is a full-time job role. If you, by “mistake” sign up to add this role and keep your current chores, you will forever struggle to do a good job.  Make sure you visualize all necessary work, prioritize hard, and do not burn out! If you cannot avoid having more chores…. ensure you train good helpers. Typically, the Scrum Masters in your Agile Release Train should be your best friends, and of course, you should delegate/share work when possible.
  5. Metrics…are useful, to create a dialogue on “where are we, how are we doing, what can be improved”. But do not fall for the persuasion of the old Command and Control patterns. ONLY use metrics that foster good behaviour! (Please take your time! Read this last point carefully at least three times and reflect on its real meaning …)

Metric examples:

  • Comparing Velocity between teams – Bad! (Teams are not one-to-one comparable)
  • Comparing Business Value projected vs actually delivered – Good!
  • Creating meetings ONLY for reporting status – generally are bad! (Keep them at minimum)
  • Creating meetings where impediments are addressed, scope discussed, issues resolved – Good!
  • Rewarding only the individual contributions – if it is only the individual contributions then… Bad!
  • Setting goals and objectives on the team level – Good (Always reward the collaboration! Get the HR involved…)
  • Fostering ONLY the expertise of individuals – if only the individual expertise is fostered… Bad!
  • Encouraging experts to mentor colleagues to develop cross-functional, t-shaped profiles – Good!

Enjoy your new learning paths!