Building Great Release Train Engineers — a talk with Mattias & Yuval

In the scaled Agile framework, one key role is the Release Train Engineer (RTE). But who should I look for to fill this role? What are the first few process improvements experienced RTE’s typically do? Yuval Yeret (AgileSparks) and Mattias Skarin (Crisp) took the time to discuss the traits of a good RTE.

What are the traits of a good RTE?

Yuval: The easy answer to this question is that you are looking for a Scrum master for a team of teams. Going beyond that, when it comes to specific traits, you are looking for someone who cares about process and improvements, someone who has the ability to orchestrate things. But at the same time, someone who also knows when to step back and let the teams organize themselves. A good RTE is a great communicator and can see and understand what is happening.

Mattias: Firstly, a good RTE should be a people person, someone you’d like to talk to and bounce ideas with. Someone who builds trust and energy with their presence. In essence, a good RTE is the Uber Scrum master across teams. Secondly, a good RTE is systematic and makes sure the process events are run and planned in advance. Thirdly, a good RTE should be a good problem solver.

Let’s be even more specific, if you narrowed it down to three, which are the top 3 traits of a good RTE?

Yuval: Then I would say, (1) Someone who can be a coach and a servant leader; (2) someone who knows how to bring people together who work well together; and (3) someone who is passionate about improving things.Mattias: I would pick a people person, who is also systematic, and a good problem solver.

Name 3 things an RTE should do?

Yuval: The key task is to facilitate the Agile release train events. (for example: PI planning, Art sync, Inspect & Adapt workshop). Over time, a good RTE builds in the capability in the release train to do more and more on their own. Finally the RTE should facilitate the removal of obstacles and risks. He or she does not necessarily need to solve them all by himself, but rather, make them transparent and make sure that the most important ones are being tackled.

Mattias: I will concur with Yuval here. The part I would add is the focus on relentless improvement, always trying to make things a little bit better.

So on to improvements. Which event ‘that keeps the train on the tracks’ is the most common for companies to adjust to after running SAFe for a while?

Yuval: An early step is normally making the PI planning (Big Room Planning) more concise, such that you can run it in a day. This could happen through the removal of dependencies or by simplifying specific activities. One example would be making the draft plan review more fun, and less sequential. The final part I see RTE tweak is the Inspect & Adapt workshop. There are a few emergent patterns here: let people organize into teams according to the problems they want to see solved or, run it as an open space.

Mattias: Early tweaks include making the PI planning run successfully within a day and improving the quality for feature candidates entering the Big Room Planning (through adding and keeping a definition of “Ready”).

I know you are coming to Crisp in November to run the Advanced RTE training class. Who is the class for and what can I expect to learn?

Yuval: The class is for you as an RTE who has been running your own Agile release train for a couple of increments. We don’t go through the basics in this class. By grounding the participants in the Lean/Agile principles, we teach tips and tricks to the RTE’s. For example, how to adapt the PI planning but at the same time staying aligned with the principles of Systems thinking, Presume variability and Preserve options. The goal is to inspire and build the RTE’s confidence to go beyond and adjust the basic practices, knowing they are well grounded on principles.
 In this class, we expect RTE’s to share knowledge and best practices so you can learn from each other (you probably have a few tips and tricks up your sleeve) in addition to picking up nuggets from the trainer.

Will we spend time on discussing what RTE’s find challenging in their company?

Yuval/Mattias: Yes! There will be time set aside for this. And during the course, there will be plenty of time to engage with Yuval (trainer) and Mattias (host) who both are experienced Agile trainers in Scaled Agile scenarios.

This article was originally posted on the Crisp blog. If you’re not familiar with it, it is one of our must-read Agile blogs. We are proud to be collaborating with Crisp on bringing high-quality pragmatic SAFe training to Sweden. Our next workshop is an Advanced RTE class in Stockholm Nov 6–8. If you’re interested to join, reach out to us and register here.