The Release Train Engineer is part of the crew that guides the train.

The Release Train Engineer is part of the crew that guides the train.

As groups of coordinated work get larger the tools, techniques and roles needed to keep the work coordinated expand. Complexity requires more controls to keep the train on the tracks. The Release Train Engineer (RTE) is one of the techniques the Scaled Agile Framework Enterprise (SAFe) uses to keep the 50 to 125 cars (number of people in an Agile Release Train or ART) on the track. Formally RTE is a scaled scrum master, however practically the role tends to take on a broader footprint. It could be viewed as a mixture of Scrum master and program leader. The roles and responsibilities of a RTE include:

  • Provides guidance to the release train. While the ART and the teams that are part of the train are predominately self-managing and self-organizing, the RTE provides guidance to help teams adapt to the environment.
  • Organizes, runs and facilitates the release planning meeting. The release planning meeting  is a two day meeting that includes all of the people involved with the ART. The meeting is crucial meeting that kicks-off and drives each program increment.
  • Assists in tracking the ART. In many organizations tracking and reporting fall on the shoulders of the RTE. The function is better placed in a Program Management Office with the RTE providing assistance. Let the RTE focus on facilitating and leading rather than on owning standard administration tasks.
  • Chairs the scrum of scrums (SoS). As a leader and the scrum master of scrum masters, the RTE is perfectly positioned to ensure that teams interact and share cross-team issues and risks by facilitating the SoS.
  • Resolves and/or escalates impediments. Scrum masters facilitate the resolution of impediments within their span of influence. Once an impediment is outside of a scrum master’s span of influence the RTE steps in to remove or escalate the impediment to someone that can remove the impediment.
  • Facilitates intergroup communication and dependency resolution. Much of the role of the RTE is facilitating communication between groups. In a perfect world all teams would have the proper understanding of what was going on in other teams that they could impact or could impact them, however many times the environment precludes that possibility. The RTE helps to keep information moving so that the teams can focus on delivery.
  • Facilitates process improvement at the ART level. While teams pursue improvements based on retrospectives, the RTE facilitates ensuring the overall processes are continually being refined. An example of one of process improvement events that the RTE leads is the retrospective that caps the release planning meeting.
  • Cajoles, leads and In general, helps make stuff happen. All leaders use their social influence to attain a goal. RTE’s are no different. SAFe (and most other frameworks) use goals that can be traced from business value to the work a team delivers. Work in ALL organizations is goal oriented. Leaders help everyone involved focus on those goals.

The release train engineer has a hand on the throttle of the agile release train, but just like the engineer on the freight train they are only one part of the process that that decides speed and direction. Locomotive engineers inspect their trains, monitor performance, communicate and interact with team members and passengers. They support getting the train to its appointed destination not only on-time but safely.

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