What Is the Role of a Release Train Engineer?
by Ukpai Ugochi.
The software development industry is constantly evolving. And as such, new techniques of creating, releasing, and deploying software solutions are emerging. With the emergence of these new techniques comes new job roles and descriptions never seen before.
Ever wondered how large software development enterprises with hundreds of employees and teams tend to deliver software releases seamlessly and on schedule? The answer is simple: most of these large enterprises make use of the release train, a technique offered in the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe).
In this post, we’ll be exploring the role of a release train engineer. We’ll also be looking at the need for this new role, its importance, and the qualities and skills one needs to possess in order to assume this role. But before we dive in properly, let us explore what the release train entails in itself.
What Is a Release Train?
A release train, which is formally called an agile release train (ART), can be said to be a long-lived collection of various agile teams working together on the same project in order to achieve the desired final product.
The release train, as likened to a real-life train, harbors people from across the organization who take part in cross-functional collaboration to maintain a continuous flow of high values. In fact, the release train is organized around values and has lots of capabilities as it comprises teams that define, build, implement, test, deploy, and oversee the operations of the software solution.
There are many critical high-level personnel who operate the train. But we’ll be exploring one role in particular: the release train engineer.
Who Is a Release Train Engineer (RTE)?
A release train engineer is the driver and the topmost member of the agile release train. The RTE is a servant leader who uses a deep understanding of the agile framework and SAFe to steer the course of the ART with the goal of maximizing the value delivery output of the organization. The RTE coaches the teams, helps manage risks, interacts with relevant stakeholders, and, most importantly, ensures the achievement of the project goals.
A train operating below its expected performance ability is no train at all. Bearing this in mind, the RTE ensures the agile release train functions are at their highest operational capability. This is necessary in order to maximize service value delivery.
Responsibilities of a Release Train Engineer
Every role has some peculiar responsibilities assigned and expected from the person occupying the office. Let’s explore the responsibilities of a release train engineer.
The release train engineer is highly involved in working with every team in the agile release train. For example, they help everyone become better versions of themselves, thereby creating more value for the organization. To do this, they encourage training to help develop skills, as well as help individuals and teams establish better workflows and become more efficient. They also help create enabling environments that boost positive team health and throughput.
Program Increment (PI) Creation
The release train engineer is also charged with the responsibility of creating the program increment chart for the project at hand. A program increment is one of the basic elements of the agile framework. It’s a timebox created in order to enable the ART to deliver incremental values. Program increments impact the overall goal in the form of workable and tested software systems. They keep the teams in check on proper utilization of time. When planned correctly, program increments are always successful, and as such, the RTE must consider every factor that can possibly affect the deadlines and then make some allowances in the calendar.
The RTE is responsible for training the entire release train on the best practices for delivering greater value. The RTE can achieve this through any of the following: coaching, mentoring, and modeling exemplary work in implementing agile principles.
General Oversight of the Train
As the driver of the train, the RTE is charged with the general oversight of the activities of the train. This entails the monitoring of all train processes and subsequent reporting of the success stories of the teams. The RTE is also expected to sit down at the end of each journey and analyze all actions taken within the train. They do this with the hope of creating a road map that helps to improve the outcome of the activities in case any should be repeated in the upcoming journey.
Release Train Engineer Skills
Understanding the responsibilities of a role doesn’t make someone great at their job. For instance, a release train engineer needs some skills to execute their responsibilities properly. These skills allow engineers to execute their tasks with expertise. RTE skills are categorized into two groups, namely hard skills and soft skills. Let’s explore them.
This set of skills the release train engineer acquires through basic formal training. They are as follows.
A release train engineer needs to have a deep understanding of the agile framework, most especially SAFe, as it is well used by many firms.
A release train engineer must have an understanding of how DevOps and agile metrics work. They should also know which metrics to implement for excellent results. The ability to also track these metrics is necessary.
A release train engineer must understand the role of budgeting as it concerns SAFe. This is because the application of this knowledge helps organizations reduce cost overhead and, as such, increase productivity and throughput.
These skills are more of the personality traits one has to possess in order to do well as a release train engineer. They include the following.
Possessing an agile mindset is topmost on the list. The RTE must be a value-driven personality and also super confident. All this ensues from a deep understanding and application of the agile framework. This engineer must also be courageous enough to steer the release train.
Critical Thinking and Effective Communication
The release train engineer must have the ability to think deeply and quickly analyze situations. This is to subsequently guide the team toward the creation of the solution in the shortest time possible. An RTE must also be a great communicator. In team management, the manner of message delivery determines how teams carry out tasks.
The release train engineer is a continuous learner. An RTE must commit to building up skills that improve task execution. This is because the industry evolves steadily and the tasks become increasingly complex. For instance, the RTE must guide members of the release train to understand the processes of achieving the desired goals.
The release train engineer has to be someone who is in tune with the practice of transparency. This is because the Scaled Agile Framework stands for bringing to light problems inherently hidden within an organization’s work structure. They should also be a person of high integrity, accountability, and respect for everyone in the organization.
Daily Tasks of a Release Train Engineer
Now that we understand the responsibilities of a release train engineer, let’s explore what it’s like to be a release train engineer on a day-to-day basis. The RTE’s tasks include the following:
- Helps in facilitating a great working relationship among teams as well as other departments within the firm
- Helps in organizing periodic synchronization meetings with the other key members of SAFe (product managers, product owners, and scrum masters)
- Has constant communication with stakeholders to ensure the firm’s visions and processes align
- Oversees the system and solution demos
- Understands and works within the agile budget approved
- Helps teams set up a real user experience (UX) approach, which aids feedback collection
- Manages risks faced by teams and resolves impediments as well as provides resources needed to tackle bottleneck issues encountered
- Tracks and monitors the progress of features and capabilities throughout the period of development
The release train engineer is one role that has a transformative position in the service value delivery of an organization. A great RTE is an asset to a firm. This is because they guide and coach your team leaders, your scrum masters, and the entire team. The RTE, in collaboration with the members of the agile governance trio (which also includes product managers and system architects), boosts your value delivery capabilities.
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