RTE Backlog and Other Tools You Didn’t Know You Needed

 Agile, Strategy & Transformation

There is so much Release Train Engineers (RTEs) need to know to be the Servant Leader and Coach of an Agile Release Train (ART) using the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe®). You go to training; you read the guides; you take the SAFe certification test. But that is just the beginning.

There is more to being an RTE than text-book learning. Leveraging tools and tips from other RTEs can set a good RTE apart from a great one.  Here, we will introduce a few RTE practices that we have found helpful: an RTE Backlog, an ART Improvement Roadmap, a Triad sync, plus a few other recommendations to help you excel in your RTE role.

The RTE backlog

The RTE backlog isn’t something you learn about in your certification course, but it will make a difference as you perform your responsibilities as your ART’s Servant Leader. Consider the agile backlog – a tool agile teams use to track the stories and other work they want to complete in an Increment.

Backlogs, refinement, and measured pull of stories into iterations increase a faster delivery of value. This backlog will help you align dependencies, commit to realistic deliverables, and maintain a steady pace.

What goes into the RTE backlog?

When building your RTE backlog, consider aspects of the ART, the organization, and your self-improvement. Then you can pull backlog items into iterations.

Let’s start with the ART. Place all RTE facilitation efforts for the ART into the RTE backlog. These efforts include Scrum of Scrums, PO Syncs, System Demos, preparing for PI (Program Increment) Planning, PI Planning, and more.  For those RTEs who are part of a Solution Train or have other organizational deliverables, add those efforts to the backlog too.

With ART and organizational efforts in the backlog, it’s time for you to focus on your continuous self-improvement. Review the traits and responsibilities of an RTE. Is there a trait you’d like to develop further? What are your strengths? Where can you improve? Are there areas that are of particular interest to you? Perhaps you want to learn more about lean budgeting or take an emotional intelligence class. Add these ideas to your RTE backlog.

This is an easy way to track, prioritize, and measure your continuous learning progress. Also, be sure to commit time each week to read blogs (like this one) or books or get involved in Agile Communities of Practice. Make sure you are talking to and learning from other RTEs and mentors too.

Develop an ART Improvement Roadmap

As an RTE, your goal is to proactively improve the ART’s Lean-Agile health without disrupting the delivery of the ART’s solution intent. Continuous improvement benefits both the ART and the overall organization. We’ve found that many RTEs don’t build the Scaled Agile recommended ART Improvement Roadmap to develop and maintain a healthy ART.

Develop the ART Improvement Roadmap from retrospectives, problem-solving workshops, and your keen observations as RTE. Look for opportunities for immediate and long-term improvement. It is your responsibility to maintain the improvement roadmap; however, it will take everyone’s input on the ART to make it valuable.

The roadmap will shift and change as the backlog is frequently re-prioritized. Due to an ART’s limited capacity for change, it is crucial to balance continuous improvement with product development work. The goal is not agile itself but instead value delivery.

Are you ready to implement on ART Improvement Roadmap? Consider the following activities to operationalize this strategy on your ART:

  • Add identified efforts from team discussions to the ART Improvement Roadmap when they don’t belong in a team backlog. For example, an ART refresh on consistent metric gathering and reporting processes.
  • Get appropriate buy-in for the items on the improvement roadmap. For example, you may need to funding approval for a tool plug-in license or ask a team to join a 30-minute assessment exercise.
  • During PI Planning, ensure the larger efforts are on the teams’ Iteration Boards in their Capacity allocation. For example, you may need buy-in to allocate team capacity for a two-day training.

The ART is a team of teams. As a self-managing and self-organizing team, all ART members participate in the improvement roadmap. During retrospectives, problem-solving workshops, and other discussions, call out that an item will be placed in the ART Improvement Roadmap.

Triad sync

We are all familiar with the PO Sync and Scrum of Scrums. But another sync we have implemented on Agile Release Trains is a Triad Sync.

The Product Manager, the Release Train Engineer, and the System Architect/Engineer equally support the ART’s value stream, and therefore they must all be on the same page. As the RTE, you want to understand the Product Manager’s product intent and the System Architect’s delivery system. They need to know how Lean-Agile can support their goals. A proven way to build a strong relationship with these two peers is a Triad Sync.

In this sync, initially, you’ll uncover how the ART currently maneuvers Lean-Agile activities like Customer Centricity, ART roadmap, runway, dependencies, non-functional requirements, enabler work, releases, etc. Start with a weekly cadence, especially if you don’t sit shoulder-to-shoulder. You will find that these syncs will quickly develop into problem-solving discussions, brainstorming exercises, or the most basic of all team-building activities, the coffee break.

As RTE, bring insights you have gained in your other syncs and ad hoc conversations. Over time, your ART may outgrow this sync. That’s great; it just means as a triad, you have established an openness in your relationship and are sharing the information you all need to be successful.

Triad Syncs, or something similar, is not something all ARTs do, but we find it builds a strong ART and often resolves risks before they occur.

What else should be on your radar?

There is so much an RTE needs to know and do. We will leave you with a few other considerations:

  • If the Product Manager or System Architect/Engineer is new to Scaled Agile, take the time to explain the role and responsibilities of the RTE to show how RTEs enable and empower others.
  • During PI Planning, coach stakeholders on how scaled agile uses a formal language (colors and types of boards) to communicate clearly. Show them what you can see from 60 feet away.
  • When your ART includes different teams in multiple countries or cultures, develop a comprehensive holiday calendar and provide it to the members of your ART to remove potential future issues.
  • Depending on how your ART’s Product Manager schedules customer sessions, as RTE, you may want to keep those on your radar and stay ahead of it. If you are part of a less mature ART, these sessions can often become five-alarm fire drills that affect the team.
  • Always leave behind value as you do the Gemba. Also, post designated office hours just for informal questions to encourage one-on-one coaching followed up with a note or helpful link.

Try one of these recommendations on your ART and let us know how it goes.