Are you a Scrum Master aiming for a career evolution? The RTE job is something to dig into, for sure! Where to begin? What are the essential skills to own to become an RTE? What are the obstacles to come over, and what are the keys for success?
Maëlle Jolly is a Release Train Engineer within a large French bank for Wemanity and shared with us some of her knowledge to answer those questions. After 3 years as a Scrum Master in a SAFe train, she had an opportunity to become an RTE. Here’s her experience in this role switch.
1. RTE: Scrum Master of Scrums Masters
The RTE (Release Train Engineer) is one of the key roles for an organisation working within a SAFe environment:
- They help communication flow between the many different people involved.
- They’re the guardian of the methodology temple: They make sure the SAFe framework is applied, its principles are respected, and rituals are going well.
- The RTE is the train’s animator, and must make coordination more fluid and make sure the teams are going in the same direction.
- They work on an ongoing improvement of the train’s functioning.
Maëlle shares a sneak peek into her day-to-day:
‘’My main mission is facilitating. I must make sure everything’s working well in the train: The teams must deliver quality, everyonemust talk to each other, know information about improvements, risks, … I must also anticipate production starts, risks and interdependences. The goal? Make sure the final user is satisfied.’’
The Scrum Master’s missions are actually similar, but apply on the scale of a team. They accompany the team and make sure the Agile method is respected. Their role is to motivate and push the team’s members to go forward with their tasks during the sprints.
The main difference between an RTE and a Scrum Master is related to scale. Maëlle confirms:
‘’Becoming an RTE means managing more people, more complexities, more interactions’’ Our expert Michael Gicquel delivers to you all information to know to apply the SAFe framework within an organisation.
2. Key Skills and Qualities for an RTE
Some specialised certifications exist to get trained as an RTE, but nothing is mandatory. A strong experience as a Scrum Master, particularly in a SAFe environment, is more than enough.
In order to fulfill the tasks of an RTE, some essential soft skills will however be required. For Maëlle, the main soft skills are:
- Being patient and attentive : ‘’You must take time to listen to all problems. To understand them, you must be interested in everything because, after all, you must be able to defend your decisions to everyone who may ask for explanations.’’
- Keeping calm : ‘’You must keep calm in front of emergencies. An RTE must be able to settle for a decision, as they’re in charge of launching production and problems that may appear during it. You must be able to take a decision quickly, and without panicking.’’
- Being trustful : ‘’You must gain trust from people. It’s important they know you’re the one driving the train, and they can lean on you.’’
3. Stepping Up and Becoming an RTE
Going from a Scrum Master to an RTE role means you must step up, and ti requires a certain preparation.
It’s important to organise your mission’s end and the integration of a new Scrum Master.
- Providing an overview of existing processes, to document in a formal way;
- Updating the Definition of Done and Definition of Ready;
- Checking the existing documentation of the team, as it must be up-to-date and accessible.
Then, taking in hand your new RTE role often comes simultaneously.
If you’re lucky to experience a handover period with your predecessor, you must take the best out of that time. It was Maëlle’s case: ‘’The handover went for a month. It wasn’t a full month as I was still a Scrum Master for a team on that train before changing my role definitely. I had functions to assume aside from my handover, so it was only when we had some time for this… To gain skills quickly, as soon as it was possible, I shadowed my predecessor and documented everything he was doing. This helped creating a base for our exchanges.’’
Switching roles from a Scrum Master to an RTE also implies a change of posture.
When she was a Scrum Master, Maëlle was managing a team of 7 people. Today, she drives a train made of 80 people. To become a facilitator for the entire train and people within it, you must get an overview of the train. The key? Learn to delegate, and give the lead to Scrum Masters for their own teams.
‘’A major change from the Scrum Master role is to be able to get an overview of problems. You take a less direct part, but you must be able to answer to the whole train, and no longer to a single team. You must get support from your Scrum Masters, who will have the right information and be able to give it to the right people.’’
4. Making Your Role Switch a Success: Maëlle’s Advices and Key Factors
Maëlle shares with us the main challenges you’ll face and strategies you’ll need to score.
Come without preconceived ideas
When she was handed over the role of RTE, Maëlle asked her predecessor not to give his opinion on the train’s problems.
The goal? To forge her own opinion on the many situations and to propose her own solutions, free from any received wisdom.
This naturally doesn’t mean you don’t need to talk and exchange with those involved, but rather you need to authorize yourself to have a fresh look on a problem.
Build a team of Scrum Masters based on trust
‘’The RTE is the train’s showcase, you must know every issue existing and to come, dependances and risks, as well as status, mishaps, and production launches, so you can advise, lead, and take the right decisions. Being able to lean on your Scrum Masters is essential. All day long, we communicate together, and we meet every week for 2 hours and a half: One hour to go through follow-up and improvements, and get a state of play, and then one hour and a half to share about our agile practises.
Make communication flow better
The role of an RTE lies much in facilitation. Communication must therefore be efficient…
…towards the teams:
‘’The RTE’s timetable must not be too crowded and must be visible for everyone to clearly show when you’re available, in order to facilitate, accompany and help the train.’’
…but also towards the final user:
‘’It’s essential to make sure communication is good and our product’s users are satisfied. To achieve that, I often go through unanswered emails the train received (which implies being in copy of every email coming in or out) and make sure the user support is efficient.’’
Make everyone’s role clear
It’s true for every member of the train, RTE included.
‘’Understanding what people expect form me on short- and mid-term is essential. I had exchanges with every role to collect their expectations and understand their opinion on problems they currently have in order to define my short- and mid-term goals.’’
Making everyone’s role clearer was also vital: ‘’On my train, there was a lot of turnover and new roles were created (PM support and PO support). Roles and responsibilities of each role were no longer clear for everyone. I organised a workshop to work together on those issues and make everything clearer.’’
Have the teams committed
‘’Another big challenge of the RTE is animation. You must motivate the teams and make collaborators aware of their responsibilities.’’
Everything follows the tempo set by the SAFe framework, but sometimes, going beyond that becomes necessary. For example, when a blocking point is discovered, organising a workshop will be a good way to go forward with the issue.
When Maëlle got the opportunity to become an RTE, she first felt apprehension towards the idea of assuming this role, a much larger one than a Scrum Master’s. Once the worries faded away, she was thrilled to face this new challenge!
Now that she fully owns her train driver cap, her advice would be to go for it: ‘’You don’t have to be scared. If you have some experience as a Scrum Master and Scrum Master SAFe, it’s quite natural to become an RTE. You don’t have to tell yourself your shoulders are not broad enough for this. If you have motivation, it’s kind of a logical next step.’’
What is the RTE’s role?
The RTE (Release Train Engineer) is one of the key roles for an organisation working within a SAFe framework. They facilitate communication between the many people, guard the methodology temple, and make sure the SAFe framework is applied correctly, that its key principles are respected and that agile events follow accordingly. The RTE drives the train in order to facilitate coordination and have every team work in the same direction. They also work on an ongoing improvement of the train’s functioning.
What is the difference between a Scrum Master and an RTE?
The difference between an RTE and a Scrum Master lies in the size of the framework they work in, the extent of their responsibilities and action. The RTE works within a SAFe framework, an agile framework which is generally used by enterprises which want to extend the agile work method to the entire organisation.
Scrum vs SAFe: for which role?
Agile Framework (SAFe) are both used in management of agile projects. However, with the SAFe method, the RTE’s environment seems to go beyond the Scrum’s in applying agility on an organisation scale.