It is a misuse of our power to take responsibility for solving problems that belong to others.
—Peter Block, Stewardship 
Release Train Engineer
The Release Train Engineer (RTE) is a servant leader and ART coach who facilitates ART events and processes, and supports teams in delivering value.
The Release Train Engineer (RTE) is a servant leader and ART coach who facilitates ART events and processes, and supports teams in delivering value.They communicate with stakeholders, escalate impediments, help manage risk, and drive relentless improvement.
Although Agile Release Trains (ARTs) are composed of self-organizing and self-managing teams, these trains cannot drive or steer themselves. That is the responsibility of the RTE, who facilitates most effectively as a servant leader. They have a solid grasp of how to scale Lean and Agile practices and understand the unique opportunities and challenges of aligning and facilitating an ART (team-of-Agile Teams).
The RTE facilitates ART practices and PI execution. They escalate impediments, manage risk, and help ensure value delivery and relentless improvement. RTEs also often participate in the Lean-Agile transformation, coaching leaders, teams, and Scrum Master/Team Coaches in the new mindset and processes. They also help adapt SAFe to the organization’s needs, standardizing and documenting practices.
The RTE is focused primarily on the five following types of activities illustrated in Figure 1. The following sections describe each responsibility.
Facilitating PI Planning
PI Planning is a cadence-based, face-to-face event that serves as the heartbeat of the ART, aligning all the teams on the ART to a shared mission and Vision. RTEs play a vital role in this critical event and typically:
- Help the ART prepare for PI planning – The RTE helps ensure planning readiness in three primary areas: 1) Strategic alignment and organizational readiness for planning (planning scope and context), 2) leadership and team preparedness for the event (content readiness), and 3) manage the logistics for the event (facility or technology and tooling for remote events). RTEs also help the ART prepare by fostering a Continuous Exploration process that drives the synthesis of a vision, a Roadmap, and Backlogs.
- Facilitate the PI planning event – An effective RTE is critical to a successful event, and they typically do the following activities to help facilitate PI planning:
- On day 1 of planning, the RTE opens the event and reviews the purpose, agenda, working agreements, planning rules, expectations, and other logistics. They introduce speakers who discuss the business context, product vision (and top 10 features), architectural vision, and development practices and present the planning context. They run the Coach Sync (during team breakout #1) and manage the draft plan reviews and management review problem-solving meetings.
- On day 2 of planning, the RTE facilitates planning adjustments, team breakout #2 and Coach Syncs, final plan reviews, addresses ART PI risks, holds a confidence vote, plans rework (if needed), and ends the event with the planning retrospective and moving forward instructions.
Supporting PI Execution
RTEs have significant accountability for the successful execution of the PI. They typically have the following responsibilities during the PI:
- Track progress – RTEs assist in tracking the execution of Features in the ART Kanban, ensuring the ART meets its definition of done. RTEs coordinate impediment removal and escalate and address problems that the teams cannot resolve independently. Moreover, they use working solutions in the System Demo as the primary measure of progress.
- Facilitate periodic synchronization events – These events include the ART sync, System Demos, and PI system demo. They help the ART manage PI risks and dependencies using the ROAM technique and ART planning board.
- Support ART backlog refinement – RTEs collaborate with Product and Solution Management, Business Owners, Product Owners, and other stakeholders to help ensure the backlog aligns with strategy.
- Promote DevOps and continuous delivery – RTEs promote DevOps, and the Continuous Delivery Pipeline, including Built-in Quality and the Lean User Experience (UX) innovation cycle. Moreover, they help coordinate releases and plan additional activities and milestones needed to deliver the solution, so it meets the definition of done (DoD).
- Assist Business Owners – RTEs support economic decision-making for epics, facilitating feature estimation by Agile Teams. They understand and operate within Lean Budgets, ensuring adherence to Guardrails.
- Coordinate planning efforts with other ARTs – RTEs establish and communicate the annual calendars for Iterations and PIs and schedule any pre-planning activities.
Coaching the ART
RTEs are the ART’s chief Scrum Master/Team Coach. In this role, they generally have the following types of responsibilities:
- Coach with powerful questions – RTEs do not have all the answers. Instead, they ask powerful questions to uncover what’s essential, then guide others to tap into their knowledge and expertise. Some examples of powerful questions include:
- What brings us to this inquiry?
- What other possibilities or options exist?
- What is it we’re not seeing?
- What do we need to reach a deeper level of understanding?
- If success was guaranteed, what actions would you take?
- Coach SM/TCs in ART and team events and practices – This may include ART events such as PI planning, system demos and Inspect and Adapt, and team events such as iteration planning, review, retrospective, and backlog refinement.
- Coach ART roles – RTEs coach Business Owners, System Architects, and Product Management and encourage collaboration between teams and System Architects. In addition, they foster Lean-Agile practices and mindsets for Agile Teams and the ART.
Agile Teams and ARTs strive to achieve a state of continuous flow, enabling new features to move quickly from concept to cash. Principle #6, Make value flow without interruption, describes how to accelerate flow. RTEs are typically responsible for the following flow activities:
- Establish pull systems to optimize the flow of value – RTEs use various tools, such as the ART Kanban and other information radiators, to ensure a smooth flow of value.
- Establish ART flow measures – These metrics include the five flow measures (see Measure and Grow) and flow predictability, which identifies how predictable Agile Teams and trains deliver business value against their planned objectives.
- Improve the flow of value – RTEs help improve the flow of value by assessing and improving the practices associated with DevOps and the Continuous Delivery Pipeline. Moreover, they coach the train to apply the eight flow accelerators described in the Team Flow and ART Flow articles.
- Facilitate value stream mapping – RTEs help the ART define the development value stream’s steps, identifying handoffs, bottlenecks, and delays. This mapping highlights the total lead time needed to fulfill a request while spotlighting areas for improvement.
- Reduce or eliminate cross-team dependencies – RTEs review patterns from the ART planning board and consider how to improve the organizational design of the ART and teams by applying Team Topologies.
The relentless pursuit of perfection has always been one of the core tenets of Lean. It’s also one of SAFe’s four core values. While unattainable, striving for perfection leads to continuous improvements to products and services. The RTE typically facilitates the following types of improvement activities:
- Drive relentless improvement – RTEs foster the pursuit of perfection via the Inspect and Adapt problem-solving workshop. They support just-in-time improvement throughout the PI, leveraging the Coach and PO syncs, Communities of Practice, and promote the use of engineering and Built-In Quality practices.
- Leverage the SAFe core competency self-assessments – RTEs help teams and trains improve on the technical and business practices needed to achieve the larger aim of the portfolio.
- Collaborate with the Value Management Office (VMO) and LACE – RTEs help focus the ART on delivering value and operational excellence (see the Lean Portfolio Management article).
RTEs Are Servant Leaders
While new RTEs typically have the organizational skills to perform their roles, they may need to learn and adopt Lean-Agile Mindsets. They may need to transition from directing and managing activities to acting as a servant leader. Servant leadership is a philosophy that implies a comprehensive view of the quality of people, work, and community spirit . The focus is on providing the support needed by the teams and ARTs to be self-organizing and self-managing. Characteristic servant leader actions include:
- Listen to and support teams in problem identification and decision-making
- Create an environment of mutual influence
- Understand and empathize with others
- Encourage and support the personal development of each individual and the development of teams
- Think beyond day-to-day activities and apply systems thinking
- Support the teams’ commitments
- Be open and appreciate openness in others
 Block, Peter. Stewardship: Choosing Service over Self–Interest. Berrett–Koehler Publishers, 2013.
 Servant Leadership. Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Servant_leadership
Leffingwell, Dean. Agile Software Requirements: Lean Requirements Practices for Teams, Programs, and the Enterprise. Addison-Wesley Professional, 2010.
Trompenaars, Fons, and Ed Voerman. Servant-Leadership Across Cultures: Harnessing the Strengths of the World’s Most Powerful Management Philosophy. McGraw-Hill, 2009.
Last update: 5 July 2023