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7 Challenges of Being a Release Train Engineer


Challenges of Being a Release Train Engineer

A release train engineer (RTE) plays a crucial role coordinating across multiple teams to deliver complex solutions. However, the position comes with unique challenges around influencing without authority, navigating company politics, and managing myriad stakeholder demands. This article explores common challenges of being a Release Train Engineer and how to tackle them.

7 Challenges of Being a Release Train Engineer


Resistance to Change

One of the most common struggles RTEs encounter is resistance to change when introducing new ways of working like agile processes or tools. People inherently cling to the familiar status quo.

RTEs aiming to implement substantive changes often face objections due to:

  • Fear of the unknown – Change signifies uncertainty about the future state
  • Comfort with current state – People are averse to learning new tools/processes
  • Lack of involvement – Change dictated top-down feels threatening
  • Poor communication – Insufficient explanation of “why” behind changes

To overcome resistance, RTEs must shepherd teams through change gradually:

  • Provide extensive training and education on new methods so people understand the benefits
  • Actively involve teams in shaping the changes so they gain commitment
  • Start small with pilots before wider rollout so people gain confidence
  • Be patient – recognize meaningful mindset shifts take months or years
  • Spotlight early wins and improvements from changes to reinforce positive progress

RTEs should expect resistance and have empathy – change is genuinely hard at an emotional level. Guide people persistently but compassionately. Listen to concerns and provide transparency. With consistent reinforcement of the vision over time, RTEs can transform skepticism into enthusiastic adoption.

Lack of Buy-In

A major obstacle for RTEs is implementing changes or new approaches without sufficient buy-in from leaders or teams. Trying to drive change without strong sponsorship risks fizzling out.

Reasons RTEs may encounter lack of buy-in include:

  • Poor communication of the “why” behind proposed changes
  • Inadequate involvement of stakeholders early in shaping vision
  • Leaders distrusting loss of control or visibility
  • Teams doubting new methods will improve upon status quo
  • Competing priorities diluting focus on strategic changes

To build buy-in, RTEs should:

  • Articulate a compelling vision explaining why changes are vital to the business
  • Quantify expected benefits through data, benchmarks, case studies
  • Involve leaders and teams early in defining solutions
  • Conduct small pilots to demonstrate potential before broad rollout
  • Highlight quick wins and progress from early adoption
  • Keep communicating persistently to reinforce the vision

Without executive endorsement, RTEs must lean on influence skills vs. authority to generate buy-in. They persevere through skepticism by maintaining clear focus on the end goal. With good change management, RTEs gain voluntary supporters across the organization.

Scope Creep

A perpetual balancing act for RTEs is managing stakeholder requests amidst fixed timelines and resources. Requirements often creep outward endlessly, accumulating frivolous features or embellishments beyond the core goals.

Scope creep happens due to:

  • Lack of priority framing – Every desired idea seems mandatory
  • Weak change control – Accepting new requests without vetting impact
  • Poor sprint planning – Fuzzy commitments allow unplanned work to emerge
  • Fear of saying no – Teams take on work without pushback
  • Late critical feedback – Changes piled on at the end of projects

To control scope creep, RTEs should:

  • Clearly frame project priorities early and reinforce often
  • Implement a robust change control process for new requests
  • Realign patiently on how additional features affect timeline or quality
  • Coach teams to push back on out-of-scope work
  • Solicit user feedback earlier to identify must-haves sooner
  • Identify low value requirements that can be cut or postponed

RTEs must hold the line on scope creep firmly yet diplomatically. By maintaining focus on delivering the critical few over the trivial many, RTEs keep teams progressing efficiently towards collective goals. Saying “no” at the right moments is key to sustainability.

Poor Communication

Release train engineers rely heavily on clear communication and transparency to coordinate across teams and leadership. When communication breaks down, progress grinds to a halt.

Causes of poor communication include:

  • Information silos between teams or departments
  • Assuming messages received without verifying
  • Using complex jargon with business stakeholders
  • Lack of documentation and information radiators
  • Relying on email versus interactive communication
  • Failing to clarify decisions and next steps after meetings

To improve communication, RTEs should:

  • Build relationships and trust between teams proactively
  • Overcommunicate important milestones, risks, and program changes
  • Summarize key takeaways at end of meetings and corroborate understandings
  • Simplify complex details for digestibility when reporting up
  • Encourage informal collaboration and knowledge sharing
  • Verify people are interpreting messages consistently
  • Supplement email with face-to-face or virtual conversations

Strong RTEs establish relentless transparency, frequent touchpoints, and healthy team dynamics to ensure fluid communication. They intentionally create environments where information flows freely across the program.

Team Conflicts

As integrators across disparate groups, RTEs inevitably must mitigate conflicts between teams regarding priorities, resources, methods, or personalities. Contentious situations can quickly escalate if not mediated effectively.

Common causes of team conflicts include:

  • Differing goals or epistemologies between groups
  • Resource contention between interdependent teams
  • Abrasive personalities or work styles clashing
  • Lack of role clarity around decision rights
  • Poor conflict resolution skills within teams

To resolve team conflicts, RTEs should:

  • Listen objectively to understand all perspectives without bias
  • Find areas of common interest or benefit to rebuild rapport
  • Establish shared goals and metrics teams aim to optimize together
  • Coach teams on healthy conflict resolution techniques
  • Institute mediation ground rules when tensions flare like avoiding personal attacks
  • Reset focus on customers and user outcomes versus personal agenda
  • Implement collaboration rituals to foster understanding of interdependencies

RTEs must remain impartial brokers of peace during team disputes. They aim for “win-win” compromises focusing on shared objectives. RTEs model level-headedness and lead teams to constructive solutions versus destructive feuds.

Unclear Metrics

An ongoing struggle for RTEs is identifying meaningful metrics to gauge program progress, especially when implementing agile methods. Traditional metrics like utilization rates, story point velocity, and output targets may conflict with agile values.

Challenges with metrics stem from:

  • Measuring activity over outcome
  • Lacking customer-focused business value measures
  • Incentivizing speed over sustainability
  • Emphasizing output metrics over quality
  • Relying on trailing versus leading indicators

To establish effective metrics, RTEs should:

  • Identify key business and customer goals to orient measurements
  • Derive outcome-based metrics that indicate value delivery, not just output
  • Implement satisfaction and quality metrics based on user feedback
  • Balance speed with stability by tracking defects and technical debt
  • Use leading indicators like live defect rates to complement lagging data
  • Automate data collection for real-time monitoring versus manual reports
  • Continuously revisit and refine metrics alignment to business objectives

Without north star metrics to guide decisions, teams lose focus quickly. RTEs must distill meaningful program measures amidst complex and evolving environments. Clarity of metrics prevents veering off course.

Lack of Influence

RTEs must drive change and alignment through influence rather than formal authority. Without direct decision rights, they can struggle getting teams to adopt new ways of working.

RTEs may encounter influence challenges due to:

  • Organizational silos and politics obstructing coordination
  • Senior leaders distrusting loss of control with agile adoption
  • RTE input discounted by those clinging to command-and-control norms
  • Teams rejecting changes handed down by non-authoritative figures

To build influence, RTEs should:

  • Establish credibility over time by listening, building consensus, and delivering consistently
  • Communicate their vision effectively to inspire people versus coerce them
  • Leverage key partnerships and allies across groups to spread ideas
  • Avoid overpromising; manage expectations while building trust
  • Use data, benchmarks, and pilots to substantiate proposed changes
  • Embrace transparency with teams and welcome feedback
  • Have patience; influencing takes time and perseverance

RTEs wield power through expertise, relationships, and resilience, not formal title. They pull people together around a compelling vision for the future. With commitment to leading by influence, RTEs can unite teams to adopt better ways of working over time.

Final Words

Release train engineers invariably face obstacles like resistance to change, unclear metrics, and lack of authority. However, through collaboration, communication, and unwavering focus on customer value delivery, these hurdles are surmountable.

RTEs must remain agile in their leadership style – listening to objections, coaching teams through uncertainty, and driving alignment through inspiration rather than mandate.

Progress requires patience, tenacity, and compassion. By exemplifying the change they want to see, RTEs can earn buy-in and shape mindsets over time.

The RTE role is demanding but profoundly empowering. Leaning on influence skills and modeling agile values enables overcoming the inevitable trials on the journey.

The work is difficult but not thankless. Guiding teams to embrace new ways of working that pay dividends is what makes the RTE role so rewarding.

With a collaborative spirit, laser focus on customer needs, and commitment to continuous improvement, RTEs can find success even amidst roadblocks. The challenges shape great RTEs as much as the victories.

Become a certified RTE by attending of Release Train Engineer Certification Training. LeanWisdom is a Accredited Gold training partner for Scaled Agile, Inc., who provides the RTE certification.