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Evolving RTE Behaviors from Project to Product Mindset

RTE Behaviors from Project to Product Mindset

As release train engineers (RTEs) enable Agile adoption at scale, there is an increasing tectonic shift underway from project-oriented thinking that historically dominated software delivery to an ongoing product-centric mindset that permits far greater user focus and innovation. RTEs now face an imperative to profoundly evolve behaviors, leadership styles, and operating models to thrive in modern product-focused contexts.

Clinging to traditional project paradigms centered on outputs, fixed scopes, and regimented team structures proves insufficient in a disruptive era demanding relentless customer centricity, experimentation, and flexibility. RTEs who fail to advance skills and behaviors to lead product-driven trains risk confusing activity with actual value delivery.

This article explores specific mindset shifts and cultural evolution essential for RTEs to progress from project operators to product innovators. We will examine emphasizing holistic outcomes, fostering team autonomy, architecting for change, incentivizing continuous improvement and more.

True transformation starts with RTE perspective shifts before process changes. By exemplifying product thinking early, RTEs can steer trains toward sustainable technology advantage. At stake is nothing less than competitive relevance as product delivery becomes integral to survival.

Emphasize Outcomes Over Outputs

Historically Release Train Engineers focused on output metrics like story points completed, features released, or utilization rates to demonstrate productivity. But the product lens demands a focus on business outcomes over feature output.

RTEs should coach teams to directly tie all work items to measurable goals versus simply taking ordered requests. Outcomes manifest the real-world benefits from building solutions, output just quantifies production.

Examples of orienting around customer versus output include:

  • Measuring sign-ups and engagement instead of features deployed
  • Tracking calls deflected through self-service rather than just interface capabilities
  • Lowering support tickets through better experiences versus more widgets built
  • Analyzing usage trends and user sentiment instead of release velocity

Outcomes have permanence whereas output is transient. RTEs should guide teams to solve user problems, not just temporarily appease stakeholders each sprint.

Output metrics provide vanity, outcome metrics demonstrate meaningful impact aligned to company goals. RTEs must reinforce the latter persistently across all levels of leadership and teams to transform culture.

Adopt Innovation Not Just Execution Mentalities

The traditional project mindset focuses narrowly on execution – finish requirements, hit deadlines, meet budgets. But a product lens demands creativity, experimentation and continuously delighting users.

RTEs should coach teams to balance execution with discovery, not just regimented delivery. They make time for generative activities like:

  • Brainstorming workshops to uncover creative alternatives
  • Design sprints to rapidly prototype and test new concepts
  • Hackathons to inject fun while solving gnarly problems
  • Retrospective meetings oriented around innovation not just process

RTEs incent experimentation by allowing rapid testing of new experience ideas directly with target users. They motivate teams around building the future not just present.

Some ideas may fizzle but some may crack open new opportunity areas not apparent through traditional analysis. RTEs celebrate disciplined innovation attempts.

By adopting innovation mentalities, RTEs transform trains from merely productive to pioneering platforms where people feel inspired to create, not just crank. The energy shift is palpable with opportunities to delight versus accomplish requirements.

Obsess Over Product-Market Fit

An immense shift for RTEs is understanding and aligning to target user needs beyond internal stakeholder demands. Actions should center around product-market fit.

RTEs make continuous user research an operating rhythm by:

  • Scheduling quarterly user advisory panels for each product area
  • Implementing embedded customer advocate roles on trains
  • Commissioning ethnographic user studies of personas using products
  • Analyzing usage analytics, app store reviews, social media traction
  • Establishing feedback channels like surveys and user interviews

Insights then directly inform backlogs and solution priorities. RTEs should be fluent in user pains versus assuming product requirements.

They also guide teams to rapidly experiment with minimum viable solutions to validate or invalidate hypotheses. Speedy feedback loops trump prolonged analysis.

Obsession over customers also transforms status reporting. RTEs spotlight usage trends, satisfaction metrics, and user testimonials as true measures of impact.

Without product-market harmony as the north star, delivery easily veers into misalignment with actual needs. RTEs continually reconnect groups to real-world value impacts beyond output.

Architect for Change

Traditional projects struggle to absorb new learning or change once requirements are set. But adopting a product model demands building adaptability into delivery from the onset.

RTEs should architect solutions for flexibility by:

  • Decomposing monoliths into modular services with clean interfaces
  • Utilizing platform architectures versus bespoke stacks
  • Designing configurable data models versus rigid schemas
  • Delivering thin user interfaces on top of reusable component libraries
  • Automating deployment pipelines to reduce regression risk
  • Implementing feature flags for real-time configuration

Change resilience requires foresight. RTEs should conduct architecture spikes focused on extensibility, perform annual technology reviews, and implement robust engineering practices.

Teams also need healthy budgets for refactoring and tech upgrades to prevent erosion. Change becomes sustainable versus destabilizing.

Enabling modification with less coordination overhead also accelerates experimentation and feedback incorporation.

RTEs foster cultural readiness for ongoing evolution through leadership messaging and bitterness reduction around change. Adaptability gives competitive advantage.

By architecting for uncertainty, RTEs transform projects into flexible and durable platforms primed for innovation as markets shift.

Cultivate Autonomy

The traditional project mindset relies on strict scope control and detailed requirements handed down to teams. But RTEs enabling product thinking must nurture autonomy.

They coach teams to have wide space for determining optimal solutions versus waiting on specific instruction.

RTEs provide strategic guardrails and goals but permit teams to leverage their creativity in solving problems. They cultivate internal drive, not external micromanagement.

Example autonomy enablers include:

  • Allocating innovation time for teams to self-direct
  • Including engineers in customer advisory panels
  • Actively soliciting ideas to enhance products
  • Trusting teams to utilize their unique expertise
  • Congratulating experimentation over inaction
  • Allowing groups to shape their processes and rituals

By granting autonomy bounded by clear outcomes, RTEs tap innate motivation and ingenuity within teams. They enable talent to take charge versus always be directed.

RTEs provide air cover for teams to try new ideas without judgment. Autonomy balanced with alignment fuels ownership.

Champion Continuous Improvement

The traditional project model struggles to incorporate learning and improvement once initial requirements are set. But the heart of product thinking is progressive enhancement driven by user feedback.

RTEs should institutionalize mechanisms for continuous improvement including:

  • Scheduling frequent showcases to demo solutions and gather insights
  • Implementing embedded customer advocate roles within trains
  • Analyzing usage data, app reviews, and site metrics each sprint
  • Establishing action item ticketing from advisors to address concerns
  • Allocating 20% time for innovation work between sprint demands
  • Running regular ideation workshops to uncover enhancement opportunities

Improvements both delight users and increase business value. RTEs reinforce the mindset of perpetual refinement with teams and stakeholders.

They guide groups to turn solutions into ever-evolving platforms versus static outputs. New capabilities build on existing foundations through agile rhythm.

RTEs expect updates every iteration or release. Change becomes assumed, not disruptive. Predictability and flexibility coexist through reliable improvement cadence.

Structure Teams Around Value

Historically teams formed around functional silos – developers, testers, infrastructure. But RTEs enabling product thinking should organize groups around end-to-end value.

They facilitate creation of cross-functional product teams or squads spanning skills needed to deliver full customer solutions.

These teams own entire experiences from ideation to production and support:

  • UX designers frame problems and prototype concepts
  • Engineers build, test and deploy features
  • Data scientists provide usage analytics
  • Product managers keep vision aligned to outcomes
  • Customer advocates supply direct user feedback

With broader ownership beyond specialized execution, teams focus on holistic value not departmental responsibilities. Deadly handoff waste reduces through shared missions.

RTEs eliminate artificial barriers between groups contributing to the same solution. Alignment forms around delivering outstanding experiences versus completing departmental work.

When teams own integrated outcomes, increased innovation, flexibility, and velocity result. RTEs guide new team models to unlock latent potential.

Reward Outcomes, Not Output

One of the clearest ways RTEs can reinforce a product mindset is by updating recognition programs to spotlight outcomes versus output.

Too often teams receive awards for things like lines of code produced, tests executed, or features released. But these merely quantify activity, not real-world impact.

RTEs should overhaul incentives like:

  • Celebrating usage metrics, customer satisfaction, or revenue results versus release velocity
  • Recognizing creative solutions to customer problems not just requirement checkoffs
  • Highlighting examples of user delight and loyalty earned at standups
  • Making excellence the benchmark versus celebrating adequate output
  • Sharing qualitative wins like testimonials not just quantities shipped

Updating rewards to reflect product and experience achievements better motivates teams by connecting work to human value versus management reports.

RTEs must walk the walk by deliberately spotlighting outcome examples that showcase teams aligning delivery to customer needs versus internal activities. The metrics for recognition set culture direction.

Final Words

The traditional project model that guided software delivery for decades struggles in a disruptive age demanding relentless user focus and agility. RTEs now face an imperative to advance behaviors that fuel innovation and outcomes over constrained output.

By emphasizing holistic value, architecting for flexibility, granting teams autonomy, and setting new cultural direction, RTEs can transform release trains from transient project vehicles into enduring and excellent product platforms.

But fundamental perspective shifts must precede process changes. RTEs must exemplify product thinking to teams through their own leadership style, communication, and coaching. They model the future first.

Evolving from project executor to product enabler is challenging but essential as technology becomes integral to competitiveness. Companies with RTEs that make the leap will sustain advantage.

While risks accompany shifts, the cost of clinging to antiquated project paradigms is stagnation. RTEs now have an opportunity to unshackle teams through renovated product principles that fuel innovation. Onward!

Interested in Becoming a Release Train Engineer? Enroll in our 3 days of Release train Engineer certification training conducted online.

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