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Promoting Technical Excellence Across Release Trains

Technical Excellence Across Release Trains

As release train engineers (RTEs) coordinate multiple agile teams to deliver complex solutions, they play a crucial yet often overlooked role in upholding reliable and sustainable engineering practices across initiatives. Beyond just facilitating processes, RTEs have a responsibility to actively promote technical excellence across all release trains under their guidance.

Through focused leadership, steadfast advocacy, and empowering teams to pursue continuous enhancement, RTEs can profoundly impact code quality, architecture rigor, automation coverage, and overall craftsmanship. But they must be intentional – technical prowess does not happen by accident in dynamic environments.

By shining light on the enabling conditions for engineering greatness, RTEs can inspire teams to surpass “good enough” standards. They foster accountability to quality, optimization for maintainability, and passion for mastery across the technical staff.

This article explores specific ways RTEs with no formal engineering authority can positively influence the engineering culture. We will discuss establishing standards, analyzing trends, upgrading environments, leading design reviews, and rewarding high performers. Together, RTEs and technical leads can guide initiatives to deliver both speed and reliability.

Establish Coding Standards

One impactful way RTEs can promote technical excellence is by establishing program-level coding standards and conventions that optimize maintainability, security, performance, and collaboration.

RTEs should work with the architecture team and technical leads to define comprehensive coding guidelines and best practices covering:

  • Naming conventions for classes, variables, methods
  • Code formatting standards like indentations, white space
  • Commenting expectations
  • Debugging and logging protocols
  • Error handling patterns
  • Security practices
  • Performance optimization techniques

These program-wide standards provide uniformity across codebases and initiatives. RTEs can then coach teams to adopt conventions versus fragmented styles.

Coding standards should be treated as living documents, updated as practices evolve. RTEs can recommend linting tools like Sonarqube or ES Lint to automatically enforce guidelines.

Common standards foster better collaboration across teams. RTEs help break down silos by aligning groups to consistent technical habits.

Clear guidance on expectations also aids onboarding of new team members. RTEs enable excellence by establishing coding best practices as the norm.

Mandate Code Reviews

An impactful practice RTEs should universally mandate is peer code reviews for all major feature branches before merging.

Reviews involve qualified developers inspecting code for defects, unconventional techniques, missed edge cases, and deviations from standards.

Beyond quality control, reviews significantly improve knowledge sharing, style consistency, mentoring, and collective code ownership.

By policy, RTEs should require all substantial code changes to be reviewed by at least one peer before merge. Small fixes can have informal reviews.

RTEs can recommend tools like Crucible, ReviewBoard, or GitHub PRs to automate code review workflows rather than just ad-hoc email exchanges.

For reviewers, focus should be on improving the code not criticizing creators. Style critiques demonstrate alternate techniques.

RTEs should analyze review effectiveness over time, ensuring sufficient issues discovered and addressed pre-merge.

Code reviews allow mistakes to be caught early when relatively easy to fix. RTEs reinforce broad responsibility for quality by mandating reviews.

With rigor enforced pre-merge, downstream defects are avoided, learning spreads, and excellence becomes the cultural benchmark.

Continuous improvement requires understanding where you currently stand. RTEs should institute mechanisms to routinely analyze key quality trends across programs.

Useful metrics to assess include:

  • Code quality rating tools like Sonarqube to quantify technical debt, code duplication, complex methods, and security hot spots. RTEs should probe on concerning downward trends.
  • Defect escape rates into production per sprint provide insight into both code and test quality. RTEs can set improvement goals like 10% reduction quarterly.
  • Test automation coverage for unit, integration, performance, security tests. Higher coverage promotes quality velocity.
  • Live site performance using synthetic monitoring. RTEs can push for optimizations when thresholds breached.
  • Ratio of new work to paying down tech debt. Aspire for at least 20% allocation to debt repayment.

Proactively analyzing quality KPIs allows RTEs to guide teams on where improvements are needed based on data versus anecdotes. RTEs should inquire on the root causes behind adverse trends and work with teams to correct course.

Continuous measurement provides crucial visibility. RTEs enable excellence by spotlighting areas of achievement and opportunities through routine quality data reviews.

While RTEs are not hands-on architects, they play an influential role in ensuring overall system architecture keeps pace with business needs.

RTEs should periodically sponsor architecture reviews that take a holistic examination of current designs and identify potential improvements.

These reviews bring together lead architects, technical leads from various teams, and select engineering managers. As a knowledgeable but neutral facilitator, the RTE guides the exchange.

Key areas to examine include:

  • Platform scalability – Can the system satisfy projected growth?
  • Resilience – Are redundancies, fallbacks, and safeguards sufficient?
  • Modularity – Is the architecture componentized appropriately?
  • Security – Have new threats emerged requiring design adjustments?
  • Technology currency – Are foundational technologies still best practice?
  • Change adaptability – How difficult is extending or replacing pieces?

The output should highlight positive architectural aspects and risks needing attention. RTEs can then collaborate on addressing identified deficiencies.

Architecture must evolve continuously as needs change. RTEs play an invaluable role as engaged advocates, ensuring designs are critiqued through constructive dialogue between teams.

Promote Test Automation

One of the highest leverage ways RTEs can enable reliable speed is championing greater test automation coverage.

Automating repetitive checks and validation flows dramatically improves the pace teams can sustain without compromising quality.

RTEs should actively promote expanding automation across dimensions like:

  • Unit testing – Foundational coverage ensuring functions operate correctly. Goal of 70%+ coverage.
  • Integration testing – Validating end-to-end flows across components. Executable spec validation.
  • Interface testing – Automated UI and API testing to catch regressions.
  • Load testing – Simulating production usage volumes to reveal weaknesses.
  • Security testing – Scanning for vulnerabilities like injections, misconfigurations, data leaks.

RTEs can showcase automation success patterns from high performing teams for others to emulate. They can coach on techniques and tool selection.

During planning, RTEs should push teams to allocate 20% or more of capacity to automation. This investment returns exponential dividends over time as suites expand.

Higher test automation serves as a safety net enabling teams to sustain velocity. RTEs make it a priority.

By providing air cover for test automation initiatives, RTEs tangibly improve quality benchmarks. Automation transforms delivery resilience.

Improve Development Environments

An impactful but often overlooked way RTEs can boost productivity is by advocating modernization of engineering tools and workflows.

RTEs should continuously explore options to streamline environments and amplifier developer focus including:

  • Upgrading IDEs and editors with better debuggers, real-time collaboration, and ergonomic UIs
  • Implementing cloud development environments to improve toolchain access and team sharing
  • Integrating platforms like Jira and Slack more tightly with developer workflows
  • Promoting collaboration practices like pair programming and code swarming
  • Establishing inner source code sharing mechanisms between teams
  • Automating provisioning of standardized development environments
  • Providing high quality laptops, monitors, and accessories to avoid distractions

Even small enhancements like autosave tools and customizable shortcuts accumulate into impact.

RTEs can solicit input on friction points and empower teams to iterate their workflows. Bottlenecks can be cleared through focused hackathons.

Maximizing developer environment efficiency should be an ongoing focus for RTEs. The tools directly influence the craft.

Reward High Performers

To motivate technical excellence across trains, RTEs should find opportunities to recognize and celebrate high performing engineers who go above and beyond.

Ways RTEs can highlight exemplars include:

  • Calling out teams or individuals who developed creative solutions or delivered incredible results during stand ups.
  • Featuring engineers who spearheaded major improvements through internal communications.
  • Nominating deserving engineers for formal corporate awards programs.
  • Empowering teams to nominate peers for monthly or quarterly awards selected democratically.
  • Recommending top innovators for conference speaking opportunities to share their work.
  • Sending personal congratulations notes when engineers hit key milestones.

Publicly recognizing achievements not only rewards talent but also sets positive examples for others to emulate.

RTEs should praise both technical accomplishments and teamwork. Excellence is collectively pursued.

Spotlighting engineers who personify high standards motivates continuous improvement across release trains. RTEs recognize quality fuels business outcomes.

Final Words

While not hands-on programmers, release train engineers play an invaluable leadership role in cultivating engineering quality across agile teams. Through focused advocacy, analysis, and upgrades, they create fertile ground for practices like automation, inner source collaboration, and architecture evolution to thrive.

RTEs provide crucial air cover for technical leads to drive advancements amidst competing priorities. They spotlight excellence as the path to sustainable delivery versus chasing speed alone.

By mandating standards, reviewing trends, upgrading environments, and celebrating successes, RTEs tangibly demonstrate technology craftsmanship is a cultural cornerstone.

Technical excellence is a team sport. RTEs therefore need close partnerships with development managers and architects to transform good engineers into exceptional ones.

Though progress requires patience, incremental improvements compound over time into profound capabilities. RTEs enable greatness by nurturing the soils in which it grows organically across release trains.

With diligent leadership, transparent data, and empowered people, RTEs can guide initiatives to deliver both speed and reliability exceeding customer expectations. Onward.

Interested in becoming an RTE? Enroll in our 3 day RTE certification training program and become a certified Release Train Engineer.

Note: LeanWisdom is a Accredited Gold partner and training provider for Scaled Agile, Inc.