Using a Coaching Canvas to develop the Release Train Engineer Capability

The Release Train Engineer (RTE) is the Chief Scrum Master for a group of teams and is a critical role for delivering at scale. To perform this role effectively requires advanced skills and experience to support the organisation agility effort, as well as facilitate and enable end-to-end value delivery through the Agile Release Train (ART).

This role is responsible for building a high-performing team through servant leadership, self organisation and supporting scrum masters. They must facilitate the scrum at scale processes and play a critical role in planning and executing program delivery, and fostering relentless improvement.

To be effective in this role, it is essential for the RTE also continue to learn and develop their own skills and capabilities, in order to effectively coach other leaders in the organisation, stakeholders, scrum masters and their teams in new processes and building agile mindsets.

I was recently working with a client who was a new RTE. To help focus their development and build capability, we developed an RTE coaching canvas that looked at all aspects of the role, and what it would take for them to be effective in the role, to achieve the program goals and to support teams to deliver.

ZXM’s Coaching Canvas provides a framework to support and empower the RTE to develop key capabilities required for success. By exploring the RTE role and related challenges and responsibilities, this approach helps to first identify, and then focus on high value areas for improvement.

The primary goal of the coaching canvas is to prepare the RTE to commit to, and focus on their own personal and professional development. Leading by example, they must demonstrate and model the benefits of relentless improvement.

This model engages the RTE in understanding their own areas for development, at the same time developing the necessary capabilities to coach others, who are often new in their own roles and less experienced.

Create commitment to a structured learning plan

The Coaching Canvas details a meaningful program of learning, outlining specific, measurable goals and strategies to best achieve those goals. The RTE works with a senior agile coach to build on what they currently know, and focus on their strengths and potential.

The canvas articulates activities and responsibilities, which are regularly reviewed and evaluated, to determine what’s working and what isn’t working.

Focus on high priority areas for improvement

The overall performance and maturity of the ART provides an indication of the effectiveness of the RTE. By assessing the effectiveness of the release train and the program, this helps to unearth and highlight essential areas for improvement. By utilising ZXM’s Agile IQ® assessment framework, we were able to assess the four key areas of  program effectiveness to inform where improvements could be made and what capability development was needed to help achieve these outcomes. The four primary factors of assessment in Agile IQ® are:

  1. Agile leadership – commitment to servant leadership and decentralisation of decision-making
  2. Program Increment (PI) agility – the heart beat of the program in SAFe®
  3. Agile program culture – the values and mindset that underpins agile behaviours
  4. Release Train continuous improvement – relentless improvement of time to market and ability to innovate.

The RTE Coaching Canvas aligns to these program goals. Together with the coach, the RTE identifies the ‘target condition’, which incorporates priority skills and competence to be developed, how improvement will be measured, and what success looks like.

Diverse learning activities to achieve success

Having identified and selected a particular topic or skill to focus on, the conversation moves to determining the appropriate method and relevant learning activities to achieve the target condition. Planned activities must take into consideration the learner’s strengths and weaknesses. Each activity is focused and meaningful, and customised to the current ability and experience level of the participant RTE.

Learning tasks and experiments build on previous activity and allow the RTE to engage with and develop their skills, knowledge and understanding in different ways. Learning activities are active, constructive, intentional and cooperative.

Evaluate outcomes and determine next steps

The Coaching Canvas enables the coach and RTE to inspect outcomes, evaluate the results of the learning and adapt the approach to guide next steps. This stage focuses on what was learned, what was effective, as well as what didn’t work as expected.

Review and evaluation also provides an opportunity to inspect the process and reaffirm the overall goals of the Coaching Canvas. This ensures the model and approach continue to provide a relevant, positive and constructive experience for both the learner (RTE) and the agile coach.

Conclusions

By focusing on their own learning and development, RTE’s build essential capability for ART success. A structured approach to learning through use of the Coaching canvas, helped the RTE to focus on key areas for development and improvement, and empowers them to better lead and support others in their roles. This commitment to personal and professional development further demonstrates and model essential behaviours for others, and builds a culture of relentless improvement.

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