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Program Manager To SAFe® RTE- Rethinking When Scaling Agile

Early days of her career, Susan Gibson had roles as a developer and as a project manager. Now Susan is an enthusiastic and caring presenter, consultant, facilitator and coach, and CEO. I am pleased to have her as the speaker for this evening and I would like to turn over the presentation to see them now. 

Great Lindy! Thank you everybody, it's really awesome to be here with you this evening and I am here to talk to you about the Scaled Agile Framework and the role of the Release Train Engineer as well as the Solution Train Engineer and you know how to do you kind of make that transition from a programme manager or project manager into both of these is very crucial and vital roles within the scaled agile framework and so I am going to start here and we are just grounding us in what the scaled agile framework is and you can find this at scaled agile framework.com.  

And just to kind of orient us and what you are looking at here, I have got the two red arrows showing the two roles that we will be talking about. I am going to focus on the Release Train Engineer that's RTE there at the bottom corner and the upper one though I just want to call attention to the Solution Train Engineer and it's really looking at greater scope around the work that’s going on and so very briefly what you see here is the scaled agile framework and it is organised around four levels and this is considered as the full configuration of the scaled agile framework and what you see in the upper left-hand corner is the enterprise and if you can imagine the scaling factor here an enterprise would be made up of multiple portfolios and what you see there across that portfolio level are value streams and so portfolios may have more than one value stream again, that's what represented there in those chevron diagrams and what that second level of safe is representing that large solution configuration is when you have very large value streams and that working with enterprises that are building large development systems.

It could be very large product solutions, very large services that they are providing, where you have complicated a scope of work with several hundred people or even thousands of people in some cases and had many many suppliers or vendors and then that next level that you see that program is really talking about program execution and what that is meant to represent is that you have got the agile release train which is that programming engine in safe, it is made up of multiple agile teams so that's what you see at the team level in the big picture and the person who is kind of guiding, coaching and handling impediments on behalf of all of the teams on that agile release train is the release train engineer, that's at RTE and you can see there that they are connected to the system architect or the engineer and product management and so they work together actually around not only guiding the work that's coming into the agile release train but giving that overall architectural guidance and that business representation and product vision and roadmap on the product management.

So I would like to pose a question - What's your listening superpower? If you had to characterize yourself as a listener well, what does it look like? It takes a different shape and different people. I know for myself, you know, I really give silence and space to the person who is talking, the person who is on the team who are engaged in a conversation and I really bring my superpower of observation to that deep listening ability to be able to kind of turn that to the individuals or to the teams to be able to ask probing questions but I really give that space for listening and in supporting and you know one of the things that this brings into the conversation is that you have got to even allow for the what we think is the wrong decisions to be made and let some failure come into being able to really support people and empower them to make decisions and one of the benefits around agile is that we limit that to hopefully small time increments. They are like reducing the risk of the failures but you know they are there for us every day, we are human beings and so they are there for us every day and they are able to listen and support people and teams throughout their kind of they are growing their ability to make decisions is a vital part of becoming a release train engineer and when you are dealing with scale and I am sure some of you deal with scale and organizations you are in today. You know you cannot be the one and only problem solver well you have to decentralize these decisions and move into that listening stance and supporting stance.

The third characteristic, our ability or superpower of a release train engineer is creating an environment of mutual influence and I would love to hear from all of you, you know what has been your experience of mutual influence? What does this mean to you when you hear the phrase mutual influence? And you know what comes to my mind is it's not only you know it kind of breaks down the hierarchy of the organization and the power hierarchy of the organization and come to a realization that we really are human beings showing up for work every day and having that ability to have good conversations and communications with everybody.

How do you kind of bring that into the work environment? You know it might sound to do and it's something we tend to do without even thinking about it in our personal lives but when we walk into our corporate environment, it is not so easy and it comes down to really exposing your vulnerability at that time and saying I have expressed this, I have experienced this and you know what we can do together to really create an environment of trust, safety, and mutual influence regardless of the level that you are in, in the organisation or with your clients. So I have some great comments coming - thank you so much Kunal for that and Lindy and you know really being able to ask those questions allow that environment of brainstorming to occur and coming back to that listening and supporting right of all those thoughts and ideas and decisions that are getting made - thank you so much for that.

Next, we have Empathy and I think empathy can be quite misunderstood you know and empathizing with others and I took this picture from a very very nice Youtube video from BruneI Brown, it's about two and a half minutes and you can search for this. And empathy is really putting you in kind of the heart of the other person and you may not have experienced what they are experiencing that you want to share those experience with them and so it builds on all of these other thoughts and ideas that we are talking about here kind of moving into that space of listening and supporting of mutual influence and saying you know I feel your pain, I feel your failure, I want to just be here with you and hold this space with you and the differentiation that a BruneI Brown makes empathy and sympathy is I am sure we have all experienced this and maybe we have even said it ourselves at times you know, yes I hear what you are saying and at least it is not this other thing and what that does is actually minimizes the feeling of the other person, you know it's like always painting that silver lining and sometimes we don't want to actually have a silver lining. We want someone to just sit there and hold the space with us and just you know put a hand on the shoulder or you know give a hug or extend some human compassion and just say I am here with you and whenever you are ready I am here to listen and support you in whatever it is which is troubling you.

And you know this is an important aspect of being a release train engineer you know when you have got upwards of hundred and a fifty people that you are interacting with everyday, you know sometimes people just want you to be there and listen to them and hold that space with them so hopefully you have some ideas and some experiences of your that you can share and reflect on around empathy versus sympathy.

Then we have an encouraging personal development of the team and kind of the reflection here is you know who has encouraged you and your personal development? What did that mean to you? And what did that actually allow you to do when you have that environment of mutual influence with this individual? And how has that contributed to your ability to encourage the personal development of others? When you are talking about a release train engineer or a solution train engineer, you know you really want to look at the kind of building up that super of the teams. You know they are the ones doing the daily work around product or solution development around or capability development and having that ability to listen and to support them in their decision making and their problem solving leaving that up to them to decide you know what is the right next move you know you have got the guidance there, you are working with that system agriculture working with your product team to understand what it is that we are asking the teams to do in giving the teams the space to actually do the work in the way that they believe is right and it might not be right in our mind in so kind of giving up that intervention and allowing them to have that development aspect and feel some failure actually and as I mentioned before you know kind of minimizing the impact of those failures and the risk around that by working in very small times boxes and from an agile point of view that's what we call iterations and sprints and from an agile release train point of view we call that as a program increment but being able to minimize the impact of those failures to these time boxes and so you really want to kind of bring your development abilities and grow your development abilities of others instead of keeping staying in that mode of I am going to assign the work, I am going to fix the problems instead I am going to find people who can help solve the problem and when they become greater than the teams can handle, you are going to help them find people in the organisation who can take on these impediments and solve these problems that are greater than the ability of the team and the individuals and the teams.

So I would love to hear from you around your experience with people you that space for personal development and what kind of influence that's had on you in your career and that you have experienced so far.

The next topic is persuading rather than using the authority. This is quite a change in stance if you think about it. You know it's giving up control of the decisions of the problem solving of the influence giving that up and really looking at it as how do we come to a common understanding, how do we come to a common way of communicating, how to we come to a common way of working and the only way we can do that is by talking to one another and having a two-way conversation that requires one person to listen while the other one is talking to you. You know I know in my career, in my own professional development, you know there were times when I was quick to come up with the solutions and I had that in my mind before I had before I was actually listening to the person to find out and really understand what is it that they are asking of me and then the misalignment happens and then depending upon what that situation is I might wield my authority to say well regardless of what you are asking for I am right and this is the way it is going to be instead of really using that stance of persuasion and humanity and deep listening to say you know we don't we may not agree and we may not fully understand each other, we are going to take the time to really dig into this. It gives you my thoughts and ideas and you share your thoughts and ideas and even if it comes out where we don't agree with one another, we will at least come to a shared understanding and so it is really about you know kind of really about you know kind of giving up that control.

I was teaching a class this week and one of the around the scaled agile framework and one of the students at the end of today we did a coaching plan and she said I realized that I just need to relax and let others make the decisions and then you know I can talk about the decision but I don't have to be right all the times, I don't have to own those decisions all the time and so you know that the act of persuasion are taking more of the stance of listening and supporting rather than building authority is an important aspect when you are a personal dealing with human beings which is what who we deal with every day and as well as dealing with scale you know you have to got to give up that kind of control and look at it as allowing that kind of creative energy to emerge in the chaos that might ensue and like I say you know that these failures and the chaos and all of these things from an agile point of view are telling box so that we have a chance to allow those things to happen and then have a point of reflection and then decide what is it that we are going to do next and so that time boxing allows us to have this cadence around what is it that we are planning to do, what is that we are doing, what is that we need to improve upon and so all of this comes together and is facilitated by the release train engineer and allowing all of this kind of creative energy to take shape.

Next is applying system thinking and you know systems thinking is a big discipline unto itself and you know when you are looking at this, I am sure a lot of have experienced around taking a holistic view or being able to see the whole kind of depending upon the scope of work that you have been engaged in and you know when you are taking that holistic view you know you want to take a setback and say all of these pieces are interconnected and when we are dealing with our enterprise today and dealing with corporations and dealing with government and all of these industries that are out there building things you know there is everything related to something else and so being able to see the hole is important that as a super power of a release train engineer because they are getting all of these observable data, you know they are listening to the teams, they are supporting the teams, they are accepting impediments that the teams cannot remove on their own, they are finding people in the organization who can remove these impediments and really get to that state of flow with the agile release train engineer so you can see here you know all of these people are fixing different parts of the overall systems but there is somebody standing there saying I can see the whole system and you know we have a tendency to be very good at local optimization and looking at it from a very kind of microscopic point of view when in reality we need to take that step back and look at all of the interconnections all of the people who are involved, all of the processes that are involved, all of the technology solutions that are involved and how are they piece together and have the ability to kind of help identify where the ideas that need some help and support, where are the areas that need some training some coaching some mentoring right and what are the areas the areas that are running smoothly and have that all build up kind of the story of what's happening within that agile release train and bring that into kind of an inspect and adapt or problem solving workshop at the end of every program increment so that you can turn those problems and impediments into possible solutions that you will try for next time.

And so when you take a look at this you know having the ability to see the whole really is a superpower and that's something release train engineers grow into if they don't have when they get started and as a program manager you know you have a lot of these abilities already inside of you and it is really being able to kind of call those out and in looking for you know how can we introduce these improvements as we go along.

And then lastly, what we have here is you know supporting teens in their commitments and you know taking a look at whether the commitment you feel is right or wrong, I am going to support the team and give them you know, it is easy for us to say we are going to empower you to make decisions, we are going to enable you to have failures but but all of these kind of nine topics here that I have run through build up to this supporting the commitments made by the teams trusting them in their decisions making and I would love to pose this question to you, I have two questions around this actually so have you ever supported a team’s commitments for a group of teams commitment that resulted in a wild failure? And how did that make you feel? Then the second part of the question is have you ever supported a team or a group of teams commitment that resulted in a wild success and how did that make you feel? And I would love to hear some thoughts around that you know and it is really kind of giving up of that control, giving up the decision-making, giving up that problem-solving aspect to the team, giving them that the environment of mutual influence like giving them the ability to develop and be committed to the personal development of the team, moving from that fixing problems to helping others fix problems stance and using your ability and skill of persuasion instead of authority and control. So I would love to hear from all of you, there is these nine topics are near and dear to my heart and kind of building that ability of release train engineers within a scaled agile environment, you know is really moving from that stance of a problem solver and kind of controlling the work that is going on to one of support listening and mutual influence.

And so with that Windy, I would love to open this up for questions from the audience, we have got some time left here to do a good Q&A and you know I am happy to turn the presentation back over to you if you like and come in as a facilitator for the conversation.

Questions and Answers

So, Kyle, I do see a comment from you thank you so much for that you know I can really appreciate the environment of the young team I actually had a conversation this week with somebody who is approaching retirement I gave a situation we were talking about creating an environment of mutual influence and me said you know there is actually a trend going on right now freshers are new joiners coming into our enterprise are actually getting paired up with the senior level executives and c-level executives as a reverse mentoring and she said I have had such a kind of a visceral reaction to that like how could they how could somebody new to the company you know be a mentor for a senior or c-level executives you know think about it in this environment that we're in today and you know people coming into our workplace our first of all looking for great purpose in the work that they are doing. They are also you know they have grown in an environment where there is an enormous amount of information and freedom kind of given to them and you know when you look around us you know those who are leading successful startups and internet companies are the young teams and the freshers that are out there and you know we have got to give them the opportunity their creativity and their innovative thoughts and ideas and give them a space to run these experiments that will some will bring failure and some will bring wild success so thanks a lot Kyle for that feedback and commentary I appreciate that.

Susan, this is Kunal and I have question for you - so in terms of career advancement or progress right is like how do you see release engineer or release train engineer advancing in their career same in terms of program manager we do understand project manager to program managers and eventually a portfolio manager but how does that work in a safe environment of a release train engineer? That a great question and so it is definitely a professional career progression and very commonly you know a scrum master on our agile team will grow into the role of release train engineer and grow into that role of the solution train engineer who are looking across multiple agile release train and suppliers and kind of grow into some role of the portfolio level you know one thing I didn't go to all the icons in the big picture but that lean portfolio management at the portfolio level contained the PMO, ok there is a PMO in safe you know and so that really does kind of slow scrum master to the release train engineer, the solution train engineer and ultimately in that lean portfolio management group. I will say you know it is a new role that's out there and you know SAFE has been publicly available since 2011 and so you know we have are still in that space of early adopters around the world you know some markets are much more advanced than others like the US and in Europe is really coming on the rest of the world it's really starting to take shape and so it is a relatively new role and so a lot of times what is happening is our project and programme managers are taking on these roles of scrum masters and release train engineers, solution train engineers a brand new role that's come in SAFE that came out of the need to have some kind of organizational construct for these large solutions okay and so the progression is there, the need is there, the growth opportunities are there and it really does come down to the individual's ability to kind of go through you know I kind of touched the tip of the iceberg here with these nine topics but that's really being able to change the stance from one of the management you know we have that pretty strong word that we have in our vocabulary as well as the roles to one of listening, supporting and removing impediments on behalf of the agile release train of the solution train.

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