It’s no secret that achieving enterprise agility is difficult. It requires organized, efficient collaboration across people and functions. From managing budgets, to creating product strategy, and executing on delivery, each layer of scale has a set of defined functions owned by various stakeholders. Jira Align empowers users at each level of scale with a broad number of features. In a previous article, we touched upon the Product Manager and their toolkit in Jira Align. Now, we’ll shift gears and talk about the functionality that Jira Align offers Release Train Engineers (RTEs).
For those who are unfamiliar with all the agile roles, RTEs are critical for ensuring a successful delivery of an agile release train (ART). We often focus on the work and the value delivered by an ART, but it would not happen without the expert coordination of the RTEs. They facilitate communication between development and product stakeholders, they escalate blockers, and they help identify and mitigate risks that arise in development and delivery. To add a bit more color, the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) refers to RTEs as “servant leaders” to the agile train.
For the RTEs reading, have you ever felt like you wish you knew of problems among teams sooner? You’re not alone. Working with our clients, we’ve discovered that the issue is not isolated to communication gaps or teams acting outside or against their scope. Most often, the problem arises when RTE’s are not equipped to identify issues before it’s too late to sufficiently manage them.
At the heart of every RTE’s toolbox is the program board. Constructed of tape on a wall and created during PI planning, teams document their work for the entire PI on this board. Work items are defined on sticky notes across the timeline and dependencies are represented with red string. Throughout the course of the PI, the RTEs use this board to monitor the progress of an ART. It is their responsibility to contain any risks and manage changes in the plan to ensure the train gets as close to its planned destination as possible.
The rubber meets the road when development begins. Given the number of forces at play in a program, deviations are inevitable. And, even the smallest change can have a ripple effect across the remaining progress of a PI. Because the program board is a static representation of the plan, it cannot account for these changes and the smallest issues can be missed, even with the oversight of the best RTEs.
In Jira Align, we’ve replaced the static image of a program board, and engineered a live program board to enable the role of RTEs. This dashboard is connected to the actual progress of the teams and execution of the work to provide a near real-time view of a PI. All components on this board are color-coded to indicate health and status across teams and across sprints. Hovering over an item reveals its relation to other components (i.e. objectives and dependencies). And, notices appear to highlight the status of the item and other key data points.
With this live view, RTE’s can now keep a pulse on the many dynamic components—from teams, to work items, and dependencies—and proactively identify issues and risks. When RTEs can get ahead of these issues, they can more effectively deliver the train to its planned destination.
Using this next graphic below, let’s run through one example of an insight that an RTE can glean here. In one quick glance, the RTE can see that Dependency 2865, represented in the cross shape, is red and is tied to two other work items in the following sprint. When hovering over the dependency, a notice pops-up in the bottom right highlighting key information like, the teams involved and the fact that the dependency was not committed to. Clicking into the dependency reveals this large side panel to show further details. RTE’s can run quick checks to identify the issue at hand, the work impacted, and the teams involved. Equipped with this information, the RTE can work with the teams to resolve any blockers before the next sprint so delivery is not impeded.
This leads us to the next big pain point for RTE’s—dependencies. For many, dependencies within a team are manageable with simple channels like comments in a team tool or even email. But, when it comes to overseeing dependencies between teams of teams or even across programs, it quickly becomes complicated and even unruly.
When designing dependency management in the platform, we redefined the mechanism of dependencies and how they should be utilized. In Jira Align, dependencies act like contracts between two stakeholders—in this case, teams. One team will request work of another team and specify a “need by” date. The receiving team can negotiate “terms” like date of delivery or even the scope of work. When an agreement is reached, the commitment is formalized as a dependency item.
From here, there is robust functionality enabling RTE’s to monitor these dependencies and drive a successful delivery. The first is the inbox. Here, RTE’s can see all the dependencies in a program increment and receive notifications for new requests among teams. Information like the “Requester” and “Depends On” can be located here as well as its status and the work item associated to it. Additionally, this central page allows for dependencies to be quickly added or searched.
From this same view, RTE’s can drill into other views using the Map button in the upper right. One popular view is the Dependency Wheel (see below). Here, users can see all the teams participating in a chosen PI and the dependencies between each. By clicking on a team name, one can drill into the specifics of each work item requested of the team and by the team. This is a quick and central way for RTE’s to identify and manage complex dependency relationships.
For every ART, it is very important that there are defined goals with measures of success. These guide delivery and define the success of a delivery. For many RTEs, setting these objectives falls under their responsibility.
Objectives in Jira Align can be set at every level of scale so strategy and success don’t get muddled when moving down the hierarchy. They are configurable as either traditional SAFe Objectives or as Objectives and Key Results (OKRs). For those still new to OKRs, many of the classic Silicon Valley companies (Google, Twitter) use objectives as qualitative goals paired with quantified, measurable key results. With this methodology, any subjectivity on progress and success is removed to drive actionable, real conversations.
On the Objectives page, RTEs can create and monitor Objectives at the various levels of scale. Key results can be added and edited by RTEs in the details panel or by automatically pulling in data from external tools like Salesforce and ServiceNow. This ensures progress is always up-to-date, so RTE’s can monitor progress and rally the team around success.
This is all the functionality we will highlight in this article. But for all the RTEs out there, I encourage you to explore more of Jira Align. This tool was engineered for the purpose of making work visible and facilitating agile coordination across people and strategy—both key responsibilities of your role. So if you have more questions or thoughts, don’t hesitate to reach out here. We want to hear from you!
Last week in San Diego, Scaled Agile Inc announced the latest version of their SAFe framework (SAFe 5.0). It was an awesome reveal and I'm curious what you all think about the new framework and...
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