Today, I am excited to release the first in a series of tips and tricks for Release Train Engineers (RTE). For those unfamiliar with and who have not worked with one, think of an RTE as the person who plans and coordinates extensive planning sessions on a regular cadence. Typically, they are for software development teams but can be used in almost any context. These are typically referred to as PI Planning, though there are other terms used, such as Big Room Planning. RTEs have so many responsibilities that it could be a separate blog series; for anyone who wants to dig deeper, Scaled Agile provides a very detailed explanation of the role.
From my experience as an RTE, I have picked up a few tips and tricks along the way, and I want to share them in case they can be helpful to others. This is all targeted to RTEs. However, the tips I share could apply regardless of your role.
I always consider RTEs the “master of ceremonies” for PI Planning. One of the most important things they can do while teams are busy preparing for PI Planning is to ensure all logistics for the event are set and ready for a smooth, efficient session.
While making the agenda for my first PI Planning, I spent too much time keeping the start and end times accurate as I refined the agenda. Whenever I made a change, I had to manually update the times, not just for that activity but for all the ones below it too. No matter how much I double-checked, I always missed something, and my PI Plannings quickly got sidetracked with questions and complaints about confusing agendas! I was thankful I had only one time zone on my agenda. I cringed when I thought about having more and quickly felt that there had to be a better way!
Enter the first RTE tip in this series: Using Excel formulas, timeboxes for your activities, and time zone differences, you will never need to calculate agenda times again manually! Use my template to get started right away (go to File | Save As to download it) and slides to explain it. In a nutshell, there are three components:
1. Table of time zone offsets: The time zones on your agenda and how far ahead or behind they are from your own
2. Timeboxes for each activity on your agenda: The duration of each activity
3. Excel formulas are driven by the time zone offset and timeboxes to calculate start and end times.
There are so many times when I think this can be helpful. Following are cases from my past experience when this has helped me:
1. US Daylight Savings Time – update the time zone offset once when some time zones spring forward or fall back. All times on the agenda will be updated automatically.
2. Revised/resequenced agenda activities – Simply change the activities and/or their timeboxes, and agenda times will automatically update.
3. Modifying the time zones shown on your agenda – add the time zone in the offset, add the columns on the agenda, and then copy and paste the formulas.
Hopefully, you’ll find these as helpful as I do! We agilists love feedback, so please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments. What tips do you have that I did not mention?
On tap for my next post: In today’s world of virtual and distributed teams, we are all dealing with more messages than ever before. Consequently, we quickly get inundated and can’t take it all in. The last thing you want is for your audience to gloss over. So, what can you do to cut through all the communication clutter?