It is a misuse of our power to take responsibility for solving problems that belong to others.

—Peter Block

Release Train Engineer and Value Stream Engineer Abstract

While Agile Release Trains (ARTs) are largely self-organizing and self-managing teams of teams, they don’t necessarily drive or steer themselves. The responsibility for steering falls to the Release Train Engineer (RTE). The RTE is the one who facilitates Program Level processes and execution, escalates impediments, manages risk, and helps drive program level continuous improvement.

At the Value Stream Level, the Value Stream Engineer (VSE) plays a similar role, facilitating and guiding the work of all ARTs and Suppliers. RTEs and VSEs typically have a background as program or development managers and operate most effectively as servant leaders. They have a solid understanding of scaling Lean and Agile, and they understand the unique opportunities and challenges associated with facilitating and continuously aligning a large development program.


The Release Train Engineer and the Value Stream Engineer facilitate Agile Release Train and Value Stream processes and execution, respectively. They escalate impediments, manage risk, help assure value delivery, and help drive continuous improvement. Many also participate in the Lean-Agile transformation, coaching leaders, teams, and Scrum Masters in the new processes and mindsets. They help adapt SAFe to the organization, standardizing and documenting practices.


RTEs and VSEs typically fulfill the following responsibilities:

Reporting Structure

SAFe doesn’t prescribe a reporting structure, but the RTE and VSE typically report to the development organization or an Agile PMO, which, in SAFe, is considered a part of Program Portfolio Management. For enterprises with existing PMO organizations, a program manager often plays this role. While they typically have the organizational skills to perform the RTE duties, they may need to transition from traditional legacy mindsets to Lean/Agile mindsets.

RTEs and VSEs Are Servant Leaders

A mindset change is often required for new RTEs and VSEs in the transition from directing and managing activities to acting as a servant leader. Servant leadership is a leadership philosophy that implies a comprehensive view of the quality of people, work, and community spirit [1]. In the context of the RTE and VSE, the focus is on providing the support needed by the teams/ARTs to be self-organizing and self-managing. Characteristic servant leader actions include:

  • Listen and support teams in problem identification and decision-making
  • Create an environment of mutual influence
  • Understand and empathize with others
  • Encourage and support the personal development of each individual and the development of teams
  • Persuade rather than use authority
  • Think beyond day-to-day activities; Apply systems thinking
  • Support the teams’ commitments
  • Be open and appreciate openness in others

As Robert Greenleaf, the father of servant leadership, said, “Good leaders must first become good servants.” Just as there are Lean-Agile transformational patterns for the Program Portfolio Management function, there are also transformational patterns for a traditional manager moving to a servant leader. The “from” and “to” states are:

  • From coordinating team activities and contributions to coaching the teams to collaborate
  • From deadlines to objectives
  • From driving toward specific outcomes to being invested in the program’s overall performance
  • From knowing the answer to asking the teams for the answer
  • From directing to letting the teams self-organize and hit their stride
  • From fixing problems to helping others fix them

Learn More

[1] See Servant Leadership at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Servant_leadership.

[2] Leffingwell, Dean. Agile Software Requirements: Lean Requirements Practices for Teams, Programs, and the Enterprise. Addison-Wesley, 2011.

[3] Trompenaars, Fons and Ed Voerman. Servant-Leadership Across Cultures: Harnessing the Strengths of the World’s Most Powerful Management Philosophy. McGraw-Hill, 2009.

Last update: 20 April 2016