The Four Principles of Forming Effective Governance of a Release Train

I’ve been working with a number of government agencies as they look to Agile methodologies to help them implement their digital transformation strategies. Governance is key to these implementations as the governance framework needs to describe the functional lines of responsibility and accountability.

It is important to recognise that, because a Release train is a construct, the governance framework is explicitly designed to support the outcomes of that construct. As such, it is independent of the organisational hierarchy and therefore must also contextualise these new  Agile roles and the responsibilities of all those involved in the Release Train.

Team members need to know what decisions are within their domain and which need to be escalated.  In our Release Trains, we want to optimise for fast, decentralised decision making as any decision that must be escalated to a higher level introduces delay (waste) and inhibits flow however within the government agencies we also needed to acknowledge that some decisions are strategic, critical and far reaching across the enterprise and therefore need to be centralised.

Decentralised Decision Making

Decentralised decisions tend to be those decisions that need to happen frequently, are often time-critical (e.g. acceptance of a Sprint Goal at the end of Sprint Planning or acceptance of User Stories as “Done” in Sprint Review), and do not have significant economies of scale. The responsibility for these team-level decisions typically resides with the Product Owner (for decisions regarding the team’s work, scope and quality) or with the Scrum Master (for decisions regarding execution of work aligned with the Scrum process).

Centralised Decision Making

Strategic decisions, those that are infrequent, long lasting and have significant economies of scale, are made at a higher level of management. In the Release Train, the responsibility for these decisions typically resides with the Product Manager (for decisions regarding the scope and boundary of the work for the Agile Release Train and its quality) and Release Train Engineer (for decisions regarding execution of work across the Agile Release Train), with the ultimate level of accountability residing with the Program Director and then the Portfolio Executive.

Four Principles for Effective Governance

  • A single point of responsibility for the success of the Train – This provides clarity of leadership, management and timeliness of decision-making during the product increment.
  • Service delivery is focused on business value – Placing the delivery of business value at the heart of the product increment.
  • Separation of delivery ownership and product ownership – To focus on delivery of business outcomes and prevent decision-making forums, such as the Release Management Group (RMG), from becoming just a status report meeting focused on technical issues.
  • Separation of project governance and organisational structures – To reduce the number of project decision layers, since the project decision path does not follow the organisational line of command.

To achieve its goals, this Release Train is comprised of the following three structures:

Activity Role Description
Directing Release Management Group Accountable for the direction and management of the Train within the constraints set out by the Program’s mandate.
Managing Release Train Engineer and Product Manager Responsible for the day-to-day management of the Train within the constraints set out by the RMG, typically encompassing time, cost, quality, scope, risk and benefits.
Delivering Scrum Team/s Responsible for delivering the products to an appropriate quality within a specified timescale and cost.

Responsible for planning and producing products.

 

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