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Release Train Engineer vs Scrum Master: understanding the roles


In the world of Agile software development, roles are not really job titles. They are a set of responsibilities and expectations that guide the team’s workflow. Two such roles that often come under discussion are the Release Train Engineer (RTE) and the Scrum Master. Both roles are important to the Agile frameworks. But they serve different purposes and require different skill sets.

The quick summary of Release Train Engineer vs Scrum Master is:

  • Release Train Engineer works at an Agile Release Train (ART) level
  • Scrum Master works at a Scrum or Team level
  • Release Train Engineer is accountable for the value delivery of an ART in a Program Increment
  • Scrum Master is accountable for the Scrum team producing Product Increments in a sprint.

Let’s look at these two roles in more detail to properly understand how they work. And how they are similar or different to each other.

The Role of a Scrum Master

release train engineer vs scrum master
Release Train Engineer is a role in SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework)

A Scrum Master is an important figure in any Scrum or SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework) team. They focus on team facilitation and agile coaching, helping the team to self-organize and work more effectively. The Scrum Master responsibilities include removing impediments that could slow the team’s progress, facilitating events, and helping the team maintain their focus on the sprint goals.

The Scrum Master’s role in an agile team is primarily focused on team improvement. They work on the “how” of the process, ensuring that the team is following Agile principles and practices effectively. They are also responsible for building a collaborative environment and promoting open communication within the team.

You have probably worked with a Scrum Master if you have any experience with an agile methodology. Scrum Master skills are pretty well understood in the agile industry.

To be effective in their role, a Scrum Master needs a strong understanding of Scrum principles and Scrum practices, excellent communication and facilitation skills. And also the ability to lead and motivate a team. They need to understand the importance of Servant Leadership in agile. For more information on the role of a Scrum Master, you can visit the Scrum Alliance website.

The Role of a Release Train Engineer

A Release Train Engineer (RTE), on the other hand, operates at a higher level. They are responsible for steering the Agile Release Train (ART), which is a long-lived team of Agile teams, towards the completion of its objectives.

Remember, ART is a concept from SAFe, the Scaled Agile Framework. It is not part of the original Scrum framework. SAFe took many of the ideas in Scrum that are meant for a team level, and “scaled them up” to operate at a bigger and higher level.

You won’t find any mention of ART or RTE (i.e. Release Train Engineer skills) in the Scrum Guide. That’s because SAFe was written about 20 years after Scrum and operates at a different level.

The Release Train Engineer responsibilities are more focused on train improvement. They work on the “what” of the process, coordinating with stakeholders, managing risks, and ensuring that the train stays on track to create value. They are coordinating the work of multiple teams who are all trying to work together to deliver valuable PIs (Program Increments).

To be an effective RTE, one needs a deep understanding of the organization’s strategy and objectives, excellent problem-solving skills, and the stakeholder management. For more details on the role of a Release Train Engineer, you can visit the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) website.

Differences Between a Scrum Master and a Release Train Engineer

While both roles are important in a SAFe environment, there are big differences between a Scrum Master and a Release Train Engineer.

The Scrum Master’s role is team-centric, focusing on facilitating the team’s work and improving their Agile and Scrum practices. The RTE is more program-centric, focusing on coordinating multiple teams and aligning them with the firm’s strategic objectives.

In some ways, the RTE can be seen as the “chief Scrum Master”. They perform many of the same facilitation and coaching duties as a Scrum Master, but at a higher level. Across multiple teams in an Agile Release Train.

Career Path: From Scrum Master to Release Train Engineer

For many Scrum Masters, becoming an RTE is a natural next step in their career progression in agile. After getting Scrum Master certified (from Scrum Alliance or scrum.org), many look to move to RTE. The transition from Scrum Master to RTE is mainly about expanding one’s focus from a single team to multiple teams and requires a deeper understanding of the organization’s strategy and objectives.

Key skills for this transition include strategic thinking, risk management, and stakeholder management. Experience in facilitating large group sessions and coordinating with multiple teams is also beneficial.

You also need to have a deep knowledge of SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework). Which to be honest is a lot bigger and more complicated than Scrum. The Scrum Guide is only about 15 pages. There isn’t a SAFe “guide” as such, but if you were to print all the content on the SAFe website, it would easily come to hundreds of pages.

There are way more roles, events and patterns in SAFe than Scrum. So an RTE needs to be very experienced and knowledgeable in both Scrum and SAFe.

Specific Accountabilities for a Release Train Engineer

There are some clear accountabilities defined for a Release Train Engineer that don’t exist in Scrum.

According to the SAFe website, the RTE accountabilities are:

  • Improving relentlessly
  • Facilitating PI Planning
  • Supporting PI Execution
  • Coaching the ART
  • Optimizing flow.

Some of these accountabilities might seem familiar to a Scrum Master. Such as facilitating events (for a Scrum Master, they would be the four sprints events that happen within a sprint). Or Improving Relentlessly (i.e. continuous improvement, a core part of Scrum).

Things like PI Execution and Coaching an ART are definitely outside of the boundaries of Scrum. Although if you swap PI for sprint and ART for Scrum team, you are looking at things that are pretty similar to Scrum Master accountabilities.

So there are some differences in terms of the specific teams or artifacts or events, but some of the basic underlying ideas are the same.

The Role of RTE and Scrum Master in Different Agile Frameworks

RTE and Scrum Master are important roles in Scrum

While the roles of RTE and Scrum Master are common across most Agile frameworks, their specific responsibilities and focus areas can vary. For example, in the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), the RTE has a more strategic role, coordinating program-level activities and facilitatingthe Program Increment (PI) planning events. The Scrum Master, on the other hand, is more focused on facilitating team-level activities and events.

In other Agile strategy frameworks, such as Scrum at Scale or Large-Scale Scrum (LeSS), the roles may have different names or slightly different responsibilities, but the core principles remain the same. For more information on how these roles vary across different Agile frameworks, you can visit the Scrum at Scale and Large-Scale Scrum (LeSS) websites.

SAFe is the most commonly used framework used in agile transformation, but it is worth taking a look at some of the other agile systems.

You will find that Scrum Master or a similar role exists in most of these frameworks. However, RTE is particular to the Scaled Agile Framework.


Both the Scrum Master and the Release Train Engineer play crucial roles in Agile software development. While they have different focus areas and responsibilities, they both work towards the same goal. That is, delivering value to the customer as quickly and effectively as possible.

Understanding the differences between these roles is key to implementing Agile practices effectively and ensuring that each team member can contribute to their fullest potential. Whether you’re a Scrum Master looking to transition into an RTE role, or an IT professional trying to understand the Agile roles and responsibilities better, we hope this article has provided you with some valuable insights.

Remember, in Agile, these are roles, not necessarily job titles. They are a set of responsibilities and expectations that guide the team’s work and interactions. So, whether you’re a Scrum Master, an RTE, or any other role in an Agile team coordination context, your ultimate goal should always be to facilitate and improve the team’s work, so that you can deliver the best possible value to your customers.

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