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The Unholy Chicken Release Management, as demanded by Cleo the Release Chicken

I read an excellent, concise article on the basics of release management. In the article, it states "Release Management is often likened to the conductor of an orchestra, with the individual changes to be implemented the various instruments within it."

I played in music ensembles for years, so this is especially close to my heart as example. I learned most of my discipline from hours and hours of practice at the hand of a very skilled conductor and leader. I also learned that the true magic in symphonic performance is one where everyone involved is focused on one sound, one goal. In turn, that solid focus creates a sound and experience bigger than just mechanics alone can accomplish.

In symphony, a conductor's true purpose is to make you, a performer, better so the overall sound and end product is better. The big picture (the performance of the composition) is the end-game, and all musicians in the orchestra know without question their part makes up an important but incomplete piece of that performance. A good conductor works with each section (e.g. group) to ensure their individual pieces are solid.

The conductor leads and is responsible for ensuring those pieces are solid. While the performers themselves are doing the work, the conductor is the final authority on when the pieces are ready or not. If not, the conductor initiates the efforts to get them ready or makes the decision to scrap their parts altogether for the sake of an overall performance.

Let it sink in, because it's clear--It is not the performer's call if they play their part as agreed, it's the conductor's final call to allow it.

In comparison, if a software release manager is a conductor, the only way for that manager to be effective is to drive the overarching process and execution of individual pieces of a software development lifecycle. It does not mean the release manager performs each and every piece, it means the release manager has oversight and influence because the end-game is a successful software enhancement released a useable environment for an audience to consume. It means the release manager, not the developer or development manager, has the final call if something goes into a software release. Of course, this is not a process of absolute autocracy or inflexible dictation of rule, it's a cooperative effort, just like that of an orchestra. But the release manager must have the final authority to make a decision if something is ready to be added to the bigger piece, the overall symphony of software changes being considered for package and release.

It also goes without saying a release manager, like a conductor, must have full autonomy and isolation from other software groups. A conductor is the one on the podium waving a little stick at the each section and cueing them for their parts, not yelling from the back of the room while also playing a tuba and taking direction from the horn section.

I have personally seen where release managers are relegated to being considered little more than coordinators, red-tapers to "satisfy" the demands of an audit group without being bothered to actually respect all that a release manager gives a group willing to employ them fully. In this dysfunctional scenario, development managers, project managers, business users, and other stakeholders have been given nearly full clearance to demand and push their agendas forward, causing a tail-wagging-the-dog scenario where an inherent conflict is guaranteed to ensue. Depending on the strength, determination for peace, and willingness to overlook a built-in expectation that is wrong, the release manager here must face the crafted conflict head-on and diffuse it as quickly as possible. Then, the release manager must clearly make a case why a change cannot be released without negative impact to all parties involved. If a political agenda is solely driving a software release, there IS no symphony, there is no "software lifecycle". It is just a bunch of people playing what they want and results in chaotic, out-of-tune noise. Most importantly, there is no real conductor regardless of what a business card might say.

Sometimes, just wanting to make a beautiful sound is not enough. If you have some form of release management, you owe it to yourself to really look at what you have and how to make it whole. It begins with empowering a release manager to conduct the steps to final product release. If you are a release manager, are you freed up enough to move, to conduct the sections of software creation to ensure a solid release performance is possible? If not, it's time to take stock in what your role actually is and see if that is what you truly want to achieve in your position. If you are, then you can successfully build your career and that of the people in your groups to create truly beautiful software (music) together.

Posted on Monday, June 7, 2010 1:06 PM | Back to top

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