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Change Management, Management Theory, Project Management, Quality Assurance

Informed Intuition and Making the Release Call

A common question among project management staff is who should make the call to release a product, when they should make it, and on what basis they should judge.   I can now definitively state I have uncovered the answer.  I’ve been reading through historical records of past projects and have uncovered a system whereby countless projects from other disciplines were successfully launched to great acclaim.  The system is ingenious in its simplicity in that all you need is a flock of birds and some one you can pay to tell you what it means when they fly in certain patterns.  The Romans were adept enough at this practice to  have kept detailed documentation on patterns, weather, calendar dates, and breeds and how each factor was interrelated into a complex system.  They called these books “historical data” which they used to analyze their “metrics” before giving the blessing of the gods or not.  The beauty of this system was twofold, first it guaranteed an income for the second and third sons of aristocartic families who otherwise might be forced to become farmers or merchants or something actually productive.  Second it completely removed any responsibility for the eventual decision from anyone who might be punished for it or otherwise blamed later.

I apologize if this sounds like the rambling digressions of a bitter and possibly demented turnip, but the practice of augury and their practitioners (the augurs) have been much on my mind of late.  I’ve also been thinking a lot about the ordeals of Hercules, particularly his task to clean the Stygian stables of manure.  It was a seemingly hopeless task as the stables were so large that any effort to clean one area would mean the others ended up being fouled in the meantime.  I know its not technical jargon, but we can’t all be computer science graduates now can we?  Some of us actually wanted chat up girls in college, so we followed them into the Arts department.

My Stygian task of late has been to address some modern day augurs who seem to believe you can predict the point when software is to be released by studying the flight patterns and behaviors or software’s version of birds, or rather tests and defects.  Every time I think I’ve addressed the subject with some wit and wisdom, I find the blessed group has snuck back  into the stables with their wheelbarrows full of charts and studies ready to spread around with their loamy gooodness.

The ugly little truth about releasing software to the client is there simply is no objective metric by which you can judge.  The emperor has no clothes.  The birds fly that way because some one spilled grain on the street just over the wall.  Or worse yet, they’ve been trained to fly that way because the augurs know you’ve done this enough times to have a few expectations.  The fact of the matter is releasing software is about intuition.  Informed intuition, but its still intuition.  Some one or some group has to be tasked with “making the call” and they have to be given whatever information they need to make said call.  But at some point, the call has to be made because not making a call is in and of itself making the call not to release.  So-called objective metrics may be informative in the macroscopic realm of process improvement when analyzing multiple releases across multiple cycles and products, but they are somewhat useless predictors for specific instances.  They can be among the information requested by the decision maker(s), but they should and cannot be considered the decision makers themselves.

Perhaps it would be better to switch metaphors and start talking about cricket or baseball.  Both games appear to be ruled by statistics.  Batters and pitchers/bowlers are swapped out because of a perceived advantage against a particular opponent based on statistical performance against similar persons.  In  both games the person batting must commit themselves to an action before the moment for that action (ie: the ball arriving) occurs due to the high rate of velocity at which the action is occurring.  Both decisions, whether to swing and whom to play, are informed intuitive decisions based on statistical analysis and talent, but the analysis and talent cannot ensure the decision is correct.  That’s why the games are (sort of) exciting (to some).  Statistics can tell the batter the picther/bowler is likely to throw the ball a certain way, but they cannot assure him or her of that throw.  The batter must commit to swinging before they know the actual outcome of the pitch/bowl, either connecting or not.

The same is true of software releases.  Talent, experience, and statistics can help inform the decision that must be made, and any decision maker would be criminally foolish not to avail themselves of said resources.  But passing the cup of responsibility onto the statistics themselves is similar to swinging your bat or not because statistics state the pitcher will now throw a curve ball into the lower left pocket of the batter’s box.  Or to put it more appropriately, it would be like declaring war on the Etruscans because there were three white doves in the flock that flew south while thrumming.  The war or the project will continue under its own momentum, but the decision makers charged with declaring war or release can absolve themselves of blame while reserving the option of showering themselves with glory.  In reality the only ones who win are the augurs who charge for their services.

The rest of us just have to go about our business and clean up the droppings.

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About cowboytesting

Hi. My name is Curtis S, and I'm a tester.

Discussion

5 thoughts on “Informed Intuition and Making the Release Call

  1. Interesting post! I haven’t seen baseball and cricket discussed together since Gould-

    Dawkins..

    The bloke doing the auguring about the Etruscans – did he see three white doves or two and

    a small seagull? Perception is everything!

    I know nothing about baseball, but I know the stats in cricket can be of great interest –

    but ultimately can’t decide anything. Were cricketers of different generations comparable?

    Of course, it can’t be decided definitively (the game, training and attention changes) –

    so it’s always a discussion point.

    A discussion point is what the release/don’t-release decisions are also.

    Statistics are used to put a sheen of objectivity on a subjective decision.

    When next confronted with statistics be prepared with your own armoury of yorker, chinaman

    and googly (cricket btw!)

    Like

    Posted by Simon Morley | July 24, 2010, 3:08 pm
  2. I felt I needed to put an international viewpoint on my metaphors so as to appear cosmopolitan. Since most of my international audience appear to be either British, Indian, and one obstinate Irishman I thought cricket would be a good reference and the Irishman can sod off.

    He’s obstinate anyway.

    Like

    Posted by cowboytesting | July 24, 2010, 10:43 pm
  3. Hi there,

    Actually releasing is a known process, I don’t see why it should be a common question. Here’s a short article on product release criteria

    Like

    Posted by PM Hut | July 25, 2010, 8:50 am
    • That’s an impressive list, but there’s not a single one that’s actually objective. Every single one of them is subject to the same decision making process I describe for the overall release. The only thing you accomplish by using a flock of bugs is obfuscating your process by moving the intuition deeper into the process. You cite a few very common ones, but let’s just examine “no open priority one defects.” Priority is a project specific valuation that changes over time. A bug that’s priority one for a specific week may become a priority two or three later in the project (or even dropped all together) depending on the other tasks load and the people available to address them. When the triage team makes the determination to change a bug from priority one to two or three, they are making the intuitive decision to possibly ship with the bug in place. They are making the call, but are not actually stating it.

      Like

      Posted by cowboytesting | July 25, 2010, 10:52 am
  4. Looks like, based on PM Hut’s comment, the software testing world isn’t the only one rife with charlatans!

    I’m not sure whether that makes me feel comforted or sad.

    Like

    Posted by Abraham Heward | July 28, 2010, 6:21 pm

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