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Hard Lessons Learned as a Senior Manager – The Monsanto Challenge

The following is a series of personal thoughts and reflections on eight or so years of learning my way around what it means to be a senior quality assurance  or engineering manager. As some of you know I have recently found myself once again looking at the future of my professional career and wondering what it holds. The man who made the decision to change the entire organization of my department this week gave me some great advice. In our long and unofficial exit interview he challenged me to write down my thoughts on things I can personally take away from my successes and failures over a decade of different management roles.

Since I over share (according to everyone who loves me) this is the medium I’ve chosen to use. No names will be changed since I have no desire to name names or otherwise talk about specific instances, people, or companies.

Entry the First: The Monsanto Challenge

In which our hero finds himself experiencing blowback for not recognizing his full customer chain

A while back I worked for a company that was purchased by Monsanto. Monsanto meant business when they purchased our admittedly small little outfit in downtown San Francisco. They wanted everyone to feel like they were special and to know they purchased us because they had no idea how to do what we did and thus had no interest in telling us how to do what we do or interfere in any other manner. They purchased us because they wanted us and our data and our data models all to themselves. They spared no expense instilling the impression that both we were still going to be us but that we were also now in the “big boy pants” leagues. They chartered a jet and flew all of us out to three different facilities throughout the middle parts of the United States. We were given access to top research scientists, laboratories, executives, and even had an intimate dinner with the C-level executives and several board members. I got to meet men and women in one day who did everything from build Maker Faire sort of wild machines designed to strip genetic information from seeds without destroying them to people who advised Presidents and Prime Ministers on issues of national importance. Everyone I met on this magical mystery tour was very nice. They were to a person cheerful and helpful but most of all every single person from the assistants to the front desk personnel to the geneticists were all passionately committed to the idea of solving the world’s current and looming hunger crises. These were not Jurassic Park scientists playing with expensive toys. These were dedicated botanists, geneticists, engineers, and explorers who sought out, cataloged, studied, and genomed every single variety of crops like corn and wheat in existence looking for answers to complicated problems. When they couldn’t find answers in the species they realized they had to look outside the species. That’s when GMOs came on the scene.

Since I had what was essentially a captive audience who claimed to be willing to talk about anything, I asked the President of Monsanto directly why he thought his company’s public image was so wildly divergent with what I personally experienced just chatting with everyone. He told me it was one thing they completely screwed up a long time ago and didn’t even try to correct until lately. They didn’t look into anyone except the farmer’s buying their seeds and herbicides. The stopped at the primary connection in their value chain.

You see as much as a lot of people hate Monsanto, farmers around the world love love love them. Monsanto has done an amazing job of working with farmers, listening to their problems, and rapidly (in terms of seed) changed course several times to address their pain points. In most ways their movement into GMOs was a direct request from farmer’s who’s crops were being destroyed by climate change, water contamination, rapidly evolving pests & diseases, and the regulation of most herbicides out of existence. For decades Monsanto thought that was enough. When the suddenly felt the pain of people reacting emotionally to the idea of consuming what to them felt like “Franken-food” Monsanto reacted like the scientists and engineers they are by simply telling people to look at the science and research. To which what seemed like an entire planet replied with the phrase “Nuts.” Monsanto got hammered and is still being hammered. They’ve become the symbol of everything people don’t like about our current society and a repository for all the fears we have for what seems to be looking more and more like a bleak future. They ended up trying to enter a very pernicious and embedded opinion based on a decade or more of rumor armed only with facts.

Looking back at his now I wish I’d learned it years ago and had remembered it recently.

When you’re a manager (and especially a senior manager) you are responsible for a lot of things. Your team can feel like the most important thing that need concern you. You have reports and meetings with your direct manager who may be a director, vice president, or even chief officer of some sort. You have customers you need to keep happy be they external to your organization or internal to it. You can fall into the trap of making sure you do the best job possible, your team is chugging along fantastically, and your customers think you’re amazing. You want to believe that is more than enough to secure your reputation. Every company says it’s a “no drama zone” or something like it. Technology companies in particular like to say they’re data driven and that the rely on things they can measure. The reality is while you’re intensely focused on your primary relationships you are neglecting your secondary and tertiary relationships. These relationships are vitally important for the long term health and opinion of you and your team.

There is a tool consultants use called an influencer map. They use it to rapidly assess everyone on a project who has some sort of influence over the success or failure of that project and how they perceive it. People with direct influence are given priority but importantly people with indirect or even outlier influence are also mapped. The different people are mapped around who they can influence rather than where they occur in an org chart. Your job as a consultant is to be aware of people with influence who can have an effect on your outcome. You then turn around the ones you can to be supporters or even interested in your work. If you can’t change their stance you try and isolate them so they can’t scuttle your work through their attitude. As a manager you need to be aware of everyone in your organization in the same manner. it’s not something you need to address all the time but you don’t do it at the risk of how people perceive your work.

You see perception is often completely at odds with facts. People don’t trust facts or they selectively pick the ones that will support their perception. If a manager or director or a vice president forms a negative or even questionable perception/opinion of you or your team they will start to notice things supporting that viewpoint. You can present them with lots of Key Process Indicators (KPIs) showing you are doing great but they’ll come away remembering the one thing that may not have been awesome. At that point you are fighting a losing battle since you are actively working against an opinion formed from nothing. If you have enough time you can mitigate this issue with personal intervention and salesmanship but it’s a holding action until the opinion changes. If something like a re-organization or change in management happens before you’re turned that around you will find yourself on the list to be changed.

The best way to avoid The Monsanto Challenge is to never find yourself in it. Your first month as a manager should be spent personally meeting every other manager in your organization and every upper level manager in the company. You need to meet with them regularly and let them form their own impression of you, an impression you can hopefully control. Take the time to talk about the great things your team is doing and showcase their success. Ask them for advice or go to them with intelligent questions they can answer. Controlling your image in this manner provides some inoculation against other influencers who may be spreading a message you don’t want spread. It won’t prevent you from having your budget cut or being laid off or having your project shut down. These things happen all the time even in large companies.

It will remove one of the ways things like lay offs can happen in spite of success.

It’s a lesson I’ve paid the price for not following now at least twice and perhaps three times. I did not get on a plane and go meet with people face to face (the value of which I will talk about in another blog post). I didn’t control the message about myself and my team. In all of these occasions there was a price to pay; sometimes it was a very dear price indeed.

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Customer Satisfaction and a Unifying Theory of Cows

In the interest of salacious name dropping, I was recently deeply entrenched with Peter Farrell-Vinay over on a LinkedIn discussion about KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators) for quality in a software release.  The all too familiar debate broke out between the objectivists and subjectivists when defining quality.  It’s not actually that interesting to me as a debate but here are the two arguments in a nutshell with gross simplification and lots and lots of specific cases not being met assumed.

  • The objectivists believe software quality is intrinsic to a product and is therefore measurable using objective criteria over a period of time
  • The subjectivists believe software quality is a function of market/customer perception and therefore cannot be objectively measured since the criteria over time will radically change as conditions change

To put it into even more succinct terms, the objectivists almost always want to start measuring things like defect density and code coverage while the subjectivists almost always start using the “how do you measure happiness or fun” simile to define their position.  It’s an uninteresting discussion to me as it seems to devolve into quickly into and argument of paradigms that will never really be resolved.  You are either some one who thinks the only solvable problems are those that can be expressed in quantitative equations and discreet parts or you are some one who thinks the world is “fuzzier” than that and we should be addressing issues from the standpoint of complex systems and interactions.  Just like I can’t talk some one into Judaism or Islam, I can’t talk an objectivist into a subjectivist and vice versa.

Like I said, it’s frustrating, pointless, and ultimately boring.  But that’s not what this entry is about.  Peter asked me an interesting question about customer satisfaction surveys and how they can be useful.  He specifically asked me about the typical “on a scale of one to five, how useful did you find our last release” sort of questionnaire we can’t seem to jettison from our tool box.  It then struck me this is how most of us view customer satisfaction measuring activities.  It’s a shame but not totally expected based on the fact most of us have little to no interest in pursuing ideas or concepts outside our small little areas of excellence (see my earlier grumpy rants about hiring almost exclusively for technical competence and expecting other competencies to be “easy” or “trainable” for my views on this subject) since most of our industry thinks “cross-discipline” means some one who has knowledge of cloud computing and mobile device platforms.

Customer satisfaction gathering is a traditional marketing skill set some one looking to move more toward a QA analyst role should add to their toolbox.   The first step is usually a survey but its only the first step and is generally thought of more as a sampling tool than anything that will generate useful satisfaction statistics.  If you’d like more information about how to write a decent customer survey, I can’t recommend Priscilla Saint’s and Don Dillman’s book How to Conduct Your Own Survey enough.  It’s the first book I read on creating my own surveys and its still useful for me as  a quick reference when I need to remind myself of what sort of survey might get me the information I need based on my needs.

But what about the darn cows, you’re probably asking.  I’m getting to that.  Cows are a good reference to me because of my history.  My grandparents used to run a small ranch that these days would be wildly successful since they ran purebred Hereford cows that were mountain grass fed and completely free range.  The important bit here is “mountain” when you read that statement.  These cows were not the sort you could just saddle up a horse and find by scanning the tall grass lands visible in all directions until the horizon met the skies.  Nope.  These cows were the devilish mountain cows that could hide an entire herd in a thick stand of trees and bushes a hundred yards from the mystified cowboy.  The only way to find these cows was a two prong assault using your knowledge of cow behavior and the local geography (ie: where is the fresh water, where are the sweet grasses, etc) and trickery in this case in the form of a ten year old boy that was (and still is) and excellent mimic.  The mimic’s job was to ride around and bellow like a calf and later a cow.  If the mimic was decent enough you’d eventually hear an answering call which I can only assume was cow for “Your accent is atrocious” or “You sound like a mountain lion has you by the throat, are you okay?”  The calls could then be used to triangulate the rest of the herd since cows are not likely to go wandering off alone.

In this way, the cows is like your markets.  Clayton Christensen in The Innovators’ Dilemma talked about actual customer behavior once you move beyond the strange little group of innovators most small companies usually target.  These later adopters are more like cows in that they find safety in numbers.  This makes an immense amount of sense if you think about it.  A large group moving in a certain direction usually means better support, a wider knowledge community, and better interoperability and compatibility for other things you may want to use later.  If you can find out where these groups (herds) are heading, you can extrapolate how you are viewed.  So your job is to find the “chatty” cows moving with this herd.  This is where the customer satisfaction survey comes in handy.

You want to look for the respondents that seem to follow the herd but are liable to give you more than just a check in the “1 to 5” rating index.  You want to find the cows that are bellowing for your cow calls but are not the ones likely to wander off to see if there’s something interesting over the next ridge.  This means you’ll need to follow up with these answering calls to check and see if they’re likely to be a second stage adopter or a first stage adopter not as likely to represent the larger market.  Once you’ve rated their likelihood you can verify it with deeper contact and interaction.  It still relates because an experienced cowboy will often develop a knowledge of their herd to the point where they can sometimes tell the difference between cows based only on their vocalizations.

Your marketing people and your quality people need to develop a similar knowledge of your markets, it not your specific customers.

Why I think test certification is wrong … right at this moment

I’ve really nothing witty to say about this subject as a prologue to my thoughts, because its a serious topic.  As you read these words, know that somewhere out there a classroom of people have paid anywhere from $50 USD to $250 USD for the privilege of taking a test.  If they pass this test, they will receive a paper certificate saying they have passed and be granted the right to put a certain grouping of capital letters after their name no professional business cards, signatures, and online profiles.   For some this is a lifetime award, and for others they’ll need to again pay for the privilege every few years if they want to keep tagging said letters to their name.  The bodies conducting these tests are not affiliated with any accredited institution of higher learning nor do they have any sort of license or charter from a governmental oversight board.  The testing bodies generally fall under the umbrella of “professional organizations” which can be defined as a collection of people who’ve formed a group based solely on a common understanding of their trade and its work.  Since there can be many different understandings of their trade and its work, there can be  many different professional organizations.  Sometimes the differences can be apparently slight to the uninitiated, but it does not matter.  Professional organizations exist to serve the initiated and direct the uninitiated.  Sometimes these differences can have large consequences such as the one between the American Medical Association and dentists.  Since they would not be allowed into the AMA, dentists formed the ADA and to this day there are still pockets of violence and mayhem if one member (intentionally or otherwise) infringes on territory tagged by the other.  Stories of drive-by flossing are horrible, so there’s no need to repeat them here.

But what, you may ask, do these people sitting in a room (usually in Europe or India) have to do with me?  Everything.  According to the word on the street, if by “street” you mean various blogs and message-boards, these people represent the end of software testing as we know it.  After reading the passionate debate on both sides, I’ve some to conclusion the Mayans were actually talking about this conflict and not the end of the physical world.  So look for 2012 to be the year Software Testing as a job ends.  Update your resumes.

But in all seriousness, what’s really going on here?  Quite simply there are two forces at work.  The first is a natural tendency of trades to eventually evolve into professions.  And why do trades naturally evolve into professions?  To some extent its to keep up with advances in techniques and knowledge formerly kept private to protect your livelihood.  Another reason is the movement to a profession involves a codification of first principles and a body of knowledge which allows higher level discourse and development to occur.  It’s hard to move the conversation along if you’re spending all your time trying to figure out what someone means by a “pony wall” in a technical paper.  But mostly the trades move toward professions because once the uninitiated buy into the idea you are a profession, you can charge a lot more for your services.  You see when you work at a tradesman level you are required to obtain specialized skills and knowledge, but its seen mostly as an obtainable task requiring only a certain amount of study and a little practice.  For proof, witness the number of weekend tradesmen who decide they can re-tile their bathrooms in a weekend because they took a three hour course at Home Depot.  A profession because of the existence of professional bodies, bodies of knowledge, and seemingly arcane jargon give the impression of unique abilities to the uninitiated.  The outsiders then feel as thought they must compensate the initiated at greater levels if they want to take advantage of their rare and unique abilities.  For proof, how many people do you know who feel comfortable filling their own cavities after taking a weekend course at Home Dental?  Do you even know where the dental supply stores are in your town?  How about the hardware stores?

I rest my case.

So what are the identified steps toward becoming a profession?  According to Ask.com (the Wikipedia of the 90’s except with … you know … vetted contributors), they are as follows:

  1. The establishment of the activity as a full-time occupation
  2. The establishment of training schools and university links
  3. The formation of a professional organization
  4. The struggle to gain legal support for exclusion
  5. The formation of a formal code of ethics

These steps look good enough for me to throw out there as a working theory so look at them and see if you can figure out where software testing currently lives.  Have we established ourselves as an activity with a full time occupation?  Yes, with some debate still remaining amongst Luddites who persist in thinking nothing can occur without a coder dipping their beak.  But those people are to most extents doomed to the recycle folder of history as Software Test has pretty much established a beach head, moved into the dunes, and erected rides and concession stands along the piers.  So it looks like right now we’re attempting to formulate some professional organizations to help … but wait.  What happened to step number two?  Do we have recognized and accredited training schools offering degrees in software testing out there?

No.  The closest we currently come are a few classes offered as addendum at Colleges and Universities offering a more generalized Computer Science (ie: coding/architecture and sysadmin) degree.  Some lower level (two year colleges and trade schools) and unaccredited or “for profit” colleges are offering coursework in software testing but that doesn’t count.  So if step two does not exist, why are people attempting to jump straight into steps three and beyond.

The reason is the second (and possibly third) force at work … greed coupled with the desire not to seem like a fool.  Since institutions of higher learning do not currently offer comprehensive coursework on the subject or software testing, the professional organization seeking to collect people together can find a rich source of income filling that void for people seeking entry.  This is why certification by medical boards is NOT a multi-million dollar international industry, unlike software testing certification.  The business of these certification bodies is to make themselves as attractive to potential revenue sources as possible, primarily through numbers.  It’s a pyramid scheme to some extent.  The more people who get certified by a particular body, the more attractive it becomes to others.  The accrual of numbers is in essence lending it an air of authority.  McDonald’s used to attempt the same when it assured potential customers they shouldn’t feel guilty about purchasing a giant ball of fat and grease that tasted like cardboard because millions of other people had made the same choice.  The certification bodies are simply doing the same.  ” A million billion testers can’t be wrong.”  Unfortunately the cycle is becoming self-perpetuating for many because people with these certifications are now coming into positions of hiring authority.  Either because they don’t want to admit they were gullible and spent money on something that proved of little value or they actually believe in the system because of the air of authority imparted by the illusion of popularity, they have started making these letters after someone’s name a requirement for employment.  This is opening up even more avenues of revenue because now the certification bodies can loop in people who just want to get a job and find they can’t, even though they suspect it’s all “a racket.”

So is this self-perpetuating pyramid scheme the end of the testing industry, or even putting it in danger?  I don’t believe so.  I’ve been around long enough to know people who saw something similar happen with coding, and that seems to be doing okay as an industry.  Why did it stop?  Because step number two eventually asserted itself.  Four year colleges and accredited Universities began offering majors in computer science distinct from mathematics and/or electrical engineering.  Once that began happening, the natural tendency of the college academic is to publish their thoughts and ideas in order to subject them ACTUAL peer review.  Most crackpot or misinformed opinions cannot stand up to actual peer review, so all of the generalized “programmer certifications” went away.  They’d survived before only because they were usually published in an echo chamber where only those espousing similar beliefs would “challenge” them.  I see similar things happening with a lot of testing “academic journals” and other publications.  Rigorous academic review and healthy debate will soon enough silence them, once the colleges catch up to us.  In the end the only people harmed by these groups are the ones who may have spent more money than they could afford betting on a body of knowledge that later becomes discredited.  It’s an individual choice, however.  You’re free to roll the dice and spend your money how you would like.  You’re also free to perpetuate the cycle as a hiring manager as long as you would like, in spite of any evidence to the contrary.

But my advice to all of you is to weigh your choices carefully.  We’re not yet a profession as we just barely became a trade perhaps 30 years ago.  Spend money educating yourself and developing your trade craft and do the smart thing … wait it out.  In the meantime, attach yourself to the smartest and best tradesmen (and women) you know like a sucker fish cleaning off the shark.  You may guess correctly about where the industry will emerge in the decades to come, but you may not.  Can you afford to gamble with the money you’re being asked to put on the table?

Test Management: The job description should already be written

Recently a curious soul put out an open question to the general LinkedIn test manager community at large about whether they, as test managers, or some one else writes job descriptions for openings about to be posted publicly or internally.  As with most internet questions posted under the false guise of anonymity, there was more than likely an ulterior motive.  Since we can assume there is one, let’s just move on as its probably something as banal as they’re miffed about a job they accepted having little to nothing to do with the posted description to which they applied.  I can answer that concern with a simple statement, no one does the job listed on the description for which they applied.  Even the person hired as a ditch digger will more than likely be someday soon asked to dig a trench, a drain, or a trough.  The medieval poetry master’s candidate then has three choices: they can shrug their shoulders and think about rondelles while they dig; they can walk off the job because they’re a union certified ditch digger and if the company wanted a trench they should have hired some one from the local 147 branch of International Trench Excavators; or they can dig the hole and complain loudly to anyone with no actual authority to fire them about the injustice of it all.

Guess which one the people complaining about job descriptions usually fall into?

Of course there could be an actual issue here, which is a failure to match up stated expectations with the actual work some one performs on a daily basis.  The issue of work mismatch is a lot more common than you would think.  You can easily check on whether you suffer from it by doing a simple test.  Do you know if you’re doing a good job or meeting the expectations of your boss without needing to go ask them?  If you didn’t need to think about the answer to this question, you’re either a cocky bastard or you are working in a position with clearly defined expectations and success criteria relevant to your daily work.  In either case you’re lucky because either you can spend your time focusing on actually doing work with a clear idea of how to advance (if you should want) or you’ll probably do well in life anyway if you can back it up because cocky bastards usually do if they can.

For the rest of us, a lack of understanding usually indicates we’re working at a position where our expectations and success criteria are either ill defined, subjective, conflicting, or completely at odds with our actual work.  There are several reasons for this but the most common I’ve seen is revulsion at the thought of doing “busy work.”  Most people at most companies consider things like role definitions and such to be odious tasks best left to others with no actual work to perform.  Real workers are seen as too valuable to waste their time on bureaucratic nonsense that will soon be outdated soon in any matter.  The trouble is this hurts companies in two ways.  First it hurts morale because workers don’t have a clear idea of what they are expected to be doing, how to judge their own performance, and what steps they need to take in order to get that raise, promotion, or bonus.  Second it hurts recruitment because each job opening is then treated as a special snowflake to be treated as an individual miracle or they’re treated as identical cookies cut from the same form with a few differences in toppings for decoration.

As an example, without a clearly defined set of expectations for a role the hiring manager, recruiter, and agent are all forced to guess what is now the difference between a senior development engineer and just a regular development engineer.  Taking it even further, perhaps there are no senior development positions even though your needs cover a wide range of experiences and skill sets.

I know your company is different.  You’re showing the world what a ragtag group of misfits can accomplish without all those titles and rules, man.  Our founders call themselves “Head Necromonger” and “Chief Gelfling” respectively.  I would then submit that come time to hand out bonuses or stock options or whatever you want to call it, there are going to be people who wonder why one gelfling received a larger share of stock than the gelfling working across the cubicle wall.  The recruiter you hire will also undoubtedly wonder what the hell a “necromonger” is and which Monster group should they post the opening into.  Is it computer software or hardware or is it a religious thing and should therefore go into nonprofits?

If you spend the time to accurately document the roles and their expectations within your organization, you will find your workload as a manager eased more than you can now comprehend.  Performance reviews then become a fun activity where you can work positively with some one to advance their careers or shore up weaknesses preventing them from getting the recognition.  Conflict management within the team becomes so much easier since most of these issues fall into the “not my problem” category.  But most of all, when you finally get the okay to hire that new team member you’ve been following the director into the bathroom to lobby for … you’ll actually have most of  a really good job description completed.  Just grab the role description and add the fun bits about specific skills or needs and run it through HR to make sure nothing you don’t want public will get out.

And then its done and you can then turn your attention to sorting through the 500 resumes on your desk because it turns out there really is a job called “necromonger” in Utah and the primary employer for that industry just announced a staff reduction of 30%.

Good luck, my little gelflings.

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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