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Test, deploy, release ... repeat

Matthew Heusser | Sept. 22, 2015
When it comes to release management, what sounds great in theory doesn’t always work in practice. Here are four steps to building an effective strategy.

Then management stops. Or, at least, the directions stop. This is very different than traditional management, which might break down the process of adopting Jenkins into a plan, including requirements, design, various tasks for various roles and so on. Instead, management admits that the path to the next target condition is unclear; the team starts working toward the goal on a daily basis as a part of their work. 

Step 3 – coaching and improvement 

At this point a classically managed project could go two ways. The company might assign a project manager, who assembles a team to work on improving releases part-time. If the company is large enough, the team might be full-time, and have to try to improve releases as they are happening; perhaps the company creates a center of excellence. If the project is smaller, perhaps not funded, a director might simply ask his direct reports what they are doing at weekly meetings to accomplish this objective, in addition to all the other work they have to do. 

Those one-on-ones, status meetings, and planning sessions can all be replaced with the coaching kata. The coaching kata asks five questions that walk the student through the goal, obstacles, next steps, and where to go and see if those next steps will work. On a full-time project, a manager might run through these questions two or three times a day. If the manager is serious about the improvement, even a part-time project would include several sessions a week. 

Coaching does several things. First it demonstrates that the student understands the problem, both the strategic direction and the current target. Then it forces the student to list the obstacles, what they have tried, how that turned out and what they will try next – and they need to explain it to another person, couched as small experiments. 

The opposite of explicit coaching is internal R&D, where the manager asks "how it is going?" and the technical staff member says "oh, it's going." That non-answer probably means that the programmer is stuck, getting compile errors, run-time errors, having library problems or otherwise fighting through the morass that is trying to implement a new software package to do something new. 

The experience of implementing a build tool – Jenkins, CircleCi or TFS – can be a bit like that. The Coaching kata can help team members think more scientifically about their work, identifying when they are stuck earlier, make it easier to ask for help or decide to try a different approach. 

Step 4 – establish and iterate toward the next target condition 

Once the team accomplishes the target condition, it is time to set up the next one, then repeat. This improvement is tough, because the team is delivering software the whole time. If the company is using something like scrum, a retrospective might be a good time to reflect if the target condition is satisfied, and what the next one should be. 

 

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