ONE GOOD IDEA
Upon Further Review…
Challenges abound when deciding if a product is ready for release
by Vic Nanda
More often than not, a product release occurs without the company taking a crucial step—performing a product release readiness review (RRR) to determine whether the product is, in fact, ready for release and whether the company is prepared to lend its full support to the product.
This entails assessing several preparedness issues, such as whether all planned features in the product have been implemented, testing is complete, defects have been resolved, the support staff has been trained and the supply chain has the ability to meet demand forecast.1
But the process, which tends to follow the same script, isn't without pitfalls—beginning when the project manager walks in, motivated to obtain the team's approval for product release and mitigate any concerns that could derail release approval. After all, project managers are invariably measured on whether a product is released on time.
Getting everyone on a role
There usually are representatives present from product management and customer support, who often perceive their roles as active participants responsible for a critical review. Also participating are the engineering, product test, supply chain and production representatives, who usually view themselves as information providers, there to answer any questions.
Then there is someone from the quality department whose involvement in the meeting is determined by the reporting structure in the organization. This person will likely serve as an information provider similar to the engineering representatives. Generally, if the quality representative is truly independent of the business unit, there is hope that the person will be an active assessor.
With that many cooks in the kitchen, the politics and dynamics between the meeting participants must be considered. A reviewer might not want to voice a concern a co-worker could be ill-prepared to answer or that has a likelihood of raising concerns that put product release at risk.
The reviewer might be especially reluctant to raise the concern if he or she belongs to the organization with primary or significant responsibility for product development. Often, that will lead the reviewer to discuss the concern with the responsible individual outside the review meeting.
There is also the issue of accountability. In many cases, the product development organization has no real accountability after release. Because a significant number of the reviewers are primarily interested in the on-time release of the product, expediency governs the conduct of the RRR as opposed to effectiveness.
So, the question is: How can the RRR be made effective so the reviewers are motivated to ask the questions necessary to perform a thorough risk assessment and make a suitable release decision?
Accountable for their actions
The first consideration when conducting an effective RRR is to identify the release criteria, which should be explicitly defined during project planning and well communicated to everyone involved. But even if the release criteria are known, a RRR might still be ineffective due to the politicking discussed earlier.
One possible solution is to enhance project team and reviewer accountability for product releases by linking their performance reviews and rewards to customers' experiences with the released product.
The measures that can be brought into play include customer satisfaction data, nature and severity of customer-reported defects, feedback on competence and ability of support staff to promptly resolve product related problems.
Even if personnel are assessed using quality factors, such as whether the product had any critical defects prior to release, there remains the possibility of individuals manipulating the facts prior to release. That makes it all the more crucial for companies to look beyond product release and strengthen their employee accountability mechanisms by factoring in the customer's experience with the released product.
I will leave it to you to establish suitable post-release metrics to monitor RRR effectiveness, because this set of measures will vary by industry and company. You will then need to devise a mechanism for integrating this measurement system with the project team's and reviewers' performance appraisals and rewards.
- Vivek (Vic) Nanda, ISO 9001:2000 Achieving Compliance and Continuous Improvement in Software Development Companies, ASQ Quality Press, 2003, pp. 126-127.
What other strategies can help lead to a successful product release readiness review? Post your experiences and strategies at www.qualityprogress.com, or e-mail them to email@example.com.
VIC NANDA is a quality manager at Motorola in Horsham, PA. He received a master's degree in computer science from McGill University in Montreal. Nanda is a senior member of ASQ and a certified quality manager, software quality engineer and quality auditor.