Who gets to decide when to ship software?

I recently got in a lengthy debate with some folks over this very topic.  As I quickly found out, most folks have a very strong opinion on this.  And here I thought I was the only oneJ.  It seems as though most folks fall into 3 different camps: 

Camp #1 – The Testers decide 

This “camp” was formed of folks on waterfall and agile teams (which I found interesting).  They felt that the team that tests the software and was most familiar with the quality and test coverage should get the final say on whether or not to ship it. 

Camp #2 – The Project Manager decides 

This “camp” applied to people on more traditional waterfall projects.  They felt that the project manager knew all of the data points with the project and based on that data should be responsible for determining when to release software.  However, this project managers did not have ROI responsibility. 

Camp #3 – The Product Manager (aka: ”the business”) decides 

This “camp” applied to people that were staffed on more agile projects.  On these teams that had a strong product owner presence, they felt that since the product owner was ultimately responsible for the ROI, then they should decide what and when to ship. 

Camp 1 had the most votes followed by camp 2 and then camp 3 had the least amount.  In some ways this surprised me but in other ways, it was what I was expecting. 

I will admit that I used to be a member of Camp #1.  As a matter of fact, I believe at one point I might have actually been the camp founder and directorJ  However, over time, I have moved to Camp #3.  Let me tell you why. 

Testers typically do have the most insight into the quality of the software.  We are intimately familiar with what is working, what isn’t, and what the high risk areas of the application are.  We can tell you the defect trends, defect turn around time, severity break downs, etc.  Because of this, it is easy for us to feel like we should be the decision maker as to whether or not we should put this code into our customer’s hands.  However, often times, there are several things we do NOT know that also play in to the decision of whether to ship code or not.  Perhaps there is a large business deal that will fall through if we don’t ship.  Perhaps the customer (or customers) wanted the new code so badly that they were willing to take the risk of using it with the list of known issues.  Perhaps the business wants it shipped for demo purposes but isn’t planning on having customers use it until it is cleaner.  Perhaps the business is planning a Beta / trial period.  The list can go on and on.  You get my point.   

Here is what I think about the testers’ role in deciding when to ship software.  I think the tester is responsible for delivering all of the metrics around the quality of the code to the business.  Deliver the facts, not your emotion.  Include test coverage, defect count, defect find rate, etc.  Make sure the business has a solid grasp on the current state of the code and any risks associated with shipping this code.  Then, do the hardest thing possible…..trust that the business team will make the right decision based on those facts and any other data points they may have.

Then, I also firmly believe that the business should CLEARLY COMMUNICATE with the delivery team why they made the decision to ship (or not ship) the software.  This is particularly important if they decide to ship software that the testers don’t feel is ready to ship.  The business should let the team know that they understood the risks but made the decision to ship based on the following facts (at this point, they should clearly list out the reasons why they are shipping).

 If you think a bad decision was made and don’t know why, then by all means ask for an explanation!


2 Responses

  1. I think testers should recommend the shipping of the software and PM later on should make any decision on his point.
    PM is responsible for the quality of the product.

  2. The software is only component of “the product” that the company needs to deliver to market. The quality of the software is an important input into the decision. Other factors that determine if software is ready to ship include the overall business readiness to market, sell and support the software. Have partners been briefed on the new product? All the Sales Channels aligned and ready to take it on?

    The business needs to be ready and thus it is a business/management decision. Shipping the product even if there are quality problems in the software may be justifiable in certain cases, but that’s for the business to manage if they go against the recommendation of the test team.

    In the end, it has to be a mutual informed decision with a clear understanding of the business impacts.


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