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Saturday, October 4, 2008

Product Development - what is a minor / dot release

For those of you unacquainted with the concept of a minor release (I will also call it a Dot release from time to time), it is a release that you do after the main release has been done. If that did not make too much sense, let me try again ! Suppose you have released version 8.0 of Microsoft's Visual Studio to great fanfare, and with much expectation that this is 'the' release, perfect in all ways. Once you release 8.0, the overall grand plan would be to sell 8.0, and have the team working on developing 9.0 with no constraints.
Let me tell you a little secret. As you move closer to the release date of a product version, you (and in fact, most of the team members), start entering a time of partially restrained panic and impatience. It is also a normal decision that as you get closer to the release date, bugs that would have been fixed by the project team even a couple of months back will not be fixed now, unless they are deemed critical. The primary reason for this customer unfriendly move ? Simple Murphy's Law - 'If anything can go wrong, it will' ! Any bug fix has a cost - the fix needs to be reviewed, and then the quality team needs to test the impacted area of the bug. If something goes wrong with the bug fix earlier in the cycle, you have time to fix the impact. However, as you get closer to your release date, this buffer time is no longer available. As a result, almost every product team takes a call that as you get closer to the release date, bugs need to be more and more critical before they can be fixed. Thus, the product team may opt to not fix bugs that could potentially impact customers, but if the bug is found say a week before release, the bug would be classified based on whether you would stop the release for such a bug. Sadly, very few bugs make the criteria of being a release-stopper.
Once you have released version 8.0, there will be bugs that will come in from the field (including bugs that the product team had decided should not be fixed). Also, there may be other changes that are required in the release, and which cannot wait for version 9.0. And thus the stage is set for a generation of release of Visual Studio 8.1 (now you know where the term dot comes from, since this minor release is actually 8 'dot' 1). Such releases follow a few basic points:
1. Bugs (whether older bugs, or new bugs generated by customers) are evaluated as to whether they are deemed important enough to fix; these are the only bugs that are selected for inclusion in the dot
2. Typically, when a dot release is planned, the release supplants the earlier release. So, following the above example, new customers will get release 8.1 of Visual studio vs. release 8.0 that was released earlier
3. A dot will typically have all the activities of a full release, the only advantage being that the time frame is drastically reduced. A reverse is that the inter-group coordination that had more time available has to be compressed into a shorter time frame
4. A dot inconveniences everybody, since it takes much more attention to do everything in a shorter time period; further, it takes away resources (including team management attention) from working on the next release
5. Reaction time is much less than in a normal release

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If you're a Mac software developer or a die-hard fan, you probably know that WWDC is Apple's World Wide Developer Conference. Apple hosts sessions to teach about development tools and related topics and they also give labs to sit and talk to the people that designed the Apple's systems.

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