June 3, 2008

Is it time to upgrade your software development tools?

Issue Management

One of the strategies I’ve used to reduce stress when wearing my project manager hat has been to try to control all changes to the project. I bet more than a few project managers out there are nodding their heads in agreement.

Change control = good = normal levels of stomach acid

But I’ve recently come to wonder (after some great customer conversations) if sometimes in my zeal for control of that holy project manager triangle of time, money, and features, that I took things a little too far.

I’m not talking here about ignoring valid scope changes that are driven by real business needs (and signed off customer requests).

I’m talking about spurning opportunities to increase productivity on long running projects by not taking advantage of the latest version of your software development tools.

Me: “Talk to the hand, girlfriend, ‘cause until we ship, nobody is touching that bug tracker server.”

In real life, I’m not that cool. When faced with this situation, I'm sure I rattled off phrases like “risk management” and “not an ideal time in the schedule.” Like there is ever an ideal time in a project schedule for anything.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating throwing out good practice and common sense. There are definitely better times than others for making changes to your project processes and tools. But not all changes need to throw you into a DEFCON 1, maximum biohazard containment frenzy. I’m arguing that upgrades to your project tools don’t all carry the same risk. Assuming you have current backups, upgrading your issue management system does not have the same potential for wrecking your project schedule as, say, upgrading your compiler version. And, since your team is using that issue management system every day, an upgrade with even small usability enhancements has the potential reward of higher productivity and improved morale. Why am I whining about this? Because in those recent customer conversations I mentioned, I found myself saying the following multiple times. Me (again): “Great feature request! I can see how that would save you a lot of time. We, um, added that in a recent release.” Frustrating to me and very frustrating to the customer stuck on a version several releases back. I know upgrading software development tools in the middle of a project can be a stressful and divisive issue for teams. I’d love to hear what factors you consider when pondering a tool upgrade.

Bottom line for TestTrack users: if you are up-to-date on your maintenance, the upgrade is free. Check out the release notes to see if your favorite TestTrack feature request has shipped without you. Still unsure if the rewards are worth the risk? Maintenance also entitles you to contact support so you can find out just what’s involved in upgrading your project.