Integrating a Release Manager Role IntoAgile Projects
Now some folks will say that a product manager can perform the role of the release manager. In some cases they can. The release management role includes a set of specific tasks and activities that ensure interdependent products and services come together when they must. If the product manager or project manager has the bandwidth or when the interdependencies are minimal, then the role can be played by the product manager. However, the product manager is quite busy working with vendors and customers on the one side and the project team on the other so sometimes this is not possible. Quite frankly, the product manager will be more concerned with things that impact their releases and less concerned about other products' releases. A release manager will ensure all products' releases are equitably prioritized and managed. Effectively, the release manager can provide the glue especially when the agile world meets the more traditional world.
So, how would a release manager fit into an agile project structure? First, keep in mind that a release manager would provide release management services typically to several projects at the same time. One release manager can typically support four to five projects at a time. So with this in mind, one strategy is to identify clusters of products that typically have inter-dependent projects and assign a release manager to support the product managers (and products therein) within this cluster.
Specific to a project, ensure the release manager gets invited to the daily stand-up meetings of the projects (as reasonable). This ensures that the release manager is immediately aware of any dependency issues across products and can begin resolving them without delay or hearing the issue second-hand (which can cause further delay) if it was translated incorrectly or if additional information is needed.
Why release management for agile teams? Release management can help bridge the gap between an agile world and a waterfall and hierarchical world. If you are on an agile project that supports a product-line that has many dependencies on products outside of its sphere of influence then these dependencies need to be managed effectively and formally, and not as a second thought. This may include getting requirements or stories to the right product team where dependencies exist, to ensuring build or runtime deliverables are in place at the right time for testing reasons. Ultimately, as complexity of dependencies to other products and services increases, so does the risk of breakage in unexpected ways. This is where Release Management can provide the Product Manager/Owner and Agile project team with strong value.