People Skills Play an Essential Role in Release Management


In her Personality Matters series, Leslie Sachs examines the personalities and people issues that are found in technology groups from cross-functional, high-performance teams to dysfunctional matrix organizations.

Release management is a complex function that involves many essential technical tasks that must be completed in a very specific way. At first glance, one might think that Release Management has little or nothing to do with personality and psychology. In the book Configuration Management Best Practices: Practical Methods that Work in the Real World, Bob Aiello and I focused three of our fourteen chapters on the people side of CM. The fact is that people skills play an essential role in release management. Read on if you want to improve your ability to get the job done and achieve success in release management!

Release Management is a Team Sport

Release Management usually involves combining the work completed by a number of different people. Coordination and communication are essential for success in creating and supporting release management processes. Release Management involves taking the software components that have been built and assembling them into a secure and traceable package. Coordination involves handling many different tasks and dependencies and communication often depends upon multiple layers that could easily rival the complexity of conducting a medium sized orchestra. This complexity is especially evident in looking at the way that many people communicate.

Communication Styles
Communication styles can vary a great deal. I tend to find that I empathize with each person in the discussion. This can be a bit of a problem because I truly see each person’s point of view. I have worked with many people who had a very different style of communicating. Whatever your preferred style is you need to be aware of how others perceive you and consider whether changing your pitch can help you communicate more effectively. Remember that a particular style may feel more natural to you, but be less than effective at reaching your audience. Similarly, hour team will be able to achieve optimal results when all parties are sensitized to the value of clear communication.

Successful Consultation

Successful consultation usually results from an open and honest discussion that is focused on achieving the desired results of the team. There are times someone has to decisively provide strong leadership, but more often than not you want to focus on a collaborative and effective style of communication. One method that is emerging as an effective framework is the Agile SCRUM.

SCRUM for success
Many teams find that having a short daily meeting with little ceremony is an especially effective way to handle team collaboration. An interesting focus is on giving a voice to those who are truly committed (e.g. pigs) versus those who merely have an observing interest (e.g. chickens). Providing authority to self-managed teams is one of the best ways to foster collaborative success. Many Scrummasters are very effective leaders and facilitators, but make sure that you are aware of the potential challenges involved.

What does birth order have to do with it?

Some people are just born leaders and that may be the real problem in your group. Make sure that you identify the team members who may try to control the release management process and be prepared to run block, if necessary, to include everyone’s voice. The same is true if you have members of your team who have important information or views to offer, but are too intimidated to speak up. We each have our styles for behaving and communicating and you need to make sure that you include input from each of the essential key players.

You can apply psychology at work

The first step in being a psychologically savvy person is to be aware of how others impact you and how you impact others. It’s pretty common for conflicts to result from mismatches in communication styles. If you are in touch with the fact that someone reminds you of that grammer school bully, you can then parcel out whether or not its because the guy had the same hairstyle or the same obnoxious and pushy style. Understanding how you are perceived by others is equally important and many of us can be quite unaware of how we are coming across to others. Too often, people equate an overly blunt expressive style with “Well, I am just being honest.” Fine tuning your pitch and ability to process information can go a long way towards help you to be more effective in your work.

Dynamics within the group
Some groups can be tough. Being the new kid in school is not just a problem in the 4th grade. It can also be tough to break into a team where everyone has a lot of history and you are the newest guy on the team. Don’t be surprised if it takes a while for you to achieve full acceptance into a team that is fairly insular. It is equally common to have dynamics that can result in conflict and even chaos. Remember that groups can be very similar to dysfunctional families. Open and honest communication is usually the best way to handle these situations, but don’t underestimate the challenges ahead or the effort to deal with them.

Problem children you need to watch out for
Remember that guy who used to try to dunk your pigtails in the ink in school. Well, he’s grown up now and he can be just as annoying in a Change Control meeting where he wants to derail the team and get them focused on his latest crisis. Many people have a strong, “not invented here syndrome” coupled with a high need to be noticed. Other personality types may be hard to categorize, but these colleagues display behaviors that remind you of “problem children” from your past.

Good cop-bad cop and enforcing process

If your Release Management team has a good leader then you may be able to flip a coin and decide who gets to be the good cop (or bad cop) today. Make sure that you balance leadership with collaboration (Yes, they are inseparable).

Learn from mistakes and improve continuously
You don’t have to get it right the first time and you probably won’t. Learning from your mistakes and improving continuously are the best medicine for becoming a psychologically savvy leader and essential for successfully managing the release management process.

Release Management (RM) is not just about the configuration items (CIs) that you package into a deployable release package. Release Management essentials also involve having the right people skills to motivate others to improve communication and collaboration. You don’t need to delve into the teachings of Freud to be an effective technical leader (although by all means give him and other leading psychologists a read). The ability to display and model effective interactional skills is essential for taming the wild release management process.

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