Today marks one month since we officially released FME 2010. One of the most interesting things that any software product company has to cope with is THE RELEASE. Software by its very nature is not something you can immediately look at and assess whether or not it’s done.
the-last-spike

If you’re building, say, a railway across Canada, you know when you’re done when the last spike is pounded in. (Although, according to Wikipedia, trains didn’t roll on it for another seven months – presumably they had documentation or training materials to finish up).

But if you’re building software, there are always more features, more refinement, more optimization, more customer requests, and more external constraints pouring in that, if left unguarded would cause the release to never happen.

At Safe, we’re now on an annual release cycle, so we’re starting to see some patterns…and so, with apologies to Kübler Ross and the Ferengi , I present the 5 Stages of an FME Release.

As the process begins (while the previous release is dying down), we enter:

Stage 1: Naïve Idealism. A period of brainstorming and planning.
“Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could…” “Customers are asking for…” “We could sell more if we…” “Let’s finally fix…”. A happy carefree fun filled stage. The “Yes We Can” phase.

In a few months, work begins to bear fruit and as some early projects get delivered, we find:

Stage 2: Euphoric Optimism. The vision begins to take life.
“Wow, this IS fantastic” “Let’s ship it now” “Mindblowing”

The summer comes and goes, and everyone is back at it in the fall, just in time for:

Stage 3: Stark Realism. A time of cutting and cramming.
“Oops, we can’t quite get this part done” “Let’s sneak this last feature in quickly while no one is looking” “There’s always going to be another release”

The software is nearly done, and deadlines (and Christmas holidays looming), we realize we’re in:

Stage 4: Culmination.
“Wow, I’m glad we caught that one” “How did no one notice this for the past 6 months” “What? Dale and Don want to add another format AT THIS STAGE IN THE GAME”

Christmas comes, the DVD goes off to the plant, and the marketing, documentation, and training folks stick pins in their Dale and Don bobble heads as they toil away to finish up their post-DVD deliverables in preparation for the official launch, which heralds the arrive of:

Stage 5: Dénouement:
“Our best release ever” “We’re proud of what we’ve created” “Customers are going to love this” ”Well, if you liked this in FME 2010, you should just see what we have coming in FME 2011” (Well, maybe not that last one)

This stage includes numerous webinars, interviews (like this, this, this, and this), and road trips, and this activity lasts for several months, just as the next release moves well into its own Stage 2, and the tension builds about not talking about the next release while the current release is still fresh to all of our customers.

In these days, with few people wanting a CD or DVD, why bother with a release at all? Why not have continuous builds available all the time so customers can just help themselves to whatever the latest and greatest is (oh yeah, we do that already). Yet, there is something special that comes with each release: a seal of approval, a great excuse for a party, and something to rally around. Perhaps even more important, without the discipline the release and its stages enforce, we could just end up like the much maligned Duke Nukem Forever in more ways than one.

As we continue to make the most of Stage 5, I look forward to meeting with many of you and speaking with you about FME 2010 (perhaps we’ll meet on the FME Odyssey…)

fme-odyssey

About Data Collaboration Company Culture FME Beta FME User Conferences General

Dale Lutz

Dale is the co-founder and VP of Development at Safe Software. After starting his career working spatial data (ranging from icebergs to forest stands) for many years, he and other co-founder, Don Murray, realized the need for a data integration platform like FME. His favourite TV show is Star Trek, which inspired the names for most of the meeting rooms and common areas in the Safe Software office. Dale is always looking to learn more about the data industry and FME users. Find him on Twitter to learn more about what his recent discoveries are!

Comments

6 Responses to “The 5 Stages of an FME Release”

  1. Michael says:

    Hello Dale

    A nice summary of the life in Software Production …

    I would like to add Stage 6: The Delta Phase

    This is when application providers, like us, push you to make a series of post-release fixes, and never even use the offcial release because the “most important” problem wasn’t fixed in the official release … or was discovered a day before the official release.

    Why “Delta” phase ?

    Well you don’t bother us customers with “Alpha” releases but give us “Beta releases”.

    So “Gamma” should be the (never used synonym for) “official release”, and “Delta” comes after “Gamma” but also stays for “Difference”, the difference between the “official release” and what’s really used until a year later …

    Thanks for your insights and inspiration
    Michael

  2. Dale Lutz says:

    Hi Michael — great comment. As I’d planned this blog post I did think about that post-release phase and wondered if I should address it, so thanks for raising it. As I was writing it, I was fully aware of a spate of post-release fixes being tested and rolled up into the official release and wondered if or how I should incorporate them. Oddly enough, it had also been suggested in the past week that we shouldn’t use the term “beta” for the development builds, but gamma instead!

    But I do like your concept here Michael. Gamma refers to the official release, the moment in time when we took a snapshot feeling that all was well. Which sets up the wonderful double meaning on Delta. The Deltas that come after refer to the minor minor tweaks that are critical for some users, irrelevant to most, and are by their nature very localized and non-destabilizing. I’ve also been wondering if we should do some kind of quarterly announcement of a new “service pack” type of release, which would only serve to increase visibility into the handful of updates we do make ala what ESRI does with ArcGIS. But for now anyway, we’ll use the mechanisms we have in place to make folks aware of the minor updates we do make.

    Thanks for the great comments and suggestions.

    Dale

  3. […] couple weeks ago I wrote about the 5 Stages of an FME Release, and long time customer and FME enthusiast Michael Habarta commented on the fact that after we […]

  4. […] FME’ers, Dale’s suggestion that there are five stages to an FME release got me thinking about how I divide my evangelizing […]

  5. […] But I think this quest for “Making Happy Customers” is one that we’ll never quite complete, perfectionists that we are. While we’ve made great strides in 14 years, there are always things we can do better, things we can make easier, things we can make more obvious. And so I guess we’ll have another FME release, with all that entails… […]

  6. […] a year ago I wrote some reflections on the 5 stages of an FME release, and as I review it, just now, I have to say we followed them pretty much to the letter again for […]

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