What Studying Release Notes Reveals about Your SCM and ALM Tools
A current discussion on LinkedIn explores how the content of release notes comes together. Studying release notes will tell you a great deal about your software configuration management (SCM) and application lifecycle management (ALM) environment; it will also help you understand why SCM and ALM are so important.
In a typical project, many hours, days, or even weeks are spent pulling together the content of a new release into a single document so that the technical writer can polish it off. Scripts and special tools are put together to try to extract information from the CM repository, as in this example of release note automation with ClearCase. Sometimes this results in less content or capability than desired.
So how do you automate release note generation? First of all, if you do not have an ALM solution in place, you probably have issues identifying which problems have been fixed or what features were implemented in a release. Sure, the information is buried in your version control comments and you have scripts to dig them out, but you have to ask yourself how accurate the comments are.
A proper ALM solution forces you to reference approved problems or features in order to start your change; this link is forever captured and provides traceability. Testers use this information to ensure that the proper test cases verify the functionality or fix.
Your ALM tools should provide you with the capability to get this release note information automatically, simply by comparing two builds. Ideally, you should have a dashboard that anyone, not just the release note generators, can use.
The information in the release notes is important to the customer, but it’s also extremely useful for developers, customer support teams, CM managers, and testers. With an ALM tool, all of the necessary data is available. It’s up to the tool to provide a dashboard that can report build comparison “release notes” at the click of a button.
If your CM and ALM tool can do this, it’s mature enough to give most of the roles in your product development team a key capability. If it cannot, you have to ask yourself the following questions: Why is it is unable to do so? Is the data not readily available across all ALM functions? Is there an insufficient query capability to retrieve the data you want—that is, are you unable to ask for the release note data between one build and another? Does the tool lack an interactive data presentation so that you can navigate the release note data?
If you find yourself lacking in any of those areas, your tools need an upgrade. Or, perhaps the traceability of the data is suspect, or the approval and acceptance of problems reports and features don’t work quite right. If the process is broken, or not supported by the tool, get some help to make it right.
Take a look at my CM Journal article “What Else Does ALM Need?"—specifically items twelve through fourteen. These items, and a few others in the article, help define what is necessary for an ALM tool to be able to automatically generate release notes—not just in the traditional fashion but in an interactive manner that a product development team can use as much as the customers.
With the right mix of process and tools, release note generation can invigorate your ALM solution.