You can’t fight in here; this is the War Room!


(Video clip for those who don't get the reference.)

The term War Room is attributed to Winston Churchill, used to describe the underground meeting room where the war effort was directed. It is the "crucial meeting room where important decisions are made" sense of the term that is used at Microsoft.

Many software products (or even just components of software products) have a meeting room designated as its War Room. Depending on the stage of the project, War Meetings might be held weekly, daily, or even several times a day. The meeting is run by the War Team, with representatives from all product components in attendance. Progress reports are given, the schedule is managed, critical bugs (or, if things are coming down to the wire, all bugs) are reviewed. For projects that are spread out over multiple locations, fancy teleconferencing equipment may be installed, and there may be clocks on the walls for time zones around the world.

Since the same people tend to attend these meetings over and over, there's a good chance that you'll find long-standing inside jokes and other rituals. For example, in the Windows War Room, there are pieces of paper on the walls with various catch phrases printed on them. I have no idea what they mean, but they are obviously a source of amusement for the people who spend hour after hour in the War Room.

If you're a programmer or tester, you don't have much direct interaction with the War Meetings unless you are responsible for a bug that has caught the attention of the War Team, at which point you are suddenly thrust into the frenzy. Before each War Meeting, your manager will want a status report, and if it's a new bug, you may even have to explain the situation in person. For example, suppose the project is in its final days, and a new bug just turned up. You may be called upon to describe the bug to the War Team, assess how risky the fix is and its impact on performance, application compatibility, and all that other information that the release management team will need to know in order to decide whether they are going to approve the fix. (Another phrase you may hear is taking a bug to War, which means bringing the bug before the War Team to request that they approve the fix for the product.)

And now that you've learned all this vocabulary surrounding the term War Room, you have to forget it all, because the new term is Ship Room, since that is the room where decisions about shipping the product are made. (Though it seems that the security folks still call their meeting room the War Room.)

Aside: The White House War Room was renamed the Situation Room in 1961.

I don't know the reason for sure, but I suspect the old term is deprecated because it sounds too belligerent and uncooperative.

(And happy Veteran's Day.)

Bonus track: Inside the SQL 2008 Ship room. And no, the music is not part of the meeting.

Comments (14)
  1. The Department of Defense was originally the Department of War, too.

    Nitpick: it’s Veterans’ Day, not Veteran’s Day (who’s the lucky guy?)

    [Actually, we’re both wrong. In the United States, it’s Veterans Day, no punctuation at all. -Raymond]
  2. Rob, Air Force Veteran says:

    Actually, the Department of War was split by executive order in September of 1947 into the Department of the Army and the Department of the Air Force. At the same time, the national Security Act of 1947 formed the National Military Establishment. The NME was made up of the Department of the Navy, the Department of the Army, and the Department of the Air Force.

    That NME was renamed in 1949 to the Department of Defense.

  3. Friday says:

    Nobody can convince me now that Microsoft isn’t planning to take over the world. ;)

  4. Bryce Kerley says:

    <blockquote>Nobody can convince me now that Microsoft isn’t planning to take over the world. ;)</blockquote>

    And with meetings about software without any software developers present, nobody can convince me that they’d succeed at it.

  5. AndyR says:

    The British "Situation Room" is called COBRA, which sounds really cool until you learn that it stands for "Cabinet Office Briefing Room A"…

  6. The NME

    We have met the NME, and he is us.

  7. Chris Nahr says:

    Surely "Veterans Day" sounds far too belligerent and uncooperative, and should be renamed "Senior Persons Who Once Were In A Situation Day".

  8. Phylyp says:

    So, is the Windows War Room the place that required the below quote?

     > We need someone to represent this bug at the morning meeting

    http://blogs.msdn.com/oldnewthing/archive/2008/11/05/9043631.aspx

  9. Larry Lard says:

    You may be called upon to describe the bug to the War Team, assess how risky the fix is and its impact on performance, application compatibility, and all that other information that the release management team will need to know in order to decide whether they are going to approve the fix.

    Brings to mind the War Council episode from Victor Stone’s Corporate Runs series (still I believe the only stabbing mentioned in the MSDN Library!) Ah, here it is:

    http://fourstones.net/the-corporate-runs?topic=the-war-council

  10. Matt says:

    @Larry

    Wow, I remember reading these mini-stories in the .chm files way back when, and thinking how cool they were.

    Nowadays, according to Google, they are only in the Japanese version.

    http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=%22stone%27s+way%22+site:msdn.microsoft.com&start=0&sa=N

  11. I think "ship room" is the devdiv term. That’s what we called it in the C++ team back when I started in ’94, and I only heard "war room" in the Windows context

    EricGu

  12. pat.man says:

    I miss the days of "going to War" during Windows releases. Shiproom is just too boring sounding.

  13. Nidonocu says:

    I think the ship room would be amusing if it contained an actual ship inside it at some point. Maybe have it as a novel MS Prank that the day after a product ships, the team come in and quickly replace the table with an actual boat of some kind..

  14. David Smith says:

    BTW, don’t miss the War Rooms beneath Whitehall next time you’re in London.  It’s hard to look at the map of the Atlantic that’s riddled with pin holes from tracking Lend Lease convoys or to see the cigar in the ash tray in the next room without getting something of a chill…"we will nevah surrender!"

    Which isn’t to say that a Windows release isn’t a Big Deal in its own way…

Comments are closed.