Are you here because you suffer from a broken software release process? Do you feel you’re one more status meeting away from throwing in the towel?
Anyone involved in software development knows that bringing new and fresh product features to the market is not easy. It’s a highly organized and complex process that inevitably has problems deploying releases.
Here’s some truth: side effects of a purposeful release management process can include high-quality software, delivery transformation, and happy coworkers.
Let’s walk through why a controllable, measurable, and automated release management process is your solution.
- What Is Release Management?
- Why You Should Apply a Release Management Process (aka the Good Sh*t)
- Chaos to Clarity: The 6 Release Process Steps
- Top 5 Ways to Screw Up Release Management (and How To Avoid Them)
What Is Release Management?
At its core, release management minimizes risks, tracking and auditing requirements, customer assurance, and consistent implementation—in the least disruptive approach.
Changes are tracked, tested, and corrected as many times as needed before a successful release.
A release (or release unit) is the deployment of one or more component changes to a product into the production environment.
Release management is the planning, scheduling, and testing of the product through various phases and environments.
To achieve a successful release and survive in this competitive era, product managers will monitor KPIs and metrics to ensure their users can use these improvements to support their businesses.
If you’re not releasing continuously, you’re doing your business harm.
Why? Committing to frequent software releases makes your product reliable and stable—essential characteristics to the health of your business.
How frequent is frequent? Once a year, twice a year? Consider a few points to weigh in: the importance of the updates, end-user compatibility, and dependencies of the current software.
At Workpuls, COO Ryan Fyfe says, “The pace of release of Workpuls is on a monthly rolling schedule. Most weeks, we release new material on the following Monday and make it freely available to all members on our website, with some exceptions (e.g., an issue that has been downloaded too many times already or that needs more editing). Aside from those exceptions, there are no delays between publication and availability.”
Let’s look at four paths to consider for your release deployment:
|Big Bang||Deploys to all users at the same time
Stakeholders are given the deployment date, so there’s no miscommunication about scheduling
|Any delays to the release can impact specific departments
If the release causes a significant incident, it would require backing out for all users
|Push||Organization pushes software to required products
Greater opportunities for automation
|When a significant update is pushed, the network could experience performance issues|
|Pull||Made available at a central location for users to procure at their convenience||A specified time limit will have to be implemented in releases with security updates|
|Phased||Deploys to a set group of users at one timeLess risky than “big bang”||Release implementation will take longer|
It can be tempting for release managers to fall into the mindset of “we have to consider every possible situation” to make the feature perfect.
If you do fall, you’ll potentially make the product difficult for users to experience by making it complicated to use.
Although release management is undoubtedly hard work from start to finish, the benefits outweigh the struggles.
Even more—teams are confident that what they’re putting out works.
Why You Should Apply a Release Management Process (aka the Good Sh*t)
If you could take out the guesswork and increase productivity by the hour, who would argue that Agile release planning is unnecessary?
Here are noteworthy benefits that come from implementing a release management strategy:
Stay on ‘Repeat’
- Automate the tests and tasks for error-proof results
- Streamline short releases for consistent deployment through sprints
- Reduce chances of manual involvement with quality coding standards in place
- Document processes to make them easier to follow over time by anyone (and for those new to the organization!)
- Empower teams to perform and communicate while improving workflows (check out our guide on the best workflow apps)
Quality Like Everything About Tom Hanks
- Save time, avoidable costs, and energy while heightening collaboration between teams
- Enable developers to quickly course correct with continuous feedback
- Knowledge transfer to support staff to reduce post-production support
- Higher software quality meets end-user needs and expectations
Here for the Commentary
- Dramatically cut a significant amount of time spent perfecting the versioning and let customers test and report what’s working and what isn’t
- Connect with users on how they’re using the product and what they’re looking to do with it
- Use analytics from activities to help mitigate back and forth early planning conversations about what features your team thinks users will enjoy
Essentially, we all want to create products that we would like to use ourselves, so our excitement and journey through this process add to the release management process.
Check out these product OKR examples for your product team!
Chaos to Clarity: The 6 Release Process Steps
As modern technology becomes sophisticated, developers have paved the way to release new features faster—and safer.
The agile framework releases iterative changes in development timelines known as time-boxed sprints (the chef’s kiss of frequent releases). With an agile delivery approach, teams can better coordinate release activities to minimize the impact on the business.
“We follow the Agile methodology, so we’re typically releasing maintenance items and improvements iteratively alongside long-term work on larger, marketable releases,” says Allie Wolff, Director of Product Marketing at Benchmark Email.
“We focus on releasing one new feature per quarter. We’ve got big goals and no shortage of ideas. Anything is possible when you have unlimited resources, but like most businesses, that’s not a reality for us. With resource allocation being a hurdle at times, we carefully prioritize release items so we can stay on pace and continue delivering value to our users.”
Step 1: Lead the Way to Release
The first step involves the product manager (or release manager), product team (owners, analysts, and marketers), and key stakeholders defining the vision.
Ariana Dugan, VP of Product at Interplay Learning, shares, “We have regular cross-functional “squad” meetings for our key areas of focus where we review major upcoming releases and designs to ensure everyone knows what’s coming when and why.”
Next, the group will determine the priority feature(s) improvements to the business and customer in the next release’s roadmap.
“Our releases are ordered by a mix of what we think will have the highest impact in alignment with our strategic goals, customer seasonality, and a grab-bag of quick-wins and bugs that we know many customers will appreciate,” Dugan continues. “We use a prioritization matrix and lots of healthy discussion quarterly to align on these priorities and sequencing across functions and levels in the organization.”
Decision factors include:
- Immediate bug fixes and UI improvements
- Business strategic objectives
- Feasibility analysis
- Resource availability
- Cost-related issues
- Estimated ROI
Next, the release manager determines the scope of work (with key stakeholder considerations) to create a detailed plan of the build requirements, feasibility analysis, priority, and testing of the product ideas.
This intake process is essential to be thorough on, as it articulates the value of the release.
Step 2: The Road to Code
The engineering and DevOps teams work within their specific feature branches to translate the product requirements and stakeholders’ expectations with the roadmap.
Feature branches are segments of the master branch line—where all feature branches are collected and integrated to push to production.
A development team assigned to a specific feature branch can build, test, and make any changes without causing disruption or instability to the other feature branches. However, integrating all code too early in the development cycle will likely create conflicts and unintentionally cause delays.
This separation allows developers to work on tasks simultaneously and get feedback quickly.
“I have found that it’s really important to have conversations and meetings with your colleagues when managing a product,” reflects Alyssa Parr, Product Owner at Jomo247. “Face-to-face contact (even via Zoom!) leaves nothing open to interpretation and allows easy explanation from both sides of what we need from each other.”
Step 3: Wild Wild Test of QA
The QA (Quality Assurance) team looks for potential risks in a stable staging environment based on the established criteria. Here, the QA team can pinpoint when capabilities fail and act on them by continually running regular tests.
Staging environments are helpful to test features with a small group of users before the full release. This allows for aggressive testing and performance tracking before it’s available to the end-user.
“Product releases are stressful because there are so many things that could go wrong. Having a checklist with all the items that need to be completed before your release can help alleviate some of the stress associated with releasing your product. A good checklist will also help prevent you from missing any steps or forgetting about something important during your release process.”
Automation is more reasonable than extra people hours.
One of the best ways to ensure increased reliability is automating repetitive tasks as much as possible.
Automation allows the release frequencies to perform quicker and human error is minimized. In addition, feature branches will be short-lived (ideal for time-boxed sprints), and teams can proactively make changes.
Now, the feature branches push to the master branch line!
Step 4: Stay Calm and Prepare
After testing has passed the staging environment safely and changes are addressed, the product marketing team drafts release notes to confirm the deploy features.
Then, after initial reviews and approvals, the feature owners should final inspect any documentation.
Along with a release plan for end-users, training and adoption materials for internal departments should be just as detailed and available.
Albin Poignot, Co-Founder of Linky Product, says it best: “Release notes are included in a central documentation center that is available for the entire company. Depending on the company, it can be a wiki, the ticket management system, or shared document.”
“But I always avoid using version management systems (like Git). The goal is to avoid technical details included when the readers just want to know the features that are impacted,” Albin explains.
Knowledge transfer to support staff is vital as they help enable customers to use the product to its purpose.
Step 5: Let It Go to Production
Your newly built and tested software release is sent to production for users!
The marketing team publishes the internal and external release notes, communicates to customers, and organizes the chaos if urgent changes are needed.
Step 6: Collect Likes and Dislikes
Teams will be at risk of inviting more work if closing deployment is not practiced post-release.
In other words, don’t skip this step!
Reporting efficiencies, opportunities for improvement, and monitoring system health is essential to exercise. In addition, honest user feedback is available to perform maintenance and meet user requirements.
Aravind Nallasivam, a Solution Architect at Claysys, advises, “If any critical issues have been reported in the major release versions, then the priority will be shifted to fixing and patching up those issues before moving on with product development. Sometimes this is a challenge when there are bugs that take an unusually large amount of time.”
User acceptance testing (aka listening to users’ likes and dislikes) works to your advantage, so this will feed into the software development life cycle and ensure that the next release is better than the last!
Bonus: Learn more about different product management styles with our product management glossary!
Top 5 Ways to Screw Up Release Management (and How To Avoid Them)
Not everything goes according to plan, so it’s helpful to know what could be avoided simply by directing the release management process away from roadblocks. The most common are:
Explain the release scope in the vaguest terms
Can you measure the release’s success if all the team has are tasks and due dates? This is not agile behavior and can easily invite scope creep!
Although teams are working within their feature branches at the start, it’s vital to stay connected to the chain to keep pace with deadlines and address change requests. Therefore, the language of the software release should be clear and concise across all involved teams.
Deny automated testing practices
Automate information delivery into actionable tasks, so developers know what to work on next. This improves efficiency and makes day-to-day operations centered on productivity.
Prioritize the management process over risks
Strategic thinking can’t freely stretch if there’s interference with an internal team’s process. Team members take personal ownership when their ability to solve problems is valued over processes and tools.
Developers are building code that sometimes can be complex. The more constructive feedback they have, the better they can refine their software feature. For this to work, clarify expectations for a timely review and approval system with teams and key stakeholders.
Bonus: Check out our guide on release management tools!
Although software continues to change the way organizations work, there’s also a human side to it. So we find new ways to help people stay connected and simplify life’s challenges.
Organizations across all industries have committed to continuously updating their product to provide people with better design, usability, and output with each new upgrade.
ClickUp is a release and deployment management software designed for teams to take their product releases to the next level. If you need project management help managing the agile framework or other preferred methodologies, ClickUp has your back!
Best of luck with your digital transformation. We’re rooting for you!
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