5 key aspects of a great release management process

A great release management process is great for business. If you take the time to take a step back and look at the areas below, it can give you:

  • Better software quality: Reduce your risk of potential issues and ensure it meets users needs and gives them a positive experience.
  • Faster time-to-market: Keep to a minimum the time and effort required for manual deployment. Stay ahead of the competition and meet the changing needs and expectations of your users.
  • Better collaboration and communication: Experience smoother and more efficient software releases that bring user feedback into the development process. Promote a culture of collaboration and communication between your development and operations teams.
  • Increased user adoption: Higher-quality releases that meet, or exceed, user expectations will feed into user satisfaction and adoption. The game here is to ensure that your software is being used effectively and that users are getting the full value.

Get the full breakdown of what you can gain from investing in your release management process.

All this sounds great. But how can teams invest in improving their release management process?

Here we’ll outline 5 key aspects of a great release management process and what you can do to make an impact in these areas right away. 💪

Communication and collaboration

It might sound obvious, but bear with us. A great release management process always starts with clear and effective communication between different teams, including development, operations, and your other stakeholders.

Organizations that want to be fast-paced and dynamic need to see this aspect as a necessary baseline of “getting s*** done” and not a bureaucratic burden that slows you down. 

Here’s how:

Define your roles and responsibilities (properly)

This includes development, operations, quality assurance, and any other stakeholders in your release process. A clear, documented, understanding of everyone’s role will make sure that you’re all on the same page and working towards the same goals.

Set up a regular cadence of meetings that are well-managed

No one wants more meetings. But short, well-managed, documented meetings will not only keep everyone informed in the release process but engaged as well. Invest in analyzing what sort of regular check-ins, status updates, and retrospectives work best for keeping your teams working well together and for each other.

Use a common communication tool

A single, centralized tool for communication that people actually want to engage with is your ticket to real-time information sharing. Find the tool your teams love and invest in good onboarding that’s ongoing.

Encourage a culture of open communication

All the meetings and tools in the world don’t make up for a good culture of psychological safety and open communication. Do you and your colleagues have the environment and support they need to speak up, ask questions, and provide feedback?

Implement a continuous feedback loop

If a release is completed without a retrospective, did it even happen? From in-depth retrospective workshops to regular feedback snippets along the way. A committed part of your release process should be constantly finding how to improve it, getting that feedback and tracking the impact of improvements.

In short: Effective communication and collaboration ensures that all your stakeholders are informed, engaged, and aligned to give you a smooth and successful release.

Planning and scheduling

A well-planned and executed release schedule makes sure that releases are delivered on time, within budget, and with minimal disruptions to operations.

Here’s how:

Properly define the scope of your release

Include the objectives of the release, the features and functionality to be included, and the resources needed to successfully complete the release. Having this upfront, documented and well-communicated will set you up to have a release plan that’s achievable and actually aligned with business goals.

Get your timeline in order

Once the scope of your release has been defined, invest extra time in formulating a clear, realistic, and detailed-enough timeline. Include deadlines for each phase of the release, including development, testing, and deployment.

Analyze how your people and resources are being allocated

Make sure your release plan includes the who, how, and what’s needed to complete each phase. Smart allocation plans include a “buffer room” of people’s time for last-minute changes and re-prioritization.

Push to prioritize releases

And then actually prioritize them. We know the feeling of prioritization lists existing more as a nice daydream than what happens in reality. Yes, things always come up and pivoting isn’t always a bad thing but agreement on what is happening when and why is what will ensure your deliverables happen on time and within budget.

Monitor the plan and know how you’ll adjust it

True agility means preparing and planning for change. Regularly check-in on your release plan and timeline and be prepared to know how best your team can adjust how they’re spending their time.

Keep a good overview of your allocated resources and people, where “wriggle room” lies and know your dependencies.

Consider dependencies

From shared resources to interdependent features, know and be able to communicate where your dependencies lie in your release management process.

In short: Effective planning and scheduling means understanding where you stand, what really needs to be done and knowing how to adjust as you go.

Testing and validation

Testing and validating your release management process is all about meeting and exceeding the expectations of your users, clients, your focus people. Testing gets to you where you want to be for release. Validating confirms it after the fact.

Ensure you have everything in order for the right functionality, performance, security, and compatibility. Here’s how:

Automate your testing process

Consistently and reliably test with reduced time and effort. Automating the who, when, and how can alow you to broaden your testing coverage and focus on improving the quality of your testing, even as the quantity grows.

Implement Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery (CI/CD)

CI/CD is the practice that involves automatically building, testing, and deploying your software. This approach gives you frequent and rapid releases, as well as continuous testing and validation of software.

Learn more about continuous integration.

Tips for Improving Testing and Validation in Release Management

Look into an Adopt a Test-Driven Development (TDD) Approach

TDD focuses on writing tests before writing code. This approach helps make sure that your code is written with testing in mind, making it easier to test and validate the software.

Use Real-World Data

Ensure that the data you’re referring to accurately reflects how your software is behaving. Not just how it’s built to behave or how you expect people to experience it. Real users, live environments, all the situations you plan for or even dread. Test them.

Continually invest in collaboration with your QA experts

Your QA teams and specialists hold the key to ensuring that your software is properly tested and validated before release. How are you including them in your planning and communication plans?

In short: Great testing and validation processes require tooling and approaches that bring you the right information at the right time. Automation is your friend. If in doubt, never leave your QA people out.

Deployment and release

Now it’s time to look at what’s actually delivered to production, IE. getting your work out into the real world for people to use.

Configuring the environment, performing the actual deployment, and monitoring the release well is what ensures people have access to the right features and updates when they need it.

Here’s how:

Automate your deployment process

Confidence, consistency and repeatability are the names of the game here. Automation requires a deployment pipeline, which is the process of taking code from your version control environment (for example, git) and making it available to users of your application.

It’s best to approach this as part of a continuous deployment process.

Implement continuous deployment

For faster and more frequent releases, automate the deployment of your software to happen once it’s passed all the required tests.

Adopt a Rolling Deployment ApproachRolling deployment is a deployment strategy that involves gradually rolling out software updates to users, rather than deploying all updates at once. This is about reducing the risk of potential issues, as well as reducing the impact on users in the event of a deployment failure.

Use Feature Flags

Decouple your deployment from release and ship your code in frequent, smaller releases for speed, control and confidence.

Here’s everything you need to know about why feature flags are your release process best friend

In short: Keep a confident handle on your deployment and release with continuous, automated deployments and feature flags.

Monitoring and feedback

Monitoring focuses on the performance and stability of your software after release, while feedback provides insight into how the software is being used and how it can be improved.

Here’s how you can make it great:

Implement Real-Time Monitoring

If you want to quickly identify and remedy any issues with your software, monitoring performance and stability in real-time is the key. It also opens the door to continuous improvement based on feedback.

Invest in your DevOps culture

Emphasize collaboration and communication between your development and operations teams. A culture of continuous development keeps user and internal feedback at the core of everything you do.

Use Feedback Loops

Regularly collect and incorporate feedback from users into your development process.Feedback loops are a mixture of daily best practices, automation, and tools.

Learn more about what feedback loops look here in this article from gitkraken.

Continue to invest in collaboration with your Customer Success (CS) Teams

Your CS teams and experts are the window to the people actually using your software in the “real world”. Meet with them, involve them, value their data. How are you including them in your planning and communication plans?

Remember, a great release management process is great for business. Which of the 5 aspects of a great release management process can your teams most benefit from in the near future?

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