Guest Column | January 7, 2019

Managing New Product/Version Releases With Release Management

By Jeff Keyes, Plutora

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Managing a new product or version release is no small feat. For one, there are a lot of moving parts and various teams that all have to work together — from development to operations, and all things in between. On top of that, customers today expect releases and updates constantly, but with as little disruption as possible. Ideally, they want an update without even knowing there was an update.

With all that in mind, an important end-to-end aspect of a successful release is release management — the process of managing, planning, scheduling, and controlling a software build through various stages and environments.

The 3 Challenges Release Management Solves

There are three major challenges that come with new releases that release management can help reign in. With its main purpose being to coordinate delivery of various teams across the enterprise with their diverse architectures, geographies, and methodologies and to align them with the business, release management is perfect for enterprises too large for any one group to fully monitor the scope of the overall system. It helps ensure everyone, on every team, is on the same page.

The first challenge release management helps alleviate is gaps that exist between teams. Any enterprise of scale will likely have various departments and various teams within those departments. While release management can be helpful for a variety of enterprise sizes, those with three or more groups coordinating to deliver software and with over 100 direct participants are prime candidates. When effective release management is implemented, it provides greater alignment of personnel across departments and addresses any issues or obstacles that come up outside of individual groups.

The second challenge is that of complex systems and interdependencies. Many enterprises have multiple interdependent subsystems — including both systems developed internally and third-party services — which in turn involve multiple independent development groups. When changes are made to products or new releases, it often impacts more than one component in a composite system. The visibility provided by release management helps keep all subsystems working together.

The third challenge is helping to identify and manage risks associated with multi-project deployments. For example, high-risk industries such as banking and government require a constant commitment to 24/7 availability. Uptime is the primary concern for these types of organizations and they are faced with the challenge of controlling the impact of software releases.

Since software releases are the primary cause of downtime in most enterprises, there’s a special sensitivity and awareness when it comes to managing release-related risk. This is where release management comes in — to help identify and manage risks when contingency planning isn’t optional and when minutes or even seconds of downtime can impact the business.

Release Management Best Practices

Now that the challenges of release management are understood, what are some best practices to maximize its efficiency? The most important thing to keep in mind is transparency and communication are keys to a successful release management operation.

While release management sounds great in theory — and is great when implemented properly — there’s often more to it than you see on the surface. In order to be successful, there must be a shift in perspective from release management as an endpoint to release management as a consistent end-to-end process. With that in mind there are a few best practices everyone trying to succeed in release management should follow:

  • Review your existing process — look at both your teams and tools and find out where automation can help with speed and efficiency.
  • Clearly define release cycles — more and more often we’re seeing an increased pressure on businesses to constantly improve applications, which is forcing faster release cycles. Define whether you want to update every day, week or month, for example. And use past instances to learn from and adjust.
  • Invest in the right release management team — creating a super-team of release, environment, test, and implementation managers is a vital step in setting yourself up for success with release management.
  • Stay ahead of the planning game — you might not know exactly which new features you’ll have to implement one year from now, but you should know when that release cycle will happen. Getting out ahead of the release schedule keeps you on a consistent track for feature changes.
  • No such thing as too much communication — leave your siloed release management function behind. When you give every stakeholder in the release management process access to critical information, you can create a systematic way for stakeholders to see critical information in real-time.

This list is not finite, but it’s a great starting point.

As companies evolve and become more software-driven, more teams work on each project and systems become increasingly complex. This means it’s imperative to find a process that keeps everything organized and on time. When it comes to new product and version releases, release management is one of the most efficient ways to ensure everything runs smoothly, quickly, and to everyone’s satisfaction.

About The AuthorSBG Jeff Keyes, Plutora

Jeff Keyes is director of product marketing at Plutora.