Ways to structure the release management process for improved agility
Agile software development takes a new angle on software projects. Instead of living with late projects and hoping for better estimations next time, the agile approach recognizes the specific and unique nature of software and takes a different path. In this article, I would like to explore the essence of the release management process, its anatomy, and ways of its improvement.
In a nutshell: what is release management?
Release management refers to planning, management, scheduling, and controlling an entire software build through every stage and environment involved, including testing and deploying software releases.
The planning stage may be the most time-intensive, as this is where your entire release is structured from start to finish. One of the most popular release management methods is the systems development life cycle (SDLC).
The SDLC helps software developers plan, develop, maintain, and replace software systems with a high degree of efficiency and quality.
Every release plan should include:
— Delivery dates
— The overall scope of the project.
With the release plan finalized, we can start designing and building the product for release. This is the actual “development” of the product based on the requirements outlined in the release plan. Once all the issues that may have arisen are addressed, it’s time to subject the build to real-world scenario testing.
This could take several iterations. As the team builds out the product, it is sent to a testing environment for user acceptance. This allows the team to identify any bugs or issues that may arise in a real-world environment.
The next step is user acceptance testing (UTA), which is when the end user’s product is built to actually be used and give feedback. As bugs are identified, the team goes back to the drawing board to fix the issues and redesign the build for greater integrity. The build must pass the UAT stage to be considered for final implementation and release.
Release preparation also includes a final quality review by the QA team. During the review, the QA team will conduct final checks to ensure the build meets the acceptable standards and business requirements outlined in the release plan. After the review, the functional team will validate the findings and finalize the release for deployment. Before the build can deploy into a live environment, it must be approved by the product owner.
Besides simply sending the build-out into production, the deployment stage also includes messaging and education on the product to both the end-user and your company at large. For instance, users should be notified of changes with the release and new features.
Finally, during the deployment stage, the development team should meet to assess the release’s performance and discuss how the deployment went. If there are any lingering issues, they should be identified and documented for the team to address in the next iteration.
Why do you need to adopt a release management strategy?
There are a number of reasons a company implements release management strategies:
An enterprise’s operational structure is complex. The complexity is in direct correlation with functionality risks: there is a high probability a new release will disrupt something. Infrastructure is complex when many technologies are being used, which implies many versions and configurations.
Several delivery teams work concurrently. Operational infrastructure is typically a huge environment that consists of smaller shared environments. As the company grows, so too will the number of delivery teams. Therefore, it is essential to make sure there are no conflicts in delivery efforts across teams.
Help needed for solutions release. With the growth of the company, new people join delivery teams, and they have no experience as to operational environment solution deployment. To help keep everyone on the same page, the release management team can become coaches, provide guidance, assist in coordination and planning.
The necessity in streamlining operations and delivery. DevOps approach is successful and demands the seamless flow between operations and delivery, hence, the efforts of the teams require support and orchestration.
The perks of release management
In a world where the delivery pipeline is automated, and several independent teams work on a project, there is a great need in seeing the big picture. Release management presents a holistic approach to efficient development and delivery. In contrast, the absence of this orchestration results in profligate pipelines, irrational resource management, and incorrect prioritization with the focus on features with low impact. A release manager bridges the gap between the inside and outside perspectives and makes sure every sprint has proper prioritization.
The other advantages of release management are:
Value delivery to customers. Many companies tend to put software development speed at the center of their attention. However, the major focus must be on delivering more value to customers, as it is the ultimate goal of digital transformation. In view of this, the release management teams gather and analyze customer feedback, which gives a deep understanding of business needs. They form the foundation for an effective development plan.
Risk management at scale. Product development will always be exposed to business risks, even though DevOps significantly shortens time to market. Process audit and governance standardization are exactly what the release management teams are wired for. Scalable risk management is possible when risk management is a standardized process.
Enhanced deployment effectiveness. In this context, we are talking about the three key metrics that grade the deployment effectiveness—more positive value, less negative value, and fast net value. In other words, deployment efficiency is defined primarily by fixes and new features, as well as the absence of bugs and delays. Release management teams are responsible for sustaining these three areas.
Challenges of a release manager
When you are working on big projects, you have to balance a lot of things. Multinational companies demand working with different cultures, mentalities, and ensuring seamless communication. Depending on a project, issues might vary. But there are a number of common challenges release managers tend to address:
— Heterogeneous environments might lack integration
— Lack of alignment between IT and business line
— Increased risks imposed by large updates and modifications to the application
— Insufficient visibility across stakeholders
— Regulatory compliance and governance
— Making sure teams followed every step to deliver exactly what the customer asked for.
An effective release manager must have robust risk management techniques at hand to address these issues. Otherwise, there is a high probability of sabotaging the release management process.
Structuring release management process: the methods
Since we are striving for increased agility, your release management process will be better structured with the following steps:
Ensure real-time monitoring. Among the pillars of agility, constantly monitoring and delivering reports is crucial. In this way, you keep your finger on the pulse at every stage and ensure nothing is missed along the way. After each and every sprint is completed, you need to juxtapose the results with the pre-defined objectives.
Trace the requirements. You need to make sure there is a visible link between the business requirements and their fulfillment — being able to trace the requirement back and forth. The manual approach to this process is time and labor-intensive, and can be quite costly. In this case, automation works miracles, and the release managers can make timely data-based decisions.
Standardize. The absence of standardized governance leads to disruptions. For instance, imagine an engineering team that creates something manually. Obviously, the human factor is always around when something is done manually, and packages will look and work differently. Downtime is the smallest problem you might face at the end of the day.
Compelling and superb customer experience relies on the way a company manages the development and delivery processes. On the path to complete agility, you as a release manager need to keep in mind the three things: avoid sticking to the status quo, convey a clear mission, and find the “right” technology partners to provide you with custom-tailored tools. When those are settled within your company, you can start thinking of your future tech excellence in the market.
By Anastasiia Yamkova
Game Release Lead at Innovecs
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