Technology seems to be advancing so rapidly these days that it’s a genuine challenge to keep up. Developers need to get software updates and new features out to users quickly to address issues and offer improved user experiences. Yet there still must be a process in place to optimize resources while delivering quality and value for the customer.
Deploying software with these objectives in mind is possible thanks to the release management process, which incorporates a specific type of project planning. Here's a guide for how it works, why it's beneficial, and how to incorporate release management process best practices in your business.
Overview: What is a release management process?
Before we delve into why and how you should incorporate the release management process in your business, it's good to first understand the overall concept. A release manager uses this software development approach to plan and implement software deployments, keeping projects on course and free of scope creep.
The software release management process takes different tasks and resources into account in scheduling software development. You’ll need to account for scheduling team members for the software build across stages and environments, as well as testing and deploying software to the end user.
How does release management work?
Organizations can improve the quality, efficiency, and speed of updating software through release management. It uses specific techniques, such as a prioritization matrix, continuous delivery, automation, DevOps, and agile development, that provide the structure necessary to plan, schedule, and manage software development.
Although it's relatively new, release management is growing in application. That may be due at least in part to its reliance on several project management concepts together with systems development life cycle (SDLC) knowledge. Consequently, release processes can serve as a set of best practices for IT service management.
4 benefits of the release management process
In addition to how much it helps address key issues in the production environment, the software release management process offers several other significant benefits.
1. More successful software product releases
The goal is to implement a process that removes downtime and adds efficiency both to software development and the overall production environment. Ultimately, this adds revenue while simultaneously strengthening your company's competitive advantage. Additionally, a more efficient process essentially speeds releases to customers who can start enjoying new features and functionality.
2. Higher quality
Release management produces a more detailed process that accounts for issues and risks along the way, whether you’re creating a new product or adding further functionality to an existing one. Timing is also synced with resources so that nothing is rushed out the door prematurely. The overall process also automates part of the work, removing additional risk of human error.
3. Improved coordination and communication
The release management structure also empowers the development team to work more closely with the operations team, thanks to clearly outlined development processes. This approach helps break down barriers between functions and departments that might have otherwise stood in the way of clear and consistent communication between IT professionals and the rest of the company.
4. Standardized and streamlined development process
Release management methodologies focus on ensuring there’s a clear path to follow for every software development project. In fact, companies with the most successful software releases often follow a single process throughout the product life cycle because it helps them plan more effectively based on previous experiences.
The ability to standardize leads to fewer surprises and more readily addresses configuration issues. I’ve talked to team members at companies like this who say consistent processes let them know what’s required every time. They need much less validation that they’re on the right track.
How to implement a release management process in your business
Release management planning requires that a specific process be crafted and added to your business to ensure you reap the benefits and get the biggest return on your investment. Follow this implementation framework to set up a release management system and manage it over time.
1. Define business needs
Your first step should be to create a clear picture of the end user, the benefits of the software under development, and the business needs that are essential for satisfying that end user. Getting clarity on these points alleviates the bottlenecks that could delay software delivery.
2. Undertake release planning phases
Each feature or application within the software development process should go through a release planning phase in which leaders identify the correct scope and potential problems involved. The research manager plays a significant role at this point, understanding the upstream and downstream dependencies related to the software's features and what value these will bring to the overall release packages.
The research manager should also put together a release risk profile that identifies risks related to downtime, security, and compliance that could impact the software once it's in a live environment.
3. Use a checklist to manage the release management process
A thorough and specific checklist offers a repeatable and automated system that stays focused on the release plan and discourages deviations. As an organization expands, release management must scale, so having a checklist ensures that the necessary tasks are accomplished, regardless of company size. From there, the release management process is integrated into the application life cycle.
4. Enforce the checklist with tools
Enforce your checklist with a set of tools that can help standardize organizational procedures and point out dependencies among team members that need to be addressed. Examples of release management tools include Digital.ai VersionOne, IBM UrbanCode Deploy, and RapidDeploy
5. Test and deploy during the release planning phase
As software is being built, developers and operators involved in the project need to be able to access the dependencies and potential risks noted in the release planning process. Doing so means developers and operators can test with a full understanding of where problems may occur prior to full production as part of the release.
6. Manage release activities with an eye to the future
Some might say that the main purpose of a tech company is to achieve continuous deployment of products to address the end user’s needs. That requires a mature release management system that functions as a circular process with a focus on continual improvement.
As soon as you determine a finished release to be successful, the next step is to assess what can be improved for the next release. Consistent focus on improvement ensures that release and deployment management can achieve greater results with each product developed and sold.
4 best practices when using your release management process
To my knowledge, few business owners ever successfully reinvent the wheel. They largely tend to adapt what they see working well at other companies. The same is true with release management planning. To get the most out of yours, leverage best practices developed by other organizations.
1. Automate what you can
From DevOps to testing, it makes sense to automate as much as possible. Automation helps minimize the chance for human error and lowers labor costs. Also, automation allows you to get more done at a faster rate.
2. Minimize or eliminate downtime
Take the impact of downtime for the user out of the release process. Make sure to allocate enough time for testing so you can identify elements and issues that lead to downtime for the product.
3. Establish clear requirements and acceptance criteria
Don't be vague about any part of the release management process. Set clear requirements of the complete configuration to the team. This helps workers understand what’s been done and what has yet to be completed without increasing the risk for bugs that further delay deployment.
4. Be thorough about every aspect
Be thorough with everything you do related to software deliverables, including incorporating specific tasks tied to continuously improving every process involved. That way, each software release cycle and overall software development get that much better.
Release, project, and change management join forces
As part of an overall project and change planning process, a company can leverage release management to improve how it delivers individual software products.
But, release management also incorporates project management requirements and acceptance requirements to keep your projects on schedule and make iterative improvements. This focus will increase the likelihood of enhanced user experiences, competitive advantages, and sustainable revenue.