In today’s fast-paced digital environment, business owners and project managers must start planning updates and new features as soon as first version of their software product hits the market. However, ensuring that your new version rolls out without any bumps is critical to survival. Why? Bugs, slow load time and other glitches lead to frustrated users.
It’s estimated that by 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator. Protecting the integrity of your live environment while rolling out important new features and products must be a top priority if you don’t want to lose customers during the roll out process. Release management is a strategy that focuses on meeting this challenge. Here’s what you need to know about this key business function.
What is Release Management?
Generally speaking, management of releases outlines the systematic process of building new and updating software products. In the IT world, release management strategy guides all stages of a software release, from planning and development to testing and deployment. Whether you are rolling out IT services, products or updates, this is a process that helps you effectively manage the project. Think of release management as a business function that supports change. It enables your business to grow while protecting existing systems, and most importantly the customer experience.
Release management creates a more efficient process, resulting in shorter times to market and fewer quality problems. Ultimately, that means your company can be more responsive to market changes and consumer preferences by increasing the number of successful releases. By mitigating risk, effectively managing releases ensures the customer experience remains consistent throughout the roll out process.
How It Compares to Project Management
If you are thinking release management sounds a lot like project management, you’re right. They are both essential to a successful product roll out. However, they each play their own vital role.
- Project management focuses on planning and coordinating resources to successfully launch a major product or release. It helps a team manage cost and time, as well as ensure quality.
- Release management is also concerned with a successful launch. However, it focuses more on coordinating different test & production environments and the IT environment to deploy a product in the least disruptive manner. In short, it aims to protect the integrity of your live environment, ensuring that connected products and services stay functional throughout the roll out. Release management creates a proactive and predictable environment for IT changes to take place, moving projects from development to production environments where they are consumed by end-users. Making that process seamless is the primary objective.
- Depending on team sizes & depth of complexity, management of releases is handled by either a specialised team or with the help of existing project team.
The Release Management Process
According to research firm EMA, 75 percent of negative IT incidents are the result of changes in software and the environment. “Without a solid release management system, you put your entire infrastructure at risk,” explained their experts. Follow these five steps to draft your process.
- The planning phase is the most important and should take the most time. Start by outlining standards and requirements. Why is the product being released? What consumer pain points does it address? Create a workflow that includes timelines, delivery dates and requirements, as well as the overall scope of the project. You can craft your plan according to what works best for your team. For example, you may opt for a checklist that outlines processes and responsibilities in chronological order. Another option is to create a cloud-based flowchart that contains the same information in a more visual format. Once this phase is complete (convey the upcoming changes via release notes preview and), get feedback from all stakeholders and make needed adjustments.
- The building stage puts your plan into action. Note that the product will bounce between steps two and three. As it’s developed, it is sent to the testing phase. As bugs are identified, it goes back to the building stage for tweaking.
- Real-world testing is critical to the release management process. User acceptance testing (UAT) allows end users to provide feedback. This is often accomplished by offering a free beta trial to a group of users.
- A final quality assurance review is performed to ensure all standards and requirements outlined during the planning phase have been met. Data gathered through UAT is double-checked to confirm the bugs have been fixed and tweaks have been implemented.
- Deployment has finally arrived. A key part of releasing a product is messaging. End users, whether they are employees or customers, must be notified and educated about the new features. Send out release notes or change logs to them. Does the release require instructions or training to operate? This is especially important for users that depend on the software to do their jobs or manage their businesses. Effective software deployment is critical for new and existing apps and platforms.