Release management is a crucial process that needs effective planning and execution to ensure the requirements are met, and the end user is happy.

However, organizations are left with many releases to work on in order to keep their software products updated with new features and functionalities. 

This can become confusing and overwhelming if not handled well.

Therefore, you need to streamline your release management process to work on each release with full clarity and effectiveness. 

Let’s understand how to do that.

What do you mean by Release Management?

In software development and IT, release management refers to the process in which a software system is built, deployed, and released to the users. This process includes all the phases, from planning and development to testing and deployment.

Release management is a system that production teams follow to manage the entire software delivery lifecycle. It also aims to ensure the end users get optimal experiences and the business priorities are aligned. In addition, release management can help you optimize and visualize software development and deployment processes, consistently meet delivery needs, manage risks in software delivery, manage IT resources, and ensure profitability while delivering value.

Developers use a release management process while producing a new software product or make new versions by making some changes to an existing software version. Having a clear-cut goal will keep them aligned on the same path while eliminating confusion or efficiency.

Release Management and DevOps

DevOps emphasizes increased communication and collaboration between software development teams and IT operations teams. The DevOps methodology aims to reduce silos in working or handling projects and enables teams not to forget important activities. This also facilitates shorter feedback loops, allowing your team to release your product faster while reducing complications.   

Hence, release managers depend upon three main things – automation, continuous integration, and DevOps to effectively release their code to production. They can automate tests and continuously build, integrate, and update their code. Using the DevOps mindset, they can also improve coordination between their development and operations teams.

As a result, errors are detected early to easily fix them and accelerate the development and release process.

The Release Management Process

There are different stages in a release management lifecycle. This process may differ from team to team and organization to organization since the project requirements will vary. However, there are some common steps that organizations and teams of all sizes must follow to ensure they make ends meet and deliver a quality solution to the users.

So, here’s what a typical release management process looks like.

#1. Understanding the requirements

Whether you are planning to build a new product or add some new features and functionalities to an existing product, understanding the requirements is crucial.

So, listen to your customer and what they actually want to add to their project, such as a mobile application. For example, they might ask you to add a certain section to their mobile application. It would require you to conduct a meeting with them to understand their requirements and expectations and why they want what they want.

Similarly, if you have a website and want to add a blog section, the visitors can read your articles and know more about your offerings.

Whatever the goal, understand it carefully. If there’s any doubt, discuss it with your team or the customer and then proceed with a suitable release plan.

#2. Planning

Next up is planning after you have fully understood the release requirements. Building and releasing what you intend to do requires solid planning and strategies based on the requirements.

Your planning must be feasible and practical in terms of technology, deadline, workforce, and resources.

For example, if you want to release a new version of your application, you must ensure it works efficiently across all devices – mobile, laptop, tablet, etc.

For planning, closely keep up with your client. You can discuss the timeline of the project and when they can expect the product release. You can’t promise a deadline that’s not achievable. So, keep in mind your resources like budget, time, and people while confirming the deadline.

Furthermore, plan the technologies that you will be applying for the release. Determine whether it’s efficient to justify the requirements, is within your budget, and aligns with your employees’ skills. Choose suitable technologies that can help you create an efficient product and release it within time and are easy to adapt for your employees.

Planning also needs effective allocation and utilization of available resources to avoid waste and ensure your project is built efficiently.

To create a solid plan, conduct a meeting with your development and operations team to discuss the requirements, challenges, how to counter them, and how to achieve the goal effectively.

#3. Development

Once you have finalized the plan, the next process is to design and develop your product. This is the time for executing your plans and strategies based on the defined requirements.

This process requires your developers to write the code that can translate to the features or functionalities you intend to add to your software.

This stage can occur many times in the entire release cycle, like the one in DevOps with continuous development. It’s because once the developer has written the code, it may have several issues, errors, and bugs that need testing. Before the code is approved, it will go under many rounds of testing. The developers will be given the entire document of issues they need to solve and optimize the code so it works what it’s meant to be and gets approved.  

#4. Testing

As mentioned above, code needs testing to ensure there are no errors and bugs that can impact the usability, performance, or security of the software.

Testing can be functional or non-functional, such as integration testing, usability testing, load testing, performance testing, user acceptance testing, and more. Once the issues are detected, the code will be sent back to the development team to eliminate them and send the improved code again.

The software will now be given to the users to determine whether it’s up to the mark and behaves as they want through user acceptance testing. If the user approves of it, the next steps must be followed. Else, feedback is taken from the user to improve the code again, test it, and then deploy it.

#5. Release deployment

After the software development team has made sure that the software is built as per the requirements and that there are no issues. They prepare for release or deployment in the market or hand it over to their client.

The QA team will also conduct the final tests to ensure the product meets the business requirements and minimum standards defined in the product release plan. Next, it will be reviewed by the product owner or manager to approve dispatching.  

At this time, the necessary documentation is done to help other developers understand the software and how to use it. The teams also do the final paperwork to deliver the product to the client. Organizations also consider training their users or employees to use the new product so they can work with it without hassles.

#6. Release Maintenance

Whether you have built the release for your own team or your customers, your responsibilities do not end at the deployment. No matter how efficient and superbly working your software is at the moment, it needs periodic maintenance to keep performing optimally. 

Also, you can never know when a security issue may arise. And when it does, it can severely affect your business and reputation. There are many factors that can affect your software, resulting in slowdowns, crashes, security vulnerabilities, usability issues, and so on.

So, you must always keep an eye on your software even after it is released to users. You must take time to review its performance, security, usability, and stabilities to find issues and fix them before they could affect the users.

This is what a release management process looks like, right from planning to deployment and maintenance and everything in between.

Release management vs. Change management

At times, release management may look like change management since you are introducing changes to your software and streamlining the overall process with some strategies to manage everything.

But release management and change management are not the same.

Change management takes a step further than release management. It handles all the activities before and after the release, including the final review of how the change is implemented. However, release management is only a specific part of a change management process.

What roles are important for Release management?

Release management requires several individuals to take part in the process. Some of the major ones are:

#1. Product Owner

The product owner is responsible for defining the release requirements and acceptance standards, which must be met for the release to be approved. The product owner leads the initial stages of the release management lifecycle, where the requirements are discussed, and planning is made.

#2. DevOps Team

Release management takes the DevOps approach to develop, deploy, and maintain the software project. This brings together the development and operations team to work closely, discuss the project, understand the risks, and how to tackle them in order to produce quality software for release.

The DevOps team maintains a stable staging environment to enable the developers to work efficiently. This staging environment is ideally kept closer to the production environment so that the software can be moved quickly to production once all the tests are done. While doing so, they also ensure to minimize downtimes. Thus, you can safely release the software without having user experience.

#3. Quality Manager

The quality manager is responsible for determining whether the acceptance criteria are met and the software is built as per the defined requirements by the product owner. This role is essential to get the product approved by the product owner. The product manager also monitors how tests are being done without false negatives or positives and determines if all the issues are solved.

Release Management Best Practices and Tips to improve the process

If you want to improve your release management process, you can implement these tips and best practices. 

  • Eliminate the problem of the first code: The first code is written by the first developer and used by the following team. So, when that person leaves the company, it becomes harder for others to understand or adapt to the code that the other person has written with specific intent. 

    Hence, everything you do must be shared by the whole team, and all should work in collaboration to avoid this issue. This is why DevOps is considered one of the best approaches to software development.  
  • Software testing automation: Use testing tools to automate the process of finding bugs easily. It also increases the accuracy of what you can achieve with manual coding. Tools like Selenium, Watir, etc., can help you. 
  • Infrastructure as a code: Use IaaC wherever you can accelerate the process and make it more scalable and less costly.
  • Managing release centrally: Manage every release centrally instead of handing it over to just one person or a system. This increases security and collaboration without relying on a single person or system for everything. 
  • ITIL and DevOps integration: Using DevOps and ITIL in your release management comes with many benefits. It enhances collaboration, proper resource utilization, and efficiency.
  • Keep adding more updates: Instead of modifying the updates, you can create new ones regularly. This is because changing a configuration multiple times could result in errors and bugs. However, if you create new updates, your releases would be more secure and reliable, providing a better user experience.
  • Update your staging environment: Keep your staging environment up to date and closer to your production environment so that you can move quickly to production after rectifying the errors.
  • Clearly define the requirements and acceptance criteria: Operating under the water can lead to errors, confusion, and unsatisfied customers. Therefore, it’s important to listen to your users or clients about their requirements to produce what they actually need. In addition, ensure the defined acceptance criteria are also met to improve the chances of approval and less rework.
  • Minimize user impact: while introducing ant release, ensure you impact the end-users at the minimum. For this, plan to reduce downtimes and alert users on time so that they are not impacted much.
  • Automation: Automation is key to achieving more work in less time and with effectiveness. Hence, automate the process wherever you can to accelerate your work, improve productivity, and save time. You can leverage automation tools available at different stages of the release management cycle.

Popular Release Management Tools

As highlighted above, automation helps you save time and trigger efficiency. Here are some of the popular tools to ease release management.

  • GitLab: This is a completely open-source platform to help in each release management process, from planning to production, while improving your release time.
  • Ansible: Ansible is a popular automation platform to help you build and deploy. It has the tools to enable enterprise-wide automation for resource provisioning, IT environments, etc. 
  • Liquibase: Liquibase is an automation tool for database schema change that can help you release software rapidly and safely by bringing your database changes easily into your current CI/CD automation. 
  • AWS CodePipeline: AWS CodePipeline is a continuous delivery (CD) platform to automate release pipelines. It enables faster and more reliable infrastructure and application updates.
  • Azure Pipelines: Azure Pipelines helps automate your builds and releases. You can use it to build, test, and release apps written in Node.js, Java, Python, PHP, C/C++, Ruby, and .NET, along with iOS and Android apps. 
  • Digital.ai Release: Digital.ai Release is an efficient release management tool that can help you track and control your releases, streamline the processes, and bring better security and compliance into your release pipelines.
  • Chef: Chef is a complete suite of automation tools that help you deliver your releases quickly and effectively. 
  • Spinnaker: Spinnaker is an open-source continuous delivery (CD) platform that comes with multiple cluster and deployment management functionalities. 
  • Octopus Deploy: Octopus Deploy is an automated release management tool that can integrate with your CI server and provides release and operation automation capabilities.
  • Jenkins: Jenkins is a popular open-source automation tool that you can use to build, test, and release your software quickly and rapidly. 

Conclusion

Plan and execute release management in your organization with the above-mentioned strategies and tools to see benefits yourself. It will help you enhance your release cycle and increase efficiency and user satisfaction. 

You may now look at a list of DevOps tools.