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Everything you Need to Know about the Release Management Process and How to Optimize it

June 29th, 2022
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Release management is an essential enterprise process that oversees the implementation of releases in an Agile way. The process helps engineering teams balance several objectives, from constantly delivering new features to end-users to acting by the organization’s business objectives and providing rapid, constant, high-quality deployments that don’t affect the products’ stability. 

Any weakness or error in the process will result in unhappy customers; thus, keeping the release management plan at its highest standards is a complex endeavor.

Release management processes come with risks, and, to perfect their flows and work dynamics, managers can now use automation and dedicated tools to control and mitigate potential threats. 

Data-driven solutions, like Waydev, give engineering leaders complete visibility into their team’s output with real-time data and automatic reports. This way, we empower them to spot blockages that could impact the release cycle.

This article will walk you through the release manager’s responsibilities, the challenges associated with the release cycle, and strategies that enable you to scale your organization’s release management system. 

What is the Release Management Process 

Relatively new in the software engineering landscape, release management is the discipline that oversees and governs the software build process, through each stage, from approving specific changes to planning, building, acceptance testing, release preparation, and deployment. 

In this context, a release is successful when it doesn’t disrupt the user experience and is deployed on schedule and within the budget. It must satisfy customers’ needs while responding to the technical requirements of the ever-evolving software development landscape. 

By connecting Waydev to your tool stack, you benefit from real-time metrics like the cycle time that offer you a clear view of your organization’s software development velocity. Agile process metrics like Time to Deploy from Merge indicate the time between when a PR is merged and when it gets released into production.

The Release Manager’s Role in Achieving Delivery Excellence

The role of the release manager is quite demanding, as the professional covering the position must work with development managers, test managers, and project managers to ensure releases happen on time, respecting the agreed parameters. This requires good interpersonal skills, confidence, problem-solving, and the ability to assess progress, create high-level reports for  CIOs and CTOs and close the gap between business and engineering. 

Establishing ownership of the release management process

Managers have ownership over the release management lifecycle. They must schedule, coordinate and manage releases across the enterprise, focusing on one or several projects. Specific work covers launching new application features, improving security, removing bugs, or upgrading graphics. Taking ownership over the release management plan of an enterprise is not for the faint of heart, so top engineering leaders make sure they have a good knowledge of the enterprise release management best practices

Creating a clear release management plan and calendar

An essential part of the release manager’s work is creating a release calendar that keeps track of team and system dependencies, acknowledging, controlling, and mitigating associated threats. The calendar also details the work that goes into a new feature so that all interested parties may understand what needs to be completed and get updated on potential bottlenecks and delays.

Through its calendar integration, Waydev contributes to successful release management planning by giving you a clear view over the time your team has spent doing focused work. In today’s remote setting, engineers get distracted all the time by meetings like daily check-ins, one-to-ones, or POCs. These meetings can cause loss of focus and velocity, so knowing how much maker time your team gets daily allows you to schedule your meetings without disrupting them from active coding.

Assessing dependencies in your release management system

Release managers need to understand the requirements of each feature. At the beginning of each project, professionals work on a breakdown structure to outline project dependencies. Successful release managers have an excellent eye for the project, function, and departmental dependencies. This approach enables them to calculate how changes may affect the project’s stability. 

Understanding the bandwidth and capacity of the IT release team

It is the responsibility of the release manager to have a clear understanding of how time and human resources are allocated to each project. This sets the basis for sound decision-making, helping professionals ensure that the development pipeline is efficient and make the most of their teams. 

With a tool like Waydev’s Resource Planning, release managers get to know how many resources they allocate towards roadmap work,  evaluate the impact of bug fixes, and how unplanned work impacts the budget. This way, they can optimize team dynamics to increase overall delivery velocity.

Joggling between end-user and stakeholder satisfaction

Successful release managers juggle multiple value streams. To identify which to prioritize, they communicate with business professionals and understand the needs and feedback of stakeholders and end-users alike. Once the information is clear, they manage the critical value streams, ensuring bug-free features while keeping software stable. 

Improving deployment efficiency 

A release manager needs to visualize their teams’ deployments and builds through multiple environments, such as Development, Testing, or Production, and understand how well their organization delivers software. Waydev’s DORA Metrics Dashboard enables you to assess the efficiency of software releases, focusing on DevOps metrics like deployment frequency. Our solution gathers data from CI/CD pipelines and enables release managers to analyze it without requiring manual input from their engineering teams. 

Minimizing enterprise risk associated with the release management system

Release managers know that the more complex and complicated a release, the more risks related to its scope, schedule, and quality. User experience may be impacted by software bugs, functionality issues, or different breaches. 

This is why release managers make it their purpose to create different release management strategies and ensure risks are mitigated and addressed at every step of the development journey. 

Constant risk evaluation, performed in real-time, helps release managers optimize testing resources and lower production incidents’ chances.

Challenges Release Managers Face that Stall the Scaling of the Organization

The challenges posed by the development process often make it complicated to scale organizations. Still, when you have the right tools and strategies, nothing is impossible to overcome, and positive outcomes may be just a few good decisions away. Successful release managers assess potential threats and proactively identify ways of responding to them before they become pain points. 

Here is the list of the most common yet most stringent challenges leaders face and tips on how to manage them. 

Lack of visibility into the release team’s work 

Release managers collaborate with cross-functional teams and report to senior managers and the C-suite. This means they must be aware of everything happening across all project stages, each task’s status, and delivery date to have a clear view of when the release will happen. 

Such a responsibility is often demanding, given the large number of stakeholders and team members involved in the application release process and the complexity of work. Moreover, given that release managers need to translate development into relevant metrics for business professionals, it’s crucial to have a clear view of all appropriate KPIs and timings. 

The Waydev Resource Planning report eliminates guesswork and enables release managers to ship on schedule and budget, offering them essential information on how resources are allocated, tasks’ progress, team dynamics, and potential bottlenecks. 

Ensuring every necessary step for a successful release management process is followed.

Each new feature or software product has to deliver value for the end-user, so it’s crucial to ensure that all the steps are followed and that customers receive what they need and expect. 

When requirements and SLAs are met, the intermediary and end deliverables comply with the project’s scope. 

Prioritize business needs within the release management process

Successful release managers know that they must put the organization’s objective at the top of their priorities. This is why each project starts with identifying the business needs and preferences and aligning the release plan with these. Only after all these are clear the following stages may proceed. 

Release managers must watch over their projects, always keeping an eye on the prize: ensuring that business needs are met, and the project is closer to achieving its goals.  

How to Achieve Release Management at Scale 

For the process to be successful, leaders need to have set a release management system, which helps them assess and track software development, ensuring all tasks are well coordinated. Respecting its procedures and steps optimizes work and makes the whole process smoother.

While the stages and requirements are the exact, specific needs, they differ no matter the size of the project. 

Small teams that focus on one value stream can often manage releases using essential checklist tools. 

Larger projects make things more complex. As the scope grows, the value streams and team members vary accordingly, meaning that release managers need to coordinate dozens of people working with different resources and testing environments.

Such an environment calls for dedicated, enterprise-level tools that are efficient, reliable, and user-friendly and help standardize and automate processes. 

Implementing IT Governance adds value to the release management process

Standardization and automation go hand in hand. Making automation a part of your release management system is vital for excellent results because it helps optimize resources, thus reducing costs and time-to-market. 

Moreover, an automated approach enables users to focus on areas where they make a difference, adding more value to the project and reducing human error to zero. 

To know more about implementing IT Governance in your organization, read our in-depth article

Real-time monitoring and reporting – the key to IT release management success

Those familiar with the Agile methodology know that monitoring a project’s deliverables and progress is crucial to its overall success. The most common way this is done is by associating each sprint with two or more objectives and assessing progress compared to these. 

Some of the KPIs release managers can monitor to assess their project’s efficiency are:

Completed versus Committed Stories

An excellent way to assess team capabilities is to compare the number of completed stories identified in the sprint review with the ones committed during planning. This enables you to see how realistically you view your team and how well you evaluate the project’s resources. 

Technical Debt

Technical debt is associated with reworking bad code due to selecting the faster route. Like financial debt, the more you leave technical debt unpaid, the more interest it accumulates, making it even harder to change. 

A systematic way of assessing technical debt is by identifying bugs or other known problems. 

Team Velocity

When measuring team velocity, it’s essential to compare sprint over sprint and target consistency. This is why many successful release managers compare how many story points their teams completed from one sprint to the next.  

Waydev analyzes and reports real-time insights, ensuring you always know where yesterday’s work focus went and enables you to achieve 2.2X accelerated velocity. 

Communication

Complex release management projects combine talent and expertise and are based on open and efficient communication. 

As a release manager, you must ensure you offer a best practices example when communicating with your team and stakeholders. Moreover, you should also have an overview of how team members are communicating and collaborating and offer your support anytime things aren’t according to standard. 

Waydev’s daily stand-up reports enable you to gain a bird’s eye view of your team’s output and work habits, zooming into commit and pull requests. This offers you the necessary data to assertively communicate to your release management team, conducting efficient meetings. 

Moreover, Waydev’s executive solutions help you generate custom analyses with only the data you are interested in, increasing the efficiency of your reporting and providing relevant insights for C-suite and senior business executives. 

Adherence to best practices

While scrum rules are undoubtedly crucial, best practices go beyond them. As a release manager, you should also assess the quality of the work delivered and ensure that team members follow engineering best rules. 

Waydev Fosters Release Management Success

The software development release management process is complex and challenging, but standardization and automation are essential in making it smoother and more successful. 

Our solutions are the new Data-Driven Agile way of tracking engineering performance without any manual input. Waydev plugs in directly to your engineering stack and gives you complete visibility over the whole project. 

This approach ensures you identify and mitigate risks to deliver on time and within budget. Moreover, our flexible solution offers instant access to project performance metrics and KPIs, making project reporting significantly more efficient.

Contact us to find out how we can help you shift towards a data-driven approach to engineering leadership!

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