Introduction to Software Release Management
Every business wants to excel in its domain and capture a share of the market before its competitors do, or before the market dynamics change, which can quickly make applications obsolete. This fear of missing out is driving software companies to constantly update their products to keep up with dynamic markets and customer demands. However, such frequent changes to applications hold a lot of risk, especially when they are half-baked and hurried. Case in point: 75% of issues in applications are a result of software changes that are pushed or due to changes in environment variables.
Every product company follows a set of processes for deploying an app or releasing changes & updates to them. This process is overly manual and fragmented and results in releases ridden with bugs or behaving uncertainly in different environments. Going agile can oftentimes compromise on quality which is the last thing that a software company would want. A robust and fail-safe release management system can go a long way in helping organizations stay on top of their game in this era of constant feedback, updates, and improvements.
But before proceeding, let us define what exactly a release means:
A release is a fully-functional software version that in most cases, is actually an improved version of its predecessor. Improvements could either be in terms of functionalities, features, or mere bug fixes. Most software companies identify the releases with semantic versioning (like iOS 16.0.1, 16.0.2, and so on) while a few others prefer to look at the newer versions of their systems as standalone (like Android’s Icecream Sandwich, JellyBean, and so on).
In this blog, we will not just define what is release management, but also explain why you should make your release management more robust, what it takes to do so, and how you can slingshot your way ahead with the Ozone platform as your release partner.
What is Release Management?
An application and the platforms on which it runs are constantly evolving and growing in complexity, demanding dedicated resources to oversee the application lifecycle along with ongoing support. This, coupled with a modern enterprise’s dynamics, make it clear that they need to function as one, for which changes across apps, infrastructures, policies, teams, and toolchains are inevitable and need to happen at their own pace.
These myriad changes need enterprises to figure out a way to orchestrate them effectively. That’s where release control and automation come into play. They help smoothen the journey to continuous deployments and finally to digital transformation, one release at a time.
So what is release management? It is the process of planning, scheduling, and managing a software build through various stages of developing, testing, deploying and supporting the release. It preserves the integrity of the existing production environment while helping teams efficiently deliver the necessary applications and upgrades. This helps make a successful deployment possible since teams have the right data at the right time.
Principles of Agile development, CI/CD, DevOps, and post-deployment automation have helped optimize release management. The whole principle of release management has helped companies in such a way that it is now possible to release more than 50 Million deployments a year – that’s more than one release per second!
A Look at The Software Release Management Process
In a successful release management framework, the processes integrate tightly with scope for collaboration across teams and projects. Here’s what a typical software release management process looks like:
Review Change Requests: A change could be in the form of requests for new features, updates, or bug fixes. Each of these changes would need to be carefully evaluated before development begins. It involves finalizing the scope and identifying potential issues and delays that a particular change can cause. It has to be abundantly clear as to what changes or fixes would be a part of the release along with noting the upstream and downstream dependencies that each new feature would have and how the new release interacts with other components of an application suite. Also, the risk factors associated to a release, right from compliance and security to application downtimes, has to be evaluated at this stage.
Plan: In this step, teams design a basic structure that the release will take. It ideally contains a roadmap of all the stages that need to be completed in order to push the release through deployment and beyond. The release plan typically includes a checklist of tasks that need to be completed in a chronological order along with teams or individuals responsible for them. It has to be ensured that everyone works towards the common goal and that requirements are being met. Apart from tasks and responsibilities, release plans also include timelines, milestones, deadlines, and a comprehensive view of the project. Having a reusable release plan makes it easier to speed up future release planning with better coordination across the company.
Design & Build: This is the most time-intensive step as teams begin developing the software. Prior to this, it is assumed that tasks are assigned and project information is already communicated to the stakeholders.
While teams build the software, it’s a good idea to begin tracking potential risks or bugs so that you’re good to go for the testing phase.
Test: Developers and operations need access to the dependencies and potential risks identified during the release planning phase for this step to work efficiently. Once the release is complete and goes to testing, execution of various functional and non-functional tests including user acceptance testing (UAT) and regression testing happens. It is an iterative process with much back and forth between testing and development until the release is ready for the final review.
Review & Deploy: Before deployment, the release goes through a final review by comparing its functionalities against the insights acquired during the testing phase. Also, information is provided to teams for handling any problems that might occur at or after the product launch.
The release then goes live by deploying it to production along with support documentation for ease of user education. It is best to use new-age CI/CD platforms as they leverage ML to identify deployment failures and instantly initiate rollbacks which helps avoid downtimes, should things go south.
Post-Deployment Support: This is the stage where you record the feedback and close the loop, thus making it a circular process and an input for the next release. Also, the team needs to analyze if the release is meeting business needs and user expectations as identified at the beginning of the process.
The Importance of Release Management
The sole objective of release management is to plan, schedule, coordinate and manage the deployment of applications and their updates into live environments. Software companies and their products evolve with changing market dynamics. Release management provides a means of tackling these changes by providing a framework to help plan and control deployments across environments. This is done by releasing only sufficiently tested changes into the live environment. Other benefits include:
- Faster delivery of updates to end users and an increase in the frequency of releases
- Low risk of changes affecting the functionality of the existing version that users currently use
- Minimizing business impact (like downtimes) by effectively scheduling releases
- Ensuring changes meet requirements right from planning to the deployment phase
- Integrating security and testing across all phases of SDLC
A release management template can become handy in cutting down timelines of future releases. Also, the quality of releases is improved thanks to well-integrated testing stages in the process along with better coordination across teams.
Measuring the success of Release Management
Every process needs KPIs that can help assess if you have been doing things the right way. While DORA metrics give you an indicator of your deployments, the KPIs for measuring the success of your release remain overly qualitative. To begin with, these two indicators are a must to be looked at:
- Release Downtime: Most releases have a planned downtime built into their schedule as it might be a necessity. It is important to compare this estimated downtime with the actual downtime that is measured post-deployment. However, it’s also important to be able to differentiate between planned and unplanned downtimes as the latter might be a sign of root problems that are unfixed.
- Types of releases done over time: Every release is either a major or minor and is prioritized as high, medium, or low. Over time, a look at the history of releases by type and priority will give you an idea of where you are: There is a serious problem in QA if there are too many major releases for the same product. Also, having too many high-priority releases indicates that the team is always in a fire-fighting mode and is unable to plan ahead.
Other indicators also include:
- Number of releases delayed vs deployed on time
- Budget per release
- Impact of a release on the current version and users
- If the release satisfies user needs, keeps up with technological advances, and meets competitive demands
Measuring and Bridging the Software Release Management Gap With an End-toEnd DevOps Platform
Everyone does release management in their own way. However, if these points sound too familiar to you, it’s high time you revamp your release management processes:
- Slow & expensive release timeframes
- Releases are dispersed with no unification of the process
- Struggling for governance adherence with no control over execution
- Isolated regional releases that create difficulty in sustaining a global business process
- You have siloed releases damaging production and ultimately the business due to lack of visibility
- Lag in responding to urgent business demands
No matter how efficient your process is on paper, its execution is what matters which is affected by innumerable external variables like teams, release complexity, infrastructure, dependencies, toolchains, disparate testing processes, and many more.
The only way you can tackle these issues and also mature your release management is by onboarding onto an end-to-end platform that lets you efficiently define user roles, onboard all your DevOps toolchains, and automate your workflows from the start.
Ozone is one such next-generation platform that lets you:
- Standardize your releases: Standardization enables automation which dramatically improves efficiency. Automation handles repetitive and manual tasks, making the team more efficient by saving money, and time, and reducing errors.
- Powerful UI for configuring releases as “app of apps”: App of apps is a concept where a bundle of microservices that make up a part of a release is deployed all at once. A single release flow is configured akin to configuring an application’s CI/CD pipeline, with the main difference being that instead of pipeline stages/tasks, pipelines themselves make up the release pipeline (the mother app that points to all the other child apps). The release flow can be configured on Ozone’s low-code G.U.I in a matter of minutes which saves time and helps scale up release deployments across regions in a jiffy.
- Visibility & Traceability: As everything is being automated and orchestrated from one single platform, data collection and processing becomes straightforward along with implementing governance control. It helps to visualize and “look back” in the release process to confirm the validation and fulfillment of business requirements and value delivery to the end customers.
Ozone brings the power of meaningful automation to the release management process. Approvals are automated to reduce lags and keep the CI/CD process moving ahead. It employs automated frameworks to improve coordination between DevOps and IT.
Ozone takes release management further with its standardized approach to configuring releases and their templates for quick multi-regional deployments in a few clicks.
Get in touch with our team to know more about Ozone’s App of Apps concept for Release Management!