To remain competitive in today’s world, software organizations must make their software release process fast and reliable, predictable, and yes, even a little boring. And having a solid release management process is essential to achieve that desired “boredom.”
However, having that level of predictability in software release processes is still a distant dream for many—if not most—software organizations. If you count yourself among their ranks, fear no more: We’re here to help you. In this post, we’ll walk you through six crucial steps you need to take if you want a successful release management process. And who doesn’t? By the end of the post, you’ll understand what the release management process is about and the actions you must take to achieve it.
What’s a Software Release?
Before we cover the essential steps of release management, we must take a step back to define “release” itself.
Though there’s no universally accepted or official definition, as far as I know, we’ll consider a release simply as a different version of a piece of software that we send to the user base.
A release must consist of a functional version of the software. In other words, it must be ready to be used and generate value for the users, at least in some capacity. Keep in mind that, with the advent and success of agile methodologies, it’s becoming increasingly common for software teams to release software incrementally after short cycles. For instance, Scrum calls this interaction “sprint” and dictates that it shouldn’t be longer than a month. However, it’s common for teams to adopt sprint durations as short as two weeks or even one week.
What Is the Release Management Process?
As explained before, software organizations nowadays need to make sure they can consistently and quickly deliver high-quality software. To achieve that, software organizations need their software development and release processes to be as smooth and uneventful as possible. To achieve speed and efficiency, the widespread use of automation is essential. Automation is also key to achieve quality; as you’ll soon see, comprehensive test automation is a must-have if you want your users to experience as few bugs and as little downtime as possible.
So that’s what the release management process is all about: improving the software development process’s speed and efficiency and ensuring that companies can deliver software faster, with consistency and quality.
How Do You Improve the Release Management Process? Here Are 6 Steps You Must Implement
We’ve just covered the basics of the release management process. With that out of the way, let’s move on to our list of six steps you’ve got to take to start your release management process and get the most out of it.
1. Plan Your Release
The first step in a successful release management process is, unsurprisingly, to plan the release. The details of how your organization approaches release planning depend on the specifics of your software development process. For instance, agile shops will plan releases according to approved user stories. The team might commit to a certain number of stories according to their work capacity. They might then break down each story into more granular tasks and use Kaban boards to track their progress.
The above is just an example. As said, your particular scenario might differ. But the key takeaway here is this: The release must be planned, and everyone—especially the project’s stakeholder—must be on board when it comes to the set of functions that the release will contain.
2. Build and Test the Release
After the release is planned and you have the sign-off from the relevant stakeholders, it’s time to start building and testing the features intended to go in the release.
Yes, you’ve read it right: It’s not only building but “building and testing.” Nowadays, software companies can’t afford to have testing as an afterthought. Testing has to be built into the software development process from the start. Testing shouldn’t be an episodic occurrence. Instead, testing activities can—and should—take place as early as possible in the development. In fact, methodologies such as TDD and BDD dictate that testing should begin even before you write any production code!
By testing early and often, you increase the probability that you’ll find bugs before they reach production. That way, you can fix them when it’s easier to do so.
3. Perform UAT Testing
Though we’re firm believers in test automation, we don’t deny that manual testing still has a part to play in a modern testing strategy, as long as you can achieve the right balance with automated testing. UAT (user acceptance testing) is one such area. Wikipedia defines UAT in the following way:
User acceptance testing (UAT) consists of a process of verifying that a solution works for the user.
You can’t get more straightforward than that with a definition. So, it makes sense that UAT doesn’t play that well with automation since defining that a solution works for a user is somewhat subjective. This form of testing consists of people from the target audience using the application to determine whether it’s easy to use and understand and whether it meets its requirements.
4. Have Stakeholders Sign off on the Release
After UAT testing ensures the release meets its requirements, it’s often—though not always—necessary to have stakeholders do a formal sign-off on the release.
Why is that needed? One example is it might be necessary to hold off on a release for business reasons, even though all the technical boxes are checked.
5. Deploy Release
When all of the necessary tests and preparations are done, it’s now finally time to deliver your application to the world. Keep in mind that the work doesn’t stop when the application gets the final users. On the contrary.
For instance, just because the application is released doesn’t mean that testing is finished. Once considered a lack of professionalism, testing in production is now an important component of a modern QA strategy. Additionally, the release being deployed means the beginning of another important cycle: real-time monitoring of the production application. Monitoring is essential to identify problems in the deployed app quickly. With adequate monitoring and real-time alerts, teams can detect that a release contains defects or that its performance isn’t up to requirements. As a last resource, the team can decide the deployment was a failure and roll it back.
6. Automate Aggressively
We’ve decided to add this as a bonus step, and the reason is simple: If you’re not using automation to its fullest extent, then your software development and release process aren’t as efficient as they could be. In other words, you’re leaving money on the table.
What do we mean by automating aggressively? Here are a few examples:
- Make your CI/CD pipeline as streamlined as it can be. Add as many steps as necessary to ensure the quality of the product you build.
- Employ manual testing only when it’s strictly necessary. Automate anything else to achieve high test coverage.
- Aim to keep test maintenance as low as possible. Otherwise, your automated testing becomes a burden rather than a help.
Want a Boring Software Release Management Process? Test Automation Is the Friend You Need
Every software organization needs a process that helps make the whole software development life cycle faster and more efficient. The organization plans a release until the final user gets to use it for the first time. That process is what we call the software release management process, and that’s what this post was all about. You now know more about the software release management process, including the crucial steps to put it into practice.
If there’s only one takeaway you get from this post, we hope it’s this: the centrality of automated testing in the software release process. There’s simply no way to release software with the speed and reliability that today’s world demands without making full use of test automation.
When you’re ready to take the next step, start to look around for tools that can help you in this journey. One such tool might be Testim, an AI-powered test automation solution that can help organizations create the robust automated test suites they need, increasing their overall test coverage in the process. Give Testim a try today.