Guide to understanding release management and its process

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 30 November 2021

Release management is essential in the business sector, especially IT, because product upgrades and new releases are integral to the continual development of the sector. The release manager aims to deliver products and upgrades on time, on budget and without causing disruption to customers. Understanding how to avoid delays in the release of products to ensure the smooth operation of an organisation's product deployment can help in your next project. In this article, we explore release management, why it's beneficial and review its process.

What is release management?

Release management is the various stages that are involved in the building and releasing of software, from the development stage, through testing and on to the release stage. As a professional field, it's quickly and constantly growing within software engineering. The process also includes organising the release of software builds into a production environment where the end-users can access it. It ensures that the release teams deliver the right elements as needed by the business while maintaining the stability of the live production environment.

Objectives and benefits

Typically, within organisations, the IT staff work on multiple projects simultaneously. This management type offers an in-depth and organised approach to the harmonisation of features, the testing of the features to ensure they work properly and the safe introduction of them into the production environment where the end-users can interact with them.

Effective management systems offer more insight to the people involved in the release process. It also helps improve the speed, productivity and resilience of releases throughout the entire project. IT teams can release software builds faster and address potential issues that arise during the release quicker. Here are some other benefits of management:

  • enables the teams to streamline and standardise the development and operations process

  • ensures the creation and adoption of an established and documented process that the team can reference

  • improves the communication and collaboration between different departments

  • creates a reliable deployment schedule for the releases featuring times that can minimise the impact on the organisation

  • delivers new features and changes to end-users faster and more consistently

What is the role of a release manager?

The role of a release manager is both interdisciplinary and interdepartmental. They manage and direct various invested parties, from developers to senior managers, towards the final deliverable, which is a successful release. Usually, release managers have a background in IT and have strong product owner skills, problem-solving abilities and experience managing releases. Several soft skills are also useful to release managers besides strong technical abilities, such as skills in coordination and communication, which help them lead multiple teams.

Regardless of their professional background, release managers closely cooperate with senior management, IT project teams, product owners and operations staff to create a seamless release deployment. They analyse pre-defined technical and business requirements and then ensure every release contains the required features and functionalities to meet them. The release manager is to oversee the entire process, from scheduling, coordinating and managing the releases across the business for one or many projects at a time.

Related: 14 Essential operations manager skills

Which teams take part?

While the product management team drives the management of the life cycle, it may need help and coordination from several other teams for a successful release. Here are some other groups involved in the release management process:

Sales

Sales teams typically raise requests for new feature updates or products based on the feedback they gather from customers. Once the product releases, customers also required supplementary training and support documents to help people get the most value from releases. The release manager would be in charge of ensuring these supporting documents are available.

Marketing

Product management teams normally work closely with the marketing department within organisations. They do this to ensure interesting product messages and packaging release along with the product, to encourage customers to buy the product. Marketing teams may also help write information booklets that teach people how to use products.

Software development

Software developers make up part of the release team. Among their duties include the development and testing of the software prior to release. They are one of the most crucial departments involved in the process because a punctual release relies on them being punctual in their delivery.

Related: How to become a software architect: definitions and steps

Quality Assurance

The role of quality assurers is to test the end product by various strict standards and at regular intervals based on predetermined instructions. If the product doesn't pass the test criteria, it returns to development and they release it once it does. This allows the team to ensure everything is functioning as expected prior to release and confirms that the new updates won't negatively affect the existing features.

Customer support

When releasing the product to the end-users, the customer support team answers any queries and helps the users navigate through the product. Expect this to be a potentially lengthy process. Customer support is a continuous effort after release, so ensure you have access to the information that can help people, even after the initial launch.

Related: 10 Ways to consistently offer good customer service

What is the process?

While the management process may vary for each organisation, here are the primary steps to release managing:

Planning the release

This is the most important part of the management process and involves the planning of the entire release from start to finish. It usually begins with requests for creating new features or updating and changing existing features. Having a solid release plan to refer to help keep team members on the right track and encourages them to stick to predetermined standards and requirements. The creation of a workflow or checklist is important so that stakeholders and team members can ensure they are following the process correctly.

Designing and building the release

Once the release plan receives the green light, you can design and build the product to prepare for release. This stage involves programming and actually developing the product based on the requirements laid out in the brief.

This is an iterative process. As the team builds a product, they release it to the test environment for performing user acceptance testing. This helps the developers spot issues and bugs that could emerge in the live environment. Once revealed, the relevant people receive feedback and the developers can rectify issues. This process may take several iterations and may only finish when the stakeholders approve of the release.

User acceptance testing

User acceptance testing (UAT) is the last stage of testing where actual users test the product and provide feedback. It is a crucial stage in release management, where the collected feedback is used to fix the issues and redesign the software to build for greater integrity. Each section of the build succeeds in the user acceptance testing stage to be considered for the ultimate release.

Preparing the release

This is the last stage of the management process before releasing the codes into the user's environment. Quality assurance teams undergo final quality checks, and refer to the release plan and check that the software build satisfies the release plan. Following the completion of the review, the teams verify the results and ready the build for its release. Prior to being deployed into the live environment, the product owner and all other stakeholders would approve the build.

Deploying the release

The management process culminates with the deployment of the product into the live environment where end-users can access it. Deployment involves multiple stages beyond sending the build to production. This part of the process also involves informing the users about the updates and teaching them how to use the new product and its new features. Ongoing training may be necessary if the changes are significant and complex to help people extract the most value from the product.

During this final stage, the project team discusses and evaluates the release in terms of its performance. If any problems persist, they make a record so that they can address them in the subsequent iteration.

Related: What is strategic management and why is it important?

Best practices

There are several helpful tips and best practices that can help you improve your management process. Here are some of the best practices:

  • Clearly define objectives and requirements: Having clear requirements and testable acceptance criteria is significant in the project's success. This ensures that all the parties understand the aim of the project, and there's no ambiguity regarding the project requirements.

  • Maintain a prioritised backlog: Ensure that they prioritise your backlog requirements at all times, as it helps eliminate any confusion during the release planning meeting.

  • Minimise the impact on users: A successful program releases new updates quickly and effectively by minimising the downtime and performing regression testing before release.

  • Automation of process steps: Automation increases the speed of the deployment process and reduces the chances of human error. Automation in quality assurance can automate manual testing processes throughout the software releases, saving time and reducing errors.

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