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5 Release Management Best Practices

by Marisa Vesel, on Sep 20, 2019, 12:05:00 PM

Following good release management best practices allows organizations to estimate and ship software on time, to maximum benefit. It also includes everyone in an organization to as much of an extent as possible, including non-technical teams. For example, even Marketing should know about major customer-facing changes coming down the pipeline. Executed changes achieve maximum effect when every department is on the same page.

From a technical standpoint, release management is the end-to-end set of processes and procedures an organization uses to turn business ideas into product features. This includes business stakeholders, Development, and Operations. The goal is for the process to unfold as smoothly as possible, minimizing waste and maximizing efficiency and impact.

However, the reality is businesses struggle to accomplish this. The result is lost time, frustration, and falling behind competitors.

Below, we offer some best practices to help you improve the release management process at your organization.

#1: Eliminate the “Bob” Problem

Who is “Bob?” “Bob” is the person at your company who has all the institutional knowledge. "Bob" has been there since the beginning and is the only person who understands your software development process and knows how to deploy a build.

What happens if “Bob” quits or gets hit by a bus? Your organization would have to reverse-engineer the entire release process, causing project delays. Don’t worry! There’s a better way.

Inedo’s BuildMaster is a continuous delivery tool that lets organizations release software reliably, to any environment, and at whatever pace the business demands. BuildMaster helps eliminate the “Bob” problem by documenting all the process automation in BuildMaster itself. With BuildMaster, any user can log in and instantly see:

  • How something is deployed
  • Which stage a build is in before production
  • Exactly when a build got to production in the past
  • When a release went out

BuildMaster provides visibility and transparency within the workplace and ensures that all team members are confident about the process and deployments.

a group of people exclaim over the one team member who knows how to deploy

#2: Centrally Manage Releases

By centrally managing releases, organizations can reduce overhead by magnitude, enabling your organization to make decisions based on requirements and release on demand. BuildMaster helps organizations achieve successful releases in multiple ways.

First, BuildMaster allows users to notify stakeholders who may be interested in the result of a build or a deployment success or failure immediately at any stage during the release process. Additionally, users can assign relevant target dates to track and coordinate releases on a calendar view, optionally alongside past or scheduled deployments, other releases’ target dates, and deployment window openings.

BuildMaster also allows users to create multiple pipelines for the same project or application, enabling the ability to have separate release processes for different versions, such as hotfixes, without locking in the complete release process at build time. Finally, sometimes things go wrong! BuildMaster allows users to roll back easily to previously successful builds in case of an incident that needs correcting.

#3: Automate Software Testing

Testing is an extremely important step in the software development lifecycle. Automating testing can help ensure that every build successfully passes before deployment. While there are seemingly countless types of testing, these tests fall into five main categories that can be accomplished with DevOps automation.

diagram showing a software build going through all the stages of testing

Integration Testing

Integration testing serves as a verification that the changes made are integrated into the larger application. Integration ensures that two or more components are able to work and communicate well with each other. Automating integration testing identifies and fixes bugs and breaks continuously. 

Functional Testing

Functional testing is performed in order to determine the quality of the software by verifying that all necessary features meet the formal test scripts. Functional testing checks every feature to verify the software is performing properly. Automating this process ensures that each feature is tested through the appropriate scenarios and functions appropriately before moving forward in the pipeline.

Acceptance Testing

Acceptance testing is a way to validate that the correct software was created to meet the end-user’s needs. While functional testing makes sure everything works correctly, acceptance testing is done to ensure that the user will be satisfied.

In automated testing, you are able to send the software down two different paths. One path is the ideal scenario where the user completes everything correctly and the software performs appropriately. In another scenario, there is some sort of error (for example, the user forgets to fill in a necessary form). This testing sees how the software would perform under less-than-ideal circumstances and what fix is available. In addition to confirming that this meets the end-users’ needs, this will also help ensure that the user will be satisfied with how the software is running.

Quality Testing

Quality testing is completed in order to ensure that all non-functional requirements are met. The goal of non-functional testing is to increase reliability, usability, and maintainability of the product. Automating this type of testing ensures that all aspects are tested and addressed appropriately before delivering the software to an end-user.

Staging Testing

Staging testing is the last type of testing and should be completed after the software is considered ready for deployment. In staging testing, there is verification that the software can be deployed to an environment that matches the production environment. Without completing this type of testing, the actual deployment could be a disaster. No one wants to run around trying to quick fix errors and issues that could have been worked out by staging a deployment.

Through automatic testing, no build will be able to move to the next stage of testing unless it passes the previous stage.

#4: Combine DevOps and ITIL

Another best practice for a successful release is to combine DevOps and ITIL. Release management is an integral part of DevOps, and understanding performance allows your process to be optimized. There are several release management KPIs that you will want to be tracking.

These metrics include downtime, number of outages caused by a release, number of incidents caused by a release, releases delivered on schedule, and total number of days late by application. These metrics, and others, will help organizations gain more insight into their processes and find areas of improvement.

Additionally, in order to ensure a successful release, organizations should work to integrate DevOps and ITIL in the workplace.  In traditionally workplaces, DevOps and ITIL are seen as separate, but encouraging collaboration creates a better workplace. This requires a cultural change to create an open, collaborate, and transparent working environment.

While DevOps is fast-moving and ever-changing, ITIL provides the stability, process, and control needed to ensure everything is getting done. ITIL is a set of guidelines, not rules, that can be adapted to work within an organization’s DevOps culture.  

By combining the best aspects from each methodology, an organization can be a collaborative and blame-free environment while using ITIL methodologies to keep work organized and on-track.  

diagram depicting the benefits of combining DevOps and ITIL

#5: Infrastructure as Code

Infrastructure as code is a way to automate server provisioning. It ensures server testing environments match production environments. Unlike human IT personnel, automated scripts never make a mistake or forget a setting.

Utilizing IaC allows infrastructure to be tested just like code would normally be tested. If a test is failed, the infrastructure will not go live until corrected.

Inedo’s Otter can help you provision your servers and manage configuration. Otter continuously monitors the state of your infrastructure and reports or automatically remediates when your servers unexpectedly drift from desired configuration. When combined with BuildMaster, Otter and BuildMaster can provide CI/CD for infrastructure and configuration management.

Prepare Audits for Every Step

For successful release management, you will want to create a thorough track of the lifecycle of your software to ensure you are ready for an audit at any time.

Jody Dorchester, a consultant with Ronin Software, works in a highly-regulated industry where the need to maintain compliance is extremely important. Audits are a reality of life, and he explains in this interview how BuildMaster has made them so much easier, as a full log of changes is kept right on the dashboard. Jody also explains that he is able to see who made changes and when, which is extremely helpful when audit season comes around.

Even if your organization is not part of a highly-regulated industry, audits are bound to happen and compliance is always important to maintain! BuildMaster documents and notifies users or teams when their approval is required to deploy builds into testing environments or production, providing auditability and compliance for regulatory requirements or organizational change control policies.

Optimize Your Release Management

Practicing release management in the workplace can ensure that high-quality software is released on time, saving the company time, money, and frustration overall.

Inedo DevOps tools maximize developer time, minimize release risk, and empower stakeholders to bring their vision to life faster. All with the people and technology you have right now. To get help streamlining your CI/CD processes, contact mgoulis@inedo.com.

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Topics:DevOpsITILRelease Management

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