Introduction to Release Management
Some time ago, when the IT industry was still ‘young’ and software products were not so many and diverse, releasing a product was mainly focused on such aspects as design, development, testing, and QA. It was mostly about building a product or a feature.
The demand on the market was high, and customers were ‘hungry.’ They were looking for or, rather, hunting for new releases. Informational and promotional support was not at the top of the developers’ list of priorities. It was reduced to a minimum. The main goal was to saturate the market with new products.
The situation has changed a lot now. The market is full of competing applications that are very similar in terms of functionality. Nothing is unique now; many similar apps must be positioned on the market. The whole process looks like constantly comparing the product with its competitors to make it more recognizable for the users.
This change shifted the release management process from satisfying the demand to creating a demand for a product. Competitors are many, and customers have become picky. This may sound unusual, but to find a niche for your app, you have to fight in the informational space.
This has changed release management a lot. It has become more focused on the marketing, sales, and support aspects. This blog will help to understand the new trends in the release management process.
What Is Release Management?
Release management in IT is part of the product life cycle. It is a process associated with launching new products or features or introducing changes to existing software. This process includes several management stages and activities. The most important are:
- strategy planning,
- software product/feature/app development,
- testing and QA,
- launch planning,
- marketing and sales activities,
- developing support documentation,
- analyzing feedback,
- making adjustments.
Marketing, sales, and support activities imply generating a great deal of information or content. Sales and marketing content includes:
- creating and updating the website,
- email campaigns,
- blog posts,
- publications in social and specialized media.
Content related to documentation support includes:
- release notes,
- how-to guides,
- support videos.
These are just a few examples, but all content within these two blocks is aimed at helping to communicate the importance and benefits of the release to the target audience.
The content is based on product definition:
- Describes the target audience — potential customers.
- Explains why you are building the product — defining its purpose and functions, as well as the problems it is designed to solve.
- Lists its benefits for the users — what they will be able to do with it and how the new product can improve their product experience.
The bulk of this information is concentrated in release notes. This is the main document in the package serving as a bridge between software developers and users.
If we look back again and remember the 1990s, we will see that software was rarely purchased. Putting it roughly, the frequency of software purchases could be compared to that of buying a PC. This happened once in several years. The necessary soft was installed on the PC, and that was it.
Now that smartphones have conquered the market, people started buying software apps almost daily. Such an amount of software releases requires an equal amount of information support. This explains why release notes are important. They are a channel of communication between the developer and the customer. The document describes the product update or its features, the changes, improvements, and benefits for the users.
Sometimes, lengthy release notes are substituted with other means of information dissemination:
- Emails. These are considered very efficient, as they can be delivered directly to the customer and save time otherwise wasted waiting for the customers to find the release notes and use the product. The only problem here is legitimacy, as such emails can be regarded as spam.
- Blog posts. These are longer than emails and contain more explanatory material, often based on the real-life experience of the writer.
- Posts in social media. These are used to attract the attention of the target audience. The obvious advantage here is that the audience in social nets is much broader than the audience that can ever be covered by a targeted campaign. An interesting post can become viral and boost sales.
This is just a general overview of release management. Now let’s have a closer look at it.
Release Management Best Practices
In this blog, we summarize the key features of effective release management. These tips will help you build a robust process of your own.
Write a detailed release plan. This implies strategic thinking behind your project. Any release should have a planning stage where the key features are pre-defined. These are the Ws and Hs of your future product (who, what, where, when, why, and how questions that should be answered before launching), the standards, and requirements that must be met to ensure the best quality.
The main document issued at this stage is a general delivery plan. It is needed not only to organize the main activities, events, and milestones on the schedule but to establish trust, transparency, and expectation in the internal and external audience (your team and customers).
Depending on your goals and scope of work, releases may be planned on a monthly, weekly, or annual basis. The general delivery plan helps to standardize the process, eliminate ambiguity, streamline and speed up the work process.
Discuss all updates with your team. This point is all about trust and teamwork. Effective releases require cooperation and mutual help from the team members throughout the process. Engineers, marketers, and content writers have to work together to achieve the best result. Collaboration is best for troubleshooting. Only this way bottlenecks and delays can be avoided.
Automate manual tasks. Planning repeated releases (like any repeated actions) allows you to introduce automation. Some fragments, and the structure of the previous projects can be copied and reproduced. The result is saving the time and effort of the employees by freeing them from routine work.
Track metrics. This tip concerns checking the success of your release. In particular, metrics help to measure such release parameters as
- the percent of releases (the percentage of releases that are implemented on time),
- the number of releases (helps to determine the failures that prevented the deployment),
- the percentage of escaped defects (post-production defects found by users),
- defect density (1 defect per 1000 lines of code is considered to be “good” quality),
- deployment duration (the time it takes to release).
The practices above are called best practices, but it depends on the manager’s skills and whether they become effective or not. Hopefully, you will succeed in applying them to your project.
ClickHelp and Release Management
The marketing, sales, and support activities described above imply generating packages of documentation based on identical or similar content. This means that it will be best for your release team to standardize the content to single out the frequently repeated fragments and reuse them in all project documents.
When it comes to content reuse, a document management tool is needed to optimize your workflow and save time. ClickHelp is a document management platform that will help you create, manage, share, and reuse the content in the whole spectrum of release documentation: emails, social media, blog posts, release notes, how-to guides, etc.
The content reuse feature is handy when dealing with product launching and sales messaging, as your team of copywriters will have to write and rewrite similar text fragments (product or service descriptions, email templates, etc.).
Content reuse is based on a special approach to content. The latter is regarded as discrete fragments that can be reused to produce new documents. As a result, your team members can avoid doing routine work and switch to creative tasks.
The uniformity of content is another feature offered by ClickHelp. It is based on single-sourcing, which implies aligning the new content with one predefined source. The result is a uniform language that your team will use in communication with the customers.
Release management is the process of implementing a product launch strategy, which entails generating a great deal of content. The content exists in the form of various documents, from emails to release notes.
The scope of ‘paperwork’ may seem small at first glance, but when you focus on the product, you suddenly realize how much documentation a ‘simple’ release plan contains. And this refers not only to communicating with the target customers but with the release team as well. To make work productive, the internal audience has to be informed about all the project details.
Practice shows that when technical writing or copywriting are listed among project priorities, a robust document management tool is what your team needs.
Good luck with your technical writing!
Author, host and deliver documentation across platforms and devices
Originally published at https://clickhelp.com.