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By Pavel Kukhnavets

Release Manager

What is the importance of a release manager in the Agile strategy?

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Software engineering includes developing, testing, deploying, and supporting new software versions for different platforms. Coordinating the development and release of software versions can be a challenging task even while most companies are not updating frequently. That is why release management is an increasingly growing discipline. 

In this post, you will learn everything Agile teams need to know about release management, including best practices and the role of a release manager.

The role of a release manager

What is Release Management?

Release management includes planning, coordinating, and verifying the deployment of IT solutions into production. It requires collaboration by the IT delivery teams producing the solutions and the people responsible for the company’s operational IT infrastructure.

In enterprise release management, all the processes are built around the following risks:

  • coordinating IT resources
  • managing risks
  • ensuring compliance and auditing processes
  • overseeing the cutover to new versions

Release management has evolved but remains an essential process for IT service management and software delivery.

Release management in Agile

You may say that release management can be considered an inherently Agile process. This is true because releases are incremental improvements to a software product at a particular cadence. 

Market disruptions are becoming the norm so companies are increasingly adopting Agile frameworks. Agile includes multiple implementation frameworks such as SAFe (Scaled Agile Framework), Kanban, FDD (Feature Driven Development), XP (Extreme Programming), and many others.

Release managers continually coordinate with the stakeholders to ensure that the scope of each sprint aligns with business priorities.  They work with developers and the operations team to coordinate their development, testing, and delivery.

What is the Role of a Release Manager?

What does a release manager do? A release manager is responsible for the release management lifecycle. They focus on coordinating different aspects of production and projects into one integrated solution. 

Release managers care about ensuring that timelines, resources, and process quality are all considered and accounted for. Their job role differs because release management can apply to a number of industries.

Release managers are often linked with a project management role, as they have arguably one of the most stressful jobs across IT, meaning that they are involved in different company aspects including planning, tracking, testing, communication, managing risks, and deployment.

Responsibilities

How much do release managers make? They are responsible for the following stuff:

  • Planning the overall release lifecycle.
  • Communicating all project plans and changes.
  • Tracking and measuring progress.
  • Ensure releases are delivered within all requirements and budget.
  • Managing risks that may affect release scope.
  • Coordinating projects between different teams.

Skills and abilities

In order to become an effective release manager, you’ll need some essential technical knowledge for performing well in the role. However, soft skills are also critical as they allow communicating, coordinating, and leading multiple teams within a company.

The list of hard skills required:

  • PC knowledge.
  • Understanding computer software and programming.
  • Understanding of CD/CI pipelines (Continuous Delivery and Continuous Integration)
  • Knowledge of whatever field they are working in as they usually specialize in a specific area of engineering.

A set of useful soft skills:

  • Leadership
  • Advanced communication skills (verbal and written)
  • Analytical skills
  • Problem-solving 
  • Ability to coordinate multiple teams
  • Active listening

Education and qualifications

Release managers are often university-educated for this position. They need several years of experience as a release manager or project manager before moving into a higher-paying role in a large corporation.

Most of them have a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science or a related field. Sometimes, release managers come from the project management field that is why they can enter release management with previous experience in this role.

Release management processes

Project manager vs release manager: what is the difference?

These two roles have many similarities from which project managers and release managers draw their job descriptions. It confuses many people. Below you’ll find the most essential differences between PM and RM.

  • Release managers focus on the fine details of assembling various interrelated components. They coordinate requirements, testing, and release calendars with the stakeholders involved as well as ensure the running of day-to-day processes. RMs are involved in planning with several software development teams, they govern and manage schedules to satisfy interdependencies.
  • Project managers in turn focus on a project’s higher dimensions. For example, resource management – to make it remain within quality standards and budget. Their jobs may or may not produce a release of the projects they oversee. PMs deliver one or several components for release that they are responsible for.

Key Steps of Release Management

Release management processes vary and should be customized for each company. However, there are five significant steps to release management. Here they are:

1. Planning release

At the planning stage, the entire release is structured from start to finish. A powerful release plan helps teams to stay on track and ensure requirements and standards are properly met.

One of the most reliable releases management methods is SDLC (the Systems Development Life Cycle). SDLC helps developers plan, develop, and maintain software systems with quality and efficiency. The Systems Development Life Cycle can be used together or in place of other PM processes.

Release plans should include timelines, delivery dates, requirements, and the overall project scope.

2. Building release

After the planning stage, you can start building the product for release. This is the actual product development that is based on the requirements described in the plan.

After figuring out all the issues, you can subject the build to real-world scenario testing. As the team builds the product, it is sent to testing for user acceptance. This allows identifying bugs or issues that may arise in a real-world environment.

3. User acceptance testing

User acceptance testing means that the end-users of the product can actually use it and give feedback. This can be done as a free beta trial online or shared with a group of employees within the organization.

Many admit that user acceptance testing is the most significant stage of release management because of the amount of data collected and fixes for building to where it needs to be for the official launch.

4. Preparing release

At this stage, you put the finishing touches on the product considering everything that was learned in the previous step.

Preparing the release also includes a final quality review by the Agile QA team that tries to ensure the build meets all business requirements and the minimum acceptable standards.

User acceptance testing and quality assurance can’t always replicate every scenario that might occur. However, they can flesh out the most common bugs to let the team better anticipate and prevent any problems at launch.

5. Release deploying

Deployment is the moment when all your team’s hard work pays off. This is a big day when you decide to release your product into the live production environment. It is not only about sending the build-out into production but also about messaging and education on the product to the end-users and the organization at large.

This is critical for internal releases where employees who use the software need to define it to do their productivity and work efficiently.

The Components of the Release Management Process

  • Release pipeline – the whole release process from feature planning to delivery.
  • Release value stream – a set of release processes that create or add value across the release pipeline.
  • Release policy – the definition of release types, standards, governance requirements for companies.
  • Release plan – a release template created for a specific release.
  • Release template – a repeatable workflow process for the release pipeline. 
  • Release unit – a set of artifacts released together to implement a specific feature.
  • Release package – a combination of release units deployed together as a single release due to scheduling, priorities, or interdependencies.
  • Deployment plan – a combination of activities to deploy a release to the production environment.
  • Major releases – release packages that contain many release units that have a critical business impact.
  • Minor releases – more frequent release packages with fewer release units. They do not include mission-critical components.

Agile release managers

Pain points and challenges that release managers face

As release managers are responsible for many components and aspects of the software development lifecycle, they face some essential challenges, as with any job. Here are some of their pain points:

  • Regulations and governance. Projects have a lot of moving pieces, so it is important to ensure that all quality measures have been taken.
  • Lack of visibility. Release managers collaborate a lot. Sometimes it can be difficult to delegate project tasks and have total and complete visibility.
  • Ensuring that all steps were followed properly. It is not easy sometimes to quickly understand whether your customer is satisfied with what you delivered and whether they are happy with the result or not.
  • Managing risks, not the routine. Sometimes release managers pay too much attention to routine processes and compromise the management of risk. Managing risks properly will improve the quality and scope of the project and will make release managers aware of the requirements for reaching project completion.

If a release manager does not effectively manage these pain points, the project will be compromised which will result in delays and unhappy clients.

Conclusion

Each release is a chance to refine everything from your workflow to checklists as your Agile team discovers what roadmap works best for what kind of launch, and what does not.

Try to find appropriate project management software to simplify the most complex release management process. We hope that this brief article will help you to get successful releases your team will be proud of.