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May 22, 2018

Why Release Managers are the Unsung Heroes of Continuous Delivery

Good Release Managers are often hard to find although they are an essential part of having a smooth release management lifecycles as Bob Davis, CMO of Plutora explains about the five steps of successful release management.

By Umar Hassan

Being able to find a good release manager is a difficult task, with the best ones being few and far between.

They are, however, essential for the smooth running of release management lifecycles, as their in-depth technical knowledge and aptitude for organisation makes them invaluable.

Because of this, it’s important that businesses know how to find the right person for the job and give them the environment and tools they need to thrive.

Release Managers: who, what, where, and when?

Typically, release managers are responsible for herding the various groups of developers, operations, and projects together into one cohesive schedule that takes resources, end goals and company-wide timelines into consideration.

Specifically, they own the release management lifecycle, including scheduling, coordinating and the overall general management of application delivery starting from project inception all the way into production.

Bob Davis, CMO, Plutora

Most importantly, they must do this across the entire enterprise portfolio. In the enterprise, each release is comprised of a few hundred projects running simultaneously.

These projects involve a mix of vendor teams, geographically-dispersed development and test, development methodologies, hybrid cloud, and a mix of virtualised and physical infrastructure.

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They have to work collaboratively with all participants, coordinating dependencies between projects and schedules with related pre-production environments for development and testing efforts.

And as if this wasn’t quite enough, beyond the lifecycle itself, release managers are responsible for reporting to and updating the senior leadership teams in the company. This includes the CIOs and CTOs, as well as business leaders outside of the IT organisation. Now on top of this, imagine the inevitable project delays, scope changes, environment outages, or critical bugs.

In essence this means that an effective release manager must have excellent organisation and communication skills, as well as the technical knowhow, making them the heroes of this sector. The combination of these skills will enable them to work with a variety of teams and people while also overseeing the technical aspects of the release lifecycle. Additionally, they need to be capable of up-leveling all this information into a presentation or report for both IT and business senior team members.

So once you’ve found your lifecycle hero, how do you ensure the process runs smoothly and provides real business benefits?

The Five Stages of Successful Release Management

The release management process is a critical bridge between development and testing/production that’s in place to ensure that the capabilities of the service expected by stakeholders are achieved. The itSMF ITIL V3 framework provides a general outline of best practices for release management, including these five steps, which can then be tailored and adjusted to meet a specific organisation’s needs:

  1. Release planning: Release managers design and formally approve release policy guidelines that not only contain the governance aspects, but also the detailed process designs for implementing releases across the organisations.
  2. Build and configure releases: In this phase, release managers oversee the major aspects of the coding side of the story – everything from the building of the code, to initial testing to ensure build integrity, and finally delivering it in target environments. Release managers are there to make sure all the teams are on the same page and stay on track to meet the agreed upon goals. Project challenges often arise when applications are tested against test environments that don’t match the target production – don’t skip this step.
  3. Quality review: Release managers need to ensure that Quality Assurance (QA) teams review the quality of the release, making sure that it meets minimum acceptable standards and business requirements. They typically assess historical track records of projects cross-referenced with criticality of the functionality to decide where to focus their time.
  4. Rollout plan: Once a release has been accepted by the QA team, it is ready for deployment in the production environment, where end-users or customers will be able to access the new capabilities released. Release managers are here to ensure a smooth rollout from internal to customer-facing and their approval should be provided in cutover and go-live planning.
  5. Implement release: In this phase, the release units that were tested in the examining stage of SDLC are deployed in production environments for live or real time usage. Release managers, again, are here to ensure a smooth transition to live usage and help monitor the release and make sure it all continues to run smoothly and bug-free.

By implementing the above and other best practices and guidelines, organisations can maximise the efficiency of the release process, as well as save money and improve the business value of services.

Without a true understanding of what a release manager is and what they can do for your organisation, you might miss out on the best person for the job. Many organisations have this problem as they don’t recognise the exact responsibilities of a release manager. When used correctly, though, release managers are excellent team members, crucial to an organisation’s success.

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