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Release Management: What It Is and 5 Tips for a Better Process

To keep up with consumer needs, AKA keep current users satisfied, software companies are constantly fine-tuning and developing their products. 

The rise in the need for effective release management strategies, driven by the use of agile development methodologies,  was recently highlighted by CD Foundation. According to their research, 2023 hit a high point in the frequency of new software deployment: 

  • 32% deployed at least once a month
  • 23% deployed at least once per week
  • 10% deployed multiple times per day

Today, we’ll examine the key role product teams play in the software space in commercializing software updates through release management. 

What is release management?

Release management is the iterative process of planning, designing, scheduling, deploying, and controlling the successful release of new features and updates. This structured approach streamlines the flow of changes from development to production, ensuring everything goes off without a hitch.

These frequent releases don’t always receive the full fanfare of a traditional product launch — but that doesn’t make them less important. A lot of technical work goes into improving a platform while maintaining continuous delivery.   

That's where release management shines — it provides a framework to manage these updates efficiently without the marketing overhead of a major launch. 

Here are the key steps involved in the release cycle:

  • Planning: Establishing the scope of the release, defining timelines, and identifying potential risks.
  • Scheduling: Creating a detailed development, testing, and deployment schedule.
  • Controlling: Ensuring the release stays on track with regular progress reviews and addressing issues promptly.
  • Testing: Thoroughly testing the changes across different environments — development, staging, and production.
  • Deployment: The actual rollout of the release into the production environment, using deployment management strategies to minimize disruption.
  • Managing: Monitoring, reviewing, and communicating the release status.

A graphic showing the 6 stages of release management: planning, scheduling, controlling, testing, deployment, and managing

The first stage of this cycle, release planning, involves the development of a release plan. Though this document has some similarities to the roadmaps that outline the longer-term, release plans differ from product roadmaps in a few key ways: 

  • Release plans contain actionable information for the feature release, while product roadmaps outline a long-term strategy.
  • Release plans account for a timeline of a few months to a year, while roadmaps can span well over a year. 
  • Release plans are primarily for developer and product teams, while product roadmaps are shared with all relevant internal and external stakeholders. 
  • Release plans provide a detailed list of steps for the agile development and launch of a specific feature, while roadmaps visualize the long-term product strategy. 

As you can see in the image below, the difference between these two documents is a matter of perspective — on-the-ground versus high-level. 

A graphic listing the main differences between a release plan and a product roadmap

Now that you have a better understanding of release management and the key documents that guide it, let’s look at how developers, product teams, and other stakeholders fit into release activities. 

Key players in the release management process

Naturally, developers and engineers are responsible for turning your new product or feature into a reality. But other stakeholders carry out the key steps that happen before and after that development to make sure the release contributes to your company’s bottom line: 

Table of the key players in the release management process

The release and product managers are central to keeping these two teams on track.  

Release managers oversee the technical delivery and deployment of product updates. They manage the logistics of building and releasing the product. Their responsibilities include planning releases, coordinating across teams, managing build and testing processes, ensuring release quality, and tracking progress.

Product managers focus on the strategic direction of the product. They determine what features to build and why. Their responsibilities include defining the product's vision and roadmap, understanding market needs, prioritizing features, collaborating with various teams, and measuring success.

To see how both roles contribute to release management success, think of the construction of a new house. 

The product manager is the architect who designs the house, keeping the latest buyer needs in mind while communicating the vision to the firm owners, construction managers, and the homeowners themselves. On the other hand, the release manager is similar to a construction manager who works with the trades to build the house on schedule, within budget, and according to the architect's specifications.

While developers and product teams are heavily involved in the release cycle, it’s important to remember that marketing, sales, and even customer stakeholders play an important role as well. 

5 common struggles with release management (and how to overcome them) 

The process of getting new software updates out to the world presents unique challenges for companies. (This is also true for media and CPG brands, although these releases might happen semi-annually or quarterly.) It boils down to issues of alignment. 

As you can imagine, there’s a lot of back and forth between product and release managers. It takes massive collaboration and coordination to keep the developer and product teams in sync with company goals. And then, of course, the PMMs and Sales teams need to prepare for release as well. 

Let's explore the most prevalent feature release struggles and how release management tools like Ignition can help your team overcome them.

1) Poor prioritization of product backlog

Product teams often find it difficult to prioritize their ever-growing product backlog. Feature ideas flow in from customers, sales teams, and internal brainstorming. Meanwhile, customer needs evolve, markets shift, and competitors make their moves. 

According to a 2023 Product Management Report, there are three main reasons why teams struggle to prioritize feature releases: 

  • Disagreement on prioritization method (35%)
  • Highest paid person in the room typically wins (30%)
  • Difficulty with collecting data for informed decision-making (35%)

Before the release manager is even involved in the process, they’re starting behind the eight ball.

The solution — tying product and feature recommendations to potential revenue

Ignition helps remove personal preferences, status, and ego from the feature decision-making process — replacing it with revenue impact data so everyone can see which backlog item will have the biggest impact. 

Integrations with platforms like Gong and Intercom pull valuable customer insights directly from sales interactions and support tickets. The qualitative and quantitative information from these platforms lets product teams assess the potential revenue impact behind each idea. Plus, it gives release managers a better idea of the feature requirements customers are looking for. 

2) Siloed business units and communications channels

The release management process involves tight collaboration between product teams, developers, and other vital stakeholders like marketing and sales. However, each of these departments has its internal preferences regarding platform, process, and documentation. 

Cross-department communication happens across disparate tools — email, Slack, project management platforms — leading to fragmented information and potential delays.

Another recent product management report finds that the biggest growing pain for 44% of product teams is a lack of roadmap and process consistency.  The next biggest? Communication and information silos at 25%. 

The solution — centralized communication and collaboration

Ignition smooths out communication workflows with integrations that connect critical feedback loops between product and engineering teams and the rest of the stakeholders. 

Ignition powers interactions across all the relevant tools in your stack — comms platforms like Slack and Teams, roadmapping tools like Jira and Productboard, and project management platforms like Asana and ClickUp.  

Now you can break down those silos while driving roadmap and process standardization. 

Ignition integrations dashboard displays connections for Slack, Teams, Jira, and other platforms for smooth release management

Integrating all these key tools through a central GTM platform makes it easy for release managers and product leaders to stay aligned across the numerous feature and product updates that happen over a year.  

3) Lack of process automation

Although there are only six main steps in the release management process, each one contains several actions for the product team. Many of these are manual processes that involve things like: 

  • Researching competitors and the market landscape
  • Updating leadership and internal stakeholders on developments
  • Managing priorities across different roadmaps
  • Communicating customer feedback from the sales team

Although the task itself is straightforward, navigating the labyrinth of document versions, point solutions, and platforms that make up your tech stack is time-consuming and bogs your team down. 

The solution — replace rote processes with automation and AI 

Ignition offers a centralized platform designed to manage the entire product lifecycle from ideation to release. 

For example, Ignition makes it easy to keep tabs on your customers and competitors with automations that pull everything from SEO data to consumer sentiments. Our AI then summarizes this information for easily shareable, up-to-date analysis.

The Ignition competitor intelligence dashboard showing firmographic info and AI-generated talking points about the brand Dr. Pepper

Empower your release managers with automatic and affordable competitive intelligence

4) Communicate releases efficiently

Not every feature your company releases gets a tier 1 launch budget for development and go-to-market — actually, on average, only around 10% do.

Still, product and marketing teams need to communicate these updates quickly and effectively so current users can get information. Failure to do so can cause confusion and frustration when users stumble upon updates without prior notice or when your stakeholders in other departments aren’t prepared.

The solution — streamlined feature release notes

Ignition provides dedicated communication spaces for product and release managers to communicate information about new features internally and externally. Our release notes feature even includes custom-branded landing pages that provide a consistent format for external updates. 

Plus, there’s a product idea backlog where customers and stakeholders can recommend new ideas and let others vote on them to see the results. 

Now release managers have a method to easily communicate updates with all internal and external stakeholders, regardless of size and importance. 

5) Poor data collection and analysis

Product teams must constantly collect and analyze data to improve everything from roadmap development to product launches. This is increasingly important considering many executives want to take a closer look at the ROI of all parts of the commercialization process, not just product development. 

Yet, according to ProductPlan's 2023 report, many PMs struggle to effectively track and measure their success. Here are the most challenging activities for product teams in terms of tracking and measuring success: 

  • Strategy and roadmap development (33%)
  • Customer feedback collection (26%)
  • Product and feature launch (21%)
  • Product and feature development (18%)

The solution: a central launch measurement hub for all launches

Ignition gives you a central launch measurement hub that you can be use for all releases — whether it’s a full GTM launch or smaller-scale release. It takes revenue, CRM, and product data into account to measure and track the success of launches in relation to your specific OKRs. 

Release management central launch measurement hub

Now both sides of the release management lifecycle can quickly assess the success of each release, understand user adoption of new features, and use these insights to guide future product development.

The lessons you gain from a small release can be just as informative as the success or failure of a big launch. So why only track the success of tier-1 and -2 launches? 

Drive revenue with a streamlined release management process

Mastering all release activities is pivotal for software companies aiming to stay relevant and responsive to market demands. But, between all the departments and stakeholders involved, the process quickly gets bogged down. It feels like there are too many cooks in the kitchen, and the orders keep coming in. 

Companies need a holistic solution that addresses common hurdles by centralizing communication, automating processes, and providing actionable insights based on data. 

By leveraging Ignition, release and product managers can prioritize effectively, break down silos, automate tedious tasks, communicate updates efficiently, and measure the success of every release. 

It’s time to streamline your process with release management tools that align the development cycle with strategic business outcomes. 

Sign up for a free Ignition trial today and transform how your software meets the world.