A software release can be a beautiful thing. Weeks, months, or even years of work culminate in a tool that everyone has poured their heart and soul into.
Unfortunately, a software release can also be a nightmare.
But the good news is that a nightmare scenario is fairly easy to avoid as long as you use the right approaches and strategies and take the right precautions.
Of course, there are virtually an infinite amount of ways to go about releasing software, and there’s no single right way to get any part of the process done. But there are some best practices to keep in mind as guidelines and milestones.
Think of it like preparing a meal. You can cook up any number of recipes if you have the basics in your pantry or refrigerator. Let’s take a closer look at those essential ingredients.
A clear vision and roadmap
Every successful software release starts with a clear vision of what you’re trying to do, why you’re trying to do it, and who you’re trying to do it for. This vision then lends itself to setting clear objectives and a roadmap for what exactly needs to get done, as well as how, when, and in what order.
Before diving straight into the development process, taking time to outline your vision and roadmap will make sure you, your team, and all the key players have a deep understanding of the problem the software aims to solve and the goals it intends to achieve. This clarity sets the foundation for the entire development and release cycle, including how everyone will work together.
Strong project management
The best plan in the world is pretty much meaningless if you don’t follow through. And it’s annoyingly easy for all of it to go wrong; all it takes is just one sloppy detail, miscommunication, or missed milestone to send the whole release askew.
To make sure you succeed, you’ll need to take that roadmap really seriously. It should be backed by a detailed project plan, realistic milestones, and a robust communication structure that loops in everyone who needs to be there. Project managers play a crucial role in making sure that tasks are assigned, deadlines are met, and potential roadblocks are addressed as soon as there’s any inkling that they exist.
You’re going to hit a wall hard and fast if you’re developing and launching in siloes. You’ll need to have a solid plan for fostering collaboration across various internal and external team members, including developers, designers, quality assurance (QA) specialists, and operators.
When you establish open lines of communication and pave the way for a collaborative environment, information can pass smoothly between parties to make sure that everyone is in the right loops. In turn, everyone can stay aligned with the project’s goals and always be able to contribute their expertise to the best of their abilities.
Agile development practices
Agile application development practices are pretty popular in the software industry, including methodologies like Kanban, Scrum, Crystal, and Extreme Programming (XP). At its core, agile development is designed to happen in shorter, iterative cycles, as opposed to getting everything done in a single linear timeline.
When you develop in cycles, you’re able to continuously test and collect feedback, then adapt quickly by implementing that feedback into the next iteration. This keeps you agile (shocker!), ensuring that you’re able to roll with the punches, fix any issues ASAP, and capitalize on any new ideas or revelations that come up in the process.
A “ship small, ship fast” approach
“Ship small, ship fast” is a software release ideology that’s in line with agile development. The name of the game is to release small code changes often rather than waiting weeks after development. The smaller the changes, the smaller the impact if something goes wrong. And the quicker the changes… well, you can piece together why speed is helpful in the business world.
On the other hand, if you’re releasing large changes sluggishly, you’re more likely to encounter some serious headaches. You might be too late to capitalize on the benefits of new features, or if you encounter an unexpected issue or bug, you might find yourself wasting tons of time and energy scouring for the cause.
Automation (when possible)
I think we can all agree that automation is a friend. This is especially true in the development world, where it can streamline software release by integrating code changes, testing them comprehensively, and moving them into production—all without extra human resources (and the woes of human error).
This concept is also referred to as CI/CD, or continuous integration/continuous deployment. CI/CD tools run the full gamut of services, including automatically merging code changes, executing test scripts, doing code analysis for issues and security vulnerabilities, and deploying code to staging and production environments.
Optimizing for performance and scalability
Of course, different scenarios will have different goals in mind. Your software might be intended for limited use or a small audience, which would make scalability less of a long-term concern. But even if you’ve got a unique scenario with unique needs, generally speaking, a strong software release accounts for whatever those future needs might be.
Even if you’re not trying to grow your user base, performance optimization will pretty much always be relevant. This involves fine-tuning the code, optimizing database queries, and ensuring that the software can handle increased loads without sacrificing speed or reliability. Taking a proactive approach like this helps to prevent performance issues that may come up as your software is more heavily used by more people.
Cooking up a Michelin-star software release
It’s absolutely possible to have a buttery smooth software release, but it’s not the kind of thing you can do with your eyes closed. You’ll need a well thought out, carefully implemented plan to make sure all your ducks are in a row.
And when you invest upfront into getting it done right the first time, you’re also investing in the future of your software’s success: more attention now means fewer obstacles, issues, and headaches down the road.
Whatever software you’re “cooking up,” you’ll thank yourself for having all the right ingredients in place.