Business-vs-IT-process-improvement

What is Enterprise Release Management?

Whilst it is common to think of release management as the final promotion of a component into a production environment we take a far broader view of release management ranging from the strategy of establishing quarterly, monthly or fortnightly release windows, prioritising the contents of each release, understanding the complex dependencies, and tracking delivery as they meet the integrated delivery targets. Enterprise Release management also encompasses aligning the necessary non-production or test environments to support the coordinated release strategy. Enterprise Release Management is the coordinated promotion of new functionality into existing production environments on a specified date. Enterprise Releases can vary significantly in their size and composition and could include:
  • New systems or major function blocks delivered through major programs or projects.
  • Routine minor enhancements in the form of Business as Usual (BAU) change requests.
  • Minor defect fixes in the form of Business as Usual (BAU) service requests.
The ultimate objective of Enterprise Release Management is to control the flow of change into production. Enterprise Release Management is an essential function for all organisations that are continually implementing substantial IT programs or are on a path of continuous improvement. Growing and dynamic companies will continual adjust their IT systems to ensure they are aligned to customer acquisition, customer service and other growth prospects. Release Management is not an essentially function for static IT organizations.

Enterprise Release Management Success Factors

1. Review the Existing Enterprise Release Management Process

Any improvement to the Enterprise Release Management function needs to start with a review of the current people, processes and tools within Release Management. A successful Release Management function is characterized as having capable people, a clearly defined regularly process and a toolset that supports all participants in the process.

2. Establish an Enterprise Release Strategy that clearly articulates Regular Release Cycles

As Enterprise Release Management is concerned with ensuring all child releases and work packages arrive at the same time within a defined window, it is essential to establish a Release Strategy with regular windows that enable new features to be deployed to customers at regular intervals. The frequency of these windows is typically monthly or quarterly and is driven by responsiveness required by customers as well as the complexity of the IT environment. The most successful Enterprise Release Management functions are those that are exercised regularly and tweak their processes slightly each release based on the lessons they learn.

3. Invest in the right people to be custodians of the Enterprise Release Function.

The team with the best players wins and it is no different in corporate teams and Release Management. Programme Managers and Project Manager will manage a broad set of work stream and activities to deliver to key milestones. Development managers will manage developers and product work packages for deployment. The key roles that participate in a successful release function, which is concerned with managing the smooth path of new features or changes through the various pre-production transitions include the Release Manager, Environment Manager, Test Manager and Implementation Manager

4. Provide as much transparency as possible

Publish the target release plan for the next 12 months. Whilst the composition of releases may not be known with certainty the intent is to lock in the release windows so that all teams work towards not only the final release date but also the intermediate targets such as the completion of requirements, completion of system testing, completion of user acceptance testing and so on. In an environment where targets are continually shifting being able to set and communicate release windows 12 months into the future essentially shifts the discussion to release composition rather than release date.

5. Engage Stakeholders through prioritisation and release composition

Once the release dates are defined and approved, Stakeholders are engaged to prioritize outstanding feature requests and allocate them to future releases. Stakeholders fill releases as far into the future as practical. There should be certainty around the immediate next release and less definition about the composition of releases scheduled further into the future. Regular structured releases give customers confidence that they can order something and it will be delivered.

6. Optimize Test Environment Usage

All phases within the release process require IT environments to be in place for test execution and validation well prior the completion of any code. The release infrastructure covers the hardware, storage, network connections, bandwidth, software licenses, user profiles and access permissions. In complex integrated and secure environment this is no trivial matter and requires thorough planning, understanding of interdependencies, alignment of specialist skillsets and resolving contention with competing initiatives. Critical environment bottlenecks must be eliminated early before they hold up delivery.

7. Control the activity through release stages

Releases encompass many moving parts. Transparency and control of each phase within the Release is critical to the alignment to a set delivery window. As Releases move through their key phases and milestones, at a physical level work packages are being promoted through various environments for various forms of testing and validation. A transparent baseline of the environments as well as a clear understanding of the composition of work packages being promoted prevents significant rework.

8. Continuous Communication

Regular communication with stakeholders, delivery teams and suppliers is essential to ensure all parties have a consistent view of the expected outcomes and the manner in which they are achieved. Where possible information relating to the progress of the release should be always available in a frictionless manner and should not be limited to the summarised information presented in the form of dated presentations. Rather all parties should have a systematic way of accessing they information they need in real time.
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