Are Release Reviews Holding Your Projects Back?

Mar 3, 2017

Are project intake management and portfolio prioritization draining your resources? 

Are you sick of sorting through project updates and sharing slides?

Are you spending endless hours in release meetings with no clear decisions?

You probably reminisce the good old days when one team of developers wrote the code, ran a couple of quick test cycles, and pushed the release out the door.

It's not that simple anymore.

What worked in the past doesn't work now

Modern web applications demand a lot more than half-baked attempts at managing the release cycle. Release delays and outages have far greater business implications than in the past.

As a result, release reviews have developed as an essential way to keep everyone up to date on progress.

When I talk to customers, they complain about release reviews that go on for hours. Each release review meeting is held at least weekly, and sometimes even daily. At times they don't even get the details they're looking for.

Here's what I tell them.

Fix, don't nix

Release reviews are critical. You need to fix your release review process, not do away with it because it's a mess.

As a leader, you still need a way to ask questions and get the necessary answers in order to manage the risk of critical releases. But you need to do so without creating additional risk in the way that you make the ask.

Be careful when you ask for a "release update"

A request for a “simple two-hour project review” may trigger a week or more of work for your team.

For complex releases, tracking all the dependencies between teams is completely essential. Spending too much time on status updates wastes the opportunity for critical risk and mitigation conversations.

Lesson? Don’t ask open-ended questions.

Understand your dependencies

Before you ask for a specific release update from your team, figure out the dependencies and their impact.

Consider looking into the following:

  • Application dependencies - will the release impact any critical systems?

  • Hardware dependencies - what applications do your servers support?

  • Test team and environment dependencies - are the teams and test environments available?

  • Development team dependencies - are the capabilities in a release dependent on capabilities being developed by other teams?

Watch out for changing priorities from the business

When you receive a request for a change, you need to tell the business about what's involved in terms of resources and dependencies. 

But shifting priorities every two weeks and the clarification of details from their end can tangle you in multiple release reviews and keep you from actually delivering the release successfully. 

Put your foot down and insist that they submit requests for change by going through a formal approval process.

Beware of releases with a large scope

The bigger the release, the longer the project, the higher the number of release reviews, and the greater the risk of significant change requests from the business.

Use release reviews as a means to guide the customer to a regular cadence of releases. Also, allow them to prioritize key requirements in the next release.  

How can you fix the release review process?

Keeping releases on track can seem like an uphill battle. You also need to master all the tools and a ton of data.

And if that wasn't enough, you're probably spending a significant amount of time between disconnected systems and spreadsheets.

Streamlining the process with templates and training saves valuable time.

Check out The 7 Steps to Effective Release Updates where I share a proven process for effective release reviews. If you follow these seven steps, you should start seeing improvements from the get-go. However, if you want to really gain ground on optimization of resources, you should absolutely consider automation. See how Merck, a global pharmaceutical giant, turned its release management process around when it switched to automation and significantly improved productivity and reporting.

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