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How to Release Software the Right Way

Headshot of Arthur Hicken, Evangelist at Parasoft
June 15, 2023
7 min read

There are challenges involved in creating and releasing high-quality software. Read on to understand the crucial role of release management, five things to avoid when releasing software, and keys to successful software releases.

The cost of a software failure can be felt in different ways. For example, a public company might feel it with a dip in the stock price. For a small company, it can mean going out of business.

All too often, I see organizations releasing software in a manner that is about as safe as playing a game of Russian roulette—gambling with their customer’s safety, private data, and security, not to mention reliability. They’re also gambling with their company’s reputation and bottom line. IEEE published a list of public failures and you can be sure software is still failing.

The reason I like this somewhat scary analogy is that all too often I hear people say things like, “That software has been out for a long time and hasn’t had problems” or “We’ve always done it this way and it works.” This is a bad way to plan. A company focused on software engineering is looking for ways to build and release better software that fails less. This means adopting modern software development methodologies like Agile, DevOps, and continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD). And proactively planning for success by doing the right thing, even if doing the wrong thing has worked so far.

Researchers have found that around half of IT software projects fail. There are lots of numbers from others and that estimate isn’t the highest, so let’s take it for a minute. This is like playing Russian roulette with three bullets in the chamber: a 50/50 chance of failure. I don’t like those odds and certainly wouldn’t gamble the future of my company on them.

Let’s look at:

  • The crucial role of release management in software releases
  • Common—and dangerous—mistakes to avoid when releasing software
  • Keys to successful software releases

The Crucial Role of Release Management

Release management is the process of planning, scheduling, coordinating, and controlling the release of software or a product into a live environment. It involves carefully managing various activities, including development, testing, deployment, and communication, to ensure the successful delivery of a new version or update to end-users or customers.

The primary goal of release management is to ensure that software releases or product updates are delivered in a controlled and efficient manner, meeting the quality, timeline, and business objectives. It involves coordinating the efforts of multiple teams, like development, testing, operations, and customer support, to ensure a smooth transition from development to production.

Release management is crucial for several reasons. I captured some of them here.

Minimizes Disruption

When software or product updates are deployed without going through the release management process, it can lead to unexpected issues and disruptions for end users or customers. These issues may include compatibility problems, functional errors, or even complete system failures. Such incidents can have significant negative impacts on user experience, business operations, and overall customer satisfaction.

Effective release management helps minimize disruption to end users or customers by ensuring that new releases are thoroughly tested and validated before deployment. This reduces the risk of introducing bugs, errors, or compatibility issues that could adversely affect the user experience, and it also facilitates DevOps workflows.

Improves Quality Assurance

With release management, software development teams can ensure that software releases or product updates meet the highest standards of quality and reliability. Release management involves rigorous testing and quality assurance processes to identify and fix issues early in the release cycle. This also supports the principles of continuous testing, which reduces wait time for feedback about potential vulnerabilities in software and helps prevent major problems or critical bugs from reaching end users.

Aids Planning & Coordination

Release management involves meticulous planning and coordination of activities related to software releases. This includes defining release goals, determining release timelines, identifying dependencies, and allocating necessary resources. By establishing a well-defined plan, release management ensures that all teams involved in the release process are aligned and working towards a common goal.

Ensures Proper Version Control & Configuration Management

Release management is responsible for maintaining proper version control and configuration management throughout the release process. It ensures that the correct versions of software components are included in the release package and that configuration settings are properly managed. This helps prevent compatibility issues, ensures consistency, and facilitates efficient deployment.

It also establishes procedures for managing different versions, maintaining a clear audit trail, and implementing appropriate versioning and tagging strategies. This allows for easier troubleshooting, rollback, or future enhancements and ensures that the released software is traceable and accountable.

Facilitates Efficient Deployment

Release management aims to optimize the deployment process by automating and standardizing as many steps as possible. This reduces the chances of errors during deployment and minimizes the time required to deliver updates, allowing for faster innovation and response to customer needs.

5 Common Software Release Mistakes to Avoid

Releasing your software to a live environment is a critical and complex process that requires meticulous planning, careful execution, and constant attention to detail. But even the most experienced software development teams can fall victim to common mistakes that can jeopardize the success of a software release.

Let’s uncover five common software release mistakes that software engineers should be aware of and, more importantly, strive to avoid.

1. Old Known Bugs

We all know that we release software with bugs because flawless software would take forever to make. But that’s no excuse for never fixing the bugs we know about. Much has been said about technical debt in very abstract terms, but this is a real practical measure of debt in your software. If there’s a bug there and you’re not fixing it, you’d better have a pretty good reason why you think it doesn’t matter. Plan some time for each release to add new features and enhance existing features. Take time to polish your software.

2. New Bugs in Old Code

Old code is tricky. I’ve seen companies that have a policy of “clean it up if you’re fixing it anyway” and others where the rule is “only touch what you must and only when there’s a field-reported bug.” Both are interesting policies, but what’s most important is to understand the risk involved when you find a new bug in old code.

I was working with a hardware vendor, and they were struggling with how to handle the output from a new tool on some legacy code. In their case, it was an ambiguous scope issue that still leaves me wondering how their compiler could allow such madness. They were bumping into a conflict. On the one hand, they had this new tool. On the other, they were not supposed to touch old code unless there was a bug report from the field.

Understanding what you plan to do with your legacy code is important, as well as fully understanding its risk to your organization. If the code is critical, age might not matter as much as you think. If the code is being deprecated, perhaps you’re wasting time testing things you don’t intend to fix.

3. Security as Part of Testing Instead of Development

It’s depressingly common for organizations to overlook security. In some cases, they think they can test security into their application. They can’t. In other cases, they think security issues won’t apply to their code. They will.

To get out of this mess of constant security failures, organizations must harden code with solid AppSec best practices as codified in a static analysis tool that does more than just flow analysis. If you don’t know where to start, it honestly wouldn’t hurt to follow the MISRA rules and start following them for any code you write starting today.

4. The Ever-Failing, Ever-Passing Test Suite

An extremely common and dangerous practice I see is having a large test suite and relying on a simple metric of the number of tests that passed. For example, you commonly have an 80% pass rate, so you assume this will be fine.

The problem is that there is no way to know if the 80% that passed today is the same as the 80% that passed yesterday. There could easily be a new real failure hiding in that 80%—the chances are likely—because something else got fixed, leaving the number balanced. Keep your test suite clean. If you don’t, it won’t tell you much. I’d seriously question the value of a test failure you feel comfortable ignoring. Why not just skip that test? It’s a more honest and useful approach.

5. Releasing on the Calendar

The calendar is the most common, crucial release criterion. People picked a date and now they’re going to release because that date arrived. Granted, there are external issues that influence your release schedule, but just because a date arrived doesn’t mean it’s okay to push crummy software onto your unsuspecting, soon-to-be-former customers. Release when it’s ready, safe, stable, and good. If the calendar is a fixed constraint, make sure your process will get you there on time.

Keys to Successful Software Releases

A successful software release meets user expectations and contributes to the growth and reputation of the company. Below is a breakdown of some key factors that contribute to a successful software release.

Establish Lucid Vision & Requirements Early On

A well-defined vision and clear understanding of the software’s requirements are essential for a successful release. It’s crucial to have a comprehensive understanding of the problem the software aims to solve and how it will benefit end users. Ensure that these visions and requirements are documented for reference purposes. By establishing a clear vision, you can align your development efforts and ensure that the released software meets the desired objectives.

Maintain a Modular Architecture

To achieve smooth software releases, it’s vital to adopt a modular architecture and incorporate release practices into an agile culture. Instead of having a single large application, breaking it down into smaller, modular components allows for easier updates and reduces the complexity of releases.

Grouping similar features into separate applications or components and establishing clear API contracts between them enables automated testing to ensure compatibility and minimize risks during software releases. Following this method eliminates the need to push the whole software stack out in one big swoop and encourages practices where updates can be made to individual components.

Leverage Automation

Automation is critical, especially in a dynamic software market where everything now moves so fast. With automation, you can optimize various aspects of the development and release process. One crucial area where automation plays a vital role is in continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD). Parasoft provides a robust CI/CD solution that helps teams streamline the process of building, testing, and deploying code changes, enabling faster and more frequent releases. Leveraging automation helps teams to improve efficiency, reduce errors, and achieve successful software releases that are faster, more reliable, and of higher quality.

Adopt Agile Development Methodology

Adopting an Agile development methodology can significantly improve the chances of a successful release. Agile methodologies emphasize iterative development, frequent communication, and adaptability. This approach allows for continuous feedback, early detection of issues in codes, and timely adjustments. Regular sprint reviews and retrospectives help identify and address potential risks and bottlenecks, ensuring a smoother release process.

Incorporate Quality Assurance & Testing

Thorough quality assurance (QA) and testing are indispensable for a successful software release. Implementing a robust testing strategy, including unit testing, integration testing, and API testing, helps identify and fix bugs and ensures the software functions as intended. Automation testing tools can speed up the testing process and enhance accuracy. In addition to functional testing, performing performance testing, security testing, and user acceptance testing also go a long way to ensuring a high-quality release.

Ensure Communication & Stakeholder Engagement

Effective communication with stakeholders, including customers, developers, testers, and project managers, is crucial throughout the release process. Regular updates, transparent communication about progress, and addressing concerns promptly build trust and ensure everyone is aligned towards the common goal. Keeping stakeholders informed about release plans, feature updates, and any potential delays helps manage expectations and reduces misunderstandings.

Conclusion

By sticking with the keys to successful software releases and avoiding the five common mistakes dev teams make, your team can meet user expectations and positively impact your company’s reputation and bottom line. Anything less isn’t worth the gamble.

Modernize Your Applications: Move From Manual Testing to CI/CD

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