How to Manage Product Releases and Versioning

How to Manage Product Releases and Versioning

Have you ever felt lost trying to keep up with the countless updates and versions of that app or software you rely on? It seems like every time you open it, something has changed, but it’s not clear what. 

Have you struggled with teammates complaining about bugs in specific releases while others ask for new features, and you’re left wondering how to satisfy everyone? 

Managing product releases and versions is a tricky business. If not done carefully, it can confuse users and frustrate developers. But there must be a better way, right? 

Luckily, there is! In this article, we’ll share strategies to bring clarity and control to your update process. We hope by the end, you’ll walk away with ideas to simplify things for both your users and your team.

How to Manage Product Releases and Versioning

  1. Define Your Release Strategy
  2. Plan and Prioritize Features
  3. Create a Detailed Release Plan
  4. Implement a Robust Versioning System
  5. Conduct Thorough Testing
  6. Deploy the Release
  7. Communicate Effectively
  8. Monitor and Gather Feedback

Define Your Release Strategy

Developing a thoughtful release strategy is crucial for any software or product. It establishes guidance and expectations for delivering new features to users in a sustainable, user-focused way. A well-planned release approach has several key benefits.

Firstly, it offers focus and direction for all involved teams. With clear goals and a roadmap, everyone comprehends their role in achieving shared objectives promptly. Additionally, it optimizes resources, ensuring efficient prioritization and development of features based on established priorities. 

Equally important is collaboration. An open-release strategy facilitates communication between different groups. By aligning plans with user needs, it promotes transparency. Stakeholders can work as a cohesive unit toward agreed-upon milestones.

Quality and risk management also get strengthened. Rigorous testing helps catch and fix bugs before users encounter them. Issues are identified proactively so releases go smoothly. Fewer unexpected problems mean higher satisfaction.

Lastly, a release strategy facilitates decision-making. Teams can evaluate options and make data-driven choices about features, deadlines, and resources. It provides a framework for productive discussions to align on the best path forward.

Some key elements to include are objectives, cadence, prioritization, processes, communication practices, and risk planning. Covering these allows building a solid foundation for delivering value and continual improvement. Overall, taking the time upfront to strategize releases sets any product or service up for sustainable growth and positive user experiences.

Here is an example. A tech startup decided to move from monthly to weekly releases after establishing the following strategy components: 

  • Goals of improving engagement and feedback, 
  • Priority on lightweight features, new testing workflows, 
  • Release notes on social channels and contingency plans for critical issues.

Plan and Prioritize Features

Effective feature planning and prioritization are crucial for companies to develop and release new product versions successfully. Taking the time upfront to evaluate and rank potential features properly allows teams to maximize customer value

Some key steps you can take include gathering input from our customer advisory board, surveying existing users, and analyzing how customers are currently using our platform. It helps surface unmet needs and pain points to address. You also need to consider trends in our industry and monitor what competitors are launching.

Once you have a list of potential features, you can use a framework like RICE to score each idea objectively. Factors like how many users it will benefit, the business impact and complexity help determine priority. Visualize these scores on a roadmap to set development priorities for upcoming releases.

It’s crucial to balance delivering quick customer wins while planning for long-term product vision. More incremental features may be faster to market while helping drive renewals. Projects requiring extensive development get scheduled further out.

By socializing your backlog and roadmap transparency, you gain valuable feedback from stakeholders to further refine priorities. This collaborative process has resulted in positive customer satisfaction surveys and high renewal rates. Features our clients truly need and value make it into each new version.

Effective planning is vital for your team to stay focused and maximize the value you deliver. Prioritizing the right features at the right time helps you meet your product and business goals.

Image depicting Chisel's utilization of the RICE framework for prioritization, enhancing decision-making efficiency.
Chisel employs the RICE framework to assist in prioritization, streamlining the decision-making process for optimal results.

Chisel employs the RICE Matrix for prioritization, which proves to be highly valuable in this process.

Create a Detailed Release Plan

Creating a thorough release plan is essential for successfully managing product releases and versions. A good plan provides structure and guidance for the entire development process. 

Start with defining the scope of the release. What specific features and functionality will get included? It’s essential to set clear boundaries to avoid feature creep. The scope should be realistic, given available time and resources.

Next, the work should get broken down into smaller, actionable tasks. Taking the time to estimate how long each task will take is key. Tools like project management software can help track progress and surface potential issues.

Milestones and deadlines must be set for each phase, accounting for task dependencies. Buffer time should get allocated in case of delays. Risks to the schedule or quality also need assessing with contingency plans developed.

Communication channels must get outlined to facilitate collaboration between teams. Regular meetings keep stakeholders updated and allow concerns to get addressed proactively. Project management software and messaging apps can support information sharing. 

Testing and deployment strategies should be planned, including target environments, test procedures, and rollback options if needed post-release.

All the above details get documented in a release plan shared with all teams. The plan creates transparency and alignment. Progress is monitored regularly, flexibly adjusted based on deviations or new challenges.

For example, a company creating a significant update may define the plan to include new API integration features over four sprints. They break the tasks into front-end, back-end, documentation and more. Risks like integration issues are mitigated by involving third parties earlier. The plan keeps distributed teams coordinated to deliver new capabilities on time and with quality.

Chisel’s 'Release View' tool displays features in card style across release cycles, allowing seamless movement and organization
Utilize Chisel’s  ‘Release View’ tool to visually manage features across different release cycles in a card-style format.

Chisel’s Release View is the holy grail for planning your release strategy more effortlessly than ever. It aims to help users easily visualize and manage their release cycles, showcasing which features are associated with each cycle in a card-style format. 

This feature enables users to move features between different release cycles efficiently, providing a flexible and user-friendly interface for organizing and planning the development and deployment of product features.

Sign up for Chisel’s Free Forever version here!

Implement a Robust Versioning System

Effectively managing product releases and ensuring compatibility across versions is critical. One best practice is to adopt semantic versioning for its clarity and structure. 

Semantic versioning uses a Major.Minor.Patch numbering scheme that conveys the scope of changes in each release. Major releases contain significant changes that may impact backward compatibility. Minor releases add new features while maintaining compatibility. Patch releases include only bug fixes.

This standardized approach has several advantages for companies:

  • Clear Communication: Version numbers instantly communicate the type of change and potential impact to customers. It reduces support costs by making it easy for customers to know when updates require action.
  • Compatibility Confidence: Customers trust that minor and patch releases won’t disrupt integrations or usage. They know exactly when breaking changes are coming with significant releases.
  • Simplified Dependency Management: Integrating new libraries or making API changes is easier when following semantic versioning guidelines. 
  • Automation Opportunities: Tools exist to automatically bump version numbers and generate changelogs based on code tags and commit messages. It helps you save engineering time.

To effectively implement semantic versioning:

  • Establish clear versioning policies aligned with your release process and cadence
  • Integrate version tagging into your CI/CD pipelines  
  • Provide changelogs for each release to call out changes
  • Communicate upcoming breaking changes well in advance of major releases

Adopting semantic versioning brings structure and transparency to releases. 

Conduct Thorough Testing

Testing is a critical part of any product release process. 

“A hero product is one that stands the best possible chance of selling through at full price and not being returned after taking a long and tortuous route to market.”

Before unveiling new features or functionality to customers, it’s essential to conduct thorough testing to ensure everything works as intended. It helps avoid bugs, errors, or other issues that could negatively impact the user experience. 

As the fifth step in managing product releases and versioning, testing should involve automated and manual methods. 

Start with automated tests that cover core workflows and functions. Run these tests frequently as development progresses to catch any failures early. Automated testing helps baseline functionality and speeds up the testing process.

But don’t rely solely on automated tests. Rigorous manual testing is still needed to test edge cases, mimic real-world usage, and ensure a quality user experience. Have dedicated QA and product teams use the software in different ways to explore all features and functionality thoroughly. Test on various browsers, devices, and platforms to check for inconsistencies. 

Crowdtesting can also be helpful in simulating many users trying out a release. Provide testers with specific tasks and usage scenarios to replicate. Capture any bugs or issues encountered. The more eyes on a pre-release version, the more confidence you’ll have in its readiness.

Do multiple testing stages as well. An initial testing phase catches bugs before functionality fully gets built out. 

Re-test after each incremental update and do a final round of testing once development is complete to catch any last issues. Testing should continue even after a release goes live, monitoring customer feedback and usage to identify post-release defects.  

Taking the time for careful, methodical testing pays off in higher quality and more reliable releases. It prevents embarrassment from major bugs and helps maintain a positive customer experience with your product or service. Thorough testing is well worth the investment.

Deploy the Release

After months of development work, testing, and stakeholder approvals, the big day is here – it’s time to ship your latest product release out to customers. Beyond pushing that button to send the build live, the deployment stage is about communication. 

You’ll want to let users know what’s new with this release and how any changes impact their experience. The level of documentation and training needed depends on the scope of updates. Major feature overhauls may require detailed guides or onboarding support. Keeping employees in the loop about internal tools is also essential for productivity.

Once live, it’s good practice for the team to reflect on deployment. How did the process go from a technical perspective? Were there any bugs or glitches to address? Meeting after a release is an opportunity to improve your workflow based on continuous learning. No process is perfect, but evaluating each phase helps mature your release management.

Chisel's Release View enables users to visually map their release cycles and identify feature assignments for each cycle.
Chisel’s intuitive Release View provides a clear visualization of release cycles, making it easy for users to identify which features are associated with each cycle

Chisel’s visual workspace makes the often complex task of release planning simpler. With the whole team – from developers to executives – on the same online board, everyone stays aligned on progress and next steps. Collaborating in the cloud removes bottlenecks compared to disconnected tools. So when launch day arrives, you’re ready to confidently ship quality work to excited users!

Sign up for Chisel’s Free Forever version here!

Communicate Effectively

With the hard work of testing and deployment behind you, it’s time to spread the word about your new release. Effective communication is key to maximizing value and minimizing disruptions. Companies fostering workplace collaboration boast performance rates five times higher than those lacking such initiatives!

Start by planning your communications strategy. Consider the needs of both customers and internal teams. Then, utilize the right channels to reach each group – whether email, in-app messaging, documents, or forums. 

Get the word out early through multiple touchpoints. Blog about upcoming features to generate buzz. Send a calendar invite for any planned downtime. It prepares everyone for what’s to come.

On release day, share all the exciting details. Highlight top new capabilities while acknowledging any changes that impact workflows. Provide screenshots and guided tutorials so customers can benefit quickly.  

Be available to answer questions promptly. Addressing concerns upfront earns trust and ensures a smooth transition. Express appreciation for user feedback, too. Keep colleagues in the loop through status reports and demos. Make sure every department understands how the release may impact their day-to-day. Cross-team alignment is key.

With transparency and two-way communication, you empower customers with information and build enthusiasm for product improvements. It turns each release into a celebrated occasion that strengthens customer loyalty and success.

Prioritizing features for Chisel’s Team Alignment ensures a unified goal, minimizing confusion and conflict in the workflow
Feature prioritization based on Chisel’s Team Alignment fosters a shared goal, reducing potential confusion and conflict within the team

At Chisel, we understand the importance of fostering strong communication within product teams. This is why we developed Team Radar, a tool designed to help everyone stay connected and on the same page.

Team Radar provides a shared space where members can easily rate different aspects of your product’s progress. It gives leadership valuable insights into how the entire team views goals like design, features, development pace and more.

Where communication is often the hardest part, Team Radar helps make it seamless. It integrates smoothly with platforms many teams use daily, like Microsoft Teams and Slack. It means real-time updates are just a message away.

Whether collaborating remotely or under one roof, Team Radar helps break down barriers between team members. With open discussions and transparent feedback, your product can succeed when everyone feels empowered to get heard.

Monitor and Gather Feedback

After launching a new version or feature to your customers, keeping a finger on the pulse is important. In fact, according to research, 91% of individuals believe that companies should drive innovation by paying attention to the input and feedback from buyers and customers.

How is your product or service performing in the real world? Are there any issues or bugs that sneak through testing? Just as importantly, what do customers think – is the new version really helping them in the ways you intended? 

This final step of monitoring real-world usage and gathering feedback is crucial for the company’s success. It allows you to find and fix any remaining problems while also gaining insights to inform your future roadmap. The key is implementing easy ways for customers to provide input. 

Some options to consider are in-app surveys, online review forms, or targeted emails. You can check basic metrics like crash reports or error logs. But also ask open-ended questions to understand sentiments, what customers value most, and where they see opportunities for improvement. Don’t just listen for complaints – make it easy for happy customers to share positive experiences, too.

Monitoring usage and feedback over time gives you a more complete picture than isolated testing alone. Look for patterns in issues or suggestions that come up. Then, prioritize accordingly to refine your product continually

Staying tapped into the real-world customer experience helps ensure you meet needs and deliver value with each new version. The insights gained will pay off in a stronger product-market fit and higher customer satisfaction down the road.

Chisel AI accelerates product management tasks, including envisioning, discovery, prioritization, and feedback collection, at scale for both customers and internal teams.
Chisel AI empowers product managers to swiftly handle product tasks, ensuring efficient collaboration with customers and internal teams.

With AI-powered capabilities, Chisel’s feedback features take the hassle out of collecting, analyzing, and responding to feedback over time. Whether suggestions come from customer surveys, Feedback Portal, or internal team discussions, the advanced technology streamlines the entire process. 

Your team can spend more time developing solutions than wading through piles of unsorted comments. The end result is happier customers and a stronger product.

Sign up for Chisel’s Free Forever version here!

Key Takeaways

Managing product releases and versioning can be challenging due to the many moving parts involved. 

However, you can streamline your release process by following the guidelines discussed in this article, such as establishing clear versioning standards, communicating release updates effectively, and gathering feedback. 

This article has hopefully helped solve some of the common problems readers may face when dealing with product releases. Outlining best practices for planning, coordination, and communication provides a framework to help manage your release lifecycle effectively.

We’d recommend looking into tools like Chisel to automate parts of your release process. Chisel can help simplify tasks like tracking releases, collecting user input, and coordinating team efforts. Its features allow for increased collaboration and transparency throughout the development cycle.

Give Chisel a try to take the headache out of product versioning and free up time to focus on development. With the right processes and tools in place, you can confidently deliver high-quality releases that keep customers happy and your business growing.

Sign up for Chisel’s Free Forever version here!

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