Two Weeks is Too Long

On Demand Feature Deployments

John Doyle
John Doyle
CEO, Technical Architect, Drupal SME, Open Source Champion
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In the fast-paced world of online marketing, waiting two weeks for feature deployments can sometimes feel like an eternity. With the rise of user demands and market competition, organizations are seeking ways to streamline their development cycles and deliver new features on-demand. This blog explores the concept of on-demand feature deployments, and illustrates how this approach can transform your web development process and reduce the holding cost of features.

Traditional Two-Week Sprint Cycles

Traditionally, development teams will often rely on rigid deployment cycles tied to sprints in order to make updates or builds to a website. While these cycles provide structure for the web teams, they may hinder adaptability and quick responses to changing requirements or market trends. Marketers need to be able to move quickly, even when publishing new content is dependent on new feature builds, and these long release cycles can lead to holding costs, delayed launches, and missed opportunities.

Two week sprints can be great, but tying deployment cycles to this sprint cycle isn’t a requirement. This mindset is usually due to quality control and approval cycles, where development teams and their clients are used to batching up a group of features to be reviewed and tested together. There are a few reasons teams have operated this way in the past:

  1. Lack of access to the infrastructure and automation to support creating and maintaining feature based branches easily and cost effectively.
  2. QA processes were manual, and regression testing of the application was more effective to do with a group of features than for every feature/change. 
  3. Mindsets around rigid processes for client demo’s and user acceptance testing (UAT) cycles for approval.

When we started challenging this idea, we realized that a majority of the reasons for sticking to this cycle were related to internal processes, automation or self-limiting beliefs. Technology has advanced rapidly in the last five years and hosting platforms that support on-demand environments will continue to grow.

Feature-Based Deployments

Feature-based deployments are a paradigm shift that aims to shorten the release cycle and enable the swift deployment of individual features. This approach breaks away from the rigid sprint deployment model, allowing teams to release features independently and cater to user demands without unnecessary delays. This does not mean that you need to move away from sprints as a team (though Kanban could work well), but it does suggest that there are other frameworks that could be more effective in deployments for both developers and clients.

Let’s look at some of the ways to manage risk as you reduce your cycle time.

Feature-Based Deployment Workflows

Feature-based deployment workflows revolve around breaking down complex features into smaller, deployable units. Developers can work on individual features independently, ensuring faster development cycles and easier maintenance. This modular approach aligns development with business goals and user demands, which can help to reduce risk. For a feature based workflow process to be effective, here is where you should start:

  • Multiple feature-branch environments: Having separate environments for each feature that is being developed allows you to test each feature independently and make changes without affecting other features. To make feature-based deployments work effectively, you need to be able to create and test different features in separate environments. This will help you avoid having to make costly changes later on.
  • Ramp up your product owner: The product owner is the person who represents the needs of the users. They need to be familiar with the feature-based deployment process so they can help prioritize features and approve them for release as they become available.
  • Incorporate automation: Automation can help you save time and reduce errors by automating tasks such as testing and deployment. Automate as much of your development and testing process as possible.

Introduction to Feature Flags

Feature flags, also known as feature toggles, are a key component of on-demand feature deployments. These flags act as switches that allow developers to enable or disable specific features within an application. By implementing feature flags, development teams can give application and content owners the ability to control feature visibility and not tie them to the development release timeline.

There are a variety of ways feature flags can be used to reduce the risk of new feature releases:

  • Enable A/B testing: Feature flags can be used to A/B test different versions of a feature to see which one performs better. This can help teams to improve the user experience and optimize their features.
  • Gradual rollouts: You can also use feature flags to gradually roll out new features to users, which can help to reduce the risk of introducing bugs or errors. This is also known as canary release.
  • Targeted releases: Additionally, feature flags can target specific users with new features, such as by region, user type, or other criteria. This can help teams to test new features with a small group of users before rolling them out to everyone.
  • To release a feature when external team dependencies are met: Finally, you can use feature flags to release a new feature to production only when certain conditions are met. For example, you could use a feature flag to release a new marketing campaign only when the marketing team has finished creating the landing pages. This can help to ensure that new features are not released before they are ready. 

Ensuring Code Quality and Low Bug Counts

While speed is crucial, maintaining code quality remains paramount. Implementing rigorous code reviews, automated testing, and continuous integration practices helps uphold high standards. By focusing on quality assurance, development teams can minimize the risk of introducing bugs and deliver polished features to end users.

Decreasing Holding Cost of Features

On-demand feature deployments directly address the holding cost of features by reducing the time between development completion and deployment. The ability to release features as soon as they're ready minimizes the opportunity cost of holding back innovations. This approach empowers businesses to seize opportunities swiftly and respond to user needs with agility.

Rapid adaptation is the key to staying ahead in today’s volatile digital environment. Incorporating a feature-based approach of on-demand feature deployments offers a solution that aligns development processes with the speed of business. By leveraging feature flags, embracing feature-based workflows, and incorporating automation, organizations can decrease the holding cost of features and keep their offerings relevant, competitive, and dynamic. Embrace the future of development and make on-demand feature deployments a reality for your website projects.

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