The Problem With "Release Early, Release Often"

GeekSpeak comments edit

One of the mantras of agile software development is “Release Early, Release Often” - every time you have a new, working version with fixes and updates, you should put that in the hands of the consumer. It’s a great idea - if there’s something new the consumer of your product, be they developers or otherwise, could use, make it available.

The problem lies in the reciprocal expectation of the producers of said product that the consumers will instantly be able to take the latest available version.This isn’t always a valid expectation and can get in the way of product support.

The happy-path scenario is something like a web application that is deployed in a central location and is consumed by various users. A new version of the web app becomes available, the service host deploys the new version, and the end users immediately have the new features and fixes available to them. When the customers need support, it’s pretty safe to assume they’re on the latest version.

What happens if the product isn’t like that, though? What if it’s a framework component like a logging library? In my experience, there’s a little more work required as a consumer of a third-party framework component to take the latest version than just “download and go.” It might look that way to the folks providing that component, but in larger environments that take third-party components on as dependencies, for every new version that comes out you have to consider:

  • Has the licensing changed? (If so, do we need to run this by Legal to get approval for the upgrade?)
  • Is there any fee associated with taking the upgrade?
  • What are the breaking changes?
  • What got fixed?
  • Were we inadvertently assuming incorrect behavior that has changed?
  • Were we working around incorrect behavior that’s now rectified?
  • For .NET dependencies, if it’s strongly-named and not installed into the GAC, do we need to add binding redirects to configuration? If so, where?
  • Does the product need to be installed on each developer machine or is it a dependency that can be checked in to the central source code repository and seamlessly updated?
  • If we have to support developers working on different versions of our product at the same time and each of our product versions relies on different versions of the dependencies, how does this change the manner in which developers switch their envrionments from version to version?

…and so on. Just because a new version is out doesn’t mean your customer can take it. I, as a customer, have to budget time in the schedule for investigating all of the above, testing the upgrade on a standalone developer system, performing any code changes required to take the upgrade, and synchronizing any updates to the developer environments.

So “release early, release often” doesn’t help me much in this scenario, and contacting your support department to ask questions about version 1.2 and you not helping me because the first line of support is to “update to version 1.3 and see if the issue is fixed” is crap. (I understand this line more from open-source/freeware projects than I do if I paid a licensing fee and expect support.)

My message to the “Release Early, Release Often” folks: Remember who your end users are. It’s great that you’re getting the latest version out as often as possible, but it may not be feasible for your customers to take what you’re dishing out as soon as it’s available.