Companies that develop multiple products often struggle with how to ensure that they all work together to find solutions. It’s also difficult to find how to get the deliverables from various products together into a working release. A project manager focuses on the planning and execution of a project, which is typically functionality from one product and is busy getting their portion of the release (e.g., project functionality from one product) ready. A product manager focuses on the product roadmap, defines the product vision, collects requirements from customers into the product backlog, and allocates requirements to projects. So who handles a release that wrangles together multiple project deliverables from multiple products that define a solution or complex release? The answer is the release manager.
In order to better understand the role of the release manager, we must understand the context in which this role works. We must understand the difference between a project and a release. For the sake of this article, a release is the set of deliverables associated from one or more products (and their projects therein) that are tested and made available to the public. Some releases have no external dependencies whose deliverables are derived from one product’s project. Other releases are comprised of deliverables from multiple products’ projects, products that must all work together at some level in order for each part to work effectively, that form a solution. This means that there may be multiple products that should be delivered together in order for the bundle to work well together as one cohesive unit. The field of release management and the role release manager focuses on the release. In particular, not just any release type but those that are comprised of deliverables from multiple products’ projects that must come together in unison, otherwise known as a solution release.
A release manager is a role within the field of release management field. Release management is a super discipline that combines the disciplines of requirements engineering (including requirements management), project management (e.g., project planning, project tracking and oversight, risk management), design, development, configuration management (CM) including change control, test (also referred to as QA or SQA), and release. More importantly, release management is the field that focuses on coordinating pieces from various product deliverables that must come together to work as an integrated release package (aka, solution). Release management helps coordinate product timelines ensuring they are planned and managed so that future dependencies can come together in a timely manner.
Release management becomes particularly effective for companies that have multiple products that must work together as a solution. When a release is dependent on external factors to make a release successful, then release management should be applied to make the co-dependencies align. This opens up the visibility into delivery processes and reduces the silo effect so that parallel development and dependent product development have insight into requirements, timelines, and changes. While some releases are self-contained within the deliverables of a project, many releases (aka, solution releases) need items from other products in order to work effectively (at either the build or run time). The coordination must begin as early as the requirements phase of the project release. This is to ensure that there is lead-time for all of the co-dependent pieces to be developed together, tested, and operate effectively prior to the release date.