If you’re in product management, software engineering, or data science, chances are you’ve had to roll out a major update to your product at some point in its lifespan. Updating versions and implementing new features is a common aspect of software and web development, and is becoming even more widespread in an era where cloud-based Software-as-a-Service solutions are increasing in popularity. If you’re looking for an ideal way to add new features and fixes to your product without hindering your development team’s productivity and simultaneously decreasing the amount of time it takes to release new features, feature flags may be the answer to all of your prayers. If you’re new to the concept of feature toggles and continuous delivery, here’s a quick primer to get you up-to-speed.
What is continuous delivery?
With a continuous delivery approach, your team no longer has to dread launch days. That’s because with continuous delivery, your product’s code is always at a deployable state. This philosophy applies to features large and small, from configuration changes to bug fixes. When your team adopts a continuous delivery approach, you rid yourself of testing and integration phases, evolving behind-the-scenes with the understanding that at any moment, you could roll out the next important update to your product. This strategy can pay major dividends to your business, improving organizational performance as well as workplace satisfaction.
Why you should use feature flags, and what they are
Sometimes called feature toggles, feature flags provide you with the ability to change a component of your software without altering the code. Speed and safety are the biggest benefits of utilizing feature flags, and the efficiency that they can add to your team’s workflow is the primary reason to use them in your development process. Feature flags are a powerful software solution for your business, enabling you to have greater control of when and how your users and developers see new features. Beyond alpha and beta testing, feature flags have real-world applications in feature retirement and segmenting subscribers to receive new features at different release times. It’s also worth noting that feature toggles can also introduce complexity into your workflow. It’s best to manage the additional layer feature flags place on your team through software that helps you organize and manage each feature flag. Additionally, you may want to limit how many toggles you have active at one time, particularly for larger teams.
How toggles and controls increase efficacy
Toggles can increase your team’s efficacy in a variety of ways. If you’re looking to experiment with how users will react to a certain feature, toggles are your friend, allowing for A/B testing and powerful full-stack experimentation. Imagine testing a new feature on the front end with real users and gauging its impact on their user experience. Enabling a toggle and comparing it to a control group accomplishes just this without sacrificing stability or productivity. That’s a win-win for many businesses, and a reason for considering how to add feature toggles to your product. Feature toggles empower you and your developers to be smarter and more productive in how they iterate your product, ultimately increasing user satisfaction and giving you a clearer picture of how your customers are using your product.
The organizational approach of your tech company can play a big role in your success or failure. Often, an emphasis is placed on speed above anything else, contributing to botched releases and sloppy errors. This philosophy is perhaps best epitomized by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg’s instructions to “move fast and break things,” although it seems like companies are wising up to the fact that doing so isn’t always best practice. If you’re looking for a way to sustainably approach updating your product in an organized, measured, and safe way, feature flags and continuous delivery are an excellent solution.