What is a release cycle?

In the quest to build better products faster, a release cycle is the life cycle of developing, testing, and deploying a product update or a new feature into production. It ensures that the new feature or update meets the requirements of the users and is stable enough to be released, while also providing organizations with valuable feedback for improving future versions. Careful planning and execution are essential for successful releases – from concept to deployment.   

The release process involved in each stage of a release cycle varies depending on the product or feature. Generally, it includes requirements analysis to ensure that the design is suitable for customer needs, development of the feature or product, testing for functionality and performance, and quality assurance before deployment. It may also involve planning for subsequent updates and upgrades based on customer feedback.  

When releasing a new feature or product, organizations must consider factors such as cost-effectiveness, compatibility with existing solutions, user experience, scalability, and security. The success of any release cycle depends largely on careful research and the effective execution of each stage.   

By taking these measures and releasing candidates into account before the next release, organizations can improve their chances of successful implementation from start to finish.  

What are the phases of a release cycle?

Before any new release, it generally follows a series of steps, beginning with the initial conception and design of the feature or product, followed by development and testing. Once the product has been tested and verified for quality assurance, it can be deployed for use in production environments.  

The final step in the release cycle is maintenance, which involves monitoring usage and providing necessary updates as needed. Depending on the nature of the feature, some version releases of the final product may require more frequent updates than others.  

The goal of any release cycle is to be agile and ensure customer satisfaction with a high-quality product that meets their needs and expectations.  


The first phase of a release cycle is planning. In this phase, the development team creates a roadmap for the release version of a feature or update, including the timeline, resources, and expected outcomes. This phase also involves collecting feedback from stakeholders, such as users and management, to ensure that the feature or update aligns with the business goals.  


The development phase involves testing the feature or update before a major release. Developers use various tools, such as version control systems and bug-tracking software, to manage the development process and ensure that all changes are properly documented. This phase may take several weeks or months, depending on the complexity of the feature or update.  


Once the development phase is complete, the feature or update in the release schedule goes through a/b testing to ensure that it meets the requirements and works as expected. This phase focuses on different types of testing, including unit testing, integration testing, canary testing, A/B testing, and more. Testing is a critical part of the release cycle as it helps to identify and fix bugs before the feature or update is released to the end users.   


The final phase of a production release is deployment. In this phase, the feature or update is released to production. The deployment process may involve various steps, such as deploying the code to servers, configuring the environment, bug fixes, and updating the documentation. Once the automation feature or update is deployed, it is available to the users.  

Release cycle models  

Different release cycle models are employed in software development to manage the release process. Here are three commonly used models: 


Waterfall model

  • A traditional, linear approach 
  • Sequential phases: requirements gathering, design, development, testing, deployment 
  • Emphasizes thorough planning and documentation 
  • Less flexible in accommodating changes 

Agile model: 

  • An iterative and incremental approach 
  • Flexible, adaptive planning 
  • Short iterations/sprints, frequent communication, stakeholder feedback 
  • Ideal for dynamic or evolving requirements 

DevOps model: 

  • Integration of development and operations teams 
  • Focuses on automation and collaboration 
  • Emphasizes continuous integration, delivery, and deployment (CI/CD) 
  • Enables faster and more reliable releases 

Benefits of a release cycle

A release cycle has several benefits for software development teams, including:  

  • Improved quality: A release cycle ensures that the feature enhancements are thoroughly tested before release, which reduces the risk of bugs and improves the quality of the software alongside regular security updates.  
  • Faster time to market: A release cycle helps to streamline the development process, enabling teams to release features and updates more quickly.  
  • Better collaboration: Release notes promote collaboration between developers, testers, and other stakeholders towards achieving milestones for a stable release, which helps to ensure that everyone is working towards the same goals.  

Best practices for a successful release cycle 

To ensure successful feature releases, follow these steps: 

  • Foster clear and open communication among team members, stakeholders, and departments involved in the release cycle. 
  • Conduct regular reviews and retrospectives to evaluate the effectiveness of the release cycle and identify areas for improvement. 
  • Adopt continuous integration and continuous deployment (CI/CD) practices to automate the build, test, and deployment processes, reducing manual errors and enabling faster and more frequent releases. 
  • Set realistic timelines for each phase of the release cycle, considering factors such as project complexity, available resources, and dependencies. 
  • Involve your Quality Assurance (QA) team early in the process to identify and address potential issues before they impact end users. 
  • Document the release process, including steps, dependencies, and configurations, to ensure consistency and facilitate knowledge transfer. 

Minimize risks with Optimizely

A release cycle is an essential part of software development that helps to ensure that new features and updates are delivered to users in a timely and efficient manner. By following a structured pre-release plan and release cycle, development teams can improve the quality of their features, reduce the risk of bugs, and deliver new features and updates more quickly before a feature’s end of life.  

Optimizely feature experimentation minimizes risk in delivery so DevOps can spend more time-solving challenges and less time trying to predict what will happen in production. It can also be deployed as a microservice. Keeping feature flags as a foundation, development teams can safely integrate codes and start building a culture of experimentation

Get started now and start targeting the right audience with the right feature in no time.