How to Enhance Phased Rollouts with Feature Flags

When releasing a new feature, we recommend that you never roll it out to your entire user base at once. Instead, it’s considered a best practice to roll out the new feature to segments of users at a time. Feature flags make it easier than ever to conduct phased rollouts, analyze the results, and enable continuous delivery.

Which rollout strategy should I use?

Oftentimes, users may think of a new feature release as simply toggling a switch on. In reality, developers use different strategies to ensure a seamless user experience and minimize risks. There are three key methods of feature rollouts. We’ll explore the pros and cons of each.

Big Bang Rollouts

Big bang rollouts consist of releasing a new feature or switching over to a new system all at once. In this one and done strategy, updates are live everywhere as of a certain day and time.

Parallel Rollouts

In the parallel rollout method, both the new system and the legacy system are run simultaneously, or in parallel. Doing this provides a “safety net” of sorts, giving your team the opportunity to learn the new tool at their own pace, without losing access to the old system they’re accustomed to.

Phased Rollouts

Phased rollouts consist of releasing a feature to segments of your user base instead of everyone at once. This provides ample time for testing in a real-world environment without the risk of moving your entire userbase over at once. While phased rollouts take longer than other methods, they provide the least amount of risk since only a segment of your users is exposed at a time and you can roll back updates if anything goes wrong.

What are the benefits of phased rollouts?

Phased rollouts are essential for developers today. They allow developers to release on their schedule while testing in production and enabling continuous delivery. Even though the deployment method can take longer, the benefits far outweigh this concern.

Release at Your Pace

Some features necessitate additional capacity, either in hardware, software, or support. Phased rollouts let you scale at a pace that’s comfortable for you and your team.

Test in Production

Software bugs or application issues can leave users with a negative experience. By releasing to a small percentage of your users and slowly increasing that percentage, you can test code in production and see that a feature is working properly before fully releasing it.

Understand the User Experience

With phased rollouts, you’re able to take a closer look at how different segments of your users interact with your application and the features within it. With each new segment you release to, it’s essential to monitor key metrics and determine your users’ experiences.

More Accurate Planning

By rolling out a new feature in phases, you’re able to more accurately plan from a business perspective. For example, after rolling out to your first user segment, you’ll have a better idea of capacity and bandwidth requirements of your new feature. That way, you’re able to ensure your hardware is ready to support rolling out to the rest of your users.

Enable Continuous Delivery

Continuous delivery is a strategy of rapid testing and deployment that involves small updates executed regularly. Continuous delivery enables faster growth by reducing barriers and minimizing risk.

What are best practices for phased rollouts?

For many organizations, phased rollouts are best for deploying application updates. In order to see the aforementioned benefits and avoid potential concerns, keep these best practices in mind.

Determine Your Deployment Path

Know in advance how you plan to deploy your feature flags. Typically, it’s a good idea to start with the internal team working on the feature, then roll out to the rest of your team after that. Once your entire internal team has confirmed the feature has no issues, you can begin rolling out to your beta testers, then early adopters, and finally the rest of your users.

Simplify Your User Segments

It’s important to not get overly complex with segmenting your user groups. Keep things simple when you’re starting out to avoid confusion and ensure optimal results. This will also make it easier to analyze feature performance.

Make Small Adjustments

Don’t make enormous application changes in your feature flags. Ensure updates are worth your team’s effort, but not so substantial they entirely alter how your application is used.

Ensure You Have Enough Traffic

In order to fully experience the value of phased rollouts, you need to get substantial traffic through the feature. Your segment size and userbase percentage will depend on how much volume your application sees. For A/B testing, you’ll need enough traffic to determine statistical significance. When testing an API, you need enough traffic to see that it scales properly. If you don’t have enough traffic, you can establish beta customers and use qualitative feedback through surveys and interviews.

Track Key Metrics

As you roll out new features, track key user metrics such as engagement, time spent in the application, and bounce rate. Be sure to track metrics specific to the new feature as well. You should always have baseline metrics from before you rolled out an update that you can use for comparison purposes.

Consider the Impact of Different App Experiences

Be wary of issues that may arise when different users have different experiences. Specifically, this can cause confusion for users discussing their experience as well as your support team. It’s a good idea to keep your audience in mind when phasing in new updates and don’t overhaul your entire application for one public segment and not another.

Enable phased rollouts with Flagsmith.

You can use Flagsmith to define your user segments and control features against those segments. Flagsmith integrates with your existing tech stack, making it easy to analyze the performance of new features you roll out. Revamp your phased deployment strategy with Flagsmith — get started for free.

Ship features with confidence. Flagsmith lets you manage features flags and remote config across web, mobile and server side applications.