Product managers live in a high-speed world and are always focused on releasing the most impactful features in the shortest amount of time. Since users have grown accustomed to regular UI updates and bug fixes completed in near real time, this frenetic pace at which product managers work will only increase.
The process of pushing out new features or software fixes can be very stressful on product managers, and the one thing they crave to keep their sanity and ensure a successful release is control. Luckily, that’s exactly what feature flags provide.
Dialing Up Feature Flags
At their core, feature flags give development teams the ability to turn features on and off without deploying new code. Think of them as dials in the cloud. When the dial is attached to any feature in a product–whether a new one or an old one–it controls who sees it, who has access to it and how quickly it is delivered to an entire customer base.
Feature flags let organizations break the tyranny of the Thursday night release by segmenting it into smaller bits to control exposure and enable a continuous release motion. You might start by turning on a feature to only internal users or beta testers so you can test in production to make sure nothing has been missed. From there, you have the freedom to ramp up the feature to your customers gradually before going to 100% availability.
With this controlled exposure, development teams can lessen the panic and anxiety around the weekly release schedule. Having the ability to completely turn off features means feature flags also increase application stability and remove the need for hotfixes. It’s less often necessary to assemble a war room if there is a problem when you can simply turn off the feature in seconds. By working feature flags into the release process, teams take control of the who, what and when in terms of releases. They can also dictate types of users, demographics, locations and scale the release of the new feature.
Feature Flags and Product Managers
Outside of the DevOps team, feature flags can also be really powerful for product managers. Historically, the release of a new feature meant product managers had to coordinate with cross-functional teams to ensure the release was executed successfully. This meant making sure marketing was ready to publish a blog post about the feature, the sales team knew how to use and sell the new feature, and the product marketing team had documentation prepared for how the feature set works. Of course, all of this had to be perfectly synchronized with the engineers’ timeline for releasing the feature.
With feature flags, product managers now essentially have the keys to the kingdom. It gives them the power to turn the feature on for some or all of their customers without waiting for engineers to complete their next deploy. Not having to coordinate that extra piece of the schedule gives a lot of power and time back to the product manager.
A Deeper Look at Customer Feedback
Another aspect of a product manager’s job is collecting feedback. They need to be able to answer questions related to business KPIs, such as “How is this feature performing for my customers?,” “Are customers able to do the action the feature is intended to perform?” and “Are we generating more revenue from the feature?” Feature flags can also help in this area.
As product managers ramp up a feature, they are simultaneously shortening the feedback cycle. Since feature flags allow for segmentation, where one customer group sees one set of features and another customer group sees a different set of features, and since key metrics can be captured into separate buckets for each group, product managers can now run controlled experiments as part of the release cycle. Seeing KPIs aligned with the different customer groups helps them understand which features are performing the most successfully.
Creating the Ideal Product Roadmap
As product managers embrace usage measurement tied to feature rollouts, entire teams can better align with agile best practices to continuously push out the smallest incremental set of new features. By understanding the performance of every feature, you’ll be better equipped to iterate and refine your ideal product roadmap.