by Chris Dowling

That killer feature you’ve been working on is almost ready. That's right, almost. Almost ready can be more frustrating than not ready, because when something is not ready, at least you know where you stand. With almost ready, you're not sure if you're going to make the release schedule, or almost make it.

At a start-up with a digital product, there are always going to be situations where a feature is scheduled to be released, but isn’t quite ready. Whether some of the functionality hasn’t been fully completed, or there are known bugs arising that will impact end users, the business and technology teams will be faced with a decision on whether to release the update or push the deadline. It is important to consider several factors when making this decision, and taking the following steps will provide a sound basis to make the right call.

Articulate and communicate known issues

Product releases are rarely perfect, and even with the most rigorous QA and UAT there is always some level of risk when pushing product updates live. The first step is for the technology team to outline and understand the known issues and work with the business to define which are showstoppers. A quick prioritization of the critical nature of each issue and a high-level estimate on the level of effort for the high-priority issues will make these discussions more productive.

Weigh the impact to the end user

When determining whether an issue is a showstopper, the business and tech team will need to work together to define the universe of end users that will be impacted, and to understand exactly how the user experience will be impacted for that user base. What is the exact user flow that will be negatively affected? How common is the use case? How does the use case relate to the critical flows of the product experience?  Are the core flows of the experience compromised? The answers to these questions will help identify whether the issue is a fringe case or part of the core user experience. When quantifying the overall universe impacted by a known issue, it is important to understand the platforms and product versions that are impacted and to pull data on the actual number or percentage of users — ideally being able to distinguish active users in the process. Also to be considered is the estimated adoption of the updated version by the current user base or new users before it can be addressed in a future release.

Weigh the exposure in the field

The next thing to consider is the how long the version will be live in the field until the issue can be resolved in an upcoming release. Understanding how long it will take for the development team to resolve and test the issue, and when the next opportunity is for a full or patch release will provide this answer. Delays with certain platforms and channels — such as an iOS mobile app which depends on turnaround time for the iTunes Store review and approval process — must also be taken into consideration.

Weigh the impact to the technology road map

One of the critical risks of holding up a release is the impact it will have on the delivery of the product development roadmap. If a release is held up for the further development, testing and resolution of a showstopper issue, time and resources will be diverted away from the next release, causing a ripple effect and putting future delivery dates in jeopardy. Even if it’s just one issue that needs to be resolved, QA will still need to functionally test the entire feature set of the release again and perform a full regression test to ensure that fixes don’t impact other product areas. The business and technology team need to understand this ripple effect and weigh it accordingly.

Make an educated decision and take calculated risk

At the end of the day, a start-up needs to get a minimum viable product into the marketplace as quickly as possible, and continue to roll out the features and functionality that will allow it to compete, differentiate, and position the company for success. When it comes to product releases, the ability to separate acceptable known issues from showstoppers that hold up a release will be critical to long-term success. In the short-term, done is better than perfect — especially in an agile environment where gathering learnings from the field and applying them quickly to future updates should be the norm. Having the process in place to make educated decisions and take calculated risks during the release process will lead to a better product faster down the road.