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Release Management and Customer Experience at Snapchat

In January 2019, T-Mobile Enterprise Data Solutions hosted a lunch and learn event featuring Snapchat executive, Tammarrian Rogers, and release manager, Claire Reinert. They presented how, in three years, they transformed their release management processes and culture which directly improved their customer experience.

Founded in 2011, Snapchat grew at a fast pace and gained over 150 million global daily users across Android and iOS platforms. The release team experienced growing pains, such as the increasing pace of delivery to sustain customers adoption rate, rapid growth leading to misalignment between teams, cross-functional dependencies, release trains coordination and increased number of defects.

Reinert joined Snapchat in 2015 and Rogers in 2017. Together, they first developed a release management strategy and culture aligned with Snapchat core values and centered on a growth mindset. Once they analyzed the root causes of their teams’ challenges, they designed three core principles:

Alignment Matters: It was important to ensure that the release management team aligns not just with engineering or tooling, but partners very closely with every group within the organization: product groups, design, security and legal, customer operations, etc. They created a clear mechanism for getting buy-in on their processes and quality and feedback across the organization.

Know your Signals: They developed a customer-centric, value-driven and prioritized approach to solving problems based on telemetry. Relying on customers' data, they identified application quality health criteria and critical areas that they wanted to protect, such as the core user flow, battery consumption, bandwidth support, application size. They started analyzing crashes and defects in their context and in 2017, with their leadership’s support, they developed a data driven customer experience performance program that analyzes data across each steps of the end to end release process.

Unleash Creativity: Snapchat and the release team created a culture based on a growth mindset. Continuously learning on the job and being okay to trying new ways of working and learning from these experiments became key components of their cultural success. Reinert reminded the audience that initiatives, creativity, collaboration as well as being kind and supportive are more valued at Snapchat than college engineering degrees.

In 2017, they then moved away from annual performance reviews and adopted an Objectives and Key Results (OKR) model and a data driven approach to continuously monitoring and measuring their release performance health. Year over year, in collaboration and alignment with their executives, the release team refined their OKR to be more precise, measurable and achievable. Rogers and Reinert shared few examples of their 2019 OKRs with the audience:

  • Zero regression
  • Release trains leave the station on time
  • Decouple feature release from application release
  • No engineer left behind: everyone is trained to understand the process and share accountability
  • Weekly application releases

The release team developed their own mission statement to rally under the same goal and objectives:

The release Team at Snap enables the rapid and reliable delivery of high quality, feature rich software to internal and external customers. We create processes that promote operational resilience and support fast development cycles. We partner with engineering teams to build tools and automation that increase efficiency and allow the Release Team to focus on areas requiring human judgement.

Rogers and Reinert developed tactics for building operational resilience and for ensuring that teams can sustain or increase their delivery speed in a very controlled way without compromising on customer quality. The teams defined operational resilience as being the ability to anticipate, prepare for and prevent breaking issues and the ability to respond quickly to breaking issues, and drive effective mitigating strategies. They implemented tactics, shared daily by all team members, to support their goals:

  • Clearly define areas of ownership
  • Partner closely with all cross-functional teams within the organization, including design, legal, communication, customer operations and engineering
  • Major decisions regarding process changes can’t be made in a vacuum, and should have buy-I from members of the team that will be directly impacted
  • Process must be audited iteratively to assess relevance, and discarded quickly when no longer relevant

In three years, Rogers and Reinert saw a steady reduction in defects and hot fixes releases, combined with an increase in feature deployment. They stabilized the release infrastructure, increased the number of application releases per iterations, radically improved their customers' experience, and improved the culture and work-life balance of their teams. At the end of 2018, the annual employee engagement survey informed that the quality assurance and release teams feel that they can make mistakes, they are not reprimanded for these, they can be creative, think and work in different ways, and that they can safely learn from these outcomes. During this presentation, Rogers and Reinert repeated that it’s not the software and tooling that enabled them to be successful, but the processes they introduced and the culture they foster.

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