Feature Management Is Hot — Feature Experimentation Is Just Warming Up
Application development and delivery (AD&D) leaders solve two major software development headaches by using feature management: eliminating complex source code branches and simplifying error-prone release processes. With feature experimentation, product-centric dev teams test new ideas with controlled user populations, compare old and new user experiences to find winning designs, and drive application improvements with insight. Combined, feature management and experimentation (FM&E) provides a one-two punch that truly modernizes software development and delivery practices while forming a stronger partnership between AD&D and product management.
In our recent evaluation of FM&E tools (“The Forrester New Wave™: Feature Management And Experimentation, Q2 2021“), we issued a short survey to better understand how FM&E is being used by AD&D teams. We discovered the following insights from end users:
- When asked the question “How important is feature management to your team’s software development initiatives?” 31% selected “mission critical.” Several commented that using feature management has completely changed the working atmosphere from one of high-stakes release processes rife with stress and error to one where feature release is part of everyday operations.
- When asked the question “How important is feature experimentation, including A/B testing, to your team’s software development initiatives?” only 6% responded “mission critical,” but 43% selected “very important.” As one reference noted, “We are not using experimentation today, but we deem it important as an area to develop in.”
These end-user testimonies demonstrate the value of FM&E tools. They improve both the software delivery and business process by inviting product management to the feature release party as an equal partner. From our end user interviews, we also discovered the following (not so obvious) facts:
- Feature management helps teams with governance and compliance by keeping customer data local to your applications — not passed across the wire to software-as-a-service tools themselves. Several vendors in our evaluation also have regular security audits and are SOC-, GDPR-, and even PCI-compliant.
- Feature management improves developer workplace satisfaction and retention by replacing late-night, high-stakes release processes with low-key workday releases that have much higher success rates.
- Feature experimentation is used by sophisticated, multirole product teams to run side-by-side feature comparisons, use hypothesis-based development practices, and learn from their customers on how to optimize user experiences.
In the end, we discovered that feature management has come a long way since the simple feature flag. Experimentation, though nascent in AD&D, is growing as hypothesis and experimental thinking spreads from pure market insights platforms over to a DevOps discipline. Over time, we expect additional entrants into this tool space as more enterprises adopt FM&E.