Speed Your Agency’s Software Deployments in 6 Easy Steps

July 10, 2023

Jim Dodson
Public Sector Account Executive - LaunchDarkly

Slow, bottlenecked, and often archaic release methods challenge most government agency software delivery teams. But enterprise feature management can help your agency achieve faster releases with less risk.

Enterprise feature management provides teams with total control over application features, fine-grain release targeting, and detailed audit logs. It starts with feature flags, a powerful tool that allows your development teams to turn features on or off without requiring a code change or deployment. They are a modern solution to traditional hard-coded boolean flags custom-built for each app. With an enterprise feature management platform, you can use a pre-set feature flag enterprise framework to define and operate a simple and seamless experience. This delivers a host of benefits that, among others, dramatically streamlines and accelerates software delivery. It also empowers teams to roll out new functionality gradually and selectively rather than all at once. And, your agency can “dark launch” a feature in production, reducing dependencies on expensive and custom staging environments.

Here are six steps that government agencies can take to get started with LaunchDarkly Federal, the only FedRAMP-authorized feature management platform. These steps will help you understand how to use feature management for high-speed, low-risk software releases of legacy and new applications:

1. Put in place the LaunchDarkly SDK to enable feature flagging

LaunchDarkly’s Software Development Kits (SDKs) allow your developers to implement and share feature flags quickly and easily across software applications. They provide an easy way to connect new and existing applications to the LaunchDarkly SaaS platform. Simply include your programming language-specific LaunchDarkly SDK into your application to get started. The SDK initializes to a specific environment, manages default values and targeting contexts, handles any connectivity issues, and listens for feature status and rule changes. SDKs provide the support for real-time application updates without the need to deploy new code.

2. Identify your environment(s)

In traditional release motions, government agencies identify and set up numerous development, testing, and production environments. Not only is each environment often expensive, but running a release through so many gates can be a significant challenge for resource-strapped teams. It is almost impossible to simulate a production level environment in staging and so when you release to production, you are testing in production anyways. Why not do it safely with granular targeting to reduce risk? With an enterprise feature management solution, you can reduce the number of environments and focus more on safely and securely testing in production.

3. Target, or even micro-target, your release

The next step is determining exactly where you will release individual features, and when. With feature flags, your development teams can release features in a highly customized way. By creating targeting rules, teams can easily target individual releases to a subset of users, resources, or even infrastructure, before making them widely available to all end-users. It’s possible to even micro-target a single user.

Targeting makes it simple to progressively release a new feature to a QA team or to project sponsors for feedback. The granular control over features and release targeting that LaunchDarkly Federal provides will enable more control than traditional blue/green deployments alone.

4. Flip a switch, and release whenever you want

With enterprise feature management, your development teams can separate deployment and release processes. Engineering teams can deploy code, and non-engineering teams can trigger the release with a simple flip of the switch. Decoupling these processes reduces the risk of failure and allows teams to release new features quickly and efficiently. Your development teams can keep progressing on their software development projects and release new features at the best time for their program or department. And, enterprise feature management also allows your project and program teams to develop, test, and deploy features using custom workflows with enterprise-level management capabilities.

By using low-risk continuous integration/continuous development (CI/CD) development processes with incident resolution times of less than 200ms, teams can improve developer productivity and reduce the time it takes to release new features to production.

5. Quickly disable features if issues or errors occur

In the event of an issue or error, teams need to be able to quickly disable features to avoid any issues affecting the application in production. Issues could range from something major such as security vulnerabilities to minor usability and cosmetic problems. With traditional processes, a team would have to roll back to a previous release losing everything they just deployed or take down an entire application to address issues or errors. However, with enterprise feature management solutions, teams can quickly disable the individual problematic feature leaving the rest of the application unchanged. Instead of the lengthy and cumbersome rollback and redeployment processes, this limits the impact to the application with zero downtime. DevSecOps teams would then typically perform a “patch forward” for the fix.

6. Track the release with detailed analytics

Using analytics, monitoring tools, and processes helps guarantee that your software meets government guidelines and agency policies. Using enterprise feature management, your agency can gather detailed audit logs and analytics to inform your decision-making and improve software delivery processes across your mission-critical programs.

Following these six simple steps can help you shrink your agency’s release time from years and months, to days and hours, just like it did for the Centers for Medicare (CMS). Using LaunchDarkly and the six steps above, CMS went from one launch once per quarter, to completing six launches within a single day to support a global rollout.

Feature management is a powerful DevSecOps tool that can truly accelerate the delivery of transformative software. With detailed control over features, release targeting, and detailed audit logs, your agency can reduce risk and deliver software at the speed of the commercial world.

Download our eBook to learn more about LaunchDarkly, and view our our public sector webinar to learn more about DevSecOps best practices.