How Swiss Re’s Release Management Team halved their support time

Release Manager at SwissRe, Philipp Junghans explains how his team noticed a 50% decrease in calls and emails, after they replaced Excel spreadsheets with Jira and Golive

Last September, I accepted a new mission at SwissRe:
Taking over the Release Management for a program of 12 (very) inter-connected applications.

Our teams were already embracing Agile methodologies:

  • Each application had its own Scrum team
  • 2-week sprints, monthly cross-application release cycles
  • High-level prioritization for the whole program on a quarterly basis
  • All dev teams using Atlassian suite (Jira, Bamboo, Confluence)

Challenge

However, we were facing some difficulties as well:

  • Quite a lot of manual testing, with QA teams spread around the world
  • A limited number of end-to-end Test Environments, creating bottlenecks
  • Many calls and emails about the same kind of questions:
    Is version X.y already available on the UAT environment?
    Why is the SIT Environment down?
    Where can I find the latest version of the Release Plan?
    Why have you changed the planning, again?

People often complained about planning changes because information was not well communicated, but also because they did not understand the complexity our Release Team was dealing with!

After some discussions with our main stakeholders, it appeared that the root cause was a lack of transparency around our Release Planning. Not surprising: it was stored in an Excel spreadsheet:

Excel Timeline for Release Management

Our initial Timeline updated in an Excel Spreadsheet - Full size on click!

This manual process was not only error-prone, but also frustrating when someone locked the file you had to update urgently:

Excel file locked for editing

Pity, she just left for a 3-week holidays...
Let's create a copy and re-share it with the same 250 team members?

Moreover, it became clear that every stakeholder was interested in different pieces of information present on our Timeline. Dev teams were mostly interested in the deployments to non-production environments, QA teams in the testing phases, business in the Go-live dates, etc.

How do we get a single source of truth and provide each stakeholder with the information they need, in real time?

Solution: Team Calendars For Confluence

After a round of discussions, we agreed to replace our Excel spreadsheets with Team Calendars for Confluence. Each Environment category (DEV, TST, SIT, PROD) got a dedicated Calendar.

Confluence Team Calendars for Release Management

Confluence Team Calendars used for Release Management - Full size on click!

It was a revolution - we finally got our single source of truth, accessible live and for everyone! We could show/hide Calendars with the tick-boxes from the right panel and it was even possible to display the Timeline in our Outlook Calendars.

But there were still some requirements not entirely fulfilled:

  • How could we know if the reality was in line with the plan?
  • How could people be notified when new events were scheduled on specific Environments?
  • How could we support the Environment booking process?
  • How could we compare the planning with the reality and understand how to improve for future releases (PIR: Post-Implementation Reviews)?

It became clear that we had to look for a proper Environment Management tool if we wanted to go further in improving our Change and Release Management processes.

Best Solution for Release Management: Golive For Jira

Our first reflex was to look at the Atlassian Marketplace.
That's where we found Golive, the Environment Management Hub for Jira.

In a few hours, we managed to install, configure the tool, and import our Confluence Team Calendars using the Calendar iCal import feature.

Release Timelines

Release Management Timelines with Jira

Release Timeline with Jira and Golive - Full size on click!

Golive Timelines are similar to Team Calendars, with additional advanced features, for instance:

  • Create swimlanes per Environment or per Calendar
    → Easily measure the impacts when planning activities and releases
  • Issue Calendars to display Jira issues (with dates)
    → Very useful for our infra activities that were already using Jira issues
  • Milestones
    → A better way to show our Deployments and Go/NoGo Meetings

When we save a Timeline, it remembers all the settings: lists of selected Calendars, which ones are shown/hidden, timeframe, etc. That way, we can easily share Timelines showing different views for different stakeholders.

Moreover, Golive Timelines can be embedded into Jira Dashboard and Confluence pages - useful for sharing an always-up-to-date plan with the rest of SwissRe.

Release Management with Jira Dashboards

Change & Release Management Dashboard - Full size on click!

Notifications

Before, people often complained about receiving too many emails from our Release Team.

Now with Golive, we could move from a PUSH to a PULL mechanism, where our team members and stakeholders could subscribe to granular notifications (and unsubscribe in a single click!).

For instance, just subscribe to "status change" and "deployments" notifications for the UAT and SIT Environments. That way, you will avoid all non-relevant communications (linked to other activities or other Environments).

Granular Notifications to follow-up on Environment changes

Different types of notification for each Environment

Bamboo Integration

We moved to the next level when we decided to automate the updates of the versions deployed on the Golive Environments.

It was super easy to make this integration - we followed the Bamboo integration video tutorial and only had to write a few lines to create a new task in our deployment script, updating Golive automatically each time a new deployment was executed.

Deployed versions are now updated in real-time in all our Jira and Confluence dashboards:

SwissRe Environment Gadget

Environment Gadget for Jira and Confluence - Full size on click!

And we can easily compare the plan (milestones) to the reality (yellow boxes):

Compare Deployment Logs with Release Plans at SwissRe

Timeline showing Deployments vs Release Plans - Full size on click!

Results

We wanted people in our organization to better understand the complexity we were dealing with.

With Golive, we were able to "decompile" that complexity and thanks to the new Timelines and Dashboards, our stakeholders can identify the reasons of planning changes and the impacts of delaying the activities under their responsibility.

In summary, Golive helped us to:

  • Get a single source of truth for all activities impacting our Environments (instead of spreadsheets, calendars, emails)
  • Define different views of that information, perfectly fitting the needs of each of our stakeholders
  • Connect the plan and the reality: show the Deployments on the Timeline, with an automatic synchronization with Bamboo

We decreased the number of questions to the Release Management Team by at least 50%

The feedback I got from our management and stakeholders was very positive:

  • "Release Management is less a concern than it used to be"
  • "People are able to better understand the complexity we are dealing with"
  • "Planning and reality are available to anyone, there is much less blame game"
  • "We decreased the number of questions/emails to the Release Team by at least 50%"

And we will not stop there!

Our next step is to configure Golive for managing our Environment Booking Requests and aggregating the scope of our Releases. A good topic for a future case study!

Thanks for reading and contact me for any question!

Philipp Junghans


Golive gives you visibility and control over your Releases, Environments and Deployments.

  • save time when looking for environment information: no need to login to several tools
  • avoid environment booking conflicts: no more config issue in the middle of a demo
  • stop being spammed: each user decides what notification he/she wants to receive and can unsubscribe in a click
  • plan environments and release activities faster: use drag-and-drop on a timeline
Southwest Airlines Company
Mercedes-Benz Company
Manulife Financial Corporation is a Canadian multinational insurance company and financial services provider.
Sky Television Company
Barclays Bank

Many leading companies have already chosen Golive for Test Environment Management as it integrates easily with many other DevOps tools.

Check our free evaluation version and our Demo Playground!

More Golive Case Studies

How the largest food company provisions Jenkins instances in less than 10 minutes

Valentin Delaye, DevOps Solution Architect, explains how to build a "Jenkins as a Service" using Jira, Apwide, Kubernetes, Rancher, Jenkins and Terraform. Our leading Swiss Read more