HomeOperations9 Things to Know when Getting Started with Feature Flagging

9 Things to Know when Getting Started with Feature Flagging

Feature flagging is akin to a chef’s tasting menu at a fine dining restaurant. Just as a chef may offer a sneak peek of upcoming dishes or experimental flavors to a select few, feature flagging allows developers to preview and test new features with a limited audience before a full-scale release. It’s like serving a small portion of a new dish to a group of trusted patrons, gathering feedback, and refining the recipe before presenting it to the entire dining room. This approach ensures that only the most polished and well-received features make it to the main menu, enhancing the overall dining experience for all customers. 

Ben Rometsch, co-founder and CEO of Flagsmith, recently joined me in a recent podcast to highlight the advantages of feature flagging in establishing release predictability. This post is inspired by that conversation, but is mostly my own opinion. 

Leveraging the full potential of feature flagging requires an understanding of its nuances. When adopting feature flagging, keep the following nine points in mind:

1. Minimize Risk 

Feature flagging is essential for lowering risk as it gives teams control over feature enhancements. Before a major release, teams can evaluate performance, register feedback, and address any concerns by releasing intended features gradually to a smaller audience. This progressive strategy ensures seamless deployment by reducing the impact of errors or malfunctions.

2. Untangle Release and Deployment 

One of the main benefits of feature flagging is the capacity to separate releases and deployments. Teams can send code changes to production with confidence as end users aren’t exposed to them immediately. Further, timeline management for new functionality is simplified by turning them on or off using feature flags. This makes the release process more controlled and smooth.

3. Go beyond if/else

Adding feature flags to an application requires more than just if/else expressions. A strong feature flagging system provides dynamic flagging decisions based on several aspects, including user traits, environment configurations, or performance tapping. Using this dynamic method, developers may increase flexibility by customizing feature availability based on predetermined circumstances.

4. Manage feature flags at scale

Feature flagging processes are more organized and transparent when explicit naming rules are established, code changes are documented, and obsolete flags are removed after release. Regular adherence to these guidelines ensures a systematic and effective flag management procedure.

Managing feature flags at scale can become difficult as projects become more complex and span various different technologies and components. If appropriate procedures and instruments are not in place, inefficiencies might result from badly managed flags. Long-term feature flagging success requires investing in scalable solutions with centralized flag management, version control, and monitoring capabilities.

5. Go Beyond the Basic Use Cases

Beyond controlled rollout, feature flagging has many more uses. Feature flags allow teams to introduce and test new functionality – from feature experimentation and staggered releases to user permission provisions and A/B testing. To test and gather customer input, an e-commerce platform could, for instance, employ feature flags to selectively expose a new checkout process to a group of consumers such as Beta users.

6. A/B Test Variants

Feature flagging is a useful tool to assess the effectiveness of various feature variants. One method it enables is A/B testing, where two almost-identical versions of the same features are tested simultaneously. One of them emerges the winner based on usage or performance metrics. It helps gain insightful information to support decision-making and improve UX by segmenting features and tracking important metrics.

7. Bolster Continuous Delivery

Software upgrades can be released quickly and iteratively by incorporating feature flagging into a continuous delivery pipeline. Teams may confidently deploy changes using feature flags to govern feature visibility and behavior. They can simply roll back or adapt features based on real-time feedback. This iterative process promotes a culture of ongoing development and adaptability to user requirements.

8. Choose the Right Tooling

Developers can create, monitor, and deploy flags more efficiently by using the infrastructure provided by different feature flag management tools. To improve the flag management experience, platforms like CloudBees Feature Management, LaunchDarkly, and Split Software include capabilities like flag versioning, targeting rules, and performance statistics. To get the most out of feature flagging, the team must select the appropriate solution that meets their needs and process.

9. It Takes a Cultural Shift

Adopting feature flagging necessitates a change in mindset toward agile methods, data-driven judgment, and cross-team cooperation. To fully benefit from feature flagging, an attitude that promotes experimentation, feedback, and ongoing learning is best. Feature flagging principles align with an innovative and flexible culture fostered by encouraging openness, collaboration, and information exchange within the firm.

Flagsmith’s Approach to Feature Flagging

A feature flag and remote configuration service, Flagsmith, which features both an open-source project and a commercial version, offers feature flagging as a service. It assists teams in optimizing their software development workflows and streamlining their feature flagging procedures. 

Rometsch comments that they’ve seen tremendous uptick in financial services and other highly regulated industries where on-premise is still a big factor. Flagsmith’s on-prem implementation is big draw, and is something that other players in the space do not offer as of now. Apart from security and compliance, the on-prem version also brings with it huge cost savings without compromising on the long list of features. 

Teams can simplify their settings and lower the chance of new features breaking things in production using feature flagging. Using blue-green, canary, and other phased deployment techniques, teams can use feature flags to progressively roll out new features to a small audience, evaluate their functionality, and then release them to a larger audience. Flagsmith offers materials, documentation, and feature flag management solutions to assist teams in implementing these tools and transitioning from internal to external flag management. 

Feature flagging is a versatile and powerful technique that empowers teams to release software confidently, optimize user experiences, and drive continuous improvement. By understanding the intricacies of feature flagging, implementing best practices, and leveraging Flagsmith’s offerings, teams can enhance their feature flagging and development capabilities, streamline their development processes, and optimize the release of new features to effectively meet user needs and stay competitive. If you manage a fleet of on-prem applications, you should pay attention to Flagsmith’s offerings.

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