September 29, 2023

Elevating Reliability in Software: Harnessing Smart Feature Flags for Velocity and Performance

Table of Contents

Key takeaway

Harness smart feature flags boost software reliability by enabling controlled feature rollouts, real-time monitoring, and seamless rollbacks. This approach ensures high velocity and robust performance, making it easier to maintain a smooth user experience and operational resilience.

As digital transformation sweeps across industries, companies are increasingly realizing the critical role of software reliability in meeting their business objectives. Reliable software ensures a smooth and consistent user experience and is the backbone for organizational growth and customer trust. It's about speedy software delivery and providing operational resilience post-deployment.

What exactly are feature flags? Traditionally, they are a framework developers can use to turn specific code paths on or off. You can think of feature flags as extending Continuous Delivery into Continuous Deployment - a way to put changes into production and turn them on in a controlled way later (or hide and remove them in the same way).

At Harness, our feature flags are smart. We give developers more than an on/off toggle of their code path but a means to drive their business and customer outcomes with high velocity and improved performance.

Harness Smart Feature Flags empowers developers to:

  • Use pipelines to release with confidence
  • Easily manage flags with a Git experience
  • Employ automated lifecycle management and cleanup
  • Enforce governance for velocity without risk
  • Access 24/7 service monitoring for all flag changes

The Core of Reliability

Reliability reflects the ability of a software service to meet or exceed user expectations. This includes availability, latency, correctness, and other aspects influencing user experience quality. The stakes are high - poor reliability can negate the most effective software delivery, impacting organizational outcomes. Integrating reliability considerations early into the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) is no longer optional.

Take, for example, our customer case study with Entur. Entur used Harness Smart Feature Flags to gain control and increase deployment frequency as their development teams doubled. Entur increased how often they deploy changes from twice a week to 14 times a day. 

Additionally, they have reduced the failed change rate from 20% to 5%. Moreover, the time it takes to undo changes has been significantly decreased from 2 hours to just 5 minutes. Harness helped the business go faster and be more reliable for customers without choosing one over the other.

The SRE Approach and Its Impact

Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) offers a user-oriented measurement, shared responsibility, and blameless learning, emphasizing a collaborative culture. SRE is not merely about implementing a set of practices; it's about nurturing a culture that promotes continuous learning and adaptation to manage complex, dynamic technology environments.

While marked by setbacks and lessons, the journey toward enhanced reliability ultimately leads to a resilient system. Investment in SRE improves reliability but requires patience and persistence. The key lies in gradual, measured implementation, avoiding the pitfalls of organization-wide overreach.

A single view of important reliability metrics and service level objectives helps teams understand if they are impacting the customer experience.

A Real-world Application: Feature Flags at Play

Imagine a globally recognized e-commerce platform planning to launch a new recommendation algorithm designed to enhance user shopping experiences. After internal testing, everything seems ready. However, the risk associated with rolling it out all at once could be catastrophic if any unforeseen issues arise—leading to potential lost sales and customer trust.

By leveraging smart feature flags, this platform implements a phased rollout. Releasing the new feature to a few users first helps spot problems with performance or user experience immediately. As the release proves stable and effective, the percentage of users experiencing the new feature gradually increases, ensuring reliability and a positive user experience.

This approach safeguards the user experience and empowers the development team with data-driven insights to refine and improve the feature further. It's a win-win and made possible through the strategic use of feature flags.

Empowering Developers with Reliability

Developers wield immense power in today's fast-paced software landscape, where innovation is the heartbeat and user satisfaction is the goal. But alongside innovation, reliability is paramount. By empowering developers with the tools and practices to ensure reliability, we're enhancing user experiences and reinforcing the foundation of business growth.

Reliability isn't an afterthought—it's the cornerstone. Equipping developers with the knowledge and strategies to infuse reliability from the earliest stages of the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) transforms development into a reliability-driven journey. This isn't a shift in isolation; it's a united approach that aligns development, operations, and user satisfaction.

Enter Smart Feature Flags

Reliability is not just a production event; it must be baked into the entire SDLC. Here's where smart feature flags come into the picture. Harness leverages smart feature flags to move fast and ensure exceptional reliability.

Smart feature flags go beyond the traditional "on" or "off" control of features. They enable real-time monitoring of software changes, thus maintaining a constant vigil on reliability metrics. By correlating reliability data (SLIs, SLOs, and burn rates) with feature deployment, developers gain confidence in rolling out features without adversely impacting user experience.

A gif showing the Harness UI feature of continuous reliability monitoring of a feature.

Navigating Complexities with Smart Feature Flags and Adaptive Deployment

In today's fast-paced software delivery environment, multiple teams work simultaneously, creating an intricate web of changes. By providing 24/7 reliability monitoring into a feature flag, we can monitor dependencies and internal consumers of a product, ensuring the change doesn't trigger any collateral damage downstream.

In environments where software alterations happen in real-time, anticipating every potential issue can be challenging. By coupling adaptive deployment with smart feature flags, developers have the agility to adjust feature releases based on real-time feedback dynamically.

If a particular feature shows signs of unreliable software delivery or introduces performance bottlenecks, the feature's rollout can be paused, modified, or even rolled back seamlessly. This not only preserves the integrity of the live environment but also guarantees that the end-users remain shielded from any disruptions or inconsistencies, further enhancing the overall user experience.

The Evolution Towards Autonomous Ecosystems

As we move towards a future powered by autonomous ecosystems, smart feature flags adapt and evolve, scaling and protecting user experience based on changing environments. These adaptive flags help control an ecosystem of customer experience, factoring in reliability, cost, and value.

Reliability is more than a mere system attribute; it's an ethos that guides the entire software development and delivery process. By making reliability an integral part of the SDLC, developers can focus on innovation and speedy delivery, knowing that smart feature flags have their back, ensuring that the customer experience remains top-notch even amid the continuous churn of updates and changes.

With smart feature flags, we're not just aiming for high velocity; we're setting the stage for reliability at speed. So, as your organization steps into the future of software delivery, remember that reliability and speed are not at odds - with the right tools and approaches, they can be two sides of the same coin.

Welcome to a new era of reliability in software - powered by Smart Feature Flags. Sign up for one of our monthly webinars and workshops and create a free forever feature flag account today. Happy coding!

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