The Importance of Slow Rollouts in Product Development

David Pearson

Sr. Engineering Manager at Square


Releasing Features Too Fast

Years ago, I was working on an incredibly fast-paced product. We were continuously launching new features, week after week. In software development, introducing a new feature to a set of users is called a "feature rollout." We introduced our new features to everyone at once— rolling out to 100% of the users. The major problem with this approach was getting a lot of feedback that we couldn't process and address.

We'd go over a piece of feedback, fix it, and iterate. But because of the sheer mass of all the new features, we had difficulty catching up. So we couldn't adequately assess the features. We couldn't identify all the bugs and our users' thoughts about the functionalities.

Introducing Features With a Slow Rollout

As someone working in tech, you will have assumptions about how your product should or shouldn’t work. It's wise to remember that sometimes you may be wrong (and at some point, this is very likely). So I can't emphasize the importance of testing and early feedback enough.

My advice for engineering managers is to release features slowly. Start by introducing new functionalities to a small percentage of users. My go-to is between 1 to 5% of users initially, then increase when you have confidence in your feature. That is what we call a "slow rollout." Do this for every feature that you launch. It enables you to get a workable amount of feedback while not disrupting your users too much.  

Additionally, before defining a new functionality, do some user research with specifically targeted users. Take the time and opportunity to learn from your responses without impacting your entire user base.

By adopting this phased approach, you reduce the risk of failure drastically. As an engineering leader, you can take in the user feedback and manage your product on a more consistent basis with the help of your partners. Rather than overworking on shaky foundations, your developers can build on tested, approved, and needed features. Overall, a slow rollout will enable your team to execute smoother product launches with less effort and more confidence.

User Feedback Is Gold

  • Don't assume that you know what your users want. You may get it right a tiny percentage of the time, but usually, it doesn't work. Be aware of your own biases.
  • Conduct thorough testing and research to better understand your product performance and adoption.
  • Have a slow rollout for every functionality you plan to launch to reduce the risk of error and wrong assumptions.

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David Pearson

Sr. Engineering Manager at Square

Engineering LeadershipFeedback Techniques

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