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De-stressing mobile releases and making it easier to onboard new engineers

Mobile is at the forefront of the customer experience for ClassPass. With customers almost exclusively using Classpass’ iOS and Android apps to access health and fitness providers in over 30 countries, the quality and timeliness of their app releases are of utmost importance.

The ClassPass mobile team had made significant improvements in the past but still struggled with inefficiencies in their release process. Too much time was lost to coordination and manual tasks, and onboarding new team members was a cumbersome process. With so much of the company’s growth riding on the app, the cost of “just okay” releases really added up.

“There was lots of fragmentation and context switching: making sure marketing has given us the right media, making sure QA knows when it’s their turn to step up to the plate to run regression testing, communicating with PMs.”

— Sanjay Thakur, Mobile Lead, ClassPass

From ad-hoc releases to a predictable, weekly release train

A few years back, the mobile team was shipping new versions of the app on a very ad-hoc basis — whenever a new feature or bug fix was ready to go live. As the team matured, they managed to make big strides in moving away from sporadic, feature-based releases towards a more regular cadence, ultimately settling on a weekly release train, across iOS and Android. 

Having an agreed-upon go-to-market schedule has allowed the team to align priorities across their increasingly complex and scaling mobile organization. However, despite maintaining a stable cadence, the team still felt that there was plenty of room for improvement around their release processes.

From a centralized team to feature-based squads

As the app continued to grow in size and complexity, the ClassPass team was increasingly under pressure to introduce process improvements that would allow them to scale their mobile practice. They all felt it was time to have a stronger focus on the product, so they decided to graduate from a single, centralized team to a multi-vertical mobile organization. 

The transition allowed the different verticals to work on multiple aspects of the product at the same time, independently of each other. But, while the squad-based team structure enabled the team to scale faster, it wasn’t without its drawbacks: moving into squads also introduced new issues, particularly around communication and coordination overhead across the distributed team.

As Sanjay Thakur, Mobile Lead explained:

“Releases became more difficult as we moved to squads and needed to coordinate across more people. Our squads operate independently, but we definitely still needed cross-team collaboration to be efficient.”

Reducing communication overhead in a distributed team

One of the underlying causes of the team’s collaboration-related difficulties was that they lacked a shared space to access crucial information about the product and releases. This led to a lack of transparency, especially at key handover points, which made it difficult for the team to progress from one step to the next. For example, things like going from a new Release Candidate build becoming available, to getting it in QA’s hands and getting regression testing started, or getting a testing outcome from QA in front of PMs and engineers for triaging, were not as straightforward as they could have been.

“We used to have a very fragmented process. If someone jumped in to run a release, it was all really ad hoc. The process wasn’t well defined, they would have to wrangle PMs, marketing and QA, and there were a lot of unknowns.”

When the ClassPass team started using Runway to coordinate and automate their release process, what immediately made a huge difference was that the solution integrated their existing toolset into one single dashboard. It now acts as a single source of truth for the team, pulling in all relevant information and surfacing everything they need to know about their mobile releases.

Here's how the release dashboard worked:

This means that getting updates on the progress of a release is now a matter of checking one browser tab instead of ten. Additionally, team members also receive proactive Slack notifications upon major milestones, checks completed, as well as every time it’s their turn to act during each release cycle, making the communication overhead around releases a thing of the past.

Smoother onboarding for on-call release captains 

Another challenge was that working in a distributed team led to an increasingly complex onboarding process. To avoid having to boost their headcount and in an effort to democratize the release process, the ClassPass team alternated the role of the release manager, so team members, including recent hires, take turns in running the release. This meant that each cycle, the on-call release captain had to onboard and learn everything to be able to lead the process, which had also become increasingly complex as the team scaled. Understandably, preparing new engineers to manage the process was quickly becoming a bottleneck.

“Getting new hires up to speed to lead a release was difficult and involved a lot of hand-holding. They had to shadow engineers who were more familiar with the release process, and this took up other people’s time.”

What complicated matters further was that on-call release captains also had to spend long hours every week looking for release-related documentation, and chasing down members of the team to make sure that releases are kept under control. 

After introducing Runway to their mobile development practice, the ClassPass team began seeing improvements both in terms of onboarding and fragmentation. Besides using it to coordinate their release process, Runway also serves as a knowledge base, where they can directly record and review specific tasks and notes to ensure that nothing gets lost in translation while transitioning away from old spreadsheets of to-dos and manual status checks. 

With Runway, onboarding new team members and getting them comfortable with release duties has been a breeze, and even newcomers with less mobile engineering experience have been able to jump in and lead releases with minimal support.

Using Runway to manage releases

Introducing Runway to their mobile development practice has proved to be a game-changer for the ClassPass team. They’ve streamlined their release process with a single source of truth and a centralized hub for recording and reviewing tasks, reducing the risk of miscommunication and errors. The ease of onboarding new team members with Runway has allowed for more flexibility and smooth transitions within the team, resulting in improved overall productivity and efficiency.

To learn more about how ClassPass uses Runway to deliver high-quality mobile products, check out their customer story.

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Release better with Runway.

Runway integrates with all the tools you’re already using to level-up your release coordination and automation, from kickoff to release to rollout. No more cat-herding, spreadsheets, or steady drip of manual busywork.

Release better with Runway.

Runway integrates with all the tools you’re already using to level-up your release coordination and automation, from kickoff to release to rollout. No more cat-herding, spreadsheets, or steady drip of manual busywork.

Don’t have a CI/CD pipeline for your mobile app yet? Struggling with a flaky one?

Try Runway Quickstart CI/CD to quickly autogenerate an end-to-end workflow for major CI/CD providers.

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Give Build Distro a try! Sign up for Runway and see it in action for yourself.

Release better with Runway.

What if you could get the functionality you're looking for, without needing to use the ASC API at all? Runway offers you this — and more — right out-of-the-box, with no maintenance required.