There is a deep, fundamental relationship between the velocity of software development and the frequency of releases. I hope this relationship will be studied in detail and everything about it understood, but the basics are clear: with minor qualifications, the more frequently you release your software, the more rapidly it will advance by every relevant measure. It will advance not only in feature/function, but in quality!
Mainstream thinking on Releases and Development Speed
The relationship I propose, "more releases = more features & better quality," is counter to the vast majority of mainstream thinking in software. In fact, in those terms, it's counter-intuitive. Here's why.
Think about software development in the simplest possible terms. You've got define it, plan it, do it, check it and release it. Five basic steps, which apply across a wide variety of process methodologies. Each step takes some time, right? After you do the work, you've got to check it and then release it. And you can't just check what you did -- you also have to make sure you didn't break anything that used to work, the "keep it right" part of quality, which grows ever larger as your software evolves.
This "check and release" process is a kind of necessary evil, the way most people think of it, and as quality failures hit you, it tends to get bigger and longer. A clever project manager (an oxymoron if there ever was one, except when intended ironically, as it is here) will naturally think, gee, let's go from 6 releases a year to 4. By cutting the overhead of the two extra releases, we'll be able to buy some development time back.
Yup, that really is how people think! Fewer releases = more time to do other stuff = we get more done.
A Real-life Example
A good example of a company that illustrates the proper relationship between release frequency and development speed is RebelMouse. RebelMouse is a next-generation, socially-fueled publishing platform. It can be used to turn boring-appearing blogs like BlackLiszt from this:
to this, a snapshot from my RebelMouse page:
Increasingly, they are used by big-media places, for example for Glee:
and the recently released real-time publishing curation features were used for The Following to create a social firestorm:
RebelMouse -- the Facts
The CTO/founder of RebelMouse is Paul Berry. Here he is below explaining something to his fellow nerds at the nerdfest I held a while ago.
RebelMouse has grown like crazy in its short life. Currently there are about 280,000 websites powered by RebelMouse, and that number is growing over 100% month-to-month. Their sites have over 2 million unique visitors a month.
Does RebelMouse have just a handful of releases a year? Duhhh. Try over 10 a day. A day! And there are more than 30 developers, who are not all in the same location.
There is a lot to be said on this subject. For now, I'm just going to keep it to a single simple but important observation.
The relationship between development speed and frequency of releases does not hold up at a fine-grained level; so, for example, given two organizations, one of which has a release every 10 weeks and the other every 11 weeks, any difference in speed will be random. Similarly, if the two organizations release 5 times a day and 10 times a day, any difference in speed will also be random. But at a coarse-grained level, I observe large differences. HUGE differences.
RebelMouse is far from the only example, but they show the relationship between development speed and release fequency very nicely. They move much more quickly than most development organizations of their size -- in fact, they manage to push hundreds of releases in the time most organizations would have been able to limp through an "agile" (heh) development cycle or two.