Review Environments FAQ: Get to know the newest feature on Spaceship's product roadmap

Tim Dorr
CTO and Founder

At Spaceship, we’re dedicated to improving the software delivery process. We’re building a first-of-its-kind delivery platform to help organizations get faster feedback, realize more opportunities to get things right and conduct more time and cost-efficient testing.

To that end, I’m excited to share some of the most commonly asked questions (and answers!) about one of the most critical features on our product roadmap: Review Environments.

What are Review Environments?

Review Environments let you set up a temporary environment to run your application separate from everything else. Essentially, they allow you to create a separate, private copy of your application that runs a new version of code so that you can test and evaluate certain features and get feedback from collaborators (and potentially even a special group of customers) before any new features make their way to production.

For example, Review Environments allow designers to look at how a new feature functions when in use, testers to look for bugs, product owners to confirm the new feature brings the product in the right direction and so on. Critically, Review Environments create a safe area to run this kind of evaluation without affecting production customers.

Two of the most important defining characteristics of Review Environments are that they are (1) separate and private and (2) short lived, although they do not need to have a specific end date.

How are Review Environments different from staging environments?

In theory, Review Environments might sound a lot like staging environments, which are fairly common in today’s development world; however, the two are actually quite different.

The biggest difference between Review Environments and staging environments is that a staging environment is a contested resource. If you have one staging environment but three people running QA, only one of those resources can use the staging environment for testing at a given time. As a result, you immediately have a queue of people waiting that can lead to a backlog.

With Review Environments, everyone can get their own environment at the same time without any interference with one another. The ability to spin up multiple, completely separate Review Environments at once provides immediate benefits of scale for organizations, since adding another headcount to the QA team won’t require any additional testing resources (beyond the basic laptop and training). This makes Review Environments a great tool for scaling testing teams.

Finally, while you can have multiple staging environments at once, getting those stood up requires additional resources. In contrast, you can stand up (and spin down) new Review Environments automatically as new changes come into play, which provides significantly more flexibility.

Can Review Environments simplify testing and feedback for large feature sets?

Yes! Simplifying testing and feedback for large feature sets is one of the biggest benefits of using Review Environments.

Specifically, Review Environments are ideal for testing fundamental features that are too large to be gated behind a feature flag. In these cases, you can use a review environment to get a contextual view of what you’re building and even hand it off to select, trusted customers to confirm that it matches their expectations.

This type of access not only gives you an opportunity to get customer feedback quickly, but it also lets product managers watch how real customers interact with the feature. In turn, watching that fully unguided customer experience can help product owners discover new behaviors and learn about the product and your users in an entirely new context. Customers will always think very differently from your team, so letting them “be themselves” and use the product in their own way presents a powerful opportunity to discover new behaviors and use cases.

Ultimately, with this kind of testing and feedback mechanism in place, when the feature does go live, you’ll be a lot closer to the desired end state than you would have been if you hadn’t done any testing or only very limited, private testing.

What are the most critical outcomes Review Environments power for development teams?

The most critical outcomes of Review Environments are enhanced visibility across development teams and increased collaboration to reduce delivery times.

In terms of visibility, if you have two or more development teams working independently and at their own pace, it becomes very hard to know what the final result will look like when everything comes together. This makes it helpful to have checkpoints to see how everything works together while it’s still in progress so that developers gain context on how the feature they’re building fits in with the greater whole of the product. Review Environments are a powerful tool to provide that visibility and context by creating a space where multiple teams can easily bring their work together for a short period of time.

In terms of collaboration, Review Environments enable developers and testers to work together in a single place rather than the typical hand-off cycle in which developers build something, send it to QA to test, receive feedback and make updates accordingly and then repeat that process until the feature is ready for production. With Review Environments, developers and testers can work in the same environment to see what the other is seeing, make changes and then determine if those changes fixed the problem – all in a matter of minutes. This setup dramatically shortens cycle times during feature development by eliminating bureaucracy and the need to simply wait around for a response.

How do Review Environments benefit QA teams?

As noted above, Review Environments make it easy to scale QA resources thanks to the ability to automatically spin up new Review Environments. They also help improve collaboration with developers by allowing both teams to work together in a single space and eliminating hand-offs.

Equally as notable, Review Environments make for a much more seamless testing experience compared to the status quo of testing locally. Today, many QA teams test locally on their own hardware, and the process of getting the correct version of the product up and running in that local environment can be quite cumbersome. Additionally, those local environments are never the same as production, and those differences mean there’s always a risk of not seeing a bug until the update moves to production, at which point it’s much harder to fix.

With Review Environments, QA teams can simply visit a link and start testing. Not only does this approach save time and effort compared to setting up a local environment, but it also ensures that the testing environment is always an exact copy of what’s in production at any given time to cut down on the risk of not catching bugs due to environmental differences.

We are excited about the promise of Review Environments and we hope you are too

Review Environments are a unique feature that we at Spaceship view as critical for growth stage companies and beyond. Specifically, we’re excited about the promise of Review Environments to unlock significant value for software development and QA teams, including:

As a result of this potential, Review Environments are critical to the Spaceship product roadmap, and we’re actively working to get this into the hands of development teams everywhere.

Interested in learning more about what makes Spaceship so unique and how you can take advantage of powerful development tools like Review Environments? Contact us today to get started.

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