Behind the Scenes: The Reason Behind Bitbucket Server's 5-Week Release Cycle

Bitbucket Server (formerly known as Stash) marked a significant turning point for Atlassian Server products by breaking away from the traditional 90-day release cycle. It was one of the most important decisions the team made. Here is why... 

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For context: I worked at Atlassian for 15 years after joining the company as employee #12 in 2004. I was lucky to lead various product teams over the years. Bitbucket Server was one of them, and what a ride that was. I am planning to share a number of stories and learnings from my time at Atlassian over the coming months. 

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In 2011, GitHub had already established itself as the go-to platform for Git cloud hosting, offering a robust Server option with GitHub Enterprise. However, there were inherent limitations in their offering that left room for improvement.

Following Atlassian's acquisition of Bitbucket Cloud in September 2010, we began receiving an increasing number of customer requests for a server solution throughout 2011. We knew time to market was critical. 

On May 1st, 2012, Bitbucket Server was released, a mere six months after development commenced. While this initial release lacked several sought-after features, such as Pull Requests, Search, @mentions, markdown support, SSH support, and permissions, it fulfilled the core requirement of Git repository hosting that customers demanded.

Introducing the 5-Week Release Cycle:

Atlassian had a history of delivering updates to Server products every 90 days, a pace that outperformed industry standards of 6 to 12 months. However, for Bitbucket Server, we knew we had to demonstrate even greater momentum and accelerate feature delivery. To achieve this, we made the bold decision to shorten the release cycle to just 5 weeks.

Initial Concerns and Remarkable Results:

Naturally, concerns arose about whether customers would be willing to upgrade their server instances every 5 weeks. Unlike the cloud environment, server updates did not happen automatically. Nevertheless, this decision proved to be one of the best we made, propelling Bitbucket Server to become the fastest-growing product at Atlassian during that time.

A Cadence of Success: Predictability and Customer Confidence:

And the team delivered, every 5 weeks. 

  • Stash 1.1 shipped on June 19th, delivering SSH support, permissions and more.

  • Stash 1.2 shipped on August 7th, supporting external databases, file search and a plugin ecosystem

  • Stash 1.3 shipped on October 9th (slight delay, but it was worth it), with support for pull requests!

The team's ability to deliver features at an incredible pace, combined with the predictable 5-week release cycle, brought remarkable results. Customers embraced the regularity of updates, with adoption rates exceeding our expectations. One customer expressed their enthusiasm, stating,

Every release feels like Christmas, and I only have to wait 5 weeks for the next one!

This confidence in the team's commitment to frequent updates empowered customers to invest in a product that effectively addressed their core needs, even without all the bells and whistles.

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Lessons Learned: Communication, Predictability, and Fun:

Bitbucket Server's release strategy holds valuable lessons applicable to any product or project:

  1. Great communication is critical: Establishing a strong relationship with your customers relies on effective release communication. It showcases progress, builds trust, and creates recurring touchpoints.

  2. Predictability is important: Regardless of your release frequency, maintaining a predictable cadence gives customers something to look forward to. Much like top podcasts, a consistent schedule fosters anticipation and engagement.

  3. Make the updates fun: Often overlooked, release notes represent an under-utilized marketing opportunity. Injecting personality and making them enjoyable to read for the recipients, whether internal or external, enhances customer engagement.

 

Conclusion:

The successful adoption and growth of Bitbucket Server owe much to its agile release cycles and the lessons learned along the way. By prioritizing customer needs, maintaining clear communication, establishing a predictable cadence, and infusing releases with a sense of excitement, Bitbucket Server set a new standard for customer engagement.

 

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The above is part of what inspired us to build Released - AI Release Notes and Changelogs for Jira. To help companies better engage their customers with release notes.

👉 Check out Released on the Marketplace

💬 Let me know in the comments if you found this article interesting or if you have any questions 👇

 

1 comment

Adam Ahmed June 14, 2023

I learned so many things from that time and from that team. I was working with heroes.

One of them is that "Open company, No bullshit" is a value that works everywhere. And clear and enjoyable release notes on a predictable schedule are a great way to follow it! I hope we can help everyone achieve that with their own products.

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