Dark Launches

Letting a small group of interested users test features before others

delivery-measure-and-learn loop position

No. People



2-10 weeks




Product Owner, DevOps Team

This practice is part of: Product Ownership.

What is it?

A continuous delivery practice, which allows you to release new features only to a group of users and invisible to others. The Dark Launch enables the team to understand the real life impact of new features, which may be unexpected for users in the sense that no users asked for them. These type of release allows the team to only expose a part of the user population to the new feature and carefully observe and measure the user interaction. It is one of the last steps for validating a product/market fit for new features.

Why use it?

This is a feedback loop practice, which allows the team to get prompt feedback from real life use of their changes.

The Dark Launch provides safety by limiting the impact of new features to only a subset of the users. It allows the team to build better understanding of the impact created by the new feature and the ways the users would interact with it. Often novel ways of interaction can surface, ways which were not initially envisioned by the team. This can be both positive and negative and the limited availability allows the team to draw conclusions from the real life use and make a decision on if the feature will be made widely available, further developed or discontinued.

Feature toggles are an enabling practice, which allows for Dark Launches to be implemented in existing products.

Dark Launch is similar to A/B Testing in the sense that it is only exposing a part of the population to the new feature, but unlike A/B Testing, the new feature can and is typically a completely new feature and not just a small tweak of an existing one. The purpose is different too as A/B Testing is looking to improve the product performance in terms of getting business outcomes from an existing feature, while the Dark Launch is often exploring the possibility to extend the market by adding new features.

Dark Launch is similar to the Canary Release as they both expose only part of the population to a feature. The Dark Launch is focused on understanding the way users will react and use the new feature, while Canary Release is really focused on the technical performance of the changed product or the individual feature (if using it can be isolated in the architecture).

Canary Deployment

Blue/Green Deployment

Continuous Delivery

Further information

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Image credit: Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

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