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By Sujay Pawar, founder of CartFlows, which is the easiest-to-use sales funnel builder.

Software development is a never-ending process. Every product has its own specific challenges, and releasing a major update is one of them.

Achieving the right balance between new features, bug fixes, performance improvements and backward compatibility requires careful planning and an outlook that’s not easily compromised.

After countless hours of development and many major releases, I and my team understand what it takes to successfully release a major update.

Here are eight lessons I’ve learned that you can learn from, too.

1. Take backward compatibility very seriously.

Backward compatibility is the ability of software to work with older versions of itself. Releasing a major new update to existing software can disrupt customers using older versions of the software. We want to avoid that as much as possible.

There are several ways you can prepare for backward compatibility.

One is to have a plan in place to deprecate certain features and functionality in the new version of your software. Alternatively, you can create a hybrid version that is backward compatible with older versions.

Finally, test as much as possible before the release.

2. Make efforts to find beta testers.

Search for beta testers in each of your channels and communities as much as you can. Be very open-minded while doing this. You might find them by posting in forums, contacting your clients and partners or by reaching out on social media.

The best way to find them is to ask specific questions to people already using your software.

When you find beta testers, you must give them a clear message about their responsibilities. For example, tell them they’ll need to help you find bugs in the software or provide feedback on how they would like the product to look. Tell them what has changed in the beta release and what needs to be tested.

3. Show a notice of a major release.

When preparing to release a major update, ensure you have the release mentioned as an announcement on your platform. For instance, if you work with WordPress, you can mention the release on the admin dashboard. For SaaS products, you can show that on your software. This way, your users will be prepared for the major release and could contact support just in case they need any kind of assistance.

You could also announce the update on your social media channels and website. It’s useful to have a changelog section on your product website. This not only serves as an announcement getting users prepared but also as an opportunity to announce and promote your release when it’s officially released.

4. Do not show negative notices too prominently.

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If you release a major update and users experience issues with it, you need to ensure that you don’t show negative notifications. I understand that you’d like to keep your users informed of possible issues that may arise during a major update using warnings, but be careful how you phrase them. Having the notifications put across subtly can help ensure you don’t scare users away.

The use of words can make a huge difference here. For instance, while “deprecated” sounds scary, “legacy” is much less scary.

5. Staggered updates are important. Get this built and ship it.

Want to release an update in stages? Consider staged rollouts! These allow you to stagger an update in increments while monitoring its performance. You can also specify the percentage of websites you want to roll out the new version to.

This way, you can minimize the risk of installing the latest version that could have bugs and conflicts with other applications or maybe even UI issues. This allows your users to have a much more stable version of the release.

6. Train your support team well in advance.

Carefully plan your support team’s training without impacting their current work and performance.

Plan your training and consider the following:

  • How much training does the support staff need?
  • Are they new to supporting the latest update?
  • Do they need refresher training?
  • What are the risks that your team should be aware of?
  • What should they do if they notice a ticket related to an update?

Additionally, it makes sense to have a dedicated developer as a point of contact for the support team to escalate issues if required.

7. Have a rollback functionality.

Updates can cause issues for some customers. To keep them happy, you could give users the option to roll back updates.

Rolling back an update can be done manually in the case of a small number of users. However, to avoid problems, you’ve got to have rollback functionality in place. This should be able to restore the previous version of your software seamlessly and without losing data.

You could also create multiple versions of your software, and users can choose which version they want to use.

8. Stay active in support channels and communities.

Finally, be involved in support channels and communities when releasing a major update. Actively engage with users. Respond to them as quickly as you can. Empathize with them and always go above and beyond to show them they matter.

Address any issues in your latest update. Show them your human side, and explain how you made changes so it won’t happen again. And apologize emphatically for messing up!

Releasing a major software update can be challenging, but with some preparation and help from your users, it can go quite smoothly. The key to a successful update is to test new features with your users thoroughly.

Your customers will appreciate your software’s new features and improvements and will be happy to use it. However, what they won’t appreciate are too many bug fixes and performance issues. Be sure you are actively addressing these issues and releasing bug fixes as soon as possible.

These can ensure that your customers are happy with your updates and will use your software for a long time to come.

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