I’ve been pretty busy the last year ensuring the success of a pretty large pilot for an exciting new, consumer facing, retail product. I’ve been trying to unlearn my habits of the past to see how I can pragmatically apply my skills to this new product team. Recently I’ve dusted off my release note skills.
At first, in an early start up phase (series A or B) formalities can actually bog down the needs of the business. The first priority is execution then it’s documentation. I’ve operated in this fashion at other start ups in my past and it can annoy the engineering team and design teams (at times), but I strongly believe I chose the right battles in the early stages of said startups.
Writing requirements for software deliverables each day/week is more important than announcing to the broader group about new features vs explaining the value. When 6 months is not a guaranteed runway, some things such as release notes are simply not a priority. Specifically because everyone internally is so aware of the urgent business needs (family-style) you can swiftly communicate amongst each other what is going on.
Fast track a few months later you might find yourself with a very good problem to have which is high velocity output of the team and the number of clients/users/customers and/or stakeholders multiplies on you as a product manager.
This is where unlearning is no longer something to consider, and applying past experience, good scalable habits and best practices come into play for me.
Here are a few things I keep in mind when working on release notes or important announcements:
- 🤔 Think about the release note value before development starts
- 💪🏽 Identify your most important audience for each release
- 🧠 Find the most pragmatic approach for communication (KISS)
- 🐦 Pretend each feature is a tweet (brevity)
Think about the release note value before development starts
Many people think about the Amazon style press release as a means of articulating the marketable excitement and value of a product or feature. I on the other hand, as an avid mobile user, get excited at the release notes section of app updates when it includes something of value to me.
When prioritizing my backlog I ask myself “Which release note would make me tap the install button if it were a mobile app?”.
As a product manager I should be able to easily determine the one liner “release note” that means the most to the customers, clients and/or revenue.
Identify your most important audience for each release
Not all releases are created equal, and so your release note communication shouldn’t be identical every time either.
You should question whether a simple email slack or teams chat will suffice.
I’ve made releases to where the value is extremely high internally and only and external stakeholders would not care as much or would assume that the change would be part of the existing product offering. In that case, an internal wiki update, demo meeting, blast email or group chat method would suffice.
In larger organizations, I’ve been a part of collaborating with a larger marketing team that hires an editor to draft up a copy that will resonate with the personas and users the marketing team is striving to get attention from. They typically also cater the message and different methods depending on the audience so their distribution audience may vary each time. Your upcoming release may unlock new potential customers/clients that had previous objections due to the lack of said feature(s) that you are about to push. In this case I’ve collaborated with the marketing team on how to best talk directly to those past objections. #WereAllInSales
Find the most pragmatic approach for communication
Well identifying the audience you should fairly quickly identify the most effective method of communicating to the audience. I used to work in healthcare and quite honestly, fax machines are still a very useful method of communicating to providers and healthcare staff about updates and changes that are relevant to them. Don’t knock old traditional means of communication if the open rate is high and the means of sending the message is low cost to you. I would first recommend using the product itself as a means of communication if possible. If that doesn’t capture the full audience, get pragmatic from there.
Pretend each feature is a tweet
Twitter’s character limit is a good rule of thumb to get just enough “meaty info” in, but short enough to not lose your attention.
The worst release notes are those that don’t describe the value at all…avoid generalizations. You’re not doing any justice to your dev team, sales team or overall company by doing this. If you’re trying to stay alive and get off the ground…I can understand to an extent. Although, try to respect the hustle, and avoid being lazy. You may have had UI improvements that would make me curious to check out the app…but your generalization dropped the ball and your users will know this too.
The best release notes are those that describe the feature, the scenario associated with the feature or fix, and possibly give you guidance on how to make use of it. Hands down this example above is spot on with articulating the value of this latest release!
I hope these tips are useful to you and if you’d like to reach out to me directly, you can also find me on LinkedIn and Twitter.