Release Management and That New Car Smell

March 31, 2021

Happiness is the smell of a new car; there – I said it.  Breathe deep – that smell carries the ‘I have made it’ pride of hard work and there is nothing quite like it.  By that standard, it may seem strange to parallel a new car to Release Management – it was for me when a friend explained it that way – but it is actually more than a metaphor.  Let’s take a drive.

Release Management, simply defined, is the oversight, testing, and deployment of a new software release.  There is lots of jargon in that simple definition so, think of it like this instead: Most likely, you currently have a car – but let’s say it’s time for a new one.  When you get to the dealer, you expect to still see models with four wheels, doors, steering wheel, windows, lights, and so on.  It isn’t that the new car will be totally and completely different from your current vehicle.  Rather, it is about the new buttons, the new Wi-Fi functionality, the new tint for the sunroof, the better gas mileage, and the like.  It is still a car – it is just an upgraded model from the one you own now.  Release Management is identical when considering your procurement platform.

It isn’t that your platform is going to be upended with a new release and no longer be a procurement software.  Rather, it is about the new features now available, the improved functionality, and the streamlined interface. 

Just like getting a new car, you do need to research the new features and functions – what is going to change, what is going to be improved, what won’t be in the new model.  When it comes a new software release, this means getting the release notes the moment they are published and then preparing for the move into your Test Instance; and eventually, into Production.   The end-to-end process typically takes 8-10 weeks with appropriate resourcing of no less than two people dedicated to this work.  

To ensure everything is extracted from the release notes, your next step should be an assessment of impact.  This is similar to making decisions around the new car – to leverage or not to leverage all of the new bells and whistles that this model offers.  The assessment between business use and the new features/functions coming in the release ensures you know the road ahead and can plan for the trip.

Even in understanding the new model, what good is that without a test drive?  Half the fun of buying a new car is the test drive after all.  For the new software release, we need a test drive as well – step-by-step validation that the platform is performing as expected.  The testing includes all of the new features and functions, naturally.  The key is testing that your normal business is unimpacted by the upgrade – often called ‘regression testing’.  These tests provide must-have information in order to complete a successful transition to the new release.

With the review of new features/functions, the assessment of impact to your business, and the road test of current process with the new flair, you can properly support the roll out to your users.

It is your users, after all, that are going to be behind the wheel.  We don’t want them to have ‘sticker shock’ when faced with the changes.  They have been driving the current model for a while now and are comfortable.  So, going through all of the steps you would with a new car with your new platform features and functions means you can ensure your users have the information needed to be successful in adopting the new bells and whistles.  We want them not only to continue using as they have been, but also increase their adoption of the new additions chosen for your platform.  It is important that they feel like their new platform is not just as good as their current model, but even better.

That feeling of ‘better’ comes from being well trained on the new features and functions.  This training should include how the upgrade works for the platform, as well as the value of using it for the business.  Just rolling up with a ‘new car’ is not as exciting when the steering is on the opposite side and no one explained how ‘normal’ that is. So, plan accordingly – use the window of time between the roll out to your Test instance and the roll out to Production to do your testing, build the training materials, and prepare the companywide announcements for the changes and what they mean.

At the end of the day, is the new release going to be ‘oh so different’ than your current software version?  Probably not dramatically.  Yes, a new this or that; yes, something has gone away, something has been replaced.  A car is a car after all – 4 wheels, doors, windows, and a sweet sound system.  So, it isn’t about preparing for the world upending; rather, it is that you want your users to drive off the lot with their new release feeling confident, cool, and comfortable.

By: Kelly “KC” Carpenter, Head of Procurement Operations