Weekly release notes

A story about breaking a habit

We recently began publishing weekly release notes in our Knowledge Base. Each week we post a list of Features & Improvements and Bugfixes that have gone live on our customers' sites. The list will capture everything we release, from the big to the small, from the really cool to the kinda mundane, from the hotshot new feature to the fix for that dumb ol' bug.

We haven't been very consistent with release notes over the past year. If you checked the dates, you'd be forgiven if you thought we hadn't done anything to Populi between March 2012 and April 2013. Of course, that's not the case. We've been very busy (and we remain so). But we've let detailed release notes fall by the wayside.

That happened because we changed how we develop and release new stuff. We used to save up a pile of things and dump them out onto Populi's servers during the wee hours of the night, all at once. This lent itself well to big blog posts and release announcements in the Knowledge Base. But now we develop, test, and release features and fixes individually*—it's a much better system that lets us be more agile and responsive in our development and support. But, it doesn't lend itself to the big announcement too well—after all, who wants a million posts about individual bugfixes?

For whatever reason, that notion of the Big Announcement stood in the way of actual communication for about a year. Something dumb like that shouldn't get in the way of getting the work done, but that's what it did. One day early in April, however, I (the writer) had a DUH moment: the Big Announcement isn't the only way to communicate about releases. So I started compiling the week's releases in a digest post in the Knowledge Base. No need for a big to-do: all our customers need is a regular update about what's new and what's been fixed. Small, quick posts: problem solved.

The takeaway from all this relates to something we wrote awhile back...

...software (like any tool) creates habits in its users—especially software that makes you do too much work. These “habits” aren’t limited to individual users, either: sometimes, entire schools shape policies and institutional workflows around the limits of what their old system could do.

Populi sometimes disrupts how a school runs itself because schools have adapted to their old software. And, it turns out, we did things a certain way because of how our old software "trained" us to inform customers about new releases. But our new development protocol obviated the need for the old "big-announcement" strategy. It was a minor disruption, but one that nonetheless affected our transparency and communication as a company.

And as it happens, the solution was incredibly simple: stop thinking in the old ruts.

* Do you like technical explanations? Here's what we used to do, and here's what we do now...