Admin Commandment #5: An Awesome Admin should always… be ready for the next release!

And so we continue… What’s the next item on our awesome admin checklist?

Salesforce pushes out new releases three times a year, yes that’s correct a new release drops in our laps not once, but three times each year. These upgrades arrive in the form of the Spring, Summer and Winter releases. Now, since the releases are well managed and tested by Salesforce, it’s entirely possible to coast along letting each release pass without so much as a blink of the eye. But where would the awesomeness be in that?!

Being ready for each release is officially known by Salesforce as Release Readiness and it’s so important that it even has one of the most popular Success Community groups named after it. And the Release Readiness group runs a webinar prior to each release, something that we have been privileged to be involved with for the last three releases. Here we’ll be sharing with you our top ten tips from that series to ensure that you are release-ready!

But first, why should we Awesome Admins be ready for each release?

We have established that Salesforce automatically delivers to our doors a new release three times a year, with on average 150+ features being added, updated and in some cases removed.

That’s an incredible amount of updates to existing features and additions of new features. And it only seems to be increasing: the Winter ‘16 release that is currently live was possibly the biggest release to date, ushering in the new Lightning Experience era as well as the normal dose of feature updates and enhancements.

So for an admin, each release is not only a challenge (hundreds of pages of release notes to stay on top of, new features to assess and test) but also an opportunity (to get ahead of the curve, to enable that new feature that will boost your org and your business processes). And we wouldn’t be awesome admins if we didn’t take on that challenge and seize that opportunity!

And with that, we present to you our ten commandments of release readiness…

1) Thou shalt… know thy release schedule

The first step in being ready for anything is knowing that it’s going to happen and when it’s coming. Salesforce make this easy for us with each release cycle kicking off with an early blog post (like this one) giving you the key dates to watch out for. They include the dates when pre-release orgs are available, when the release notes are out, and when your sandbox and production org will be upgraded. And remember you can view the org maintenance dates on trust.salesforce.com too.

2) Thou shalt… read the release notes

We have been serving up some tough love throughout the entire admin commandments series. That continues here: there’s no excuses for not reading the Release Notes! Yes it’s a big read and maybe you have found out the hard way by downloading then printing them out just how big. But now the best and easiest way to consume the Release Notes is online (like these notes for the Spring ‘16 release – or via the SalesforceA mobile app).

And why is reading the online version preferred? Partly because the contents are vast but online can be searched through by keyword; partly because the release notes can change and using the online version you’re sure to be looking at the latest version; and partly because we need to save the trees!

3) Thou shalt… learn what will impact thy org

Right, information overload – so what strategies can we use to cut through the forest and get to the things that will impact us first? With the online version you have the ability to apply filters to reduce the feature list down. You can filter by: Salesforce Edition, Feature Impact and Product Area.

So start by applying filters for your edition, the products you use and maybe focus on the Enabled For Users feature impact first (more on that to come) – this will cut out the irrelevant features and leave you with a focused list of features to review first. Once you have your head round those, it’s time to review the new features or updates to features which you may not be using currently.

4) Thou shalt… take heed of auto-enabled features

Definitely make use of that Feature Impact filter to drill down into the features that are ‘enabled for users’. These are the ones that will be live for all users on the morning of the release whether you want them or not.

Don’t fear, most of them you will want (think back to the increase in file storage we all got, or the auto-enabling of Google Maps components). But some of them (naming no names, *ahem* Global User Task Notification *ahem*) may be a little peskier. For these features you really need to ensure you understand the feature and its implications fully, and crucially whether you can disable it if required. If you can, you may want to set a reminder to do that when the release hits your production org to give yourself more time to test and plan for it.

5) Thou shalt… learn from the community

We love, love, love the Salesforce community. And without giving too much away, you can expect to read more about it in a future Awesome Admin post. But for now, let’s concentrate on what it can do for us around releases.

Firstly, remember the Release Readiness group is your year-long resource for all information and collaboration around feature adoption no matter what time of year it is.

Secondly, for the releases themselves, keep an eye on www.salesforce.com/newfeatures where you’ll find all relevant information about the upcoming release including one key community resource we particularly want to highlight: the Release Readiness Live broadcasts. This is your opportunity to get early insight into the key new features from the product managers that built them and the community management leaders that engage with customers like you each and every day.

Oh and thirdly, don’t forget the Answers site can be especially useful around release time since when the release lands everyone will be in the same position you are.

6) Thou shalt… get access early

Put simply, the longer you have to test out the new codebase the better prepared for it you’ll be. And there are two ways to get early access and begin your testing.

If you’re on the Enterprise Edition or higher, your sandbox will be upgraded early. This is your chance to test the release and its features within the context of your own configuration. Just pay close attention to the deadlines in play.

The alternative if you want to get access even earlier is to sign up for a pre-release environment. These are available to anyone as a trial and are available from around five weeks before the release. It won’t contain your metadata but it will give you a chance to get your hands on new features as early as possible (even before they are officially announced in the release notes).

7) Thou shalt… test thy customisations

So here we are with arguably the most important step in any release readiness plan! By all means spend time reading about the new release, but the best way to really understand it is to suck it and see. Part of trying it out is obviously testing your own setup and customisations. Nobody wants egg on their face when a bespoke piece of functionality breaks the Monday after the release drops.

Highly customised areas of the system are, at the very least, where you want to be focusing your efforts. So this means anywhere you have used Apex, Visualforce or any of declarative tools like Process Builder. These by nature are complex and have the highest probability of having issues. (Not saying they will, just putting it on the radar).

Next make sure to cast your eyes over any apps installed in your org, both paid and unmanaged free apps which add up overtime and become heavily relied on.

The last and most important thing here: if you discover issues, don’t assume it will be fixed by the time the release hits. Log it with Salesforce support; it’s not about kudos, it’s about ensuring your users and customers continue to be happy.

8) Thou shalt… make thy users care (but only if thou want them to)

In other words manage their expectations very carefully. Here is what we feel is sound advice for handling this. You need to ensure that people know about it if it’s going to affect them, but you don’t want to start a mass panic or alarm bells ringing. I’m pretty sure your boss will want the same!

It’s up to you as the admin or system owner to decide what your users need to know and what they don’t. If it’s some new under the hood Apex enhancement, does the user care how it works? We guess they won’t. But if it’s something that is going to make a difference to how productive they can be as employees – then yes! It might be useful to share some of the features you think could help with a small subset of users, but communicating to an entire user base may not always be required. Business stakeholders, as an example, will probably want to know about marquee features that could improve things within their team.

However this is where want you to rein in the passion and excitement so as not to overload them. Remember we want to manage expectations, keeping them excited about what Salesforce can do for them without biting off more than you or your users can chew in one go.

9) Thou shalt… learn to love the releases

As we mentioned earlier, these releases present you with an opportunity: the opportunity to adopt new features that solve additional use cases for your business. But it’s not just those additional use cases – you should also use the new functionality as a prompt to revisit workarounds you might have build previously. Perhaps a new feature gives you the ability to solve a requirement more elegantly than before.

But the key message from us here is that you should prioritise and control the pace of change. Not every new feature needs to be adopted at once. So don’t rush into it, it’s perfectly OK to keep some in your back pocket for later down the line.

10) Thou shalt… rest on the seventh day

We know after all that you probably want a rest, right? Well, you’re nearly there, but it’s not quite time to be resting back on your laurels just yet. It’s time to be checking in with your users to make sure things are still running smoothly since the release. Giving them some encouragement to channel their feedback back in (whether it’s good or bad), hopefully using Chatter!

So there you have it. Follow these commandments and you’ll be release-ready in no time at all! (Or, more likely, just in time to start thinking about the following release – things move fast in this world!) We’d like to take this opportunity to wish all of you awesome admins a happy new year and a happy new release!

 

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