Communication, Release Notes

Release Notes : Definition, Overview and Importance

As technology evolves at a rapid pace, there’s a growing need to establish fluid and regular communication with users. With the adoption of Scrum & Kanban processes and domination of the SaaS mode, release frequency is higher than ever. But your product is only relevant if users know about its updated features and benefits. A vital tool for software development teams, release notes are used to communicate new features, improvements, and bug fixes to users and help them understand the advantages. They also assist marketing teams to refresh the product’s sales template and set the agenda for future improvements for the development and QA teams. To fully understand the importance of release notes, let’s dig deeper to know how they are created, who prepares them, and their essential elements. 

What are software release notes?

When the development team makes some changes to the application and hands it over to QA. Do they inform the QA team what has changed? What needs testing? What are the known issues?

Now extend the same analogy to production releases. Are the customers informed about enhancements? Are users informed of a new feature (or features) & bug fixes? The answer would be an emphatic YES.

Teams might disseminate the above information through different channels such as email, blog posts, in-app notifications, etc. But their content is worthy of being called ‘product release notes’.

Importance of Release Notes in Product Management

In many organizations, release notes are an afterthought and treated as just an extension of the terms & conditions and privacy policy statements. However, they have an important role to play in product management and impact the overall product experience. When leveraged as a communication tool, they have the power to elevate engagement and nurture customer loyalty. Here are some reasons why release notes should rank high on your list of priorities:

Importance of Release Notes In Product Management

1. They support the process of creating user guides and training materials and enhance the overall user experience.

2. They bring both internal and external stakeholders up to speed with the latest changes in a product.

3. The technical details (if included) in release notes such as test automation results, build time, build failures and environment responsiveness help keep track of metrics.

4. Release notes can also help track statistics such as number of bugs fixed, new bugs introduced, story points released, estimated time vs actual time, etc. These stats are crucial in optimizing the entire release management process.

5. With the software maturing, release notes help in documenting the product journey and life cycle.

By showcasing your development efforts in your latest releases, they help you stand out from the competition. 

Who Should Write Release Notes?

The important task of writing release notes could be assigned to an individual or even a dedicated team, depending on the size of the organization. In smaller organizations, the product manager takes on this crucial task and must have a thorough understanding of technical issues and the skill to present them simply. 

The product or development team is often entrusted with the important task of putting together release notes. They have in-depth knowledge of the software and are best equipped to communicate the changes in a lucid and user-friendly format. They can also use release management tools to smoothly manage the process of software release and delivery. Yet, release communications are not just the technical team’s responsibility, and the marketing team and customer support should also pitch in to create more personalized offerings for users.

For more detailed take, read Who should write release notes for best results!

What should go in Release Notes?

There is no simple answer to this question and it will vary depending on your target audience. How technically conversant are they? What is their level of engagement with your software? The tone of your communication and depth of information will be decided by these factors. You should also consider if your software is on-premise, a desktop-only app, or if it works in the cloud. It’s tough to create a list that fits all requirements, but here’s a look at some common elements that every good release note may include: 

  • Build & version identifiers
  • Installation & update instructions (if applicable)
  • Advice for the QA team (for internal stakeholders)
  • Featured items (for external stakeholders)
  • New features section
  • Number of votes
  • Improvements
  • Impacted features
  • Bug fixes
  • Priority & severity
  • Known issues
  • Product screenshots
  • Documentation links
  • Tentative next release date
  • A snapshot of what to expect in the next release

What should be the Format Style of Release Notes? 

Release notes come in several forms, formats, and sizes and every organization will have its preference. However, what remains common is the practice to organize information in a clear and structured fashion. Let’s look at the most common sections of release notes:

Most Common Sections of Release Notes

Header – Product name, release number, and date of release 

Overview – An introduction with a summary of features highlighting the new features.

Issue Summary – List of bugs/issues resolved with a short description of what was done, and a description of how to reproduce the bugs. 

Resolution – List of changes or enhancements made to address the issues or requests.

Impacts – Changes in prerequisites, configuration, hardware, etc. are listed here. They double up as action items for stakeholders that support the release in question.

How to Write Release Notes in Confluence

Whether it’s the product manager or a dedicated technical team that is putting together release notes, they can use Confluence to gather and organize the information related to each release and use it to communicate the relevant changes. Before any work begins on release notes, a decision needs to be made about their placement within the Confluence site. You can allocate a separate space within Confluence to create this documentation and then create a ‘Release Notes’ page to file all the relevant documentation.

To set up the naming convention for your release notes, you can choose a ‘Product name- YY-MM-DD’ format. In case your product has several versions, you can opt for a naming convention such as ‘Product name – Version number’. Choose a version that suits your organization’s requirements and maintain consistency. Here are the steps to write release notes in Confluence:

  1. Go to your project and select Releases 
  2. Select the Version depending on your choice of release notes 
  3. Select Release notes
  4. Under the Create in section, select Confluence
  5. Select the Confluence space from the drop-down menu or parent page depending on where you want to save your release notes
  6. Select Formatting options to choose the fields for your release notes. 
  7. Select Create in Confluence to create your release notes. 
  8. A link to your release notes in Confluence will be saved in the Related Work section in your version. 

How to use Amoeboids Automated Release Notes 

With the high frequency of releases, it can be a challenge for customers to keep track of them. They have to constantly track version changes that may have any other dependencies. Automated Release Notes (ARN) from Amoeboids can resolve this issue by helping them grasp these changes with the help of dedicated release pages and in-app widgets. This also facilitates the recording of customer feedback on release notes and helps organizations gauge their perception. It takes just once to set up the pages and widgets that keep customers constantly updated via automation.

Rules can be set to trigger the generation of release notes and ensure the most relevant people or groups of people can quickly access them. ARN is proficient in generating reports based on any rule such as email chains among team members or a pdf for client review. You can also use ARN to integrate webhooks with other tools.

Leveraging AI to Write Release Notes

Putting together release notes is a significant yet time-consuming and repetitive task. It involves aggregating and analyzing data from multiple sources and can take up a lot of time and bandwidth. With the advent of language models-based AI tools such as ChatGPT and Bard, release note generation can be faster and easier. Generative AI tools can also revise the release notes to match the target audience as well as the brand voice and tone. Translation of release notes into multiple languages is also simpler with the help of these tools. 

However, ChatGPT cannot completely take over release notes generation and these tools must be used with caution. Due to issues like information inaccuracy and privacy, AI tools are best used to come up with the first draft of release notes. The final version that is released must be vetted and finalized by your product manager or technical team.

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