Rolling out a new feature or tool to your customers can be a challenge. If you do it right, everyone loves you and the new feature. Do it wrong and you’ll get a flood of angry customer emails headed your way.
The shipping lane
At 37signals, we have what we call “shipping lanes”. When a new feature enters the lane, it means it’s close to shipping so the final rounds of design, QA, etc. start. The size of our team gives us room for two shipping lanes at any time. The support team knows we’ll never be launching more than two features at any time, which makes us all breathe a little easier.
When a feature enters the lane, our QA lead works really closely with all of us on support to keep us informed. Usually there’s at least one support walkthrough where we all visually walk through the new feature (usually in a GoToMeeting or such). From there, all of the support concerns are relayed back to the shipping team so they can make tweaks based on our advice.
A few days out from shipping, we draft up an announcement post. You can check those out here if you’d like to. Every customer automatically gets these inside their account so they can always see the latest info. We take time to explain what the new feature is and how it works. We use the same language and screenshots there for our help pages.
When the shipping day arrives, it goes out to 10% of our customers first. That’ll let us catch any last minute bugs that might have been missed. Once it’s good there, we roll it out to everyone, post the updated help pages, and add the announcement post.
We’ve done most of the Basecamp feature rollouts this way and it works really, really well. The biggest advice I’d give to others is to make use of that shipping lane setup. It helps to make sure the rollout goes smoothly rather than just throwing it out there.
Your team has spent a lot of time on the new feature. This is a time to celebrate their work and give customers a new feature they’ll enjoy using.
What does your team do to prep for a new feature rollout?