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Release Notes For Software Product Updates: Templates and Details

 As a subscription model, the software has reached new heights in personal and business domains. Gone are the days when people could buy a program off the shelf (or get it commissioned according to needs, in the case of large organizations) – and the model has many benefits for both end users and development companies

Software Product Updates

Many large organizations still rely on their on-premise model to safeguard their data, but that comes with the extra cost of maintaining and upgrading costly hardware. The advent of cloud and access to faster network connections has made it cost-effective for organizations to embrace digital transformation, and it also opens up avenues where they can benefit from the efforts of multiple developers all over the world (through add-ons for ERPs in case of businesses, app stores for general consumers).

For development companies, this translates to working on the same product or solution for longer durations and ensuring that it stays updated with the changing needs. The customers are used to regular updates – be it for their phone OS, favorite gaming app, or the performance management plugin for their ERP, release notes templates can help to streamline the process of updating the customer. Incorporating the latest trends and needs is a must for SaaS vendors and (app developers), who otherwise would run the risk of being taken over by other upstarts in the market.

These constant updates to the software, also known as 'releases,' are thoroughly strategized, planned, and worked towards – but users don't realize that any significant change has been made. Or worse still – they can't understand how to make sense of the new features and might get frustrated (enough to ditch the solution too). That's why communicating the shipped changes assumes high importance, second only to creating the features. Release notes are designed for this specific purpose.

What are product release notes? 

Release notes are a written record of what has changed in the product or solution. It is created to be shared with the stakeholders to understand the need for the changes and how they impact the overall functionality. Details about new features, bug fixes, updates to existing features, sunsetting an option – release notes contain information about every part of the work and improvements made to the product. They can keep the customers engaged and give them a glimpse of future enhancements.

Product release notes improve user experience and show users that the developers are working on solving their issues. Regular updates assure users that the development team is working on the product and can persuade frustrated customers to stay by making them aware of bug fixes and future developments. Communicating recent updates gives an impression to the users that they are always working hard to improve the product. Product release notes also contain updates about features suggested by customers and show them that their feedback is valued. 

They also have details about features available only to certain premium tiers, and highlighting benefits in these cases can attract lower-tier users to upgrade. 

Essential sections in product release notes

Like any 'technical' document, release notes have a universally followed structure. The contents differ based on the lifecycle of the product – Release notes during launches should be more detailed and educative. In contrast, notes for something like iteration would mainly have bullet points that don't need much elaboration. Significant upgrades and major bug fixes get more space, and so do the essential new features that should be highlighted. Screenshots or GIFs showing actions can be used to catch the users' attention and help them use new features. Regular fixes and improvements come next and receive mentions on how they were encountered and how the solution was created. Future updates share the next steps in the product roadmap and give an overview of what to expect from loyal customers. 

Automating release notes to improve efficiency and collaboration

The 'release' part of the release notes has caused untold sleepless nights to project/product managers – they are in charge of creating them, after all. It is already established that release notes are not just a record of what happened but the reasons for it. What will happen in the future – managers can't just collect comments and descriptions from their correspondences and create a release notes document. Many companies treat release notes as an afterthought. The 'release notes' becomes a column that needs to be checked during the product development and end up being full of technical jargon – while losing a golden opportunity to keep customers excited about their investment in the product. Well-written release notes make the customers aware of new features and remind them of the product's value.

Well-crafted release notes are better for the internal teams and, ultimately, the customer. Using them effectively will re-engage users, build excitement around the entire product, and extend the reach to new audiences. Here are some tips on writing the best release notes—and examples of excellent release notes to help inspire.

Structure/template for a product update

Product updates, as mentioned previously, are a great way to interact with the audience – depending on the tone of voice the organization is taking, the notes can have some flair too. Even the 'flashy' updates (or release notes, for that matter) follow a structure. Here are some of the everyday items that are found in informative and engaging release notes. This list is by no means exhaustive, and not all the sections mentioned are applicable for every instance. If there were no bugs (Praise the day!), it wouldn't make sense to include a bug fixes section (although adding a .gif of a moving bug is proven effective sometimes).

● Mentioning the build & version identifiers – the number of dots here is usually inversely proportional to the update/release note size.

● Instructions on installation or updating the product

● Introducing new features

● Performance enhancements were made, along with details of features impacted.

●Bug fixes, along with their severity level (and replication details for internal versions)

● Known issues, if any.

● Advice for the QA team (in internal versions)

● Documentation links

● Next release date, details on what to expect, the probable date

Making release notes an integral part of the software update process and generating quality release notes is only the first step: Taking the time to write the notes in the language necessary and exporting them in different formats for use on off-platform applications closely follows. Updates should also be easily accessible and well-organized, as they act as a product development repository over a more extended period. 

Automating the process with ARN by Amoeboids, a Jira add-on, enables product managers to generate release notes on their own in various formats while focusing on the communication part of the update process. The Jira-native app can generate customizable release notes in multiple forms like email, PDF, Confluence, JSON, and HTML, among others. By pulling data from Jira issues and custom fields, ARN also allows in-app notification integrations. These can be triggered via a webhook from the continuous integration system. Different versions of the same release notes can be sent to stakeholders before a release and customers after a getaway. Well-executed release notes keep everyone involved with the product on the same page.

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