We started this series by defining the difference between a Smartsheet System Admin and a Solution Admin, key domains Solution Admins must master to achieve Operational Excellence, challenges they face in those domains, and practical solutions that can be implemented to overcome those obstacles.
Part 6: Releasing Enhancements to a Smartsheet Solution
Rolling out updates and enhancements without disrupting ongoing projects.
Mitigate disruption when updating your Smartsheet solution by saving changes in a separate admin area, testing in a staging environment, tracking updates with a checklist, and deploying changes during off-peak times to minimize impact on end users, especially in areas without easy staging methods like premium apps.
As with most software applications, a Smartsheet solution is likely to receive feedback, change requests, or ideas for improvements. Therefore, it is essential for a Solution Admin to anticipate and be prepared for such requests. Without a system in place to centralize, review, prioritize, and address feedback from multiple stakeholders, collating and responding to the requests can become a cumbersome, fatiguing, and overwhelming task. Therefore, it is crucial to have a mechanism to manage and address the feedback efficiently to keep the end-users engaged and productive.
To make changes to your Smartsheet solution without disrupting end users, you can follow these steps. First, identify the sheet or objects you plan to change. Then, save them as new in an area that only solution admins have access to. Ideate, design, test, and apply the changes in this separate “staging” area, and keep track of the final update being made in a checklist after testing has been completed. Then, use the checklist to reference when deploying the updates to the actual Smartsheet environment in use by end users. The checklist can also be used to estimate the amount of time it may take to apply the change to the full environment. Plan updates accordingly for off-peak time when end users aren’t in their Smartsheet solution so that their work isn’t being disrupted. Note that not all areas of Smartsheet have an easy method to copy for staging (i.e., premium apps). However, by testing and planning where applicable, you can mitigate the risk of detrimentally disrupting end-user experience in the solution as much as possible.
Now that we have identified the roadblocks that will inevitably become a reality, let's look at some practical solutions that can be implemented to improve how Solution Admins release enhancements to a Smartsheet solution.
5-Step Action Plan for Smooth Release of Smartsheet Solution Enhancements:
Step 1: Plan and Document Changes with Precision:
Identify and Document Planned Design Changes: Create a detailed inventory of the objects or workflows planned for updates and proposed design changes. Use Smartsheet, wireframes, or visual diagrams to document existing states and planned changes.
Collaborate and Align Team: To ensure everyone involved in implementing modifications is on the same page, it's important to share your documentation with team members, gather feedback, and iterate designs until everyone agrees. Using proof-of-concept designs helps to ensure that everyone is envisioning the same thing, and it prevents wasting time and effort on updates that all parties weren't clear on.
Step 2: Build a Dedicated Staging Environment:
Mirror the Solution Production Environment: Replicate the relevant portions of your production environment in a separate "staging" area for testing and development. This could be as simple as saving a workspace as new and dedicating the copy as a dedicated Smartsheet sandbox to test making updates on.
Apply and Refine Changes: Implement and test proposed updates within the staging environment. This allows you to identify and address any potential issues before impacting live users.
Step 3: Streamline Deployment with a Checklist:
Develop a Release Checklist: Create a comprehensive checklist outlining every step involved in deploying the update, including data migration, permission updates, communication plans, and contingency plans. Depending on the nature of the update the release could entail many people going across multiple objects or premium apps to make changes or one person owning all updates in one area. In any case, the checklist mitigates the risk of human error and certainly helps those making modifications by having clear directions to follow.
Estimate Effort and Track Progress: Use the checklist to estimate the time and resources required for deployment and to track progress against the plan.
Step 4: Plan for Optimal Release Timing:
Minimize Disruption: Schedule updates for off-peak hours or periods of lower user activity to minimize disruption to ongoing workflows.
Communicate Upcoming Changes: Inform users about planned updates in advance, specifying timing, scope, and potential impacts. This prepares them for any adjustments needed.
Step 5: Monitor and Adapt for Continuous Improvement:
Track User Feedback: Gather feedback from users after release and track their experience with the new features.
Refine Your Process: Analyze the successes and challenges of the deployment and use the information to continuously improve your release management process for future updates.
Bonus Tip: For areas of Smartsheet without straightforward staging options, like premium apps, consider alternative testing methods like user acceptance testing or in-depth dry runs on a small-scale portion of your solution to minimize production environment impact.
By following these steps and incorporating the top-of-mind recommendations, you can ensure a smooth and well-coordinated release of your Smartsheet solution enhancements, minimizing disruption to users and maximizing the value of your platform for everyone involved. Remember, effective release management is key to maintaining user satisfaction and driving continuous improvement within your Smartsheet environment.