5 Steps to Getting the Most from a Salesforce Release
As you might know, salesforce.com is constantly innovating and upgrading their platform in the form of updates released to your ORG three times a year. These new product releases can seem a bit overwhelming, but there are some simple steps you can take to keep up with the platform and continue to get the most out of the product for your organization.
5 Steps to Getting the Most from a Salesforce Release:
1. Browse the new features to determine what’s possible
About 4-6 weeks before a new Salesforce release gets pushed out to your ORG, salesforce.com publishes detailed Release Notes and a series of slides and demo videos focused on key new features. As a first step, pick your poison (slide shows, release notes, or videos, oh my!) and browse through the features to get a sense of what’s coming. Once you know what’s possible, then you can align features with your organizational goals and prioritize your efforts around the new release.
You can find all salesforce.com new release information at http://www.salesforce.com/newfeatures/.
If you are slightly averse to thumbing through a 300-page PDF of Release Notes like me, or just super busy like most people working at a nonprofit, you might consider following one or two salesforce MVP bloggers that will break down the release notes for you (like this blog from MVP Mike Gerholdt), taking a quick peek through the Winter ‘14 Release Preview doc, or attending an overview webinar from Salesforce.org that highlights key features that are most relevant to the nonprofit and higher ed sectors. In fact, the Foundation’s Winter ‘14 webinar is coming up on October 10, 2013. Register now at https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/908573208.
2. Prioritize features that will meet your organizational goals
Why did your organization start using salesforce in the first place? With each new release, you have an opportunity to revisit your organizational goals related to Salesforce. And then determine how the new release features might better help you reach those goals. While some features might have an initial “wow” factor (social accounts and contacts comes to mind for me), you’ll want to focus your efforts on those features that will best help you achieve your long-term vision and bring the most value to your end users.
3. Dig deeper into the features that are relevant to you
Once you have identified the features that are most relevant to your organization, you can dig deeper into those features by:
- Signing up for a pre-release trial: Prerelease is a special program that gives you access to the new release even before salesforce.com upgrades your production system or sandbox. You’ll be given a test system, or ORG, that you can use to try out new features to see how they work. This isn’t linked to your production system, so it won’t contain the same data you see in your live environment, but it’s a great way to test drive the new release before it reaches your ORG (check out the Winter ‘14 Pre-Release Trial).
- Configuring and test driving the new features in your sandbox: About 4 weeks before the new release is scheduled to be pushed out, you will have the option to get early access to Winter ‘14 in your Sandbox and test new customizations and features before your production organization is upgraded. While it is too late to opt-in to the preview sandbox for Winter ‘14, you can see the instructions here to get a sense of what the process might be like for Spring ‘14.
- Joining a pilot: The Release Notes will tell you if a feature is in pilot or not. A pilot program is sometimes offered by salesforce.com if they deem a soon to be Generally Available (abbreviated GA) released functionality requires further testing by a pilot group. To get access to a pilot, you need to contact your salesforce.com Account Executive who can get you nominated (call 1-800-NOSOFTWARE to get connected to your AE). Joining a pilot is a good idea for those features that may effect mission or business critical operations in your organization.
Plan to spend some time testing any new features and determining how they might impact your end users. Be sure to consider any impact on both internal users and any external users or process.
4. Develop a plan for managing the release and communicating to your users
After you have determined which features are most relevant to your organization, you can put together a plan for communication and implementation.
To determine when the new release will get pushed to your org, check the Scheduled Maintenance link at http://trust.salesforce.com/trust/maintenance/ and scroll down to the bottom of the page to view the “Major Release Schedule.” The “Instance” referenced in the left hand column refers to the set of salesforce servers where your org lives. The instance your organization uses is indicated in the browser’s address bar. See the example here.
Once you have the date, you will want to plan to communicate any upcoming changes to your end users BEFORE the new release hits your ORG. Be sure that users understand how the new features will benefit them and impact their daily use of Salesforce, and let them know if the changes will require any action on their part.
As the release date gets closer, salesforce.com also publishes a series of e-learning modules that serve as release training. It is a great resource for Admins and anyone who wants to maintain their salesforce certification. The Winter ‘14 Release Training, for instance, will be available on October 4th.
Finally, if there are going to be significant changes to any organizational process, be sure to have your Executive Sponsor on board and ready to help crack-the-whip on adoption.
5. Click the button.
Just kidding. There’s no button. New features are rolled out in Salesforce in 4 different ways.
They are either:
- automatically visible for all users when the new release update hits your ORG;
- automatically visible to all administrators;
- a feature is available, but requires some set-up;
- or you have to contact salesforce.com to enable.
You can see the full list of new features and how they are enabled by checking out the Release Notes (usually around pages 4-6).
You’ll want to review the features that get automatically turned on for your users when the new release gets pushed to your org to be sure you are prepared to answer questions or provide guidance.
Again, communication is key. And be sure to plan on spending a couple hours or days after the new release answering questions or helping users get comfortable with any changes.
How many Salesforce releases have you been through? What else would you recommend?
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