A new feature release can make or break your product. While you may assume you’re building a better product by updating it, your loyal customers may feel differently.
When Instagram updated its interface in May 2022, users were so annoyed that the company had to roll back quickly to avoid losing its audience.
A consistent feature launch strategy is the best way to prevent your new feature release from becoming a disaster.
This involves evaluating the current state of product adoption, understanding the needs of your target audience, aligning your business goals, developing a quality solution, and keeping end users up-to-date regarding upcoming changes.
With an abundance of tasks to be mindful of, it’s easy to miss things during the feature launch process. To help you stay on top of your project, we’ve developed a comprehensive guide to help your product team roll out a new feature.
Table of contents:
- How to launch a new feature: 3 launch phases
- A 9-step new feature launch checklist
- 3 don’ts when launching a new feature
- The best feature announcement examples
How to launch a new feature: 3 launch phases
The feature launch process isn’t limited to feature engineering and making announcements. It’s a process that includes at least 3 critical phases.
The pre-launch phase starts with new feature ideation and lasts until you finally launch it.
You can divide this phase into 3 key steps:
- User analysis
- Feature planning
- Release strategy
Nobody develops a new feature because it’s time to do so. You do it because you see the need for it, which is only possible after thorough user analysis.
Are there flows that could be improved? Would a new feature fix existing issues? You should be able to answer these questions after running a product analysis.
Next, collect qualitative data — talk to your customers. Record sales calls, run satisfaction surveys, and check product reviews to better understand customer pain points. Now you should have plenty of ideas for new features.
After analyzing user behavior, you’ll need to define your new feature and do some planning. If you have several ideas in mind — which is a likely result of thorough product analysis — you’ll also need to do feature prioritization.
When you finally have a feature in mind, you’ll need to create:
- A feature roadmap
- Feature documentation
- Specifications for designers
It’s good to reflect on past launches to adjust your feature roadmap and set realistic deadlines and milestones.
This is the most labor-intensive phase for product managers. You’ll be working a lot with developers and designers during the feature planning phase to ensure all teams are on the same page.
How are you going to announce a new feature? This question should be answered long before release.
Creating a new feature marketing strategy involves:
- Defining your messaging
- Announcing a new product feature in advance (the release might cause disruptions, so make sure your users are prepared for it)
- Adding documentation to your knowledge base
- Writing press releases (optional)
- Updating chatbot flows
- Preparing in-app guidance
- Updating onboarding flows
Having on-demand help content in place will not only save your customers from having to deal with support but also create an excellent user experience.
“At Whatfix, we always create a beacon that draws user attention to new or updated features. When a user clicks on this beacon, it starts an interactive walkthrough that takes users through the new software feature and its process. This in-app guidance allows us to contextually showcase a new feature, how to use it, and collect feedback on its level of adoption.”
What happens on the day of launch? When your product engineers deploy a new feature, you must be ready to troubleshoot, answer user questions, and troubleshoot again. That’s why you should avoid releasing at the end of the workday.
If you can’t provide 24/7 customer support, consider launching your new feature at the beginning of your product and support teams’ workday.
Important: If your new feature replaces an existing one, announce the update long before launch. Prepare your audience for the change and deactivate the old feature only when all active users have switched to the new one.
In the post-launch phase, product teams evaluate the effectiveness of the launch. This phase is very similar to the pre-launch phase as it involves a lot of analytics.
You’ll be measuring new feature adoption by:
- Displaying in-app surveys
- Watching session recordings
- Analyzing funnels
- Monitoring the usage of help content
- Reviewing customer support requests
Careful analysis should provide you with in-depth insight into the strengths and weaknesses of the new feature and give you some ideas for improving your feature adoption strategy.
Pay specific attention to product analytics. Session recordings and funnels will help you understand where users experience issues with your new feature, allowing you to fix them early. Smartlook maps out the user journey through always-on session recordings, heatmaps, and in-app events. Try out Smartlook today for free.
A 9-step new feature launch checklist
It might feel that planning and releasing a feature for an existing product is no easier than launching a new product from scratch. The truth is, the process can be incredibly painful if you don’t have a clear action plan.
Luckily, we’ve got you covered. Here’s your checklist for a seamless feature release process. Follow it, and you won’t miss anything along the way.
1. User needs evaluation
Although we’ve already gone over the importance of user analysis, we can’t stress it enough. Don’t skip this step even if you think you have an idea for the best feature in the world.
You can check this box only after you’ve analyzed your product’s experience and reviewed customer feedback — that’s the rule.
Talk to your existing customers and watch how they interact with your product to discover what they really need. A new feature doesn’t have to change the whole product experience. It can be as simple as optimizing a painful workflow. But it should positively affect the user experience more than some innovative solution that nobody asked you for.
“To understand what features we need to implement, we look at our customers’ behavior and feedback. We analyze their usage experience and different use cases — we can discover some of them by observing user flows. Even more insights come from our customer-facing teams: support, customer success, and sales. They bring the voice of the customer and their emotions.”
Do you have several feature ideas? Well, that’s great — but now you need to set your priorities.
Since you’ve been in product development for some time, you’ve probably already settled on a prioritization framework. Now’s the time to follow it to make an objective decision regarding new feature development.
One of the most popular frameworks is weighted scoring. This model relies on numerical scoring to assess the importance of new features. It’s a relatively simple system for predicting the potential impact of new features, so you can make informed prioritization-related decisions.
3. Goal setting
This is another important step that’s easy to miss in a rush.
What are you expecting to achieve by launching your new feature? Here are some questions that will help you formulate your goals:
- Are you aiming to reach new audiences?
- How many feature engagements are you expecting to drive? It’s good to be very specific.
- Will the new feature affect your pricing plans? How?
- Do you want to upsell existing users with the help of the new feature?
- How does the feature enhance the user experience?
- How does it help you achieve your business goals?
- What metrics can you use to measure the success of your launch?
Based on your answers, you’ll be able to set goals and measurable KPIs for your initiative.
Your feature roadmap should include milestones, deadlines, and an estimated rollout date. Otherwise, you may never release it.
However rough your estimates may seem, make sure you have a few when it’s time to get started with the project. You can adjust your deadlines later if necessary.
5. Project documentation
Project documentation refers to feature specifications, requirements, and guidelines for everyone involved — from engineers and designers to the marketing team and customer support reps.
Even if everything seems clear when you all meet at standups, you’ll need to write project documentation that reflects your plan and clearly define roles and responsibilities.
Document every piece of data that relates to your new feature so you don’t have to waste time repeatedly discussing or resolving the same topic/conflict.
6. Communication strategy and training
What happens if you add a new feature to your interface without announcing it? In the best-case scenario, people won’t notice it. Worst-case scenario? They’ll be confused by the new workflow and won’t be able to adjust.
It’s crucial that you create a solid feature announcement strategy for introducing a new feature and training users how it works, no matter how ‘big’ the release is.
For more significant improvements, we coordinate our marketing efforts to produce landing pages and campaigns and leverage our customer teams to reach our customers.
Your communication strategy may involve:
- Choosing marketing channels (e.g. email, in-app, LinkedIn, etc.)
- Preparing messaging and visuals for each channel
- Updating chatbot flows so users can get answers to the most frequent questions
- Creating in-app training workflows for complex features
- Updating your help center
To prepare for the launch, the first thing we’ll do will be to announce it through a dedicated social media post, as well as blog announcements that will help us stay ahead of the curve. At the same time, our dedicated newsletters will reach all of our subscribers. And, of course, everyone is welcome to test our features and give some valuable feedback.
Group your users to create personalized messages for different audience segments. For instance, if a user doesn’t have access to a new feature due to their plan, offer them an upgrade to access the feature. Keep in mind, users of top-tier plans will need completely different messaging.
Always test before you launch. Even the smallest change can ruin product performance and lessen the user experience. So make sure your QA team tests every new feature across browsers, devices, and operating systems.
Testing internally is good, but it’s not enough. Reach out to your loyal customers and ask them to try the beta version of your new feature. This will help you spot issues and find gaps in your help content before you go all in.
“During the rollout stage, we enable the new feature for selected loyal customers who can share their direct experience with us. Once we confirm that our solution is viable, we get together with our sales and customer success teams to discuss how we are going to promote the new feature and how it will affect our product positioning. Additionally, we work with our marketing department on the new feature promo — we prepare a plan on how to reach new and existing audiences through various marketing channels.”
This practice is also known as limited rollout. You roll out the feature to a restricted user base and monitor its performance throughout a specific timeframe. This method allows you to rectify errors and improve functionality without rolling back a full-scale launch.
It’s also a good way to prove the concept. By doing a beta rollout for a sample audience, you can check whether users actually need the feature. This is easy to do with Smartlook’s session recordings and events — its tools provide you with insightful statistics regarding how many users actually interacted with the new feature.
Let’s look at a real-life use case where Smartlook was used to measure feature adoption to prove the concept. Before rolling out a new feature to its entire user base, the Storagepug product team released it for a restricted audience to see how users reacted to it.
The new feature is called “scheduled email reports,” and it should have replaced the old way of accessing insights right from the platform interface. After performing a limited rollout and setting up Smartlook’s session recordings, the product team was able to filter sessions, leaving only those were the new feature was used.
This way, they were able to see how many users from the test group were interested in scheduled email reports. As a result of the test, the Storagepug product team validated the idea and decided to release the feature to its entire user base.
You must also be mindful that not all users will be interested in a new feature. And that’s fine. Consider this when choosing an audience sample. Remember to only select the people that will benefit the most from the update (again, take a look at user behavior).
This step is hard to skip, but we couldn’t just omit it.
Once you’ve double-checked that everything is ready, you can release your feature. Remember to ensure the availability of your product and customer support team on the day of the launch so they can promptly resolve a wave of user requests.
9. Performance analysis
New feature development doesn’t end after release. To drive user adoption, you’ll need to monitor 3 types of metrics and KPIs:
- Marketing campaign metrics: email open rates, content impressions, shares, etc. These metrics help you assess the effectiveness of your promotion campaigns
- Feature adoption metrics: the percentage of users that use a new feature, satisfaction scores, etc. These are the metrics you should track to understand how many users found the feature useful and mastered it
- Business impact metrics: retention rate, churn rate, customer lifetime value (CLV), user growth rate, etc. These metrics make it possible to measure the impact the new feature has on your company.
As there’s no single tool that will provide you with all the necessary metrics, you’ll need to collect the data from several platforms. For marketing campaign metrics, turn to your email marketing platform, social media planner, and other marketing automation platforms in your toolkit. For feature adoption analysis, use a product monitoring tool, like Smartlook. For business impact metrics, you’ll need to check with your CRM system.
As you’ve set clear goals for your initiatives, it will be easy for you to choose KPIs that matter most. By monitoring these metrics, you’ll be able to not only measure the success of your launch but also continuously improve feature adoption to achieve customer satisfaction.
3 don’ts when launching a new feature
Now that you know what you need to do to successfully launch a new feature, it’s time to talk about what you shouldn’t do.
1. Don’t skip feature planning
Planning a feature rollout can take months. But that’s not a good reason to skip it.
Poor planning will result in issues that are easier to prevent than resolve. However enticing it is to skip over user analysis, feature testing, and documentation, avoid doing so at all costs.
2. Don’t underestimate customer education
You may think that some updates are too basic or obvious to explain, but that’s a mistake. Even minor changes in your product dashboard require a release note.
Also, try not to postpone the creation of end-user documentation and in-app guidance. These resources should be ready before rollout, not after.
3. Don’t stop experimenting
After the rollout, there are so many things to test and improve — don’t miss your chance to make your product better.
Monitor feature adoption, A/B test different in-app guidance formats, and keep collecting customer feedback to improve your product for end-users.
The best feature release examples
To inspire you to develop your new feature announcement strategy, we’ve hand-picked 3 examples of SaaS companies that are introducing their product updates on 3 different channels.
Note: The fact that we’ve only provided one example per brand doesn’t mean these companies have limited their feature announcement strategy to one channel. Ideally, you’ll announce a new feature across multiple channels to maximize your reach.
Scribe: in-app announcement
Scribe, a process documentation platform, recently released a bunch of new features and announced all of them in a sleek in-app pop-up.
Once a user logs in to their account for the first time after the update has been announced, they immediately see what has changed and how they can navigate the new features. This is the easiest and perhaps most effective way to introduce multiple product updates at once.
Buffer: email newsletter
Buffer, a social media planning app, announces new features in an email newsletter. It’s a good way to win back inactive customers and boost user engagement.
Figma: video tutorial
Figma, a collaborative web app, recorded a video tutorial to guide users through recent product improvements. Based on the engagement below the social media post, we can confidentially say that Figma’s users found the features and the tutorial incredibly useful.
Video content, like live Q&As, tutorials, and webinars, help to introduce users to new workflows and adopt complex features faster.
Ready, set, launch with Smartlook!
The success of your new feature launch depends on how well you’ve planned it.
Before you build a feature roadmap, spend time analyzing user behavior to capture the specific needs of your customers.
Only then will you be ready to define your new feature, assign tasks for stakeholders, run your first tests, and launch.
Throughout every phase of the feature rollout process, Smartlook will be there to ensure you stay on top of user behavior and feature adoption.