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How Microsoft built and adopted a customized “Release Planner” app

Introduction

Business leaders know the importance of streamlining product releases and updates. Many organizations suffer from disorganized release cycles lacking automated reviews, approvals, notifications and standardization. What is needed is a centralized location for all update and release related actions and communications. Whether you have an internal software development team or produce software for use outside your organization, you will benefit from considering a Power Apps solution to track your updates and releases.

A team at Microsoft recently built a low code app to efficiently coordinate hundreds of their own product features. They went from collecting manual input from three hundred product managers to developing one Power Apps app as a central location for release plans.

This Power Apps app was so successful that the team released it as a free, open source for the benefit of you and your business. This app is now used internally in Microsoft by six hundred active users every month.

You can use it, too.

The BAG team proactively adapts to product updates

The Business Application Group (BAG) Operations team at Microsoft proactively addresses potential questions or obstacles that clients may have about software updates. They drive the predictability, reliability, visibility, and readiness of Dynamics 365 and Power Platform product releases.

Dynamics 365 and Power Platform deliver two major updates annually, and continuous updates are delivered throughout the year providing security, reliability, and performance improvements. The BAG team delivers the early visibility of their releases through a public roadmap, a release calendar, and release plans.

The BAG team prompts their customers on how to use the new technology. They work three months ahead of the release date by:

  • Releasing notes describing upcoming changes
  • Enabling customers to try the changes in their sandbox instance before the features rolled out in production instance.

A high-quality release is seamless: there are no unnecessary obstacles for users.

Developing the Release Planner app to coordinate releases

To streamline updates, BAG team member Ramana Sridhar Vaidyanathan and his team created a customized Power Apps app called Release Planner. The values of the Release Planner include:

  • Maintaining consistency across apps and features.  The app standardizes outputs through templates and fields.
  • Automating manual reviews to save time.  Stakeholders can now be notified and reminded when an action is needed. All review feedback is in one place and incorporated without additional manual steps.
  • Tracking and reporting.  The release plan information is now stored in a structured database that allows tracking and reporting.
  • Holding content for a disclosure moment.  Stakeholders can create, review, and update pending content as they require.   Content disclosure uses robust automation to avoid accidental publishing outside of approved disclosure moments.

Taken together, these new features save time and money for the Business Application Group team.

 

Release planner - plan viewScreenshot of Release Planner view for the 2020 Release wave 2 plan.

Release planner - detail view
Screenshot of Release Planner feature detail view.

Other teams can now harness the Release Planner architecture to build their own collaborative teamwork apps through Microsoft Power Apps. The team designed the Release Planner so that it can simply be downloaded as a zip file. The app instructions have been templatized so that users can customize their own apps based on the existing structure of Release Planner.

In order to give you a head start with the implementation of the Release Planner, Microsoft has included online plans for the app that diagram the inner workings of the Release Planner. The plans include:

  • An entity-relationship diagram
  • A daily email alert workflow
  • Instructions on how to set security levels
  • Instructions on how to toggle lock/unlock application features for public preview

Release Planner users can build off the template and customize their own app to help them meet their internal objectives.

Harness this Power Apps solution for your team

By using their Release planner app, you can also coordinate your team or business in advance of technology improvements and customer rollouts.

Review and download the Release Planner solution app here.

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