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CRM documentation paves way to successful release management

As companies use a CRM system in the wild, they need to be able to make tweaks, and those changes need to be well-documented.

CRM systems are designed to enable sales teams to access information easily as they navigate deals. But for a CRM...

system to be useful, it often needs tweaks over time. And those changes can spark disruption if they aren't tracked, documented and managed correctly.

For those involved in implementing CRM changes, release management documentation becomes paramount. Changes need to be logged, tracked and centralized to ensure that they don't degrade the integrity of other parts of the system or, if they do, that they can be rolled back.

This puts those in charge of CRM systems in the role of acting like IT admins at times: diligently logging changes, documenting their testing and centralizing that information so that others can have easy access to it as well. This kind of disciplined change management process has proved challenging for some companies, but it can and should be done.

Release management: Where to start

For many companies, system administrators -- who often work within sales departments -- are usually responsible for updating the CRM system. IT departments usually are not involved unless they need to audit the system or a problem occurs. This can be a challenging situation for administrators who must ensure that the system can handle the workload and adhere to auditing regulations. To make sure workflows run smoothly, it helps if the system administrator follows a change management strategy, which should include:

  1. Developing a ticketing system to track and record requests.
  2. Setting up a schedule for changes to roll from sandbox to production.
  3. Identifying key stakeholders to run tests when major changes are made within the system.

Benefits of a ticketing system

A ticketing system is the best way to manage CRM documentation and prioritize requests. Change requests can include adding drop-down menus or creating new entities within the CRM system for a specific business need. The ability to see the history of the ticket's updates makes it much easier to reference requirements, track statuses and view any documents or training from the admin and the requestor without digging through back-and-forth emails.

For some companies, a system administrator might manage all the changes, but in some cases, the changes are too overwhelming, necessitating the help of a ticket system, which can add approval requests and track those approvals with timestamps. To guarantee success with a request ticketing system, tickets should be mandatory or an email-to-case setup should be instituted so that users on the road can simply send an email that automatically generates a case in the system.

From that point, the admin should focus on prioritizing each request and recording what changes are made and when. Admins should update the status of the request to keep the requestor in the loop on changes. By keeping the process contained within the ticket system and not constantly sending emails about changes, users will be more likely to adopt the process because it allows them to see the request's progress with as little effort as possible on their part.

Testing the changes

Testing can be time-consuming and labor-intensive for admins and power users alike, so it helps to schedule CRM documentation changes on a recurring basis, whether they are weekly, bi-weekly, or ideally, monthly. Each company has different business needs for deploying changes. Although scheduling monthly changes might be the easiest for workload, it may be necessary to schedule them more frequently to keep the business moving forward.

Setting a schedule -- and following it -- sets a good precedent for requests; it allows the system to be properly analyzed and tested before changes are dumped into production. Scheduling allows multiple changes to go into the system simultaneously and documentation to be created and shared with the business on the new features added. With a ticketing system, these deployments can be tracked and reported to allow for auditing and troubleshooting, which can be impossible otherwise.

Creating a solid change management system will ensure the long-term integrity of the CRM and will allow users to have a consistent experience while gaining access to improvements regularly. Without a process in place, changes can be left undocumented and unused, or worse, the changes can have a negative effect on the system, which can decrease CRM adoption. The CRM admin must keep the business accountable for requested changes and think outside the box to ensure the best changes are made and tested accordingly.

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This was last published in June 2015

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