How to upgrade anything, part 4 of 6: Documenting

Chances are, there’s something you’re settling for right now. Something that annoys you periodically but you haven’t gotten around to dealing with it yet. We’ll tackle that problem in bite-sized steps in this 6-part series on upgrading:

So when I say “upgrading,” you can think of software, hardware, services, or pretty much anything. I’ll be using my experience updgrading this very blog as an example, but you can substitute your specific technological annoyance.

Can we get started already?

OK, we’ve done three installments on preparation for the upgrade. Now we’re ready to begin the Real Actual Upgrade process. You’ve examined your worries and fears, you’ve backed up your files, and you’ve got all your equipment, instructions, and adequate time, right?

Good! Now there’s just one simple rule to follow as your upgrade proceeds:

Write everything down.

Yep, everything. Start with the time you’re beginning the upgrade. Just pull out a sheet of paper and write “2:13pm: Opened installer” or your equivalent. Then keep a detailed log as you proceed through the installation instructions.

Yes, it may seem kind of tedious. You can safely use shorthand like “followed installation instructions steps 2 through 6” if the steps proceed normally and fairly quickly.

Why bother doing this? In a nutshell, it will help tremendously if anything does go wrong or if you have problems post-upgrade. It’s always better to have more information if you have to call tech support or describe your problem to a helpful friend. You want to be able to say something like “I got as far as step 5, and then as soon as I pressed the “continue” button I got error 4456″ instead of “the installation froze in the middle and I can’t use my computer.”

If your upgrade/installation proceeds normally and you don’t experience any problems, you’ll have a sheet of scribbled notes and you may have spent a little extra time on the process. I don’t think that’s wasted time or effort at all, even if feels tedious and cumbersome. Better to use a sheet of paper and an extra half-hour than to get stuck in the middle somewhere and have tech support tell you to reboot.

Here are some things you want to include in your written log:

  • Time you started. Also consider noting the time when you move from step to step, if the steps take long enough.
  • Any choices you have to make. This might include the folder or directory where something is installed, usernames and passwords, and configuration options. Any time you have to make a choice before continuing, write down what you chose. You may need to refer to your configuration options later in the installation or when you’re working post-upgrade, so it’s really convenient to have a record of these.
  • Any time you deviate from the default. So if you get to a given step and there’s a checked checkbox for “automatically install icons on your desktop” and you uncheck it, just make a quick note of it. Ditto if there are unchecked checkboxes and you check them, or if you select different options from the “standard” choices.
  • When something unexpected happens. If a step takes longer than you think it should, make a note. If you have to go through more steps than you expected, write this down.If you didn’t realize you were going to need an XYZ cable or a blank CD or a wifi connection…write it down.
  • Any error or warning messages you get. This is really important: Write down the exact wording of the message, including any bizarre-looking error codes. Write down exactly what happened just before the error popped up (did it happen when you clicked a button onscreen? When you pressed return? When your computer searched for five minutes and couldn’t find something?). Write down what you did next (did you click OK? Did you click Try Again? Did you reboot your computer? Did you call tech support?).
  • The results of your upgrade process. Ideally, this will be something like “Installation completed successfully at 2:26pm. Computer required me to restart. Everything works as expected.” I’ll go into much more detail in next week’s post about testing, but for now make sure you’ve noted the end of the process.

Just look how far we’ve come! We spent three weeks preparing, and now you’ve upgraded and everything’s great, right? Does that feel a bit anticlimactic? That’s actually what you want with a successful upgrade, believe it or not. But I’ve got two post-upgrade installments coming, to help you ease into your new tools/toys and make the next upgrade even smoother.

Previously in this series: Part 3: Preparation

Next in this series: Part 5: Test, test, test!