Having a large user base means that you have established a product that is used and appreciated by many people. This creates special challenges when it comes to changing new features or core elements of your experience. First and foremost you must ensure that the structural integrity of your user experience is still consistent. It is a fine balance between novelty and alienation. Here are some ways in which you can strategically roll out changes in a more controllable fashion:
Make sure your small change doesn’t break any existing dependencies.
Large applications are complex ecosystems consisting of many interdependent parts and various states. We progressively move towards components and top-level systems. In general, try to create components that are location independent and can adhere to global rules.
Test the changes internally. You can create controlled sandbox environments to test the changes with your technical team and colleagues as a first experiment.
Create scenarios based on outliers. This should create use cases that cover your entire user base and help you avoid pitfalls that are statistically low but possible.
Test the changes with a subset of your users. You certainly do not have to change the entire product at once. You can run a series of live experiments with a limited amount of users to see if your changes actually work before applying them throughout the product. From simple AB tests to different versions being live at the same time for different subsets of users. You can offer a different version to users that want to opt-in voluntarily or make small dedicated user tests.
Document / Communicate your changes. This applies to more major changes where the transition could cause friction to your existing users. Providing explanatory videos, detailed walkthroughs and answering common questions will go a long way to help smooth the transition.