The Beginnings of an Idea
When XTRF was still in its infancy, “we knew better” what needed to be done. It’s an attitude shared by almost any startup company. You have this brilliant idea that no one else on the market has thought of and you just focus on delivering something as soon as possible.
Of course, you can’t say we were completely blind to client needs at the time. Quite the contrary. In those early years, the system acquired many features quickly. Things like integration with text messaging or CRM functionality were added in response to individual clients’ requirements. They were rarely thought through and design was poor, with no sales strategy that would encourage more customers to buy them.
How can you optimize a system so that it meets the unique needs of clients from cultures across the globe? Well, what we did was we mapped the platform by defining core and auxiliary areas. After that it was clear to us where our energy should go. We thought that the core had to be optimized for our MLV and LSP users. Development requests were no longer met with an automatic “yes”, many ended up as a difficult-to-accept “no”. Coding them would have led us astray – suggestions for adding a checkbox, or an extra client status for example. Accepting them would have put the core development out of focus.
Generating More Ideas
Of course, the clients were not happy hearing “no” most of the time. So in response, a decision was made to open a UserEcho forum where everyone’s voice could be heard. The users could see one another’s topics, brainstorm the ideas and then see them formed into actual system developments. That is how we got people to start talking, and they’ve been exchanging ideas ever since.
We learnt what clients appreciate about XTRF (and Smart Projects, in particular):
- Philosophy: willingness to listen and collect improvement suggestions and development ideas. — the XTRF team is open to feedback.
- Flexibility. They often provide workarounds that allow us to service clients with no interruptions.
- Allowing users to share knowledge of the system through User Echo.
- The interface and visibility of data, which allows business owners to make strategic decisions. XTRF looks good and is a user-friendly platform.
- Friendlier UX compared to competitors.
- Integration with CAT tools and accounting software (to some extent). PM integration with memoQ, but also standalone/other CAT integrations through API.
- Automation of repetitive PM tasks is highly configurable.
- XTRF is a stable platform with close to zero down time.
- Security: XTRF is ISO 27001-compliant.
- A SaaS offer.
Quoting Eric Ries, from his brilliant book The Lean Startup, “we often talked to them [clients] and asked for their feedback. But we emphatically did not do what they said. We viewed their input as only one source of information about our product and overall vision.” It sums up very nicely what we experienced. We saw an influx of ideas and a lot of brainstorming, but the clients hardly ever saw the features created for them afterwards. However, it was not just us, it seemed other software companies had gone through a similar process before.
How do you establish and maintain flawless relationships with your customers? How do you process a multitude of fantastic ideas and align them with your goals? We learnt that we had to embrace the incoming feedback, respond and collaborate. So, we sat down with the ones we developed the system for and made sure to reach a mutual understanding on the most important topics.
Elaborating on the Ideas
The lesson of engaging clients in sharing their pains and ideas for future developments is one of humility and exploration. After gathering around 300 topics, we analyzed all the suggestions about which criteria should be considered. We started off by taking a closer look at the top upvoted items. There were 40 of them.
A simple method was proposed whereby XTRF decided on 2 criteria and the users decided on 3:
- Technical simplicity — decided by XTRF
- Compatibility with the XTRF strategy — decided by XTRF
- Increased efficiency (time saved, process simplified or automated) — decided by users
- Improved client relations (service quality, communication, time to delivery) — decided by users
- Industry impact and added value to others — decided by users
Each feature gets a total score based on the answers from points 2-5. So, technical simplicity has become a main reference point. When we collect votes from this survey, we will prioritize the features that deliver the greatest value with the least effort.
It’s an ongoing experiment and we will continue to draw lessons from its very existence. We want it to become a good practice here at XTRF. We believe that while perfection may not be attainable, a process such as this may bring us that much closer and a solid process will eventually emerge.