Today we are presenting an interview with Todd Edwards, ANCILE’s Info Pak and uPerform Product Manager. Read on and learn some more about Todd and how he manages your enhancement requests!
Larry Blog Committee: Hi Todd, the Larry Blog Committee thought it would be a great idea to let our customers know how enhancements are processed. We would also like to put a face behind the person who manages them. Can we start by asking you to tell us a little bit about yourself?
Todd Edwards: Sure. I started working for RWD in early 2006 as an Info Pak trainer, and then transitioned to a uPerform Training Consultant after uPerform was released. I returned to the Info Pak world again for several months in 2008 to serve as Info Pak administrator for The Home Depot (THD) at their headquarters in Atlanta, GA. This was very convenient for me, as Atlanta is also my home. During this time, I also joined the Global Support organization. Following my assignment at THD, I began working from home as a liaison with the Development organization to develop and deliver training on new uPerform releases for Global Support. I also supported customer webinars, as well as numerous customer support calls and engagements. I became the Info Pak and uPerform Product Manager shortly after ANCILE was created by the divestiture from RWD.
I’m from Utah originally, and worked for Delta Air Lines there as a technical trainer there at their reservations center. I moved to Atlanta in 1997 to take a position in the Leadership Development/Corporate Training area. I left Delta in 2001 and worked as a technical trainer on a processing system for BlueCross BlueShield healthcare claims before joining RWD.
Larry Blog Committee: What is your job title and what do you do for ANCILE Solutions?
Todd Edwards: My job title is uPerform and Info Pak Product Manager, and I am responsible for the overall strategic direction for uPerform and Info Pak.
Larry Blog Committee: Our ANCILE customers usually ask how we process enhancements, as well as how they are prioritized, and how we follow up. Could you please explain the enhancement process from a customer’s point of view?
Todd Edwards: Sure thing. First of all, how we process them. We use Atlassian’s JIRA software to manage all enhancement requests. Whenever a new enhancement request is entered it is automatically assigned to me, and I receive an email alert showing the title of the request, some general information, and a link to the request. I review each one to ensure it truly is an enhancement (a request for functionality that is not currently part of the product) vs. a bug (something that either disrupts current functionality, or functionality otherwise not working as designed/intended). I also receive an email alert when an existing enhancement request is modified, which usually means another customer name has been added to the request. This helps me watch for trends, and to keep track of how many customers are requesting certain types of functionality.
Regarding prioritization, that depends on a number of different factors related to the overall enhancement process. We look for trends in certain areas, how many customers are requesting the functionality, what the competitive analysis and market analysis is telling us, etc. I’ll describe more about this in just a moment.
Regarding how we follow-up, this is a very important area of focus for us that we are working to be a lot better about. We want our customers to know that we are listening and value their input into the process, and to let them know when their requests have been incorporated into the product. When an enhancement request is approved, we add the release number in JIRA that it will be part of. Once the release is in general availability, our Customer Care team and Service Account Managers use JIRA to identify the specific list of enhancement requests associated with each release, and reach out to the customers identified to let them know their request has been implemented.
Larry Blog Committee: Once an enhancement request is submitted and approved, how long before it’s added to a new release?
Todd Edwards: An excellent question, and the one at the top of everyone’s mind, I know! The answer is “it depends”, and also ties into the question I have a feeling you’re about to ask me, which is “How do you manage the enhancement process?” So I will jump there to explain.
Larry Blog Committee: How do you manage the enhancement process?
Todd Edwards: For each release of uPerform, enhancement requests are just one of the sources of input that go into the planning mix, along with platform updates and stack maintenance items, competitive analysis, market analysis, and other forms of customer input. Here’s a look at each area:
- Platform updates and stack maintenance items: This one is pretty self-explanatory. We have customers with technical landscapes all over the spectrum, and we strive for that balance of supporting existing software versions as long as possible while also supporting new versions for our customers who are early adopters. Sometimes this merely involves testing in the latest version, and other times requires a full regression test of our software, which obviously consumes more resources and time.
- Competitive analysis: We are always looking at the competition to see what else is out there. We are committed to keeping uPerform the most robust and value-added product of its kind in the market. That sometimes involves matching other features offered by a competitor, but in a way that makes the most sense to our customers. This also drives us to be strategic and plan those things that will “leapfrog” the competition and keep us the clear choice.
- Market analysis: We are keeping our eye on emerging technologies, market research, and listening to what our analyst firms and thought leaders are telling us. We also bring the leadership teams together from our internal Support, Sales, and Marketing departments twice a quarter in formal meetings to find out what they are hearing, thinking, and what is on the minds of our current customers and partners and potential customers and partners. We also conduct periodic customer surveys as appropriate. As always, a sincere “thank you!” to the many of you again who have participated.
- Customer input: In addition to enhancement requests received through JIRA, We also regularly receive feedback from our Customer Advisory Board and other strategic customer outreach programs. I talk to a lot of customers on the phone and through customer visits, and we always dedicate portions of our IPUG/uPUG conferences to receiving direct and indirect feedback from our customers as well. These are invaluable sessions for us, and honestly the favorite part of my job, hearing how you each use our product and where your challenges are.
Larry Blog Committee: Is there anything else we didn’t cover you think the customers would like to know about the enhancement process?
Todd Edwards: Whenever a release hits general availability, you should know that we are already hard at work developing and testing the next one, as well as deep into the planning process for the release after that. We utilize the agile development process, which allows us the flexibility to fine tune (and occasionally outright change course) as needed to ensure we are keeping uPerform a high quality and high value product that your organization can depend on for years to come. I am very excited about the features, improvements and plans for uPerform that we have on the drawing board, and I think you will be too! They are being designed with you and the way you do business in mind, so stay tuned for many exciting things to come.
Larry Blog Committee: Todd, thank you for taking the time to answer these questions. I’m sure this will help our customers understand the enhancement process and answers some of the questions on their minds!