Fences, moats and electronic shields

MIDNIGHT AT THE OASIS – DAY 16 OF A 30 DAY BLOG (RANT?)
Programmers in our company are very protected. We’ve built fences, moats and electronic shields between them and our customers. Otherwise they’d forever be being asked questions and getting involved in work which does not valuably use their time.

We did this about 8 years ago up until which time they were as accessible as any member of our team.

Yesterday we let the shield down briefly in an experiment.

A couple of updates ago (December 2004) we released employee rostering software – free to all clients. This was a completely new area for our software to cover and unrelated to our core focus of retail and stock management. We were happy with the roster software and thought it was both functional and sexy. We enhanced it in the update sent out ten days ago.

Now, to the experiment. Yesterday we emailed our clients and invited them to engage in direct discussion with the programmer responsible for developing the roster software. One on one.

We were nervous and had no idea what to expect. However, it was crucial we did this otherwise we would not be true to our commitment to an open relationship with our customers.

Here it is a day later and the result has already been excellent. We’ve received valuable feedback in plenty of emails on how people are using this new facility and suggestions for improvements which will make it to the next update. Nothing unreasonable and no one emailing to complain. People have respected the opportunity.

We have protected the programmers in the past because they are not help desk trained and therefore inclined to be less consistent in the advice they provide and because it slowed down the development process. This peek out the gate has encouraged us to do it again.

The result is better software and a broader understanding of what the wider world wants.

How does this relate to our Oasis strategy? It results in better software and opens the door for our customers to provide direct and positive feedback to our programmers – it’s as good as a playwright getting audience feedback by sitting in the theatre.

We want to experiment more with removing barriers from developoment and the end users of our efforts. This will provide our customers with more enjoyment and more value and that’s the Oasis strategy at work.

The best people to have driving the direction of our R&D effort are those using our products.

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