Written By: Andrew Fruhling, Chief Operating Officer at Calavista
As you start the new year and set your goals, I suggest looking into how the IRS can actually help you. I’ve seen many cases where it has improved the user experience for key customers, built product capability beyond your team’s capacity and accomplished so much more. As we are at the beginning of “tax season” in the United States, I should probably be a little more explicit. I’m not talking about the Internal Revenue Service. I don’t know anyone who has benefited from that “IRS”. One of our customers recently called us their “Irritant Removal System” (IRS) and, after a brief chuckle, we saw how this concept could be very beneficial to many companies.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
During my years of running product management teams at various software companies, I had my teams regularly conduct face-to-face meetings with our top customers. The purpose of the meetings was to talk through “The Good”, “The Bad”, and “The Ugly”. In other words, we wanted to hear directly from our top customers about what was working well with our product(s), what was not working so well, and what was driving the users crazy.
I specifically organized the discussions in this order. Hearing about what was working well (“The Good”), gave the product managers anecdotes we then shared with other customers and prospects. We were also able to share “The Good” with the development teams, who too often only heard the negative and rarely heard about what was working well.
Talking through what was not working well (“The Bad”) provided a good review of the top issues with the software for this customer. Almost always the customer had already created trouble tickets for these items. Further discussions during these meetings simply allowed us to get a better understanding of the issues including insight into the real “Why” for these specific issues. This provided a better view of the priorities for the top issues.
The Golden Opportunity
For me, the real “Golden” opportunity was actually hearing about what was driving the end users crazy (“The Ugly”). Initially, customers didn’t understand the difference between “The Bad” and “The Ugly” in this context. The items that drive the end users crazy were irritants but not really bugs in the software. Yes, they caused issues with the user’s experience, but they were not deemed worthy of a trouble ticket. Many times, these items were relatively easy to address – perhaps something as simple as: “When I am doing this function on this screen, I need a couple of additional pieces of information from another screen.” Sometimes they were more complex. Either way, these items negatively impacted the experience of the end users and needed to be addressed.
Although these customer discussions provided a lot of good information, they often did not lead to the results we wanted. Once you have a list of irritants, what do you do with it? The development capacity is usually fully committed to new features (roadmap) and bug fixes (maintenance). Anyone who has actually run software development teams will probably tell you that these teams are always over committed on other items and the irritants had to wait unless you were willing to drop some roadmap items and/or maintenance items. In other words, only a very small portion (if any) of the irritants were ever addressed and the end users see no relief from “The Ugly”.
Eliminate “The Ugly” with IRS
Unfortunately, I did identify a good solution for this while running these product management teams early in my career or even as I, later, managed very large software development organizations. It was always the same dilemma positioned around a tradeoff between the already planned roadmap and maintenance items versus the irritants. Unfortunately, the irritants rarely made it to the list!
It was not until our customer labeled Calavista as their “Irritant Removal System” that I made the connection. As their “IRS”, we provide a cost-effective full team that delivers high quality code on schedule and can scale up or down as needed. Let’s break that statement down. “Cost-effective” means that our costs are roughly the same and perhaps even less than typical internal development teams. “Full team” means the IRS includes more than just a couple of strong developers. While strong development talent is a good start, you need the full team – including management oversight, architecture, testing, DevOps, and possibly even automation of the development processes along with proven methodology. “High quality code” seems self-explanatory but too often this is overlooked, and people believe they can “test in quality” at the end. We believe delivering high quality code requires a focus on quality across the entire software delivery cycle from initial story points through construction, testing, and production rollout with a consistent, repeatable, proven processes and DevOps automation where possible. We take great pride in our ability to successfully deliver projects “on schedule” for our customers at nearly 3x the industry average. Like high quality, this comes from many aspects of our approach and has been proven on our projects for nearly 20 years. “Scale up and scale down” provides the ability to address more irritants or less irritants as needed, based on business need. With this model, the IRS can address issues that are impacting your end user’s experience with the software and help you address other items that do not fit within your internal development capacity. So, ask yourself: “What can the IRS do for you?”