The RFE community: enhancing product development whilst building customer relationships
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I recently had the opportunity to catch up with Govind Baliga, the QA lead for IBM developerWorks, to discuss a niche community the team has developed to deal with the issue of enhancing product development.
Building enterprise software applications is a costly, high-risk business. The products need to be robust, scalable and have features applicable to a wide range of environments. Development teams tend to be large and are often geographically dispersed. If you throw all this effort into creating products or features that no one wants, the losses can be large.
On the other hand, support channels have always been a rich source of information on where users are struggling with a product and what they are looking to achieve.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could tie the support/customer feedback channel to the product development process?
That’s exactly what the Request for Enhancement (RFE) Community does.
Users of various IBM products suggest feature enhancements they would like to see. If a user visits the community and sees a requested enhancement they like, they can vote or comment on it.
The IBM product development team will then review the requested enhancements, make decisions based on the number of votes (a good indication of the popularity of a requested feature) and will report back by amending the status of the request. For instance, the request may be listed as ‘Planned for Future Release’, ‘Under Consideration’ or even finally ‘Delivered’.
A product user can elect to watch any requests to see when the status updates or anyone comments on the requested feature.
So, what are the business advantages this community offers?
Reduction of redundancy
Using a traditional channel like the phone for support can lead to a great deal of duplication. Especially for enhancements that many users request. The cost is borne both by the company (high volume of calls) and the users (each one having to phone in). In the RFE Community, if someone sees that a similar request to theirs has already been posted, they can just vote it up.
Feature prioritization based on popularity
If an individual user asks for a request, the product team will have to consider whether this relates to an edge case or whether there is a substantial market segment that could benefit from the request. The voting system in the RFE Community can help reduce this risk and help give a sense that the feature requested is indeed popular enough to go ahead and develop.
Transparency and feedback
The advantage of a niche system like the RFE Community over traditional product forums (often a common location where product enhancement requests surface) is the direct link into the product development process. It’s true that product teams may take feedback from a product forum, build out a product feature based on a post or thread, and comment back once in production. But if this happens, it tends to be on an ad-hoc basis. Under the RFE model, the product teams have committed to consider requests, score them, and post status updates.
Want to learn more?
Watch this presentation (30 mins) with Govind Baliga, Quality Assurance Lead for IBM developerWorks, who has extensive knowledge of the RFE Community:
As you will discover, the RFE community both helps the development team deliver product features which the market wants and builds closer relationships with the customer.