Product Development: From Idea to Product [Interview]

This episode Building Bonzai Podcast, our host Chantal Cameron (Data Analyst @ Bonzai) talks with Shereen Qumsieh(Director of product) on how product ideas evolve and how do we get some of these ideas to Bonzai Intranet’s product roadmap.

Cameron: “This week I have a special guest with me. Her name is Shereen Qumsieh, and she is our Director of Product, here at Bonzai Intranet. Also, another Founder. Welcome Shereen.”

Qumsieh: “Thank you Chantal.”

Cameron: “I brought Shereen on the show today because I thought that she would be a great insight to talking about how do we go from idea to product? Shereen, what if a customer comes to us and they have a really good idea, and they want to bring it into Bonzai. How do they go about that?”

Qumsieh: “That’s a great question. So, let’s talk a little bit about how that process works currently. We actually get feedback requests from a number of different sources. Typically, a customer will have a really good idea, either something is missing in the product that they’re struggling with and they want to see improved, or they’ve got an idea for something entirely new, that they think will be really cool, that they want to see in the product.”

How Ideas Are Sourced?

Qumsieh: “Sometimes they’ll email us directly. Sometimes they’ll email someone in the solution delivery team, sometimes the request will come in through Zendesk, that’s just the main channel for support requests currently for Bonzai. We’ll also look at things like what the industry is doing, with respect to intranets, what are the things that are trending, what are the best practices, etc.”

“So, we take a number of those sources for features and things that we can do, in the future for Bonzai, and we typically have a sit down meeting, and we go, Okay, you know we’ve got these group of people that seem to be having issue with this particular thing, so maybe let’s work on improving that.”

“And we’ll say, okay, we’re seeing trends over here, everybody’s really interested in this feature. So, let’s slot that for the next phase of development. We look at all those different places, we’ll come up with a list of things that we want to tackle for a particular release, high level, right?”

Feature Categorization & Planning

Qumsieh: “From there, we’ll go to the next phase of what are these features going to look like? If it’s just bug fixes, those are pretty straightforward, we know what to do with those.”

“But if it’s something brand new that we haven’t done before, it’s going to go through a UX phase, where we’re going to wire-frame, and we’re going to determine how is this feature going to work, how people are going to interact with it, what are all the various SharePoint components that come along with that, because since our product is built on top of SharePoint, there’s a whole SharePoint element to it. So we need those assets in place before our bit can work.”

Feature Development a& QA Testing

Qumsieh: “We’ll go through all that planning, and then we slot it for development. So, you know it will get tickets created in our issue tracking system, we’ll assign one of our developers to it, give him a chunk of time to work on it, and then when that’s complete, it goes through our QA process.”

“And then when that passes, sometimes it fails a couple times, but eventually we get through and the ticket or the feature is solid and where we want it to be, and then we’ll schedule it with that release.”

Release Planning

Qumsieh: “So typically, if it’s a major or minor release, you know we’ll do one or two of those a year. And if it’s a point release, we schedule those for every third Monday of every month.”

“So point releases, typically will take care of things like minor bug fixes, and tiny little maybe feature changes, but nothing major. So if it’s anything really big, like we’re adding a polling web cart, or something new to the product entirely, that goes into one of our major and minor releases.”

“It also depends; some of our releases can be really big. There could be 500 tickets in a release, and some of our releases could be one issue. Typically, a point release will be just one issue that enough people had that particular month, and we slotted it for fix in the next month.”

Cameron: “I can definitely see how over arching it is, especially when you have lots of different things you wanna add to the product.”

Allocating Resources for Development

“How do you go about allocating resources, when do you decide on a product feature, and you’re like, okay, this is a major, or maybe this is a minor, or maybe this is like, a little bit further ahead? How do you take that down, because we run very lean here with our relatively small development team, and break it down into tasks? How do you go about making sure that everything ends up on time?”

Qumsieh: “So we try not to bite off more than we can chew, which I think is super important. And I think it comes down to really understanding the scope of what it is we want to add, and then estimating it correctly.”

“We don’t always get it right, but I think because we’ve been doing this for so many years now, I think we’ve got a pretty good handle on knowing, “okay, that’s going to be roughly two months of effort, and you know is the ROI worth it in that instance?”

Feature Estimation and Prioritization

“So that’s actually another element of it. There’s some really great ideas out there but, sometimes, so we have this really great idea, but let’s say it satisfies two of our customers. And then there’s this other thing that we can do, that satisfies 20 of our customers. And so we try to lean towards doing the thing that’s going to satisfy more people.”

“But then, I’ll also go: well if this thing that’s gonna satisfy two is only going to take a day’s worth of effort, we’ll get it in there and bang it out. So, it’s really just making sure that we estimate things correctly, because once we get our guys on it, they’re really quick, like we’ve got the architecture, and the framework, and all this plumbing already into Bonzai, it’s stuff we’ve done before.”

The Biggest Effort Goes into UX/UI

“So when we’re adding something, even if it’s a new web part of some new functionality, we can reuse or play upon a lot of what we’ve already got. And then we’re just adding this new thing that’s probably got a UX and a new UI on top of it, so it’s really actually, I think, most of the time, it’s Myra’s times, our designer, making sure that she’s got enough time to plan out those wire frames and get the UX right.

“But I think that’s really important. Once the UX is good, then we can get development. Did I answer your question?”

Agile @ Bonzai

Cameron: “Yeah absolutely. That’s great. I feel like when we’re getting into development, we run through a bunch of different types of sprints. What are your favorite types of sprints, or how do you like to run your team in the most quick way, lean way?

Qumsieh: We have a Bonzai way. A way of our own. I don’t really think you could define, like I don’t think there’s anything out there, that’s like this is how Agile or some, there’s the different scrum methodologies. We’re just us.

Cameron: “You just say, every team is different.”

Qumsieh: “Every team is different yeah, and I don’t really think that I would say that we subscribe to any one thing, maybe it’s a lot of different things. But, yeah the most important thing for us is, we’re going to get these 10 things done in this release of Bonzai, and we’ve got a really small development team, and so we all take a piece.”

Bringing It All Together aka “Integration”

“And off we go, and then as we complete things, the thing that’s maybe interesting to notice, everything does funnel through me. So I do all of the code reviews and the integration, and the deployment to QA, here internally, so there’s this one pair of eyes, my own, that kind of has this overarching, historical view of Bonzai.”

“So I know a lot of the decisions about, why did we do this like this, two years ago? And usually there’s a SharePoint reason why. And it’s important to remember those things, because if you don’t and you’re looking at something two years later, you’re going to go, why did we do it that way and can we change it? And sometimes it’s not a good idea to change it, because it was in place for a reason, so I look at things with that lens. And so development does its thing, in its Agile way.”

“Sometimes Chris, our software developer, gets pulled off to do something else for two days, and that’s just nothing we can do about that, and then he’ll go back to development. Then it all funnels through me, and I’ll take a look at it and make sure that, it sort of makes sense with where we’re at, and where we’re going, and why we had it that way to begin with, and it makes sense for the code that we’re booked to put into the code base.”

Qumsieh: And then we deploy to [inaudible 00:07:55] with the whole QA process. I find that interesting because I think in some places, you’ve got maybe different people doing integration in different spots, and I find because of the SharePoint piece, it’s really important to remember some of the decisions and why we made them. And you’ll find too with SharePoint, and with Bonzai, there’s usually more than one way to do something, and so we wanna pick the way that I think is the most robust, will support the most number of customers, and requires the least complexity, and the least amount of deviations, so you try to find that balance, and sometimes that can be tricky.

Get the Plumbing Right

Cameron: “Absolutely. Do you think that we’re able to estimate so well, and we’re able to get these releases out running in such a small team because of years of SharePoint experience, or because we’re building the product, or maybe a hybrid of the two?”

Qumsieh: “I think it’s a hybrid of two, and I’d also add a third, and I think it’s because the plumbing is so well done. Matthew, our Director of Engineering, is just very good at building something without complexity. So, any developer can come in and go, okay, I get it, and I’m ready to go. I’m going to hit the pavement, and start developing features.”

“I think that’s super, super important, because if it’s not solid, if it’s not a good solid foundation you can build upon, then you have all kinds of issues.

“So I think that helps definitely, our SharePoint knowledge, because usually we’re going to go, okay this is the feature, we know exactly what SharePoint pieces we need, and we’ve got all the plumbing to help us provision those.”

“And it’s really just been doing intranets and Bonzai intranets for so long, you know developing another web part is a lot of copy and paste up until a certain point. Because you’ve got all that stuff there, and you’re just, okay, what are the properties that this web part needs? What is the UI that this web part needs to display? So, I think it’s those three things that make us so quick.”

What’s new @ Bonzai?

Cameron: “Yeah. What would you say you’re most excited about, about our big new ShapeShifter release that’s coming up?”

Qumsieh: “I’d have to say the UI.”

Cameron: “The UI? Yeah.”

Qumsieh: “Yeah, it’s, we joke internally now because we’ll look at the older version of Bonzai, and we’re super proud of that version, and once you see the new one, and the new UX and the new UI, you’re like, this is better!
We’re really excited to see people get on it, and start to use it, and see what they think about the new layout, and that sort of thing. But that’s what I’m excited about.”

Cameron: “Perfect. Sounds great, so Shereen, is there anything else that you wanna kind of talk about with our listeners before we head off here?”

Customer Engagement at Bonzai

Qumsieh: “I think we covered a lot of the bases I think I wanted to cover today. We have talked, in the future of maybe finding other ways we can solicit features, or feedback from customers in terms of what they’d like to see. You know Zendesk is a platform for submitting issues, but I don’t know that it necessarily lends itself to people being able to submit feature requests.”

“So where there’s different tools out there I think, Chantal you’ve probably seen some of them or worked with some of them that basically let you up vote for example. Like what if we could say, “These are the five things we’re thinking about maybe slotting for future release. What does everybody think?”

Cameron: “Yes exactly.”

Qumsieh: “Right and if we can get, I think User-Voices would be the Microsoft equivalent. I think you can go on there and I think they’ve got things you can up vote or down vote. I would love to see something like that for Bonzai. So, something that we’ve thought about internally, and yeah would just be really, really interesting.”

The other thing we should mention too is, we do UX studies.

Cameron: “Yes absolutely.”

Qumsieh: “You do a little bit of that, right?”

Cameron: “Yes, I do a little bit of that.”

Qumsieh: “So when we do come up with a UI or a UX that we’re interested in seeing what people think, we do send out emails and invite people and get that feedback.

Cameron: “Yeah Myra, Bonzai UX Specialist, and I are actually working on another UX study going through for ShapeShifter, and we just ran through our little test run yesterday, and we’ll be sending out emails I think next week, or this week.”

Qumsieh: “That’ll be interesting to see.”

Cameron: “Lots more customer listening in the future I think, which would be really nice.”

Qumsieh: “It frustrates me because I don’t use the word wrong, but I think I don’t always predict what people are going to get excited about or what they’re going to think is cool. What I think is cool, is not what other people think is cool, which is probably why I don’t do UX. I’m just in charge of implementing it but, yeah it’s really interesting to see what people think: this is really good, or I don’t like this.”

Cameron: “I really find UX studies super interesting. Watching people either struggle through things that you think are blatantly obvious, and you be like, click the button, click the button, like it’s right there, and they’ll be like: “Oh.” And you’re like, “Maybe it’s not that easy, you know? And it’s super cool.

Qumsieh: “I think that’s why you do these studies, because you take for granted your knowledge. You’ve been here for a number of years, right. You have to remember some of our customers, they probably couldn’t define an intranet necessarily, it’s just the website they go to, to get information and access things and do their day to day job, so it’s really interesting when you’re like: okay, so how would you find this information, and then they don’t go at all in the direction that you think they would.”

Cameron: “Especially when we’re working on a product that’s supposed to cut down employee productivity, or increase their productivity and cut down their time searching for things, so it becomes super obvious and apparent, but yeah, it is. It’s super beautiful, the new ShapeShifter release. I can’t wait to show people.”

Qumsieh: “Yeah we can’t wait for people to see it, and I think we’re just going to continue to do that. We’re going tocontinue to solicit feedback and do UX studies, and make sure that we’re doing things the way that make sense to people.

Cameron: “Yeah, absolutely. Well so thanks so much for your in, this has been super interesting and can’t wait to have you back on future episodes.”

Qumsieh: “I’d love to be back. Thanks Chantal.”

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