Crowdsourced Software Development?

This afternoon, the MatrixMaxx team at Matrix Group held a Town Hall meeting with clients to get feedback on about a half dozen features slated to go into the 10.1 version (scheduled for release in early February).  We could have surveyed clients via e-mail or a Web survey; we could have conducted a focus group; we could have called a select group of clients and consultants; or we could have gone with our gut and made decisions about credit card processing, meeting wait lists, individual relationships, etc.

Instead, we decided to crowdsource the specifications.  Crowdsource?  What does this mean?  Wikipedia defines “crowdsourcing” as the “act of taking tasks traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, and outsourcing them to a group of people or community, through an “open call” to a large group of people (a crowd) and asking for contributions.”  Wikipedia also uses this definition: “the trend of leveraging the mass collaboration enabled by Web 2.0 technologies to achieve business goals.”

In the past, Tanya (the Director of MatrixMaxx) and I would sit down, discuss requirements, maybe make a few calls, and then decide on the specifications for each release.  This time around, we decided to get immediate feedback from as big a group of clients as possible to validate our ideas and generate new ones.

The Mechanics of the Town Hall Meeting

  • We sent an e-mail invitation to all MatrixMaxx clients, inviting them to an hour-long, online Town Hall meeting.  The e-mail provided details on the half dozen topics under consideration, with a general discussion of the options available.
  • Clients were invited to provide feedback in real-time during the meeting, before the meeting via phone and email, and after the meeting via phone and e-mail.
  • About 60% of the clients registered at least one person to the Town Hall meeting, which was conducted via conference call and Webex.
  • Tanya ran the meeting, leading the discussion and taking notes, which were shared out via Webex to all participants.

Immediate Benefits of our Crowdsourcing Experiment

I don’t think the meeting could have gone any better.  Even I was surprised at the level of engagement from clients, as well as the thoughtful feedback on our proposed changes.  Here’s what we learned:

  • A bunch of brains are definitely better than 1, 2 or 3. In one hour, we explored topics and prevented duh! moments in February.  For example, we proposed making the CID (the security code on credit cards) required on all meeting registration forms, but several clients correctly pointed out that they have already sent out paper forms for many meetings. If we require CID and they get back a bunch of reg forms back without the security code, they’ll have to call members and cause a lot of extra work. So, could we require the CID on the WWW side but not the intranet side? Honestly, we had never considered splitting the requirement between WWW and intranet.  What a great idea!
  • The Town Hall meeting got the attention of clients we rarely hear from, despite regular outreach. When we have little contract with specific clients, that’s a red flag because we don’t learn about their issues and problems, which means we don’t have the opportunity to fix them.  The meeting was a great way to re-connect with clients and show them we want to hear from them!
  • Clients liked hearing other client perspectives. In the past, when we decided to implement a feature one way, we made some clients happy and others unhappy.  Today, clients didn’t all agree, but they seemed to appreciate hearing about why another organization didn’t share their point of view.

The biggest benefit to the software team?  We got resolution on a bunch of requirements and the developers can plow ahead with their coding.  We are definitely going to do this again in the future, maybe even do a Town Hall meeting prior to the planning meeting for each release.

How about you?  What do you think of our experiment?  Have you participated in a crowdsourced event or project before?  If you participated in the Town Hall meeting, what did you think?

2 thoughts on “Crowdsourced Software Development?

  1. Joanna,

    Inpressive way to validate the direction you are taking with software application improvements! Sounds a lot like a new and more efficient twist on configuration control boards which are often used for government systems to control/validate the evolution of critical applications that are in wide use. While the governance piece may not be a component of your take on crowdsourcing, the effective result is nearly the same.
    Impressive innovation!
    David

  2. Glad to hear that you are connecting with the community to make your products and services truly meet their needs. I believe that using social and interactive media platforms (i.e. Facebook Fan Pages and even WebEx) to connect with your client-base is critical to the success of your business. Salesforce.com uses their “Ideas” platform to make crowdsourcing an on-going process, taking the community’s suggestions into consideration to plan out each of their next feature releases. Starbucks (www.mystarbucksidea.com) and Dell (www.ideastorm.com) have adopted the same process and have had great customer successes as a result (splash sticks and backlit keyboards respectively).

Comments are closed.