Go back to basics with your product and “fix all the things”

It is all too easy to focus development efforts on big features for your product. Big headline features are a good chance for a marketing push, they can be announced with bells and whistles; there is something big for people to get excited about. Big new features are great fun to launch, however in our experience at Perch they often pass almost unnoticed by many of our current customers.

At this point Perch is a mature product. We will be five years old in May 2014, our version 2 is over a year old and we have a large number of active customers who give us great feedback and share with us their ideas for the product and the features they would like to see. We also keep a log of things that we realise are issues – perhaps we see people in the forum frequently tripping up on a certain thing, or see people asking how to insert help text to explain something to a client. Little things, workflow issues, not the sort of big features that you would make a big fuss over but they impact designers building sites, and crucially the content editors who use the sites, every day.

While Perch can do a lot of things, the most important thing is the content editing experience. A designer builds the site for a client, hands it over, and then that client spends their days looking at the CMS, adding and editing content. We really care that they have as good experience as possible. So we decided that our 2.4 release would be code-named “fix all the things” and would purely attempt to fix as many niggling issues as possible. We raised bugs for everything we knew about, and also asked our customers to let us know what their top issues were. Then Drew got to work ploughing through all these tasks.

We shipped 2.4 two days ago – if you are interested in the full details we discussed it all in Episode 29 of the podcast. The episode may be of interest to anyone developing a product and not just Perch users – in terms of the approach to fixing “all of the things” and how little things can be more complex than you might imagine!

The interesting thing to me is that this release has been quickly declared by a number of Perch customers as their favourite release. In terms of customer feedback we’ve had a lot of positive comments and appreciation, much more than when we ship a big headline feature. I think this is possibly because in fixing all the things we touched on a lot of pain points, we helped out far more customers than we would had we concentrated on some big thing that may be useful only to a small subset of our customers. We also feel good about it, we feel we have moved the product forward, both for the designers who implement sites with it and for their clients.

Last year I wrote an article for Smashing Magazine about how we developed Perch by starting small and then listening to customer feedback. Given the experience of this last week I would add to that my advice, that if you have a mature product and haven’t revisited the core feature set recently – give it a try. Go through that backlog of niggling issues, mine your support system for gotchas, talk to your customers and spend a couple of weeks fixing all the things.

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