Customer Research Best practices

Continuous Product Improvement: Papercuts & the Summer of Love

August 10, 2022
2 min
Continuous Product Improvement: Papercuts & the Summer of Love

In the earliest days of building Great Question, we shipped products at breakneck speed. New features were released daily, customer requests were handled in hours, and a relatively small product surface area made it easy to keep track of everything.

Oh, how they were simpler times.

As we’ve developed, our product has become very broad— - it’s a vital part of our product strategy to build an all-in-one customer research tool. 

There are three ways we work on continuous product improvement, above and beyond our regular product release cycles:

  • Weekly “Papercuts” sessions to fix minor issues like CSS bugs or copy changes.
  • Quarterly “Customer Love” weeks to refine existing functionality or add new capabilities to improve the quality of life for our power users.
  • Annual “Summer of Love” months to clean up any long-standing technical, design, and documentation debt.

All of this is not to say we don’t work on customer needs or bugs at other times, and we absolutely do, but we also carve our dedicated time away from the demands of the product roadmap and long-term product vision to keep the trains running on time.

Papercuts

Papercuts is a meeting we run every week that aims to solve those minor annoying issues that otherwise might not get prioritized in our regular product roadmap. 

It includes things like:

  • That annoying piece of copy that keeps tripping up new users
  • The display bug that causes text to run across a border
  • That third email in the onboarding sequence that has an out-of-date screenshot

Papercuts could easily be ignored or possibly cleaned up whenever that piece of the product is next reviewed, but they quickly add up. If left alone for too long, the entire product starts to feel buggy, ill-thought-out, or out of date.

The papercuts session is run by Product Design Lead Sean Langton, who brought the concept with him from his previous team at Instawork. He takes submissions into a Linear project throughout the week and prioritizes the most critical issues working with support, sales, and success folks. 

The meeting itself runs over an hour and a half, typically on a Wednesday around lunchtime, and is attended by everyone and anyone with the capacity. Usually, that will be our designers, 3-4 engineers, and often customer success + support folks. 

Everyone will pick up a few tickets at the start of the meeting and then work through them one by one, calling out where they need extra help (like copywriting) or feedback on their solution.

In the end, we get to celebrate the fact we’ve made the product better in some small way.

We’ve done papercuts sessions for 18 months now, basically, since the day we started the company, and I firmly believe this is why we get such positive feedback on the beautiful product design + user experience.

Customer Love Week

Once a quarter, we run a “Customer Love Week”. This is for our time to solve issues that might only affect 1 or 2 folks, which might not get addressed with the rest of the product roadmap.

These items are typically more oversized than a papercut and could include bugs, missing functionality, or other quality of life items. Sometimes there are more extensive features here so long as they can be performed in a week and don’t de-rail the product roadmap. It’s a delicate balance.

Having these weeks at the end of the quarter helps to bookend the work we’ve done to deliver brand new functionality on the roadmap and acknowledges that not everything we work on can be net new - you have to keep the existing customers + product in shape too.

We’ve been doing Customer Love Weeks for six months now, and customer response has been awesome. I wish we’d started to do these earlier.

Summer of Love

The Summer of Love is a new concept for us. We dedicate the month of July every year to customer-centric improvements. We dedicate 1/12th of our annual capacity on top of our quarterly sessions. Often, these items are too big to be done in a week but don’t necessarily make it into the product backlog. Technical + UX debt is a big part of this.

We solicit customer feedback to help us establish priorities and troll our ticketing system for long-standing bugs. 

In particular, the Summer of Love focuses on:

  • Long-standing but larger features that have been requested
  • Areas of the product or user experience that need standardization (ie, component libraries)
  • Squashing major technical debt

This year some of the items delivered in the Summer of Love include:

  • Launched our beta program for invite quotas: this way, you can automatically invite a diverse group of participants by setting criteria at the beginning of your study. For example, let’s say you wanted to run a study to understand better how customers feel about a particular feature, and you only want to talk to folks that USE that feature. So, you can shortlist that down to 100 folks. But, within that list, you want to get a broad range of users: different roles, industries, etc. With invite quotas, you can set those quota requirements during study development, saving you tons of time and manual intervention later in the process. 
  • Consent form improvements: Now, you can view and download signed panel consent forms and click on them to preview them. This is great for folks who might be new to research teams and need to see what the panelist has consented to, and it’s a nifty tool for your data privacy and security teams. 
  • Document editor: If you’ve created insight in Great Question, you’ll see that the document editor supports all kinds of text and embedded capabilities. You can add headings, embed clips, survey responses, tags, etc. This makes building insights easier, and you end up with visually appealing insights right in Great Question. 
  • Reinforced our SAML integration: We’ve added some extra checks and balances because data security is our highest priority
  • Attribute work: We added the ability to pre-fill custom attributes based on whatever you need. The two use cases we were seeing were: 
  •        Passing signup information from a marketing system into Great Question. Now, you can get a URL that will automatically pull a customer's name and email address and add it from your marketing system (which probably already has this data since they are emailing folks) right into Great Question. This is a way more effortless participant experience, so they just have to click the consent forms, and they’re off to complete their study in seconds. 
  •        Auto apply attributes: Now, you can automatically apply an attribute to a specific cohort of folks. For example, suppose you invited a bunch of folks to a study, and you want to tag those that responded to the study as such. In that case, you can set up the study so that the attribute of “completed feature X study” is automatically applied. 
  •        We also added some automatic attributes like the “joined date” attribute, so it’s easier to filter through your list of candidates and track the growth of your panel over time.

Striking the balance between net new functionality, improving existing products, and eliminating technical debt is an eternal struggle. Putting in place systems to prioritize this work promptly has made it much easier to keep debt to a minimum while delivering value for all customers. We hope you’ll find it helpful and thank all of our customers for constantly providing feedback, we would be nowhere without you.

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