on 07-08-201012:55 PM - last edited on 08-05-201008:32 AM by tmergel
A few weeks ago ACT! 2011 went into the beta phase of product deployment. As a part of this process we typically embark on a truly unique journey that involves a process known as “Beta Days”. So, for those of you who have not participated in these before I’m going to describe what this process entails, my experience this year, and the value to both the ACT! end user experience/product as well as determine anything that need better understanding and/or user simplification.
So, what are Beta Days? Well, it’s a collection of groups of ACC’s (ACT! Certified Consultants) who gather local ACC members in an attempt to put the BETA product through their expert tests on their individual systems in a team environment. So, as an example, this year we had groups form across the United States in the following locations: Sacramento, CA; Los Angeles, CA; Baltimore/DC Area; New York, NY; Nashville, TN; Chicago, IL; Houston, TX. These locations vary from year to year, but some have become mainstays. One thing I want to point out is that these events are put on by the ACC’s themselves, although a Sage employee (Richard McMakin) does give out homework and suggested areas to test for ACC’s as a great starting point! In certain cases, the groups that form have a great enough ACC count that Sage will offer to send a Sage employee to these locations to advise, inform, and access issues and usability faults in the application. That’s where I come in…
This year was the only the second time that I had the opportunity to represent Sage Software at beta days sessions – It’s right around my Birthday and always seems to be too difficult to make in the past. Anyway, this year I was happy to attend sessions in both Sacramento and Los Angeles.
My first session was in Sacramento, where I met up with 6 ACC’s to test out the product (Some more were local but tested remotely). I felt that this group really knew the product well and all of them seemed to be quite familiar with the history of ACT! – Most have been with ACT! Longer than I, and I’m going on my 8th year – as well as the new feature set. Some of my general findings from this session revolve around the areas of features they were particularly interested in: Smart Tasks, and Outlook Sync. Regarding “Smart Tasks”, they looked forward to beefing up the number of capabilities afforded within a smart task as it’s currently shipping with 3 main capabilities; sending email, creating an activity, and sending an E-marketing email (Note: Beta build only had the 1st two options.) Their other feedback focused on outlook activity synch now working like a true synch, although they were able to uncover some pretty key issues that either were logged as defects, or had some suggestions to make the way it works more clear to the end users. A particular point here that led to some confusion was that there is a default date range the synch works upon in order to access which activities need to synch to/from outlook. Many expected all the records to synch from the beginning of time to the end of time. That’s not what it actually does, by default, it only synchs with activities 14 days before current date and 30 days after. (Note: In the preferences users can configure this range differently) It’s this type of feedback that’s so valuable to us here as it helps us to know if we may have made a bad assumption and therefore reevaluate, or at least consider was to make this more intuitive and understandable to the end user. Also, the team was happy to see that a short list of their most annoying issues from previous versions were addressed – so they were quite happy to see that we were really listening to them (really, we are).
My next session was in Los Angeles the following day. (On a personal note, I’ve learned that even a solid stick of deodorant in your luggage, when left in a hot car, will indeed melt and destroy your clothes!) This session was a bit more populated and definitely productive as well. We had great participation from everyone involved and even had a few people testing our web product client. This session had more of the same general interest in the areas of Smart Tasks and outlook sync areas, but they were particularly happy regarding the new and significantly improved back button – a feature that people clamored to get back into the product. Some of the more interesting feedback I received on Smart Tasks was the fact that you could select a list of contacts and manually run a smart task directly against those contacts. The expectation was that any existing smart task filter criteria would still apply even though you manually selected it to be run on a certain contact. (Ex: Smart Task filter criteria could be set for a particular smart task to only send email daily to contacts whose birthdate is Today – In this case the result of selecting a contact who does not have a birthdate Today would still send the email to them due to the fact that manually selecting them overrides the criteria). Based on this feedback we are modifying the dialog to make it clearer what this option is and why/how it should be used. These are the kinds of valuable feedback we love to here as It’s so much better to address these issues now than when it’s in hands of our valued end users.
I would like to personally thank all the people involved in these sessions as well as all the ACC’s involved in helping us make a better product. I know your time is valuable and I really appreciate the participation and enthusiasm you demonstrated during our sessions. It’s a great feeling for someone like me who spends most of my time working on the product, whether managing, coding, or attending meetings to see the people who really use, sell, customize, and consult for the ACT! Product line.