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From Idea to Solution: How Customers Shape our Products

By Karen Letendre, Senior Product Manager

At Connect17, our annual customer conference, I got to walk customers through how their ideas and input guide Qvidian’s software development process. How many applications do you use today where you can share an idea with the designers and help that idea become part of the product you use? It’s a pretty cool experience.

Here’s a look behind the product curtain at Qvidian: see what goes into creating features like the new RFP package and AutoFill.

Before Qvidian, I worked in the proposal department of a large insurance company where I spent many late nights and long weeks answering large RFPs. I managed content and eventually managed the proposal application for the organization. When I joined Qvidian about a year and a half ago, the product team was designing the new RFP environment, and I dove right in. My 12 years as an end user shape the way I think about the product and how it works.

As a customer, particularly in proposals and content management, you use tools the way you need to get your job done. Every day, you find the steps that work for you and create habits for yourself. Time is of the essence. You’ve got deadlines. You need to get your work done and move on to the next thing.

So when you’re using our application, trying to complete a task and you think, “geez, it would be great if…” At that moment an idea is born. But ideas can be fleeting. They come to you in the middle of a task and then once you’re done and on to the next thing, the idea may not stay with you.

When you find yourself in a similar situation, that idea may return. And if you find yourself in the same situation often enough, you start to think, “hey – I need this. Who else needs this?”

Sound familiar? What do you do with those ideas? Do you share them with anyone?

Sharing ideas out loud is a great first step. The next step is sharing them with the right people.

No matter who you share your thoughts with at Qvidian–support, Club Q, account managers, implementation teams, services, or training–all of them find their way to the product team where we prioritize them based on market needs.

Director of Education Services Michael Heffelfinger speaks with a customer at Connect17.

For example, many different customers reported a need to do more than answer a questionnaire. We heard that an RFP isn’t always just a questionnaire–it can include multiple questionnaires in different formats. You told us you need to provide supporting materials, pricing, cover letters and a variety of other documents as well. You shared that your workload is increasing, but your staff isn’t, which means you need to be able to respond to questionnaires faster. All of that lead to the design and implementation of the RFP package and AutoFill.

Evaluating the Ideas

All the ideas customers voice get funneled to the product team and here, we identify trends. Each voice lets us know what issues you’re encountering and who they impact. Often we notice themes – common underlying needs across organizations but with different proposed solutions. It’s important for us as a business to prioritize the information for the best outcomes.

Knowing why is critical to all of this. Anyone familiar with Six Sigma will recognize a methodology called The 5 Whys. It’s a simple way to determine the root cause of a problem; it also helps identify relationships between multiple root causes. It tells us what we really need to solve.

Once we’ve spotted the top issues, we reach out to customers to learn why each idea is important. What does this help you do? Why is that your process? Who does it effect and how? We need to fully understand the need so we can provide the best solution. This is all part of design validation—the phase where you begin to mold the solution. We keep the root cause in mind, then consider your process, your goals, and your business to shape the solution.

For example, we’re currently addressing the need to submit new content into the library from an RFP. While multiple organizations have this ask, each manages new content differently, with varying processes for who can submit, approve, and enable that content.

On the surface, the ask seems simple: provide a way to get new content into the library from an RFP. But working with customers who want this capability we consider how they work and why. That insight helps us understand exactly what the solution needs to do for them. This engagement point is critical in shaping product designs.

Once we’ve designed a solution to address the core need, we start to build. This is when the beta program begins. Beta is one of the most exciting stages: not only does the idea have a shape, but now it’s got legs. It’s interactive. It’s real, and you can touch it.

Next up is customer beta, where we get to fine-tune the solution before the major release. At Qvidian, this typically involves a group of about 20 customers to ensure a very personalized experience and our full engagement throughout the program. The development team is still building the features, so customers get to work directly with the unfinished product. It’s like taste testing a meal before you finish cooking – are the flavors right, does it have enough salt, do you need to change anything?

We typically have 2-3 stages in beta: the initial product drop, which is the foundation of what we’re building, and supplemental drops as we finish the product based on the feedback. Beta participants get to use the new solutions in their own environments and see how they work. Participants engage directly with product to share feedback. Their comments shape the final release.

When the product goes live and people start to use it, more ideas get generated. As you share those ideas with us, we learn about more trends and themes in the customer base and the cycle continues.

At Qvidian, the product starts and ends with you. Let us know what you need to better meet the demands of your job, and we’ll work with you to deliver solutions that help you succeed.

Got product ideas or feature requests? Submit a support ticket or share your suggestions with your account manager.

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