The development team here at PayPerPost has been quiet for a little while, beavering away on defining a slower, higher quality development process, fixing bugs, making some confusing aspects of PayPerPost.com simpler, listening to and applying feedback we’ve received, and generally making things better than they currently are.
So, at 23:59 Eastern Standard Time (GMT – 5 hours), we’ll be taking PayPerPost.com offline for about 90 minutes. I’ll do another blog post later today detailing exactly what we’ve done, but I can confidently assure everyone out there that you’re really going to like it (well, our competitors won’t, but hey that’s business!). What I would like to do here though is just walk through some of the lessons we’ve learned and talk about how we’ve applied those lessons.
Unlike some companies, we have no problem admitting when we’ve made mistakes. We’ve made quite a few in the journey to this point. In just 8 months, PayPerPost as a company, and PayPerPost.com as an application have grown dramatically. We started out as a small almost fanatically driven team trying our very best to beat the competition and lead the marketplace we created. Just a few short months ago we were Ted, 2 developers, a single support person, and a single marketing person. Today we’re a development team of 10 supporting a company with lord knows how many support people, an incredibly talented and well qualified sales team, a growing marketing team, finance people, and a whole lot more besides. It’s been an incredible ride.
Our meteoric growth though has had an impact on the system on many levels. We’ve had to juggle building in new market leading features, fixing bugs, tidying up the user interface, tidying up the code, growing the code, maintaining performance, hiring and training new people, and growing our infrastructure, to name but a few of the challenges. The growth of PayPerPost.com then, the software, has been quite organic.
We all recognized a month or so ago that we needed to start stabilizing. We’ve got the marketplace, we’ve got the userbase, the business is going great, so now’s the time to perhaps slow down, look to the future and start building out a process to support our journey towards our ultimate goals.
Until this point we’ve had a painful number of bugs after deployments. Performance has been something of a roller-coaster, new features weren’t really communicated to you, the users, too well. Our development process wasn’t really a process of any real merit and we’d repeatedly hit all the textbook problems associated with software development, including re-introducing bugs, and not having consistency from one part of the application to the other.
Throughout it all, our users have stuck with us, and grown, and that’s caused some gray hairs to sprout as well. Those same users have also been very vocal at telling us what’s wrong.
From the posties we’ve heard that the categories are perhaps too specific given the limits we place on how many you can select. We’ve heard that the performance of the blogger dashboard is abysmal. The introduction of segmentation (which by the way was an awesome thing, since the quality of blogs and the rates you all receive jumped significantly) lead to confusion since it wasn’t easy to quickly find which opps a postie would qualify for, which meant that all too often you’d miss out on the opportunities best suited to you.
Our advertisers also told us that the categories were a bone of contention. Another recurring request was for advertisers to have more visibility into how their opportunities are being taken up in the marketplace, with better reporting and communication from PayPerPost.com to them. Performance was also a concern for these users, but perhaps less so than it is for the posties. The affiliate programs we introduced were a step in the right direction from a business standpoint for some advertisers, but many wanted more.
Away from the applicaiton itself, we heard that you all want more developer visibility in our forums. You want the development team to be more responsive when issues are encountered, you want less bugs (well duh), more communication from us and so on.
Tonight’s release is about addressing all those things, and more. It’s hard to be critisized, especially when you work the hours and have such as passion as we all do here at PayPerPost. But, feedback (both positive and negative) is invaluable for improvement.
We’ve started to put in place a much slower development process that really encompasses quality at it’s core. We’ve hired a QA Manager, Steve, a veteran of Gartner Group and who has years of managing quality assurance in software under his belt. We’ve adopted paired programming on a larger level than before to ensure that quality is in place before we even hit formal testing, and to ensure that everyone has a clear view of the code that runs our application. All the developers are now writing code and fixes test first, and always choosing simple, fast and easy to maintain solutions over more complex, and potentially risky ones.
We’ve dedicated a single developer a week to helping out customer love. That developer is responsible for managing bugs and fixes, being incredibly active in the forums, and being completely responsive to the customer support team when issues are found. We’re only in the second week of this, but so far it’s working great.
Our process now allows a lot more time for testing. Tonight’s release has really been in test for over a week. During that time, the developers have been focussing on fixing issues that both Steve and the Customer Support team find. New feature implementations were kept to an absolute bear minimum in that time, much to Ted’s frustration. The end result though should speak for itself.
I won’t claim in this release that we’ve fixed all the issues that you guys have encountered. What I will claim though is that we aren’t rolling out new issues, the ones that we’ve fixed are now fixed for good, and we have tried to sort through the concerns of our community and prioritize what should go in this release, and what should go in the next, and so on.
We’re 3 months into 2007 and it really does feel like 3 years have passed rather than just 3 months. But the team are happy and confident. The system we’re delivering today looks fantastic, and the future looks extremely bright as we work on scaling and growing this baby of ours to levels none of us ever really imagined we’d be challenged with reaching.
Thanks for bearing with us, and we’ll see you all tonight at midnight!