As a Community Manager, this is one of the most common questions we’re asked. I want to explain what I’ve learned about the seemingly impossible task of deciding what to develop for a 750,000 subscribers, and the factors that feed into this process. Read ‘til the end of this post and, while it may not change your desire for a particular feature, I hope it’ll shed some light on why we can’t build everything for everyone. In no particular order:
Community feature requests
The sheer number of requests shows us just how much our customers want Xero to be an important part of running their businesses. They’re willing to take the time to write up what they need, comment details about their situation, and then add their vote. All these requests and changes have added up — especially when you consider how many different business types, sizes and industries use Xero!
Community feedback is important to the team, with hundreds of requests completed so far. However, it’s not the only factor considered. Despite popular belief, there’s also no countdown to development when a request is added — some things take time, and everything has to be prioritized.
Emails to Support
Not only do these allow us to track the number of feature requests, but we’re able to see question trends. If we’re getting a lot of questions on a topic, it could mean that part of Xero could be improved, so it’s easier to use. Recent updates to Banking have all been fed from this thinking.
Legislation changes regularly — especially when we now have a regionalized product for six countries. We have to keep up with this.
Conversations with real people
Sometimes there’s a difference between what people say they want, and potentially what they need. We need to work backwards to come up with solutions to problems — and they may be a bit different to what was originally requested! Building cars, instead of faster horses as a cliched example. We also speak to industry experts to get a balanced view on what should be done — is the world actually ready for flying cars!
Accountants, Bookkeepers, and Add-on Partners
Our Partners have built whole businesses around Xero and our ecosystem, which is incredible. We need to listen to those that have invested their time and resources so heavily. If we create features that save them time, and allow for better integration, it means better business for everyone.
Social media & professional networks
Almost every tweet, Facebook post, blog mention/comment, LinkedIn, or discussion board comment is logged and passed on to the team. Although we generally need to keep a poker face, internally social media commentary gets a lot of attention. Praise leads directly to smiles and high-fives, but we actually pay more attention to criticism. You might not hear about it, but it generally leads to a lot of work for someone on the product team.
Sometimes we take risks and do what no one else has done before, like: Files, Bank Rec, and Assurance Dashboard. This isn’t always what our customers have specifically asked for, but it means we push the status quo, and ourselves! It’s not for the sake of building ‘something technically innovative’, but based on a deep understanding of how customers run their businesses.
New vs Old
We have loyal customers who’ve been with us since the very beginning — sticking with us even when our feature set wasn’t nearly as large as it is now. That feature set doesn’t suit everyone though, and as we grow we need to keep filling the gaps for potential new customers. Solving the needs of both is difficult. We strive to maintain a balance, but this means you’ll probably see us developing features or working on areas that you may not care about at all. We promise, someone else does!
No two businesses are the same
This is a biggie. Does a plumbing business, run by husband and wife, need complete granular user control for every screen in Xero? Does an accounting practice, with set fees for each customer, need a credit limit alert? You get the idea. One thing we’re discovering is how different businesses use the same features. This also changes how we develop. We need to think about developing functionality that helps a large number of people, but is also flexible enough to be used by a whole range of businesses. One example of that is Purchase Orders. Farmers can create RCTIs using Purchase Orders — which isn’t specifically what they were intended for, but a use case that was definitely considered when POs were built.
Xero Business considerations
What is happening in the online accounting space? What are our competitors, and verticals doing? We wouldn’t stay in business long if we didn’t pay attention. In New Zealand, in particular, we spend time with government to advocate better ways of bureaucracy to help small businesses. This has resulted in things like Signals, Offshore data approval, e-GST Returns, and Business Connect.
Scalability and our platform
Not only do we want to develop beautiful software, but it has to run effectively too. Developing a platform that easily supports features for a large number of people is important. So is reducing technical debt that comes with software of a certain age. Xero is now 10 years old, and what worked great in 2006 for 100 users, doesn’t necessarily work so well for 750,000 subscribers in 2016. Incredibly important to us too, is protecting you and your data – we’ve teams dedicated to making Xero as secure as possible.
What can we realistically do
Xero is a big company (and still growing), but we still have a finite number of developers and there are only so many hours in a day. Teams need to take all of the above into consideration, think about how much work it’s going to be, and then what they can achieve. To add some perspective, right now we have 400 people in the Product team, and 750k customers. That’s a lot of people to keep happy and equates to one dev for roughly 2000 people. Throwing more people at a problem isn’t always a solution so some challenging decisions need to be made.
Phew – long list of things to think about. If you’ve made it to the end of this, thank you! I hope this helps paint a clearer picture of the reasoning why we do or don’t build some things.
Sometimes we can’t develop what everyone wants, but that’s not for lack of trying! This is tough, but we work really hard to make Xero better for you. So please keep the conversation going – speak to your account manager, visit us at XeroCon, send emails to Support, and keep chatting to us in Community and social media.