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Enhancing RFEs

Posted by Preston on 2009-10-22

Over at Grumpy Storage, there’s currently a fantastic piece about the sorry state of how Requests for Enhancement are handled by most vendors. In the post, we see a proposal of how vendors might improve how RFEs are accepted and worked on seriously.

Obviously my blog has an EMC bent, but I work across a great many products, and the one thing I’ll say about most vendors, regardless of whether they’re OS vendors or hardware vendors or software vendors, they all share one common attribute:

A practically callous disregard for user input.

The most polite response I can think of to vendors who don’t treat RFEs as serious input is “bah humbug”.

Ignoring RFEs (or not working with them) is like the tail wagging the dog. It’s the company basically saying to the end users, “You don’t have a clue what you’re doing. You can’t possibly understand our product or our direction enough to provide valuable input.”

This isn’t to say that all RFEs are sensible. However, lumping all RFEs into the “sounds like s–t” basket simply because a few happen to be illogical (or are for features that already exist) is unfair to the average user who genuinely wishes to recommend enhancements to a product.

At IDATA, I’m the primary developer for IDATA Tools. My take on RFEs for these tools is that they are invaluable. They frequently point to usage scenarios that we hadn’t considered, and they demonstrate how customers need to extend their datazone administration for easier use. Wanting to ignore that would be … well, insane.

RFEs should be treasured. Good on Grumpy Storage for making the case so eloquently.

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6 Responses to “Enhancing RFEs”

  1. Roberta Gold said

    Put in RFE with Legato for staging policy based on “time of day” when staging was first added to NetWorker. Still waiting …

    I have since requested a few other RFE(s), but they appear to be “Lost In Space” …

  2. Preston said

    EMC say the RFE process is better now, but I think for standard users it’s not there yet, and it’s certainly not at the state described in Grumpy Storage’s blog. I’d be pretty damn impressed if any big vendor implemented an RFE system approaching that described there, but I’d also argue that it’s a more important thing to implement then vendor twittering, etc. :-)

  3. Salamandro said

    Have you tried the (new?) EMC Community Network? There’s now a Networker Community. I shortly skimmed thru it and it looks like some Devs are there to ask for opinions and stuff. I don’t know how (and if) this will evolve, but you might want to have a look. For example, one Thread goes like this:

    “All,

    Good evening. My name is Skip Hanson and I am the Consultant User Interface Designer for NetWorker. I am
    reponsible for all things NMC. I started this role just after 7.3 was released and have been working towards a
    more accessable, powerful and flexible user interface.

    My question to all of you is: What is it in NMC that drives you crazy on a daily basis ? […]”

    • Preston said

      I’m a member of the EMC Community Network, but I joined when they were first starting it and it was rather slim pickings at the time. I probably should go back and have another look.

      Skip Hanson is great to deal with – I’ve been discussing various components of NetWorker with him for a while now and he always provides excellent responses.

      (However, like all other vendors, EMC could still do a lot of good for the user community by adopting a more transparent RFE process.)

  4. Skip Hanson said

    Hi all,

    Thank you for the kind words Preston.

    I have to agree that our RFE process is not very robust. The good news is that we are improving it and looking into ways to use RFE’s to our and your advantage. There are an amazing number of good ideas collected there over the last 20 years of NetWorker.

    We are also providing other means to get you requests and feedback to us. As mentioned by Salamandro we have a new NetWorker community starting up that should be great for sharing information. You can always send me complaints, comments, issues with NMC and NetWorker usability at networker_usability@emc.com.

    Cheers,
    Skip
    networker_usability@emc.com

    • Preston said

      Hi Skip,

      I’ll certainly agree that the RFE process has been improving.

      One idea that came to me this morning was that a way to improve not only the quality of RFEs, but also a company’s understanding of them would be to have a voting system. Obviously there’s going to be some RFEs that product management will just instantly look at and say “yes, that’s exactly what we need to do”. However, there’s all those RFEs that no-one is quite sure when they should be got to.

      Using EMC as the example, I could envisage a system where RFEs not added immediately to the core development queue could be made available in a special section of PowerLink. Obviously they’d need to be filtered to remove any identifying customer content, but once done so and put in PowerLink, users could give RFEs a 1-5 star rating on 3 separate metrics:

      (a) Security
      (b) Usability
      (c) Criticality

      Security would be whether users feel that the RFE is going to provide better security within the environment. Usability would be a ranking on whether the RFE is going to make NetWorker more or less usable. (E.g., something that gets a ‘5’ star ranking in Security but a ‘1’ star ranking in usability would need to be re-thought.) Criticality would be how important it is to the user that it gets included – 1 star being not important, 5 star being “already need”.

      If RFEs were ranked by the overall community, it gives the benefit of vetting submissions by the broadest possible group, and gives the user community an excellent way of interacting with product development.

      The big dichotomy I often see between engineering/product development and product end-users (for any company) is that tasks which product development think are either trivial and not needed, or too hard and thus require too much work, are the ones that end users actually want most of all. While this is not a divide that can be bridged just by an RFE voting process, it would give the option of at least opening up a meaningful dialogue to help users easily express how important particular features are.

      [Edit – Proving how sometimes you can read something without getting 100% of it consciously even if it kicks in subconsciously, I just re-read Grumpy Storage’s post on RFEs and saw that was one of his points – an RFE voting system. Seems like a great idea though.]

      Cheers,

      Preston.

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