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My company is working on developing a new product that is similar (but larger in scope) than our existing, primary application. It will incorporate most of the functionality of our current application (except where that functionality isn't currently being used) and eventually supplant it.

Our initial thought was to solicit product suggestions and feedback on mock-ups from certain members of our current clientele who have made multiple feature suggestions in the past. This seemed good in theory, as we could get a larger perspective from our projected user base as well as getting buy-in from those customers who might have had feature requests they previously made indefinitely postponed.

In practice what we're getting is a lot of silence. We have meetings with this group every two weeks to get their feedback and suggestions. However, they rarely - if ever - have anything to add. We've tried emailing out to them a few weeks in advance, asking for their suggestions on a certain feature that we intend to design and mock-up for them on x date, and no suggestions come back to us. When we ask for feedback on existing mock-ups during the meetings, the response is always along the lines of "Oh, that looks good...I'll get back to you if I think of any problems." This leaves us extremely anxious.

TLDR: The concern is that while our design may look great to us and our business team, our customer base won't like it (there are many areas it is radically different, based on things we implemented poorly the first time around). Can anyone offer any suggestions on ways we can better solicit feedback?

Edit: Please note that I'm not asking how to proceed without client involvement. Rather, I'm looking for suggestions on how to convince people that it's in their best interest to be more involved.

  • possible duplicate of Can Agile be accomplished without client involvement? – gnat Nov 19 '14 at 17:44
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    @gnat I'm not trying to find a way to accomplish this without client involvement - we can do that if necessary, and have done so in the past. What I'm hoping for are suggestions on how to better spur client involvement. How can we make them see why their input is necessary and to their benefit without patronizing them? – Locke Nov 19 '14 at 17:48
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    Primarily because they aren't necessarily waterfall clients. They use our current system, but had no say in it's development. And, while they occasionally make suggestions from time to time (it's a cloud based service with a monthly subscription), they don't actually view themselves as part of the development process because the product they use currently is already designed and functional. It's not a question of requirements upfront or a continuous feedback loop - it's a question of getting them involved at all. – Locke Nov 19 '14 at 18:30
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    Have you considered asking people who are not current customers why they aren't current customers? – Brendan Nov 20 '14 at 2:21
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You will probably get lots of more feedback as soon as your new product is on-line and people start using it. Especially, when you replace your existing application, so your clients are not able to use the old one any more. So work towards that goal - give your clients a version of the new product at hand with access to the same feature-scope they had in the old application (hopefully you have prepared your new application for such a scenario?) Not just mock-ups - they have to work with that thing. If your new product is not ready for that step, try to make some working parts of it available to your client and replace the older parts with these new ones. Or make something like a "beta" program, where volunteers can try out your new application for free (!).

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You really can't "solicit" those requests.

What you have to do is go out and LIVE with those clients, and see how they are ACTUALLY using your product, and see what is ACTUALLY eating them alive, causing them to curse you and your ancestors in languages long forgotten except for the specific purpose of calling down the wrath of gods best left undisturbed.

THAT'S how you find out what they NEED.

Talking to their managers WON'T WORK.

And understand something: I'm not spouting something I read in some book somewhere. I walked the walk on this one. Thirty years ago, I got tagged to do what today would be called a simple bug-tracker. We got lots of input from management on what they thought they wanted. I threw almost all of that in the circular file next to my desk, and went out to the Systems Integration Lab and talked to the guys in the trenches about what they actually did. What they really needed was immediately blindingly obvious.

And that's what I built.

And it was a screaming howling success.

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