Developing in the dark, light-bulb moments and the value of “Does it do this...?”

Published on

June 30, 2020

How PensionSync explores great idea concepts with crumpled office paper and light bulb

“Does it do this?” is perhaps the most important question a customer can ask. It roughly translates to “We want it to do this.”

At PensionSync, we spend a lot of time talking to customers and these conversations are an essential part of our product development process. Without customers telling us what they want the product to look like, we as a tech company would be developing in the dark.

Since Summer 2019 we have mainly used Trello to organise and prioritise features for development. Every customer request and every light-bulb moment from a team member gets a “card” on a Trello “board” and each card is cross-examined and assigned a priority slot accordingly. Typically, cards will be slotted into forthcoming software releases, and at that point the serious analysis begins - taking the card from idea to implementable reality. Some cards never make it that far. There is a “Shelved” column, littered with ideas too niche, or too wildly fantastical to consider pursuing… although we never delete them: this team is ambitious and, ultimately, we’d like to build everything every customer ever wanted, ever. 

Two new features have recently been made available in PensionSync:

  1. The Reporting Pack - a flexible report generator which allows customers to export details of the schemes they have connected to PensionSync, which pay periods the pension data has (and hasn’t) been sent for, whether any employees have opted out, and more.
  2. Submission Approval - an optional safety check, in which customers can review the pension data submission in PensionSync before it is sent to the pension provider, providing extra flexibility to cancel and correct the data in the case of any late changes. 

These are great examples of how ideas from customers plant seeds and from those seeds grow mighty features. Actually, both of these features originate from a single day visiting accountancy firms in Edinburgh. 

First, I was visiting a long-standing customer. They were extremely happy with the time-saving and data accuracy they were getting from PensionSync, but they wanted to know “Does it do this…”

It turned out that although they could get various management information from their payroll software, one thing they couldn’t really get their hands on was detailed pensions reports. They liked that they could see information on-screen in PensionSync, but for the scale of their operation they needed something exportable. The idea of the Reporting Pack was born. 

A bus-ride and a pleasant stroll through Edinburgh’s New Town later, I popped in to see a potential new customer. They had their own “Does it do this…?” 

Their compliance process for pension submissions included a mandatory physical check of the data before approving it to be sent to the pension provider. The automation provided by PensionSync, therefore, posed a problem because it bypassed that step. I didn’t make the sale that day, but the idea of the optional Submission Approval feature was born. 

In both cases, the fact of having received the feedback was not enough to build the feature. Features take up significant development resources. With a small team, analysing the value and viability of a feature before deciding to go ahead with it is very important. At PensionSync, we LOVE automation and it’s part of our mission to REMOVE manual processes, so the Submission Approval feature was to some extent counter-intuitive. But in this piece of feedback, we had a stark example of how a customer transitioning from manual file uploads to automated pension processing may need a safety valve fitting before they can adopt the new system.

Getting the opinions of a range of customers is fundamental to our development process. It is routine for me to run new feature ideas by customers when I visit, or when I speak to them on the phone. We have a good number of trusted long-term customers who we can not only run ideas by, but who we can rely on to provide constructive feedback and invaluable industry insight. These customers have become a key part of the PensionSync Community and they help to drive which features end up in the “Shelved” column, and which ones come to fruition. Reporting Pack and Submissions Approval were two that made the cut and, thanks to the range of feedback we have had, we are confident that they will be of great benefit to many of our users.

Dan Donovan

Dan Donovan

Head of Customer Experience

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