Lessons learned by giving away work


Some times it’s tough to know what direction your code/design/project should take. One great way is to observe how it is used. When you do that you can also be gathering feedback. That feedback can be very valuable and can help you determine where to go next. What is the next feature that should be built? How will users use the new tool that we made for them? Will they even use it at all? All these are great questions and are difficult. Without feedback, they are almost impossible to answer.

Now gathering feedback can be tough. It also depends on the nature of your project. Is it free or is it a premium service/product that people are paying for? I've found that people are a lot more forgiving if the product is free, though you may have a bit harder time getting good feedback. If people pay they tend to be more vocal. You can also observe people in user testing which can also show you how people are using the theme/plugin. Some people may have difficulty telling you about the issues that they had but observing them gives you a clearer picture along with other feedback you have gathered.

If you have ever created a plugin to host on WordPress.org's plugin repository you will know that they provide you with a forum for users to let you know of any issues or problems that they may have. If you see some issues keep occurring then you may realize that you have a flaw in maybe how you designed your plugin. The forums tend to only show problematic issues. They don't really help in the way of gathering information for better user experience for example (I know fixing flaws helps but I think you get what I'm saying).

I saw a show on tv that was about gun manufacturers once. Now this was a huge cannon weapon that can be operated by one person but would have to be set up on a tripod first. This was designed for war-time conflicts. The manufacturers issued a few weapons to soldiers and then observed how they used their weapon. They noted that depending on the environment, the gun may be used differently. They also observed how the gun was carried. Remember, this was a war time scenario and the soldiers had no time for things that did not work properly. The manufacturers witnessed the soldiers slinging the massive gun by the barrel and carrying it over their shoulders when moving. This was a pain point for the engineers. They imagined the weapon being moved a certain way but the soldiers found a way that worked for them and was easier. The manufacturer took that information and instead of trying to do away with it, tweaked it and made it better. Had they not observed the soldiers using their product in the trenches (literally), they would have been clueless to know how to improve it.

So sometimes it's easier to give your product/service away to test. That's what beta testing is all about. Your payment is free feedback. That feedback when used correctly will help you find tune that product/service into something that is much more beneficial to you and your team and your users.

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Hey, I'm Jeff Freeman

A WordPress web developer from Peoria, IL who likes to travel, and enjoys coffee, craft beers, kung fu, biking and working on interesting projects.

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