Early Access, General Access, and Product Integration
By Sr. Product Manager Samuel Greer
Many of you have commented that you value stability in the Product while also recognizing the need for us to make updates. We know you rely on Process360 Live for critical and sensitive business information. You have to have the tool working; bugs are quite frustrating, and many of you need some of our new features as soon as possible as you have business activities waiting for us. Early Access functionality (found under Administration → Server Settings → Early Access) has been our response to this. We get new features out to Early Access as soon as possible. Customers that need the latest features can give them a try, recognizing the feature may still be rapidly changing or have a greater chance to have bugs. Customers that need stability and predictability in the product can elect to wait on the Early Access features until they are ready.
We have a general strategy to put features that change functionality behind feature flags and to allow net new functionality to be release straight to the platform. This strategy has become more nuanced as we now try to push all of our larger features through Early Access regardless if they are net new or introduce changes to existing functionality. Small features with new functionality that are identified as low risk still get introduced straight to the Product though we've recognized some of our customers simply aren't interested in being some of the first users of new functionality.
We are actively looking for customers to try out features in Early Access and provide feedback to us. For each new feature we try to find about 4 customers in different industries that want to actively partner with us and provide more feedback. This typically involves a few meetings with the development team, some live screen-sharing, and the exchange of ideas. Anyone is welcome to try out Early Access features, though if you'd like to Champion one of our features and be involved in more detailed feedback to shape the feature with your needs in mind contact your Account Executive and let them know! There's limited slots for any given feature so we don't overload the development team, though even if one feature is full we can still chat with you about other features current or upcoming that you might be interested in getting more engaged with us on.
- If you want to be part of an Early Access program for a feature though your corporate policy requires you not turn on Early Access features it is still worth engaging us in a conversation as there may be other options available to enable you to engage with us.
You may see a slight change in how "complete" features are when they first release to Early Access as we start the introduction of General Access (read more below). In software development it is important to get features in the hands of customers and start to get feedback as early as possible (at least, with customers that are interested and willing to participate in such an arrangement). This lets us validate we are headed in the right direction with development and lets us hear from you what the most important next bits of functionality are. We do market research and plan of course, though there's no better feedback than the customer trying to use the software and wondering why they can't do the very obvious thing they need to do. If we have to make scope tradeoffs in development we'd rather develop a few less bells and whistles on a feature and have the things we build do what they need to do well. Getting to our objective requires that we get features still under active development out to customers even earlier than we do today.
Some of you may have noticed we have quite a few features in Early Access at the moment and haven't seen a lot of features leave Early Access. Your astute observation is not lost on me and I am excited to announce a new program part of a larger Product Lifecycle discussion: General Access. Very simply, Early Access means features are available for your Administrators to turn on at their leisure though are set to a default state of "Off" when they are released. General Access features will be default set to "On" when a feature is released out of Early Access though Administrators still have the option to go into the Server Settings and turn the feature off (for a limited period of time).
In many products when a feature leaves Early Access (sometimes called Beta, or Labs) the feature is now enabled for customers with no way to turn the feature off. We are introducing General Access so customers know when a feature is "ready" (more on that in a bit) while also giving customers that need just a little more product stability or time to do internal change management activities the opportunity to turn the feature back off for a brief period, complete the activities they need to complete, and turn the feature back on when they are ready. We hope you see this as us listening to you, recognizing you have processes in place that need to be updated and executed when we make changes to our product.
Features in General Access will (at some point) receive a date next to them in the page of Early Access and General Access features. This date will represent a planned Product Integration date. Product Integration means the feature will be enabled and the option to toggle the feature will go away. Dates for Product Integration will be NET dates (Not Earlier Than) and may be pushed back as determined appropriate by iGrafx. For purposes of development, QA, and support, we need to work our features toward Product Integration so we want to keep these dates reasonably short, though it may take some back and forth with the community to find the right target date for a given feature. This program is new and we'll work with our community to figure out how to get the right balance here.
What is the criteria for General Access you ask? Great question! Here's our working criteria right now:
- Feature stability; When a feature first comes out we typically receive a lot of feedback. Some of this feedback is about bugs and some of the feedback is about critical missing functionality. At some point we get the feature to a place where we identify it is meeting it's design objectives (at least for the current iteration of the feature) and we've got a good handle on the bugs. While changes may continue to be made to the feature, we no longer expect material changes to be made. Further major changes to the feature, if needed, will be made as part of a new feature release behind a new Early Access feature flag
- Organizational Readiness; Our Professional Services and Support teams are great! Though they aren't "read the minds of the developers and interpret the code as it's being written" great. Features typically make it to Early Access with general awareness by our internal teams that a new feature is coming though they also need time to get trained on and familiar with the new functionality. When a feature goes to General Access we expect the feature to be "Ready" in the kind of way you hope to expect. This means our support teams have familiarity with the feature, iGrafx University course content is updated or available (where applicable), and our Account Executives have been brought up to speed. If any of you have worked in a corporation before you know this is still at least partially aspirational, though we have a plan, including a process diagram showing the activities in our internally used instance of Process360 Live
I look forward to your feedback on General Access and how we can continue to work with you to make Process360 Live effective in your organization. If you feel General Access does not go far enough to meet your needs please engage with us as we can make minor updates to the General Access program. Additionally, we offer versions of the product that allow you to control when you take updates – please contact your Account Executive if you think this might be a better fit for your needs.
A small number of features may go straight to General Access, skipping the step of Early Access. These will typically be small updates that we believe pose low risk for interference in your workflows, though recognize a subset of our customers may still desire to perform change management functions on before the organization adopts these changes. Our current expectation is that most features that may go straight to General Access will be smaller UI changes (more on this below), though this thinking may evolve over time.
When a feature heads to General Access we believe this is the future of Process360 Live. If you need to turn the feature off for reasons other than managing the readiness of your organization to adopt the new feature please contact us and let us know why.