Q2 of 2014 was a very very big quarter for us here at Accelo - and ironically, as we booked record growth, we realized that our product roadmap ambitions weren't being delivered as we'd hoped they would. As we rolled through the beginning of July, a number of the projects we outlined for Q2 - the quotes module, triggers and notifications - were in the category of "close but no cigar".
The good news is that in late Q2 we decided to double-down, and hard. Over the course of 20 days, we increased the size of our team by almost 70%, with the majority of our new hires in engineering. We now have an even more formidable engineering team and we've seen already in the early part of Q3 the flywheel speed ramping up.
While this module is now live, I wanted to take a minute and reflect on this powerful new module and also make mention of the features we're still working on. I also wanted to share the story behind this module to help understand how our new bigger team and a range of other internal improvements are helping our engineering team deliver more improvements, faster.
The Quotes Module has been - for some time - at the top of the list of requested features on our ideas forum at ideas.accelo.com. When we initially created Accelo we didn't include a Quotes Module because we thought - incorrectly - that Quotes for a professional service business were more like a proposal - heavy on content and images, lots of supporting information, and a format/output that would require a dedicated product effort (like the one done by our friends at Quoteroller) to replace the Microsoft Word proposals we'd always used when we were running professional service businesses.
What we heard from our users instead was that while there were times where you needed to have a big and complex proposal document to submit for a government tender or a massive project, most of the time you're asked for a quote it is for something smaller and simpler, and you really want a way to create something quickly, often from a template, and get it out. Being able to see when someone has opened the quote, and getting electronic signoff/acceptance were also really popular, but the main thing was making it easy to just do it.
With this information in mind, we had an all-hands engineering session in mid June to share the product team's plans, ideas and requirements for the module. For the first time in the history of the company, we then applied all of our engineering resources (with the exception of the important triggers work, see below) to bring this idea to life.
The results were incredible - within just a couple of weeks, we had a testable beta, and a week later we were able to ship this whole new module to all of our users. While the actual delivery deadline fell just outside of the Q2 target we'd set for ourselves (which was mostly because of challenges with the mobile apps taking longer to ship than we'd expected) the speed with which the team delivered this awesome module was impressive.
Following launch we've had a bunch of ideas/suggestions around improving the way we handle tax on quotes, some formatting and flexibility improvements and a few more tweaks, which the team is working on now. Stand by for an update in the next couple of weeks on this one.
The new Triggers and Notifications functionality, which we'd also slated for release in Q2, was released into alpha in mid-July. While we missed our June 30 deadline, the power of this new module - and the response from alpha testers - shows this was definitely worth the wait.
We're expecting this module to be available in all Premium accounts later this week; in the mean-time, check out this video which shows how it works and gives a few examples of how you can put it to use below.
After our timesheet upgrade in Q2 we've had a lot of feedback from our users asking for us to go further. This quarter we're doubling down, with a number of improvements to the way our users can track and record time, and we're excited to see what you do with them.
The first feature we'll be focusing on in Q3 is improving the new timesheet screen. We'll be making it easier for you to import things you've scheduled on your calendar and make them part of your timesheet, as well as making it easier to distinguish between scheduled tasks and work you've done.
We'll be making it easy to see external calendar entries and make them part of your timesheet.
If you have an entry on your calendar it will be easy to convert it to sales, project, support or other work.
The second feature we're working on is persistent timers in the Accelo interface. Rather than having to make note of the work you're doing and keep track of start/end times, you'll be able to create timers in Accelo and have them keep track of the time as it goes by for you. The draft time entries will then await your confirmation so you can get started on work (like a call that comes in or something urgent) instantly and choose where and when to log the time later.
You'll be able to have persistent timers (like the Facebook chat windows) that run in the background
With this new timer functionality, we'll also be able to build on some research our engineering team completed some time ago to introduce a desktop timer application, and with the ability to take advantage of the new structures and API we're also looking forward to bringing you timers in our iOS and Android Apps (for those people who love the idea of using their smartphone as a sort of companion stopwatch).
One of the most demanded - even if not voted on - features is the ability to compare how busy different members of your team are and use that insight to assign (and reassign) work across schedules.
While this has been something we've been working up to for quite some time, this quarter is the quarter we're finally able to deliver this hotly demanded feature.
Managers will be able to select one (or more) members of their team and see in a real-time forecast sense how busy they are, and then be able to assign work on tasks across an array of projects, issues and retainers to team members based on fit and availability.
Similarly, managers will be able to select one or more members of their team to compare and reassign work; so if someone is unexpectedly unavailable due to illness, or starts to get overloaded because of projects going long, you'll be able to reassign their work to other team members quickly and easily.
Another area of Accelo that consistently gets negative feedback is the way we allow users to list, sort and filter their data in the product.
In mid July, with our newly bolstered ranks, we decided to engage this problem once and for all, and we're looking forward to giving you the best listing, sorting and filtering experience in a web-based product very very soon.
Google taught us all we didn't need to think - no need for syntax, no need for context, just type it in, hit go, and the computer should be smart enough to just give you what you want.
While this is undoubtedly a lofty goal, one area where we can at least do better than we are is with the way our users can search for data in Accelo. Building off the back-end work we've been doing with timesheets and timers, we're looking forward to allowing you to search for the information in Accelo in the top right of the product without needing to tell us what type of object you're searching for.
When we released our iOS and Android apps in Q2, we knew we were delivering what's known in the game as "minimum viable product" - something that deals you in a hand even if it isn't a strong one, so you can build upon it.
As part of our "engineering explosion" we've now more than doubled the number of mobile developers on our engineering team, and with so many unexciting but important features around security, login, account management and local device caching now in place, we're excited to ramp up what our mobile apps can do through Q3.
While we're still working through the specifics for the 2nd half of this quarter, the things we're looking at include:
These are just some of the improvements we'll be working on going forward. As is always the case we'll be working on them incrementally and releasing them when they're ready. If you've got other ideas/requests make sure you share them with us at ideas.accelo.com.
Our activity stream - the Facebook-like news feed that is the center of many screens in Accelo - has long been one of our more popular features, however, it is also something we've know could do with a lot of improvement.
Our team is currently working on a brand new activity stream layout that makes it easier to see conversations, easier to click through and see details without needing to leave the screen, and easier to scan down the screen to find the information you're looking for. We're looking forward to delivering this for you soon!
While Accelo has email superpowers, there's still many of us who want/need to talk to our clients on the phone first and foremost (or at least frequently). To make things easier on our phone warriors, this quarter we're working on a new special screen that you can integrate with your digital or VoIP phone system so that you get a "screen pop" whenever you get an incoming call.
Using Caller-ID, when the phone rings a screen will flash up in Accelo showing you the client (or clients) who match that phone number. If it is a new phone number the screen will load up making it easy for you to enter the callers details as a new client, contact and optionally a request, sale, project, issue or contract, making it easier than ever to handle enquiries and take orders. If the call is from a phone number Accelo already knows about, you'll see the client record and have a simple timer driven screen where you can make notes and create tasks.
This feature will depend on your phone system of choice being able to create "screen pops" to a URL when a call comes in, but if you've got that sorted then we'll handle the rest.
Finally, we're talking with a number of phone system and VoIP vendors about integrations; these conversations are still early days, but we're hoping in the future to be able to sync your Accelo contacts with your phone system so outbound calling or inbound caller-id are a lot faster and easier.