I recently presented a review of our Team System community programs to the leadership of our business. This was a particularly interesting task for me as less than 3 months ago, I hadn't really spent much time thinking about community but as it became one of the three main parts of my job recently, I now care a lot. (Funny how that happens). I'm actually very excited about the addition of this role to my other responsibilities as it helps balance out my perspectives on our product and customers. I worry a lot about folks in 'release management' roles that don't have a strong connection to the customer. They might be great at getting products out the door but how do they know it's the right product that they're releasing? Yes, there are others on the team with tight customer connections, but the person beating the drum and driving discussions around priorities really benefits from having a balanced perspective between the team / company point of view and the customer / community point of view. More on that philosophy at a later date...
We have a dozen community programs that we've selected to manage over the next year. We selected these based on the product team's ability to affect the outcomes and the expected impact on the community at large. Our overarching vision here is to:
- Foster a broad self-supporting community
- Create a feedback loop with customers
- Win the hearts and minds of customers
- Optimize the use of limited product team resources
As we break this down to the program level, categorize our efforts as follows:
- Deep connections
- Regional Directors - Regional Directors aren't Microsoft employees--they're independent developers, architects, trainers, and other professionals who provide a vital link between Microsoft and the developer community. A directory of them can be found here.
- Microsoft’s Most Valuable Professionals (MVPs) - MVPs are individuals with expertise in one or more Microsoft products who actively participate in online and offline communities to share their knowledge and expertise with other Microsoft customers. A directory of the Team System MVPs can be found here.
- Customer Advisory Council - This is a new program that grew out of our most recent SDR to enable us to maintain a tighter connection with a small group of customers from various industries to provide us early feedback on designs, priorities and prototypes
- Channel 9: Channel 9 is a great place for us to share in a more personal way our products and the team behind the products.
- Webcasts: Webcasts are available both live and on-demand. They are scheduled and many belong to a series so you can get notified of those you might be intersted in. The calendar of upcoming events can be found here. There's also a large number of recorded webcasts, each with a description and rating to help you navigate to find just the right one.
- Chats: These are extremely popular events both on our team and with our customers. It's a great way to share your feedback and ask your questions directly with members of the product team. In the coming year, we will try to run these on a monthly bass and I see our next one is scheduled for Oct 4.
- Blogs: Oh my goodness do we have blogs. It's a great way for our team to spread the word about their part of Team System in the manner and timing that they most prefer. Many thanks to Rob Caron, our Blog Father, for leading the way here.
- Team content: This program is so big, it really probably deserves its own category but the teacher in me just couldn't deal with that lack of symmetry so I threw it here for now. We're still grappling with how to really make this pop so that we can provide the information be it whitepapers, tech articles, training, FAQs, how to's, etc.
- Conferences: We find that one way to revitalize our community is to meet with members face to face at conferences. Some of our team was at SD Best Practices 2006 just this week.
- User groups: We work through INETA to distribute information about Team System to the local user groups around the world.
- Feedback / Support
- Connect: The best way to communicate specific product feedback be it suggestions or bugs is through our Connect site. It's directly wired up to our issue tracking database (TFS of course!) so that your comments are funnelled directly to our team.
- Forums: If you've got a question about Team System or need some help getting something working correctly, the online forums are a great place to start. MVPs as well as our product team members spend time hanging out on the forums lending a helping hand. Of course it's all 'best effort' level of support...if you need more than that, you can always contact Microsoft support either online or via the phone.
Whew...that's a lot of programs and things to keep track of. We'll be monitoring our progress through a series of metrics for each program and making adjustments as needed. Fortunately, I don't have to do it on my own. Members of our Community Council that have blogs available include:
I'm eager to hear your feedback. What of all of this is working for you? What are we missing? Where could we improve?