Listening to the external Rangers … New project nomination process is first of many new innovations

We are currently waiting for the Visual Studio ALM External Rangers to cast their votes in two crucial surveys, one to determine the value and importance of exciting and new recognition program ideas and the other looking at a new way of nominating the next wave of Rangers projects.

We will cover the recognition program in another post as soon as the majority of the Rangers have voted. In fact, the Rangers project nomination process is one of the recognition program nuggets, which allows Rangers to recommend out-of-band or guidance projects to address adoption blockers they or their community encounters and to have a direct input in the prioritization of the next wave of Rangers initiatives. It is a unique opportunity to directly influence and be part of the next generation of Ranger projects 🙂

The old, trusted and often frustrating process used to date

Let’s quickly step through the current process and highlight the gremlins:

  1. Visual Studio ALM Ranger announcement is made that the annual project nomination process is starting. Rangers are asked to submit their proposals for future solutions and document the “why” and the “what”.
  2. Rangers submit their ideas.
  3. Visual Studio ALM Ranger Lead (Bijan) consolidates the ideas and creates one huge Excel workbook. This workbook is returned to all Rangers and they are asked to stack rank 10 projects, by inserting special values into a column and not to make any changes to the workbook structure.
  4. The fun begins and the gremlins are converging in Bijan’s office … as a Ranger I receive an Excel workbook with ~100 project ideas, with titles and descriptions. I have to read and consume the list, then I have to select my 10 projects and stack rank them by inserting the special values. I create new columns (oh no) to help me identify the 10 key projects and to be able to sort (oh no) the workbook to get my favourites into a common area, rather than having to scroll up and down and up and down and up and down … where was I, oh, I need to scroll back up again … you should smell the rat. Occasionally I duplicate the values my mistake (oh no) or delete the projects that I simply do not care about (oh no). When I am happy, I email the workbook back.
  5. This is probably the most frustrating step and the reason I proposed a process innovation. Firstly Bijan was faced with workbooks that once looked the same, but have evolved in the hands-of the Rangers … merging becomes a nightmare and email to-and-fro between Bijan and Rangers picks up as he tries top consolidate the gazillion formats and value sets used.
  6. Eventually the top 20 Rangers solution ideas are announced.
  7. By sprinkling a portion of strategic input (what is important to the product group, for example) and feasibility over the top 20 list, the first set of projects are selected as the next wave of projects.
  8. The projects are kicked-off and worked on by the Rangers community.

Sounds simple, however, step 5 should be a simple step, but typically becomes a many-day and at times a many-week nightmare. It causes delays and immense frustration for Bijan “the merger” and Ranger X, who has just spend an hour stack-ranking and is asked to re-do the exercise because invalid values were used or the format of the workbook changed.

The proposed new process

We are currently proposing the following new approach, which is the subject of one of the two surveys we are running.

  1. Visual Studio ALM Ranger announcement is made that the annual project nomination process is starting. Rangers are asked to submit their proposals for future solutions and document the “why” and the “what”.
  2. Rangers submit their ideas.
  3. Visual Studio ALM Ranger Lead (Bijan) consolidates the ideas and we creates one electronic survey. The Rangers are asked to complete the survey by selecting 20 radio buttons next to a list of the proposed projects to define the top 20 most important projects in the list.
  4. Rangers complete the first survey, which should be much quicker and less error prone. Read through the list of projects and select twenty radio buttons.
  5. We click an analyze button and get the list of top 20 projects … within seconds and no workbook mergers 🙂 The top twenty projects are inserted in a second survey and the Rangers are asked to stack rank 1-20 of the projects, again by selecting 1 to 20 radio buttons.
  6. Rangers complete the second survey. If only three solutions are important to someone, three projects are selected in a 1-2-3 order. If all twenty are important, all projects are stack ranked 1-20.
  7. We click an analyze button and get a stack ranked list of projects.
  8. Step 8 and 9 are the same as 7 and 8 in the existing process.

What is the value of the proposed process?

  1. Easy consumption of the suggested projects, selection and stack-ranking of the top 20.
  2. No manual intervention in terms of merging and stack-ranking, reducing effort and human introduced gremlins.
  3. Ability to analyse the statistics and return to the surveys months later to understand the stack ordering and comments included in the surveys.

So far the feedback is positive, for example:

  • This seems like a good solution, should be easier to use than the Excel sheet. A bit hard to read the stack rank list but it should be ok as it is.
  • I like this much better - especially the stack rank option. It is also much easier to understand what is going on.
  • I like it.
  • Poll 1: when launch the survey try to include a control for “Select up to 10 solutions” the actual survey allow me select more than 10.
  • Poll 2: stack ranks it’s great but try to use another type of control, the actual control can be confusing to distinguish the currently selections.
  • I like the stack ranking stuff. Simple but does exactly it’s job J
  • I Done – Not as slick as Surveymonkey
  • Q1 is fine that way. Q2 is ‘ok’; it’s not easy to ‘insert’ something that you forgot (say you already stacked 1,2,3 and discover an option that you would rank between your 1 and 2…)

We are limited in terms of controls and format of the survey engine we are using. As we are bound by process and are planning to invest the Rangers effort in the project, not the process or the survey, we will most likely have to make a few compromises. BUT, I strongly believe that the new proposed process will be much faster and simpler.


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