Spotting Icebergs: Identifying small development features with big impact

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Every time we (the Product Management team) kick off another release cycle I break out my binoculars and start looking for icebergs.  What I mean is, in almost every release there will be at least one feature floating on top of the list that looks so simple, so obvious, yet under the surface lies the enormous base of an iceberg that ends up affecting almost every subsystem of the product.  I love these “small” features because they’re the underdog features that don’t make the headlines but do make life easier for our customers on a daily basis.

Take our latest release, Bomgar 13.1, for example.  The iceberg that I completely misidentified in the early planning stages is the new addition of Private Display Names for support reps. 

If you’re not familiar with this new enhancement, what it ultimately provides is protection for your support reps’ privacy.  To illustrate, let’s say my Private Display Name is set to my full name, Phil Ethridge, and my Public Display Name is set to phil@Bomgar.  When I need to collaborate with a fellow rep (chat, share or transfer a session, etc) they will still see me as Phil Ethridge, but to the rest of the world (customers, curious bystanders) I’m the more ambiguous phil@Bomgar.  The benefits of this feature were pretty obvious early on: say goodbye to those random Facebook invites and harassing emails from disgruntled or clingy customers.

On the surface this was such a simple and obvious addition to user accounts.  Bomgar users already had a display name, so let’s look at splitting it out into Public/Private or External/Internal and provide more privacy for the real users who are on the front lines of support.  It was during the first JAD (joint application design) session for this feature that I saw just how big this simple addition was going to be.

I remember walking into the JAD session thinking, “this should wrap up pretty quickly”, and then the lead developer fired up a 28-slide presentation.  The wind in the room become very still, and I knew something was amiss.  The developer’s presentation invited me to consider all of the places that a support rep’s Display Name is shown throughout Bomgar: chat windows, status messages, chat transcripts, landing pages, support portals, session key emails, security providers, Bomgar Buttons, Outbound Events, API calls, reports, and more.  Out of those 28 slides, 24 of them detailed multiple locations that needed to be addressed for this feature.  The significance of this feature, and the necessity of getting it right, quickly became much more apparent to me and I was foolish for not seeing it sooner.

Where the iceberg gets really deep and fascinating is how all of this is handled on the backend.  My manager can run a report to review my weekly activity and see what I’ve been working on.  When he views my chat transcripts, for example, I’ll be shown as Phil Ethridge, but the customer’s version of the same chat transcript will show me as phil@Bomgar.  What I had underestimated, our incredible development team did not.  They had accounted for every instance of the old Display Name field and carefully ensured that each one was properly addressed.  It was a great reminder to always be vigilant for those sneaky, impressive features that are hiding under the guise of a much simpler enhancement.

Before you know it, Bomgar 13.2 will be released, and when it is I invite you to have your binoculars ready.  That bullet list of enhancements in the release notes just might have the one iceberg feature you’ve been waiting for!