Select Page

When a company asked for my input

I’ll freely admit, it feels great when someone asks for my input? Maybe it has to do with the fact that I cannot recall many instances where my opinion mattered, or that I am a pretty misunderstood guy. Who knows? So I was tickled pink when Pluralsight asked me to provide some input on new features coming down the pipeline.

For those of you who don’t know, Pluralsight is a company specializing in providing courses that help people learn new things. I guess you could say they live in the same bucket of companies such as Udemy and CodeAcademy. With their recent purchases (e.g. Digital Tutors and Code School) they’ve been trying to expand their offerings beyond the technical realm. They wanted to gather some user input and scheduled a time with me to help test some new ideas and provide input.

I wanted to emphasize in this post how seamless Pluralsight made the experience for me. They emailed me asking if I was interested. When I responded in the affirmative, instead of blanket-asking me what time worked for me they helped me decide faster by providing a list of days/times. Sure, it limited my choices but it also helped me identify early on whether I would be able to help.

After an appointment confirmation I received a notification email just before it was my turn, along with preliminary instructions on what to click to join the video conference. They used BlueJeans, an online video conferencing software (never heard of it before) which was very easy to setup on my end. Nothing was left hidden regarding what to expect. There would be other people listening in. Check. They wanted me to share my screen. Check. It would take about an hour. Check. No verbose TOA to sign or scroll through, which helped with transparency. There were no surprises on my end, and everyone I talked to was very polite.

This experience proved simple and enjoyable. As I reflected on this experience later, I pondered how much time Pluralsight employees put into make sure gathering user input was as seamless as possible. While I cannot verify what they did, I put myself in their shoes and asked some questions that I believed would have led to the experience that I experienced. Here’s what I came up with:

  1. Have you done what you are asking others to do? On paper adopting the “I will never ask you to do something I myself would be unwilling to do” seems like a decent approach. It is much harder to follow through in real life. If I needed to solicit advice from others I would want to dry run through the commitment I’m asking of others. I recently read an HBR article about fixing mediocrity on a team, and one of the suggestions was to have workers go through the experience they ask of others. This method is still one of the best ways to determine if what you are asking makes sense. When the time comes to gather input, you’ll spend less time fixing problems that stand in way of user advice.
  2. Are you providing as much information as possible to the people you’re asking help from? In my experience, I knew what to expect as far as predictable situations go. I knew that the input would last about an hour (I went slightly over), I knew what I was being asked to do, I knew what link to click on (with accompanying instructions) and who to expect on the call (no creepers). A schedule was provided to me if I needed to change, allowing me to specify a new date/time if the existing appointment could not work. I even received a reminder email (I committed long before the actual appointment, and would have forgotten). Small details like these, while trivial, offload the burden on the user to be at the right place and time. After all, you are essentially asking a favor from others, why wouldn’t you want to make it as easy on them as possible?
  3. Are you providing a way for users to actively engage with your product? Pluralsight had set up a demo of some new features which I was able to interact with – down to cloning a repo and fixing some tests. This part worked. I was not asked to look at a bunch of pictures and give some advice. The demo did not solely involve prototypes of their changing interface. Doing work on my computer, and providing an easy way to send it back to them required more engagement on my part than I was expecting. Of course, the new features they are hoping to roll out require a different level of engagement. For some businesses this may seem overkill or unnecessary. But the more you’re able to pull potential users into your universe, the higher the level of quality you will receive.

Maybe I’m making too big of a deal for an experience that otherwise is mundane and experienced by thousands of people. But this experience proved worthy of writing about and left such an impression on me that I had to write about it. When I lead large scale projects in the future (hopefully), I will remember these questions to make sure I’m engaging helpful users with my product as much as possible.