As a Master Anaplanner and the Extensions product manager at Anaplan, I'm excited to share today lessons learned from building a better Anaplan product, how our users have contributed to our decision making, and how you can apply those principles as a model builder for your community of Anaplan users.
In August we launched our latest version of the Excel Add-in: 4.0. This was a significant upgrade to the add-in's design and paradigm through multiple changes in various places of the product—from the shiny new icons to the cleaner upgrade experience and some (huge) back-end work to get the version compatibility across major versions.
These changes address a basic challenge that has grown naturally with the Excel Add-in: upgrading from one version to another without disrupting an increasing number of users and business processes. As the number of available versions increased and new capabilities were added to the add-in, customers started to run into governance and compatibility challenges.
The majority of our support tickets were related to those challenges, and our previous mindset was that customers should upgrade to the latest version to benefit from all the newly-added functionalities—but this was not the behavior we saw from our customers, mostly due to timing issues with their IT roll-out or business processes (who wants to upgrade their add-in in the middle of their budgeting exercise?). Additionally, most issues would never come to us, and users would be left on their own trying to sort things out with the product. Even though some users had been using Anaplan and/or the add-in for years, they often didn't know who to contact to get some help. They also didn't know about the great features we released because they couldn't find the right information.
These types of problems are difficult to quantify and measure internally, but they all came to life during our multiple conversations with customers. So we decided to bring a new way of working with our users, bringing them into our design and development process so they could give us their feedback early on in the prototypes to create a simpler upgrade experience.
Our objective is to make work easier for people in Excel, and although we launch some exciting new features at each version, we understand that customers may not be ready to upgrade to the new version at the time we release it. This insight was a complete paradigm shift.
We also tackled the scenario of when things go wrong for our users: what if they're stuck and need help?
In many ways, for most Anaplan products (for example the UX or the modeling platform), our internal add-in users are similar to our customers. There are, however, major differences with regards to the add-ins depending on the IT policies (in particular around security for software installation and internet connection) and equipment (other pieces of software installed, language settings, etc.). To make our add-in easier to use for everyone, we needed to hear from as many people as possible.
We ran a survey in March 2020, both with people who used the add-in and people who didn't. dfc90 people completed the survey representing dozens of customers in all geographies and provided useful information about their use of the add-in and their IT environment.
We even gave back to our customers by publishing the survey results and actions in our feedback group. Our main learnings included:
Around 30% of respondents have indicated they might want to revert to an old version or stay on their current one, mostly due to familiarity, more functionalities (as the features offered in the legacy version 2.6 of Excel and 1.4 of PowerPoint Add-ins were reinstated progressively in subsequent versions, but this should not be the case in the future) or file compatibility concerns.
The pop-up notification at the opening of Excel when a new version of the add-in is available represented a lot of noise and confusion for the end-users. In practice, the COE would likely test out the new version when it got released, and then inform their users of the roll-out of the new version. This means that a pop-up reaching all users on the release day wasn't appropriate to fit that process.
We, therefore, changed it for a more discrete option in the ribbon.
Also, we have implemented a phased release approach:
For Excel Add-in 4.0, this has left around a month and a half for the COEs to test out the new version before their users are made aware of it. From 4.0, users will see the notification on the ribbon instead of the pop-up. This approach has received praise internally, and we will soon be asking our customers for feedback to learn if and how we should do it again for the subsequent versions.
Some customers I have talked to who had had issues with the product had never talked about those to our Anaplan Support team because they mostly tried and resolved issues on their own with their internal IT or Anaplan team. From a development standpoint, this is frustrating as we cannot help those customers if we don't know about their issues. Imagine if nobody had told us that the upgrade experience was a challenge for them: Excel Add-in 4.0 would have looked quite different!
We completely re-invented our information section of the ribbon so that users could find the help they need directly from the product.
Some of the actions we have taken are sometimes subtle. In the UI, we have used "online user guide" instead of "Anapedia" because the latter is not a term that end users are familiar with, and even amongst model builders there isn't a clear understanding of what Anapedia is versus Community.
Once we had a few prototypes, we turned to our users and internal SMEs, customers, and partners for feedback.
Although most conversations are with established add-in users, we wanted to ensure that our new version was easier for every new user and that they could get started with the Excel Add-in smoothly.
With the support of our UX team, we did some A/B testing on some design prototypes, comparing the new ribbon design against the old one. Some of the questions we asked included where they would find such functionality, how they would complete an important task, or what they would do if they needed help.
As we ran more and more sessions, we refined our prototypes and we gathered more insights so that each new design got better than the previous one.
Finally, we polished our messaging and release notes to reflect the most recent discussions on the Community. In a matter of days, we revamped our release information to include a detailed video and a blog post in an organized way and linked to training content and user guide. This was a nice final touch to launch our latest add-in version!
More About Add-Ins
At Anaplan, we love creating products that work for you and help you achieve your business goals. We have learned that—from the model builder spending hours daily in Anaplan to the end-user logging in once a week to a pre-build UX page—we need to think thoroughly about the changes we make to our product, even to the smaller details and the slightest changes. We believe this new version does exactly what we (you and us) wanted: a simpler upgrade experience that will set the stage for exciting new features. We hope you like it!
Now, it's your turn: put yourself in the shoes of the Anaplan product manager for your company. What do your users want? What are their current pain points? If you're migrating from classic to the UX, are you sure you want to lift and shift your dashboards, or could you also take advantage of this piece of work to solve some of your user's challenges?
Tell us what you think of our approach—and if you have applied it, give us your findings in the comments below.