How much time and money would it cost you to capture feedback from 100 external users in your Microsoft Team Foundation Server projects? In this post we will show you that there is a simple and cost-effective way to do that and it's called the TeamPulse Ideas & Feedback Portal. But first let's start with some background information for TFS.
Access to TFS
A lot of our customers use Microsoft Team Foundation Server (TFS) as the heart of their development environment as TFS provides facilities to manage source control, manage automated builds, and track developer work. TFS is a server product and comes with a number of different ways team members can get data in and out of the system – from within Visual Studio using Team Explorer and through Microsoft Excel with its TFS plug-in. In addition, TFS comes with a web-based UI that gives team members access to TFS from any browser.
Exposing TFS outside of the Team
It’s very natural that most organizations who have invested in TFS want to expose its contents to users outside of their technical teams – especially to their users and customers, allowing customer feedback to flow into the development process. The hope would be to allow customers to be able to submit feature requests, report bugs directly, and facilitate collaboration with the broad customer base with the development team. There are, however, a few small problems with this want.
Problems with TFS for a Broader Audience
First, the default user experience for TFS is not well suited to a broad non-technical customer base. Obviously, we can’t expect end users to have the TFS plugin installed for Excel to add data, and they obviously won’t be using Visual Studio to send their feedback. In addition, the TFS web user experience is not well suited to a person who doesn’t understand what they are looking for – that is, the user experience is still very driven toward development team members who require web based access to TFS resources.
Second, the licensing model of TFS doesn’t easily support the allowance of a fully featured customer feedback portal. The default TFS licensing allows an unlicensed user to be able to enter a work item, and then see the work items that they entered. TFS licensing, however, doesn’t allow unlicensed users to see work items entered by any other user – directly or indirectly. Indirectly means, that this licensing restriction holds whether the unlicensed user is working directly with TFS or not (via a proxy web site for example).
One alternative that would address this licensing issue is for organizations to purchase the Team Foundation Server External Connector (about $14,000) that allows unlimited external users. This may solve the licensing issue, but it does not address how all of these users will interact with TFS.
Some organizations have taken upon themselves to build their own UX for users – providing them with a “fit for purpose” user experience that allows users to submit feedback, feature requests, bugs, and even ideas. Not only would they need to purchase the External Connector, but they would need to spend the time, money, and resources to build an effective front end for extended user interaction with TFS.
Most effective tools that encourage customer interaction promote much more than “submission” of feedback – they also provide deep collaboration. This collaboration extends between customers and the team, as well as between customers. Features such as discussions and voting are important to the customer feedback experience and are now expected features of such systems.
This is where our new TeamPulse Feedback Portal comes in. It provides the set of features organizations expect out of a portal:
Feedback that comes from customers isn’t always directly actionable. A “feature request” from a customer, for example, doesn’t always turn into a single requirement that the team can start working on immediately. In most cases, feedback is triaged, analyzed, and decomposed into work the team can act upon. The TeamPulse Ideas & Feedback Portal promotes this flow – allowing you to quickly decompose feedback into requirements and work that can be pushed immediately to TFS for the development team to work on – all the time relating all work to the origins of the work – customer feedback.
Here is a short video demonstrating how it works:
If you are a TFS customer who wants to provide an effective feedback solution to your development teams, the TeamPulse Ideas & Feedback portal is your fastest and cheapest way to make this happen. First, the portal provides a world class user experience to users. Second, the Feedback Portal eliminates the need to purchase the Team Foundation Server External Connector as well as build your own generic feedback user experience for your users – saving you well over $15,000-$20,000 – or more - especially if you consider the cost of the External Connector and the work required to build your own web solution to capture and submit work items into TFS best suited for a broad customer audience.
The TeamPulse Feedback Portal goes further than a simple UI for customers to submit feedback. Combined with TeamPulse Standard Edition, the Feedback Portal provides you with the ability to effectively triage and manage your customer’s feedback, collaborate directly with customers, and capture information difficult to transcribe into TFS – specifically voting information, which is not natively stored as a part of Team Foundation Server.
As TFS users, you may not be a TeamPulse customer and we want to make it very easy for you to start using the TeamPulse Feedback Portal in your TFS environment today. If the feedback portal is something your team will value, from today until the end of 2011 with every TeamPulse Ideas & Feedback Portal ($2999) we will include 1 FREE TeamPulse Standard Edition license (worth $249).
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