When we started working on the E‑WorkBook project for bringing chemistry notebook functionalities to the web, it was clear to us that we wanted it to be a tool that would be useful and intuitive to chemists - something that they actually wanted to use.
Many of us in the team have years of experience in the lab, so we have a good grasp of what this is all about...but, we wanted to ensure that our ideas were aligned with the expectations of our customers. And, what better way to check this than talking directly to our customers? So we did and set up the IDBS Chemistry Forums to meet quarterly, both in Europe (Munich, Germany) and in the US in Boston.
At each meeting, we present ideas for the electronic laboratory notebook, propose design for specific chemistry functionalities, examine workflows of organic chemists and demo live software straight from our development portal.
We are seeing direct benefits of this approach:
- Immediate feedback on the recently developed software: if something needs modification this can be done very easily before we are too far down the line. Our development team is working in an Agile manner, allowing quick adaptation to changes.
- Prioritization of the functionalities at a more granular level. We have been able to discuss the relative priorities of functionalities so we can focus our development and testing effort to get the most useful features first.
- Analysis of what differs from one company to another but also from one type of chemist to another. This allows us to have a better sense of priority for what to plan in the next development phase.
From the customers’ perspective, the benefits are evident - not only are they empowered and can actively participate in the development of the product, but they also have direct visibility of our progress which helps them with deployment planning. ChemAxon (our strategic chemistry partner) also attends these events, which gives them visibility of customer needs in different areas.
It’s an excellent way of involving everybody in designing great software that people want to use.