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Challenging teams to deliver quick wins for our customers

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Helen MacGillivray

May 27, 2020

Solving customer problems in simple and beautiful ways has always been an important part of what we do at Xero. During COVID-19, this focus has become more important than ever. As our teams are the ones who know our customers best, we thought we’d challenge them to deliver quick wins for our customers, to help their business survive today and thrive tomorrow.

Getting close to our customers’ problems

When COVID-19 hit, many of our short-term priorities were no longer relevant. We needed to address the problems our customers were facing in this new world problems they’d never experienced before. We had close to 1,000 people keeping the platform stable. Plus other teams who were working around the clock on compliance and business continuity support. Areas that were absolutely the priority above everything else. 

But there were other teams who weren’t involved in those areas and still wanted to help our customers through this difficult time. That’s when we came up with the idea for the ShipIt challenge. ShipIt gave teams an opportunity to step away from their day-to-day work and think about what we could do to help customers during COVID-19. We didn’t want them building big, complex pieces of functionality, we wanted little slices of customer love.

How teams rose to the ShipIt challenge

The teams had two days away from their normal work to dive deep into a set of customer problems and come up with ways to solve them. They then presented it to a panel of experts. The panel was made up of people across the business, from customer experience and education to data research and the head of industry. We had accountants and teachers and small business owners a really broad range of expertise. I was lucky enough to be on the panel our role was to listen to their ideas and guide them in the right direction.

The presentations were fascinating, because each member of the panel responded to the ideas with a different perspective. The scope was quite challenging, because teams had to narrow down all their great ideas and just focus on one thing that would provide immediate value to customers. It’s easier said than done! Sometimes we had to challenge them to narrow down their idea so it was achievable, because they had such big goals. But everyone was so engaged, it was really exciting.

Once teams had presented their idea to the panel, they had a maximum of four weeks to build it and ship it to production. The short timeframe kept them thinking about quick wins rather than bigger ideas, because we knew small businesses and advisors were looking for support sooner rather than later. We also set up a Slack channel, so they could ask questions and get advice from the panel of experts along the way. The teams shared their progress and cheered each other on it was really lovely to see that camaraderie. 

It’s the little things that make a big impact

I was so impressed with the calibre of ideas and the presentation skills that each team displayed. Many had never pitched ideas to someone outside their team. It was a nerve-wracking experience for some but also a great opportunity to try something new. They were all able to articulate really complex information in a way that everyone on the panel could understand. But most importantly, they were able to explain why it would make a difference to our customers and partners. Of course, it’s something they do every day as part of their job. However, seeing their enthusiasm and commitment to the challenge was really nice.

Usually teams would sit in a room and brainstorm ideas with sticky notes and whiteboard drawings. So coming up with ideas while working from home was also a challenge (especially as many were also homeschooling kids and dealing with all the other impacts of COVID-19). One of the best outcomes of this challenge was seeing teams innovate in new ways. As well as work together to ship features in a really short timeframe. It was a fantastic experience being on the expert panel and I’d like to give a shout out to all the teams that participated. Here are some of the features they built!

Identifying clients that need help

One of the biggest problems our accounting and bookkeeping partners have is understanding which clients need support. During ShipIt, one team created a COVID-19 support page in Xero HQ, with the ability to quickly download a monthly revenue export of client organisations. The CSV file includes details on monthly revenue, revenue variance, cash balance and other information. This enables advisors to prioritise clients and offer them better insights and advice.

Helping educators save time

Universities around the world have had to move their classes online. This means many of our Xero Learn education partners needed to extend their course timelines. You can do course extensions on Xero Learn, but only on a student by student basis. The team built the capability to do bulk extensions, leading to significant time savings for our education partners. Reducing the time spent process 2,100 extensions across 140 courses from around 35 hours down to just two hours.

Supporting Australian employers

JobKeeper has been a big focus for accountants and bookkeepers in Australia. To claim JobKeeper payments, businesses must submit a monthly business declaration to the Australian Tax Office. Most of the information for this declaration comes from Xero, but not all of it. One of the ShipIt teams created an Ask template in Xero HQ, so advisors can gather this information from their clients and have everything they need to lodge the monthly business declaration on their behalf.

Accessing COVID-19 support

One of the problems small businesses face is knowing where to find information and support on COVID-19. One ShipIt team developed a widget for the dashboard in Xero, with quick links to education resources. This resources include government assistance, managing cash flow, working remotely, business continuity and more.

Understanding profitability on a job

One of the ShipIt teams manages Xero Projects, which helps people keep track of things like income, cost of materials and time spent on jobs. This information is really important for business owners especially during COVID-19 but a lot of customers aren’t aware they can download these really useful summary reports. So the team created a button (right inside Projects where they’re working) to make the report more accessible. It’s so simple, but makes a big difference.

Upskilling Xero developers

Not all teams at Xero work directly with customers. Some work behind the scenes to support other Xero teams. But that doesn’t mean they can’t make a difference. Our database team used ShipIt to create an eLearning module on Litmos. The aim is to help product teams learn general and Xero-specific database skills. The training course addressed the challenges that developers often face, giving them the skills they need to build reliable and high-performing products for our customers.

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