Improving Client Engagement with Visual Studio Online

Cloud Construct’s preferred development stack consists of a set of Microsoft solutions thanks to the enterprise functionality, integrated nature, ease of use and ubiquity. Many of our clients leverage Orchard Content Management System (CMS) hosted in the Azure cloud. We also leverage Microsoft development tools for planning, tracking and the Integrated Development Environment (IDE). When we start projects with our clients we set them up with an account and a project at Visual Studio Online (VSO). VSO is a cloud-based platform of tools and services that help plan, deploy and manage software projects. All requirements, tasks or requests associated with a project are documented in the form of tickets. Tickets can take the form of features, bugs or generic items which can be prioritized and placed into sprints for planning purposes, or kept in a backlog. As account manager and project manager at Cloud Construct, I am in VSO a lot! To keep the project on track and the client informed, I check the status of tickets to make sure work is moving and shared deadlines and goals are being met.

I always encourage our clients to login to the platform to have self-service visibility into the status of any work items. While we may connect about progress or status via emails, regularly scheduled calls or ad hoc calls, the clients can always get a handle on where work stands by poking around VSO. While VSO is robust and feature rich, I find the following aspects to help most with client engagement:

• Sprints & Backlog – the client can get a view into what the team has completed, is actively working on and what work remains. Sprint durations are customizable. We can work on weekly, bi-weekly or monthly iterations.
• Assigned To – the client can determine who is actively working on a ticket by viewing who the ticket is assigned to. It could be someone on our team or even the client in a joint development scenario.
• Discussion – the client can get a glimpse or actively engage in the questions and answers that might surround a particular ticket. This is dialog that might typically be found in email chains without complete context. Having the discussion in the ticket limits the need to search through what could seem like endless emails for answers.
• Attachments – as the client tests or finds “bugs” a screen shot always helps explain the circumstance. Screen shots can be attached to tickets for easy reference.
• Effort – the client is interested in knowing the estimated effort a request may take to complete. Efforts can be added to tickets to help estimate work.
• Alerts – instead of logging into VSO, clients can set up personal alerts to know when tickets may be assigned to them for review and/or questions.

VSO allows Cloud Construct to be very transparent with our clients, no matter the scope of the work.