MYOB a lesson in how to bungle a beta

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MYOB a lesson in how to bungle a beta

Offers service patch for botched transition to .NET development.

Accounting software giant MYOB will release a service patch within the next 24 hours for the latest release of its AccountRight product in an attempt to address a plethora of performance and functionality issues.

The November release was MYOB’s first set of SME accounting products developed for Microsoft’s .NET platform; previous versions were coded in C/C+. It is the prelude to the release of hosted/SaaS versions of the same software to be hosted on Microsoft’s Windows Azure cloud next year.

Some 8100 customers have purchased the software, one-tenth of MYOB’s 80,000 strong AccountRight customer base. Many of these have flooded MYOB’s user forums over the past few weeks to detail a litany of functions that either do not work or take hours to process.

Users complained that the software was “as slow as a glacier”, subject to “complete meltdowns” and provided no ability to import files without glitches.

“What the bloody hell have you done to this product?” asked one frustrated user. “It is spectacularly awful and sluggish. Numerous functions cause the entire application to crash and it is stupidly slow to perform many basic operations.”

Beta release?

The sheer number of bugs in the release led many customers to ask whether MYOB had done enough testing before making the product available to the public. 

“Didn't you guys do any beta testing? Either you did and released a buggy and defective product, or you didn't test it. Either way your company is negligent.”

MYOB general manager Julian Smith told iTnews the company ran an “extensive testing process” that involved internal systems testing, an alpha and beta testing program. It also conducted a technical preview, inviting over 3000 of MYOB’s approved developer and partner communities to participate in bug-spotting. The entire process took 18 months, he said.

Further, Smith said the vendor engaged in a “controlled release” of the .NET version, offering it first to those customers subscribed to MYOB’s ‘Cover’ (maintenance) program before it was marketed to the rest of MYOB’s customer base.

Ironically, MYOB's most loyal customers had to tackle the bugs first.

MYOB’s developer and professional partners accused the vendor of rushing these testing processes. In a series of lengthy posts on MYOB’s forums, they complained their feedback was  ignored.

“If you consider the testing on the product to have been rigorous you need to do a study on how to do a Beta - the testing on the product was neither rigorous nor satisfactory,” wrote Clive Williams, an MYOB Certified Consultant. “I was involved in the initial Beta in January and in March pointed out [in the forum] problems with the program and suggestions on how to resolve them. No notice was paid to this post.” 

“There is no way at all that correct testing was done on this product,” said Julie Carter, another MYOB Professional Partner. “I posted a thread within a day of the new version being released to partners listing numerous errors with the product. Rigorous testing would have found these simple errors.”

Partners were furious when MYOB customer support staff apportioned blame for the bugs on the  partner-led testing process.

“Your support centre staff are now blaming partners for the deficiencies in your testing,” Williams said. “Perhaps you could enlighten us as to who was the driving force behind convincing your CEO that the product was ready for release.”

“If it is the case that MYOB support staff are in-fact blaming for the current deficiencies in the AccountRight product... then I am both appauled and insulted,” said MYOB Developer Partner, David Ballyntine. “I telephoned MYOB management specifically to inform them that I thought that the beta test cycle was far too short, the product was full of bugs and the product performance was woeful. At the end of the day, my concerns obviously fell on deaf ears.

“What MYOB should have done is develop a product that was ready for beta, then select a hundred or so 'real world' customers who were prepared to actively test the software in their real-world environments, and understood the consequences of doing so."

But MYOB's Smith insisted the feedback from partners participating in the technical review was “incorporated into the product".

He said the company absolves partners of any blame.

“Full responsibility for developing and releasing quality software sits with MYOB,” he said.

A humbling episode

Engineers from Microsoft have been called in to assist MYOB with the build of service packs to address some of these issues.

The first of these service packs [pdf] is currently in quality assurance testing and should be available before the end of the week. Two more are scheduled for January and February.

“This has really affected us,” Smith said. “Our vision is to make business easier. This has made us incredibly focused on what we could do better."

Smith insisted that processes were in place to identify and respond to issues. He said the company was adopting an “agile methodology” to product development which incorporated frank, direct and forthright communication with users via online forums.

“We felt it was important to have a public, transparent forum so that we get open, unfiltered feedback,” he said.

Smith said it would also be “fair feedback” when iTnews suggested that an agile development approach would still assume most feedback on bugs would be put to bed before software is made generally available to the public.

“We should have done a better job of the release,” Smith said.

Similar apologies have been posted on MYOB’s web site, but users do not sound appeased.

“Please stop quoting that is has been a 'tremendous learning experience' for you - MYOB is NOT a university and/or testing lab funded and supported by your customers - stop treating it as one," said one disgruntled user. "Admit that you are using your paying customers as beta testers for your new product. As someone who as paid for one of your products that is effectively worthless I find it insulting.”

“The biggest lesson is we cannot underestimate the change management process,” Smith said. “We’ll needed more ‘how to’ tutorials to guide user upgrades as we have an ambitious roll-out plan for 2012.”

Smith promised the .NET platform would help ensure the consumption of service packs would be “far more straightforward and elegant, much more of an automated process".

But users and partners on the forums said they would prefer to get their money back and revert to an older version.

“Sorry MYOB, but AP 2011 is an absolute lemon,” said one customer. “You should forget about patches. My guess is that they will only create even more headaches and further demean your brand name. You should issue a broad general apology to all your customers, recommend all users to reload v19, and assist them do this... free of charge.”

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