Constant evolution is the key to professional stability

Roughly ten months ago, we (Haulix) messed up. Some of you may remember, but others may not. We planned for over a year to launch a new, completely overhauled version of our leading digital promotional platform, but when the time came for the updated system to go live there were bugs – a LOT of bugs.

We knew something was wrong almost as soon as the new system was live. Even though we had spent months of work on the updated platform, not to mention tens of thousands of dollars, we did not have a way to know if everything would function as it should without turning it on and letting our users run wild. So we tested as much as we could internally, wrote help docs to aide in helping people transition to the new layout, and hoped for the best.

Within hours of the updated system going live we were buried in complaints from clients and members of the media alike. Some could not even load the new site, while those who did encountered a number of bugs. Some people had very few issues, but those cases were decidedly rare. Despite our best efforts, our long-promoted new system was junk.

The next few days passed like a blur, with stress and confusion falling on our team, as well as our clients. Our system wasn’t working, which in turn meant our clients could not do their jobs. It was the worst thing to happen to our business since our launch, and it was entirely our fault.

We quickly realized the fastest way to right our wrongs was to tear the new system out of our service and replace it with the original one. The process took several hours, which came days after the problems first arose, but within a week we were back to where we started with a fully-functional, if somewhat dated platform.

In the weeks that past we came to learn a few things:

  • The people who cared most about the remodeled look of our platform was our own staff. Many clients who were able to access the new platform commented on how drastic the changes to our UI appeared to be. There was a shock value that wasn’t necessarily good.
  • Our core system remained the same on both versions of the platform, meaning despite all the money we spent we were still more or less offering the same product with a few additional bells and whistles.
  • Some of the changes we wanted to make were good, great even, but delivering them all at once could have been confusing. Even longtime clients would have had to learn new ways to navigate our platform.

For months we laid low, allowing clients to conduct their business as usual as we sat in meetings talking about what we should do next. In order to complete the broken update we would have to spend tens of thousands more, but was that really the right move?

Ultimately, we decided to shelve the new system and keep the one we knew was working. Instead of making one drastic change we decided to work on small, meaningful updates that we would release periodically throughout the year. So far in 2017 alone we’ve had no less than three of these updates, each bringing a new tool or capability to our system that would have been found in the overhauled platform.

As these updates have rolled out the response from our users has been largely positive. People appreciate changes that simplify their workflow, and by spacing out the updates we avoid confusing users by delivering too much new stuff at once. In turn, our business has been growing in an industry that is plagued by stories of stagnation or failure.

We still talk about that week in August when everything fell apart. It is something of an embarrassment for all of us, but in hindsight it needed to happen in order for us to understand the difference between what we felt was needed and what our clients actually wanted. We were able to find a path to growth that did not endanger our users understanding of the system, and in fact found great success through an alternative approach to development.

As the year progresses you will see more updates roll out from Haulix. The same goes for the year after that and so on as long as we’re a company. We will never stop growing and changing, but we know now that drastic change is rarely – if ever – the recipe for sustained growth. That kind of success lies in small, meaningful changes over an extended period of time that considers both the needs of our audience and their ability to navigate our system quickly. We stopped listening to ourselves and returned to the people who know us best, the ones who engage with our platform daily, and that has made all the difference.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.