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Our Reviews feature was so bad, even we weren’t using it – so we rebuilt it from scratch

In a few weeks, Charlie is launching a totally redesigned Reviews feature. Below, you can read about why our first Reviews feature fell short of our expectations – and how we fixed it.

About 15 months ago, we released Reviews – a feature we hoped would help small companies to grow and develop their teams.

But over the months that followed, it became clear that we'd failed to deliver on that – right now, Reviews is clunky, hard to understand and frustrating to use.

And many of our users discovered this for themselves – for a long time now, Reviews has been one of the least-used features on Charlie.

Snapshot of how only 46% of people were using our Reviews feature
Here’s a snapshot of the percentage of companies using some of Charlie’s features. As you can see, Reviews lags far behind some other ‘core’ parts of the product.

But as a Product Manager, the real killer came when we even stopped using Reviews ourselves, internally at Charlie.

There was no getting away from it. Not only had we missed the mark – we hadn’t even come close.

Rebuild? Tinker? Or just move on?

There’s not a whole lot of business value in redoing old work – any time we spent improving Reviews was time our competitors could spend releasing newer, shinier and more exciting features.

But the longer we stewed on it, the more it seemed like rebuilding Reviews from the ground-up was the only real choice we could make.

We’ve spoken a lot recently about Charlie’s mission to make work better for small companies and their teams – and helping them create a culture of personal and professional growth is a huge, huge part of that.

A survey from a couple of years ago found that 68% of employees have changed jobs because of a lack of development opportunities.

What’s more, a landmark PwC study on millennial attitudes towards work found that development opportunities are now the single most desirable benefit an employer could offer – ahead of cash bonuses, more days off or even private healthcare.

So while going back to rebuild Reviews wasn’t the easy choice, I certainly think it was the right one.

That’s why – for the last 12 months – we’ve had nearly half of the Charlie team focussed on rebuilding our Reviews feature from the ground up.

How much time it took and how many people we asked before rebuilding our Reviews feature

That process started with our users. At the start of last year, our customer team analysed nearly 300 support tickets about our current Reviews feature, collecting and collating as much insight as we could about why it fell short.

Next, our product designers went back to user research, running a survey of over 200 people managers, conducting more than 20 in-depth interviews and 30 face-to-face user tests.

And by the time we release it, we’ll have put nearly 4,300 hours of engineering time into the feature.

So what’s different about the new Reviews?

We’ve built the new Reviews around meaningful and productive conversations

That research process taught our product team a lot about what a good (and bad) review process looks like.

One of our main findings was just how crucial person-to-person conversations are to growth and development.  

“The conversation is the most important part of the review - that’s where the growth happens, but only if people prepare.” Emily Kilbane, Product Designer at Charlie

Looking at the other solutions on the market, it felt as if they had decided to just throw software at the problem. OKRs, weekly check-ins, self-reviews, 360-degree feedback, continuous performance management – there was an overwhelming number of tools, but not much guidance about what makes a good review process.

We decided that our new Reviews feature would be built on that foundation – informed, effective and productive review conversations.

Now, there are few different ways we've tried to achieve this:

1- We've made it easy and simple to set up review cycles

We know what it’s like running a small business. When everyone on your team is working at full capacity, it’s easy to let performance management fall by the wayside.

How we roll out a company wide review in 3 easy steps: choose a template, select participants and schedule the review

Our new Reviews feature has made setting up and launching review cycles a seamless process.

2- Reviews follows up with people managers to make sure those conversations happen

One of the hardest parts of a creating a great review process is making sure those review conversations are happening, and happening regularly.

A lot of the time, it falls to someone working in a ‘part-time HR’ role to chase up people managers and keep the ball rolling. Our new Reviews feature takes that chasing off your plate by following up with your people managers automatically.

“Monitoring progress shouldn’t mean chasing people down. On the overview page, admins will be able to see the completion level for all team members while managers will see progress of their own reviewees.” Emily Kilbane, Product Designer at Charlie

3- We make sure those conversations are informed, effective and productive

This is the really important bit.

It’s no use for people managers and their direct reports to just turn up to their review meeting – for that meeting to be useful, both participants need to prepare.

Charlie’s new Reviews feature encourages informed and effective discussions by making sure that everyone has prepared ahead of time.

Screenshot of the review and how it works: questions answered by employee, questions answered by manager and meeting happens to discuss

4- It helps managers to get reviews right

Much of the time, the effectiveness of a review process will come down to the manager running it.

Their experience, their confidence with performance management, whether they’re a people manager by trade – all of these things come into play.

What this means is that some companies end up with very uneven performance management across the business. Some team members get a great review meeting – others won’t be so lucky.

That’s why we designed Reviews to guide your people managers with best-practice advice and support from our in-house experts.

Screenshot of tips in the software to run effective reviews

That way, you can be confident every team member is getting a great review experience.

5- It’s simple and easy to use, no matter your experience

One of the biggest issues with Reviews V1 was that it didn't always give enough support to people who were new to performance management.

Now, you can choose from best-practice review templates designed by our in-house HR experts or create your own with our light-touch review builder.

Screenshot of templates available in the software

6- It lets you oversee your entire review process at a glance

If your team is larger than even just a handful of people, overseeing a review process can quickly become overwhelming.

But with your intuitive overview page, you’re always in the loop.

Screenshot of past reviews stored in the software

Here, you can quickly see which reviews are being held up, and where.