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Sufferin’ SaaS-afras! Where can I Test?


Online Project Management is a great fit for Software as a Service (SaaS). Teams can perform their project based work in different locations and timezones, but still collaborate in a loosely coupled way. And as vendors improve the underlying PPM Software, everyone instantly benefits when the production website is upgraded. What more could you want?

Well, when a major new release that changes the user interface is coming down the pipe…how about a place to test?


About a year ago, Workfront wisely decided to give its Workfront ondemand customers a beta site so they could test new features against known data. The weekly beta refresh worked so well that some customers also use it for training purposes. Views, reports and other objects copy across automatically, and because the data is in a separate environment, it’s a safe place for new users to get some practise.

However, the next version of Workfront (R14) is a major look-and-feel release.  Suddenly, those customers have few options for training new users:

  • There is no Test environment as such, where the current release points to a copy of their data
  • Beta is different enough that it could cause confusion
  • Even if they’d agree to pay for a data restore, they can’t copy their data back into the ondemand environment, since the primary keys would collide
  • They could create what’s called a Testdrive with sample canned data, but then none of their dashboards, their reports, their data — their business, really –  would be included

But fortunately, there’s an easy solution.


The trick is to build a Test environment within Production. Seriously!

  • Create a special Group called Training Data, and a special Access Level called Trainee, with rights to see Home Group data only
  • Set all new users’ Home Group to Training Data, and their Access Level to Trainee
  • Create several Projects, Tasks, and Issues that belong to the Training Data Group; or better yet, keep several side-by-side versions; or best of all, prepare them in Kickstarts, so you can delete and reload them each time a fresh class of new users shows up
  • Have the new users log in: all they will see is the Training Data
  • As new views, reports, dashboards and so on are added to the Production environment, they can be instantly made available to the Trainees — no migration required
  • Because it’s really Production, the Test environment will get the same care and attention as real data does as far as uptime, performance, support and backups (whereas beta can be down unexpectedly or intentionally for days…true story…)
  • When training is complete, simply upgrade their Access Level and change their Home Group to graduate them into Production

It sounds a bit daunting at first, but by leveraging Workfront’s security model, you can provide a safe, refreshable Test environment within Production that stays current with your business as it evolves. Who knows? If enough of us adopt the approach, it could become the defacto standard.

If you decide to try it, please let me know how it goes.