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Faculty focus groups help us enhance CaRMS Online

By: Erin Whittingham, Product Development Analyst

Three focus groups in three different cities in three business days—a great start to our new development rank order list (D-ROL) initiative. The project’s objective is to engage our users and better understand how they use CaRMS Online so we can in turn determine the most effective enhancements to our system.

The first phase of the D-ROL initiative focuses on CaRMS Online’s postgraduate users. The three sessions we’ve held so far have been more instructive than we imagined. We were welcomed by a Chinook when landing in Calgary before heading north to the University of Alberta, and then stopped at Western University before heading home.

During the sessions, we spoke with program administrators, program directors, and postgraduate managers who were eager to share their experiences with CaRMS Online. Another important aspect of our discussion focused on priorities. At the end of each session, we asked participants to prioritize all the issues discussed. This added step provided a clear mandate on the areas we need to focus on when determining the next round of system enhancements.

This direction will help ensure we use our resources in the most effective and economical way possible. I’m happy to report that some of our assumptions have already been challenged, so we are excited to see what additional insights future sessions will provide us.

What we’re hearing

During each session, it has also been great to hear the varied perspectives of small, medium-sized and large programs—who receive anywhere between 20 to 1,800 applications, making the challenges they face completely different. And an unintended but welcome side effect of gathering everyone in one room is that some attendees have taken advantage of the opportunity to learn and ask questions about how their colleagues from other programs complete their processes.

D-ROL session with program administrators at the University of Alberta.

D-ROL session with program administrators at the University of Alberta.

The initiative is still in its formative stages.  We still have many focus group sessions scheduled in the coming weeks, so I will post another update with more specific findings further along in the process.  Until that time, one comment that has been consistently popping up, in one form or another, is that our users forget how to navigate CaRMS Online from one cycle to the next.

This takeaway indicates that we need to re-orient our thinking and treat each match cycle as if it’s the user’s first.

What’s next

What are the next steps in the D-ROL initiative? After concluding the last focus group (currently scheduled for mid-March), we will begin synthesizing all the data. Upon completion of this phase, we will have met with roughly 100 – 150 people, so there will be a lot of it. But that is the point—to hear from a large number of users that represent a substantial cross-section of one of our user groups.

Once the findings have been analyzed, we will share them publicly, and integrate the list of enhancements into our existing product roadmap for the 2016 R-1 Main Residency Match cycle. Current plans are to roll out the first round of enhancements in September 2015.

CaRMS is first and foremost a service organization, and CaRMS Online is the primary way we interact with the faculty members and applicants we serve. For that reason, making sure we provide the best possible user experience is a key priority for the organization. The development rank order list (D-ROL) outreach initiative is our newest effort in this direction, so stay tuned for future updates!