Operations

Lisa Margetis

Can A Product Brief Really Make A Better App?

Dec. 7, 2017

When we start a new product at 20spokes, the first deliverable is not the design - but the Product Brief.

Nothing makes warm and fuzzy “my product is really happening!” feelings happen like seeing those very first branded designs. All of the meetings, notes, ideas and concepts come alive in a gratifying visual scene: your new product’s layout!

Yet, the first design alone is not the beginning. We have to understand your users before we can build a powerful product, and the Product Brief is the first map of exactly how your users will experience your product.

How has user experience expertise gained such value and prevalence in the digital product realm? Because good user experience retains users and makes products downright enjoyable to use.

So where does this ethereal user experience design come from?

The truth is that the users are at the center of any app’s user experience. To put users first, we have to answer hard questions about every product:

  • Who are your users?

  • Why do they need your product?

  • Can you define exactly what you’re making, and who you’re making it for?

  • Is there a map of the user’s interactions with your product?

We help make this process easier, because the Product Brief creates a sharable template for the product you want to create.

An actionable and cohesive plan that addresses exactly who your users are and what they’re going to do with your product doesn’t just help the team to make the product - it helps make the product better.

The goals come first.

The product brief identifies mission critical features.

When you can limit the scope of features through a clear goal, you can avoid spending money to develop features that don’t fit your vision - and get your product to market faster.

We focus your product’s features by understanding your product’s goals. The Product Brief evaluates your product through the lens of:

  • What problem you are solving

  • Who you are solving this problem for

We couple a clear roadmap of your goals and capabilities with a clearly defined user audience. Your Product Brief directly influences functionality, inspires a more useful product and aides in the generation of thoughtful user interface design.

Let’s use a real world example: an app to make driving safer for teens. That’s the goal. From here, we know exactly who the app is for. Since we know that the app is for teens, we can focus on specific features that will help us achieve our goal. Maybe we monitor speed zones and clearly display the car’s speed. Perhaps we alert teens when there’s congestion or a traffic accident ahead. We could even silence incoming calls or texts while the app is on to limit distractions.

By knowing our audience and our goal, we are able to generate focused features. Some features like red light camera alerts could be tossed out - we don’t want to help teens run red lights - and other features emphasized. You save time, money and effort on features that don’t get used.

Limiting product scope with the powerful vision of a Product Brief frees up project resources, reduces turnaround time and keeps the product on schedule - all through a goal-oriented approach to product planning and design.

A unified client and team: one vision, with clear expectations.

Context is everything. The Product Brief is the context for our team’s contributions to the product, enabling smarter decisions during development.

Our briefs contain an overview of the research that aided in the product’s development process, providing a clear rationale for important details. This isn’t just reassuring for the client, it’s immensely helpful for our team during development.

Onboarding new team members, other departments or simply answering the question of “why is it this way?” becomes a faster, easier process - just show them the brief!

The overall direction of the product can be hard to pin down when a team is deep in the weeds of a bug or some other errant detail. The Product Brief is valuable for calculating what’s mission critical. Expectations are set for our team: we know what we’re aiming for.

The foundation of a positive and effective working relationship is often centered on a great Product Brief. Since the Product Brief is a tangible demonstration of how we’ve heard the client’s idea, it creates clear expectations between the client and the team. Trust is built, everything is laid out for all to see, and a challenging problem is broken down to be solved piece-by-piece.

The warm fuzzy “this is really happening” feelings don’t have to end with the first screenshots. A good plan that everyone can come back to keeps momentum going in the right direction. We use our Product Briefs as a template for success, right from the very start.

How do you think a Product Brief could improve product development? Do you need a Product Brief for your idea? Comment below and let us know what you think!

Lisa Margetis

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Operations

8/1/16

Good Founders Make Good Clients - 5 Traits We Look For

“Ideas are easy. Implementation is hard.” – Guy Kawasaki

As a development agency that primarily works with early stage startups, we hear all kinds of business ideas. You could even say that we're in the business of building business ideas; but only one's we believe will succeed, and not on our own. We know that, without a good founder to drive implementation, even the best ideas will surely fail. In fact, most give up at the first sign of real challenge, and their ideas never see the light of day. So while we spend time evaluating the viability of the idea, we must also consider if the founder has what it takes. Here are the 5 traits we look for:

1. Tenacious belief. Some traits can be learned or honed; this is not one of them. Startups are inherently difficult, demanding, and full of unknowns and disappointment. To make it through, a founder needs confidence, determination, passion, and the like - things you can't have without first believing. We're not talking about simply believing you have a good idea. We're also not talking about blind belief to the point of delusion. This is believing strongly enough in your vision that, despite the uncertainties and inevitable struggles in your path, you will do whatever it takes to see it through.

2. Domain expertise. Serious founders need to understand their market as much as possible. Ideally, you can directly relate to the problem you're trying to solve - or - you have extensive experience that gives you insight on your target market. Even then, the best founders do everything they can to consistently learn and absorb new information.

3. Communication. The greatest entrepreneurs are masters of communication. Not all start out that way, but its something to be conscious of and constantly improve. A good founder has the ability to communicate clearly, confidently, and candidly. They can clearly explain their thoughts and ideas. They use confidence to sell themselves and their vision, as well as to lead others. They can candidly express their feelings, while maintaining control of their emotions.

4. Head in the clouds, feet on the ground. Growing a startup requires constant innovation. A good founder has vision; they dream big and consistently ask themselves, "what's next?" However, that vision will never materialize unless a founder can execute in the present. A good founder can keep their eyes to the future while practicing self awareness, focus, patience, and responsible decision making.

5. Flexibility. The survival of a business, like in nature, depends on its ability to adapt. No matter how much a founder plans, new information will arise and circumstances will change; a good founder is prepared and willing to respond. Some changes will inevitably result in failures. A founder must have the resilience to pick themselves up, learn from the failures, and push on.

6. Enjoys the ride. I know I said 5 traits, but this one's pretty important too. Yes, starting a business is difficult, risky, blah blah blah...but what's the point if you can't enjoy it? Having fun will not only make your life (feel) easier; attracting advocates, customers, employees, and investors will be easier as well.

Now these aren't the ONLY things a founder needs to build a successful business, nor do they guarantee success, but we'd bet on you. So if you have a great idea and "what it takes" (see above), we should meet.

Operations

8/29/16

Watch us eat our own dog food

20spokes is trying a new diet, so to speak. If you’re unfamiliar with the phrase “eating your own dog food,” it’s a common expression in the software world referring to a developer’s practice of using their own products. It’s said to have originated from 1970s television advertisements for Alpo dog food, where the owner of the company would make a point of feeding Alpo to his own dogs. So in its broader interpretation, “practice what you preach” would be an appropriate alternative. Either way, if we can help others build great products, we want to show that we can build our own great products as well.

It’s something we’ve thought about for a while, and now we’re finally taking the steps to make it happen. Client work will still always be our primary focus, but we have the team, the experience, and the aspirations; why wouldn't we work on our own ideas too? Like our clients, though, we don't want to jump into these ventures haphazardly only to end up with a well built app that nobody else wants. So we're putting these ideas through the same process of discovery, validation, and planning that we would with anyone who came into our office. In a way, by becoming clients of our own process, we’re getting our first helping of dog food!

Over the last week or so, we’ve adopted the mindset of a founder with a vision, and taken one of our ideas through the first steps of conception. Working through this process as the “founder” has already given us some great new insight, and we're excited to share this journey with you. So stay tuned for the next several weeks as we document all the steps we take and lessons we learn along the way; we're going to find out just how good our dog food tastes.

Trying to get your own product idea to market? Contact us to learn more about our process and how we can help.

Technology

11/20/17

Cross-Platform mobile development is cost-effective and faster to launch

Two years ago, if a person approached us for mobile app development, the first question would be what platform to launch on first - iOS or Android. It was almost double the cost to deploy on both and double the maintenance.

Fast forward to today, we can deploy on iOS and Android quicker before, at the same time, and with the expected native quality.

So what has changed? Technology has gotten a lot better. We particularly use React Native, an open source framework from Facebook, that allows developers to develop in a common language, Javascript, and deploy on both iOS and Android.

And it is native! Previous technologies for cross platform mobile apps would create a wrapper of a web view. Think of the older experience as using the browser on your phone for a site with a few more bells and whistles. It was close but the difference is noticeable when switching to native applications, from scrolling to the overall experience.

How does this impact everything now?

Cost is no longer double for both platforms. It can even cost less due to wide spread community support developing open source libraries.

Maintenance is a lot easier. A majority of the issues can be fixed in one code base and of the same language.

Recruitment and team knowledge is easier. Your team only need to know one language and most developers know Javascript. iOS is written in Objective C or Swift and Android is written in Java.

Reusable code for desktop web views. With React Native, we are able to share over 50% of the code with the web view, saving all of the above even more.

Stay tuned, as I’ll be going more into the technologies and other benefits.