Discovering the Next MVP

OPT-SBS-rotator-screens

 

From startups to Fortune 500 companies, everyone is competing to develop the “next big thing”. They have grandiose visions of a disruptive application leaving users astounded that they were able to survive without it. But ultimately, these ideas are only as good as their execution.

 

In today’s rapidly evolving world, it’s increasingly difficult for enterprise companies to stay agile & create innovative market solutions. Disruptive technology is coming from startups like Tesla, Uber, and Snapchat who in the past few years have displaced traditional business models dominated by some of the largest enterprise companies for decades prior.

 

Sidebench is a leading Corporate Innovation Lab and Startup Venture Studio dedicated to identifying, developing, and launching strategic technology solutions for our corporate & startup partners.

 

Thousands of app creators rush to get their ideas to market; to their credit, their passion is inspiring, and their ideas, novel.  But, despite this abundance of creativity, very few apps seem to make the disruptive impact that their creators envision. To that end, Sidebench works to change this trend. With our Discovery process, we strive to translate the vision of app creators into a workable product that attracts and retains the most passionate of early users.

 

Sidebench founder Kevin Yamazaki explains our process and what makes it so unique and valuable to our clients.

 

Q: First off, in your own words, what exactly is the Discovery process?

A: The way that Sidebench does the Discovery process is very unique – it’s a process we’ve developed for the past five years. Sidebench’s Product Discovery is a very collaborative process between stakeholders and our key project leads in what we see as the most important parts of fully defining, designing, and preparing for the build and launch of a new business or product line. It’s separated into three parts: business strategy and analysis – where we analyze your business objectives – user experience design and information architecture, translating strategy and requirements to visual and interactive design. The third and final part is the technical side – which can include systems integration,technical architecture, and detailed documentation for development team handoff.

 

During this process, we emphasize extreme empathy between the client stakeholders and our key project leads. We’re building a great working relationship right out of the gate in order to fully understand the client’s vision and business to truly act as an extension of their team. This Discovery phase is the most important stage of any startup or corporate innovation project and ensures that the right product is being built to directly fulfill the business objectives.

Q: What makes the Discovery process so valuable?

A: We’re never designing,engineering or architecting in a silo. There is constant communication and collaboration across these three streams every step of the way. During this process most importantly, we uncover new business opportunities which influence and shift the direction or emphasis of the product and allows us to uncover hidden risks and address them head on while we validate the value proposition.

 

From a tangible standpoint, the end outcome is a Product Requirements Document (PRD) and an interactive prototype. The PRD is a detailed analysis of the requirements for your application that includes user personas, workflow diagrams, wireframes, fully designed mockups, and a detailed product roadmap. From here, you can go to any development firm in the world as long as they have the capacity to develop your product. Everything is perfectly packaged for an agile development handoff. More exciting than the PRD is the interactive prototype. Startups have often used our prototypes to secure funding, and, at the enterprise level, interactive prototypes have been used to validate concepts with and obtain buy-in from key stakeholders within their organization for a larger budget for development. Coupled with this is extensive and intensive user testing. We go directly to the end user to make sure your product vision aligns with their needs.

 

This whole process leads to a much smoother design-to-development handoff, which means that all teams are aligned on the product vision and have a clear release roadmap ahead. This can be extremely tricky, but, if you do it right, it can save a lot of time and money.

Q: What if the app creator has already done some of these things for themselves?

A: While we admire the passion and creativity of the founders and key stakeholders, that same passion can sometimes make them blind to the various quirks and nuances of product development, leading to unrealistic expectations of how their product will perform in the market. Sometimes the most valuable thing that we can do during the Discovery stage is to challenge the first assumptions or product design decision that was made months ago and then objectively validating them against the market. It’s not uncommon for us to find critical new market insights and have clients refocus their whole product. Oftentimes, our clients have done the fun work, but it’s our role to help guide them through the more difficult parts of product design and at the same time, educate and evaluate the consumer pain the product is solving.

Q: Can you provide some concrete examples of how this process has helped companies?

A: NBCUniversal approached us because they were using four different marketplaces to distribute digital content and media assets to their partners all over the globe. They had the biggest technology firms as their vendors – yet they came to us because they needed a fresh perspective. After an extensive Discovery process, there was a clear vision for system integration. The process allowed us to map out the visual style and  technical architecture, while also managing the expectations of the various stakeholders, making the technical aspects easier. . It was still a challenge – integrating four different systems for so many different users is no easy feat by any stretch of the imagination – but the end result was a single, mobile-responsive app that allowed users to access all of NBCUniversal’s digital media assets.

 

Another example was our project with Pabst Blue Ribbon (PBR), one of the oldest and largest beer brands in the world. Their CMO approached us to find a solution to evaluating performance and tracking Key Performance Indicators for their Field Marketing Team across the country. During our Discovery process, we decided on a two-sided mobile app that would not only solve this internal goal, but also provide a consumer facing experience for PBR fans to further engage with the brand.. In this app, field reps could build a stronger community of brand aficionados by providing a direct channel for them to communicate with PBR fans outside of traditional social media channels. From the corporate side, there were now tangible metrics to be tracked. This added value not only in the short and medium terms, but in the long term as well. This platform has allowed PBR to enact a ton of different programs across all of their channels.

 

Another great example is Red Bull. Due to vendor constraints and an internal requirement for international use, we proposed developing a white label Photo Booth app for Red Bull that would accommodate multiple international business unit’s varying needs. After evaluating these needs in our Discovery process, we created an iPad app, a web app, and an admin app that allows Red Bull managers across the world to create custom design templates for each of their events utilizing the Photobooth application. These apps are being released at over 1,500 Red Bull global events this year alone.

Want to learn more about our projects and our clients? Click here for our complete profile.

Pokemon Go, UX Design, and the Future of AR

by Sami Berrada

What can be said about Pokemon Go that hasn’t already been said? With more active users than Twitter and Nintendo stock prices increasing 25 percent, Pokemon Go has taken the world by storm, invading every realm of daily life, from police stations to the Westboro Baptist Church.

But it shouldn’t come as quite a surprise. Pokemon Go takes the same concepts that made the original Red and Blue so successful – walking around collecting fantastical monsters – and brings it to the real world. Coupled with a large, passionate fan-base consisting of people who were raised on mobile phones, Niantic Labs and Nintendo had a recipe for success.

The Beauty of Design
Besides the concept, one of the key factors of Pokemon Go’s virality is its UX design. The whole experience is put together so beautifully that it is hard to fathom a better one. From the registration to avatar customization, to the actual experience of walking around and collecting adorable pocket monsters, the whole process is seamlessly integrated in a way that optimizes the user experience. Despite the copius server issues at launch, users would still not be swayed from playing this game and the design team at Niantic Lab’s deserves as much – if not more – credit for the experience that they built. These design teams can make or break a project; an app or a website could have the most cutting-edge technology, but without a user-centric design, users won’t spend their precious time. In a world with thousands of apps vying for users attention, only the ones that optimize the user experience stand out.

The Future of AR
What’s really exciting about this game is what this means for the future of AR. Niantic has previously ventured into the AR field with their game Ingress, and Yelp attempted to enter the AR space with their now defunct Monocle, but none of these attempts have exploded in the same way as Pokemon Go. With this unparalleled success, developers will be flocking to AR like moths to a candle. And in a (relatively) small market, this competition is good. It brings new ideas and pushes the boundaries of what’s capable. The world of AR does not have to be limited to just video games and novelty features – it has real world applications as well.

Nobody could have predicted the massive success of Pokemon Go. Not only is it a monumental app, it challenges previously held conceptions of what an app can do and how users interact with it. And as active users, while we’re excited for the new features added to the game (we’re willing to trade for a Gengar!), we’re more excited for what’s next for AR. With an impressive technology and a clean UX, Niantic has set a high bar of what to expect out of AR. Only time will tell who sets it even higher.

The Yelp for Digital Agencies

by Josh Koenig

When looking for services on the internet it’s often helpful to have a single destination that aggregates businesses and service providers with examples of their work and reviews from real customers. For restaurants and local businesses there’s Yelp, for local service providers there’s Angie’s List, and for digital agencies like ourselves there’s Clutch.co.

When making a decision that could be critical to the success or failure of your business like choosing a software development partner it can be hard to know where to turn. As a business owner or entrepreneur you might be able to talk to people in your network, but not everyone has access to the right type of partner. A website like Clutch allows you to do your own research and compare and contrast potential partners by taking a look at past projects, areas of expertise, and reviews. They thoroughly vet all vendors on their platform and perform in-depth interviews with past clients to procure high quality and helpful reviews.

We at Sidebench know that we won’t be the right fit for every type of project, and find that clients who come to us through Clutch tend to be well-informed and prepared for an initial conversation. In fact, some of our favorite clients and largest accounts have found us through the platform.

We’re proud to be included on multiple Clutch Leaders Matrices, including the Top Los Angeles App Developers Leaders Matrix and Top Salesforce Consultants and Consulting Firms. Be sure to check out our profile as well and see what some of our past clients have to say about our work.

 

 

Why You Don’t Need Feedback From Everyone (Why and How to Write a Screener)

by Dianne Chen

Done correctly, user testing is a quick and less expensive way to validate your concept before you invest hours or money into developing your mobile or web app. Testing with users often highlights usability issues with how your information is structured or where users have concerns regarding their security/privacy/ease of use.

Why You Don’t Need Everyone’s Feedback

Now that you have a prototype, you might be going around asking your friends and family what they think. It’s likely that most of them will look at the prototype once and tell you how cool it is that you’re trying to be an entrepreneur leaving you with fluff for feedback. A few of them may be critical of the whole concept of your prototype, leaving you doubtful or defensive.

The trick is to NOT look to everyone for feedback. You need to screen out the people (and the noise) in order to efficiently narrow in on the applicable insights that will improve your design. You need to write a screener!

What is a screener?

A screener is typically a survey you send out to potential users that screens for the people with the right qualities that fit your target user personas (most often your customers). Focus on people who would actually use your product because it solves some pains of theirs.

If while testing you find that actual users have different behaviors from the target user personas you created then update them to better inform your product and design decisions. User personas should always be living and changing documents.

How to write a screener

Review your own user personas & requirements – so you know who you want & don’t want. In a scenario for a music discovery app, we want users who are:

  • 24 – 35 years old, male
  • browses on Youtube/Spotify/Google Music/Itunes/Pandora for new music to listen to
  • spends about 1-2 hours a day finding new music
  • plays 1-2 musical instruments (guitar, drums, bass)
  • has 2-3 bands that he follows closely and wants to listen to something similar
  • Be broad and narrow down

One thing to note is that user testers are usually compensated for their time. Thus, some testers are incentivized to take as many tests as possible, by selecting answers they think you want. In order to best screen out people who do not fit your requirements, we will have to start broad.

For example, which question is easier to guess? [brackets denote whether to accept or terminate the user from the test and is not shown]

  • Are you interested in music?
    • Yes [continue]
    • No [terminate]
  • What are some activities that you are interested in doing often (select all that apply)?
    • Watching Movies / entertainment
    • Exercising
    • Cooking
    • Playing Sports
    • Arts and Craft
    • Playing/Browsing Music [must select]
    • Playing Video games
    • Reading the News
    • Outdoor recreational activities (ie. camping, etc)
  • None of the above [terminate]

Clearly, screeners need to stay away from Yes/No questions, since it’s a 50/50 chance that the user may continue along the screener.

After users select questions, you can narrow it down even further by asking clarifying questions:

You indicated that Playing/Browsing Music was one of your interests. How often do you browse for new music?

  • Not at all [terminate, all else can continue]
  • 0 – 2 hours per week
  • 3 – 5 hours per week
  • 6 – 8 hours per week
  • 9+ hours per week

Of the hours you spend browsing for new music, what websites do you use (separate each by comma)?

And so on…

Filter out by behaviors instead of collecting demographic information

As you can read in the line of questioning, the screener is used to filter out participants instead of collecting data. If narrowing down by demographics is important, use questions with multiple options so that the testers cannot guess through your screener.

Be quick to follow up

You don’t want to miss out on scheduling the user tests with those that do fit your requirements. The quicker you’re able to collect test data, the more you’ll know about how your product would perform with actual customers/users.

Why it could be beneficial to have non-users test/review your product

While testing with actual users of your product will result in valuable insights, testing or reviewing your product with some of “everyone” could potentially be useful. Some examples:

  • It they’re industry insiders/veterans
  • If they have specialized skillset for specialized feedback (ie. back-end data architect to review if your prototype is possible)

Running user tests can be a great way to make sure you’re developing a quality product that meets the needs of real users. However, user testing can be a time consuming and costly process, so it’s always best to make sure you’re testing with the right kind of users, not just any users.

Development Partner vs. In-House Team: Which is Right for You?

By Josh Koenig

If you’re looking to build a new software product, whether as an established business looking to launch a new website or app or as an entrepreneur bringing a new product to the market, if you’re not a developer yourself you’re likely considering two primary options:

  • Recruit and hire an in-house team
  • Find a local development partner

The right choice for your project will depend on a wide range of variables, including budget, timeline, staff capacity, and you or your company’s familiarity with developing digital products.

In-House Team
An in-house team is best when you need complete control over every aspect of the development process and have the resources to recruit and hire the necessary staff to do so. An internal team will be entirely focused on developing and optimizing your project, and you won’t have to worry about them being distracted by deadlines for other clients. They’ll be around for the long haul and you’ll know who to turn to when something (inevitably) breaks.

Startup Stock Photo

However, If you’re in a big, startup-friendly city like Los Angeles, New York, or San Francisco you’ll need to compete for quality talent with the top startups and tech companies in your geographic area (think Snapchat, Facebook, Google, etc). To develop a quality product you’ll likely need to find at least:

  • Senior Engineer/Technical Architect
  • Project Manager (can be you if you have the experience)
  • 1-2 developers
  • User Experience (UX) Architect
  • Visual Designer
  • Quality Assurance (QA) Engineer

You may not need everyone to be full time to start, but it can be very difficult to manage an entirely part-time team who has never worked with each other. Recruiting and hiring these people is not only time consuming, it’s also quite expensive. You’ll need to consider:

  • Advertising job listings
  • Event fees
  • Interviewing
  • Recruiter fees
  • Travel expenses
  • Signing bonuses
  • Annual salary
  • Employment taxes and insurance

Pros:

  • Can be less expensive than hiring an agency as you can negotiate your own rates/salaries
  • More control over the vision and direction of the product
  • Team will be more responsive to your product’s needs as it will be their sole focus
  • Can build a team from the ground up that believes in your product

Cons

  • Recruiting the right team with the right skillsets
  • Heavy competition for qualified workers
  • Needing to create a cohesive and productive company culture
  • Overhead including salaries, healthcare, office space, insurance, utilities, etc.
  • Scaling to the needs of a growing user base

Local Development Partner
Hiring a local development partner will get you a team that has all of the pieces you’ll need already in place and is very familiar with the planning and development process. They will have more experience working with each other which leads to smoother and more efficient product development.

creative-apple-desk-office

By hiring an agency you’ll likely gain access to a wider range of developer skillsets and Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) than you would by hiring a few full-stack developers internally. You won’t need to scramble to find that Node.js, iOS, or Salesforce expert. Finding a local partner who you can meet with in person on a regular basis will allow you to build a relationship with people who understand your business objectives and product vision, not to mention whiteboard solutioning is way more fun than video meetings over Skype.

If you have a set of business requirements but not necessarily a technical Product Requirements Document (PRD) you’ll want to find a partner that truly understands your product vision from both a business and technological perspective and can translate that into specs for the development team. You’ll likely need to start with a Discovery phase, sometimes called Ideation or Planning, to design the product. This should include:

  • Business Analysis
  • User Experience Architecture
  • Technical Architecture
  • Creative Design Concepts

When evaluating your partner you’ll want to consider the three P’s: Pricing, Process, and Personality.

Pricing: Does their pricing model work with your budget? Do they work on a time and materials or a fixed bid basis? Can you pay by the development sprint? Are their rates well-aligned with market rates for particular skillsets?

Process: Does their discovery and development process align with your business processes? Are they thorough and able to explain how your working relationship will function? What is their communication and reporting process?

Personality: Do you get along with them personally? Do they understand your vision? Can you see yourself working closely with them over the next few months (or years)?

You’ll be working with your partner on a regular basis for the next few months (if not years!), so often personality fit is the most important factor.

developers-team

Pros
Access to an experienced, cohesive team
Work with a wide range of subject matter experts
Only need to make the hiring decision once
Can scale more quickly and easily
Can be less expensive than hiring a full internal team

Cons
Less control over the team and will be less responsive
Aren’t truly a part of your team and culture
May be focused on other client projects
Potential personality clash with internal team
Longer-term support can be tougher (though still less expensive than full-time staff)

How to Decide?

  • If you’re selling a product where the technology itself is your value proposition, like a SaaS service or complex mobile app, you may want to go in house as you’ll need someone for the inevitable bugs, fixes, and feature requests. It’s also difficult to scale a product for the long run with an outsourced team.
  • If you will need to adapt to changes in requirements and the marketplace swiftly and frequently (on a daily basis), you’ll want an internal team with a product owner and dev team who is on-call.
  • If you’re building a tech-enabled product, like an ecommerce site or a simpler app, you may be better off having an experienced partner build your MVP and hire an internal team once you’re bringing in revenue and it’s time to scale.
  • if you’re developing an internal business product that will require a large upfront development effort but can maintained will less direct involvement as time goes on, a local development partner might be right for you.
  • If you’re building a product that will require a wide range of specialities (i.e. a website that needs to integrate with Salesforce, Quickbooks, with an Angular.js frontend and Ruby on Rails backend) you may be best served by working with a partner that can give you access to the subject matter experts you’ll need.
  • If you’re a non-tech company that needs some short-term technical expertise and consulting, a partner may be your best bet.

Conclusion
The answer to “which option is right for me?” is it depends. Regardless of which direction you eventually take, the first step should be understanding what factors are important and how to approach the decision. In our initial calls and meetings with potential clients, we always make sure to work through your needs in order to ensure that you’re considering all of the items mentioned above, and we won’t hesitate to tell you if in-house is the way to go.

3 Tech Trends That Will Shape the Fashion Industry

by Malcolm Lorenzo-Torres

1. Wearable Technology Blurs the Line Between Tech and Fashion

The most obvious examples of wearable technology today are Google Glass, the Apple Watch, and Fitbit — but these are just first steps into the realm of wearable tech.

What happens, for example, when smart fabrics enable fashions to incorporate sensors that emit aromas or interact with the environment in different ways? Imagine fashions that alter their color or texture based on surrounding conditions of light, heat or sound.

Alternatively imagine fashions that seamlessly and invisibly incorporate biofeedback to support an individual’s health and wellness. Smartclothes are already beginning to feature bio-monitoring capabilities to analyze and improve the effectiveness of your workouts. The days of fabric as a strictly static resource are coming to a close—the days of fabric as an active (and interactive) resource are just beginning.

2. 3D Printing Means Everyone Becomes A One-Person Factory

If you haven’t heard much about 3D printing just imagine having a printer in your home or office that, instead of putting ink to paper, actually creates three-dimensional solid objects. You could print a pair of shoes, or jeans, a dress.

According to Forbes, 3D printing will be a $3.1 billion industry by 2016 and a $5.2 billion industry by 2020. To understand how 3D printing will transform the fashion industry and potentially many others in the years ahead, just think about life today and compare it to life before computers and smartphones and the internet. The change that easily affordable 3D printing will bring is going to be just as transformative. Think about designers in offices, apartments and garages developing accessory prototypes—or engaging in full-on production without any middleman whatsoever. The possibilities are endless.

3. Technology Will Make Everything You Know Today Obsolete in 10 Years
Moore’s Law states that the processing power of computers will double every two years. The term originated around 1970, and it’s held fairly true since then. A decade from now, the processing power of the average computer—or smartphone—will be 32 times stronger than it is today.

Imagine the immense shifts that power will create. The digital capabilities of today’s biggest fashion brands will be dwarfed by the startup brands of 2025. The technology trends starting to emerge today will accelerate exponentially over the coming decade.

The truly successful fashion brands of tomorrow will be those that can not only recognize and cope with the pace of change, but embrace it. They will be aware of both the macro- and micro-trends in our industry—and will be flexible enough to strategically act on them with bold conviction.

How to Measure the Success of Your Project

by Terri Yeh

In traditional project management, the triangle of triple constraints (time, cost, scope) is usually the automatic response when asked to provide project success metrics. Balancing the triangle is an exercise of weighing the pros and cons and accepting tradeoffs, while avoiding the tendency to oversimplify by asking only yes-or-no questions. The valuable skill we all learned in school, the 5Ws and H, comes in handy here:

When discovering a new use case:

  • Instead of only asking “Are we willing to invest more time to implement additional features even though it will put us over budget and timeline?”

  • Also ask “ What is the acceptable range of overage for each? Where can we get that additional funding? Whose buy-in do we need?”

When a competitor is developing a similar product:

  • Instead of only asking “Do we want to reduce product scope so we can get to market faster than the competition?”

  • Also ask “What is the Minimum Viable Product (MVP)? How can we get there before anyone else?”

When your QA budget is reduced and you can’t test the full feature set:

  • Instead of asking “Should we launch with the subset of features that have been tested even though that makes our product less comprehensive than that of the competition? Or should we launch the full product as planned, but without having tested as thoroughly as we would have liked?”

  • Also ask “What steps can we take and who can we leverage to still create an amazing product and achieve satisfactory timeline?”

Project managers exist to shape the triangle by answering questions like these, and at Sidebench, we make sure our answers are UX- and data-driven.

But while the triple constraint is necessary, it’s not sufficient. The danger of stopping at the PMI-defined triangle is logistics tunnel vision. Because while time, cost, and scope are definable, and therefore measurable, attributes on how well the project was managed against the SOW, they say next to nothing about business value to your clients and the relationships that you’ve formed (or not) throughout the project.

To get a more holistic look at project success, ask additional questions to understand the success of the product (your deliverable) and byproducts (relationships, team and personal growth, the intangibles) of the project. Here are some metric ideas for your organization with the same 5W and H principle applied:

  • How well did your product address user needs?

  • How much does your product and partnership benefit you and your client (in terms of ROI, NPV, market positioning, etc)?

  • How happy were your stakeholders and clients? Will they be recommending you to their network, and what will they say?

  • How satisfied/intrigued/engaged was your project team?

  • How effective were meetings and processes? Are there opportunities to streamline?

The bottom line is: your project will be measured. Your boss, client, and team members will decide whether the project was both well-managed and valuable. So set yourself and your team up for success by understanding the important metrics, then defining and documenting them so you have a clear roadmap of the goals towards which you are working.

How Can I Optimize My Product for My Target Customer?

by Sam Barber

Today’s business ecosystem is filled with fierce competition, changing customer expectations, and rapid technological advances. These factors make it essential for companies to develop new digital platforms and products in order to remain competitive and reach customers. While most enterprise decision makers realize this need, deciding upon a strategy to roll out new products and tools can be a staggering proposition amidst a frenzy of tech trends. Here are some general principles to keep in mind when designing the perfect product.

1. Define the Target Customer

While this may seem obvious to some, it is in fact quite easy to overlook this fundamental step in the product development process. For many, a focus on producing the best product can be a distraction from the most important objective of all: satisfying the needs of the customer. To that effect, the first priority is to clearly define the target customer you wish to reach with your product. Once you have narrowed your scope to an exact customer profile, you can then flesh out the needs and pain points that this individual faces – and that your product will address! This goes for internal products/tools as well: you may spare unnecessary time and expense by thoroughly understanding your particular team and its needs before you jump right into building out your product.

2. Define the Product Goals

Here’s another obvious step – but a critical one nonetheless, and one that should not be rushed before development begins. Great products are made for a purpose, and it pays off to make sure you know exactly what that purpose is before heading in the wrong direction. As an example – pertaining to the target customer we chose before – one may want to decide whether the product is intended to be a solution to an existing need, or a breakthrough innovation filling a need the customer may not even realize. Decisions about the goals for a product usually affect its design and development in a big way, and should not be taken lightly.

3. Design & Build the Product 

Once both the target customer and the goals for the product are clearly understood, the rest is simple! Success going forward relies upon choosing a strong team that you trust to design and develop the product that will meet your specifications. Bear in mind that communication between all parties involved will be essential to the development process, so that the product vision you’ve created is carried out to your satisfaction.

 

Is Branding Your Internal Software Necessary?

by Francesca Brumm

Is Branding Internal Software Necessary?

Developing internal software tools can be just as daunting as developing something for the market. There are so many important functional factors to consider and just one misstep can equal months of awkward elevator rides with coworkers. With all that at stake, sweating the branding of your internal software tool’s UIs may seem as ridiculous as Washington crossing the Delaware while agonizing over the colors he chose for the continental army’s uniforms.

But it’s not. Ensuring your internal products are attractive and generally on-brand is important for a multitude of reasons. Here are five to start:

1.  You should be selling your employees on your brand

Your employees’ perception of your brand is important–as important, many would say, as your customers’ perception of your brand.  (see: Culture Eats Strategy For Lunch. ). These people support, enhance, and sell your product or service for eight(ish) hours per day five days per week.

That can get really old really quick. So take every opportunity you can to remind your people that their efforts are in the service of something worthwhile. Speaking of which…

2. Internal Software may be most employees’ main touchpoint with your brand

Your employees spend hours each day staring at your internal software tools. Wouldn’t you rather the focus of their gaze be something aesthetically pleasing that paints your brand in a positive light? Think of the branding of your internal tools as an opportunity to provide a positive, branded, experience for your employees that they may not get elsewhere.

3. Customization is King

You did some serious user research on this product, right? You wanted to make sure that it would be a joy to use and never hinder your employees from doing their jobs efficiently, right?

Great. So why would you fumble the customization football at the ten yard line? Taking the time to consider design and branding is a good way to signal to users that you’ve put your back into tailoring this tool to their needs, both functional and ocular.

4. It’s easy

We’ve established that conceiving of, designing, and building an internal tool is difficult. Letting your UI designer sprinkle a little fairy dust here and there is the most fun (and probably least expensive) part of the whole process. Enjoy yourself!

5. External users anyone? 

If you’re planning to ever give external users (customers, partners, etc.) partial or complete access to the tool, some degree of branded customization is mandatory. Your more merciful employees might give you a pass on a shabby looking internal system, but external users will automatically judge your brand based on what they see behind closed doors.

Branding internal software is such an easy thing to do well and its ability to make your internal products look and feel that much better is definitely worth the time it takes to complete.

What are User Personas and Why Do I Need Them?

By Dianne Chen

What are personas?

In the tech and lean startup scene you’ll hear the word “persona” thrown around often in phrases such as, “Do you have customer personas?” or “Does this feature fit the personas’ goals?” Personas are typically a living document that takes broad demographic market data and solidifies them into profiles of people that others’ can identify with. Personas can have as much or as little information needed to identify and define a user’s goals, behaviors, pain points and pain solvers.

Why do we need personas?

It is increasingly evident that the companies can no longer hold on to the mentality of “if we build it, customers will buy.” For both products and services, companies with delightful customer/user experience win over those that thoughtlessly toss their customers into confusing, convoluted maze hoping that customers will “figure it out”.  Why leave it up to chance?
The root issue of WHY we use personas is that we are NOT our users. In the cases where you fit the demographic data and have the same pain points/behaviors, awesome! Otherwise, we are only making assumptions and guesses based on what we “think” we know. We use personas to document these assumptions of their behaviors, goals, pain points and how we think our product or service can solve that pain.
Here at Sidebench, our projects start out with Lean Personas. We use these personas ensure the client, stakeholders, and entire product team are on the same mindset of user-centered design and that we have product-market fit. Then our user stories (features & functions) are created around solving the pains of our users.

How to create Lean Personas

What you’ll need:
  • Empathy is key, the ability to think from the mindset of your users.
  • Market Research, define the broad demographic segments of who you are targeting
  • Something to write on & with: google slides, paper/pen, whiteboard/markers
We recommend that you create 1-2 key personas per demographic segment, as its best to capture the largest majority of who your product is positioned for.
Who should be involved:
  • Product Owner / Product Manager
  • Designers
  • Key Stakeholders if possible
  • Developers if possible
  • Marketing / Customer Experience / Product team if possible

Steps:

  1. [1 min] Start first by naming the persona. Tip: Use alliteration so you can refer back to the user with their user type in mind.
    • Ex: Joe Jobseeker
  2. [5 min] Flesh out this person’s behaviors & goals from the demographic data. (Who is this person?)
    • Ex: Joe Jobseeker is in his early 30s and just got laid off from the mortgage industry where he was making $67k salary. His goals are to find a job as soon as possible before his unemployment (and the news of the layoff) runs out. He’s an experienced internet user and owns a desktop PC, a tablet, and a smartphone.
  3. [5 - 10 min] Select a moment in time for this person, and brainstorm all pain points that your persona would experience.
    • Ex: Joe Jobseeker just finished his Tues. morning routine and is sitting down to yet again search for jobs online.
  4. [5 - 10 min] Brainstorm practical pain solvers your product would offer that would directly solve their pains. The twist is to express if from the perspective of the person.
    • Ex: I, Joe Jobseeker, want to be able to track all the applications I have sent out.
  5. Repeat until you have full suite of personas you’re confident are your target users

Action Steps after creating Personas

Now that you have your personas, what are you suppose to do with them? Validate them! Conduct market research of User Interviews to validate your assumptions of goals/behaviors/pains.
Or, if you already have sufficient market data evidence to back up the personas, you can start defining the User Stories (features & functions) of your product or service.
Other helpful activities to consider when creating personas:
  • Empathy maps
  • Customer Journey map