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MVP

Key Takeaways from Baltimore Innovation Week’s Session on Lean Product Design for Startups

By Design, MVP, Product Design, TestingNo Comments

Bytelion was thrilled to partner in Baltimore Innovation Week 2019 (BIW19), hosting a session titled, “Lean Product Design for Startups”. Since inception, over seven years ago, Bytelion has been a proud supporter of startups in the Greater Baltimore area and beyond. As an everyday practitioner of agile methodology for software development, the team at Bytelion has spent countless hours taking a “lean” approach to designing and developing software and applications for both startups and well-established businesses.

Baltimore Innovation Week 2019 logo

Last night, Bytelion’s Head of User Experience, Marc Hausle, led the session for a large group of BIW19 attendees at Clark Burger in Harbor East. If you were unable to attend the event, here are some of the key takeaways from the session.

What is Lean Product Design?

Clark Burger with people

Founders and entrepreneurs commonly will fall in love with an idea or a “unicorn vision” they have for the business, which is usually based on their untested assumptions. When they build based on these unvalidated assumptions they are more likely to waste valuable time and resources building something nobody wants. The goal of lean product design is to avoid this waste by focusing efforts on only building what you can validate as required based on reliable data and/or customer feedback. Lean product design recommends building something fast so you can begin to test hypotheses against real user feedback.  

Move Fast and Iterate

Once you start gathering feedback and performing other research it is critical to document everything as well as clearly defining how to measure success for both the business and the users. By building what is commonly referred to as an MVP, you can test your hypotheses, validate your assumption or pivot if necessary. Don’t try to be perfect in the beginning and be ok with being wrong as it will allow you to make necessary iterations early before you go too far down the wrong path.

The Design Process

When you are in the design process, you’ll want to create a prioritized list of potential features. Focus on first building the things that you know will have the biggest impact on delivering your product’s value proposition.  “Fall in love with the problem you are trying to solve as opposed to particular features or solutions you are building”. You’ll be more successful if you stay focused on the problem and are willing to iterate towards the developing features that will best solve it and avoiding those that don’t.  Marc also introduced the concept of time-boxing for certain design activities so that you don’t waste any unnecessary time or energy trying to perfect something before you test it.

When taking the lean approach there are a number of practices you can incorporate into building the best user experience for your product. For example, Marc discusses user personas and user journeys, red routes, information architecture, user flows, hand-drawn sketches, wireframes, and prototypes. These practices are all ways to gather and incorporate data garnered from real user interactions and testing. Each exercise also builds off of the other and makes the next step in the process easier. It is also easier to go back and improve and iterate on past versions of what you have done.

Lastly, he discussed design sprints which are a unique five-day process for validating ideas and solving big challenges through prototyping and testing ideas with customers.

Feedback is critical!

If you were able to attend the event we thank you and would love to get your feedback. 

Or if you didn’t make and you are interested in learning more about Lean Product Design please feel free to contact us for a free consultation to see if it makes sense for you. Contact Marc directly via email at marc@bytelion.com. 

Pros And Cons Of Building Your Website With WordPress

By Development, Marketing, Mobile, MVP, Security, Startup, Tips & Tutorials, Tools, WordpressNo Comments

WordPress as a web building tool has built its reputation as providing amazing features specifically in the world of CMS, powering over 75 million sites and almost 23% of the World Wide Webs’ sites. However, despite its popularity, WordPress has drawbacks as a website development platform that you should be aware of before jumping on the bandwagon. Being informed is one of the most important factors in deciding where and how to build your site.

 

A few of your options for building and designing your website:

 

Website Editor

(Wix/Squarespace or similar solution)

Website editor, easily learned, drag and drop designs, less customization, small sites

WordPress

Website builder, edit and manage content through admin access, customization limited to WordPress support and technical capabilities, learning curve

App development

Full development team/developer, Fully customizable, Supports large, complex sites with high user traffic

Some Things To Consider

 

Typical WordPress use

WordPress is largely known for its CMS (content management system) capabilities, but it supports models for blogging, eCommerce, and forum websites as well. Sites that differ from this will most likely need customization.

Cost

Building a site can be expensive, you need to make sure you’re getting what you need, rather than trying to opt for the cheapest solution. Custom website development can cost anywhere from $5,000 to upwards of hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on your needs.

Time

Building a site takes time. How much time do you have? Most web projects take an average from 12 to 16 weeks. However, the time is always dependent on several factors, such as the complexity of the project, scope of work, number of people involved, etc. Always be sure to set a realistic timeline when looking at website building solutions.

Resources

How big is your team? Do you have any technical skills? WordPress maintenance requires a learning curve and dedication to the site after the initial build. To keep your site up to date, make sure you are prepared to learn or are willing pay someone for maintenance.

Security

WordPress is a great resource because of its popularity, but that popularity leaves sites more vulnerable to hackers and information leaks. What type of content are you providing? Does it need to be secure? Developing your own website or mobile app can provide more security.

Mobile

WordPress does not support mobile app development but does allow for you to have a responsive mobile version of your site.

Users

Does your website require a large number of users to log in and out of your site? Depending on your business, WordPress may not be able to support the high volume and data storage that your site requires. Consider building a customized application with a development team.

 

Benefits of WordPress

 

Ease of Use – For non-technical folks

WordPress is great for non-technical users who want to be able to manage their content and make minor adjustments without getting knee deep in code. The content builder enables you to design within a set framework BUT does not allow for much customization. If you are looking for customization, you will have to get your hands dirty and add in some code.

Plugins

WordPress has over 45,000 plugins that you can upload that increases new functionality options. This is great for you, it means you can do more than just make a basic blog! However, they require a lot of updates and may need customization and code to get them working properly with your site.

SEO Friendly – Kind of

WordPress is wonderful because it bumps up your site on web browsers from the built-in SEO(Search Engine Optimization) system, however, if you are a novice with SEO, you may need some coaching. Too much tagging and repetition can kill your SEO rating and send your website to the bottom of the page. Luckily WordPress has a wide range of plugins to help with this, including our favorite, Yoast, which helps by rating your pages on readability, keywords, and more!

Open Source – Faster Development

Open source code is great for speeding up development time. All of the code is shared and used between developers all over the world. This means your developer doesn’t need to make everything from scratch, cutting down on development time. However, this is a catch 22, as open source also means less security. Be sure to you weigh the importance of development time over site security.

Professional Themes

There is an endless source of pre-built design templates from which you may choose to use for the foundation of your site. Themes include one or more demos which you can activate. This provides you with an appealing, pre-designed site that requires minimal effort to get up and running. Keep in mind that these can be pricey and limit your site’s capabilities and customization, as not all plugins work with every theme.

Overall Lower Cost

Typically WordPress is a cheaper option than hiring a software development team. Since it is open source and widely used, you have many options for designers and developers. You also have the option to maintain the site on your own – if you have the resources and time to do so.

Mobile-Friendly

WordPress makes it easy to transition your site from desktop to smaller screens such as tablet or mobile. This may require some customization to make it just right, but it can beat building a mobile app or an entirely new mobile site. Make sure a responsive mobile site is a right option for you as Hackernoon reports that in 2018 mobile users spend about an hour on the mobile web, while almost 3.5 hours on mobile apps.

 

 

WordPress Negatives

 

Open Source – Security

Open source is great for fast development, but it can leave your site vulnerable to attacks from hackers. This can lead to problems down the road, either legally or with development constraints. Are you going to be handling credit card information? What about users’ personal info? If you do, you will need extra security, make sure WordPress can secure your info or pick a developer/development team that is knowledgeable and can successfully secure your data. Have questions? Let us help you feel safe about your site’s security.

Customization Needs Coding

WordPress was built for blogging, CMS, forums, etc. This makes breaking that model to build a restaurant site, for example, with online ordering, slightly more difficult. Most WordPress themes aren’t built for any models besides the typical ones mentioned above, which means more customization and less flexibility for the overall design of the site. This doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but it does mean less access to content without digging into the code base.

Frequent Updates

WordPress is constantly trying to improve and update their structure to better serve their large user base. Because of this, updates occur on a regular basis and could impact your site’s performance. At times, you may need to update plugins, which could result in your plugins no longer functioning correctly or not being supported by the new version of WordPress. It is very important to save a backup of your site before updating, just in case something goes wrong while converting to the new version. As you can imagine, this process requires some technical knowledge and the ability to fix bugs that may occur as you update your site.

 

Pro tip: WordPress doesn’t offer support!

 

Learning Curve

No matter whether you are a coder, a designer, or someone with no technical knowledge, WordPress requires time to learn the ins and outs of building and maintaining a site. If you think building a WordPress site is as easy as dragging and dropping elements on a page, you’ve got it wrong. WordPress is a very robust solution that is constantly updating and changing, it takes time and dedication to keep your site up-to-date.

Slow Speeds

WordPress has a reputation for having slow loading times and speeds for users. This is a big downfall as research from Hobo shows that users quickly get disheartened by slow loads times. Users will leave your site to find what they need elsewhere within 2-10 seconds of waiting on content to load. Even more concerning, eCommerce users will leave only after 2-3 seconds without content loading.

Not Easily Scalable

Unless planned well in advance, WordPress is not the best at scaling businesses. Most models are built with the intention that the site will stay relatively at the same size, volume, and structure. Modifying your WordPress site structure later down the road can lead to some sticky situations with plugins, content, and speed.

No Support Service

Building a WordPress site on your own? You’re Brave! Although WordPress has a massive following and plenty of answers that are just a google away, WordPress does not have an official support service. This means no one can get into your account and help you solve those more difficult, niche questions. Website editors typically have lots of support, but if those solutions don’t serve your needs, consider hiring a developer or development team who will only be a call away to give you unlimited support to solve your issues ASAP.

 

 

Conclusion

WordPress is great for some websites, specifically for smaller sites that don’t require tons of functionality and serve as a source of information rather than supporting large amounts of user data. Making sure you understand the capabilities and constraints of using WordPress will allow you to make the best decision for your business. If WordPress doesn’t seem like the right solution you may be better off using something more accessible like Wix, Squarespace, or even hiring a development team to build a customized solution. Sometimes the answer isn’t clear, and you’ll need to sit down and map out all of the pros and cons of each solution available to you. Feel free to reach out to our team for some expert advice. Good luck!

 

Have questions? Ask an Expert!

Our team of experts is always available to talk through your concerns and guide you in the right direction for your business, even if that option doesn’t mean using our team. Talk now.

Wireframing for Startups and Corporations

By Design, Development, Estimation, MVP, Software Lifecycle, Testing, Tips & Tutorials

It’s Cheaper!

If you are interested in building bad software with bugs and lots of mistakes, then this article isn’t’ for you.  If you are interested in moving your development team along faster, saving money and building a better product for your user, please read on.  When Bytelion wireframes, it allows us to see the application.  The final wireframe summarizes all of the thoughts held in people’s minds and ensures that everyone not only understands how the application solves your problem but more importantly, it quickly and easily helps others understand what you are thinking.  Wireframing is critical to all lean departments and especially technology start-ups.

How does wireframing save you money?  Simple, it ensures that you have the right workflows up front. In this hypothetical, imagine if you omitted an essential feature on a page that was pushed to production.  To find the bug  for this feature, you have paid for:

  • UI Design (8 hours)
  • UI Implementation (8 hours)
  • Backend Implementation (12 hours)
  • Quality Assurance  (4 hours)
  • Total=32 hours

If you had wireframe the issue, the bug would have cost you

  • Wireframe (2 hours)
  • Total=2 hours

Stealing off of NASA’s slides and making some slight modifications, the blue arrow indicates where wireframing is in the bug detection value stack.  Used early, it is an awesome tool.

 

Value of catching bugs in wireframes.

NASA value of catching bugs in wireframes.

If you are a startup, every dollar you is extremely expensive and must be spent wisely.  Why focus on fixing bugs in production when you can solve most of your problem in the first two weeks?

To read more about NASA and bugs, check out.

Too Many Wireframe Tools… Which One Should I use?

There are many tools on the market. We have used all of them. I could write pages upon pages of why some systems are better, but here (in no particular order) are some of the tools that are best.

MyBalsamiq – The desktop was by far the best user experience, but its ability to not sync with an online version make this not as usable because customers and team members email different versions of the application. Because we work in a distributed environment, this didn’t work for Bytelion.

Gliffy’s integration with Atlassian’s JIRA + Confluence suite makes this tool amazing.  However, it is so inflexible that maintaining a working wireframe falls apart.   Sorry Atlassian, I still love you.

Azure – Bytelion loved the framework, and it was our primary for years, but found the product confining regarding our on online integration needs.  It slowly came out of favor and was replaced by…. our new go to.

Pidoco – Yes, this is the wireframe company that you probably didn’t hear of.  We didn’t either until we scoured the internet and tested everything we could.  This tool is our new standard.  There are three simple reasons by we love it:

  • Single Page App (SPA) is super fast and responsive.
  • Extremely flexible Workflow System…. THIS IS THE BIG ONE….  If you want to change a workflow, you can configure a workflow in a few minutes and keep different versions of the workflow.  This is ideal for rapidly testing different UX interactions.
  • Pages can be templated.  If a designer changed the header in one location, the header modified for the entire app.

Note, we have no association with the Pidoco company at all.  They did, however, chose to engineer their product well and didn’t take shortcuts.  We respect that and think that they will come out on top of they can build enough market share.

Selecting Red Routes First

Now that you know what tool you are going to use after testing them all :- ) you have to build your wireframes.  For an application, you have different use cases for what a user needs to do.  For example, if you are creating a recipe app, you would need a user to do the following:

  • A user needs to create an online profile
  • The user needs to buy other recipes from other people.
  • User needs to be able to generate their custom avatar online
  • The user needs to be able to post recipes to their Facebook account.

Of these use cases, you only want to select the most critical to making the application work. We call these red routes. In our scenario, we would only want to use these:

  • The user needs to be able to post to their Facebook account.
  • The user needs to buy ABC product.
  • A user needs to create an online profile
  • User needs to be able to generate their custom avatar online

We keep it simple and only wireframe the stuff we need.

Don’t be Lazy – Keep Your  Wireframes Current!

Once you create a set of wireframes that accurately reflect what you are trying to do, it is critical to keep it.  These wireframes will come up over and over. For example, if you are designing an aspect of a project that you have not touched in 6 months, having your wireframes current with the design make this is a snap.  Thankfully, Pidoco makes this easy to do.    It takes discipline to do this… keep up the discipline.   It is cheaper, better, and more fulfilling for you in the long run!

wireframes_keep_current_v2

 

I Quit Full Stack Development

By Development, MVP, Tips & Tutorials

I quit full stack development because, in many senses, it never seems to work out.   In spite of this, the mythical promise of a full stack developer solving the world’s software development problems is alive and well.  Why shouldn’t you become (or use) a full stack developer in most cases? The best analogy that I can think of is in the medical field.

Imagine you want surgery… would you go to a specialist or a general practitioner?  I don’t believe that you need me to answer that question for you.  Why would you want to do the same thing with your software development needs?   If you want to develop code, for example, a mobile app, where do you go?  Software development has many different disciplines, tools and experience requirements.  You need to understand the difference between someone who knows Objective C and Visual Basic.  Hiring a full stack developer is like saying “I want to hire a general doctor and have him learn about heart surgery one week and then brain surgery the next.”  Can they hire a doctor to do that?  Yes, they could, but the results would most likely be unpleasant.

MVP – Full Stack  = Win!

One size doesn’t fit all.  For prototypes of MVPs, full stack developers are the best!  They execute quickly and get the product in front of users in record time.  If you need to scale out a real product, peccadilloes of an MVP tend to be noticed more often and require more attention to detail.  This is something that a full stack developer will typically run out of time to do.

Product – Full Stack =  Loss!

We have utilized full stack development many times, but as professionals, we strongly advocate bifurcating these efforts into full-time backend, full-time front-end development. This allocation allows each developer to focus exclusively on their area and work quickly and efficiently.  It also forces users of the API (for example, the front end team) to develop to well-documented standards.  Writing UI code is hard.  Writing backend code is hard.  Let people focus instead of thrashing due to rapid context switching. When initially rolling a product out, developing to standards slows development considerably.  Once a product is in use, however, developing to standards that actually move your development along faster and decreases errors.

What do developers think?

If the project is large enough, most developers will quickly agree. While everyone wants to be an expert across all disciplines, the tools aren’t there yet to allow for it.  Let the backenders be backenders and leave the front end up to the UI guys/gals!