Thursday, November 20, 2014

the Happy App- my journey of developing intelligent internal apps

Developing new and valuable products and services is not an easy thing, and it always comes with some pressure. Especially when we talk about internal ones, that your peers will use. My colleagues are my users. The last thing I want is to waste my peers' time, decrease their productivity, confuse them or make them contribute less to IBM business. As an IBMer who has been honored to work in a team developing new, beautiful and intelligent apps for other IBMers, I feel that responsibility every second. There have been many nights that I spent asking myself: is this really helping my colleagues be more productive, perform better? is it fast enough? does it bring everything they need? is it helping them shape their behavior and preparing them for the future? if they will use it daily, will they be able to make more clients happy? and the list goes on...
As all companies are racing to become more mobile- from equipping their employees with smartphones or tablets to creating simple apps for their teams to work smarter (unless you consider buying some), I am very sure that someday you will come close enough to a situation where you will have to develop or deploy some. Although my journey continues, here are the learnings so far:
  1. THANK USERS- the same way you'd thank an external client for buying your new product, don't forget to thank your peers for trying your tool, providing feedback or sharing the app with another peer. Find ways to reward them and even publicly acknowledge their contribution. It doesn't cost anything to copy their manager on a note or post a nice message on their profile page. For great contributors think inviting them for lunch or bringing them over to meet your team. Happy users will spread the word to their teams, will be your ambassadors and won't hesitate providing feedback on new features when asked.
  2. DON'T FORGET UX - just because I am an IBMer, it doesn't mean I know how all IBMers think and would interact with the tool. I often hear people talking about "sellers" or "managers" when referring to my users, however users may have way less in common than we think. Especially when you talk different ages, cultures, men, women, small hands, big hands, good vision, poor vision, millenial or not, low or high performer, new or seasoned employee...Talking to as many as possible is key to understanding how they will use the apps and what they need.
  3. REPLY FAST-I often see how comments and questions lay abandoned in some obsolete forums. However if you have a community, email address or section in the app where people provide feedback, make sure that answers are being provided instantly or in max 24h. After all you don't want to look like you don't care.
  4. KEEP IT SIMPLE - again don't assume that because you have the same employer, both you and your users speak the same language, have the same understanding, vocabulary or preferences. Your app should be simple enough even for an external person or a new hire to understand it.
  5. GOOD SPEED and GOOD USABILITY- if you design an app then it means people will use it on their mobile devices. If so then be prepared to compete for their time and attention with Facebook, Linked.IN, other apps and tons of social games. Your app needs to be super fast and have good usability. Otherwise people will play with something else :)
  6. MIX TALENT Having members in your team coming from external agencies, IT, marketing, sales, designers, and other parts of the business will help increase the creativity and usability of your app. Don't think only IT people can build stuff for IT, or only that Finance knows what accountants need.
  7. BE COMPETITIVE Building stuff for your own company is not easy work- you need to manage conflicts, be ready to fight for accessing data or compete or collaborate with other apps that are being deployed at the same time.
  8. BE AGILE - My team works in agile. It helps us develop stuff together with our users, fail quickly and succeed faster. Whenever I tell users that in 2-3 weeks you may see this feature live, they are happy. I can't imagine how it would be to tell them that we will only fix this bug in 3 months....Agile is the best!
  9. PREPARE TO SCALE- internal doesn't mean just for one team or for a country. Plan and develop your tool keeping in mind that it will have to scale across geos, it will require translation, you'll need to find data sources and understand various privacy regulations. You'll also have to deploy it, build a communications network, equip them with training materials and so on. The sooner you prepare for it, the better!
  10. BE AN AMBASSADOR! There will never be someone more passionate about your work than yourself. You built this, you know the users, you know the ups and downs, you love every single feature. Use your networks, team calls, communities to promote your new baby!

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