Architecting a robust, scalable system
09 November 2015
At Sandfield we are very proud of the experience and capability of our programming teams who are our “power to create”. With great power comes great responsibility. And typically this comes down to getting everyone delivering software that is going to add the most value to our Clients Business. Badly focused or overly bureaucratic processes add significant cost and risk, subdues innovation and agility and generally make project delivery unenjoyable. We won’t tolerate it!
We have a number of principles we follow, one is to encourage close collaboration directly between programmers and our Clients. We don’t have have many Business Analysts who would typically work between the client and the programmer. A few of the key benefits are:
We recently finished a very successful project with Les Mills, working together to design, build and launch a new Mobile App. We loved working with the Les Mills Team and we’ve been reflecting on the project and thinking about what lessons we can take to other projects.
At Sandfield, we typically don’t respond to RFPs. Not all RFP’s are the same but they can be very document heavy and the process can be quite prescriptive which restricts the opportunity to contribute ideas. In Les Mills case, as we are an existing supplier, we did respond to a RFP as the process provided sufficient scope for ideas and innovation. There was an opportunity to work together on design rather than just being the Builder and following the design that's already been determined.
In preparation for the pitch, we spent time analysing Les Mills brand guidelines to come up with a range of designs that would showcase our understanding for the Les Mills vision, brand and purpose. We made an active effort to understand the business, their needs, their strengths and their weaknesses.
Our mockups were designed in house using Photoshop. We put the mockups into a collaborative prototyping tool - Invision - for a more realistic feel when coming to present. I believe this was a nice touch and gave us the edge we needed to set us apart from the competition and to make those first vital connections with the Les Mills Team. Les Mills could see how we could deliver the project they wanted, with a great team for a fair price and timeframe.
When the decision was made by the board that Sandfield would be building the Les Mills NZ Mobile App, no time was wasted. We look to form a single project team with members from the Client and our programmers who will actually be working on the code.
It can be awkward forming a team with people with backgrounds that don’t normally work together, the buzz and vibe of the Les Mills team with our quieter more techy demeanours. Its a chance to put our Soft Skills Training to work and with the enthusiasm of the Les Mills team and a focus on deliverables we were soon up and running and productive.
Establishing trust is vital if everyone is going to participate productively. We try to get the ball rolling by making sure that we are quick to take responsibility where we should. Les Mills reciprocated and a positive scene was set that avoided blame throughout the project.
Together we designed and scheduled a series of workshops to pull the requirements apart and ensure all teams were on the same page with what was expected to be delivered.
The workshops allowed the major business decisions to be made on the spot and since all key players were present, there was no need to come back to areas of the app later on. Everything that was discussed and decided was noted down on the spot. A decision was made and we moved on to the next stage.
We use Google docs as our main collaborating tool as it allows everyone to see the shared point of contact as well as comment or view history for the decisions that were made. Nothing was left up in the air, and it would later prove very valuable in ensuring that the original scope was not expanded and original decisions were delivered as discussed and agreed.
Once the workshops were over and we had covered off all project requirements, the last step before beginning development was to have the designs signed off and approved by the Les Mills branding agency Origami. Origami came back with some minor changes but overall they were impressed with how well we captured the Les Mills brand and vision in our designs and gave us the green light.
Weekly progress catchups were planned in as soon as development was underway. The weekly catchups were aimed at tackling the potential risks that came around during the development phase. Identifying risks early on was crucial in mitigating delays and technical setbacks later on in the project. The development phase has a way of identifying issues that cannot be foreseen in the earlier workshop stages therefore regular catchups with Les Mills was a very important part in keeping the communication channel wide open so no surprises were left for the last minute.
We practised an agile development approach where a beta cut of the app released at least every 2 weeks. Key testers are Les Mills could try it out and ensure everything was tracking as planned. Any questions, issues or concerns would be raised at the next weekly catchup where both parties could have their say in how the app was progressing.
The app development was finished over a month before the planned go live date. This gave both parties plenty of time for comprehensive testing to ensure all bugs and defects were uncovered early on, fixed and retested.
The app went live on the Apple and Android stores on Tuesday 30th of June. The official social media campaigns were launched on Wednesday 1st of July which saw the app get a massive 1,200 downloads on the first day. The app quickly rose to the top trending searches and the feedback received was extremely encouraging and positive. Over the next couple of days, the app received over 5,000 downloads and reached the top 36 on the Apple App Store for Top Free Apps.
The Les Mills App project was a true example of how a collaborative, team effort can bring together something quite wonderful. Without everyone’s valuable input from start to finish, the project would not have been as successful as it was.
You can check out and download the apps here: