For this chapter, we spoke with Felix Ancorea of Thumbwar, a social betting app that is shooting for a 2019 launch.
Gunner Technology: Felix, Thumbwar was a long time in the making. How did the design process help with that?
Felix Ancorea: Yea, long time in the making is an understatement. This was a years-long project, but the good thing was we always had all of the work laid out. Every single piece of functionality was captured in a ticket so we always had an idea of what was left out there, which was amazing.
GT: It’s sort of a security blanket, making sure you don’t forget anything and allowing you to reprioritize as needed.
FA: Exactly. Especially with a project that has as huge a scope as Thumbwar, that’s incredibly important. There’s just so much functionality in the application, when we were building it out – well, with other projects I’ve worked on, I’ve always been nervous about missing something or dropping the ball with something that we really should have had, but it just kind of fell by the wayside – I never felt that way working with Gunner Technology with Thumbwar.
GT: Do you feel like the design process made the app better at the end of the day?
FA: Oh, 100%. Laying it all out like that, having user stories for everything, prioritizing all of the work so that we constantly had a working product – every step of the process ended up making the product better at the end of the day. And it made testing it a whole lot easier, but I imagine that’s gonna be another chapter in the book.
GT: In fact, it is!
A famous paraphrase of Lewis Carroll goes: “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” The point of designing your idea is to know where you’re going and to know how to get there. You set goals and make a plan.
The point of Agile planning is to break an idea into smaller and smaller pieces. You take the main idea and break it down into its primary components. Then you take those components and break them into their primary components. And so on and so forth, until you have a sense of what the project is going to entail.
Once there’s a sense of what the project entails, the next step is to have an initial kickoff meeting with all the stakeholders. This is a research meeting so take a ton of notes.
One major thing to focus on in this preliminary meeting is the various types of users that will use the idea. This is a crucial piece of information when creating user stories.
(User stories are explicit descriptions of functionality in the form “As a [ROLE], I want to [ACTION] so that [GOAL].”)
At the end of this kickoff meeting, the goal is to have an exhaustive list of user stories. (It might be hundreds – don’t be intimidated.) And this list definitely won’t be complete because the app will grow and mature and possibly move in new directions. Or you’ll discover functionality you hadn’t thought of or functionality that arises based on user feedback. But the goal is to get written down with as much detail as possible the vision for the idea.
After this kickoff meeting, it’s up to the development team to take the user stories and assign effort points.
Effort points are sort of like estimated hours with a bit more leeway. You don’t say “This will take an hour.” You say “This is probably a 1-point ticket.”
At Gunner, we like to go with powers of 2, so: 0, 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32. (And yes, we know that 0 isn’t a power of 2, but bear with us.)
0 is something that will take basically no time to fix. It might be something like “As an owner, I want to see the current year in the copyright at the bottom of the page, so that I know my intellectual property is covered.” That should be fixable in about 2 minutes.
32, which is already probably pushing it for a developer, is something that might take a week to develop. We honestly try break tickets like these up into smaller components, but sometimes that’s not realistic.
And if there are any tickets where the effort points are really knowable, those can be determined during a one-week research sprint at the start of the project. There might be a piece of functionality – say, paginating list of data – for which there might be a good existing solution. Or it might have to be rolled from scratch. So that could be a 4-point ticket or it could be a 32-point ticket. That’s what the research sprint is for.
Once the tickets are in the tracker, it’s time to discuss cost.
Costs are almost entirely determined by timeline and the number of developers. And those two metrics go hand-in-hand. You might need something done in 6 months, which would require one developer. Or you might want two developers working on the project, which would get it done in 4 months.
And the impact of additional resources isn’t linear. One developer might do 1X work. But two developers might only do 1.93X. (At Gunner, we have several non-linear percentages we’ve developed over the years based on experience – this is because not all work can be done in parallel.)
We have a cost calculator for clients at Gunner where they can tweak all kinds of variables, including number of developers and timeline, but also stuff like payment discounts or referal bonuses. It’s a handy tool for any company to have.
With tickets, costs, and estimations in the bag, it’s time to plan iterations. Iteration planning is a whole subject unto itself, but the short of it is you want to prioritize work and plan out weekly iterations based on the amount of effort available from your developers and the total effort points for the tickets in question.
Iterations are a lot of science, but also a lot of art. You want to keep similar tickets together, even if they’re different priorities or require different efforts. You want to make sure to track what tickets might have to come before other tickets. You shouldn’t work on changing passwords, for example, before you’re even storing users somewhere.
Coming up with ideas isn’t that hard. But designing those ideas is a tremendous challenge.
The most important thing is to have a process. We’re huge on process at Gunner Technology and we’ve honed and refined our process over several decades of experience. From the first interaction of “Hey, I’ve got an idea” to a couple hundred user stories, we utilize our tried and true methodology to make the process as painless and effective as possible. If you have an idea that you’d like to implement using this method, definitely don’t hesitate to give us a holler.