development, standing desks, ideagen office
04 October 2017

Building a Product Feature at Ideagen

by Ross McLarnon

At Ideagen, we believe that good software starts and finishes with usability. Our customers invest in our solutions not just to manage quality and safety but also to support new cultures within their organisations. These cultures put continuous improvement and awareness of risk management at the forefront of the business. If software is clunky or unintuitive then the adoption by the frontline users is low. This can lead to day to day issues not being reported which can then result in emerging risks unbeknown to the business.

As Product Manager for Ideagen Coruson, I own the vision for the product. Key to this is understanding our customers, their domain and the problems that they face within their business.  Achieving this involves direct engagement with our customers (face-to-face and via our customer portal), consuming market research reports and analysing product data in order to learn as much as I can about our customers and the challenges they face, both internal and external to their business. 

Once we fully understand our customers’ problems we can start creating solutions.  This blog will run through the design and conceptual process the team follow when creating a new feature. I have used a soon to be released feature called “Timeline” as an example.

To give some context, Timeline is an investigation tool that not only allows safety teams and investigators to visually map out the stages of an incident but more importantly it dynamically links into key business risk models.

What problem does this solve?

Well the reality is that within many businesses, across multiple domains, risk is siloed within the organisation and typically managed via spreadsheets.  This involves a huge manual effort of trying to marry the spreadsheets and day-to-day operational data. This is not only time consuming but prone to errors that distorts the view of risk affecting the business.  

Integrating operational data and risk models lets an organisation understand the frequency of key business threats, the effectiveness of mitigation controls and ultimately get them to a place where they can proactively manage and anticipate new emerging risks to the business. 

The starting point for any feature development at Ideagen is a whiteboard – if you took a look around our development space you’ll struggle to find a wall without one.  Beginning with a whiteboard allows us to collaborate as a team and ‘fail fast’ meaning that we can quickly eliminate design ideas that would limit the user experience of the solution.

Whiteboarding, fail fast, features

The user interfaces that emerge from the whiteboard sessions will then be wireframed.  A wireframe is a low-fidelity, greyscale visual representation of a user interface best likened to paper and pencil.  Defining and refining of the wireframes is an iterative process and is part of failing fast, allowing us to challenge the design approach and quickly evolve the interfaces without timely overheads.

When the wireframes are approved our Graphic Designers will take the wireframe structure and start to refine the user interface approach with Photoshop, introducing design elements and producing a final design which is then used to build a prototype in a tool called InVision.  This tool creates an interactive prototype that looks and feels like the finished application. 

Ideagen notebook, prototyping

This is my favourite stage of the design process as it allows us to take the prototype to our customers to let them get their hands on it.  There is no better validation than to test it with those who will ultimately be the end users. The feedback we get at this stage is invaluable and allows us to refine the approach further. The insights gained during these discussions often gives us insight into how the feature will evolve in the future.

From here, we handover to our talented Development Team to take the feature into their development sprints and turn it into a real-life in-product feature. The team do this in the  knowledge that the solution had been well defined and validated with our customer base.

building a feature process in Ideagen

So this is how we build a feature within Ideagen. Due to many stages of validation and customer interaction, the feature is built and developed with the end user in mind. We make no assumptions along the way, instead we rely on concrete data, business research and customer feedback. This process results in products and services being developed that meet end-user needs, and help our customers solve their business problems and avoid making costly mistakes. 

To find out more about Coruson, please visit the product page. Find out more

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