Category: Blog

How to build a minimum viable product (MVP)?

In my last post, I explained what a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) approach is and how it can reduce risks for startups and companies developing software products. 

Putting something of value into customer’s hands sooner (rather than later) achieves one of two outcomes:

  1. Fail fast and cheaply: You’ve spent the minimal amount of effort to develop a product that matches your vision. If the idea proves unviable with real users, at least you haven’t wasted years to learn that fact. You may be able to redirect your money and energy towards a better idea. 
  2. Build a better product: If your concept proves viable, that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. You’ll benefit from grassroots input from users early in the process. Business (and software) doesn’t become less complex the bigger you grow. It becomes more complex. A solid foundation built upon thoughtfully means less effort, disorder, and major overhauls in the future.

Building iteratively on your MVP allows you to develop a full feature-set and refine your product over time to achieve a solution that people actually need and are willing to pay for, not the product you think they want.

But how do you develop an MVP effectively?

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Developing an MVP requires insight and skill: a viable product is a quality product, not a rush job.

Start by finding people who care

You need to narrow your audience for your product and engage targeted users to get feedback that’s meaningful.

Marketing guru Seth Godin famously said that rather than ‘find customers’ to buy what you’re selling, success comes when you ‘find products for your customers.” An MVP is literally building the product for your customer. 

But to do that, you need to know your customer. As Godin also cautioned: “A product for everyone rarely reaches much of anyone.” As much as we’d all like our app to be the next Facebook, in reality, most solutions won’t have this kind of broad appeal. 

It’s unrealistic to be everything to everyone, so don’t try. 

Hone in on what makes your startup idea distinctive, the specific problems you want to solve, and the specific kinds of people that might benefit. 

Research and start conversations with these people before you invest a cent in software development. Your target audience knows their problems better than anyone.

Gather this information from your target audience/users before you build:

  • Does the problem you are trying to solve actually exist?
  • How big is the market of people experiencing the problem you’re trying to solve?
  • Is it an urgent enough problem for people to spend money to solve it?
  • Is there an existing solution? What are the barriers to switching to your solution?
  • Does your idea actually solve the problem in a remarkable or compelling way?
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It pays to know whether people care about the problem you’re trying to solve.

Define the core problem and solve it well

Once you found and researched your audience, the next step in developing your Minimum Viable Product is clarifying: what is the minimum work required to deliver something of value?

Deciding what development work to direct your efforts toward is critical.

The 80/20 rule is a useful yardstick in business and software development alike. The rule, also known as the Pareto principle, states that 80% of the effects flow from 20% of causes.

For example, research has shown that the vast majority of software users use just 20% of product features frequently, while most features are rarely, if ever, used. 

Most of the value, for most people, comes from a small set of features. That being the case, why would you wait until you’ve developed 100% of the features you think are important to put your product into market? 

Focus on the core 20% of features and get your product into the market as soon as possible.

How to find your 20%? Categorise and prioritise:

  1. Break down your idea into a comprehensive list of features.
  2. Categorise each as ‘must-have’ or ‘nice to have’ features: ‘Must-haves’ are features that must be present to solve the core problem of your users. ‘Nice-to-haves’ are the features that are not necessary to solve the core problem, but would be considered part of a polished product.
  3. Prioritise your features and take another look—can you tighten the ‘Must-haves’ list? Leave your ego to one side and ask: will the product solve core problems without this feature? Is the cost of building this feature truly outweighed by the value it delivers? 
  4. Remove the ‘Nice-to-haves’ from your scope and build only your core ‘Must-haves’. 
  5. Keep your prioritised list as backlog features to be worked on for future development and release. 

Yes, you have a vision for what you think your completed product or app is going to look and behave like, but in reality, quality products are never complete. Quality software solutions continually evolve and iterate and respond to market changes, consumer preferences, and competitor threats.  

Build, ship, test, and iterate

Whether you have in-house developers or you outsource your development work—ensure your ‘Must-have’ features are skilfully built so you can get a high-quality MVP in front of your users as fast as possible. 

This means you need a team that is organised, experienced and skilled in being able to work in a way that supports identifying and quickly shipping high-value features in a cost-effective manner. 

What you do next will determine the success of your product. 

You have to allow users to have their say, and act on what you learn.

The value of having an MVP is the ability to become more in tune with your users needs so you can enhance your product—that will help you retain beta users, attract new customers, and ultimately develop a successful product. 

To do this you need to:

  • Engage with users: Use a variety of techniques, over time, to understand how people interact with your product and their pain points, likes and dislikes. Talk to users and analyse their actual behaviour. Rinse and repeat as iterative changes are made.
  • Refine and enhance: Week by week, take what you learn from customers and decide what changes or improvements need to be made. Incrementally perfect the product. Prioritise work to be implemented and adjust your list of ‘Nice-to-have’ features you descoped from the MVP.

Once you get user feedback, you might be surprised by how unnecessary some of the ‘Nice-to-have’ (or 80%) features really are in the grand scheme of things. You might discover some of your ‘Must-haves’ miss the mark and uncover new ‘Must-haves’ from your audience’s perspective. 

You’ll see that building 100% of the features you first envisioned would have been a waste of time and money, and likely compromised your product.

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When you create the product users want, your start-up or company is more likely to achieve success.

Your product is never complete

Iterate, iterate, and iterate again. Once your startup is operational, or your company makes its new product available to paying customers, you’ll develop a keen sense for the cost-benefit of investing in new features and optimising existing features. 

Your bottom line will become the key indicator of success, so focus on software development efforts that:

  1. Help unlock new market opportunities and attract new users to your product.
  2. Improve the experience and solve the pain points of your existing customers to maintain their business.
  3. Introduce features (or complementary products) that solve adjacent problems in order to upsell your current and prospective customers.

Knowing you’re on the right track to a profitable product begins with carefully and expertly building a minimum viable product. An effective MVP minimises the time, effort, and cost required to launch a product, acquire users, and grow your market.

How does a minimum viable product (MVP) reduce software development risks?

Your customer’s point of view is incredibly important. Knowing what people want, how they act, and the factors that drive their decision-making is some of the most business-critical data companies can possess. 

Using insights from the people you expect to buy and use your offering will improve your offering. It helps ensure the products, solutions and experiences you create deliver real value—in other words, something your users actually want.

For startup founders and other businesses with software development projects in mind, being customer-centric is key to successfully realising your idea. Learning from customers and shaping a valuable product that you can make profitable quickly is best achieved by delivering a Minimum Viable Product (MVP).

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Will customers actually use and pay for your software or app? Know you’re on the right track with an MVP.

Overconfidence in unvalidated ideas sinks software projects

There are many reasons why startups fail, but some of the biggest mistakes that software entrepreneurs make include:

  • Putting too much confidence in their untested and unvalidated idea.
  • Delayed launch through overbuilding or over-investing in their initial product.
  • Lacking the direction and flexibility to pivot.

If you can’t address a genuine need in the market and do it quickly, your startup is on shaky ground.

In fact, you risk investing a significant amount of time and money developing software that:

  • Does not solve a problem for any potential customers/users.
  • Customers/users do not understand how to use or enjoy using.
  • Includes (costly) features that customers/users will never use.
  • Takes too long to complete and achieve revenue.

How do founders and product owners avoid these mistakes? 

Any one of the above consequences can sink a product-based business before it even gets to the operational phase. In terms of causes, the common denominator tends to be a lack of customer/user involvement in the development of the product.  

Before embarking on a software project, entrepreneurs and product owners must do due diligence by defining the problem they’re attempting to solve, the size of the market that needs the problem solved, and competitor solutions.

But knowing that a problem and a potential market exists is not enough. The next hurdle your company or startup faces is knowing whether the software you’re building is a viable solution to the problem?

Essentially its a ‘chicken-egg’ dilemma. Only the people who will use your product can tell you whether it’s what they want, yet until you’ve built the product you won’t have any users.

To truly understand product-market fit, you need to test your idea in the market. The ‘market’ is real people—people whose problems you believe you are solving.  

- How does a minimum viable product (MVP) reduce software development risks? - Groove Technology – We build amazing software for your business 9
‘Viable’ means valuable: build a core feature-set quickly so you can test with customers and improve. 

An MVP gets your product into customer hands faster

A Minimal Viable Product (MVP) makes it possible to collect learnings from users by building a minimum set of valuable features, developed with minimal effort. Bringing an MVP to market allows you to engage users and test your assumptions. 

A software startup or any company that offers software products should have the goal of getting an MVP into production and into the hands of real customers as fast as possible.

Doing so helps your business answer these questions:

  • Is this actually a solution to a problem facing my customers?
  • Is this the most effective and desirable way to solve the problem?
  • Do customers care enough about the value on offer to pay for it?

Regardless of the maturity of your business, if you plan to build successful software, you need to be invested in continually obtaining, analysing and acting on feedback from current and potential users of your product.

What is involved in the MVP approach?

The MVP approach is not about rushing a product to market. 

It’s about carefully determining and efficiently producing the core features that need to be validated, gathering feedback from early adopters, then applying what you learn to build improvements (iterations) or pivot. 

Guidelines for founders on the MVP approach include:

  1. Prioritise features and build only what is initially required to deliver customer value.
  2. Take your MVP to market and validate through beta tests, analysis, focus groups and interviews.
  3. Take customer insights on what does/doesn’t work and review product requirements.
  4. Release improvements quickly and cost-effectively as you refine product-market fit.

Once you’ve successfully executed your MVP and released it to your users, your software development team must continuously be assessing your customers’ feedback and acting on it in short iterations.

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Delivering an MVP allows you to make purposeful, incremental improvements to your software.

Build a solution your customers can’t live without 

When you have a big idea, it’s tempting to forge ahead until your vision is fully formed. The concept of gradually building and refining multiple versions of your software or app through a back and forth dialogue with customers can seem messy and time-consuming. 

But consider this: customers don’t care about products. They care about the results and feelings that a product makes possible. They care about their problems being solved, feeling more capable, having more time, money, or prestige, and so on.

Building software or an app without customer involvement is a big risk. Convoluted, non-intuitive and unfocused solutions don’t solve problems—if anything, they create new ones.

Customers don’t clamour to use products with the most features. They get excited if and when solutions make their lives better in a specific, desirable way. The only people who can tell you when you’ve nailed it are your customers.

An MVP and iterative development of your software helps to bring ‘your vision’ and ‘what customers want’ together. The MVP approach increases the likelihood you’ll solve the right problem in the right way, to generate sustainable revenue. 

The goal is to build the product your users genuinely need and are eager to pay for, not the product you think they want.

Businessperson studying electronic data in digital tablet

What is business intelligence and how can it benefit your business?

Gleaning value from the deluge of data being created and captured by businesses is a hot topic. You’ve probably heard the term business intelligence (BI)—but what does it really mean, and are the benefits of BI worth the investment?

In this day and age, many businesses are continuously generating massive amounts of data. If leveraged correctly, using tailored business intelligence dashboards, this data can offer deep insights into the operations of your business.

Business intelligence platforms can help you:

  • Identify strengths and weaknesses of divisions/functions,
  • Improve processes,
  • Reduce wastage,  
  • Take informed action, and 
  • Increase the return on investment of initiatives.

Let’s take a closer look at what business intelligence offers and how your business can benefit.

BI applications promise insights that result in smarter and more effortless decision-making.
BI applications promise insights that result in smarter and more effortless decision-making.

The decision-making imperative

Being able to make the right decision, and quickly, gives you a competitive advantage. Effective decisions are needed every day, and at every level of your business. 

Of course, there are many organisational and cultural factors that influence whether your business is good at making decisions. But among the main barriers to good decision-making include not having clarity around the required choice or the right kind of inputs to base your decision on

This is a major issue for senior executives who spend more of their time and energy on big decisions that impact the future profitability of your business. 

A global survey by McKinsey in 2018 found that the C-suite typically spend more than 70 percent of their time making decisions, yet most respondents felt this time was not well spent. The survey revealed that in the organisations most capable of making decisions that drove growth—speed and quality outcomes were highly interrelated

“According to respondents, the organizations that make decisions quickly are twice as likely to make high-quality decisions, compared with the slow decision makers,” reports McKinsey.

Accurate, complete, and timely information that drives better decisions is what business intelligence software can deliver. BI solutions give you real-time insights so you can confidently act or adjust your course as changes arise. 

Many organisations struggle to make their data easy-to-digest and actionable—BI dashboards offer a solution.
Many organisations struggle to make their data easy-to-digest and actionable—BI dashboards offer a solution.

What is business intelligence?

Business intelligence is a type of reporting tool. BI software uses algorithms to surface company-wide data via easy-to-understand visualisations. These graphical dashboards give your team the ability to monitor performance at a glance.

BI dashboards overcome the drawbacks of traditional reporting, which is typically:

  • Based on historical data or a specific period of time in the past
  • Onerous to compile and out-of-date by the time it’s ready
  • Too detailed to take in quickly and not customised for the reader 

Dashboards can convey operational metrics as well as high-level analytics to guide strategic planning. 

You can get a clear picture of important metrics as soon as you open your computer or mobile device—like who your top customers are, how many overdue orders are in the queue, your monthly profit and loss, and a cash flow forecast.

Answers when you need them

BI dashboards are distinguished by their immediacy and interactive nature—you can see what’s happening right now and then easily inspect the underlying data for more detail if needed. 

For instance, a sales manager can easily grasp how the business is tracking against its sales target, and drill-down to see who is making the sales and how different teams or regions compare. 

Rather than wasting your time collating and interpreting data, implementing the right BI software in your business allows your team to:

  • Get instant visibility into key performance indicators (KPIs)
  • See what needs attention and ask the right questions
  • Prioritise tasks and understand broader trends
  • Make better short and long-term decisions   

Making the most of BI dashboards depends on solutions being carefully configured to integrate multiple data sources and present the most relevant information for individual decision-makers. 

Your finance manager cares about different metrics than your warehouse manager. Dashboards should be customised for the KPIs that matter to the role, or else your team may be overwhelmed by information that doesn’t help them do their job. 

Skilled development and implementation of BI tools ensure they deliver tailored metrics you can trust.
Skilled development and implementation of BI tools ensure they deliver tailored metrics you can trust.

Do the benefits of BI justify the cost?

Can you really trust the insights you get from your current systems? Are you confident you’re basing decisions on the best available data? If the answer is no, then investing in BI dashboards is a clever move.

In particular, doing more with your customer data in order to provide better products and customer experiences leads to more sales and higher margins. When you know more about how different products perform, which marketing activities deliver a return, and what contributes to churn—you can improve your offering and streamline your processes

Being data-driven ensures you can understand what actually drives revenue, and how you can improve efficiency and reduce costs. That’s likely to become more important as new technologies emerge.

Consider how much data you’re already gathering via your business systems, websites, social media, video, geolocation devices, point of sale, etc. In future, networks of sensors, smart home, smart city, and wearable devices will be more prevalent as the Internet of Things expands. 

You’ll need fast and intuitive ways to interpret usage, purchasing behaviours, and operational requirements to meet customer demand. BI tools may also open up new opportunities to generate revenue—such as mining data for customer-facing apps (to track usage for example) or identifying patterns for business clients (e.g., fraud detection). 

Being able to extract meaning from data gives businesses an edge in the digital economy. Don’t miss out.

Kickoff Meetings: Why They Are Crucial And How To Succeed With Them

Think of kickoff meetings as the project’s north star - it’s the guiding light for the success of everyone who looks up to it.
Think of kickoff meetings as the project’s north star – it’s the guiding light for the success of everyone who looks up to it.

Kickoff meetings are to successful projects what code is to developers – a natural union. Yet, so few organisations use kickoff meetings (or run them successfully). Perhaps you didn’t, either – until now.

The truth is: kickoff meetings play a significant role in the overall success of your software project, even if that project is so large it needs to be broken up into phases. 

Holding them, and doing them right can actually set everyone up to succeed from the beginning, making them a worthwhile investment in managerial time and staff resource. 

What holds organisations back is the lack of a good process around their kickoff meetings (including an understanding of why they are important). This is especially if working with offshore developers who might not have that shoulder-to-shoulder proximity.

At Groove Technology, we love and value good process – it’s the backbone of how we operate everyday. So, I wanted to share how we run our kickoff meetings for technical managers looking to level up. Let’s kickoff.

Start with a clear ‘define and align’ strategy:

Kickoff meetings are to help all stakeholders of a project align on the roles, goals, ‘why now’s’ and ‘exactly how’s’ before everyone really gets down to business.

It should be run by a single project lead who is responsible for keeping the agenda intact, and redirecting when any discussions begin to pivot away from that. Start by articulating why everyone is present, and allow all stakeholders to introduce themselves and their intended contribution – this builds trust, familiarity and transparency from the outset.

It should also cover delivery milestones and expectations as well as appropriate contact and escalation points, allowing everyone to align on what is required of them and how they can expect things to progress. 

Never silo information or tools:

Keeping information and tools secretive is encouraging “hallway conversations”, important communication that isn’t openly shared.
Keeping information and tools secretive is encouraging “hallway conversations”, important communication that isn’t openly shared.

Work on the premise that everyone involved in the project should have equal access to the specific information and tools related to that project. 

This isn’t to say that everyone should have no-holds-barred access to important company intel, but at the very least there should be enough trust present to empower stakeholders with what they need to do their best work. 

Ideally, this should be agreeing on the protocols for communication avenues, relevant project tools, and access to accounts, including third-party accounts if they are important. Make sure it’s understood the sensitivity of this information, but communicate how it can and should be accessed, and that this access is open to everyone.

Keep things high-level, at least for the beginning:

Remember, this isn’t a meeting to discuss the nitty-gritty. 

There will be plenty of opportunity for that throughout the project’s lifecycle and of course, any agile workplace would reasonably expect some of the project to change at some stage anyway – on that note, here’s how I generally recommend managing remote team dynamics for maximum trust, collaboration and performance

Work on keeping project vision high-level for the kickoff meeting, with a view to simply understanding major functions and responsibilities. 

This is much easier when the scope and timeline of the meeting is pre-agreed with very key stakeholders beforehand. This is sometimes called an internal kickoff, and can be as simple as getting verbal sign-off on the agenda.

Explain all ‘what-if’ scenarios:

Understanding what happens when projects change scope (and who to go to when it does) is a crucial risk mitigation component of the kickoff meeting.
Understanding what happens when projects change scope (and who to go to when it does) is a crucial risk mitigation component of the kickoff meeting.

Any good project lead will agree: a change management plan is imperative. What happens if code is delayed? What happens if the scope must change for reasons unforeseen? If someone at another part of the business isn’t ready with their function? 

Going over ‘what happens if’ by way of a preordained change management process shows foresight and leadership.

In particular, make sure team members know where to log concerns or changes, who to speak to if something requires escalation and how to communicate this more broadly to one another. 

It helps people feel empowered to be active participants in the process rather than fearful of the repercussions of change, which only leads to negativity and passing the buck.

Some other key things to note:

  • Remote kickoff meetings should be done via a video conference; facial recognition, body language and tone-of-voice is important. The quality of the conference is also very important; crackly or intermittent network will only frustrate attendees, and everyone should be comfortably seated, wherever they are.
  • Dedicate someone on the team specifically to a note-taking role. The project lead will be busy keeping things on-track and discussing the agenda, so allocating that responsibility to someone else means nothing gets missed.
  • Use the end of the kickoff as a place to hear feedback and make any changes, if necessary. When team members start to separate on their own workload, this can be trickier to do. Assign it the time it needs.
Startup Business Entrepreneurship Launch Concept

Should start-ups outsource software development to scale faster?

When is it a good idea or a bad idea to outsource software development as a startup?
When is it a good idea or a bad idea to outsource software development as a startup?

Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart. A start-up’s success hinges on the hard work of its founders across many aspects of running the business—raising capital, strategy, operations, marketing and more. But what about technical skill? 

If your big idea relies on technology to bring it to market, do you need to be able to develop the software or understand the technology behind your product or service?

After all, offshore resourcing is a cost-effective way to access IT talent and with the right processes managing a remote team can prove more effective than coordinating in-house talent.

From my perspective, technical leadership is essential—yet outsourcing to quickly build your technical team (and product) from scratch is a smart move. The solution? You need both.

Control technology decisions and outsource to grow

Good leadership is fundamental to business success. Research involving Australian CEOs found that 25% of business failures were due to a lack of leadership, poor management, and/or no planning.

If your start-up hinges on technology, but you have no technical knowledge—it’s a bad idea to outsource software development from the get-go. The risk to your company is too great to delegate control of key technology, architectural, and infrastructure decisions.

Having a technically-minded person in a position of leadership is wise. I’d recommend that non-technical founders find a technical co-founder and/or Chief Technology Officer (CTO) who can sense-check technology decisions.

If you are technical, or you bring a technical co-founder/CTO on board, outsourcing your development work is not only viable—but desirable.

A well-managed, outsourced team you can depend on—combined with in-house technical leadership—is a highly scalable model. It’s easier to acquire skilled team members from a global talent pool, and there are immense time and cost savings too.

When you combine technical direction with a scalable team, your startup can manage costs and growth.
When you combine technical direction with a scalable team, your startup can manage costs and growth.

Five ways an outsourced development team fosters start-up growth

Time and money matter to startups. You’re likely in a hurry to prove your concept through a minimal viable product (MVP) that you can use to build a customer base or recurring revenue, or as a means to attract further investment to evolve the product and grow the company.  

Typically, you’ll have a finite budget and deadlines to meet as you’re working towards your MVP. Provided you have the technical vision you need, an outsourced team of developers is a great idea for launching your business in this high-pressure scenario. 

Here’s five reasons why: 

1. Reduced time to ramp up:

Hiring processes create lag. It can take anywhere from 30 to 90 days to hire a mid-level developer in local markets including notice periods. That’s up to three months before you can even begin introductions, share your vision and start creating cohesion. 

Outsourcing gives you the luxury of choosing from ready-made teams who’ve already established a rapport and have a proven track record of delivery. Your time to hire is practically instant. Then you only need to worry about aligning the team to your vision.

2. Scale as your needs change:

You won’t have static talent requirements throughout the lifecycle of your start-up. Sometimes you’ll need to build out or pare back your team according to development requirements and cash flow. 

A competitive talent market means quickly adding multiple developers is no small feat, and there will also always be some early attrition due to better offers, cultural or vision misalignments. Professional and organised outsourcing providers help you minimise, or mitigate entirely, the impact of any sudden shifts in talent needs or team attrition.  

3. Access deeper talent pools:

Finding software developers with the exact skill set to match the technology requirements of your startup is challenging—more so if you restrict your search to your local market. You could be on the hook for training or experience long lead times while developers familiarise themselves with the technologies in use.

A survey of tech leaders conducted by Nielsen on behalf of payment company Stripe found 46 percent said it was difficult to find developers that work on the tech that matters to them. 

Outsourcing with an offshore model—through a provider that bears the cost of preparing talent—extends your reach. You can find people that know your technology stack and can hit the ground running.  

4. Reduced risk:

In any business, cash flow is king. This is doubly true for start-ups with limited capital and a paper-thin margin for error. Having full-time employees on the books with their own families to feed is an unnecessary risk and source of stress when you’ve just started building your revenue.

Gain or shed resources with greater agility and ride out fluctuations in cash flow by working with an experienced outsourcing company. 

5. Benefit from established processes: 

If your start-up has no existing software development or delivery processes, initially leaning on an outsourced service provider with established processes will save you time and effort. 

Robust processes don’t just happen—they require identifying issues with existing methods and workflows, learning from mistakes, and continually tweaking approaches to embed improvements. 

Outsourcing your team through a reliable provider who has honed their processes during many successful software development projects lets you avoid having to experience the risks and setbacks for yourself. That means you can confidently plan and budget your software delivery, manage stakeholder expectations, and minimise the risks that poor processes introduce. 

If technology is fundamental to realising your startup idea, and you have capable technical leadership in place, outsourcing software development is an excellent strategy to bring your product or service to market and grow your business.

Pensive overworked handsome architect working on corporate project

Functional vs Non-Functional Testing: why, how and when each improves software development

When software isn’t fit-for-purpose you risk frustrated and disengaged users—testing is critical for delivering quality digital products.
When software isn’t fit-for-purpose you risk frustrated and disengaged users—testing is critical for delivering quality digital products.

When things don’t work as intended, they’re less effective. It seems obvious, but it’s a critical point to pay attention to during software development. 

Insisting on well-designed functional and non-functional testing ensures your application is functionally sound and will perform well when used in real life. 

At Groove Technology, we value testing as part of our software development processes because it’s the best way to ensure that both your requirements and your expectations are met.

That limits the chances of technical issues, improves the user experience, and means your systems will actually deliver the outcomes users want and need.

Why is functional and non-functional testing important?

Testing reduces the risk of technical flaws, which reduces the need for technical fixes or customer service support. But it goes far beyond that. 

The practical usefulness and usability of the software applications you want your customers and employees to interact with on a daily basis are vital.

Especially when you consider:

If your software doesn’t deliver the result people are looking for in a timely, accurate, and easy-to-use way, what’s their incentive to keep using it? 

Your business suffers through lost sales and reduced productivity when the applications that underpin your success don’t work properly.

Functional vs non-functional testing: how do they differ?

Functional and non-functional testing are both important and complement each other. The fundamental difference is that functional testing assesses what the product does, while non-functional testing looks into how the product works. 

Functional testing is typically conducted first to validate that the software is fit-for-purpose. For example, when you enter the correct login details, you’re taken to the correct welcome dashboard or screen. 

Other examples could include:

  • Whether your payment gateway flags an error if you enter an incorrect credit card number?
  • Whether the correct amount is applied when you select a shipping type or destination?
  • Whether a purchase order sent for approval in the system is received by the right person?

Non-functional testing relates to how the software operates and what it’s like to use—it evaluates qualities including speed, scalability, security, reliability, and efficiency. An example would be how long the welcome screen takes to load, or how many users can log in simultaneously.

Well-managed testing hinges on a clear understanding of business requirements, prioritisation, and technical skill.
Well-managed testing hinges on a clear understanding of business requirements, prioritisation, and technical skill.

How is functional and non-functional testing carried out?

During the planning of an application, you’ll no doubt determine a long list of requirements—functional specifications the software must address to ensure your business objectives can be achieved. 

Testing needs to hark back to these requirements—they’re the reason you’re building, customising or integrating a piece of software in the first place. Determining where testing is needed most may require a prioritisation process. 

There are many types of testing that might be applied to thoroughly validate functional and non-functional requirements. Typically, tests to gauge the success of key functions and performance criteria will focus on using real business inputs, to help simulate your real employee or customer experience.

Testing processes may be manual or automated through the use of various testing tools. 

It may include black box testing—where valid and invalid information is entered to check the validity of outputs—as well as examining the code, checking APIs, the database, the user interface, and how the system performs under stress or recovers from crashes.

Who should do the testing? 

Rigorous functional and non-functional testing is first and foremost a job for qualified software testers with development process expertise. 

Knowing when, why and how to perform certain tests effectively is a reason to ensure your software development work is capably managed and your team includes people with testing experience and skill. 

A specialised team can help you scope a tailored program of testing for your software development project, based on a clear understanding of the business goals, user expectations, budget, and timeframes.

Finding the best tech talent is easier when you’re not constrained by geography or lengthy recruitment and onboarding processes—taking advantage of an outsourced remote team is one approach that saves time and money.

Functional and non-functional testing are not ‘set and forget’

Depending on your software development needs, your application may be in a continuous loop of development, testing, and delivery—in which case, testing expertise, techniques, and tools will be constant requirements over time. 

Other scenarios where functional and non-functional testing will be relevant include when you add new functionality, integrations or add-ons to an application. When software behaviour and performance have the potential to change or break—testing is critical to keep users satisfied.

5 Ways AI can maximise profitability for ecommerce retailers in 2020

Remaining competitive in the ecommerce space requires retailers to embrace technology—AI is one of the most promising.
Remaining competitive in the ecommerce space requires retailers to embrace technology—AI is one of the most promising.

Ecommerce makes shopping more convenient, but it’s not easy for retailers to acquire and retain loyal online customers. 

Competition online is fierce and dominated by behemoths like Amazon. The economy and consumer spending habits are both volatile, and meeting customers’ expectations in an omni-channel marketing environment is complex. 

For your ecommerce retail channel to thrive, you need to understand, anticipate and adapt to changing conditions, trends, and customer preferences.

Embracing technology is how retail is evolving to meet this challenge. In particular, the application of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies has enormous potential to improve the profitability of online stores. 

Here’s five use cases for how AI is changing online sales for the better:

1. Personalised and precise shopping

AI-driven tools allow you to engage customers with personalised information or offers, which drives more conversions and brand loyalty.

One of the most obvious applications is recommendation engines, which is how Netflix is able to predict shows we might like to watch. Sophisticated filtering of your site’s product portfolio, based on customer data, lets you present relevant, contextualised and highly specific product recommendations.

Applied well—with thought given to placement and usability—product recommendations can grow ecommerce revenues by as much as 16 percent.

AI can also improve the search functionality on ecommerce sites, helping users find exactly what they want, faster. Intelligent search tools not only draw on past behaviour, but ‘learn’ about customers, infer details that aren’t included in search terms, and adjust search results accordingly. 

Visual search is also being enabled by AI—shoppers can upload an image and be presented with search results that match, without having to type a word.

2. Machine-assisted discovery and sales

Virtual assistants, chat bots, and personal shopping assistant apps help people save time and energy while shopping online.

AI-powered assistants are being developed by brands looking to get a foothold in their market—because convenience and immediacy matters to today’s consumer. Assistants may leverage devices like virtual home assistants (e.g., Amazon Echo Dot and Google Home Mini), social media platforms, or be integrated with ecommerce websites.

Virtual, automated and algorithm-driven interactions are not impersonal thanks to the growing maturity of AI and techniques like natural language processing

For instance, Ticketmaster launched an assistant for Facebook’s Messenger app in 2017 to make it easy to discover events and seamlessly buy tickets. Based on questions like, “What’s happening tonight?”, users get specific details delivered automatically by the bot in a conversational tone—that’s engaging and helpful

AI models can enhance business systems to ensure purchasing, warehousing and delivery are managed more smoothly to satisfy ecommerce customers.
AI models can enhance business systems to ensure purchasing, warehousing and delivery are managed more smoothly to satisfy ecommerce customers.

3. Smarter purchasing and stock management

Configuring business systems to capitalise on AI and machine learning can improve what happens behind the scenes to ensure customers get the goods they want, when they want them. 

Purchase planning and inventory management are both critical for success in ecommerce. You can’t make sales and dispatch items quickly if you don’t have stock on hand. If you run out of stock too quickly, you’ll lose sales and also risk frustrating consumers.

You need to be able to reliably predict turnover and plan purchasing to allow for shipping lead times, seasonal changes, and product trends—enter AI-enabled demand forecasting.

Because your customers are online, you can access copious amounts of data—including behaviour on your site, search history, and competitor pricing—to feed into AI tools to enhance your decision-making about what to stock to buy, and when, in order to meet customer expectations.

4. Optimising the user experience

When shoppers have their needs met more intuitively, it reduces friction in the buying process. 

That’s why clever retailers take ecommerce user experience (UX) very seriously. Understanding what your customer’s goals are and how they experience your website, allows you to design better interfaces and interactions. 

You need insight into customer’s needs before you can design tailored AI-powered solutions to address their needs. AI can then underpin and improve UX across your customer touch points.

For instance, you might collect information about the behaviour of website visitors that click your ‘Add to Cart’ button, then use that data to create algorithms that adapt your site dynamically for individual customers, at scale.  

AI tools can also help you predict future behaviour at scale and follow-up with the right customers through personalised emails or advertising, in real-time

5. Detecting and preventing fraud

The convenience of online shopping also makes life easier for fraudsters. Two key ways this manifests is credit card fraud and fake reviews. Both cost online retailers big time.    

Fortunately, improving accuracy and reducing risk are two areas where AI shines.

AI solutions that detect patterns and learn from every credit card transaction are better able to detect sophisticated and ever-changing cybercrime techniques. Models that use a wide variety of data points can also adjust as people’s habits and lifestyles change, helping minimise false positives (thereby avoiding inconveniencing your customers)

Stopping fake reviews will improve trust in your brand and products. A survey found 86 percent of customers were influenced in their buying decision after reading a negative online review.

Machine learning models are superior to humans in being able to distinguish between fake and genuine reviews. If your ecommerce site relies heavily on reviews, developing ways to prove their veracity by using AI is a wise move. 

Artificial intelligence can deliver engaging shopping experiences at scale, but solutions need to be developed and monitored by clever humans too.
Artificial intelligence can deliver engaging shopping experiences at scale, but solutions need to be developed and monitored by clever humans too.

Invest in your digital ecosystem for AI-enabled ecommerce

Achieving healthy earnings from ecommerce channels depends on getting the fundamentals right as well as innovating. That means running a lean operation with optimal stock levels, excellent usability, and being able to proactively provide the experience customers expect.

AI solutions can give you the edge, as the use cases I’ve covered above show. 

However, retailers must embrace digital technologies intelligently—and commit to ongoing innovation—to get the greatest return on their spend on marketing, business systems, inventory, and their team. 

One of the barriers is often building out your team’s software development skills in a competitive IT talent market—which is why outsourcing technical skills can be a cost-effective strategy

One thing is clear, standing still is not an option when artificial intelligence capabilities are poised to revolutionise ecommerce.

How To Manage Remote Software Teams With Ease

Whilst engaging remote talent has never been more popular, many technical managers still harbour concerns. Here’s how to setup a remote engagement with ease.
Whilst engaging remote talent has never been more popular, many technical managers still harbour concerns. Here’s how to setup a remote engagement with ease.

The results are in, says Harvard Business Review: to succeed in a global economy today, a geographically dispersed workforce is imperative.

Not only are you at the forefront of promising markets (with quicker time to yours), but you can tap into world-class talent at scalable levels that suit your unique company workload. Side note: I talk a lot more on the myriad of benefits to remote teams here

But, naturally, for all of its agile advantages, risks do exist as well, and many chief technical officers I speak to are not reserved about their hesitation in working with tech talent from afar.

If so, maybe some of these concerns sound familiar to you?:

  • How will my existing technical team get along with one located offshore? What about language, or cultural barriers?
  • Our I.T. team need to work closely together for maximum collaboration. How is that possible across different time zones, using unpredictable conferencing technology?
  • Our technology produces industry-leading products or services. Can an offshore technology partner guarantee us the level of quality we’d find in local talent?

The answer is that yes, distributed teams can work collaboratively, productively and create work that’s both high-quality and timely. But as a manager and leader, you’re a crucial part of this process.

From you, it’s going to take keen management, some core working principles and most importantly, opening your mind to accept that many of the horror stories around offshoring can be easily debunked. 

Remote tech teams don’t need to be micromanaged, and they can work to standards expected from onshore talent – my own team always do. Here’s how to manage your remote software teams with ease, ensuring happy, connected and high-performing hubs across the globe.

Focus on specific traits in your hires:

The people steering the ship really do make the voyage, so focus on hiring for and cultivating a strong team dynamic in your offshore talent pool.

This is obviously easier said than done, but some key traits to focus on are looking for individuals with ambition and a clear history of productivity (with examples), as well as people you feel an inherent trustworthiness of. Remember, this is a two-way street, because they must feel that you trust them in order for them to exhibit trustworthy behaviour in return. This, in turn, fosters rapport that allows for clearer lines of communication and problem-solving.

Also, hire people who can competently and confidently write, as this (as well as video communication) will be your primary form of communication. This can often pose a challenge in offshoring, but with tech hubs like Vietnam mandating English is taught as a second language, it’s becoming easier than ever to ensure.

Utilise tools that foster instant connection:

According to The Economist Intelligence Unit, teams more geographically distributed are actually favoured by big organisations. They foster inclusivity and provide unprecedented insight into emerging global trends.
According to The Economist Intelligence Unit, teams more geographically distributed are actually favoured by big organisations. They foster inclusivity and provide unprecedented insight into emerging global trends.

In lieu of geographical proximity, you can still facilitate an environment that feels like your team are only a stones throw. How? 

Use tried-and-tested software tools that are conducive to agile work, help your team communicate in real-time (with personality and fun, where necessary – much the same way they would if sat next to one another), see and hear one another’s body language and voice during one-on-ones and stand-ups, and manage and contribute to projects via clear workflow roadmaps.

Making this a regular and normalised part of the work day not only helps crucial information disseminate (stopping hallway-only chat and silo team dynamics), but it also helps embed and normalise cultural differences that embrace the ‘we’ and make working more inclusive and productive for everyone.

Make process your core mission:

Teamwork makes the dream work - as long as it’s underpinned with a good process that is as much for management benefit as it is for remote employees.
Teamwork makes the dream work – as long as it’s underpinned with a good process that is as much for management benefit as it is for remote employees.

Think of your process as the DNA that makes you and your remote team successful. Without it, you’ll lack the structure and direction that gets things ticked off, fixed up and finally, shipped out.

Implement mechanisms that track progress and ensure no-one is working redundantly, with a good level of fluidity; after all, it’s about creating a functioning feedback loop, not confining developers to narrow systems that don’t work.

Encourage everyone on the team, remote or onshore, to “do” support, so that they can hear firsthand customer problems (therefore more closely championing the end product) and give everyone an equal opportunity to take responsibility for the code the customer uses. This self-sufficiency helps teams remain more autonomous, boosting morale and minimising missed expectations in the process.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter where the work is done – but rather, how (and how you support it as a technical manager). Good tools, processes and right-fit hires are crucial, and contrary to popular belief, working with remote developers can actually make this more effective, given the potential for accessing more high-calibre talent thanks to a widening of the talent net.

If you haven’t got the time or resources to hire or cultivate this yourself, get in touch with me so that I can show you how we build and manage agile teams here at Groove Technology.

How To Make Agile Work With Remote Teams

When implementing an agile approach within software teams, it’s sometimes assumed that it can only be applied to co-located brainpower. But what if this thinking was limiting your capability to be more productive, more efficient and more collaborative? 

We know that agile working is characterised by a culture that encourages and fosters close stakeholder collaboration, interactions over tools and processes and quick response to change. 

Working in short sprints, engaging in daily standups and retrospectives and pivoting, are all done to maintain a tight feedback loop in order to keep the work aligned with expectations and deliver maximum value in the shortest of timeframes. 

Constantly improving, iterating and pivoting are all markers of agile working, and this approach isn’t restricted only to non-remote teams.
Constantly improving, iterating and pivoting are all markers of agile working, and this approach isn’t restricted only to non-remote teams.

Originally co-location was seen as a key tenet of the agile philosophy, but contrary to the original thinking more and more development teams are proving that agile processes need not be bound by co-location and team members geographical proximity. In fact, with the complexity of modern business environments, I don’t think that that plays a part at all.

Agile development practices can be just as powerful within offshore and remote teams with the right process and mindset. So, here are my tips on how to achieve it.

Rethink the way you work:

In any agile team, success is a result of an aligned end mission. Rethink team roles so that working independently is normal, with different scope and specifics. 

This can be a challenge if you’re used to everyone working in a linear, plan-driven way, but the focus with agile working is on the mission, not the solution. Redesigning your work style empowers teams to think more dynamically, making them more accountable and productive.

Advocate for open communication:

The secret killer of remote working relationships is the snowball effect of miscommunication. In my experience, 99% of failures occur because small miscommunications go unidentified until they manifest into a much bigger misunderstandings.

Be strict on your channels for communication and encourage a culture where all team members can ask questions, raise concerns and lend ideas.  

Don’t lay blame, but diplomatically identify and acknowledge miscommunication when it occurs so the whole team can learn and grow from the experience.

Foster inclusion without exception: 

Teams that play well, play happy. Just because your product team don’t all rub physical shoulders every day doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be empowered to treat each other as if they were in the same room. 

Make as many face-to-face meetings as possible a priority, and architect virtual catchups so that everyone can easily participate. Use video conferencing and screen-sharing and make sure everyone can always hear and be heard; see and be seen. When it comes to team building, always think ‘developers sans frontieres’.

In modern and sophisticated I.T. environments, it’s completely possible - even crucial - to foster strong team morale across borders.
In modern and sophisticated I.T. environments, it’s completely possible – even crucial – to foster strong team morale across borders.

Equip them with the right tools:

When working in complex, fast-paced and enterprising environments, the toolkit you equip your team with can make or break their efforts to be agile – and the core connector between these tools is visibility. 

Invest in and employ tools that give everyone essential visibility into ongoing conversations and decisions, sprint and feature progress, sprint planning and blocked work streams and code reviews, regardless of whether they’re head-quartered or offshore. 

Embrace continuous improvement:

A fundamental part of working agile is being able to honestly acknowledge when something is not working, and change it. For geo-disrupted software teams, what works in one place may not work in all, and that might mean improving and iterating if need be.

Hold retrospectives and agree on definable improvements and action items, keep the team accountability for the processes in place. Never compromise on your development values, instead promoting and enforcing them within your remote teams so they feel confident in putting forward improvements.

In high-quality remote working and offshore arrangements, continuous improvement will be prioritised and encouraged.
In high-quality remote working and offshore arrangements, continuous improvement will be prioritised and encouraged.

Remember that offshore software teams offer intelligent businesses many advantages, like more opportunity, enhanced well-being of the onshore team and improved productivity – and implementing agile only serves these outcomes more quickly.

The first principle of the Agile Manifesto is that the “highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software”.

This is a goal that all software teams, whether onshore or remote, want to achieve. The great news is that it is completely within everyone’s reach, no matter where they work from.