New Tech, Teamwork, Delivery!

Four things we learned developing Accelo's new navigation system

28-Aug 2020
Agile
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Ola Halvorsen ENGINEERING TEAM LEAD

In June we released a brand new navigation system to Accelo. This wasn’t just reskinning the UI, but was ‘from the ground up’ a totally new experience for the customer. Many months of research working directly with customers was expertly done by the product and design teams, to ensure the user experience was modern and aligned with the needs of our users. For more details about what’s been delivered, see the Product team's update at the end of this post.

For how it was implemented, and the 4 main takeaways our development team gained during this project, read on! 

1. Teamwork and trust

The development team given the opportunity to implement this project is called Team Flow, a diverse group of very talented people, each with different specialties, but commonly desiring to do great work.

Members of Team Flow trust each other to perform well, keep each other accountable and inform each other about what we are working on and seeking help from others when blocked. This is easier when all are in the office, but with everyone working remotely due to Covid-19, we had some adjustments to make. One of my challenges as a team leader was to maintain my trust in the team, and not fall into the trap of nagging and micromanaging. We have at least one check in every morning as part of our Scrum process, the Standup, where we all sync up on daily tasks, blockers and have a bit of banter. 

The team adjusted nicely to working remotely and we found that fewer distractions and more time for deep work were welcomed, even if the social interactions were a bit more limited. We did have some team lunches remotely and played some games together, and the rest of the Accelo office was also organising games and get-togethers over Zoom, which definitely helped to keep up morale!

2. Becoming proficient in React

This was our first big project using React, and the team was initially unfamiliar with using the new framework to create UI components. We knew it was coming so the team spent a fair bit of time upskilling by taking courses together, and preparing for this project. One challenge was to work with React in parallel with older technologies we have in our large product, angularjs, Template Toolkit and Perl code amongst others, and making it play well together. We used Redux for state handling, which also took some time to learn and get used to.

3. Quality Assurance and Managing Scope

Accelo is fortunate to have an excellent QA team, and Team Flow was working closely with them throughout the process. They had already come up with a comprehensive test plan prior to us writing the first line of code, and were testing individual issues throughout the development of the whole project. We were assigned a dedicated test server, where we could experiment and push out new code, which made testing easy. Manual testing was the shared responsibility of both the development team and the QA team, who respectively took responsibility for the unit tests and automated UI tests. Working in this way gave us excellent test coverage overall while splitting the workload efficiently.

One thing we could have done better was to separate bugs found in QA from extra features which came in late in the project. The added scope pushed back the estimation of delivery a bit, but it wasn’t too bad because the negotiations with the product team were very productive and everyone understood that deadlines sometimes need to be pushed back to provide the best possible quality. 

Including stakeholder feedback earlier in the process would have also saved us some re-work. For example, we have a “Help” menu if you’re looking for tutorials or thinking about contacting our support team. Changes to this menu (and it’s location in the new navigation) were scoped out but certain stakeholders in the Success and Account Management teams were not included up front, though they deserved to be.

Another feature which was originally out of scope for delivery was to have different colour themes applied to the new navigation. This was also welcomed by many customers and is a way of putting your own brand colours and flair to the product.

4. Feedback Loops

- If at first you don't succeed, try, try again

This project came about from extensive research and feedback. The product team analysed all the wishes, pain points and suggestions from our community of users and ultimately a new navigation specification was produced for the development team to implement. 

We thought we were building something that would be a game changer for our customers, but upon sharing the prototype with internal and some external users we realised usability could still be improved. Too many clicks to reach where you wanted to go, and it was still a bit clunky to use and to become familiar with. None of us would be happy to deliver something that is sub optimal, so we decided to go back to the drawing board, product and design team were rethinking the approach, looking even more closely at the research and taking the new feedback on board. This resulted in quite a different end result, and we kept tweaking it again using this feedback loop until we had something which everyone involved was super excited about releasing.

While sometimes the time pressure to deliver and the changes in requirements was challenging for Team Flow, we got an immense amount of satisfaction in working through the issues, and ultimately creating a navigation which is beautiful, responsive and user friendly. We love getting feedback, both good and bad. Without that feedback we wouldn’t be able to create great quality software.

Bonus: Sprinkles and Cake

People on our team are super passionate about creating a delightful experience for our customers and paired up with the awesome design team, it often results in some beautiful but also extremely useful user interfaces. The designs are often static images/screens and there is a level of freedom for the front end devs to add sprinkles of micro animations and other small touches which makes the design really pop.

We learned heaps during this project. In a time of pandemic and uncertainty, we grew as professionals, became closer as a team and gained confidence in new technologies. We’re so proud to implement and deliver the vision of the new navigation system. After the project went live we celebrated safely in our Wollongong based office with a massive cake, and we’re so pumped by seeing all the wonderful feedback from customers all over the world.

We are currently looking for more talented people, please get in touch if you would like to join our team!

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