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How we make software at Widen

by Deanna Ballew, October 19, 2017

We’re always working hard to deliver value-driven changes to our software solutions.

Sometimes changes in our software are obvious, like when we launch a new product like Portals. Or when there’s a visual change to the user interface. Other times, changes are less obvious, like when we work on the back-end to support increased consumption of 25 million total assets, bulk uploads of 1.5 million assets, and 14 million embed code views per day.

To help you understand how our teams are always working to deliver the best solution, we wanted to share how we make software at Widen.

It starts with listening

Our process of making software starts with listening. We listen to understand who we’re creating software for, what their needs are, and how can we offer value to them. This step is a divergent process where we listen to many different groups to hear about potential opportunities.

Customers. Customers drive our product evolution. We listen to our customers through surveys, interviews, feature requests, conversations, support tickets, and more.

As a customer, there are several ways you can inform our software creation. You can be part of the Widen community by attending Widen Workshops and the annual Widen Summit. You can also participate in user field studies at your office or in online user feedback sessions on prototypes.

Internal teams. Widen has been involved with the creative process since 1948. We have subject matter experts that are listening to customers, watching the market, and researching the industry to help inform our product’s development.

The market. In addition to our customers, we listen to those in the market. That includes buyers, analysts, and competitive research.

Ideas begin forming

By listening to all those different groups, we generate plenty of ideas. Some ideas are directly from suggestions, some are informed by listening and researching customer challenges. At this step, we start the convergent process on identifying which ideas to pursue.

A cross-functional team explores those ideas to identify the ones that align with our product strategy. If ideas align with our product strategy, we’ll continue vetting and problem solving around the ideas. If ideas aren’t in-line, we have to say no.

Our product strategy keeps us focused on the problems and opportunities we know we can solve for our current and future customers.

Ideas become problem statements and are prioritized

Our cross-functional teams continue to evaluate what problems we should solve based on the ideas that have been confirmed to align with our product strategy. Our product, research, development, and marketing teams all assist at this stage.

Our teams explore who’s experiencing the problems and to what extent the problems are barriers to their work, as well as opportunities for improvement. This is done through studying user and persona data, surfacing customer interview clips, and auditing similar Widen Collective features.

Our Product team then prioritizes the problems, identifies timelines, and sets goals.

Solutions are identified

With the problems thoroughly vetted and prioritized, our teams start working to solve them. While the entire process is cyclical, this portion of the process can be especially cyclical. Our teams are constantly iterating on sketches and prototypes and then validating through user research.

The User Experience (UX) team explores process flows and starts sketching out concepts with software engineers. From there, sketches are turned into visual prototypes and those visual prototypes are tested. Based on the results of those tests, the concepts and prototypes are iterated on until we have an intuitive and value-driven solution to address problems.

In addition to the front-end user experience research and prototypes, our back-end development team works to support the technical architecture needed.

Development and continuous improvement on solutions

While we work hard to vet our solutions in sketch mockups and visual prototypes, we continue to iterate on the solutions throughout the development process.

Our teams practice agile methodology, which prioritizes satisfying customers through early and continuous delivery of software.

Throughout this part of the process, our teams are working on user stories, working to meet expected deliverables, selecting product utilization goals, load testing, benchmarking performance, documenting updates, and making sure development is up to our standards. The process exists through two-week sprints. Each sprint is planned with the entire team to discuss the needs of the end user, desired outcomes, and acceptance criteria.

User validation

Once our development teams have produced the code to meet the expected deliverables, our teams seek further user validation. Our UX team leads customer testing and feedback sessions and brings feedback to the product and development teams. Our teams iterate until we’re ready to release a functioning, valuable product.

“Testing throughout development — even with seemingly basic or straightforward changes — reveals how we can innovate in the future,”  Lauren Pemberton, User Experience Researcher, shares. “A user might mention a use case we hadn’t considered or question how it works with a different feature. Those insightful tidbits have the power to transform a design in the following sprints and make it so much more valuable.”

digital asset management user testing

Launch to market

Based on our two-week sprints, we’re also launching updates to the market every two weeks. Launched changes vary in size. Some are small updates, like removing a button to simplify the download process from a portal. Others are big changes, like the addition of new functionality to create workgroups in Widen Workflow. Either way, iterations are broken up to deliver results in two-week increments.

Our team provides release notes in the Support Center to help you know what changes have been made. We also share the updates through Topline in-app messaging and create other supporting materials, like marketing collateral for widen.com and educational collateral for Widen University.

Listen and repeat

Even once a solution is launched to the market, we continue to listen to learn how our software is providing value to our customers.

Here’s a great example from a recent release of our Portals app that highlights our iterative approach, rapid deployments, and how user feedback plays an important role.

  • Prior to the release, user feedback showed many negative aspects of the filmstrip layout for collections in Portals.
  • We prototyped a new grid layout and it tested well with our customers.
  • To simplify our approach, we left the current filmstrip intact in existing portals and added the new grid layout as an option, then rolled that out.
  • We received feedback from a few customers about the need for the filmstrip layout. We discussed their needs and determined the filmstrip layout was needed for sharing a single collection.
  • Now that we had more details on the specific needs for it, we were able to make changes the following week to display the filmstrip layout for a single collection and grid layout for multiple collections in a simplistic manner.

What this process means for you, the customer

  • Value-driven enhancements to the Collective. Customer and market input is informing every stage of the software creation process.
  • Visibility for you into what changes, enhancements, and improvements we make. We deliver notifications about enhancements and improvements via Topline in-app messaging and the release notes (change history).
  • Frequent releases. We’re committing to new changes delivered to your site every two weeks.

So, how can you help?

We need to hear from you. We need your input on our iterative designs, as feedback participants and idea generators. Email support@widen.com to join fellow customers and/or submit ideas to http://www.widen.com/ideas/.

Topics: Culture & Company

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