In this digital age it is not unusual for a small team of people to successfully run large, purely online enterprises that turnover millions of pounds.
So, you’ve got that winning idea, how do you go about building it? Application development can be complex, time consuming and costly, which means picking the right software developer is essential.
Digital Marmalade has been developing complex applications and websites for the past 20 years. Over that time we have fine tuned the planning and development process to ensure projects run smoothly, client expectations are met and budgets are effectively managed. We offer a flexible service tailored to your needs, whether that be conceptualisation, design, project management, full development, supporting your own in-house development team or all of the above!
Phase 1Strategic Briefing
The initial phase of every project is to build a shared understanding of what needs to be achieved. We do this through a series of key stakeholder meetings where we’ll collaboratively review briefing documents, discuss strategic goals, top level priorities, constraints, motivations and budgets. Given that every project is different this process helps us shape and agree the best approach to the subsequent Discovery phase and allows us to identify project roles, team responsibilities and required planning meetings.
The Discovery phase gives us the opportunity to review and build a clear picture of your full requirements. It allows us to make smart decisions based on strategic goals and identified performance indicators.
There are several methods for uncovering meaningful insights. Not all are relevant for every project and, although desirable, doing all of them isn’t always commercially sound. Digital Marmalade will help devise the right approach to meet your specific project requirements and budget.
As discussed and defined in the Strategic Briefing phase we’ll liaise with key stakeholders, business analysts, your commercial and operational teams, as well as your customers, to gain a thorough understanding of your organisation, your digital assets and your customers’ expectations. The process covers:
- Competitor AnalysisReviewing your competitor’s online activities, UI, technical approaches, strengths and weaknesses.
- Analytic ReportsUnderstanding the existing systems, processes, data feeds and any third party integration requirements.
- Technical AnalysisAnalysing any existing web traffic, inventory and performance reports that you might have in place.
- Marketing ReviewDiscussing commercial goals, marketing activities and campaigns and social media.
- Content ReviewReviewing existing information architecture, customer journeys and content strategy.
No one understands your business as well as you and your team, but by introducing the customer into this early design stage we can help shape the proposition from another important perspective. Customer input is particularly useful when reviewing online processes with a view to increasing conversation rates or improving the customer experience.
- Customer Usability TestsEither face to face or online observations of targeted customers performing specific tasks to help confirm or deny assumptions and identify strengths, weaknesses and potential UX issues. Depending on the requirements, we can take this a step further and go deeper in tracking customer behaviour through heat map analysis and eye tracking studies.
- Customer InterviewsOne to one interviews to discuss the customer’s needs, opinions, attitudes and perceptions.
- Customer SurveysCustomer feedback through online surveys to help gather, rate and prioritise features.
Wireframing & Prototyping
Now we have identified the full scope of the project, the next step is to turn your strategic objectives into a clear, commercially viable, digital vision. We do this through a series of collaborative workshops where the whole project team can explore ideas and weigh up the options.
We use our expertise to rapidly build interactive wireframe prototypes to help communicate ideas, which can quickly be reviewed, challenged and iteratively improved both during the discovery phase and continued as part of an agile development process. Not only is every step of a user journey considered, we’ll also wireframe the backend management tools that power every process.
By combining your team’s business insights with our technical expertise we can quickly and inexpensively bring ideas to life. These prototypes bring clarity and simplicity to this complex process, allowing the stakeholders to visually validate ideas and signoff the project plans with confidence.
The interactive wireframes ultimately act as a detailed project blueprint the designers, developers, and management team to follow. Our project team will work through the research notes and prototypes to identify and establish:
- A minimal viable product feature set
- A short-term tactical feature set
- A long-term strategic feature set
- Prioritized list of deliverables for all parties
- The technical architecture
- Roadmap and rollout strategy
- Project timelines
- Cost estimates
- Measurable project KPIs
The end result is a statement of work that clearly documents the project scope, cost and expectations of all parties, ensuring everyone is clear about the next steps.
With the scope clearly defined and the project plan agreed we move into the Build phase. The project will be assigned a dedicated project manager who will be your main contact throughout. The project manager will arrange and facilitate regular steering meetings, manage production cycles (sprints), coordinate tasks with the delivery team, any third parties and your internal team, as well as manage change requests, report progress, and monitor budgets.
As every project is different we’ll choose a project development methodology that best fits your project needs, goals and delivery date. We tend to use a blend of traditional waterfall and agile development methods. While we’re capable of working purely in either methodology, we rarely find this meets customers’ needs.
Agile is a methodology based on iterative development that allows the requirements and solutions to evolve through collaboration. The goal is to rapidly release a working minimum viable product, as defined in the discovery phase, then to feedback, iterate, test and improve upon it.
As with the Waterfall approach, the project is split into two week sprints, with the most important tasks prioritised in advance. During each sprint the design and dev teams will do their best to complete the assigned tasks with the objective of demonstrating the deliverables for feedback or sign-off. The incremental and iterative nature of the build gives the client clear transparency and control of the build process.
The Agile approach is ideal for innovative, complex projects where the requirements are not fully defined from the beginning and are subject to change. For Agile to be a success it requires client time commitment as the short timeframes necessitate frequent meetings, quick feedback and a firm approach to feature prioritisation.
Waterfall methodology is a sequential approach to development where each tightly defined phase of the project must be fully completed before the next phase begins. Like a waterfall the project progress cascades downwards flowing through dependencies to completion.
The project is broken down into two week sprints. Before each sprint, we’ll plan and assign tasks to the designers, front-end developers and back-end developers ensuring any blockers are prioritised. The team will endeavour to complete those tasks inline with the wireframe prototype blueprint. This rigid sprint cycle is repeated until the application fully takes shape and is ready for user acceptance testing.
The Waterfall approach works well when there’s a high level of confidence that changes to the scope and execution will be minimal, as defined in the statement of work and wireframe prototype. It lends itself well to projects that will launch fully formed, to a fixed deadline.
The design process runs in tandem with development in accordance with the selected project development methodology. Our design team will pick up where the wireframes were left, transforming each user interface into a fluid, responsive design that is on brand and provides a consistent user experience across all platforms whether that's a desktop computer, smartphone, tablet.
When crafting engaging user friendly websites or applications, design goes beyond just the aesthetics. We’ll work with you to tailor the information architecture, navigation labels and content treatment to make sure they provide both optimal user journeys and favourable search engine rankings. It’s the details that make systems engaging and a joy to use – our designers will add simple interactions and effects to create interest, compliment content, provide feedback and generally improve the user experience.
Testing & Quality Assurance
Digital Marmalade has an adaptive but practical approach to testing and Quality Assurance (QA) which is tailored to fit our client’s needs and budgets. To reduce the risk of errors we utilise a mixture of automated and manual testing. For some projects we adopt a Test Driven Development process from the start, with clearly defined test cases and acceptance criteria based on the wireframe prototypes. Continuous integration and regression testing also play important roles in the development cycle.
We also work, when required, with third party specialists for client acceptance testing, robust security testing and performance testing. On these occasions we’re happy to recommend suppliers from our network or work alongside your recommendations.
We don’t provide hosting services directly as we leave that to the experts in their secure, bomb proof bunkers! During the Build Phase we’ll work with you to help identify and set-up a hosting solution that meets your project’s needs – ensuring it delivers on speed and is robust, secure and scalable. We’ll also assist in ensuring you get the right service level agreement from the hosting company to ensure backups, security patches and hosting support are adequately covered.
Once you give us the green light for User Acceptance, we’ll perform final preparations and work through our launch checklist.
Phase 4Post Go Live Support
Fantastic! We did it! The application has gone live but the work doesn’t stop there. We’ll tailor a support package that covers general maintenance and caters for the level of optimisation and enhancements that might be needed to help your business grow and evolve.
Inevitably, immediately following ‘go live’, there will be a period where bugs are identified and supported. Depending on the complexity of the application this type of support will usually taper out within the first few months. Once the warranty period expires we’ll switch to a continuous maintenance mode where we’ll fix reported bugs inline with our service level agreement. We use a ticketing system for defect reporting, tracking and bug fixing.
Websites and applications rarely remain static, they evolve to support your business needs, your customers’ expectations and to help you stay ahead of your competitors. By monitoring business critical components we can make informed improvements to ensure your investment is performing optimally against the KPIs and is providing an enjoyable, positive user experience.
There are several established techniques available to help measure and improve the performance of your site, including:
- Usability testing and feedback on key user journeys and tasks.
- KPI tracking leading to conversion optimisation.
- Visitor reports help identify key landing pages and drop off screens, as well is feeding into key word analysis and search engine optimisation.
- Performance testingto make sure all elements of the site load quickly and respond instantly across all devices and during busy times.
- Multivariant testing to help qualify incremental refinements, content treatment, messaging and design decisions.