Halloween is the perfect time of year to present the behind the scenes of creating the inContact Supervisor On-The-Go app. (Our app for contact center supervisors.) That is because in many ways it’s a scary topic to write on. I can’t help but think that software products are like sausages, and if you saw it being made you wouldn’t want it. Creating software is never easy and creating good software is like riding a roller coaster with the highs, the lows, the twists, the turns and a lot of butterflies in your stomach. It’s a fully engaging experience that takes over your entire world; you take the red pill and begin to see the matrix unravel in front of you. You begin to question everyone and everything, “Why did you answer your phone like that? Why do you text holding it sideways? Why did you buy an iPad?Why do you sit at your desk so much? Do you think I look smarter with my glasses on?” So I will do my best to walk all of you through the experience but I can’t promise to do it justice.
It was a cold Friday in December, giant powdery flakes of snow kissing the glass in front of my cubicle while the mountains sang an enchanting pied piperesque chorus calling me to ride the fresh powder. All I could think was “ten more minutes until my shift ends,” then it happened, as I watched the snow an ominous silhouette reflected off the glass beneath the bright white glare of the office lighting. I continued staring out the window pretending music was playing on the headphones I was still wearing from an earlier call, hoping the figure would vanish with the same mysterious silence with which it had appeared. Then he said my name, I tried dancing a little in my chair like I was really into the song but inevitably came the shoulder tap. “Oh hey, didn’t see you there,” I said. I was unprepared for the explosive chain of events set off by his reply, he said “You know that iPhone app you want to build? Well now we want it to be a tablet app and we want you to start building it on Monday.” I said “Okay, Cool!” then went in the bathroom and cried into a single piece of one ply tissue borrowed from the stall next door. Once I regained my composure to join the world I knew that I had work to do but I had no idea just how deep the rabbit hole was going to take me.
I had mountains of research on supervisors and 100’s of hours of live observation and notes but that was all I had going in. I understood a lot of the problems supervisors were having and had solutions such as “let them change skills” and “show them real time data” but I had no approach. That Monday I was met with several teams upon entering the office. A power house development team had been assembled for me, and we brought in a team of UI and mobile consultants to help our design processes and implementation. The clouds were beginning to clear; I had all the tools I needed to make something awesome. With the support and resources for success my only fear was being the weak link. I nervously presented what I had, in many ways just throwing a Rubik’s cube on the table and asking if anyone knew the secret for solving it. I quickly realized two things: first, when you have no hair everyone can see you sweat and second that I needed to pull these jumbled thoughts together quickly if this product was going to have any chance of succeeding.
I went home that night in many ways defeated but my will to fight prevailed and I stayed up all night etching out the concept and matching problems to user stories, creating the perfect product. The next morning I presented the greatest product of all time, the room was in awe, I had just unveiled my Mona Lisa. Trumpets played, flowers bloomed out of the snow and one of our QA’s released a dove into the sky, it was beautiful, there was just one catch: it was going to take 5 years to develop and cost fifty bazillion dollars. Back to the drawing board!
After a few weeks of back and forth we finally found the balance we needed to move forward. We determined our best approach would be to create a limited set of features with a focus on the quality of those features. That way we could offer a meaningful solution to some of the major challenges facing supervisors and allow the supervisors demand to determine the next set of features. Though I am the product manager I really turned the controls over to our customers to create Supervisor On-The-Go. Every question and idea was presented to a group of customers before moving forward with it and nothing was added without a real story of a real-world problem from a supervisor behind it.
For years I was told as an analyst that the third rule of building software (the first two are don’t talk about analyst club) was that the customer doesn’t really know what they want, or as Henry Ford put it “If I’d asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” That is why we knew we needed to dig deep with these solutions and not just ask what was needed but understand the workflow of many different supervisors to identify the problems everyone shared. I can’t say we designed exactly what we were asked for, but we designed everything around the workflows we saw and the problems we heard from the many customers who contributed to the project. In the wake of these amazing experiences with our customers our initial feature set was born! We determined that a focus on the ability to manage skills and to manage agents would be the best way to enable Supervisors to put their focus back on walking the floor, getting one on one time with their agents and enabling a more remote workforce.
With the feature set laid out and confirmed we had conquered one set of hurdles but this was a triathlon of hurdles and as we stepped into the next leg we were about to find out that hurdles are way harder to jump on a bike. We now had to figure out the design and how we would implement these features on an iPad. The iPad offers a very unique set of challenges such as what gestures to use, the way you hold it, the memory available, the security needs, different sizes, models and iOS7(more on that another day).
We started by studying the way people interacted with their mobile devices. This was achieved through a combination of live observation and remotely spying on people through the little camera on the front (not really). We watched the way people held it, the way people swiped and tapped and we identified the patterns in the most effective iPad users. We felt we had found the best way to use an iPad but we were still a journey of Tolkien proportions away from figuring out the best way to use inContact on an iPad. A journey we will continue next time…