The Power of a Strategic Website: Drive Traffic, Generate Leads, Increase Sales! Part 1
10/25/2021 • 7 minute read
In this day and age, if your business doesn’t have an online presence, you’re missing out—on new customers, new leads and new sales.
But you can’t just throw up a website and be done with it. There are many pieces to the puzzle.
You’ll want to create a strategic website, one that establishes you as an authority in your niche and shows people how you can solve their problems. You’ll need to create engaging content that captures the attention of potential customers and then promote and market that content, along with your brand, products and services, on social media.
Is it a lot of work? Yes. Does it pay dividends? The answer to that is also “yes.”
What’s the goal of your website?
First things first: You’ll have to figure out what you want your website to do for you. Do you simply want to inform readers about your services? Do you want to set up an online store and sell your products? Do you want people to book an appointment? You’ll need to figure all of that out for your first point of contact with potential customers: your homepage.
Your homepage is an important piece of real estate. You have roughly 0.05 seconds to make a great impression, or your visitors are gone. With that in mind, this page must:
Have a compelling visual design
Clearly explain what your business does and the problem it solves
Explain HOW you solve that problem
Show you understand your customers’ pain points
Indicate how you do a better job than your competitors
When you (or the web design team you decide to work with) are designing your website, it’s imperative that you convey to visitors your unique value proposition, i.e. what it is that makes you different from all the others in your industry.
Call to action
A call to action (CTA) aims to encourage an immediate response from visitors and every page of your website should have one, including your landing page. Invite visitors to take action with the right CTA. Examples include:
One way to figure out your best CTA is to complete the sentence the user should ask themself: I want to “X.”
Good web design is essential for having a successful online presence. What’s the point in having a website if it’s an eyesore, if it’s hard to use, or if it’s not responsive on mobile? In fact, 38% of people will leave your website if they think the layout or the content is unattractive and 88% won’t come back to your site if they’ve had a bad experience.
Credibility: Establish your authority and be transparent with your pricing
Accessibility: Your site must work seamlessly on all devices
Simplicity: Make it easy to understand and navigate your site
Consistency: Your site should have the same colors and theme throughout
Familiarity: Use the same design elements with which people are already familiar
User-Centricity: Have the site revolve around the user and offer an excellent user experience
How to catch the eye of your audience
There are millions of websites on the internet today, so you’ll need to figure out how to stand out from the crowd.
Obviously, you’ll need to create an aesthetically-pleasing site, taking into account best practices in user experience, or UX. You’ll want it to be intuitive and easy to use, as well as responsive on mobile.
Beyond this, here are tips and ideas for creating a memorable website.
It’s 2020. People are in a hurry and nobody’s going to stick around for 7, 8, or 9 seconds. In fact, the ideal website load time is between 2 and 5 seconds.
How fast your site loads is critical and every single second counts. A 1-second delay in loading time has been proven to lead to a 7% loss in conversion and an 11% decline in page views. What’s more, 47% of people expect a maximum loading time of 2 seconds for the average website.
If you find that your website loads too slowly, there are several measures you can take to remedy this, such as optimizing files, compressing images and reducing HTTP requests, among others.
Here’s some sobering data: 55% of people spend less than 15 seconds on your website. So what does that mean for you?
It means you’ve only got a few seconds to make a lasting impression and tell customers and visitors who you are and what you do.
Businesses must convey what problem they solve for their customers, how they do it, and why people should trust them, as quickly as possible.
Make it easy
Once you’ve gone through all the effort to actually get people to your website, it’s your job to make them stay there.
Hire a professional copywriter and feature interesting content that engages with your audience. Use bullet points, callout boxes and other stylistic elements to break up your articles and make them easy to digest. Use subheadings and a table of contents (where appropriate) and use a large, easy-to-read font.
Use the right multimedia
Use high-quality, original, non-stock photos and images whenever possible. If you must use stock photos, our favorite free sources are Unsplash, Pexels and Pixabay.
If you have the budget, Deposit Photos is reasonably priced, has an extensive portfolio of good photos, and often has deals and special offers.
Your website gives you a very important platform where you can build credibility and authority in your niche. In addition to having an attractive, professionally-designed website, there are many ways to develop trust and to position yourself as a leader in your industry.
What better way to win over new customers than with glowing reviews from previous customers? Customer reviews are very powerful and can, and should, be leveraged strategically as they help people understand exactly what it’s like to work with you.
Around 95% of people read reviews before making a purchase and 93% of local consumers use reviews to determine if a local business is good or bad.
Case studies give you the chance to write about your business experiences in detail and to showcase your expertise. Not only are they specific to your niche, they explain how problems are solved and help you position your brand as an authority, among other advantages.
Your website is the perfect place to show off your portfolio. Convince visitors why you’re the best in your niche by highlighting your past projects and your success stories. Whether you have a product or a service, both can be included in a portfolio, you just might have to get creative.
Connect on a personal level
When you have a website, you can let your potential customers get to know you better. They can see there’s a real person behind your company and you have a great opportunity to connect with your visitor on a more personal level. You can include photos of your team members as well, and this builds trust as customers “get to know” exactly who they would be working with.
Free WordPress Plugins
Once you have your website set up, there are lots of free WordPress plugins available to enhance the user experience. We’ve used dozens over the years, so here is our final list of the most useful.
Proper search engine optimization (SEO) is essential if you want your website to rank on Google and other search engines. This free plugin will help you keep your content in line with best SEO practices and help you optimize several other SEO-related details.
Many people fall into the trap of uploading lots of large photos, which slows down your website. You’ll recall that a too-slow website is a fate worse than death in the online universe. This handy plugin will shrink your images and help you achieve a faster load time.
You’re going to want to include different elements in your blog posts such as photos, videos, bulleted lists, and tables. This plugin makes it super easy to include tables in your content so you can better organize your articles for your readers.
This plugin lets you build eye-catching photo and video galleries. It comes with an easy-to-use drag and drop builder and has lots of pre-built templates you can use to customize your gallery.
Sometimes you need to redirect a web page, for any number of reasons. This is by far the most popular redirect manager, and it lets you keep your site organized, reduce errors and improve your ranking. Manage your 301 redirects and keep track of 404 errors in a flash.
If you’re planning to monetize with affiliate marketing, this plugin will help you clean up, track, manage and shrink any URL from your website. It even lets you create links using your domain name.
Broken Link Checker
Google doesn’t want to see any broken links on your website, but how do you keep track of all your links to make sure they’re still working? This free plugin scans your internal and external links and finds real broken links so you can fix them.
Make the initial check-up of everything you’ve learned in Part 1 of our helpful tips on how to boost traffic to your website, and proceed to the second part. You’ll find why it is vital to use such tools as Google Analytics and Social Media in your digital marketing strategy. Stay tuned!
A good business analyst is a rare combination of qualities
10/19/2021 • 10 minute read
What is the difference between a business analyst and a systems analyst in IT, and what mistakes do customers often make at the start of product development? Today Daria Yamnaya, Ph.D., Head of Business Development at Softvoya, shares her expertise.
What is a Business Analyst in IT? Describe their main functions.
Daria: In short, a business analyst is a translator between the business and the development team. Their main tasks are: identify the true needs of the customer and formulate a solution considering any constraints. The quality of the solution significantly impacts the project, every user need can be solved in completely different ways from simple to complex, which affects the cost of the development.
A business analyst develops detailed technical tasks and works with the development team from conception to product delivery. Often business analysts weigh in on acceptance testing, business logic and compliance and effective implementation practices considering all constraints.
What knowledge and skill sets should a business analyst excel?
Daria: The most vital are systematic thinking and analytical mindsets.
Business analysts are people who search, observe and document every operation, function, and individual element – how they interact , for example, at a watch and see it works: gears, screws, springs, understand how individual elements interact with each other and why the clock shows the correct time.
Systematic thinking means to see the whole picture of the product, to understand how each function, object and its attributes affect a single system and the purpose of developing this system.
The second thing that is needed is communication skills. A business analyst is that rare instance of a person who, having a systematic thinking and an analytical mindset, loves to communicate, because at least 30, and sometimes all 70 percent of his working time is communication: with clients, the development team, the ability to win people over, to negotiate, to extinguish conflicts.
Third, in addition to verbal communication, good written communication is important. In our business, brevity is the sister of talent: the ability to summarize each requirement as briefly as possible, to burden the development team and the customer with the study of a large amount of little informative documentation.
The fourth important quality is perfectionism: we are not talking about wasting time on making documentation attractively, we are talking about an irresistible desire to get to the essence of a need, function, requirement, which allows us to formulate simple solutions that ideally fit into the logic of the system, solving the formulated problem with minimal costs.
The fifth is business knowledge and understanding of the basics of unit economics. Each client wants to be understood at a glance and be on the same wavelength, thinking in categories: expenses, income, costs, profit, monetization.
The sixth is learning ability. If the business analyst does not know the product domain, they must have a flexible mind and be able to analyze a huge amount of information in a short time in order to study it. Without knowing the domain, you can waste time inventing something that has been on the market for a long time.
What areas do Softvoya business analysts specialize in? Are there any narrow domain areas in which you have worked?
Daria: Our peculiarity is that we are primarily a product company. We have our own rather large internal product Upservice.com – an online office for small and medium-sized businesses, as well as outsourced projects. As a product company, we understand the pitfalls and can anticipate them by designing custom products.
Our specialization is the development of systems for B2B and C2B segments: CRM and ERP systems. A common feature of these products is cost reduction. An example from CRM: companies can endlessly invest in advertising and attracting new leads, without thinking that it is much cheaper and more efficient to have a loyal customer base who will return for new purchases themselves and attract additional lead traffic by advertising your company.
Despite our specialization, we develop products for other domains: equipment rental, car sharing, dating apps, bookmaker forecasts, tender platforms, etc. Our development team is passionate about developing high-quality turnkey products, so we help сustomers from the idea to form a vision of the product, which will be in demand by the market.
Among the unusual products, I’ll give an example of an application for brow artists. The purpose of this product is to sell cosmetics for eyebrows. You won’t surprise anyone with an online store, customers want an individualized approach. After analyzing how brow specialists build an ideal eyebrow contour depending on the anatomy of the face, we trained a neural network to build an ideal eyebrow contour based on a person’s photo. After that, comparing the ideal contour and the real one, the neural network offers suitable products for this person, which provides a personal approach to sales. Arriving at the store, you may not know what exactly to buy, while the neural network created by us adjusts the online store to your needs and individual characteristics. This increases customer loyalty – they see that the store is focused on them.
A fairly common question: what is the difference between a business analyst and a systems analyst in IT?
Daria: I do not support separation of these two roles unless it is vital. For example: a detailed study of the rules for exchanging a large amount of data between several systems is required. Such elaboration requires a lot of time, as a result a business analyst may not physically have time to form a technical task.
Initially, it is the business analyst who is the mediator between the customer and the development team, but there are projects where there is a mediator between the business analyst and the development team. The business analyst communicates with the business, forms user requirements and constraints, but does not go down to the level of functional requirements. They transfer the technical tasks to the system analyst. This is where the role of the business analyst on the product actually ends, they continue to communicate only with the customer at the request of the system analyst or to present solutions. The systems analyst describes the requirements in more detail, going down to the level of functional and non-functional requirements for the system and forms the terms of reference for the development team.
I adhere to the fact that we are looking for system analysts for our projects: as I said, the first requirement for an analyst is systematic thinking, the second is an understanding of technical issues. The analyst needs to understand how the system works. We are looking for system analysts who have good communication skills, preferably with business experience. Without understanding the business, we will not answer the questions: why this product and what benefits it brings, and without this it is impossible to design a good system. Of course, we train employees, however, when a person does not understand the operation of the system and does not have systemic thinking, he will set unrealistic requirements for development and at the end you will receive not a whole high-quality product, but Frankenstein. We do not yet need mediators between business analysts and the development team, all our business analysts are both system analysts, who understand how the system works.
How different are the roles and functions of business analysts depending on the type of business of the company? For example, in IT outsourcing, product companies, SaaS companies or those which are not related to software development.
Daria: In my opinion, many outsourcing companies want to have their own successful product, but not everyone succeeds, because this is already a level of business: it’s not just to know how to develop a product, but what product to develop, to whom and how to sell it, how to increase retention. This is a completely different perception: when you go down to the level of developing your product, a huge number of nuances appear, which you can then take into account at the start of any other outsourcing project. By building products, we learn from experiences and mistakes. This knowledge builds expertise, which our customers appreciate, as do their wallets.
As for SaaS companies, they require a different level of business analysts: you have a finished product, you know its modules and functions well. When a customer comes to you, you clearly define their need in order to understand what product modules they needs and how you can adapt them to the individual needs of the customer. SaaS companies work with a specific product and can offer a cheaper or more expensive solution for a specific customer. This is not the development of something from scratch, this is a domain, where the same template is offered for each customer, which, if necessary, can be adapted to the needs of the client.
If we talk about companies that are not related to IT, I would like to single out business analysts by processes who are engaged in the automation, setting and standardization of company processes. They may not be IT related. However, any business will need to identify and describe its processes in order to survive in the market and scale. A business that has process standards is more expensive on the market, as evidenced by the actively developing franchise market. When a company thinks about the scalability of its business, the first people they turn to are process business analysts who can build a system of processes. It is worth starting with offline standardization of processes in order to go through the full PDCA cycle several times. Only after the offline process has been worked out many times and shows its effectiveness, I would recommend starting automation, otherwise you will automate a mess that will only bring losses and frustrations. You can automate, for example, in an ERP system, a CRM system, using chatbots, etc. If we talk about the production domain, this is the automation of conveyors, training of robots.
How to understand that your processes are currently fine-tuned? It’s simple: you get a stable planned level of quality for your products and services that are in demand on the market.
For example: have you ever wondered why a cup of Lavazza coffee that you drink every morning for many years has the same taste, despite the fact that it is produced by different factories located in different countries at different times? This is the magic of structured processes.
In my opinion, the symbiosis of business analysts on processes with IT technologies is capable of revolutionizing, giving humanity full robotization of production.
Tell us about the role and functions of a BA in an Agile project and the principles of working with Agile methodology.
Daria: If you ask any business analyst which Bible they reads, the answer is Wiegers, “Software Requirements”. The peculiarity of this book is that it formulates principles, rules and examples of describing requirements in projects with a waterfall development model, when we have a long stage of working out a technical task, thinking through the smallest details. After the analyst submits the documentation for development, it is rather difficult to change something.
In Agile, we work in sprints. Each sprint we deliver to the customer the result, value for users. For a business analyst, working in Agile and using the waterfall model is no different: if you do not have a technical task, the development team will not know what to develop. No one will definitely understand what kind of system is developed, what it is capable of, how to work with it, how an additional function will affect it.
In Agile, a large product is divided into small pieces, into which a technical task is formed, but a business analyst must understand in advance what system he is building and to what end result we are going. Therefore, all our requirements are traced for compliance with the business goal – where are we going? are we on track? Maybe we need to reconsider our requirements because we have deviated from our goal? The business analyst constantly asks himself these questions and translates them into requirements so that we go from iteration to iteration to the final planned goal, to the vision of the finished product. In Agile projects, the requirements may not be as narrowly detailed as in the waterfall model, but they should be sufficient for the development team.
What are the benefits of Agile? In a short iteration, for example, in one or two sprints, you can get a ready-made module of the system, go to your potential target audience, which you have identified for yourself, and show the product. This target audience is giving you feedback. Perhaps, by realizing that you are wrong, you can conceptually change a lot in the product early on: this is fact-based project management.
Thus, your technical task never backs off the market and is focused not on an imaginary target audience, but on a real one. You are not limited to the waterfall model and you will not face a situation when developing a product according to a technical assignment that is outdated, because the market situation changed a lot while you were developing the terms of reference and writing the code. When you develop an Agile product, you can painlessly change the requirements and concept of the product, so you are more likely to get a product that is in demand in the market.
Describe the entire business analyst’s product development process.
Daria: A business analyst gets involved in the project at the early stages: presale and discovery. Customers come in different ways: some come with an idea, but the idea and the product are completely different things. The idea is high-level: the customer saw the business problem and he has a draft of the solution. As a rule, there is no clearly articulated vision of the product and understanding of the system at the level of functions and user roles. This includes the discovery stage of the project: a business analyst at the Vision and Scope level helps to formulate and substantiate the product concept, to build the boundaries of the solution.
As part of vision and scope, we also carry out the selection of integrated solutions: we conduct market analysis, comparing the functions and features of the product being developed with the technical features of the integrated solutions and their cost. Based on the results of the selection, the business analyst prepares a feasibility study, with the help of which the customer can make decisions based on the facts.
After the development of vision and scope, we describe the modules of the system, develop and detail the requirements in two stages:
The first stage of work is the formation of a technical task that can be passed on to UX designers. A common mistake of business analysts is that they describe detailed requirements for the interface for UX designers in the documentation: which buttons and fields are located where, which forms, what color, which user path in the system. This is a mistake: practice has shown that a UX designer can come up with an interface solution that neither the customer nor the business analyst thought about. UX is a professional in their field who should not be limited, otherwise you will receive nothing more than a copy of some product that is already on the market.
After the interface is developed and approved by the customer, the business analyst proceeds to the second stage: detailing the requirements and submitting the technical task to the development team.
During the development process, a business analyst supports the team, negotiates changes with the customer, and manages the changes. At the stage of product testing, the analyst actively communicates with the testers. When the feature is ready, the analyst can check the implementation against the business logic. Next comes the presentation and transfer of the product to the customer.
What is important for a client to understand at the start of product development? Tell us about common mistakes clients make when ordering software.
Daria: The first error is that the Product Owner is missing or incorrectly assigned by the client. A Product Owner is a person from the business side who has expertise in the product domain, understands the key requirements and can coordinate them with the development team, managing project budget. They has the authority to make the final decisions on the project, since any development is labor costs that must be paid, so you need to understand how justified they are and how they fit into the allocated budget.
One of the most common mistakes is not understanding that the product is not only the cost of development itself, but also the cost of paying for the services of third-party applications, which can be significant. If you want to integrate with a third-party service, for example, email registration, then understand each automation has a cost. The same goes for SMS. Plan for monthly subscriptions.We help you choose the optimal solution: we prepare a feasibility study, analyze the market, determine which services are more profitable to integrate with and how much it will cost you. We help to reduce the expenditure part of the product. When you have an analyst with a market overview on hand, you can make the right and informed decision.
Be prepared for such expenses as: promotion, technical support for users, improvements to the requests of the target audience and new market trends.
If the product does not develop further, then it dies. At every moment in time, you are either moving forward or becoming obsolete. There is no static state in time, because it does not stand still.
An equally common mistake made by customers is making products look better: the desire to add “pretty features”: animation, “jumping butterflies” and other functions for which the user is not willing to pay. This, as a rule, is accompanied by going beyond the boundaries of the solution. The business analyst guards the boundaries of the solution: sometimes the product really needs GIFs, and sometimes not. It depends on the product and its target audience. Therefore, you should not hang “bows and butterflies” on the product from the start. Build a skeleton and see how the target audience will perceive it, and only then, at the request of users, modify the product. There is a high probability of a mistake: when you go to unclaimed features, you will spend your resources (the planned budget and time) on “bows”, while you will not make the backbone of the system and will not solve the main need of users.
Tell us about business analyst tools for modeling business processes.
Daria: This question always concerns business analysts about processes that can be either related or outside of IT. I repeat: you need to start building processes offline and only after that move to automation, otherwise you will automate Frankenstein, and this automation will incur more costs than benefits.
I have worked as a business analyst in processes for more than 14 years, including in large industrial enterprises and have tried many different tools: from a sheet with a pencil and draw.io, to specialized products: IDF0, BPMN, Flowchart. I have also used different methods: graphic, text, tabular.
Practice has shown: even the simplest BPMN diagrams are perceived by the customer as something that is not applicable to practice. Before starting the presentation of the process, you are forced to teach the business elements of the notation, explain to the customer, for example: what BPMN is and its rules. However, your description of the process should be understood not only by those present at the presentation, but also by anyone on the street.
The most understandable way of describing processes for a client is a ttab method. By presenting the spreadsheet to the client and stakeholders, you will avoid prior learning about notations and rules.
When we develop a technical assignment, we proceed from the fact that it should be clear to the development team, in the same way when modeling business processes. We need to give the business a tool that he can use in his daily work. The passport of the process must be clear to its target audience.
Thank you very much for the interview, Daria! It was a pleasure to talk and learn so much information from you.
Daria: Thank you!
Dear readers, Stay tuned to hear from Softvoya’s leading experts and their activities in our upcoming articles. You don’t want to miss it!😊
In the first part of the interview with Valery we talked about how the involvement of staff affects the final result of product development and whether there is a single way to correctly implement the framework into the work of the company. In this article, we discussed scrum events, performance metrics for the scrum team, and the benefits of implementing the methodology for the customer.
How do scrum events (daily meetings, sprint reviews, retrospectives, backlog refinement, sprint planning) affect team performance?
Valery: Scrum events seriously impact efficiency when all tactics are used correctly. If we remove some events and leave others, there’s no guarantee that will experience efficiency.
Are daily meetings different from regular meetings? No! Daily touch bases allow people to discuss tasks for the day and problems and how to solve them. What will happen if we don’t solve these problems? They will come to the next daily meeting, where they will quickly learn what didn’t work and what they need to bring change. Then why does scrum change? Besides the daily meetings there are also sprint reviews, where the team demonstrates the final result.
Everyone is participating in sprint reviews: the team, the product owner, the scrum master, and the stakeholders. This disciplines everyone in terms of communication: You quickly understand that you can’t come to a sprint review without a result. Therefore, after the daily meeting, knowing that you have a review ahead, you train your mind to solve problems. It is enough to get into an awkward position with stakeholders on the call once or twice in order not to want the same awkward position again..
The sprint review is immediately followed by a retrospective that same day. How come? Imagine a sprint review was unsuccessful, and we begin to think about what to do to avoid repeating this again. Having the result shown in the sprint review (even if it is good), we must answer the question “How to achieve a better result next time?”
This order leads to a cycle: events are distributed in such a way that a person becomes motivated to do a little better with each new sprint, because otherwise the meaning of your work disappears.
As for evaluating the backlog, it’s like warming up the engine before starting down the road. This way we make the development process smooth:
If you are working on evaluating the backlog, understand the product you are working on, look at a distant goal and understand what awaits you in the near future;
This reduces the time for planning tasks, because you know what you need to work on;
This allows the product owner and stakeholders to understand how to allocate work in order to efficiently spend money and team resources.
Thus, we build a chain of events that allows us to meaningfully and efficiently carry out the task assigned to us on an intuitive level.
What prevents us from holding an effective daily meeting?
Valery: Scrum is a set of values and principles, not an instruction on how to live and work. If people share these values, they will not turn meetings into a formality. Instead of focusing on ineffective meetings, focus on the values of the team members in the meeting.
As for retrospectives: is it just a review of the team’s work, or is it also a way to rally and improve relationships in the team?
Valery: Retrospectives are not only for analysing a problem. We discuss:
What was good;
What can be improved;
What we can reduce.
This meeting brings the team together: firstly, we praise each other, discuss what was good. How can we eliminate unnecessary work? All these cases are a form of team training. A retrospective can be completed by adding a game element to make it more interesting. You can give a developer the Scrum Master role to make team members feel like they play different roles. If, based on the results of retro, we come to the conclusion that we have nothing to improve, we can praise ourselves. If we only touch on negative aspects, we end up demotivating ourselves.
Let’s talk about performance metrics for a scrum team. What are the KPIs, what are they based on and how to measure them?
Valery: There are many performance metrics. Using an Evidence-Based Management Guide, which provides a number of metrics for assessing various parameters: the innovation metrics, scrum effectiveness, the analysis of how the value of the product is created in the company. Generally speaking, metrics should measure the achievement of goals, then you have a clear idea of whether we are moving in the right way, how scrum works, how the company is developing, and the quality of products we create. It’s worth paying attention to working with subjective assessments from people through surveys: this provides valuable information that statistics will not convey, and indicates potential problems, pain points, fears and obstacles.
We talked a lot about the benefits of scrum for the development team and the product. One way or another, it is the customer who pays for the development of the product and is expecting return on investment. Does the implementation of scrum give the customer and how does it affect their goals and objectives?
Valery: When we talk about team efficiency, staff engagement, and so on, the question arises: if there are people who are investors and product stakeholders who allocate a budget for product development, does employee engagement make sense for us at all? What does scrum implementation give us, what benefits does it provide to the product? In terms of a product, one of the key indicators is ROI. How does scrum help us in this case?
Honesty and openness. Scrum says: if you begin developing a large product, consider it as a business project (those who have launched products before understand this very well). Throw away the illusions, because at the start you’ll never know for sure what the market demands, what will be a successful solution and what will not. Exact plans do not provide guarantees and complete control of the situation, they only create this illusion. Scrum honestly says: you know the goal, the approximate path, and you can only go through once you’ve started.
Delivering the product in small increments can help us to see the result faster and ask: is it what we need?, is it in demand?, is it suitable for the consumer and is he willing to pay for it? The customer makes a decision based on the facts. It is important to understand that frequent updates always provide relevant and timely facts, since facts tend to become outdated especially in fast moving markets, making the quality of decisions more important.
Risk mitigation: The customer, realizing that their hypotheses are correct can at any time can admit that he made a mistake and change the strategy. When working in linear development, the customer can understand whether this is a mistake or not, after the implementation of the entire project, thus the risks of “expectations” are always lower. In addition, the iterative process allows you to better manage both market and financial risks, you can make changes at any time and change the budget quickly.
The combination of these factors leads to the fact that the creation of a product becomes a rational and effective activity.
Thank you very much, Valery! To sum it up, describe the main advantage, in your opinion, that Scrum implementation brings to the work of the company.
Valeriy: When scrum is implemented correctly and efficiently, we see transparency, courage, respect, and professional teams focus on their work with a goal oriented mindset. As a result, trust is formed between everyone who works on the project, long and mutually beneficial partnerships are developed, due to which a high-quality product is created.
Is there a single recipe for implementing a framework that works for all companies? What does scrum give to the client and why is it necessary to focus on the scrum team? These and other tricky questions were answered by Valery Semiletov, CEO of Softvoya.
What is scrum, how does it work?
Valery: Scrum is a framework based on empiricism and frugality that allows us to deliver value by solving complex problems. Similar principles and values of agile tactics.
How does setting a product goal make a scrum team more effective?
Valery: If teams are executing a task and given a goal to strive towards, BUT they lack a detailed explanation and supporting evidence, the risk of achieving said goal grows exponentially. Without a complete vision and understanding of the goal, decisions and assumptions are formulated, unfortunately mistakes may be made, and the project goes through many revisions. We hate this. It creates an expensive experience for our customers. There is a much more effective way.
A clearly formulated goal gives the team a specific target to deliver and strive towards. Project requirements are encouraged, but not required! Not only does this methodology foster extreme focus and influence efficiency, but creativity is encouraged. The teams evaluate the task or end point and leverage their talents and expertise to discover unique solutions. This defined goal allows the team to filter incoming information and data, allowing tasks to be closely evaluated for effectiveness. We reduce the costs of management, because teams are able to work independently and eliminate the need for micromanagement. The result is our customers save money developing digital products and provide better solutions for their customers and users.
In other words, does the goal allow product teams to work more efficiently?
Valery: Absolutely. The goal should be structured and succinctly expressed in one or two sentences. It allows everyone to understand where we are going. Based on experience, teams are able to organize their work based on priority and value of the feature. Without this, it’s a series of expensive trial and errors or micromanagement, which diminishes innovative solutions.
What is the impact to development and product teams with the introduction to scrum?
The first thing that changes is the meaningfulness of their actions. Purpose gives meaning to work. We talk with potential employees during an interview process and ask the reason for leaving the previous place. A particular reason for candidates’ burnout is the aimlessness of their actions. It turns out that meaningfulness is already a good motivator for work;
With the scrum approach, we regularly interact with project stakeholders and better understand their expectations and requirements, thus we can achieve the required results faster. This reduces unnecessary work. Nothing is more demotivating than throwing away your own work or constantly reworking the same code.
Scrum answers the question, “How do we achieve the sprint goal?” Thus, the team itself determines the best process to achieve this goal. Leading to the formation of an environment in which people feel comfortable and are passionate about the results.
A major factor is shared ownership: when the responsibility for the result is on an entire team. The team holds each other accountable and no one can say: “I did everything.” Either everyone comes to the finish line, or no one. There is mutual responsibility, people have to work together and negotiate with each other to find the best solution.
All these factors give the team motivation: as Daniel Pink wrote in his book “Drive”, for high motivation, an employee should have 3 things: autonomy (a person chooses how to perform a task), skill (the need for study and development to complete a task) and a goal (why it’s necessary).
What are the most common mistakes scrum teams make during implementation? How do you avoid them?
Valery: For scrum to be successful, the team members have to understand the internal structure of the organization.
What prevents successful implementations of scrum?
If we say that Scrum did not work, then the problem is most likely not in Scrum, but in us. It may be a product that we develop or support, because the product itself may initially not allow us to work with Scrum. Scrum is not a magic pill for all the diseases of management. You need to understand the internal structure of the organization in which you work: if not the whole organization works according to the Scrum framework or shares the principles of Agile, then problems may arise when implementing Scrum. You may have a team that works on Scrum, but reports to people within a standard hierarchical structure. The difference in approaches within the same structure will prevent the implementation of Scrum.
The team itself can also interfere: people may not share these values, they may not want transparency, openness, self-organization, they may not want to take responsibility.
If something went wrong with your scrum implementation, what could be the problem?
a) You did not implement scrum, but your own idea of it;
b) The projects that you are going to manage, the approach and style itself remain linear;
c) Lack of scrum specialists, which can spoil all your good intentions.
How do you implement scrum successfully?
Valery: Scrum is dynamic. There is no single recipe for success. Focus on building a team that believes in the benefits of scrum and bring in specialists. One person can create a toxic environment for an entire team and destroy success. This is why constant feedback from team members and customers is imperative.
Next, determine how to measure the results for success. Let’s assume we have a static assessment of the task: prior to scrum implementation, we performed 10 tasks per week, and after implementation we performed 12 tasks. Is this a success or not? What if we started doing 8 tasks a week, but the clients were more satisfied? Determining what is high-quality and successful is often a subjective assessment of each individual company. This is a question of the organization’s goals, what is important to it: how much it earns, satisfied customers, empowered employees, or a combination of multiple goals. Without setting goals and measuring the before and after, we cannot understand whether we implemented scrum correctly.
The scrum implementation process is constant. Scrum evolves, the company evolves, new people come in, and changes are constantly taking place. Scrum is a sequence of iterations and continual improvement. The implementation of scrum is a sequence of iterations and continuous improvement of what happened the day before. If teams are doing better today than yesterday, you will eventually arrive at the goal that you set for yourself.
What do you focus on when implementing scrum?
Valery: You need to focus on people. If we say that the basis of scrum is self-organization and self-management, and its values are commitment, focus, respect, openness and courage, then we must understand that a successful scrum implementation is when people start believing in the methodology. It’s necessary to work with the entire team: with their obstacles, barriers, fears, and work with the external environment of the organization. The most difficult aspect is conveying to your people what will change for them, how it will benefit them, and what will change for the better.
Is a scrum master a form of psychologist?
Valery: Think of a scrum master as more of a diverse coach. They have to understand the subject area in order to speak the same language with the people and teams they are trying to organize.
Scrum places a person at the core of the development process, and the main task of implementing this framework is to properly organize the team’s work and involve all participants in the process. How does employee engagement affect the end result of product development? Does every employee of the company have the same influence on the development result and have weight within the company that works with scrum?
Valery: Scrum doesn’t mean each individual has the same impact on the development outcome. The level of influence will be limited by the role and competencies, since the employee is addressed mainly to those issues in which he is a professional. This is not an equalization, this is an opportunity to prove yourself. The degree of influence is always determined by competencies and personal qualities.
Dear readers, that’s not the end! Even more interesting features and lifehacks are waiting for you in the second part of the interview.
What are the main differences between the design of web and mobile applications? What are the main mistakes that designers make that interfere with the perfect user experience? The main secrets and life hacks of mobile app design reveal Maria, Head of UX / UI design at Softvoya.
In your own words, who is a UX / UI designer and what are their main responsibilities?
Maria: A UX / UI designer is a psychologist who builds a bridge between the requirements of a business and a person who uses the product.
The designer’s job is not to force the user to think too much and react intuitively.
A product can have an infinite number of functions, and 80% of users may not need most of them. If the product is available, understandable and covers the needs of both an experienced user and someone who is familiar with technologies, then the designer has successfully completed with their task.
With the increase in the number of smartphone users, we see a large increase in the number of mobile applications. What are the main differences between the design of web and mobile applications?
Maria: Creating web applications is like making a spaceship. We are used to seeing a lot of information on the computer screen. If it is well structured, it is easy to process it and figure out how to navigate to the desired function or section. A person sitting in front of a computer usually has more time.
Mobile applications are the minimum that a person can process quickly. Users should be able to receive or send the necessary information without a lot of fuss, they do not need to keep unnecessary things in mind when navigating through the screens, everything necessary should be in sight, while being presented concisely and in the expected place.
It is better not to transfer complex functions that are easier to perform on a computer into a mobile phone: they are unlikely to be used, but if they are, users will not thank you for that.
Describe the process of creating a mobile app design in Softvoya in accordance with the agile methodology.
Maria: In a world with ideal clients who understand that design is not just beautiful pictures, but also well-defined logic, navigation, solved user problems, design begins with research.
We conduct market research, study our competitors, identify product goals and determine the target audience: this is a joint work of a designer and a business analyst.
The clearer business requirements are formulated, the less likely it is that the client will be disappointed with the outcome.
After receiving the analytics and research artifacts, you can start developing prototypes. At this stage, the application structure and navigation are being worked out. Even with the very top-level rendering of prototypes, at this stage, you can immediately avoid further errors in the user journey and make adjustments even before the development begins. After that, it remains only to technically implement what you have planned, without inventing anything on the go.
Prototypes can be:
Low-fidelity: to show how user can switch to functions and blocks;
High-fidelity: almost ready-made screens with structured information.
After prototypes are approved, several UI proposals are created to coordinate the client’s vision of the future product. At the same stage, a brand identity can be developed if necessary. Based on the selected colors, typography, general style, graphic elements, a UI-kit is created. UI-kit is some kind of library of components and styles for the future product.
When it is ready, the designer just needs to connect UI and UX and send it to the customer for further approval. At this stage, in close cooperation with the business analyst and the client, several rounds of edits usually take place, changes can be made both in the user flow and in visual parts to possibly simplify the development. As a result, we prepare mock-ups for transfer to development
During the development stage, the designer’s work does not stop: they must periodically monitor whether the logic and user interaction is correctly understood, if UI is correctly implemented, whether the states and behavior of the components correspond to the UI-kit. Upon receipt of the working functionality for the demo, the designer can help the QA in testing.
As for working on agile, I haven’t used this methodology on small products, only on fairly large-scale web- and mobile applications. Yet, the approach is no different from the development process: we take tasks on each sprint and provide ready-made layouts at the conclusion (only they are not considered an increment and are not demonstrated during scrum events).
Design is a part of the overall process. Designers, just like developers, participate in the planning phase, attend daily meetings and discuss problems and the recommended solutions.
What are the main mistakes that designers make that interfere with the perfect user experience?
Maria: There is no perfect user experience. There is always a person who will write to support that nothing is working.
Missed stages of design development and requirements lead to errors. Wrong logic, gaps in the user journey or conflicting requirements.
Very often, too much time is spent on a beautiful wrapper with broken functions. The user does not care how beautiful his animation is, especially when this animation is on the endless loading screen.
What seems absolutely clear and intuitive to the designer and developer is not always clear to the user. It is always necessary to conduct testing on a real independent audience to gather the most honest feedback.
Ignoring the visual part: the user processes information more efficiently when it’s supported by graphic elements. Users don’t like reading large chunks of text.
An undeveloped interaction: if users do not see a response from their actions, it will feel like they are doing something wrong.
The user always has the right to make a mistake. If, in case of an accidental miss, they can not fix it in any way, they will delete the application and not download it again.
If registration/authorization path is too long, you’ll lose their interest. Users who have just downloaded the application don’t know what is waiting for them inside. If you hold them at the entry stage for too long, they will not continue into the application.
Always enable pre-filled fields. There is no need to force the user to guess why this or that field is constantly hitting an error, for example, “wrong format.” It is better to explain right away what is required, in the placeholder, inside the field, or under the description.
Avoid using patterns that are not native to mobile platform users. Often, to speed up the development of an app, teams create something between iOS and Android: as a result, we get dissatisfaction on both sides, because we break the simple path that is familiar and routine for either platform users.
Is there a different approach to designing apps for Android and iOS devices? What are the features of these platforms?
Maria: When designing a user-friendly application, it is necessary to follow the platform guidelines: Human Interface Guidelines (HIG) for iOS and Material Design for Android. Using native components greatly facilitates development and user experience.
There are things that can be reduced to the common denominator and generalized on both platforms, but still, most of visual and behavioral components are very different. This also applies to navigation: now in iOS everything is built on gestures, there are no buttons at all. For example, going backward by swiping from left to right is a very common pattern for iOS users, while for Android users it will be more intuitive to reach for the back button in the lower right corner.
The navigation inside one screen is also different. On Android tabs are used, between which you can navigate by swipe, on iOS this is a segmented control.
Different screen aspect ratios, typography (Roboto-Material, San Francisco-HIG), rounded corners. The material UI has a wider range of using shadows, one of the main characteristics of “elevation” is responsible for this-the height of raising the element above the surface, when navigating the user literally sees how the screens overlap one another.
Tell us about the main trends in mobile app design in 2021-2022.
Maria: It’s better to use trends to fill your portfolio with beautiful pictures. On Dribbble, for example, trending shots become popular faster and easier. In most cases, these techniques become obsolete very quickly.
What can be used:
Custom illustrations and icons. It’s hard to miscalculate this, stock photos and vectors have already blurred everyone’s eyes, and it’s always nice to see unique rendered pictures that reflect the brand and corporate identity of the product;
Glassmorphism: use minimally and very carefully. When applied to a complex background, a very beautiful effect is created. As a good example, I would mention the native iOS menu where it is used.
Minimalism and simplicity.
The design should be built around content, correctly emphasized accents and without scattering the user’s attention. White background is the best. Pay attention to the trend in the redesign of the largest platforms, most have removed the accent color from the background and kept it only in places where it is most appropriate, thereby making the interface cleaner and more airy. Examples: Youtube, VK, Twitter, Dribbble;
“A good interface is one that is not visible.”
3D illustrations: even very simple and accessible forms serve well as a capacious graphic element, for example, on empty screens or error screens, even in non-entertainment applications:
SVG and JSON animation: another improvement in the user experience is appropriate animation of interface elements. SVG and JSON animation is created by code. It is easier to process (since it is minimal in weight and size), scalable (since it is created based on a vector), and universal to use on different platforms. For example, Lottie is a library from Airbnb for Android, iOS, Windows, which analyzes Adobe After Effects animation exported as JSON and displays it on mobile devices and on the Internet.
In conclusion, I would like to say: 25% of users who download an application open it only once, delete it and never return again.
That is why it is important not to forget the 3 “C” rules when designing mobile apps: consistency, clarity, content.
We do not break the usual user patterns, we create an application with a simple and intuitive interface (consistency);
We avoid overloading the user’s path with unnecessary actions and screens with unnecessary information (clarity);
We place the expected blocks in the expected places, supplement the text with laconic graphic elements (content).
And as a result, we avoid losing 25% of users, but we keep their engagement thanks to a positive user experience (UX), a visually pleasant UI and positive emotions that the application provides.
How to Develop a Dream Product? Product Strategy and its Implementation
08/19/2021 • 10 minute read
Do you have a product in mind, but aren’t sure which method or process to dive into? We’ve got you covered! We interviewed Valery Semiletau, Softvoya’s CEO and expert in scrum tactics and strategic product launches.
How does Softvoya develop a product strategy and what approaches do you use to improve it?
Valery: If we are talking about product development, then everything is simple: we take analysts, develop “Vision and Scope” and proceed to its implementation. If we talk about product development & launch strategy, then this includes a whole range of measures that must be interconnected: financial, development and marketing plans. Product owners in the industry often make the classic mistake of copying corporate practices for their product strategy and launch, but if we launch something brand new or want to test an idea, corporate methods are too expensive for startups, entrepreneurs, and small businesses. We recommend a simple strategy that can fit on a “napkin.” At the beginning stages of product launch, most customers have limited data on market research and hypothesis testing, so without this important data it’s impossible to build an accurate financial plan and ROI to match big corporate budgets.
The most important aspect in a napkin size product strategy is the market you play in. At Softvoya, this analysis helps us better understand the other players competing in your industry, the total market capacity, the target audience for the product and an analysis of competing web, social, and foot traffic. Based on this information, we can calculate the investment needed for marketing to attract your target audience, but these numbers only answer one simple question: “is there a potential for profitability with this product?”
We recommend conservative strategies for our customers and plan for the scenario if something goes wrong. Of course, we always leave room for the positive. Believe in the best, but plan for reality.
When product owners begin planning their strategy, oftentimes they think the only cost after launch will be marketing expenses. This is a common misconception, because in order to make an MLP (most-loveable product) we need to receive feedback from users after we enter the market. This is an imperative step in the product launch process. When we develop a product strategy, we must constantly analyze it from the point of how it is executed, what new facts are revealed: about the market, consumers, the product we planned to develop. These facts should always influence the strategy: it shouldn’t be a static document, it should always be revised and adaptable.
Are there any features of developing a product strategy during a crisis?
Our concept is the following: when launching a product, you are already in crisis-mode regardless of the market situation. This is where the napkin strategy comes into play. Put the minimum amount forward, then should the product be unsuccessful, only the minimum was put forward. On the other hand, if the project is successful, you reap the rewards as intended or sometimes exceed the expected.. When launching a product as a startup, we recommend the Lean Startup model start small, spend as little as possible, move in short steps, take into account the changes and adjust the plan according to your users.. Never abandon the plan, change and adapt.
Crisis is always a market reboot, an inevitable stage of development.
When working with an audience, always get down to the level of the consumer and understand how they changed their approach and habits: this way you will understand where the market is headed. A reboot means that some industries are gradually leaving and new ones coming in. Apply a crisis strategy: go in the direction in which the market is being redistributed at the moment. For example, during a pandemic: for some it was a crisis, but for some it was a success. Those who made video calls before the pandemic ended up going where the market was redistributed, and the pandemic was only a catalyst for this redistribution. Now, we can talk about a post-covid period, where everything gradually returns to its normal life. How far has the world rolled back to its starting point? A majority of the tools we used to survive and maintain a semblance of normality are now a habit for us. Video conferencing format has not completely changed: of course, there will be a recession period where people prefer and seek face to face communication and steer away from “Zoom fatigue”, but it will not roll back to the starting point as it was pre-pandemic If your business thinks through the idea and concept correctly and continually adapt and move towards your users, growth will happen regardless.
Why did you choose Agile, Kanban and Scrum as your development methodology?
Valery: When we operate in limited predictability, where the result depends on each individual talent and their expertise and you need a certain flexibility, the ability to quickly switch and reschedule. This is exactly what Agile accomplishes: it is not the absence of a plan, it is a flexible approach to planning, management and work.
In Agile, a large role is assigned to performers, so we focus on self-organization and self-management. This methodology empowers teams to work efficiently: Kanban, like Scrum and Agile, allows you to work and manage all processes based on facts. Having made a short iteration or task, we get the result, control it and move to the next.
The most important thing in making managerial decisions is the information that you receive.
We make decisions based on analytics, specific data.he quality of analytics directly affects the effectiveness of the decisions you make and the people in charge of making them.Agile allows us to make short iterations and show the result, then receive feedback and iterate, this improves the quality of the decisions… One way or another, we work for the customer: they can be the end user or a group of stakeholders who are engaged in acceptance and analysis, it can be a Product Owner to allow for incremental improvements.
If you want the product to bring monetization as the end result, you initially need to look at the product not as an app development, but as a launch of a business project. With this vision, we need to plan and quickly respond to find success.
Many product companies have a Product Manager. Is this position needed in the Scrum team and how is it transformed in this framework? What is the difference between a Product Owner and a Product Manager, what are their goals and responsibilities?
Valery: The difference between a Product Manager and Product Owner is in one word and one methodology: Product Owner is Scrum, Product Manager is PMBOK. This is the same role in different approaches: PMBOK says that the Product Manager manages the product, its development strategy. Their responsibility is to bring the product to market. The Product Owner may have assistants such as a Project Manager who accompanies the development process. A Product Owner is a definition from Scrum. If we compare their basic functions and responsibilities, then they generally coincide: this is the same person, but from different methodologies. Of course, they differ in some nuances and details, but this is because the methodologies themselves differ from each other. PMBOK initially describes the functionality, requirements and approaches in more detail, when Scrum is less detailed. But there is only one conclusion: Product Manager and Product Owner is the person who is responsible for the implementation of the product’s goals and its value.
Does the investor often agree to the role of the Product Owner, does he want to take it on himself?
Valery: There are always two models: if your customer is a large company, then the investor himself wouldn’t be the Product Owner, it will be one of the company’s employees who works in this direction and knows the domain and processes well. If we are referring to small projects, most likely the company will not have the resources to hire an individual employee. They will want to save money, so they will allocate someone from the company’s leaders, for example, the head of the department or the original idea owner.
What are the requirements for a Product Owner?
First, understand how the methodology works.
Second, understand the market in which the product is launched to prioritize requirements in order to maximize product value.
Third, understand the finances and metrics to measure the team’s performance and the efficiency of product implementation.
Large corporations often ask the contractor to hire a Product Owner, but this creates a problem: the customer’s monitoring tool will be constricted, and the involvement will be lower. I try to keep the Product Owner on the customer’s side: they should be as involved as possible in the product creation process. The customer knows the domain area and understands the market’s needs.
If a customer brings the product owner with the competency and skill, yet they don’t understand Scrum. You’ll need to dedicate time onboarding, building relationships and learning. Once the training period has successfully passed, then you can get a team that will launch mind blowing products for the target customer. This approach is more effective, because the customer’s involvement will trigger creative ideas and unique solutions from the technical side, essentially creating product development synergy.
Let’s talk about pivoting in the product development process. How do you know when it’s time to pivot?
A product reversal is a change in direction and often needed when more information about the consumer or market is needed. Then we continuously create product elements and show them to consumers on the market (or to a limited circle of consumers) to gather feedback. After that, we receive new information, paying attention to market signals and changing situations , and we make a decision to turn in one direction. Agile is based on the principles that pivoting is a continuous practice, it is tied to retrospectives and the analysis of the result obtained: you can go to a conference and get inspired, get new insights, product analytics and decide on a reversal.
Sometimes by this definition we mean something large-scale, but in fact, decisions are made at the team level. This is a question of the product scale: the smaller it is, the fewer the number of people who make decisions based on the new data. In addition to external factors, such as changes in the market, there are also internal ones, when you are inspired by something and want to slightly change your format. The third factor is consumers: they provide feedback on the basis of which conclusions and decisions need to be made. Can you conceptually change a product’s business model quickly? This, again, depends on the scale of the product. In any case, if you move in development with small iterations, then with the same small iterations you do a pivot. Agile is a continuous work with incoming data from consumers, external market factors and the team.
What is a Product Roadmap based on? What should I pay attention to when drawing a roadmap?
Valery: A roadmap is part of a large product strategy. If we create a product and collect ideas from analogs, then let’s be honest: we have no core idea and start collecting “features”, eventually assembling something similar to the car from the “Mad Max” movie. To avoid this, a core idea is needed. Of course, we get inspired from the markets we study, whether it be from books, articles, or competitive analysis, etc.The core idea allows us to look critically at the incoming information through its prism, understand how to use it and filter out anything unnecessary. If there is no core idea, then the product is just a glorified wishlist. This is why you need a Product Owner, they form the core idea a study the market frustrations. A product idea is a solution to a consumer’s problem. The Product Owner finds an idea, formulates it and looks for a way to implement it. Using the Agile methodology, the idea builds the roadmap to create a product and rethink it based on new information. By looking at the product life cycle with this lens, we solve the consumer’s problem, while limiting the cost of investment and being profitable. For this to work, you must always understand the latest in trends, and at the same time, understand your users.
How do we avoid developing unnecessary functionality? Why, when developing a product, the main focus shouldn’t be on new features and current trends, but on solving problems and achieving goals?
Valery: Not everything that is trending is effective, because we can rarely evaluate the results and it lacks the ability to run through the prism of the core idea.You must have a global goal that is decomposed into subgoals and tasks. If you start with features and don’t have a goal, then you are experimenting. Of course, external sources of information are important: how the market lives, what products are launched, but everything needs to be passed through the core idea and the consumer – perhaps your audience isn’t even affected by the latest trends.
How to form an employee engagement?
First: the ability to influence the final result. Agile calls for this: through feedback and retrospectives, we empower people to influence the final result of the product.
Second: the ability to influence the approaches and practices that you use when working together. If, through feedback and retrospectives, people influence the product, they should be able to influence the organization to operate the same.
Third: build processes within the organization and show in practice that no matter what your position and status in the hierarchical structure of the company – everyone obeys the processes in the same way. This way we can increase team engagement and achieve better results.
– Valery, thank you very much for such a detailed and informative interview! It was very nice to talk to you.
– Valery: Thank you! 😊
Dear readers, stay in touch! Every month we will publish useful and interesting articles about product development from our leading experts in the blog. See you soon 😊 !