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A Lean Startup Approach to Service Design and Mobile App Development

In 2017 it is no longer the big that eat the small, it’s the fast that eat the slow. Time to market is the new currency. This requires a different mindset than we’re used to in traditional software development projects. Lean startup is a methodology that aims to shorten product development cycles by adoption a combination of business-hypothesis-driven experimentation, iterative product releases, and validated learning.

Backelite and Capgemini were challenged by Smartly to create mobile apps for multiple platforms with a lean startup approach. Challenge accepted!

Team Smartly - powered by Backelite and Capgemini

On Team Smartly’s bench: Børge Østrem, Anders Malmo, Rafal Wierzbicki, Geir Ove Bøe, Lars Kristian Hagen and Ole Fredrik Lie. Together we’re a small multidisciplinary army of designers, developers and test engineers from Backelite and Capgemini.

The challenge: Design, develop, test and ship a cross platform mobile app in six weeks

Our first challenge was to making charging electric vehicles easier for residents of housing cooperatives. Norway’s tax system heavily favors eco-friendly choices,  making Norway one of the countries with the most electric cars per capita. However, not everyone has the ability to recharge their electric cars at home, especially residents of housing cooperatives and condominiums. Smartly is a company that is owned by Lyse, a major energy company in Norway. Their goal is to enable home charging for as many people as possible.

We started with a clean slate and the first release to App Store and Google Play should take place in just six weeks after the project was started.

On a high level, our tasks included:

  • Value proposition design
  • Ethnographic research
  • User story mapping
  • Analyzing technical requirements
  • Getting familiar with third party APIs
  • Designing wireframes
  • High-fidelity prototyping
  • Usability testing
  • Implementing the visual design
  • User management and authentication
  • Testing
  • Bug fixing
  • Setting up deployment routines etc.

We were also given the task of making user stories and a prototype for a new home automation solution. Some of the home automation features will integrate with our app in the next release. The ultimate goal is to provide users with a power tool for controlling several aspects of their digital life, including charging electric vehicles and home automation control.

The design process

We have adopted the core model as part of how we work. In brief, it is about designing from the inside out, focusing on the main tasks that users will perform. All design decisions are seen in the context of business objectives and user tasks.

Value proposition design workshop
Value Proposition Design in progress

Ethnographic research is a key success factor for making usable products. The whole team has been involved in testing the electric car chargers. We also visited a demo apartment with smart house functionality, in order to fully understand what should be designed and engineered and to understand the purpose of the product we are going to make.

We used Trello to map out requirements and user stories, based on the insight we got from ethnographic research and dialogue with our client and a selection of end-users. Then we sketched user flows on whiteboard and paper before we moved to Adobe XD, which is a very effective tool for design and prototyping on screen. In this blog post, I’ve written some thoughts about why I like Adobe XD as a tool for UI design and prototyping.

Adobe XD artboards for the next release of the Smartly app
A zoomed-out view of the artboards in our Adobe XD prototype

We used the cloud sharing functionality in Adobe XD to distribute the prototypes across the team, which worked out very well.

Tech stack

We use Xamarin Forms, which is a toolbox for quickly building native apps for iOS and Android in C#. We estimate that around 90% of our code base is shared between the two platforms, which saves us a lot of development time, as we don’t have to re-write the entire application for each platform.

The app is integrated with our own backend and third party APIs for handling user authentication and communicating with the physical charging stations.

For testing, we are using various Android and iOS devices, in addition to automated testing with Xamarin Test Cloud.

The first release and the way ahead

In just six weeks we have successfully gone from having nothing the release of version 1.0.0. You can find it in Google Play and App Store.

Available in App Store and Google Play
“Elbillading” now available in App Store and Google Play

Last but not least, the design is currently about two sprints ahead of the development cycle, which means we have already established a backlog and a prototype for the next release. As for now, the prototype for release two consists of more than 50 views that will be user-tested, refined and implemented in Xamarin Forms.

Because of our lean startup approach to ways of working, we have now delivered the first release of a new product to the market. We will add more features, fix bugs and adjust the design as we go. We really believe that frequent release cycles is the way to go.