Team Spirit + Exciting Project = Good Product (and vice versa)


Product is crafted by people. It is not a sum of collaborative work. It’s usually a combination of work, excitement, collaborative ideas, feedback loop inside the team throughout the whole project lifecycle.

Passion is right at the heart of every person, and if environment tends to motivate – a person will work hard to achieve a good result (appreciated by the team and himself). Moreover, working with passionate team amplifies the overall product, makes it bigger than sum of efforts.

I approach to motivation as to a three-factor equation.

  • Excitement about the project (and willingness to work on it)
  • Ability to apply your skills (and improve them)
  • Compensational part

Let’s leave out compensational part. Let’s also make a note, that such approach doesn’t work on lousy boring projects.

The rest two points are extremely transparent, if you work in a smaller companies with more or less ‘flat’ hierarchy and informal communication.

Excitement about the project comes from inspiration. It could be something cool, that brings value to the market. Aspirational team, that challenges you, while you challenge them. This makes it extremely easy to go & do your job day by day. Such teams later stick together, even working on different products, to exchange ideas and share experience (as we did with Ufa42 Conference).


Once the project is exciting, challenging – person starts to work hard in order to bring his valuable contribution. Developer, manager, designer, analyst – everyone is involved into general decisions, everyone is able to improve the product from the inside. Which means he can apply his skills in a good way, practice fresh approaches and technics, learn on mistakes, tune the workflow.

However, lack of involvement in product creation (aside from simply doing your job), vertical hierarchy and formal chain of command – it all kills the motivation. This brings us back to our equation: team is unhappy, not motivated = product not exciting. World doesn’t need boring products. Don’t forget: awesome pros won’t stick with something dull for a long time, they will leave as soon as they can. And we all know, that finding great teams is something almost impossible :) App Rollout: Better Feedback Loop, Faster Iterations

When developing iPhone app, we had the following cirqles to deliver to:

  • Developers
  • QA
  • Early adopters
  • General Audience (AppStore)

And the following problems to solve:

  • Provide Beta access with faster update pace and immediate critical bug fixing for early adopters (as in microsoft’s inner circle);
  • Make AppStore version as stable as possible;
  • Receive feedback on earlier stages, experiment with a limited set of users and influencers.

A scheme we came up with eventually, has three (four in special cases) versions before the final AppStore release. Each version is rolled out out for certain circle, with different readiness level.

Storia Alpha

Internal build for developers. After code is frozen, feature-complete version is sent to Preprod.  Alpha version may be used as a proof-of-concept prototype, since it usually doesn’t require QA stage. Distributed via hockeyapp. Connected to dev server.

Storia Preprod

Internal build for QA team, before we release stable version. After critical and major bugs fixed, Preprod becomes a Beta. Distributed via hockeyapp. Connected to preproduction server.

Quite often preprod version is tested together with design team, in order to see how well the mockup works in extreme cases.

Storia Beta

Stable version for early adopters. Helps in revealing bugs, inconsistencies and everything else that fell out of scope during previous stages, shows overall initial reception. Has a 1-week period for testing, before AppStore submission.

Version that is used by stakeholders, everyone in the company and users from countries, where Storia is not released yet. Distributed via hockeyapp. Connected to production server.

Why hockeyapp?

  • It is cross-platform, meaning that we can extrapolate iOS scheme to Android.
  • It shows new updates instantly, meaning we can be sure that most Beta users are using the latest version.

Bug fixing and merging

Fixes are merged into current version branch. If QA team finds a bug in Beta version – fixed are merged in Beta.

It is obvious, that we cannot hotfix an AppStore version =) Critical fixes are tested in Beta and issued as an AppStore update (depending on severity). Minor fixes are added to the next planned version.

Special cases, Storia Testflight


Testflight version is identical to Beta and the one submitted to AppStore. Connected to production server. We use it when we need to test a certain feature on production server privately. We needed to test video recording & processing on backend, but couldn’t rollout this features to Beta access (they could have produced a lot of broken content). Testflight Version was internally tested on production server by dev and QA teams, and proceeded to App Store once all obstacles were moved out of the way.

  • Q: Why to AppStore, and not to beta?
  • A: We rolled out video recording and playback features simultaneously for general public and Beta access).

Bug fixing for Testflight version sometimes involved rolling out the fix in Beta, since hockeyapp update takes a bit less time to process.

For the past 9 months, come hell or high water, this flow proved itself to be efficient and transparent. It took two sprints initially to get used to the scheme and tune it a bit. Release cycle is stable, updates work well, adopters get new features faster, team receives feedback earlier.

I would love to hear criticism, or get a fresh look at similar distribution process in your teams =)

Many thanks to Rishat, Ksenia for edits.

Improving App Design Review, Ensuring Design is Ready for Development


Well-coordinated work across teams – let’s say design and development – is a huge deal when it comes to delivering a good product on time! So, part of my job as a project manager is making sure that the assets passed from design into development are ready for implementation.

At the very heart of the process, design review is nothing complex. You should know human interface guidelines, platform restrictions, requirements and a little bit of common sense =)

Here are the common issues I often face, when reviewing design:

  • Design does not incorporate all the details on features planned;
  • Navigation controls are used inappropriately from the native experience point of view; or simply not intuitive;
  • Assets are missing during delivery phase;
  • Mockup does not look good, when populated with real user data; mockup has not been stress-tested on extreme cases.

As our teams worked together, we optimized our process to minimize adverse effects on the points above.

1. Kick-off with an interview.

When the team is excited – it shines in willingness to collaborate on building a valuable product. Once an applicant to a designer position is excited – she starts to ask questions and share her ideas. I try to understand what the candidate thinks about the project, her motivation, her past projects experience: was there an established flow when this designer had been working on a product, how did the teams collaborate.

Usually, our projects involve UX and UI designer. An iPhone UX expert knows navigation controls, their proper use, typical user flows, analytics and split testing, how to structure information elegantly and effectively. She creates prototypes and mockups for the upcoming app. UI designer provides GUI for a mock up (colors, iconsets, sizes for different resolutions).

2. Help designer to understand the product, build solid requirements

There is a timeframe for a designer to get to know the product. Have materials prepared, older designs structured (for the retrospective view), corner cases described.

The whole team was pleasantly surprised when our new UX designer asked for requirements documents and stayed knee-deep in them for a couple of days. He came up with rational and neat optimization.

We describe global functional requirements in Confluence, with obstacles, corner cases and retrospectives added to the main article. This gives a designer (and practically any new person in the team) the understanding which issues and mistakes we faced, what are the bottlenecks of particular solutions, and why we currently have an effective solution if we already do.

We describe platform-specific flows and requirements in User Stories, which also work as checklists for designers.

The one thing I want to point at again, are the corner cases. They usually fall out of scope and do not apply to typical user behavior, but may result in unpleasant experience. We brief a designer on corner cases before he starts prototyping.

3. Create checklists for mockups

There is a quite popular problem companies face: real user data doesn’t play nicely with the mockup. The design may look gorgeous and trendy and flat, but once you start populating it with longer names, venues, low quality photos, vivid photos that make overlayed text unreadable – the whole greatness falls apart. What to do here?

  • Reflect min and max length for the fields in the requirements. This way designer knows what to expect from the real data.
  • Prepare corner case text examples, to check how well the mockup stands against them. For example, use location named ‘Venkata Narasimha Raju vari Bahadur’ instead of ‘Union Station’. Show how long text should be cut, if needed.
  • Keep in mind that if you support multiple languages, some buttons may require more space for a label to fit.
  • Check for active / inactive states for buttons, segments, toolbars.
  • Alerts and message boxes for whatever reason can be (connection loss, lack of space, unsaved data, …)
  • Text overlays. If text overlays a picture, be sure that text is still readable even on a bright vivid photograph.

4. Wording for mockups

Wording mistakes happen quite often. You may have ‘Done’ button in current application, and ‘Save’ in an updated mockup, or even different labels for the same action in different sections. I make sure wording is correct and synced across designs, before dev team starts implementing it. Easiest path is to have all metaphors documented inside a task-tracking or wiki-system, so that designer knows how to name each element properly. This saves a lot of time and nerve for everyone involved.

5. Standardize assets delivery

In order to be sure we got all the assets we need we created a small guide on design delivery in a form of simple folder structure.

    - #project_iOS 
        - #comments_screen
            - comments.psd
            - #_icons
                - icon.png (for 1x)
                - icon_@2x.png (for retina)
                - icon_@3x.png (for retina HD)

This hierarchy serves to ensure we have needed states and sizes for icons, and a structure that will confuse noone.

Overall, I hope that this brief article helps you optimise your process and get design delivered faster =)

Special thanks to Ksenia, Rishat, Igor for reviews =)

How to accurately estimate external projects. Part 1 – Delays caused by communication


This is a first article from “How to accurately estimate incoming projects” series, aimed to help you see the possible future pitfalls. This includes both outsourcing projects and the ones where different teams around the world are involved.IT industry is dynamic. Companies change APIs, IDEs, upgrade hosting servers software, raise new compatibility issues. Of course improvements are welcome, but there is no way you will have a perfect product once and forever – it needs to be re-iterated. Don’t forget about hundreds of different environments that the system should work on. And people.

1. Client Interaction Time

It’s not a big deal when we are talking about local business (and even in such close distance email response delay time could be significant and expensive), but when you’re dealing with international clients and partners, this becomes a more significant issue.

There are several simple rules that are wise to follow in order to keep up with the deadlines:

  • Don’t underestimate time needed for interaction;
  • Client won’t run and read your email instantly, he has work to do;
  • Response time could vary, but prepare for the worst.

Let’s look at an example: you are building an ecommerce website. The catalogues structure is a bit tricky so you need to clarify where a product recommendation slider leads.

  1. You send the request;
  2. Client reads it in 2 hours;
  3. Gets back to you with some questions in order provide proper answer;
  4. When you answer him – you are already off from work;
  5. You read the final response the next day only.

Of course it’s not what may happen every time, but you need to take such issues into account before they happen. Here is what could cause “lags” on the client side as well:

  • Clarification from a third party (could be a hosting provider, lawyers, content providers, etc);
  • Interaction between departments;
  • Approval of department manager and other bureaucratic procedures.

In addition to that, there’s been quite a few times, when our clients from other countries needed to clarify detailed info with a a third-party with no people on that side speaking English at all.
The main point of this section is to make you understand how heavily client interaction lag can affect the entire project. It’s worth mentioning because these things rather frequently fall out of scope of attention.

How to avoid possible adverse effects? A checklist or a roadmap will be helpful to manage handling tasks in advance. In Codebranch, we prepare a project roadmap with Freeze dates, which are the last dates that a certain part of team-client interaction is due. For instance, there are:

  • Design Freeze Date – this is when the client takes a final approval and signoff to the proposed design, all the amendments and improvements to the design have to go before that date.
  • Functionality Freeze Date – the milestone by which the final application functionality should be agreed upon.
  • Content Delivery Date – this is when the content provided by client is due, so the client would know the timing in advance and have enough time to gather the content.
  • Hosting or CDN accounts purchase dates, domain name registration deadline – when, and no later, the accounts need to be available to the development team in order to set the environment up and deploy on time.

These dates are elaborated together with the client, basing on the delivery timelines that the client suggests, and adjusted accoring to the internal development milestones. This approach helps both the team and the client meet the responsibilities in working on a web project, and contributes into building a good working relationship.

no title

Nothing new this 2 weeks. Well, in fact tons of new stuff this 2 weeks, but no time to blog at all. We are experiencing extreme-2-week-game-development and are almost ready to release “how not to screw up big projects” book (this is a joke, everything’s under control).

Meanwhile, we posted some stuff at codebranch blog, and want to say “HI” to our folks at LeWeb in Paris this week ;)

Here are the previews for two next posts:

How to Accurately Estimate Projects for Outsourcing? Part I – Delays Caused by Communication

In addition to that, there’s been quite a few times, when our clients from other countries needed to clarify detailed info with a a third-party with no people on that side speaking English at all.
The main point of this section is to make you understand how heavily client interaction lag can affect the entire project. It’s worth mentioning because these things rather frequently fall out of scope of attention.

How to avoid possible adverse effects? A checklist or a roadmap will be helpful to manage handling tasks in advance. In Codebranch, we prepare a project roadmap with Freeze dates, which are the last dates that a certain part of team-client interaction is due

How to accurately estimate outsourcing projects. Part II: Accessing Web Services

1. Compatibility and environment issues.

The most common problem though is the environment. Whether it’s an API, a plugin to work with it, it may require additional adjustments to your server. Documentation should be carefully revised so that there are no flops when integrating the solution into your own website or service.

2. Sometimes a client wants solution for a service, that has no public API. i.e. Pinterest has no public API and provides a gateway just for iOS.

Developers start to use workarounds, gather together to find solutions. And so – 3rd party APIs are born. Returning to Pinterest, as a great example, apps that use 3rd party API access Pinterest via iOS gateway, identifying themselves as iPhone. Of course, that won’t always work as expected, even minor changes in Pinterest API now breaks almost every single app that uses 3rd party API.

MS to challenge interactive web with kinect controlling JS library


Latest post by LongZheng reveals MS Research’s plans to ship JS library for kinect-enabled website. We already mentioned this in our twitter, but today’s little article will take a look at opportunities that this fact brings to the market.

Kinect has been a revolutionary addition for XBOX and sold millions of copies first year, becoming the fastest selling product in Microsoft’s history. Although, I didn’t like the release name (codename: “Project Natal” was much smoother to our ears), we all now take it for granted. There are still no hardcore games for Kinect, titles like Sesame street (a must-notice title for parents out there) and Kinect adventures are great for kids so they sell well, while Dance Central series popularize this device as an entertainment.

It is said, that Microsoft gets in a right vibe on the third time. Kinect sold more than 18 million devices in 1.5 years, but the development for 3rd parties has been limited due to lack of experience. However, consumers love and use Kinect voice more than Kinect-gestured controls, simply because of the accuracy and easiness. “XBOX Pause/Play/Search” words are much more comfortable, than trying to swipe left and right with your hands in attempt to make a menu scroll.

Kinect for Windows Release and the Beginning of Kinect Hacks

In February 2012, Microsoft released Kinect for Windows, with improved sensors and SDK. And while many people were skeptic about the reception, partially because of the higher price, researchers and developers loved that they wouldn’t need xbox to play around with Kinect anymore. Thus, PC/MAC-based experiments started to crowd coding4fun section at channel9.

We remember first example Kinect-enabled virtual fitting room in Topshop, Moscow. That was really cool. Accuracy was average, but the customers loved to see if the dress fits their style without trying it on. And of course – social network sharing.

FakeCake Dressing Room

Kinect SDK made it pretty easy to track body parts moving.

There are 20 parts that kinect can track:

  • left foot, right foot
  • left ankle. right ankle
  • left knee, right knee
  • left hip, right hip
  • hip center
  • spine
  • shoulder center
  • left shoulder, right shoulder
  • left elbow, right elbow
  • left wrist, right wrist
  • left hand, right hand
  • head

It’s an initiative of MS Research, to ship the library. No further details revealed, since it’s only a peek.

Since its first appearance as a companion for Augmented Reality (AR), Kinect is quickly growing as a must for various digital media events. Mostly these are digital kiosks for interactive advertising. There are tons of articles and case studies written about how Kinect is used in advertising, but the post mentioned above expands the development part, merging kinect-enabled web and application development together.

Opportunity to Jump In for Web Developers

Today’s approach for developing Kinect applications is the same as any other involving sensors: you take the SDK, create an app, connect the device and test it, get the data you need. JavaScript library for Kinect-enabled websites could help merging the application development, limiting the functionality but making the solution more universal. Just imagine: you create a website with an interactive kinect-enabled module. Of course, talking about Microsoft’s piece of technology, we get a platform limitation: feature is IE only. Features are delivered via ActiveX, and that means no support for other browsers. Good news: IE9 and 10 are much better than the older versions and are capable of rendering great websites (almost) correctly.

This website would provide the same content both for common users, as well as for the interactive user group. No need to develop a special app, just integrate your module into the website and place a giant display onto the windows: engage your users via interaction and create unified experience both on interactive and common web browsing sides.

This in fact could engage many web developers to experiment with the controller and to position the Web as a great place for Kinect Hacks and Tricks. We will definitely follow the story.

Read this:

Microsoft Research to ship Kinected Browser JavaScript library for Kinect-enabled websites
Interactive Tabletops and Surfaces Conference
Kinect Controlled SwimBrowser
Microsoft Research, Kinected Browser
Kinected Browser: Depth Camera Interaction for the Web