This is the fifth article in a continuing monthly series chronicling the growth path of Screenreach Interactive, a startup based in Newcastle upon Tyne in England’s North East. Screenreach’s flagship product, Screach, is an interactive digital media platform that allows users to create real-time, two-way interactive experiences between a smart device (through the Screach app) and any content, on any screen or just within the mobile device itself. We invite your feedback.
In our last post, we looked at how Screenreach Interactive is managing its beta testing process to prepare for the launch of a new version of Screach in the near future. We focused on the logistics of soliciting, encouraging, filtering and interpreting user feedback to fine tune and debug the new app.
But working toward a deadline and ensuring that all of the pieces fall into place is about much more than technical and logistical details. Perhaps the most important variable to manage is the human factor. Individuals from different parts of the organization, each with their own role and responsibilities, must work together collaboratively and appreciate the needs and priorities of their peers.
“We are fortunate to have a team that is more interested in achieving an ultimate common goal than focusing on their own interests,” said Screenreach CEO Paul Rawlings. “Decisions must be made based on what’s best for the product and the collective.”
In this post, we’ll look at how the beta testing process is coming along and how the Screenreach team has learned to keep everyone rowing in the same direction.
Assessing the feedback as a team
In the last post, we described two different third-party platforms that Screenreach is using to help manage the beta testing process. The first is Test Flight, a free web service that provides developers with an easy means to distribute their beta apps for testing. The other is Get Satisfaction, an online platform for brands to host their community of users, interact with them, and collate the feedback.
To quickly and easily disseminate the data, the Screenreach team categorized the feedback from Get Satisfaction based on whether it was related to bugs, functionality, user experience, design or was simply a content-based suggestion.
Assessing the feedback involved the whole Screenreach team. As marketing manager Sarah Athey pointed out, “the whole team had already been involved in engaging with the beta testers so many of them already had a good understanding of the feedback we’d received.”
This is important. Preparing and launching a product touches every aspect of an organization, from sales and marketing to technical support.
“We place a big emphasis on the whole team having ownership of the product, so for us it’s essential that everyone is involved,” said Robyn Lingard, head of operations. “We only ever take decisions to small groups once the discussion has been narrowed down and refined.”
However, this approach doesn’t come without its challenges, not the least of which is keeping the process from getting bogged down.
“When things like this are discussed you have to be aware that each department is looking at the suggestions with more of a design, development, or marketing eye based on their expertise,” Lingard said. “Although this can cause conflicting suggestions, it’s vital for getting the overall picture and coming to those decisions together based on these different perspectives.”
Crunching the data, making the decision
Once priorities have been set through this team process, the senior team looks at the themes which have emerged that impact on the technical aspects of the app. They must consider what changes in functionality and design should be made and what impacts this will have elsewhere. Always, the emphasis is on looking at the final product from the end-user’s point of view.
“Then it’s time to get down to the real work,” said Lingard.
Lingard, along with Screenreach’s account manager, created an action plan for the whole team based on what the senior team decided. To help manage the process, Screenreach uses another third-party platform, a project management and online collaboration software called Basecamp.
With the launch of the new version of Screach only weeks away, the team is busy working through final changes and testing them along the way to resolve any issues early.
“In all of this, it is very important for us to be aware of what our individual roles are and how they have to complement the work and objectives of our colleagues,” Lingard said. “When working to such tight and precise deadlines it is essential that everyone is working in sync.”
Early on, the team encountered some challenges in this regard. Messages would get miscommunicated within a group that included highly technical individuals and those who were less so.
“We realized this early on in the process and had to step back and realign,” Lingard said.
Openness is crucial. Screenreach has a very strong collaborative team culture and full team meetings are used as a forum in which every individual is encouraged to discuss how work is being managed, how they are coping and how effectively the team is functioning. These meetings will often erupt into brainstorming sessions with unexpected benefits, such as a developer coming up with the solution to a marketing problem, or one of the sales teams solving an issue for the design team.
“I think many people can shy away from such openness but by always agreeing that we are all working towards the same ultimate goal, we accept that we have to constantly adapt to achieve this,” Rawlings said. “What worked for us as team three months ago will almost certainly not work in the same capacity today. We’ve found that by regularly changing our approach – and never our goals – we are evolving as a team as much as our product is.”
While the team has had challenging times over the past few weeks, Rawlings emphasizes the importance of taking advantage of those times when things go wrong to sit back, assess what’s happened and speak frankly to clear the air.
“It’s easy to put issues to one side while preparing for a launch, but actually they are what determine whether you make it through or not,” he said. “We’ve always actively encouraged team members to raise any issues they have.”
Of course, unforeseen hiccups do arise, such as a recent incident in which a key team member came down sick and everyone had to scramble to pick up the slack and keep things on track. But in Rawlings’ view, if someone is struggling to meet their targets despite their best efforts, it is a symptom of a deeper issue.
“We’ve learned that, without a doubt, any problem is never one person’s fault or responsibility,” he said. “If someone is struggling to make a deadline then we need to look back through the full production chain and assess why this might be. Doing so will perhaps raise two or three areas for improvement across multiple departments. Then we can act on these.”
In out next instalment, we will catch up with the team post-launch to see how it turned out.