Product Chronicle: Paycheck to Paycheck

This is my chronicle of Paycheck to Paycheck, a product born from the Skookum Night Shift program. It started as an idea: a way for United Way to create awareness about poverty in Charlotte. Team Povizio, the team of gentlemen and I made a concept. We prototyped a solution. We hacked together an initial product. We developed a bunch of iterations. We got lots of feedback. And a ton of inspiration from Night Shift guest speakers. After 10 weeks, Paycheck to Paycheck turned into a minimum viable product (MVP) that we shared with United Way of Central Carolinas.

Problem

Night Shift centered around solving a real world problem using technology:

United Way is looking for a way to raise awareness about poverty and educate individuals about those struggles. United Way has researched this area and collated data to educate people about poverty in Charlotte. Utilizing this data, how can we present this information and raise awareness of poverty?

Idea

My group, Team Povizio, had a lot of ideas to solve this problem. We thought about map visualizations, infographics, scrolling webpages, videos, a “day in the life”. Our ideas were widespread.

I scheduled an exploratory call with United Way. I asked a lot of open ended questions. United Way offered to take our group through a poverty simulation. Yes! Client direction like this, early in the process, could turn our ideas into a concept for a solution to their problem.

Concept

United Way brought us through a paper poverty simulation exercise. We opened a package of Smarties. The candies represented a monthly budget for a family of 4 in poverty. We had to choose where to place the 15 candies. Those choices were like the hard choices made by those in poverty.

This exercise generated our concept for a web-accessible poverty simulation. It was also a great way for our client to meet the team, early in the product development process.

In our outside research, we learned about other online poverty simulations, like Thrive, and Spent. I discussed these with United Way. I proposed that our team create something similar. Except we would use Charlotte data, add facts about how United Way helped, and create an explicit call to action: to share this poverty simulation experience. And that would create more awareness.

Wireframes

After the Smarties exercise, we drew these wireframes:

Design Prototype

Our designer, Jonathan, created some refined wireframes. He put them into InVision to make them interactive.

Client Feedback

We presented our InVison to United Way in a client feedback session. They were really pleased with our concept. They asked a lot of clarifying questions. Mostly about editing questions and data. From the beginning, we planned to allow “changing the data” in our app, to scale for other projects, or other United Way chapters.

They did not give feedback that would change our concept, or change the product direction. So we started putting code behind our concept.

Mini-hackathon

Our developers, Brandon, Tim, and Alfonso, were pretty anxious to get coding. In fact, Brandon made the basic shell of our app on his own.

We had a mini-hackathon. Brandon shared his initial app. Alfonso, in charge of DevOps, organized our development flow. We decided to make Paycheck to Paycheck a single page React app, hosted on Heroku, from a Github repository.

Our Mini-hackathon, outside Night Shift’s normal schedule, put our product in a good place, to get a lot of work done at the real Hackathon.

Here’s the version we had going into the real Hackathon:

Hackathon

3 days. 30 hours. 10 new features. 3 bugs. 1 awesome open source contributor, Babak. Basic design implemented Beta version done. At least, what we called a Beta.

Brandon refactored his foundation version, built in logic, and squashed some bugs. Tim, our front-end liaison developer, integrated Material UI. Babak helped us with git flow and minor features. Alfonso kept us good in our development environments and created the landing page. Jonathan started work on icons and got familiar with Matierial UI. I assembled the content, tested features and bug fixes, received feedback, and even got in the code! Crazy for a PM, I know.

We left the Hackathon with this Povizio Beta:

Iteration

Our next steps were agile iterations of features, client feedback, refined design, testing, and improvements. We stayed organized with Trello. We squashed a few logic bugs. We abandoned Material UI because we couldn’t get our design to work well with it. Such is software development. Sometimes you need to scrap some hard work to move forward in the right direction.

Tools

In the end, we used these tools to make Paycheck to Paycheck a product. It amazed Team Povizio how many tools needed to create this MVP.

Soft Launch

On week 10, all the Night Shift groups practiced their final pitch presentation in a soft product launch. We saw the (nearly) complete products of the other groups for the first time. This was a great way to get last minute feedback and practice the 8-minute launch presentation. We even introduced a new “health bar” feature that showed the budget spent, and budget remaining. A late feature that made me nervous, so close to launch, but added more to our product.

Launch!

Wow! We made it! Industry Coworking in Charlotte hosted the main launch event. This was the time and place we revealed our final MVPs to our clients, Skookum, all the Night Shift participants and their guests, and other friends from the Charlotte community. United Way of Central Carolinas saw our final version, with the new an improved icons and budget bar.

Launch Presentation

Watch the whole presentation to see the culmination of 10 weeks, countless hours, lots of learning, and a MVP born:

Try Paycheck to Paycheck

Want to try out Paycheck to Paycheck? Well, you’re in luck! It’s hosted on Heroku. Be sure to share at the end, to help create awareness about poverty in Charlotte, so United Way can continue doing their great work for our community.

Team Povizio

Team Povizio was 5 stellar gentlemen, plus 1 friend. Brandon and Tim were our primary developers. Alfonso handled DevOps. Jonathan was responsible for design. I was the product manager. And Babak, our friend and contributor from the open source community, helped with development during the hackathons. It was a pleasure creating a product with all those guys.

Night Shift

Night Shift is a one of a kind experience. Participants gather at Skookum HQ in Charlotte, North Carolina to learn, hack, teach, and build amazing digital applications for real clients. Each shift includes a lecture by an industry expert, a team activity, and a homework tasks leading up to a minimum viable product. Aside from learning, participants network with like-minded professionals and make lasting friendships with smart, talented individuals.

Skookum

Skookum is a Charlotte-based, full service software development company with capabilities spanning product strategy, UI/UX design, development and support. Night Shift wouldn’t exist without Skookum’s support and awesome employees like Stephen, Jonathan, Brian, Clay, Jason, Chowie, and others.

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