Creating mobile application for executive users

User experience and usability are two of the most crucial quality considerations while developing a mobile application. It is not that difficult to ace these aspects while creating mobile applications for the people who have years of experience of using a smartphone. However, achieving the same feet becomes an entirely different story when your target users are the ones for whom smartphone has always been a luxury. When we first decided to opt for process automation at Hector Beverages, breaking the status quo of mobile application usage was a major challenge for us.

We were creating mobile applications for our sales executives so that they can perform their day-to-day activities efficiently. The sales team is the main interaction point of our customers. Vision was to solve their daily problems so that their improved experience will improve experience of our customers as well. As our company is still in growth phase, we outsourced development & testing of the software to third party vendors. Product & Project management was handled by us and vendors implemented the suggested changes/improvements. Major reasons to have such a system

1. Effectively collect sales data

2. Manage billing/stocks delivery with comparatively lesser workforce

3. Generate reports for higher management to track performance

4. Design different modules to incentivise ground sales force

5. Make changes into organizational strategy with appropriate information

Vendor Identification: Choosing a vendor for a company which is at initial growth stage is really challenging. Sudden changes in requirements, business processes etc. are a daily affair at every startup. Agility is not only important but required for survival. There are two approaches at your bay:

1. Standard Product — Requirements can be given to the company for new or improved business processes, design changes etc. but development decision stays with the vendor.

2. Customized Product — Requirements are shared periodically which takes care of improvement as well as changes in the business processes. Development decision lies with you.

Both approaches have their own merits and demerits. Standard product is generally more stable as it is being used by multiple companies and new releases are comparatively lesser. But it performs poorly for new changes and any process very specific to your organization will never be implemented. A customized product is better if you require multiple changes. But as cost is a concern, you may end up with a vendor who performs poorly on changes. To mitigate this issue, you will need a dedicated business team who acts as a partisan between your vendor and ground team for managing and implementing all the changes.

Our company’s growth pattern and requirements were very different and agile compared to other companies in FMCG sector, so we went for a customized vendor to have control on the overall development cycle. Further, vendor selection was primarily on the type of services provided, fixed and variable cost and market reputation of the company (projects with other FMCG companies). We also focused on the vendor’s team whether they have enough members who understand FMCG business in depth.

Requirement Identification: It is very important to work with users for sometime before you actually design a system to be used by them. Challenges faced by them not only comprise of business processes but also the people behind it. Most of the users come from a background where they won’t be highly efficient with English and vernacular language will make the solution very costly. Usage of very easy words which is a norm in the industry is the only solution left.

Requirements not only involve making an application which serves the business requirement, but should also keep the users in mind who will be using it. Very complicated process will often discourage the users from actually using the application, and force will disengage them not only towards work but also the company. Post field visits, discussion, comparison with similar companies etc., we clearly defined processes for sales executives.

Later we had multiple discussions with other teams which will be impacted by the product starting from finance, operations, HR team etc.

Implementation Phase: Post receiving the test build, we tested it in one of the markets by shadowing sales executives and identified few changes not captured in our initial requirement gathering phase.

With many more changes post this alpha release, we got live build and we were really happy that we will be able to storm the market with it. To our dismay, we faced humongous challenges in terms of usage pattern, performance during peak hours. This also led to a realization that average is one of the worst measurement for any execution. We faced issue during peak hours and it affected our daily operations.

Only solution was to increase server space, processor speed & ram space to resolve this issue at the earliest and we decided to perform root cause analysis post implementation to avoid any hindrance in day to day operations. During our phased implementation, we received multiple requests for improvements and changes in the current process. We kept our bucket list small for any further improvements and tackled only most critical issues so as to avoid any delay in our implementation cycle.

Post change management for over 200+ users and 22 different locations, we aggressively started working on changes to provide the best experience to our users which includes not only the ground force but managers as well. Most of the changes were more relevant for manager level users which did not affect our operations. Finally confidence for the product grew not only among the sales executive but also among the higher management.

For the easiest and fastest implementation, operations part should work flawlessly. You can always take time to improve reporting interface of the system. This will reduce the chaos during change management and also improve your efficiency to tackle operational challenges.

Hierarchy for process implementation for any application.

(Implementation from Bottom to Top )

Training & Learning: Our internal learning & development team takes care of creating PPTs & Videos on time to time basis to teach users about new changes and processes. We conduct in-location training whenever a high scaled change is being implemented. We have an external mobile device management solution to easily manage our application deployment on various devices of executives. We also conduct several incentive programs through the application to keep everyone on toes.

Going Forward: We have decided to extend our mobile application for other business channels like Modern Trade and Key Account. We have completed requirement gathering phase and currently we are alpha testing the initial builds.

Execution will always bring some unsought challenges. A good product manager/project manager needs to ensure not only that these new changes are delivered faster than ever, but should also be able to manage the external team who is using the product with the chaos created because of some of the functionality not present in your product. We also have an in house testing team who not only tests different scenario but also handles the queries/issues shared by users. We also have a plan to bring HR and finance module in the system so that executives can get all the details on phone and make it a one stop solution for everything.

Few things to always keep in mind while developing an application for non-tech users

  1. Flow should have minimal intervention from user
  2. Language should be easy and crisp
  3. Technology used should be cheaper and readily available

I will be writing soon about managing the changes at multiple stages as well with multiple functions.