Integrating developer communities in your growth strategy.

Communities are an integral part of the software industry; they have been a cornerstone for how we have embraced technology all around us. Since the beginning, user groups such as the Homebrew Computer Club in Silicon Valley, and many of today’s technology companies, started with just a few people getting together to create what they believed to be a product or service that could impact the world.

With the creation of the Open Source and Free Software movement more and more subgroups have been created, and in doing so, they have brought diversity to our industry. The focus has been in all aspects of the technology stack with unbelievable results such as the Linux operating system, the Apache server, Python, PHP, Android and other programming tools. So many platforms that power today’s infrastructure were created in a joint effort by its members that come from all parts of the world.

But one of the most important aspects of communities has been the subset of communities that are created inside a company. Community subsets have created opportunities for groups of individuals to impact the tech industry in ways that no human resources professional would have thought; intrapreneurship, the supporting of internal endeavors, fuels innovation from inside an enterprise.

A company that encourages and incentivizes its members to form groups, to share their knowledge and to discover different ways solve software industry problems, taps into a valuable source of creative intellectual property that will help it thrive in a fast changing market.

Opportunities to create and discuss the future.

Being part of a developer community at Nearsoft has provided the PlanningWith.Cards team with the support and commitment needed to create products that are focused on the problem of maintaining efficency within a remote software development team.

We wish to share what we have done internally to support our initial growth stage of the Hangouts plugin to create Planning Poker sessions with your remote team. The initial idea came about as a way to solve the hassle of estimating with our clients, but we also experienced the need with our own internal team which is spread across northern and central Mexico and covers two timezones.

When we first started thinking of how to develop this solution and we came up with four principles:

  • Enable human connections through the platform
  • Use technology that we are already using with our clients
  • Make a platform robust enough that we could develop on top of it
  • Video is to take the center stage in the solution

A small team of two people started to work on this solution and within no time we had our initial minimum viable prototype. We began using the prototype with some of our clients and internal supporters. We pushed around internal spec sheets for people to fill out and the team reviewed them to create a features backlog.

Through the various discussions in all of our internal communication platforms, we obtained enough data that provided the confidence we needed to offer the plugin outside of our circle of friends and supporters; we had now received the necessary feedback to make the first production version market ready.

But most importantly we asked the tough questions — How do you think we could enable more efficiency in estimating software tasks? Which development ecosystem should we tap into to create this solution?

Google Hangouts pushed its early API in 2011 and many of us believed that it would become a killer app for messaging and communications. So, we started to create our plugin on the Google platform which was done by tapping into the wisdom of the Nearsoft community.

By doing so our plugin was installed in more than 100 companies from all over the world! :)

Collaboration and co-creation of solutions.

This year we had the opportunity to attend Connect Week by an invitation from Atlassian. We had the Hangouts plugin and HipChat Agile Estimates add-on connect to JIRA backlogs so our users could easily estimate on top of the PlanningWith.Cards platform. This feature also came through a series of interviews we had with our initial beta users (thanks guys!) and goes to show that once you have created an initial value proposition, your own community can be a great source to providing the next steps toward creating even more value.

We had a great experience working side by side with other communities of developers, not only the Atlassian members, but also other companies attending the event. It felt great knowing that we formed part of a group of people that wanted to create products that solve problems for our industry and many others. That was how our Scrum Poker Estimates add-on for Confluence was born.

Creating a plan and executing the different product strategies is not for the faint of heart as you need to understand how you are positioning the solution in a marketplace, but talking to community members will always provide you with clues toward choosing the right path for roadmapping your product.

Some things to consider when working with platforms are:

Workflow of the users.

  • Understand key aspects of the workflow that the user is familiar with, which means knowing how to engage and communicate with them.
  • The user interface is an important part of creating on top of a platform. It is crucial that the way your product behaves inside does not interfere with what the platform looks like so as to not confuse them sensory wise.
  • Messages need to be in a standard format and be visible in the way the platform pushes them to the users. Users get lost in translation by reading messages in parts of the platform they have not seen before.

Design patterns.

  • Create mockups and sketches based on the guidelines provided by the platform. This saves your team, and your users, a lot of frustration.
  • Do not over simplify the setup process of your product. Sometimes we focus too much on getting our users ready to start as quick as possible. Remember that the onboarding process will play a crucial role in convincing them that your solution is the best solution for their problem.

Do not be afraid to ask the community for help. We found some great insights just by asking our users and the developer relations team on matters that were new to the team.

As I stated in the beginning, communities and their members are a great source for creating and building solutions. Internal and external groups will provide insights and spark innovation in many ways, an opportunity that is more open now than ever.

Ask, listen and engage with communities in your next project and you will find the right angle to pave the road for some great experiences in building software.

Keep on planning!

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