Manuel Mendez is a Boston-based tech genius who knows why most businesses struggle to create software and apps that connect with the marketplace.
He learned his trade from Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber, co-inventors of Scrum and original signatories of the Agile Manifesto.
He’s built surgical software systems at Cerner, ran a technology innovation lab at GE Healthcare, and just last year, as CTO of a startup, he turned the concept of a real-time real estate lead delivery system into actual software running at three enterprise partners.
So if anyone’s qualified to explain what it takes to build out great software and apps, it would be Mendez.
Michael: So where exactly do you start, when you’re designing software or an app?
Manuel: Whether the software is for a large enterprise across time zones, a small business website, or for an entrepreneur with an idea, the first step is to define your “user.” Whether you are a visionary genius, or rely on marketing and a product owner, you have to imagine that user and attach an imaginary personality for this archetype or “persona.”
But here’s the first gotcha. When founders and executives (and even venture capitalists) think of their target user, they naturally think of themselves. Or of a few of their friends with shared backgrounds and tastes. And desires and needs.
But if you want to reach a commercial success, you need staff to truly challenge your assumptions and expand your target user base beyond your preconceptions. I didn’t grow up in the United States, so my employers have benefited from a global perspective I try to bring to the table.
Michael: You’ve got your persona. What comes next?
Manuel: Next comes a set of stories featuring the interactions between this persona and the app. This becomes your big wish list –which is then reduced to a subset of must-haves for the app to be successful. This list, called the Minimum Viable Product, becomes your most valuable player among your intellectual assets.
Here comes a second gotcha. Is this truly a smallest subset, or is it loaded with expensive bells and whistles but missing key features? Is the MVP technically feasible within your budget and deadlines? Does your engineer have a business background? Because otherwise he could just spin your wheels and spend your money.
Michael: You’ve got your MVP, so next you assemble the developers?
Manuel: Exactly. You also need a team leader with the ability to recruit and cover all the technical angles to reach a cohesive whole, or select the right agency if you are going that way.
Then comes the daily grind and operations know-how, let it be Agile or Lean Startup. Engineers will look at the MVP and voilà, with sustainable and high quality team coding an app is born, ready to take the world by storm, raining fabulous profits and equity on all.
Michael: Sounds easy. Unless the persona you created – your imaginary customer – has nothing to do with actual buyers.
Manuel: Exactly. There are lots of pitfalls along the way. The results of a disconnect between real users and personas, even with a lot of funding, can be failed startups like Bodega ro Juicero. Or your engineering can forget the business and concentrate on techie stuff. Auctionata had cool engineering for live auctions, but did not question if competing against eBay was a reasonable proposition.
Michael: Somebody should have thought of that.
Manuel: Yup. Or take Hello, a sleep tracker. It had great technology and all, but it was always kept looking for a market. The worst, of course, is to never have software that is remotely good enough for you to release, to run out of time and money (and patience) before you can build that killer app.