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Glyn Darkin Posts

A working app in production in a week?

I strongly believe that the only way to build successful products is to get them in front of your customers. This can often be rather difficult when it comes to setting up a project as you have to buy production hardware, set up a delivery process etc, something that is often ignored at the early stages of a project and as a result the architecture that gets built becomes expensive to manage and the cost of change starts to increase. To prevent this from happening I start with a delivery runway.

You could consider the runway the equivalent of a production line in a car factory. You could build the car in your shed in an adhoc process, but this will not scale as you want to build more. So I look for and adopt technologies that make sure that the first line of code written is deployed into a working production environment. Further to this, I like to deploy to production everyday or even multiple times a day. By reducing the amount of change thats deployed you reduce the amount of risk associated with it, reduce risk and we reduce cost. That means more money to spend on the features of your product that will make a difference.

Having run many enterprise scale solutions in the past it is incredible how much time/cost can be consumed in compiling a release together when a delivery process is absent. Doing this at the end of a long term development cycle creates such a barrier to delivery that it makes many software products uncompetitive. By embracing change and building an infrastructure to deliver that change we can adapt to market shifts.

I am definitely not the first to implement a continuous deliver process and the below presentation from Chad Dickerson CEO of Etsy explains the process and value with a few graphs thrown in.

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How to justify an agile process?

I often get asked “How much will it cost?” and “How long will it take to build?” which are really difficult questions to answer when you dont have all of the information. This is often compounded  Agile world because the person asking the question may not really understand everything they are asking for.

Why? Building great software is really hard. Infact most software projects fail. As a result it seems pretty obvious to me that we need to change the way we think about projects and that can start with the commercial negotiations.

The below slide deck from the CFO of SolutionsIQ explains, in real money terms, why agile projects win hands down. It also includes graphs and stats that provide a more quantifiable reason to use Agile instead of the Waterfall process

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A getting started check list

  • Product solves a problem for a specific target customer
  • Capital-efficient business – operational @ < $1M funding
  • Primarily internet-based distribution – search, social, mobile, location
  • Simple revenue models – transactions, subscriptions or affiliate
  • Functional prototype before investment (or previous success)
  • Small but measurable usage – some customers, early revenue
  • Small but cross-functional team – engineering, design/UX, marketing
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Business Architecture and the Business Model Canvas

One of the challenges when modelling a Business/StartUp/Project (proposition) is to make sure that you capture all the inputs & outputs that can effect your decisions & architectural design. There are often so many unknown factors that effect a proposition that it is all to easy to focus on the visible and happy path aspects rather than digging into the deeper elements that could reveal unhappy truths. Stakeholders can unconsciously hold back important and relevant information that can be critical to your decision making process. Effectively teasing out requirements from stakeholders is a skill set in its own right as people tend create solutions in their minds rather than focusing on the problem. It is our job to get to the problem and that can often be rather hard when the stakeholder has already got a predetermined solution in mind.

Over the last 6 months I have been effectively using the Business Model Canvas as a communications tools to document, validate and brainstorm my clients ideas.

Business_Model_Canvas

Its a fantastic tool because its structured in a way that poses questions across the whole business model that may not have been thought of, and because its a visual tool it becomes clear very quickly where there are gaps in the vision.

You start by getting your clients to document all their assumptions onto post-it notes and stick them into the relevant cells on the canvas. I have seen many people print off large versions of the canvas that they hang on the wall, however I tend to draw mine onto a white board and then stick post-it notes onto that.

businessmodelcanvas-whiteboard

The original Business Model Canvas was developed by Alex Osterwalder and is documented in his excellent book Business Model Generation. The Book is a great introduction to business models and provides a number of default models based on well know established businesses. My only complaint about it would be that it is targeted at the Enterprise, as a result the models are rather too “big picture” for me. I like my models to be rather granular as this enables me to define clear actionable next steps. As a result I tend to blend the Business Model Canvas with elements from the Lean Canvas developed by Ash Maurya author of Running Lean. The Lean Canvas is more product centric which I find to be more helpful as my clients tend to think in products and services rather than businesses.

Once you have gone through the process of documenting the idea onto the canvas I tend to draw it up on a PowerPoint slide deck so that I can capture the Business Model as it develops. The PowerPoint slide deck also makes for a convenient method for distributing the Model to your clients or stakeholders.

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Free SEO Tools

Over the last few years I have had to complete a number of SEO reviews of websites. Rather than focus on keywords and rankings, I focus on the technical implementation of HTML, content and URLs to make sure that they are inline with the Google SEO Start Guide. I firmly believe that there is no point spending money on SEO consultants when the website does not adhere to the basics.

Following the developer mantra of automate everything I wrote a number of scripts to help me process these pages.

Today I have finally found some time to bundle them up into a simple website and deployed them to the cloud for everybody to use.

If you like them or have ideas about how they could be improved please let me know.

Glyn Darkin’s Free SEO tools

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Architecture Principles

In an attempt to put some structure to my learnings around IT Architecture I decided to get certified as a TOGAF Enterprise Architect. One of the elements of the TOGAF Architectural Development Method (ADM) that the architect team should provide is an artefact reffered to as “Architectural Principles”, this artefact is a document listing the principles that the architecture team are bound by. They should act as a guide to the decision making process as the Enterprise Architecture is developed.

I used to call these “Aspects” and would document them on our internal development wiki, but upon reflection I think that these principles form an even more important role than I previously thought. They not only define the foundations for the decision making process that your development team will subscribe to, but they form the basis for the culture of the team.

Enterprise Architecture is often regarding as unsexy and can be viewed negatively due to the Ivory Tower connotations. So do sexy companies do Architecture? I have heard that Facebook have posters on their wall that say:

Move Fast & Break Things

The Facebook meme has massive connotations with regards to architecture, delivery process, testing and ultimately you the user, it is not suitable for every company, but according to the TOGAF definition of a principle it definitely qualifies as a principle.

A fundamental statement of belief which guides the future direction of the architecture and supports the decision-making process.

A good TOGAF principle is more than a short statement of belief but should also have a name so that it can be identified, a rationale that highlights the business benefits and implications that highlight the impact of carrying out the principle in terms of resources, costs and activities for both the business and IT.

To make sure that your principles dont become shelf-ware and actually become a part of your companies ethos they need to be marketed, both internally and externally. They need to be reviewed by your team members, discussed and updated. Your Architectural Principles are an asset to your organisation and should be leveraged accordingly.

So here are my Architectural Principles, they are the basis for for how I run my personal projects and how I like to do things when I have no boundaries. They are a work in progress, so please provide your feedback.

Let me know what you think.

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How to automatically archive all of your Tweets

I have recently been using the excellent buffer for sharing all of the great content I come across as I slowly try to read the internet one webpage at a time. However I recently realised that I was finding some amazing content but was forgetting it pretty quickly. So I have set up an automatic archiving process to record all of my buffer tweats into Evernote. Its a simple IFTTT recipe that appends each buffer tweat that I make to a single note in Evernote.

To use the recipe you will need a buffer, Evernote and IFTTT account, all offer free accounts that should provide enough functionality to get you going. Once you have your accounts set up you will need to go to my IFTTT recipe page and click the “use recipe” button and follow the instructions.

Good luck

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Lean Startup Machine – London October 2012

Over the past year I have been familiarising myself with the Lean Startup methodology and trying to adopt it in both my bootstrap evening enterprises and my IT Consultancy day job I had heard lots of great things about London Lean Startup Machine (LSM) and thought it would be a great way for me to learn from other people and challenge myself in some of the areas I am more uncomfortable (incompetent) in. The weekend is focused on customer development and the right hand side of the Business Model Canvas. Rather than the building and deliver of the solution. Its not a hackathon, but more like The Apprentice on steroids where you have to develop your own internal Lord Sugar to criticise you.

The weekend starts with a Friday night introduction session, where people can pitch an idea that they would like worked on over the weekend. My objective for the weekend was to focus on process, so I opted to be a participant rather than pitcher. Once the pitches where complete individuals had to choose which idea they want to work on and then form a team.
The idea that resonated with me the most was that pitched by Thomas Thüer, a mechanical engineer from Switzerland  who identified a problem that not everybody has the time or a schedule that allows them to attend an organised activity e.g. Football on a Saturday morning, and that there must be a solution that could help people organise more events.

I immediately felt an empathy with this problem as having 2 kids and a busy work life I very rarely have the time to attend more formal organised events, let alone organise stuff myself. However when I have the time it would be great to do stuff (Mountain Biking, Kite Surfing, Running etc) with other like minded people.

Once we created the teams we started breaking down the problem and dropping our assumptions into post-it notes onto a white board so that we could pull out our most riskiest assumptions.

Customer development is all about talking to customers and we quickly realised that finding people that “Wanted to do activities with people but could not because of their busy schedules” where going to be pretty hard to find. This lead us to a pretty early “customer segment pivot” to focus on footballers wanting to play football in the park (not unusual when you consider we where near Regents Park on a Saturday, lots of people playing Football).

In reality our problem statement was pretty poor and targeted a rather inaccessible customer segment. So, in the spirit of learning the process and not focusing on the actual product, we decided to push on through the stages of developing a product pitch and concierge MVP.

The weekend’s work was focused around the new ValidationBoard (designed & developed by Lean StartUp Machine) which we used for charting our progress.  Its a great tool for using as the backbone for you customer discovery, however we found it heard to be iterative. We found that our interviews ended up creating a significant amount of data which when sorted through provided us with enough data to validate a number of assumptions. As a result we ended up using the Validation Board more as a retrospective documentation tool.

I really liked the way that the board helped with documenting our findings and is a format that I will continue to use moving forward.

So what did I learn?

  1. I hate speaking to customers, much happier stuck behind a computer.
  2. Its not actually that hard to speak to customers
  3. I need to push myself harder to speak to customers (there is a trend here)
  4. Its much harder to focus on the problem rather than the solution than I expected
  5. Leading a Lean StartUp team requires a split personality disorder, 1 to question every assumption/opinion that is spoken, and the other to encourage and inspire the team to believe that the problem is worth solving.

Next steps for me:

I need to go back and start retrospectively applying what I have learnt to my existing projects, as I think that there is a lot of undiscovered insight to be learned. Plus I need to develop my Split Personality Disorder some more.

Advise for anybody looking to attend:

If you ever intend to start your own business just go along.
Focus on why you are there, learn the process or to win?
Pick a project that is suited to the weekend, e.g the winning teams both picked projects that had easy access to customers.

Thanks to Ryan MacCarrigan, Obi Mbanefo and Michael Hann for organising an excellent event and thanks to all of the excellent mentors who spent their weekend helping, guiding and supporting us.

For those interested here is our final presentation for KickNow a platform for crowdsourcing a football team within your local area for a improptue kick about!!

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How much to charge for my webapp?

Over the past couple of months I have been compiling a list of the costs of different webapps into an Excel Spreadsheet to get some insight into what other people charge.

My conclusion is that utility based applications e.g Basecamp average around $3500 per year for an Enterprise account. Where as Revenue Driving applications e.g. Seomoz, average around $8000 per year for an Enterprise account

My conclusion from this analysis is that if I am going to build a Muse I should certainly target revenue drivers rather than utility based apps.

I have posted the spreadsheet on Google docs, so please have a look and add any that you think would be informative.

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