Two mobile apps in two weeks. Feasible? Yes. Fun? Definitely

By Nick Butler in Agile Development on December 13, 2017

Iphone android placeit 770

The brief was challenging. Build mobile apps for both iOS and Android phones, using newly developed iBeacon technology, along with a separate dashboard, and do it all in about two weeks. Find out how Boost and GS1 New Zealand resolved the challenges, and what we learnt along the way.


“It was a fun project. Not just was it delivered well, we had fun doing it.”
GS1 Chief Executive Peter Stevens

Peter Stevens, GS1 NZ CEO and product own for the GS1 Hunt mobile apps work.


GS1 Chief Executive Peter Stevens wasn’t sure it could be done.

“We needed to find out whether it was technically feasible, let alone fiscally feasible,” he says. “We had no idea what the project would cost — we honestly didn’t know whether meshing together iBeacons, a multi-platform app, in a gamified way was possible with the budget we could have available.”

“What we needed was obviously for the app to work. We needed it to look good and be easy to use,” says Peter. “If you ask for a budget then you’ve got to be able to deliver that project — to make sure that the business delivers on the promise it’s made to members and to the board.”

There was another challenge. Peter wanted to test if working in an Agile way was right for GS1. For the project he would be GS1’s product owner, but as CEO his time was at a premium. So would he be able to find a way to work closely enough with the development team to get the benefit of Boost’s Agile process?


“We needed to find out whether it was technically feasible, let alone fiscally feasible.”
Peter Stevens


Mobile apps as a gamified comms tool

GS1 is a global not-for-profit federation of locally-owned organisations that provides standards to help organisations trade and exchange information. GS1’s best known standard is the humble barcode (brought to the world by GS1 42 years ago). GS1 New Zealand is the local affiliate of GS1, and is owned by its 8,000+ New Zealand members.

GS1 NZ logo plus an example barcode.

The mobile apps were for GS1’s annual Global Forum conference, where the Kiwis had a reputation for doing something special. This time they wanted an effective way to communicate two important messages to an audience from nearly a hundred different countries, speaking dozens of different languages.

Firstly they wanted to share what they had learnt developing New Zealand’s world-leading product recall service. This helps brand owners quickly and reliably get faulty or tainted products off the shelves of most NZ food & grocery retailers.

“Then we had a project that we were leading out of New Zealand which was trying to focus on what’s called unauthorised barcode numbers,” says Peter.

People with a new product often unwittingly buy barcodes online that aren’t part of the central registry. This undermines the integrity of the GS1 system worldwide, and also means suppliers with such barcodes can’t use services like the recall service. This creates risks for consumers, retailers and brand owners.

So the idea was to create a game. Players would hunt for products hidden around the conference venue. These products would carry iBeacons that signalled when players were getting close. When they scanned the barcodes on the products they would be alerted if the barcode was unauthorised or if the product needed to be recalled. Each barcode they scanned earned points and the dashboard displayed the leaders on a big screen.

Using teh GS1 Hunt app on an iPhone.

Waterfall not working for Peter

Before coming to GS1, Peter had worked in an Agile way, without knowing that was what it was called, and without the rigour of Scrum or other Agile methodologies. At GS1 however, GS1’s major vendor of systems used the Waterfall approach.

“It was really, really frustrating for me. I struggled with that process. We’ve adapted to it very successfully but it was always in my mind that actually, that wasn’t my natural inclination.”

So he decided to see if Agile would work for GS1.

Boost’s reputation prompts an Agile experiment

“I thought, actually, it would be really interesting to try this with a ‘hermetically-sealed’ project that wasn’t going to break anything,” says Peter. “We could experiment, both by doing something new, but also with a new relationship with a new vendor.”

“We became aware of Boost and I learned more about your reputation and your approach.”

At Boost we use a flexible, collaborative approach. We bring the client into the development team and deliver the project in prioritised stages. This lets the client check and make changes to working software, ensuring they get just what they need.


“We became aware of Boost and I learned more about your reputation and your approach.”
Peter Stevens


Workshop validates decision to try Agile

In order to get the whole team aligned behind the vision for the project and to prioritise what would achieve this vision, we started with a workshop.

“We powered through, in a very short period of time, what the app should do and the relationship between the different user stories, prioritising them … what the musts, shoulds and nice-to-haves would be,” Peter says. “It was at that meeting that I realised that we’d made the right choice. It was suddenly, ‘This is a way that makes an enormous amount of sense.’”


“This is a way that makes an enormous amount of sense.”
Peter Stevens


Finding ways to collaborate closely

While the approach made sense, as a CEO with a chaotic diary and meetings that cannot be moved, Peter found the close involvement of Scrum a challenge.

“For me, I suppose I should have realised that daily stand-ups literally mean that,” he says.

In order to reduce the pressure, Boost’s solution was to have stand-ups by video chat and to work with two Product Owners — Peter plus Gary Hartley, GS1’s General Manager, Customer. While this isn’t best practice because it can confuse the feedback process, it meant that GS1 could keep up their day-to-day engagement.

“We ended up working through that, all credit to Bonnie the Scrum Master,” says Peter.

“Gary and I both agreed as a tag team. Luckily, there was very little ambiguity about what we liked whenever there was a choice,” he says.

Rapidly resolving technical challenges

“One of the biggest challenges was the amount of time we have to build the app. Since it was to be used for just a few days, they didn’t want to spend a huge amount of money. We basically had just two weeks to build it,” says Boost developer Gus Motizuki.

“They also wanted the app to be used on both iPhone or Android. And they wanted a dashboard to display the top 10 players. That dashboard was a different application built in a different language. So it was actually three things — iOS app, Android app, and the dashboard.”

“It was a very short project, but an exciting one,” says Boost Scrum Master Bonnie Slater.

Gus agrees. “The thing that I liked most was working on a hybrid framework to build applications for both iOS and Android,” he says. “I was really excited that you can build mobile apps for two different platforms at the same time.”


“It was a very short project, but an exciting one.”
Boost Scrum Master Bonnie Slater

Boost Scrum Master Bonnie Slater.


“Integrating different technologies, like iBeacons and the barcode reader was also pretty complicated,” he says.

Boost had used iBeacons before but weren’t sure if they’d work with hybrid mobile apps built using the Ionic framework. Gus’s research showed though that there were libraries that handled the connection between the two technologies. But Boost also found that not all beacons are created equal, with the first choice chewing through batteries too fast to be viable.


“The thing that I liked most was working on a hybrid framework … I was really excited that you can build mobile apps for two different platforms at the same time.”
Boost developer Gus Motizuki

Boost developer Gus Motizuki.


Design expertise adds value

At the same time, Boost’s designer was coming up with a range of options for the user interface.

“The aesthetic was important,” says Peter.

“Our other provider is very efficient, and we’ve delivered pretty good code that is world-leading in our community. However, getting it as beautiful as we wanted has always been a challenge because they were doing things with programmers only.”

“We liked having designers part of the project. Then you end up with something that’s aesthetically more elegant and interesting.”

 


“We liked having designers part of the project … you end up with something that’s aesthetically more elegant.”
Peter Stevens


Mock-ups for 3 screens of the GS1 Hunt mobile apps.

Serious fun

“It was really, really fun. I really enjoyed the process,” Peter says.

“I saw this project being very similar to the buzz when my wife and I built our first house,” says Peter. “That process of working with the architect to refine a concept. They bring ideas to it, you go, ‘Oh, gosh, that’s right.’”

Peter and Gary’s enthusiasm was contagious.

“They had a really good energy. They are really excited about the project,” says Gus.

“GS1 were very open to our ideas, which was great,” says Bonnie. “All the conversations were very productive. You could set out some of the issues or concerns that we were having, and they would go, ‘OK. What are your ideas on how we might deal with it?’.”


“It was really, really fun. I really enjoyed the process.”
Peter Stevens


Satisfaction of seeing the apps in action

In order to get the most benefit from the Agile process over the short life of the project, Boost ran the project in week-long sprints.

As there’s also a lot of initial set-up involved in getting mobile apps up and running, Gus had to work fast to get working software to Peter and Gary to test.

“We had the first application that was able to run on a phone to test after probably three days,” Gus says.

“It’s obviously pretty cool when you actually start seeing the components coming together,” says Peter.

“It’s just satisfying to see something working as you imagined it would.”

“He was really happy, you could see it in his eyes. That was really exciting,” Gus says.


“It’s just satisfying to see something working as you imagined it would.”
Peter Stevens


Success at the conference

Once the GS1 Hunt apps were up in Google Play and iTunes, the Kiwis hid the barcoded products and their beacons around the venue in Brussels and waited to see what reception they’d get.

“I think there was a bit of nervousness, to be fair,” says Peter.

To illustrate things that might trigger a product recall the team got into costume.

“We were dressed as cockroaches and various different varieties of insects.”

The GS1 New Zeland team dressed up as insects to promote the mobile apps at the conference.
Barry Pyle (GM, GS1), Gary Hartley (GM GS1), Peter Stevens (CEO GS1), Ruth Brash (GM Merchandising Placemakers & GS1 Board Member), Richard Manaton (GS1 COO)

 

“We had a projector showing the leaderboard, which people could see was changing.”

“People were going off, scurrying around, trying to find these products, click them, and then come back and see their name, whether they had moved up the leaderboard. It was great. People came back repeatedly.”

People at the GS1 Global Forum scanning products with the GS1 Hunt mobile apps.

Meeting objectives and making a splash

“We wanted to find a clever way, and a succinct way, to deliver that message. We found a way to do it that was really fun, and got people engaged.”

“We’d done what we intended to do, and we got the message out. That certainly led to a lot of international activity around the fundamental things that we were showing, the business reasons, the product recall service,” says Peter. “The unauthorised barcodes led to a global project with a guideline being issues to all 113 countries, and really positive action led out of New Zealand. This was a key part of getting that message out.”

“We didn’t disappoint our global audience that expected Kiwis to do something different. And we got a number of member organisations, sister organisations wanting to use the same technology now.”

Image of big screen at Global Forum showing the top 3 booths at the conference.

“We were really impressed with the process, the people, and how the project was envisaged,” Peter says.

“Not just was it delivered well, we had fun doing it.”

Also impressed was the German branch of GS1.

“They really liked the app,” Gus says. “Since the setup was quite simple and we had a good documentation, they were able to reuse the same app dashboard and everything in another event.”


“We were really impressed with the process, the people, and how the project was envisaged.”
Peter Stevens


 

Successful experiment the start of a new partnership

Since the success of the mobile apps showed that Boost’s Agile approach delivered the results they needed, GS1 have brought Boost on for a new phase of work.

“This showed that the process was robust,” says Peter. “It was more akin to the way that we think that development should happen.”

“Not only did we end up with a good outcome and a good project, but I really, really enjoyed the process.”

Learn more

Like to pick our brains about what we learnt on this project? Contact James on +64 4 939 0062 or [email protected] to find out more.

Check out the GS1 hunt apps:

Get it on Google Play

Download the GS1 hunt app on the App Store.

Find out more about iBeacons.