Boulder Project Manager Meetup Wrap-Up: A Mountain of Challenges

Becky Tornes, Former Senior Project Manager

Article Category: #Strategy

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Take a moment and imagine the following scenario: a prospective client comes in and says they want to build a mobile application that will need to use technology that doesn’t yet exist. Also, the app needs to launch in less than three months. Now imagine you say “yes” to this client and project. Corban Baxter, Creative Director at Made Movement, found himself in this situation when Made Movement agreed to build Copper Mountain an app that would shepherd skiers and snowboards around the mountain.

This type of situation can be exciting, terrifying, and stressful, but at the end of the day if you’ve promised to deliver, you have to start figuring out how to do it -- and then you have to deliver. At February’s Boulder Digital PM Meetup, Corban Baxter walked us through how he and his team at Made created the Sherpa App for Copper Mountain in just under three months.

It was fascinating to hear about his experience and how his team approached the challenge. Three things in particular stood out to me:

The sooner you start coding, the longer it takes to build

Corban, a developer on the project, has a strong belief that “the sooner you start coding, the longer it takes to build”. Corban finds that if you start building without understanding the architecture of an app, you will likely need to throw out a lot of code. With that philosophy in mind, he began planning. He architected and diagrammed all relationships within the app. He relied on mind maps and mind nodes to share his vision and get both the team and client speaking the same language. By thinking through and diagramming the app, the whole team (including the client) started on the same page. This made the execution of the rest of the project much smoother.

Prototyping, prototyping, prototyping

Prototyping took awhile, potentially a little too long, but ultimately made the team sure of their approach when it came time to build. This meant when they started building, they didn’t have to stop. They had a small army of helpers biking and driving up, down, and all around Boulder dropping simulated “markers”. "Markers" are hot spots a skier or snowboard might pass on the mountain. They trigger tips, facts, or other information related to where the user is. Through trial and error Made figured out how far away a skier or snowboard should be from a “marker” when it’s triggered. The app needs to communicate directions to a skier before she reaches a fork in the trail -- rather than at the fork -- so she’ll know which direction to take for the best snow. Coming up against those problems while Made was trying to build the final product would have been a nightmare.

The client was the secret weapon

The client took interest in the technology and invested the time to understand it. The client had a technical background that allowed them the ability to more easily speak a technical language. The client was willing to cut unnecessary features to ensure launch, and understood not EVERYTHING was critical for launch. The reality, according to Corban, is this project likely would NOT have been a success if the client wasn’t as amazing as they were. Corban described it as the secret weapon. It was a stark reminder that as PMs, there is only so much we can do sometimes in these types of hectic, crazy projects. It takes a full team effort -- including the client -- to make a project a success. Luckily here at Viget we are intentional about working with clients that are as passionate and committed to a project’s success as we are!

It was wonderful having Corban speak at the Boulder Digital PM Meetup. The final product Made put out looks great!

 I think the topic and presentation were valuable to everyone that attended. I know I walked away with a few things to think about as I move on to some new projects!

If you have interest in joining us at a future meetup, join our Meetup group here!

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