A Minimum Viable Product without development

Posted by Eric Auld on 21 September
Eric Auld

Product design doesn’t need to be sexy or fancy. Sometimes it doesn’t look like product design or development at all.

Bilue has a challenge, as we grow from a 3, 5, 15, 35+ member team. We need to communicate with more clients about even more projects. And as such, we need to share information and outcomes with each other more often but with less time. We are at the point where we need a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system.

Client Communication

So we did what every other company would do, we went and purchased a system. Except, it didn’t solve our problem, and we hated it. Why? It forced us to change the way we work and communicate. Logging into another system to update information was slower than talking, causing us grief and frustration, and ultimately we stopped using it. It didn’t match how we wanted to work.

So we talked about making a solution the suited us, after all we are a software development company.

And this brings us to the point of creating a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). Sometimes, a product doesn’t have to be a fully formed idea or solution. Just enough to validate the idea.

The goal of an MVP is to test a hypothesis. What better way to test a hypothesis than use existing software and services? A step above a prototype, something usable that gets the job done.

MVP to test ideas

I set out to test the idea: Do we need another CRM system when we already have many online systems that we use? How could I design a CRM product/system with existing services and software?

My first version of our cut down CRM was a failure, I tried adapting Confluence and didn’t work. It was just another system that we had to log into to tell everyone something that was in our emails. It was cumbersome and slow. None of us had time to log in to do that.

In terms of an MVP, this is a great outcome. We learnt that we needed a fast system, that didn’t require ‘double’ entry and something we could update on the go.

Again, rather than looking for a new piece of software or working out ‘what to build’. I looked at what other software we already had, and what I could use that didn’t need development time to produce. What could I reuse or use in a different way, and this is where Slack comes in.

Slack as a CRM

We use Slack for a variety of things at Bilue. The obvious is sending animated gifs to each other in our channel called #weirdos. The entire company is in Slack every day, and we can quickly access it on the go through our mobiles.

Taking the learnings of using a tool that we already use a lot meant that Slack was an obvious choice. The other tool we use a lot is email and email holds most of the communication with our clients. So I set about combining the two, our tool for internal communication and our tool for client communication.

Slack is a great immediate communication tool for teams, but I wanted to use it as a “database” for Client communication. With a bit of planning and thinking, I was able to come up with a solution.

The first step was to create a standard naming format for new private groups in Slack. We settled on crm-company_code-project_code. This way we can separate them from all the other channels we have in Slack easily.

The second step was combining email. Slack allows email integrations where you can setup an email address for a channel or group. But the email address isn’t entirely friendly. And since I want this system to be easy to use, that includes forwarding emails into Slack simply. We needed a better email address.

Email to Slack

To get around this, I turned to our company email system and created new email groups. Each with the Slack group/channel name as the address and placed the Slack generated email address as a member of the group.

Now, anyone at Bilue working on a client account can forward or bcc an email to a Slack group/channel name via email, just by knowing the groups/channels name. And other members of that group can be notified of important developments and influences affecting the project.

With a bit of planning and creative thought to set up our current solution, it was faster and cheaper than using a developer to build a solution. We could test what did and didn’t work for us without purchasing a large piece of software. And most of all we learnt from our mistakes.

Tools like IFTTT, Zapier and Flowxo are great tools to help you connect multiple services together. Allowing you to ‘build’ systems to test and validate your ideas before going down the rabbit hole of development.

At the end of the day, my lean MVP is proving the hypothesis around how we use a CRM here at Bilue. And I did it all in a couple of hours.

More Integrations

It is still not a perfect system for us, but we are improving it by adding other integrations, such as Pipedrive to introduce sales leads for full end to end communication on projects.

But, most importantly, we are learning what works and what doesn’t while improving our internal communication. And as we move towards the future and continue to grow, we know what to look for in a CRM system if we ever need to purchase a solution.

Next time you have an idea, find the easiest way to prove the solution rather than going and building it first. You might find you would have built the wrong thing the first time around.

Topics: Company