This past June I joined Hornet’s agile inception in Berlin where their remote team met to tie V4 of their gay social dating app together. The team is comprised of professionals from around the world, spanning from California to Argentina to South Africa through Europe. And while a fully remote team allows the company to pull niche talent from wherever they please, alignment and synchronicity can be difficult when you’re overhauling an existing product. This is where inceptions come in handy.
Back in the spring I met with Hornet’s design team to lay out the framework for their new app here in California. The company acquired gay content feed Unicorn Booty and gay locations Vespa, and wanted to incorporate them into an entirely new product. The goal: a frictionless user experience with maximum exposure to the gay community. Where guys can read, chat and discover all in one place - a first in the industry.
After developing the wireframes and deciding on the final layout, it was time to bring the team together to kick start the inception. This exercise allows everyone to meet face-to-face, breakdown the complexity of the project, and align the team's goals for the upcoming quarter. Imagine a really cool, productive team offsite for everyone that isn’t totally lame.
The inceptions goal is to set expectations for what we can and can’t do, and in what order. As you’ll see in the following photo, all user activities end up being cards on a table. This physical mapping method allows everyone to see the product as a tangible experience rather than an abstract concept on a screen. More importantly, it allows us to collaborate and develop solutions to improve the existing product. It’s this socialization that fosters innovation and trust amongst an otherwise dispersed team.
Twenty of us met at Schloss Blankensee an hour south of Berlin to begin the 3 day process. Everyone from developers to designers to the CEO come together to identify their value propositions, critical milestones, and optimal consumer experience through the product. This physical medium allows us to openly talk about and organize specific goals, anti-goals, and potential risks as we move forward with the project. One key component for successful collaboration is balanced decision-making and consensus building which inceptions allows big groups to do.
Outside of successful project management, it’s important to note the intrinsic rewards of this type of exercise. Your team is given the opportunity to know their counterparts beyond a Skype call or Slack message. They build empathy with each other, understand who they’re working with, and create a sense of unity that aids the development of the project as a whole. And what better way to do so than in a dope German castle where everyone can enjoy themselves!
Hornet’s gracious act of putting us up in this stunning accommodation served a purpose as well. An agile inception with twenty people gets busy and requires a lot of space to layout every tedious aspect that needs tending to.
After three days we came out with a better understanding of what we needed to build and a prioritized backlog. We capped off with a nice dinner, said our goodbyes and flew home with a clear vision about what the future of Hornet’s V4 holds.