Christa Garcia / Culture / May 6th, 2013

Skittles, Pears and Clients Who Care

“Who put a pear in our Skittles machine?”

The question hung in the air as the developer who asked it looked meaningfully at our clients, Brock and Naomi. The Tampa team was gathered in the conference room to present our latest work on YouCaring.com. A 300 percent increase in traffic, more engaged users, new site features – all the things a client wants to hear. That would all have to wait until we solved the mystery of the candy machine.

All eyes instinctively shifted to the plastic orb of our candy dispenser – once a source of sugary goodness, now home to a single pear. A very nice pear, but definitely not the Skittles that have fueled so many of our previous meetings.

“You guys need to start eating healthier!” Brock exclaimed. “I have watched you all for weeks, and I’m tired of you living off of candy. Have a pear!”

Brock, who had been a nearly constant presence during our one-week Sprints of development on YouCaring, quickly produced enough pears for the entire team. A few accepted the fruit, though others quickly cracked the case of the missing Skittles and got their sugar fixes before the meeting started.

Either way, it was time to enjoy the moment: another sprint complete, and a chance to celebrate the work we’d accomplished on YouCaring.com during the last week.

Working collaboratively with Brock and Naomi over a series of weeks and months had given us an advantage. Sprint closeouts, such as the one described above, are never surprises with Brock and Naomi – except for the occasional game of hide-and-seek with our more unhealthy snacks.

YouCaring.com has been a perfect representative for the benefits of agile web development. Closeout meetings are generally reserved to discuss client concerns, but when the client is there on a daily basis to chat with the team about what they’re doing, the work that’s shown at closeout is the fruit (no pun intended) of a collaborative effort.

More often than not, the closeout becomes a conversation about what’s next instead of a platform for feedback on finished work, because that feedback was already given while the work was being done.

“What’s next?” is a hugely important question for a project like YouCaring.com. An online fundraising site dedicated to a completely free user platform, the site has seen enormous growth since its first launch less than two years ago. And since their engagement with 352, that growth has increased dramatically.

In the five months before 352 launched the redesigned YouCaring site, traffic had increased by 232 percent, which is certainly impressive. However, in the five months since we’ve launched the new site, it has increased by 326 percent. This month, we popped the cork on 1 million+ unique visits a month.

So what is the secret behind the success of YouCaring? Like Skittles, there are many flavors in this mix.

Agile Development. Well, yeah. This site is the epitome of why agile works. Sprinting creates an environment where development adapts on a weekly basis, which means we can quickly maneuver to the most important work. As a fast-growing site with a lot of user-interactive areas, YouCaring.com is constantly getting feedback and suggestions, and agile allows us to focus on increasingly better user experiences using this feedback.

Client Integration. The opportunity for a client to be so fully involved in the team could not happen without, well, the client. Brock and Naomi are the ideal product owners, even taking up temporary residence near the team and working from our Tampa office each day. By being a part of our daily work life, they are able to routinely reiterate their overall goals with the team, sit in on sprint planning and impromptu huddles, and share in the everyday successes and dilemmas of the development cycle.

Thinking Outside the Team. Our development team has been able to create incredible results for YouCaring, but agile provides the opportunity to provide a well-rounded solution for our clients. Since all of our work is focused on a single client, we were able to pull in our marketing and user-experience teams for real-time consulting on any issues.

Using the expertise of each of our teams has led to many great features for YouCaring.com: a more engaging featured fundraisers section, a widget to share fundraisers on other sites, an easier, guided fundraiser creation process, and the ability to add videos to fundraiser profiles. All these enhancements make not only for better user engagement, but more successful fundraisers.

Trust. Sometimes, the greatest thing a product owner can bring to the table is the ability to step back and allow their team to solve the problems they have been tasked with. When our team approaches Brock and Naomi with new ideas or solutions, they answer with a level of trust that is beyond expectation, inspiring – and essential. They demonstratively show that they respect the skills everyone brings to the table and want to heed the advice of those best situated to give it.

Taking a step of faith on developer recommendations can be tough, but worthwhile. As Brock has stated many a time during development, “Whenever we launch something new, we see our numbers go up.” This is enough proof for him that we are doing it right.

Team Passion. It often begins with the client, but passion can be contagious. Working in an agile environment with product owners who are so willing to collaborate certainly helps that. Because Brock and Naomi can share their vision with us on a daily basis, the team can easily hook into that vision and work to drive that dream to reality. The result of a passionate team is a series of well-executed ideas brought to life, and a group of skilled people who all are striving for the success of a client.

So, what is the future for YouCaring.com? If 352 has any say in the matter, it will be a site whose success will continue, even as user needs change, through a strong relationship between client and developer.

As for the developers, a few of them are actually starting to drink more water and eat more fruit. The snack room is eerily devoid of Doritos and many other unhealthy snacks. But the candy machine? Oh, that’s still full of Skittles. Well, mostly full. Actually…pretty empty. Might be time to get more.