Inspired by a longstanding desire to bring our agile development process closer to our customers, we sent an agile development team to Austin, Texas, for a recent AppFolio On the Road event.

At AppFolio, our product development organization is powered by cross-functional agile teams who work as a unit to solve problems and build solutions on behalf of our customers. Agile teams typically consist of 2-4 Software Engineers, 1 Product Manager, 1 User Experience (UX) Designer, and 1 Software Quality Assurance (QA) Engineer.

The experiment, nicknamed Project Sea Cucumber (the silly working title that stuck), involved dispatching an agile development team to visit two customers local to the Austin area who are consistently active on our Product Suggestion Board. These customers invited us to spend half the day in their office, getting to know them and learning first-hand about their experience with AppFolio Property Manager. The goals of this experiment were to:

  • Connect our teams with the people they work daily on behalf of
  • Provide our customers with insight into our product development processes
  • Shorten the loop of information gathering, prototyping, and customer feedback into an instantaneous process

Our team spent the first hour of each visit interviewing key stakeholders at the company—the people who support suggestions on the Product Suggestion Board. Customers shared with us some of their frustrations with the software; and in those conversations we found opportunities to turn only a few hours with a couple customers into real value for all of our customers.

The remainder of time was focused on “mobbing” (AKA group software development) with the involvement of our customers and creating high-fidelity prototypes of the features and fixes we identified in our earlier discussions.

Why did we do this? At AppFolio, we really do love our customers; and it’s core to our culture that everyone enjoys the most success when we put our customers’ needs first. So, it’s a natural evolution to share this piece of our internal culture with our customers’ in their day-to-day lives.

So how did it go? The agile team worked together with the customers on five unique problems ranging from bug fixes and reporting adjustments to new/expanded functionality of existing features. After a full day of prototyping, we were able to progress each solution to a point of demonstrable value.

We then presented our solutions to the customers and they were thrilled! They were able to map the value of their inputs to how we work, and gain a real sense of what goes into making AppFolio Property Manager an amazing product. When asked about the experience, one customer said it was fantastic. “It was nice to have the one-on-one time with the AppFolio team. This helped with being able to talk out the idea. I liked that I was able to see the process, from the coding to design, and then able to see a template of the finished product the next day. Thank you.”

“For both of the software engineers on the agile team, this was their first time visiting a customer’s office, not to mention the first time working from a customer’s office.” – Justin Davis, Product Manager

We see a lot of value in continuing experiments like this—bringing our product development practices closer to the customers whose needs we work hard to serve every day. Because listening to our customers is in our DNA.