Slingboards Lab

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Why Slingboard will be an hybrid app?

In this post, I explain why at Slingboards Lab (my new venture), we have decided to build an hybrid mobile app instead of a native or HTML5 app.

I said in the past and I will say it again: the tablet is a completely different platform than the PC and in this sense it has its own natural structure for UX experiences.

Each space has a natural structure, which is an organizing principle that helps people form a mental model of how they think about and navigate that space. Rooms are the structure of homes, neighborhoods and streets are fixed structure of cities, aisles are the structure for most stores, and Web pages are the structure for Web sites.

The natural structure for the PC experience was the desktop and accompanying folder/ file system. Influenced by notions of containment and place, this structure allowed people to traverse their personal file systems with ease. Within the PC platform, applications are often relegated to the role of a secondary actor. Files are the stars of the desktop experience, whereas applications are merely the tools that make files.

In contrast, within the tablet platform, applications are the star, making them a natural structure for mobile experiences. In fact, we can summarize the tablet experience as a list of “native” apps. Disappointing by its simplicity, this minimalist approach has proven effective. Tablet application marketplaces also reinforce the app as the natural structure for mobile experiences. A tablet platform’s value and popularity are largely attributed to the depth and breadth of its App Store portfolio.apps-ipad

Nowadays, the main challenge for organizations is to develop mobile applications. However, we no longer control the mobile platform in use. Tablets are provided by individuals according to their personal preferences. Some will bring Apple IOS devices such as the iPad while other will arrive with Microsoft windows 8 tablets or with Google Androids tablets such as the Amazon Fire. This diversification of mobile devices would not be a handicap if there was a single programming model to build native apps. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Native apps are specific to a given mobile platform and are built using the development tools and language that the respective platform supports (e.g., Xcode and Objective-C with Apple iOS, Eclipse and Java with Google Android).

If developers want to avoid writing three different mobile applications, an alternative is to rely on the open web and create HTML5 apps. HTML5 apps use standard web technologies—typically HTML5, JavaScript and CSS. This write-once-run-anywhere approach to mobile development creates cross-platform web page that work on multiple devices. While developers can create sophisticated apps with HTML5 and JavaScript alone, the vital limitations remain that this application is not visible as a native applications. The user must first start the browser application and navigate to a web pages to reach the application.

A third alternative is to create an hybrid apps. Hybrid apps make it possible to embed HTML5 apps inside a thin native container. Hybrid apps combine the best elements of native and HTML5 apps. With  the  rise  of  mobile  platforms, “native”  has  come  to  mean  an  experience  more  than  the  underlying language and runtime circumstances. That is, the new reality is that you don’t have to  write  an  application  in  Objective-C, Java or C# in order to have a native app.  With the appropriate container and a mix of CSS plus media query, the same Javascript application can target all the most important mobile platforms (Apple IOS, Google Android, Microsoft Windows 8).

So, if you are a young startup like Slingboards-Lab, should you go native, HTML5 or hybrid? Faced with this fundamental issue, I must acquiesce with Stephen Forte: A startup should never, ever, go native. The very nature of a startup is that you have little money and need to be super fast on the market to validate your assumptions (and discover that you're wrong). On the other hand, because the apps are the natural structure for mobile experience, I think opting for an HTML5 app is a mistake. So there is only one logical choice; the hybrid app.

This thinking explains why we have chosen to build Slingboards as an hybrid app. We are working hard and soon we will be able to share with you the results of our discovery. Stay tune.

Resistance Is Futile

In less than 3 years, tablet’s sales passed notebooks and PCs in Q4, 2012. In this post, I highlight what I think are the consequences for the enterprises of such a fast adoption rate by consumers.

One of my favorite sources of information about the tablet ecosystem is the TabTimes portal. I find in there not only the latest news but also very interesting analysis about tablets adoption by the enterprise. For those of you who speak French and want to learn more about this portal, in February, as part of my Visual Studio Talk Show podcast, I did an interview with Patrick Pierra, the founder of TabTimes (which by the way is a French-Canadian like me).

Recently, I read a summary of Kleiner Perkins analyst Mary Meeker. She highlights a big surprise about adoption rate of tablets. In less than 3 years, tablet’s sales passed notebooks and PCs in Q4, 2012.

With such a fast adoption rate by consumers, it is inevitable that tablets will make their appearance in the enterprises. This is already happening. The following quote, well known by Star Trek fans, applies perfectly to the modern reality of IT in the enterprise.

We are the Borg. Lower your shields and surrender your ships. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Your culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile.

We are convinced that not only consumers will use their tablets at work, but a new line of business-centric applications targeting tablets will emerge shortly.  Slingboards are a clear example of this new type of applications. We are happy to be a player in this new era. Follow us and we'll have fun.

Plurality of the small touch screens

Here is why I am convinced that the future will be a plurality of the small touch screens. Personally, I will not accept being restricted to one giant screen, even if it covers an entire wall.

Like Gordon E. Moore, the father of the prediction about the increasing number of components on a semiconductor chip that came to be known as Moore's Law, I am skeptical about the possibility of technological singularity to ever occur. I doubt that there is a point in the technological future at which artificial intelligences will become capable of augmenting and improving themselves, leading to an explosive growth in intelligence. However, like Jeff Hawkins, who is also a unconvinced about singularity, I strongly believe in the value of the machines.

”Machines will understand the world using the same methods humans do; they will be creative. Some will be self-aware, they will communicate via language, and humans will recognize that machines have these qualities. Machines will not be like humans in all aspects, emotionally, physically. If you think dogs and other mammals are conscious, then you will probably think some machines are conscious. If you think consciousness is a purely human phenomenon, then you won't think machines are conscious.”

I think humans will expand the capabilities of their brains using several machines connected to the cloud and all sharing their personal data. With the birth of the iPad tablet, and its many Android and Windows clones, we are already in this era. The future is plurality. We now have access in our immediate environment to a multitude of small and easily portable screens. The context of the task at hand define which machine we use.

TabletsFor many, the above statement may seem obvious and even trivial. With the extremely rapid rate of adoption of the tablet, it is a unavoidable that touch is going to dominate the next era of computing. Welcome to the future, here's your … rectangle.

However, it is interesting to note that until recently few visionary envisioned the ubiquity of tablet in our lives. For nearly 20 years, Microsoft has had the Microsoft Home (also referred to as “Home of the Future”) in a building on its Redmond campus. In that facility, Microsoft replicates a home outfitted with technologies that it thinks will be in use five to 10 years in the future.

Until recently, this futuristic house was demonstrating a wealth of giant touch screens with almost no tablet or smartphone.

microsoft-home-of-the-futureThe omnipotent large touch screen has long been part of our collective imagination. How many science fiction movie perceived as realistic a giant screen that covers an entire wall? Almost no science-fiction movie except from the classic 2001: A Space Odyssey have adequately predicted the importance of the iPad.

Personally, I am not better than my colleagues to predict the future. When I had the initial idea of a slingboard during summer of 2011, I immediately thought that this innovation would be possible only with the advent of large touch screens (30 inches and bigger). So I did not start my business immediately. Instead,  I committed in writing a book with Addison Wesley about agile software development. The book "Executable Specifications with Scrum" is the result of this commitment.

Romane-with-friendsIt was not until nearly a year later that I finally realized that the use of a slingboard was possible on a small screen factor.

One day, I looked at my daughter who was sitting with his friends around the family table. Nobody spoke directly. All were busy with their iPhone / iPod. They had long moment of silence and then suddenly all were laughing in heart. Curious, I finally understood that each was consulting in real-time the same messages thread on their Facebook wall.

This experience was an eye-opener. I finally understood that teammates do not need to see the entire slingboard to work together. They just need to be able to have a view of the section that concerns them.

The giant touch screen is dead (at least as long as it will be too expensive). The future is the plurality of the small touch screens.

What is a slingboard (part 2)

(Go to Part 1) Slingboards Lab mission is to bring your team at your fingertips. Through the provision of slingboards, it brings sticky notes to smartphones, tablets and the web for empowering teams to better collaborate.

A slingboard ensures teammates are always in sync. It provides real time feedback to everyone involved in the whole process. It highlights the flow of work and what is being done.

A slingboard allows instant access to the workflow. Remote and teleworkers can easily collaborate with their colleagues in teal time.

Here is a video that explains what is a slingboard

Because the tablet layout have the appearance of the original yellow stickies, learning to use a slingboard is simple. The familiar sticky notes essentially became the user interface. Team members can quickly embraced this new technology.

A slingboard increases accountability and positively influence the behavior and attitude of team members . Teammates define and choose their own work instead of having work assigned to them. High visibility and clear guidelines ensure teammates cannot hide work (or non-work) from each other. They know that at any moment, if they want to, they can, with zero overhead and without causing any discomfort to anyone, see exactly what everybody is doing. Boards tend to expose the flow, but it is done with ground rules that people find quite reasonable. Thus, accountability is achieved in a harmonious way because it boils down to the individual responsibility of updating the board. This builds transparency among team members, which in turn builds trust.

What is a slingboard (part 1)

My company, slingboards Lab, aims to provide a platform to build slingboards. A slingboard is a visual tool that guides collaboration between teammates by using sticky notes. It brings sticky notes to smartphones, tablets and the web for empowering teams to better collaborate.two-dimensional-grid

A slingboard appeals to teammates who are dissatisfied with outcomes from shared accountability. It helps teams who need better results and want more commitment from teammates. It provides teams with visual aids that align individual responsibility with teamwork.

A slingboard is a two-dimensional grid. The most important item in a slingboard is the columns because they are the ones that make it possible to visualize the workflow. The aim is to move each sticky note from column to column to accomplish the workflow. The rows are used to group and organize the yellow stickies in a logical manner. If we expect to have only a few stickies then it is possible to have a single row without any grouping.

factory-order

Slingboard is great for teams that need to complete a business process. The picture above shows how to transform the workflow of a factory order into a slingboard. Each column represents a state in the workflow. A column expresses an explicit rule that transforms the collaborative work into a sequence of individual responsibility.

pinningAn important feature that simplifies the board layout is visually pinning a status tag to the sticker. This status tag is used to visualize issue that is not directly associated with the value-added steps displayed by the columns. Pinning creates visibility and awareness and allows the right people to react quickly to that new status. A visual alternative to pinning is creating special columns that fulfill the same purpose. While this is valid, and many people do it, we prefer pinning to expose that something is going wrong, or not happening. Board real estate is expensive. If you start creating special columns for each status a sticky note can have, you might quickly fill the board with empty zones.

A slingboard reduces frictions by making explicit the “invisible” knowledge. It shows information teammates care about such as:

  • It identifies the flow of work and what is being done;
  • It helps understand and indicate priorities;
  • It highlights when something is going wrong or not happening;
  • It cuts down on meetings to discuss work issues;
  • It provides real time feedback to everyone involved in the whole process;
  • It allows to see whether performance is met.

Slingboards apply to any domain. As soon as teammates need to work together to accomplish a workflow a slingboard becomes useful. Here are some examples:

  • Factory:  it can help to optimize maintenance work order;
  • Manufacturing: it can help salesmen to get involved with accounts receivable collection;
  • Recruitment firm: it can help to monitor candidate;
  • Financial institutions: it can help tracking the investment process.

(Go to Part 2)