Improving Task Management While Covering Your Rear End

Improving Task Management While Covering Your Rear End

I am awful at a lot of things. Baseball is one of them. Fighting games like Street Fighter is another. The only thing I am awful at that has really bothered me to any extent is my time and project management skills.

When faced with a large project and a list of tasks, I used to not know where to start. I would jump around from screen to screen, working on one thing before the next, then maybe go back to the screen I was working on before because I forgot something. Eventually, I got fed up.

Tired of being so anxious all the time, I took everything bothering me about my misgivings and did away with the excuses. I asked myself, “what would a project manager do?” Here’s how I fixed (some of) my issue, made my life easier and covered my behind by applying our project process to my day-to-day life. It’s only five things, stay with me here.

Find a tool you’re going to use every single day

It doesn’t matter if it’s an app, a notebook, or a series of messages sent by carrier pigeons. As long as you have something that you can refer to when you complete a task, and you know it’s something you will use over and over again, you’re good to go. 

I take notes in an app called Notion, which allows me to make task boards, lay content out differently, add images, edit from anywhere, the list goes on. While it’s not free, the important thing is that it has everything that I need to make a to-do list of sorts. If you’d rather use sticky notes or the same pocket-sized notebook that you’ve been using since college, that’s fine. Whatever works for you. 

I’ve found that the easiest way to change your habits is to slightly tweak the habits you already have. It’s the same idea as picking up around the house as you go along to avoid a larger cleanup process later on. Baby steps. 

What I do:

Every day I come into work, I open Notion. I have everything laid out on a calendar, and can add new pages for each day. I also have each page tagged with the project that it’s related to. If I am working on Valacta and I have a meeting with them, my page can immediately be attached to that project.

For EVERY task, write down the requirements. And then check them. 

When you add a task to your list, make sure you write down or otherwise have a record of the requirements that would go along with that task. Designing a login screen? Write down the fields, text, and any visual assets that need to go into that screen. Need to take out the trash? Jot down each room with a garbage bin and get to work. 

What’s important from this self-created inventory is that you have a detailed record of what was asked. Even better? Now, you can go over that list with someone else and verify that everything written down was accurate, asking questions along the way. In a work environment, you would go over this list with your actual project manager. At home, you could go over the list with your significant other, your roommate, your cat, or just read through it again and check for yourself. 

What I do:

If you’ve used Trello, JIRA, or other project-based task management software tools, this might seem familiar. I start with a task board that has three simple columns: Not Started, In Progress, and Completed. Whenever I have a new request, I create a task card with a detailed description in the Not Started column, to be moved forward later. 

Ah, the feeling of crossing something off of your list. Of moving the ticket to the Completed column. Of that distinctive checkmark motion. Very few things are as satisfying as completing a task. One of those few things just so happens to be crossing that task off of a list. Make sure you do so and take a moment to pat yourself on the back. No, really. Do it. It’ll feel great.

Something change? Back to the task board

Whenever something you’ve completed has been marked as complete, and then it gets sent back to you with edits or new requirements, that’s perfectly fine! No one gets every single thing perfect every single time (if you do, you aren’t reading this blog).

A trick I do to track changes on a task card is to add all the client feedback as a comment. Unlike descriptions, adding a comment will keep track of when they were submitted. With edits to an established task, knowing exactly when something was submitted is more important than I have space to type here. You want to be able to turn back time and see what comments were made by whom and why in case there’s ever a question of “why did you do this?” It’s happened before. It will happen again. Being ready for it is the best defense you can ask for.

Trust the process. When that doesn’t work, iterate on the process. Never beat yourself up

Like I said before, no one gets every single thing perfect every single time. Moreso when it’s the first time you’re trying a new process or tactic. Not everything will go smoothly. Heck, maybe everything will crash and burn. 

As hard as it may be, it is worth it to step back and take a look at what worked, what didn’t work, and what you can do to fix it all the next go-round. If something I said doesn’t fit your style, but it inspired another idea? GREAT! Take that idea, run with it, and share it with the rest of the world. Why do you think I’m here writing this and you’re there, reading it? 

Nelson Johnson

Nelson Johnson

Experience Designer

Experience Designer Nelson W Johnson can often be found spending his time drawing, hosting a gaming podcast & hanging with his cats. With a passion for technology and an obsession with floral shirts, he loves finding design solutions to users’ technological woes.

How Mobile is Changing Warehouse Communication

How Mobile is Changing Warehouse Communication

With the rise of Amazon and it’s 2-day, next day & even same day shipping the bar for fast shipping and therefore efficient warehouse communication to support it has been raised drastically. Luckily the constant leaps in mobile technology can be applied in innovative ways to warehouse communication which ultimately leads to increased productivity, lower overhead, and increased revenue.

Winning the Race with Efficient Productivity

There are several areas that mobile applications can lend their agile capabilities to increasing productivity in warehouse management and communication. The most pertinent of these according to Manufacturing.net is order picking and packing, saying that:

“Timing and accuracy play a key role in successfully filling an order. These factors have a direct effect on picking labor costs and orders picked per hour metrics. Reducing time to complete a process/order is directly tied to customer satisfaction.”

 

The challenge here is two-fold: How do you efficiently communicate what needs to be in an order & how do you make sure pickers know where that inventory is? Mobile inventory management applications solve both of these issues by creating a central place to easily view, generate & fulfill orders all in one place. With mobile solutions, Managers and workers can carry mobile devices with them to help locate where a specific item is located and directly scan it to add or remove it from their list depending on the task. Mobile inventory tracking such as this also allows for more accurate counts, by making sure items are not subtracted until they are physically scanned & handled.

We’ve taken this idea a step further with a research and development project for a client that featured smart glasses that did this step for them instead of having to manually input codes or carry a cumbersome scanner. Applying mobile technology to warehouse communications also means managers no longer have to be tied to a desk or constantly walking back and forth with features like instant reporting and chat interfaces that allow them to make inventory decisions directly from the work floor and communicate with employees instantaneously.

Integrating Mobile Lowers Overhead Costs & Increases Revenue

Many companies think that upgrading tech will be costly and time-consuming but mobile doesn’t have to be either of those and can significantly save money in the long run. One of the strongest selling points for mobile inventory and warehouse apps is that they can then be run on out-of-the-box devices. By eliminating the need for specialty and single-use devices, you no longer have to worry about expensive and untimely maintenance issues that not only impede workflow but pull money from your budget. Both mobile devices and applications are more easily updated with software updates or patches, giving a longer life to both instead of being stuck with legacy equipment that becomes more and more inefficient. Furthermore integrating a custom warehouse app gives you a more intuitive & relevant user interface, meaning you need to spend less time on training your workforce.

Increased revenue is the end goal for just about all companies, it is the easiest metric for measuring success and how you grow your enterprise. All of the things we’ve highlighted above should ultimately be drivers to increasing your bottom line. Warehouses are increasingly being viewed not just as pure cost centers in which operational focus is placed almost exclusively on wringing out inefficiencies and inaccuracies in order picking, but as a powerful asset that can drive profitable growth for the business with a heightened focus on improving inbound, storage, and outbound materials handling.

Finding the mobile warehouse solution for your business will significantly help your warehouse operations adapt to the quickly changing landscape of retail, e-commerce, and business in general as we continue to live in an increasingly interconnected and on-demand world.

Laura Little

Laura Little

Laura graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University and holds a degree in Creative Advertising. She’s passionate about authentic narratives, finding what a brand believes in and figuring out how to best translate that to consumers. She feels fortunate to have worked in and have experience in just about every part of the advertising and marketing world. In her downtime she can be found going on outside adventures with her dogs, enjoying local breweries, or doing experiments in her kitchen.

Mobile Apps for the Supply Chain

Mobile Apps for the Supply Chain

Apps to Support the Supply Chain Workforce & Its Processes

While computing in the supply chain is nothing new, many of the existing systems and platforms are typically running on bulky and dated equipment, limiting the flexibility and efficiency of employees. This issue isn’t confined to one segment of the supply chain. Everyone from suppliers to retailers is often conducting day-to-day operations with outdated supply chain applications and hardware. With the ubiquity of mobile technology, introducing apps into the supply chain can be beneficial and seamless. Mobile supply chain apps can lead to improvements at every step, often in similar ways across segments. For example, inventory management apps allow suppliers to track their raw materials, manufacturers to decrease the time to manufacture and ship and retailers to more effectively track their stock. Companies frequently focus the majority of their mobile technology investment on consumer-facing apps, often at the expense of mobilizing their supply chain operations. Shockoe has partnered with several big box retailers, as their supply chain app developer, to create apps that support supply chain workforce and processes. The infographic, below, outlines examples of how these supply chain apps can support desired customer experiences by improving processes such as inventory management, production planning, material management, and resource planning processes, to name a few.  

Increasing Customer Loyalty

As a supply chain app developer, we work with our clients to help them gain insight into points along the supply chain that will benefit from mobile app investment in order to get customers their product faster, more efficiently, and more effectively. This leads to a better customer experience, which maximizes their existing investment in consumer-facing solutions and increases customer loyalty.

How Suppliers Benefit:

 

  • Accurate sourcing: track and distribute raw materials anytime, anywhere. Mobile apps connect manufacturers to the first step of the supply chain, the raw materials supplier.
  • Easier inventory control: inventory management with the tap of a finger. Warehouse management apps give you 24/7 control of inventory
  • Simplified logistics: order fulfillment that’s simple, intuitive, and on the go. Track the transit of materials from anywhere in the field.

How Manufacturers Benefit:

 

  • Faster production times: supply chain apps integrate with legacy systems to cut down on the overall production process, decreasing the time to manufacture and ship.
  • Recall/damage control: simplify field assessments and integrate data captured in the field from mobile apps with back office applications. The faster a customer complaint is resolved, the more likely customers are to become repeat customers.
  • Better final product: tighter quality control means better oversight. All of this amounts to a higher quality product.

How Distributors Benefit:

 

  • Improved warehouse management
  • Smarter communication
  • Increased “on-time” delivery

How Retailers Benefit:

 

  • Better stock management
  • More efficient front-line employees
  • Less shrinkage

How Consumers Benefit:

 

  • Faster shipments
  • Accurate order tracking
  • Great customer experience

Increase Your Bottom Line

Partnering with an experienced supply chain app developer to digitize the supply chain means organizations can have the best of both worlds by increasing efficiency to decrease costs and making sure customers become ambassadors for the brand, leading to repeat business and long-term revenue growth.

Apps for the Supply Chain

The Impact of Progressive Web Apps on Mobile Customer Engagement

The Impact of Progressive Web Apps on Mobile Customer Engagement

App experiences are very different today depending on whether or not users are accessing the app on a web browser or on their devices; users expect different interactions when coming from Google Chrome or the Apple App Store. With Progressive Web Apps, or PWAs, businesses are hoping to start to blend these expectations in an effort to focus on accessibility and a lower cost of entry.

A Place for PWAs

With global businesses, the expectations of what network speed users have access to for consuming their content with can be increasingly diverse; with users in Qatar, the fastest country by average, having a 62 Mbps average download speed and users in India, a country with a massive amount of phone users, averaging around 9 Mbps. This means that businesses that spend marketing and design dollars are tailoring to an audience that will not accept a mobile experience taking over 3 seconds to load, potentially losing users in the time it takes to load.

PWAs take this challenge head-on by being more lightweight, improved and advanced caching, and generally focusing on performance over an expansive app experience. PWAs are both a result of mobile-focused web design and a new output of leveraging important new processes that allows for an experience closer to a native app.

What is the PWA experience?

When a user accesses a website that is capable of delivering a PWA, the user will be asked if they’d like to add the site to their device’s homepage. Once the site has been added to their device, it will appear via an icon like any other native application, and, when opened, will not use a browser bar or any other menus you would expect from a browser. From here, a user can interact with the PWA as they would a native app, essentially not showing a difference between the mobile site and the native app. Once installed, businesses can still offer user-tailored content, send push notifications to the user, and track their activity via analytics tools. Also, unlike when using a mobile browser, PWAs can offer experiences offline by caching content and interactions, similar to if a user opened a native app when offline.

Who has made PWAs?

Social media and e-commerce easily have experienced the bulk of success with adding PWAs because of their ability to foster offline engagement which is often a limitation of native applications. Because native applications are limited by their connectivity for access, PWAs are able to serve customers who are unable to access native applications and increase retail sales due to brand loyalty, recognition, and access to the e-commerce provided in the native application. Some examples of successes in Progressive Web Applications include Starbucks, Alibaba, Lancome, Net-a-Porter, Lilly Pulitzer, and West Elm.

The Benefits of a PWA

The benefits of building a progressive web application hinge on spreading access to content as widely as possible. That’s why the retail space has seen so much success: coupling brand loyalty with wider access means more sales. Ultimately, building a PWA in conjunction with a native application widens the access to e-commerce and communication, broadens customer engagement and brand loyalty, and assuages connectivity concerns from a greater audience. Further, updates can be pushed automatically without updating through an app store, which means you can make updates to your user experience without having to wait for a full app store approval and release which is crucial around your brand campaigns. A progressive web application frees up space on a a mobile or tablet device, and, with being so lightweight, they are fast and responsive as well.

The Drawbacks of a PWA

PWAs don’t come without their limitations, however. For PWA success, a certain degree of brand recognition and loyalty along with cross-platform engagement is necessary. Further, Android devices really only have the capabilities of saving a PWA to the home screen while iOS is limited to the responsiveness of Safari.

Is a PWA for you?

Ultimately, PWAs are best suited for the retail space where brand recognition and loyalty is already present and there is a degree of omni-channel presence and customer engagement. A quick survey of the brands with successful and profitable PWAs would indicate just that: they have some sort of native application, an e-commerce presence, and wide brand recognition.

Ellen Weaver

Ellen Weaver

Strategic Account Manager

Ellen Begley Weaver is a Strategic Account Manager who shirked the traditional career path after law school and leapt fearlessly into the tech industry. A barred attorney and a Georgia Peach, she enjoys the challenges that come with shaking up industry precedent and embracing what people really want or need through conversation. While not working, she enjoys hiking and swimming in the James River with her husband and two dogs, pouring a pint for friends at Buskey Cider, and swimming on an amateur synchronized swimming team called the River City Magnolias.

Product Management in App-griculture

Product Management in App-griculture

Back in the day, when life was simple and technology was limited, dairy producers would keep track of their herds by using journals or notebooks. As time as passed, adoption of computer software increased where data could be entered, but only after jotting it down on the farm first. Nowadays, there is mobile technology everywhere and there are apps out there to support all kinds of activities – including dairy farming.

How convenient is it for a dairy producer to take his phone or tablet anywhere to keep track of his/her herd? Well, to keep to a one-word answer – “extremely”. Not only is it a time savings by not having to log something on a piece of paper and go back and enter it onto a computer, it’s the convenience of having the information with you all the time.

Here at Shockoe, we have had the opportunity to work closely with a couple of clients to build apps for the dairy farming community. As part of the process, we had conversations with the future users of the app (dairy producers, veterinarians, and animal technicians) to learn how they use their existing software and what was missing.

As we traverse through the mobile development lifecycle with our clients, our product management practice focused on a few key main areas to ensure we meet our client’s needs:

1. User Experience

If users open the mobile app and don’t feel like there is any value for it, they will quickly delete and continue to use something else. The app needs to have the functionality to allow the users to accomplish their tasks, but also be structured in a way for easy navigation and reliable performance.

2. Simplicity

Albert Einstein: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” This and the principle, KISS, that has been around since the mid-1900’says it all. If a mobile app is not intuitive and easy to use, it will not be used – even if it on a device being carried around all day.

3. Security

If data or user information is not protected, the app is a huge failure. Users need to know the mobile application they are using is safe to use. This means securing the code, securing the device, securing the data, and securing the transactions.

4. Analytics

What is the most common functionality used in the mobile application? Which functionality is the least used by users? How long are the sessions for a user? Answers to these questions and feedback from the users, help determine what enhancements can be made for future versions. It just doesn’t stop after the mobile is pushed out to the stores, monitoring and evaluating needs to occur.

Dairy producers, vets, and technicians need the ability to access information about their animals, update data, and also perform various functions throughout the day. Following these key elements and working closely with the users, allows us at Shockoe to deliver a high quality mobile experience.

The Buzz Around Beacons

The Buzz Around Beacons

Business Insider recently published an article exploring the world of beacon technology. Many companies from airports to retailers are already using beacon technology. Being app developers ourselves, we pay close attention to anything that presents opportunity in mobile.

If you’re new to the concept, a beacon is a small device that broadcasts a Bluetooth low energy (BLE) signal. That signal contains the beacon’s unique identifiers, called a UUID, and a few other data points about it.  Beacons don’t record data, store information or send push alerts. All of that happens through an app.

A real-world example:
I’m attending SXSW, one of the hottest interactive, film and music festivals in the world held in Austin, TX. The official SXSW mobile app was enabled by beacons which significantly improved my registration experience by getting an alert containing my Registration QuickCode when I was in the vicinity of the SXSW registration booth. They also placed 50+ beacons at various event venues in and around the Austin Convention Center allowing SXW to welcome me to a session, encourage me to join discussions about a session within the SXSW app, see which other attendees were at that session and view tweets related to that session.

For a smartphone to be able to detect and make use of a beacon, it must meet four criteria.

(1)  the end user must have an app installed that recognizes beacons
(2)  the device must be Bluetooth enabled
(3)  the user must opt-in to share location with the app
(4)  the device must be running iOS 7 or higher or Android 4.3 or higher

The initial lure and marketing hype around beacons centers on real-time notifications. Installing beacons in merchandising areas enables you to send shoppers location-aware, targeted notifications, branded content and personalized offers. Within seconds or less of detecting a beacon, the app decodes the signal and delivers a push alert to the device: “Welcome to Starbucks. Free Mini-Scone with Purchase of a Drink. Today Only!”

Perhaps you’re taking the family to Marvel’s “Heroes on Ice” tour. The app detects a beacon at the venue, then serves up content relevant to that context. The user opens the app and sees “Best Restaurants Downtown.”

Additionally, the app sends push notifications alerting you to content relevant to your current location, or nearby advertisers. This more active approach builds upon the first two examples, but uses a combination of beacon technology and push notifications to prompt action from the user.

As more companies around the globe deploy beacons, we end up with a network of physical places that each have their own digital bookmark. A beacon gives a location its own real-world “URL,” or a way to identify and connect the physical and digital realms.

Knowing this digital footprint of locations empowers companies to understand how an opted-in audience navigates through the world. What are people shopping for? How often? When do they typically visit?

Data built over time is the key to unlocking valuable audience understanding, which companies can use to improve local, regional, and national sales. Better audience data equals better products, happier users, more engagement, more effective campaigns, and ultimately more revenue opportunities.

Testing and innovating with beacons is absolutely worth pursuing in 2015 in parallel to using proven sources like Facebook, Twitter, Google.  Bridging the mobile revenue gap is top priority, and requires new tactics and audience understanding. Beacons offer potential solutions to both.

Image Credit:  Estimote Beacons

Beginner’s Titanium: UI Layouts Using Nested Views

Making user interface elements display how you want them is not always a simple task. The Titanium 2.0 SDK changed the way the ‘auto’ sizing keyword is handled. These changes may require some existing code to be modified in order to produce the same output. So, we’ve put together a simple iOS example to show the use of nested views with the new values Ti.UI.SIZE and Ti.UI.FILL.

We want to make a layout that looks like this:

 

First, let’s create our window.


var window = Ti.UI.createWindow({
    backgroundColor:'lightgray',
});

Next, we want to create an outer view container for our layout and add it to our window. This container’s layout property is set to horizontal so that our content will be added from left to right.


var outerView = Ti.UI.createView({
backgroundColor: 'blue',
layout: 'horizontal',
height: 100,
width: 300,
});

window.add(outerView);

We’ll create an ImageView, set its photo, and add it to our outer view container.


var photo = Ti.UI.createImageView({
width: 7
height: Ti.UI.FILL,
borderColor: '#444',
borderWidth: 2,
borderRadius: 2,
backgroundColor: 'white',
});

photo.image = 'http://www.shockoe.com/media/shockoelogo_web.png';

outerView.add(photo);

Since we don’t want our labels to go directly next to the photo, we need a small buffer. We’ll create a view to use as a buffer and add it to our outer view container.


//5 pixel buffer between photo and nestedViewContainer

outerView.add(Ti.UI.createView({

width: 15,

height: Ti.UI.FILL,

backgroundColor: 'green',

}));

We want a container with a vertical layout so we can add three rows of labels from top to bottom. We create another nested view and use it as a container for labels.


var nestedViewContainer = Ti.UI.createView({
layout: 'vertical',
height: Ti.UI.FILL, //fill remaining height of parent
width: Ti.UI.FILL, //fil remaining width of parent
backgroundColor: 'yellow',
});

We create our Labels and add them to the nested view container.


var topLabel = Ti.UI.createLabel({
text: 'I am topLabel',
width: Ti.UI.SIZE,
height: '50%', //make the top label taller than the others
backgroundColor: 'cyan'
});

var middleLabel = Ti.UI.createLabel({
text: 'I am middleLabel',
height: Ti.UI.SIZE,
width: Ti.UI.FILL,//make this label as wide as its parent view
textAlign: Ti.UI.TEXT_ALIGNMENT_CENTER,//center the text in the width of the label
backgroundColor: 'red'
});

var bottomLabel = Ti.UI.createLabel({
text: 'I am bottomLabel',
width: Ti.UI.SIZE,
height: Ti.UI.SIZE,
backgroundColor: 'purple'
});

//add our labels to the nestedViewContainer
nestedViewContainer.add(topLabel);
nestedViewContainer.add(middleLabel);
nestedViewContainer.add(bottomLabel);

Finally, we add our nested view container to the outer view container and open our window.


//add our nestedViewContainer to the outerView

outerView.add(nestedViewContainer);

//open our window

window.open();

The UI views are colored to indicate the output of each element.  Comparing the code to the output should provide some idea of how the properties affect the outcome.  Please let us know in the comments section if this example was helpful!