How can teamwork help an airline's flight operations really take off?
projekt202 Solutions Architect Mark Sims shares his behind-the-scenes knowledge of successfully delivering large-scale web applications that benefit millions of U.S. and international travelers every day.
You're currently working on an exciting project to help an airline improve its on-time performance. Can you tell us about that?
Absolutely. I have the pleasure of working with a major airline that's based here in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. We're helping them in lots of areas. We actually do research with them, we do UX design, and we also are assisting them with some UI development, more specifically in the operations software side of things.
One of the things that we're trying to do is to empower them to be able to do their own work. This client has a rich history of back-end development. They realized that there was the need to have somebody come in and help them a little bit with their UI education. We are working with them to help them understand web applications. We're migrating a lot of their legacy systems onto newer platforms, including web applications.
With this integration of your team focused on the front-end side and a more legacy team focused on the engineering side, how did you get them to work together?
We actually are embedded into their teams. At this particular client, they call their teams "pods." They are practicing Agile work flow, so each pod has got a scrum master, a tech lead, developers and BAs. We go in and work directly in the pods with them. That gives us the ability to do a variety of things. We can contribute work and lay down some solid examples. We can pair up with their developers and work on stories together, so that we can show our thought process of how we actually go through and complete the requirements of that story.
To really help with education, we've also started doing formal classroom sessions.
So the engineering team had the same focus and goals, your team had the same focus and goals, but, because UI was new to this engineering team, you had to bring them together, right?
That's correct, yes. UI development is a new thing for these folks. Again, being older systems, they were built a little bit differently. The objective here is that we're going to be building this suite of applications. It's a web application, so we have to help educate them on not only how to make services that are tailored for a web application UI, but actually how to do UI development as well.
What were some of the goals of your project team and what were some of the goals of the client’s team?
The overarching goal of this entire project is to get passengers to destinations faster. To get passengers to their destinations in a more timely manner, we are working with the client on their operation software side of things.
This project has taught me that design really can change the world. It’s not the whole world, but it’s one bit of the world at a time and it really can make a difference in people’s lives.
There's a couple of areas of opportunity that we're working on. It's getting information to decision makers faster and it's also trying to break down the silos. In many enterprises, the solution oftentimes is, "Hey, I've just built another app for it." What happens is you wind up with hundreds and hundreds of apps, and they all run on different platforms. Therefore, it takes many apps for somebody to be able to do their job and get the information that they need. Our objective here is to try and bring to aggregate that information together, so that they can have the information they need to make decisions in one place, and they can make those decisions faster, which will translate to better on-time performance.
Many of these decisions were fueled by data that was done by a research team. Can you tell us about that integration?
We were fortunate enough to provide our design research before we went in and started developing. We had two researchers in the field and I believe they did several months’ worth of research.
That research included everything from riding around with the tug drivers, the baggage handlers, people at the podium checking tickets, the operations control center – they did research in a very wide spectrum of areas.
They got a whole behind-the-scenes look at how the airline industry works.
That's correct. Again, our goal is on-time performance. In order for us to be able to perform better, that includes not just one area. It is everything from the control center all the way down to the baggage handlers and people that are fueling the planes, all of that. Yes, we were able to acquire a lot of really good research to get us started on development.
What I find most useful and most interesting is that after one of our major releases – again, being an enterprise, they don't do releases every week or every two days, it's a quarterly event – we were able to get some really good feedback, some validation from our users. Our researchers went and spent time with them to better understand, Was this a step in the right direction? Overall, the answer was, "Absolutely it's a step in the right direction."
What they were able to do is really gain some good insights as to what we could do to make the product even better. They were able to bring that back and we were able to implement that into the next release. We're getting into that more iterative process of really validating and making sure we are giving them the software that they need to make better decisions faster.
Even with research, it's all speculative until you get in front of a real user. Nobody knows their business better than them. The feedback was absolutely paramount because some decisions that were really well thought through, it turned out that they were close, but they weren't exactly what we needed. We were able to actually go and make sure that they have exactly what they need.
What are some of the key takeaways on this project?
I think that the most exciting thing that I take away from this project is that you'll hear guys like David [Lancashire, Chairman and CEO of projekt202] and Peter [Eckert, Co-Founder and Chief Experience Officer of projekt202] say things like, "Design can change the world." The first time I heard that, to be frank, I was like, "Sure, man, design is going to change the world, right?" This project has actually made me understand that design can change the world.
What I mean by that is that through research, through UX, through a good UI, we are able to help people make decisions faster. That trickles downhill to the end customer, which is the passenger.
When our planes are more on time, things can happen like Dad can get home and go to his child's first piano recital, as opposed to if that plane was not on time, he might miss that critical moment, and a slew of other things.
This project has taught me that design really can change the world. It's not the whole world, but it's one bit of the world at a time and it really can make a difference in people's lives. That's been really exciting for us to be able to take part in something like that.