Note to the reader: This is a joint blog between GGA and our client, Labyrinth Solutions Ltd, creators of a new product called SilkThread ™. It charts the creation of this new application from a developer’s AND client’s points of view.
SilkThread ™ is a compliance-based web application which helps transport operators and hauliers comply with the Undertakings of the Operator’s Licence – this is a requirement for anyone running vehicles over 3.5t (anything bigger than a large van). It enables auditing and visibility across multiple depots of all aspects of transport management, including how depots manage drivers’ hours, vehicle servicing, defect reporting, working time, agency drivers and many other vital aspects of transport compliance. It is the first web app of its kind to be developed in the UK.
It is called SilkThread ™ because, in the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, the hero was given a ball of silk thread to help him navigate his way back out of the maze after his victorious battle with the Minotaur.
Part 1: Knowing what you want but not what you need.
For the past 6 months Labyrinth Logistics Consulting Ltd have been working with Bromsgrove-based app developers Green Gorilla Apps (ggapps.co.uk) to plan, design and build an industry-defining web application called SilkThread ™. Instead of the usual post-project case study, both Labyrinth and GGA have decided to write a joint ‘warts-and-all’ journal blog about the highs and lows of developing a first-of-its-kind product. Each blog will have an entry from both companies with an aim to showing the different viewpoints of developer and client.
Ruth Waring (Director of Labyrinth)
After 6 months of product development our web app, SilkThread ™, went into its build phase last week. We are sure there will be a few twists and turns along the way, and the company is also hoping that, by writing this blog, more potential customers will hear about what we’re doing.
So, how did Labyrinth get to here? In 2012 just after the Olympics the company was considering its next move and, inspired by the athletes planning for Rio in 2016 the company decided on a four year project plan, concentrating on how the business will look in 2016. In 2012 the consultancy team was doing a lot of travelling and direct client work with the majority of our business acumen locked in consultants’ heads. The management team was conscious that, if we were to reduce travelling and create long-term value for the brand, a different approach was needed.
This is where the idea for SilkThread ™ was born. Labyrinth would create an app to enhance our consultancy offering which contained all the combined years’ experience of our compliance team.
The process started with the team gathering together a repository of document templates which we knew we’d need and would form part of the document library within the system. We then developed a number of guidance documents that we also wanted to include.
At this stage the company had lots of ideas about what the app should look like, and with visions of clients walking through a 3D maze answering questions about compliance. This is a process called “gamification” whereby business ideas get treated as games. However all such grandiose ideas were quickly downgraded when we started speaking to our eventual app developer, Green Gorilla Apps (@ggappsuk) who are based in Bromsgrove, not too far from Labyrinth’s Warwickshire base. The GGA team talked very sensibly about not “building a cathedral” when we visited them initially. Instead we realised we were going to build a very small chapel instead.
From this initial conversation, the seeds of what were to eventually become SilkThread were born and a plan of attack was conceived to get the project up and running.
Paul Tunnicliffe (Project Manager @ GGA)
When we first met with Labyrinth it was obvious that the Directors had a crystal-clear goal; to revolutionise their industry by creating an easy to use digital platform that would allow the transport and logistics industries to navigate the maze (pun intended) of compliance paperwork they need to constantly do in order to operate legally. Like most development companies will testify though, just because a client knows what they want, it doesn’t mean they know what they need…
Labyrinth’s original idea for SilkThread was to have it in the form of a 3D-style game app that allowed the user to move around the ‘compliance maze’ completing tasks as they go and with the goal of having a fully compliant company by the end of it. Lovely idea but, as everyone quickly agreed, completely irrelevant for what we understood Labyrinth’s needs to be.
Thankfully Labyrinth’s Directors Ruth and Jo turned out to be brilliantly open-minded when discussing ideas and taking on board new concepts. So as we talked about the philosophies of MVP (Minimum Viable Product), agile development iteration and, most importantly, product validation, it became apparent that what SilkThread actually needed to be was a web-based portal that would automate compliance and handhold it’s users through the entire process.
With that in mind, Ruth and Jo went away to do some thinking and to document everything they thought SilkThread should be with a view into moving into our ‘Technical Consultancy’ phase. That’s when we all realised the potential scope of the project and the real fun started…
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