Product Management For Agile Teams: Why Oh Why

By on in Process, Product Management

At Carbon Five, we build software. We build it using Agile methods. This has worked out well for us and our clients for a long time. We recently added product management as a discipline to our team. There are some common challenges we see at C5 and we’ve been deliberately experimenting with different activities and practices around product development, some of which we will be sharing in this series of blog posts.

Picture this:

Our team is working in a startup environment. Our product owner–let’s call him Alex–while business savvy, has no product management experience. He has a very clear and detailed vision of the product in its finished state. Complete with comps. Those designs, while beautiful, were not created in response to specific user problems; they’re a product of Alex’s brain alone. When our team begins work, questions arise. User stories are written against the comps, instead of against problem statements generated by research with real users. The comps are referenced, but a picture doesn’t necessarily speak the same 1000 words to everybody.

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Scoot & Doodle Featured in the App Store.

By on in Design, Mobile, Process, Web

Chris Egy Rose and Patty Chang came to Carbon Five in spring of 2012 with an exciting new concept around facilitating human interaction and connected learning. The idea was to allow young people to connect with their friends, classmates and families through face-to-face interactions and a shared canvas. The interactive canvas overlay allows participants to use simple tools to create and draw with one another. The initial ten-week engagement happily turned into a rewarding long term partnership that shepherded the product and team through many iterations over many months, resulting in an outstanding, feature rich set of products.

Screen Shot 2013-12-12 at 11.17.54 AM

Scoot & Doodle’s Scoodle Jam is featured in the Education section of the app store.

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Same Team, New Tricks

By on in Process

I am writing this to explore the following line of thought:

  • We can increase the value we generate without expanding our talent pool
  • Improving quality creates the most value
  • Inflexibility keeps us from improving
  • Ignoring queues is the primary cause of our inflexibility
  • Kanban is the method for managing our queues
  • Once flexibility exists, we can use it to add value by increasing quality

I will be exploring this in two major sections. The first will describe why flexibility matters. The second will prescribe a possible solution: Kanban. Get comfortable, this post is a little long.
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Raygun: Generating Rails Apps for the Last Year

By on in Process, Web

It was about a year ago that we first announced Raygun, our Rails applications generator. Since then, many apps have been zapped into existence, both internally at Carbon Five and in the wild. Raygun evolved over the year; it does more of some things and less of others. Let’s see what Raygun does and what has changed…


Raygun is a command-line tool, installed as a gem, that generates new Rails apps with a bunch of tweaks, settings, and other time-saving enhancements. It bakes in the libraries and recipes we find useful when building Rails apps. Rather than including everything we might need, it provides a foundation that, by and large, is applicable to most projects.


Raygun also serves as living documentation of our conventions at Carbon Five. Changes are made via pull requests, where people propose ideas and others chime in with their thoughts. It evolves in small ways all the time, as our preferences and the available tools change.

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Connecting and speaking

By on in Design, Events, Process

Mixing Lean UX with Agile Development

Last night I had the opportunity to do a dry run of my talk for the Flowcon conference coming up this November 1st at the Lean UX SF Meetup. The event was hosted at WeWork which has a beautiful office conveniently right around the corner from ours. Thanks to great promotion by Mike Long and Niley Barros, we had a sell-out crowd which at one point resulted in a line out the door. The folks from WeWork and the Flowcon conference, which was sponsoring the Meetup, were incredibly helpful and accommodating and we packed everyone in that we could fit.

Line outsideLine inside

Getting in front of a room that crowded had me battling quite a few nervous jitters but the friendly, enthusiastic faces in the crowd brought a ton of great energy. By the end of the night I realized how inspiring it can be just sharing stories with people about the work that we are all doing. I know that personally it always serves to refocus my efforts and ensure I’m on top of my discipline going into work the next day.

The slides for the talk are up on the Carbon Five Slideshare account:
Mixing Lean UX & Agile Development

Thanks to everyone that came and for all of your questions and helpful feedback. Really excited for the FlowCon conference on November 1st followed up by Balanced Team November 2nd and 3rd.


Introducing MVAP: The Minimum Viable Awesome Product

By on in Process

Dressing up the old MVP with a little spice

Notes on Process: Part 1 of 3


Last week at lunch I found myself using a plate of beans and rice to explain the basic tenants of MVP. This got me thinking. Could you take a basic burrito and use it as a metaphor for a software product? What if your software product was a burrito? What kind of burrito would it be? The burrito analogy actually started to work; so much so that I took some time to organize my thoughts a little more and wrote the first of 3 posts about my thoughts on process here at C5. Additionally, it seemed fitting that I should at least list my favorite burritos currently in the greater Mission District here in San Francisco. More on that later.


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Join Lane and Courtney in the Big Apple for LeanUX NYC

By on in Design, Process, Web

Join Lane Halley and Courtney Hemphill in NYC April 11th-13th, 2013

Spend some time this spring in Manhattan learning from 25 designers, innovators, entrepreneurs, and at least a couple developers at the LeanUX NYC conference. TLC Labs and Lean Startup Machine have partnered with NYU Stern’s Berkley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and Cyrus Innovation to bring you 3 days of talks and workshops that delve into the entire product development lifecycle by accomplished practitioners and leaders in the LeanUX Design community.

Lane Halley (@thinknow) and Courtney Hemphill (@chemphill) will give a talk: “Mixing Lean UX and Agile Development: How to minimize risk, maximize flexibility and create the right product.” and run a workshop: “Conversation, Cadence & Culture: Recipes to Inspire Collaborative Teams.” Grab a ticket soon and come on by, say hi, and join in the conversation!

Integrating 3rd-Party APIs: Listen to Your Tests

By on in Process, Web

When integrating 3rd-party APIs, it’s important to listen to your tests. The most common design relies on tests that directly mock the 3rd-party API. These tests are brittle, but are often acceptable because, well, they work. A better approach is to take the time to design an app-specific interface to wrap the 3rd-party API. The resulting tests will be more resilient to change and more maintainable. Introducing an explicit interface for an implicit concept will also enrich your domain model. In this post, we’ll take a look at each of these approaches.

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