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Low Code: How to Build an App a Day

Adeel Javed
January 22, 2018

In the digital economy, it really doesn't matter what line of business you are in. All organizations are facing growing pressure to operate at DIGITAL SPEED.

Ever-changing expectations are forcing organizations to accelerate operations and improve brand interactions for customers and employees alike.

To come out on top to distinguish yourself means stepping up your digital transformation game to another dimension, the dimension of low-code development.

It takes a modern low-code platform, not just to automate back-end processes and build enterprise-class applications (apps) 10 times faster than ever before, but to also accelerate the digital transformation journey.

Five ways low code platforms accelerate digital transformation success:

    • Low-code platforms enable rapid delivery of business applications with minimal hand-coding and upfront investment in setup, training, and deployment. Unlike traditional platforms, low-code platforms rely on visual development tools instead of programming languages. This enables low-code platforms to deliver applications faster than traditional platforms.

    • Low-code platforms can be used for everything from small, simple applications to complex, enterprise-scale applications. Relatively simple applications can be created without writing code. Others may require some programming for integrations with source systems or applications, custom algorithms, or delivery of special functionality not found within the platform. In these cases, you can use programming extensions and scripting found within the low-code environment.

    • With traditional platforms, coding new applications can be labor intensive. And changing custom-built applications with thousands of lines of code can be a nightmare. Compared with hand-coding, low code's ability to visually configure applications significantly speeds application delivery.

    • Low-code platforms improve agility for application development. They allow developers to quickly build prototypes or minimally viable products to validate requirements and test ideas before investing time to fully build out application functionality. This reduces overall development time, ensures scarce developer resources are not wasted, and enables digital innovation through cost-effective experimentation.

    • Because low-code platforms are so user-friendly, you can use nontraditional developer resources to manage them. Low-code platforms also allow organizations to harness the power of citizen developers and business experts to build and deploy applications, which makes it that much easier to align your IT and business priorities.

Picture this scenario.

You're the Chief Risk Officer for a major, highly-regulated, financial services organization. But your company lacks the digital technology to keep up with an ever-changing regulatory environment.

You're on the hook to transform your organization into an icon of regulatory compliance. The challenge is, you've got lots of ground to cover, and not much time to do it.

Unfortunately, your organization's processes are executed manually, which could expose you to increased risk of human error and noncompliance.

To turn things around, you need a digital transformation solution that will enable you to centralize enormous amounts of documentation, optimize efficiency for business users, and streamline complicated audit processes faster than you ever imagined.

What would you do in a situation like that?

Here's how we overcame a similar challenge at OCC, (the Options Clearing Corporation), the world's largest equity derivatives clearing organization.

For starters, we upgraded our software development capabilities to a low-code platform, which allowed us to quickly streamline our compliance processes, so we could operate at digital speed.

We also decided to implement a new initiative, which allowed our development team to dedicate an entire day to automating a complete end-to-end process.

We called it "Build An App Day".

This initiative would not have been possible without the agility and go-to-market speed that low-code development provides.

Here's a blueprint for our "Build An App Day" initiative, which any organization can follow, including a quick case study.

When we plan an iteration of "Build An App Day" at OCC, we divide all the work into five milestones, as shown in the figure below.Work divided into five milestones for Build An App Day

These milestones and activities are guidelines. They worked for OCC, but feel free to add or remove activities and milestones based on your specific organization.

      • Promote: At OCC, we want automation ideas to be identified by actual employees. The initiative can be socialized informally, or through corporate communication channels such as newsletters, fliers, posters or a company portal. Include examples and a summary of requirements description to help control the quality of ideas that get submitted. Alternatively, you can work with your project management office (PMO) or center of excellence (CoE) to identify opportunities from their backlogs.

      • Evaluate: Picking the right type of automation opportunity is a critical success factor. Define requirements that can be used to evaluate and prioritize submitted ideas. At OCC, we use the number of process steps, screens, participants and data elements, as part of our requirements. Next, be sure to consult with the team, because they will have a better handle on what can be accomplished in a day.

      • Analyze: Once you have selected the automation opportunity, the next step is to understand requirements and define scope. Schedule a couple of meetings with the selected team. The first meeting should focus on understanding their process and data elements. Keep this session simple and low-tech, use a whiteboard. Then take pictures. This will keep the session quick and interactive. The second meeting should be used to demo the tool. This will familiarize the selected team with the layout, terminologies and basic tool concepts and eliminate potential confusion during implementation.

      Steps to your end goal

      • Implement: Write a detailed plan for implementation day. The facilitator will need to coordinate a lot of moving parts. So, having a detailed plan will help. At OCC, we schedule implementation day from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM, and split it into four segments:

        • Setup & Kickoff

        • Design Sprint

        • Development Sprint(s)

        • Review Sprint

Implementation Day

Setup & Kickoff (8:00 AM ñ 9:00 AM): Book a meeting room for an entire day. Try to have the meeting room ready at least one day prior to implementation. But, if that is not possible, dedicate the first 30-45 minutes of the day to set up. Use the next 15 minutes to do a quick kickoff meeting. During the kickoff go over the schedule, team roles, and any housekeeping items.

It's also extremely important to identify the person who will act as the Decider (in Scrum this is also known as the Product Owner), and the Facilitator (who will coordinate all the activities throughout the day, and make sure everything is on track).

Design Sprint (9:00 AM ñ 10:00 AM): Use the first hour of the day to define the goal of automation, and user stories for the first sprint. Be sure to answer the following two questions before doing anything else.

        • Why are you doing this project? Where do we want to be six months or a year from now?

        • Imagine we travel into the future and our project failed. What might have caused that?

Build An App Day

After answering these two questions, focus on mapping high-level process that will be defined in the tool. Then, mockup the first step. This will allow developers and testers to start their work, while the rest of the team focuses on capturing and elaborating other requirements.

Development Sprints (10:00 AM ñ 4:00 PM): The next six hours can be considered development sprints. Your team can decide if they want to do one-hour sprints, one long sprint or some other combination. For our first iteration, we tried one-hour sprints. But that did not work out, so we switched to a two-hour sprint.

During this time, team members will continue working on their specific tasks.

        • Analysts will continue working with business users to capture requirements.

        • Developers will continue coding and do regular demos to the business users for feedback.

        • Testers will focus on creating test cases, and make sure that at this point they only focus on understanding requirements and creating test cases rather than execution, as that could become a distraction for the developers.

The facilitator's job is to keep things moving and prevent scope creep. In other words, make sure that everyone operates within the defined scope. Best case scenario? You will have a working, production-ready MVP. Worst case? You will have built parts of the application, and captured stories in the backlog for a future date.

One more thing. Make sure you work in a sequence. That way, even if you run out of time, you will have enough to use in production.

Review Sprint: For the final hour of the day, schedule a demo with the extended team. Also, invite some external/prospective teams for the review. This will help everyone to visualize how those simple whiteboard mockups transformed into a working application in less than a day.

On top of that, this is a great way to promote the initiative as well.

Release: Once you are done with the implementation day, you might still have activities to do before the application can move to production. These activities will vary from one organization to another. At OCC, we need to go through security and compliance reviews and a formal change management process before migrating the application to production.

Case Study ñ Effort Management

For our first iteration, we decided to automate our internal Effort Management process. The goal of the process is to intake, evaluate, score, size and prioritize project ideas submitted to our Digital Automation team.

Once a project idea has been prioritized, we capture analysis and implementation information. This is a linear seven-step process that involves multiple teams.

pictures from Build An App Day

We only had two developers for the first "Build An App Day", so we limited our scope to the first five steps of the process, from intake to prioritization.

We also limited the number of process participants to two teams, and assumed inputs from other teams as swivel chair activities. By the end of the day, we had successfully implemented a fully functional five-step process, with a record list, detailed record page, user stories in the backlog for analysis and implementation steps and all the test cases.

After the implementation day, we did code reviews. We tested the application, did security reviews, and went through the change management process before migrating the app to production.

Fully functional 5 step process

Picking our internal process allowed us to skip marketing and evaluation milestones, resolve all issues that came up, and learn lessons from mistakes. It also helped us to refine the idea and create solid marketing material as well.

Reach out and learn more

If you want to learn more about starting your own "Build an App Day" program, reach out to us at the upcoming Appian World 2018in Miami, Florida, April 23-25 2018.

And if you want to learn more about OCC's digital transformation, read our story on Forbes.

Adeel Javed

Process Automation Lead, OCC

©2018 The Options Clearing Corporation. All rights reserved.