Prolific Interactive is an award-winning, mobile-focused agency that operates in many ways like a tech startup. They build innovative apps based on user-centric design with lean, cross-functional teams that are data-driven, and they measure their success against growth outcomes.
This product-led approach has resulted in a string of industry accolades, including Best VR/AR App, Best Native Mobile App, and Best Responsive Design, in addition to awards for Best Places to Work.
At Instabug, we’re proud to support Prolific Interactive’s journey by helping them build incredible apps that people love to use with our bug reporting and user feedback SDK.
We sat down with Joe Minkiewicz, Director of Product Development at Prolific Interactive, to take a peek behind the scenes of the agency’s app dev workflow.
What kind of work does Prolific Interactive do?
We focus on digital products. A lot of the work we do is in mobile and mobile-related applications.
We do design and development strategy, and we also have a growth team. We do product development, whether its a V1 app or whether it’s redoing an existing app or somewhere in between.
We don’t want to just build it, we want to make sure it gives you a return on investment.Joe Minkiewicz, Director of Product Development
That’s where the growth team comes in and they work on marketing, making sure that we’re acquiring users and retaining users and hitting KPIs.
We do a lot of retail and e-commerce apps. We have some lifestyle and health and fitness type apps as well. We’re looking to expand industries that we’re working with, but those are the core of the work that we do.
We’ve worked with a lot of retailers, including David’s Bridal, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Abercrombie & Fitch. One of our biggest and most popular partners is SoulCycle, we just released the V12 app with them. We also just released CrossFit Games out of the San Francisco office.
We have three offices now. We just opened an office in Raleigh, North Carolina, and our headquarters are in Dumbo, Brooklyn in NYC, and we also have an office in San Francisco.
How are your teams structured?
We have about 90 people in the Brooklyn office and about 75ish are probably production teams, the others include finance and people operations.
Of the production teams, our team sizes could be anywhere from four to 12 people and that could fluctuate, so we have anywhere from 8-12 production teams across offices. The people on these teams include UX designers, engineers, product managers, and growth managers. Some projects don’t need growth at a certain point and the number of engineers fluctuates depending on the needs of the product. And the teams use Instabug in all builds up to production.
What are your best practices for product development?
Having a fast feedback loop and getting feedback early and often from your stakeholders is important and iterating quickly. That includes both getting feedback from your stakeholders but also getting feedback from users. We do a lot of user testing and user interviews here.
You don’t want to just build a feature in a vacuum. After you come up with an idea, you want to get that in front of potential users and see what they think about it. Doing that research is important.Joe Minkiewicz, Director of Product Development
There are very easy ways to do user research, it doesn’t have to be a big setup necessarily.
What is your app dev process like?
We have anywhere from 8-15 apps in development at any given time across all of our offices.
We’re big believers in ‘Show, don’t tell.’ We don’t do what a typical agency would do — not that those processes are bad, we just don’t want to fall into old habits or traditions just because everyone else does them. Joe Minkiewicz, Director of Product Development
One of those things a lot of agencies are known for is you give them a project, you go away for six months, you leave, and then you come back and there’s a big reveal. That causes problems because on the partner’s side, often the result is not what they had in mind.
One of our big things is partnerships. We don’t call our clients “clients,” we call them “partners.” We have a close relationship and have them involved every step of the way as soon as possible.
We want to get the app in our partners’ hands right away so that they can see it grow as we’re building it. We want to keep everyone in the loop in terms of the development process so we don’t have any unexpected surprises at the end of the project.Joe Minkiewicz, Director of Product Development
We use HockeyApp for development build distributions, so as soon as possible we put out an initial build for our partners. It might just be a white screen, but that’s step one and everybody gets it on their phone. Then we have automatic updates through the HockeyApp SDK. So on the partner side, you have the app, and when there’s a new build, you can download it immediately and see the work.
In general, it takes six months to develop a V1 app. It generally isn’t too much shorter than that, especially for V1, there are a lot of unknowns when you’re starting out and a lot of testing at the end. After that, we release pretty regularly. Some products here are on a two week release schedule. If it’s a smaller project, it could take two, three, four months, and some projects take longer and could take eight months for example, but six months is the range.
How do you handle internal and beta testing?
We do not have a QA team. In the past and still now, the responsibilities for QA have been on the product manager as well as the team in general, but the product manager is responsible for quality assurance at the end of the day. Over the past year and a half and over time, we’ve explored some outsourcing and QA services, so we are probably moving that way where we use outsourced QA teams or hire QA freelancers.
For beta testing, the way we have it set up is all our development goes through HockeyApp, and then when we do beta testing or release prep we use TestFlight, which is part of Apple now, so we treat the TestFlight build as the release candidate.
We don’t always do a defined beta test for every app, but we do some sort of pre-release candidate process. Depending on the size of the product, we do beta programs, but sometimes it might just be an unofficial beta where it goes out to friends, family, or some of our top users.
How do you collect feedback about your apps before release?
Instabug is one of the SDKs that we install from the get-go. What we mainly use it for is the feedback loop feature — being able to have an easy way for any person on the team or any stakeholder, anybody that’s testing it, to easily report bugs, feedback, whatever they want to do, and draw on the screen and send a note. Then we have all those reports hooked up to Pivotal Tracker, so everything that comes into Instabug gets sent to our backlog on Pivotal Tracker and then we attack it from there.
We were one of the earliest people using Instabug.
We weren’t looking for a solution, but as soon as we saw Instabug, we were like, ‘Oh yeah! That’ll make our lives so much easier.’ So it was a problem we didn’t realize we had.Joe Minkiewicz, Director of Product Development
Pretty quickly, we got it in all of our current apps and literally every app that we make — unless it’s just a prototype for research — any development project that’s eventually going to go live, we have Instabug in it. It’s in all of our development builds and everybody here is using it.
What is your feedback workflow like?
We’re set up into cross-functional product teams — design, development, growth, and product management — and everybody is working only one product. So each product team has their own app within Instabug. They have their own backlog within Pivotal Tracker as well, so it’s like they’re their own little company.Joe, Product
Basically, the feedback goes into Instabug, and we have a rule set up so that everything goes into Pivotal Tracker, so it’s pretty easy. And then from there, the PM owns the backlog, so they see those bugs pop up at the top of the icebox and then they’ll triage from there.
How has Instabug helped your development process?
Instabug definitely helps because it’s so easy to give feedback and because you can include a screenshot and it includes the other log info, making everything a lot easier.
Using Instabug encourages more people to give us more feedback. We’re getting more feedback than we would normally get because otherwise, someone would have to sit down and write an e-mail and then we wouldn’t have a screenshot, either. So testers are sending us more feedback than they would normally.Joe Minkiewicz, Director of Product Development
There’s more information in the Instabug bug reports than we would normally get, so it makes it easier to triage issues because we can actually see and get to the problem faster and reproduce it faster.