By Artturi Korvenranta, Product Owner at LocalBitcoins
What began as a programming project of two brothers has evolved into a business that now employs over 70 cryptocurrency enthusiasts. The LocalBitcoins’ technology team consists of around 15 experts including Software Developers, Infrastructure Engineers, Data Analysts, and more. As one might imagine, maintaining a coherent software development process with a development team that size without any intermediators between the engineers and other stakeholders might be a little… unorganized. And that is where I came in as a Product Owner when I joined LocalBitcoins in March this year.
Finding process in a lack of process
Starting off at LocalBitcoins I was thrown quite literally straight in the deep end. Don’t get me wrong; I had (and still have) my team’s full support, but in terms of product development, there was little to build off of. There were no written development processes, no flowcharts, no explicit product backlog, just a ticket here, and another there. However, tasks still got completed and the developers had plenty to do so my first task was to figure out how exactly did all of that happen? Simply put, it was multiple people driving forward features important to their teams without any clear decision-making structure and oftentimes it was the squeakiest wheel that got the grease.
The developers themselves had their house in order which made my job that much easier. Now it was all about handling the process that comes before that. First, I created a product backlog where each internal function has a designated list and each function head has the responsibility of keeping their list up to date and prioritized. Next, two-week sprints were introduced to the development process and sprint backlogs were being formed based on the prioritized cards on the product backlog. Yet, something crucial still seemed missing. While all internal functions now got their voices heard, there was a need to explicitly represent our most important stakeholder: the end-user.
From regulations first to customer first
For the past couple of years, LocalBitcoins has put a sizable share of its development efforts into becoming compliant with EU regulations and legislation. While we acknowledge that some of the related changes feel like a little more than a nuisance from the user’s point of view, all that inevitable work has paid off and we are still allowed to offer our services across the globe — all while making illicit actors’ lives harder. On the other hand, this period of intensive adaptive efforts didn’t leave many resources to focus on improving the user experience of our customers.
To promote user-centered development we created a Service Excellence process. The process begins by collecting feature requests that will improve our users’ experience from multiple channels: support tickets, social media, customer surveys, internal contributors, you name it. Each idea is then pre-evaluated to form a group of features that will be clarified further. Once they are clarified the feature requests make their way onto the product backlog where they are picked up on sprints and eventually deployed to production. In practice, this means we streamlined the process of translating user feedback into service upgrades.
The Service Excellence process has already proven its worth as we have been able to deliver many quality of life improving features since its inception. These features include a better notification system, removing the balance requirement for creating advertisements, accepting Bech32 addresses when withdrawing Bitcoin (coming soon), and many others underway.
The recently introduced development process is starting to reach a maturity level where it runs smoothly without major interventions. From a Product Owner’s perspective, there are even more exciting times ahead. Our technology team will expand rapidly in the near future and the product development process needs to adapt as the headcount grows. Undoubtedly many challenges lie ahead while taking on that endeavor but some things are for certain: when we increase our development capacity all while shifting to a more user-oriented approach we will be able to deliver bigger and better upgrades faster than ever before.
Out of all the notable projects that are already well on their way, a mobile application and a major visual overhaul to our web application deserve their own mention. Not only have both been requested from us countless times but they also allow us to offer our service to people who reside in locations with limited access to personal computers. While building and delivering these features over the next couple of months we will keep collecting feedback from our users and more big things will follow shortly after. Stay tuned and happy trading!