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Case Study: Building an MVP Application for Autonomous Mobile Robots

05-31-23 Sparkbox

A minimum viable product seems like a great idea, but does it actually work in practice? Learn how Sparkbox worked with a client on honing the scope and opening communication to build a functional application for a company in the autonomous vehicle industry.

Many organizations choose to begin work on new products with an MVP–a minimum viable product. Focusing on an MVP allows for efficient use of time and resources while confirming that the chosen direction provides the desired results. It’s easy to think of an MVP as the result of just a technical strategy, but it’s more than that. It also requires the right team mindset and strong working relationships.

These human elements were integral to the success of a project we worked on with a leader in autonomous mobile robots (AMR). The client brought Sparkbox into the project quite early in the process—while the initial scope was still being defined. That allowed our team to help put the client in the best possible position to be successful, in the moment and in the long run. In this case, it meant starting with an MVP.

For most MVP engagements there are three facets that need equal care and attention:

  • The scope—the boundaries of the project and product

  • The people—the collaborations that define the project

  • The deliverable—the actual product that is delivered

Defining the Scope

During the onboarding process with our AMR client, the Sparkbox team focused on both the scope of the product and the needs and expectations of the people involved. We began the project the way we always do: with a lot of listening. There were some great ideas on the table, but it was challenging to determine where the client had enough information that we could actually move forward and where we would need to dig even deeper.

Fortunately, this is territory that we’re very comfortable navigating. Every project comes with time and budget constraints, and we’re focused on helping our clients maximize the impact of the resources they have available. Having the opportunity to work with all the client teams before expectations were set gave us time to identify and define the tech stack and functionality that would help validate assumptions, meet client needs, and unlock future opportunities. In other words, we helped the client define and create an MVP.

Building for Their People

While it’s easy to focus solely on the nuts and bolts, we believe it’s important to really understand an organization, its unique needs, and its plans for the future in order to fit the product to its team. For this client, our discovery sessions revealed a misalignment between the UX and development teams. This isn’t an impossible problem to solve, but we knew it would require us to refine and narrow the client’s focus.

As a starting point, we encouraged more open communication to bring awareness to the differing shared visions for the project. Our team also embraced a consultant mindset during this time to help our client’s teams better define the scope of the MVP. In all honesty, it required some tough conversations to create alignment between teams. We needed to set priorities that would benefit the organization and satisfy disparate teams. But in the end, we were able to have honest collaboration and define an MVP that would ensure future success.

Iterating on the Deliverable

To address technical needs, Sparkbox took a number of factors into account: the client’s experience, the team’s preferences, and the planned growth of the organization. We encouraged our client’s developers to especially consider stability, popularity, and ease of use. We ultimately recommended Nuxt.js for the application framework. Nuxt.js is built on Vue and is similar to its React counterpart, Nuxt.js. While it includes many features intended to streamline development, we particularly liked Nuxt for its progressive web app (PWA) support. A PWA helps make a web application feel more like a native app, including offline support.

The MVP product that we created is an application that tracks—in real time—a list of moves for a fleet of automated vehicles. (Imagine sending a robot to fetch a crate from the other side of a warehouse. This is the app that you’d use to make the request!) There’s also a mechanism to cancel a move if needed. In addition to the queue system, the Sparkbox team created a facility map. This was another piece of the MVP that wasn’t directly connected to the app but used the same general design and architecture. Finding similarities between pieces of work like these helped us demonstrate the ways that a unified vision for the product could be valuable.

Putting the Pieces Together

Our client was able to start using the product immediately, making life easier for warehouse managers and floor workers. They can (and certainly will) continue adding more functionality over time, whether working with Sparkbox, another partner, or their growing internal team. Every product evolves over time, and this one will too. Our job is to make sure that’s a seamless and efficient process.

As ever, it’s not possible to do everything at once. The key to long-term success is setting clear priorities, having open communication, and creating a strategic deliverable for future growth—and that’s true of building strong teams and successful projects.

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Katie Jennings

Vice President of Business Development