The Apollo group set out on a large task to increase market share by creating a learning platform for smaller schools to utilize in delivering online education. This platform was an all inclusive “classroom in a box” that provided a turn key solution for institutions wishing to provide classes online. It had modules which could be delivered standalone or as a package. A large effort was needed to provide an administrative interface in which IT staff could set up, configure and customize the modules within their existing architecture.
As Product Manager, responsible for the vision of the entire administrative area of the platform. I worked with other product managers and developers to gather requirements from all of the areas of the platform including but not limited to the classroom, client configuration and integration, material and content generation and user permissions. I then translated those requirements into wire frames and other visual artifacts to communicate my vision to the rest of the organization.
The span of my involvement was from January 2012 to July 2013 working hand and hand with a team of tenant clients, designers and architects and developers.
I was given a fantastic opportunity to not only create something from scratch but be able to design an application that was critical to our software offering. This platform control had to be accessed by administrators to control dozens of tenant schools that the apollo group provided to as well as cater to the unique needs of the primary existing schools. The solution had to be scalable as demand increased and easy enough to configure advanced permissions and configurations by semi technical stakeholders. This centralized control had to also provide insight to things like analytics on a micro and macro scale, usage patterns to be fed into predictive models with complex data visualization provided by third party tools. Add on top of all that integration into existing legacy tenant information systems and content management applications you begin to get a sense of some of the complexities of this task.
By working with architects, business stakeholders, educators and a lot more, I gathered all the use cases that had to be considered for all the areas of the ecosystem. I had to define the “what” before anything and trying to do that across all department was monumental. From handling things like create users and manage permissions in the classroom to how to update a banner on the login page this platform control had to include everything that was done manually and usually took teams of developers and business analysts. I wrote user stories in an agile method eg: I as a type of user want to accomplish “x” so I can do “y” with acceptance criteria. These user stories were then solicited to all involved parties and refined as they were critical to be detailed enough to hand off to the people who actually were responsible to build it.
Starting by competitive analysis we first looked at the question build vs. buy. A lot of vendor analysis and feature comparison went into the decision to build. Along with that I also did huge amount of persona building and contextual inquiry on the user who would be operating within this environment. Sitting with the actual users was a key factor making the decision to try and shoe horn an existing product into the mold we needed or build out a minimal viable product custom tailored to our specifications In the end we built the minimum and iteratively added on features as we on boarded more and more clients.
As a Result of this I was able to do a number of things critical to the organization. The first was to bring a mechanism for controlling the educational platform. I also reduced a number of manual tasks done inefficiently by development staff by giving a front end interface to administrators to be able to delegate to business analysts.