What I did this week

This week I aimed to work harder than the previous week, as Chris said that we had fallen off track a bit.

I spent around 1 hour on the Thursday looking at existing companies involved in renting bikes. I tried to get an idea of how many customers they get in their area by seeing if they gave any indication on stock levels or how many customers they have. I also took a look at their booking systems, many existing companies only have contact forms and no way of booking online, therefore the IT solution that we will provide will already be a step forward over many existing companies.

On Friday we had a meeting to discuss the previous lecture and to see how we could proceed with the business plan, while continuing our work with the technology plan. We went through the business plan looking at each section, discussing what should go in it – while looking at the lecture slide on Blackboard to help us with the ideas. It was decided that we should look at the business plan over the weekend, make notes on it and meet on Monday to set aims for the technology items such as finishing the rich picture and use cases, while starting other areas that we hadn’t yet, such as data flow diagrams.

Over the weekend I spent around 2 hours reading through the business plan, while looking for other business plans like the one available on the Prince’s Trust website, as they had a guide for completion along with a template:

http://www.princes-trust.org.uk/need_help/enterprise_programme/help_with_your_business_plan.aspx.

Tom created the following spider diagram / mind map of the website during the week, to help us visualize the business.

On Monday we met up to discuss the business plan and to hand out tasks to complete some technical plan tasks. During the meeting we looked at a couple of existing bike hire websites, one of them was “City Cycle Hire” that Tom had seen over the weekend – this contained some good information such as a price list and some other content that we should feature on our website. We saw the website and agreed it was a good base, but could be vastly improved – for example they had no automated booking system and there was little information about what to do in the local area.

We decided we really liked the booking form on the Forest Leisiure Cycling website, at present it is very similar to what we would like to implement on our website. We like the simplicity of the booking form and how it deals with configuring the bike spec and multiple quantities  What we would like to add is automated discount calculation for larger groups and the ability to go through the order process, then at the end new users would fill in their details and choose to create an account, or complete the order without creating an account. This is a good idea as a big barrier for attracting customers is the dreaded login page, where you hit a brick wall unless you have an account or want to create an account. If this barrier is removed then the customer may want to complete the sale and unwittingly complete all of the necessary account creation steps (name, address), without seeing it as so much of a chore. It is giving the customer a choice, not an order.

We looked at Ian’s rough rich picture, this was actually very detailed bar one or two other possible interactions and a description of those interactions. It was decided that Tom would take it away and make a final draft of the rich picture. After the discussion of the good and bad points, he can draw it up neatly with more of a description, we can then make any final changes and that will be done!

We looked at the use-cases, there was a small number of them describing some of the functions of the website. We added further details to these use cases and clarified some of the steps. The use cases task worked as expected, we all now have a much better understanding of how the customer will interact with the pages. During the meeting we mocked up two more use cases, such as one for group ordering where there is a discount applied. Sam agreed to take the use cases away to make a final draft of them neatly. Once again, we can then pass it around the team asking for any suggestions, then the use cases will be done! This is unless we run into any problems with any other of the technical plan and have to alter a process.

Seb had found some information online about how to put together some prototype websites and story boards. Seb is going to make a storyboard for a couple of the main user functions, which may be used on the basis of early user evaluation. He will also create some screenshots of other important pages if there is time to do so by Wednesday.

I was tasked with researching the pricing of some existing companies and constructing a pricing table, we agreed to slowly apply discount as the lengths of hire increase. Therefore this week I have created a price list for the site. As we see students as a key market for our business to keep us ticking over, we will set up 4 rental periods to cater exclusively for students. I looked at the AU calendar to set the periods as – Michaelmas Term, Lent Term,  Easter Term and Academic Year. These four rental periods will offer good value for money to students as they can choose to hire a bike during the time they actually need it. This will appeal to students as there is no logistical hassle of bringing a bike from home, which may be far away or in a different country and there will be no financial hassle of spending money on a bike up front. If we can accept money from them in installments to co-inside with their student loans, then this will be even better for them. Students aside there is a price list for everyone and a price list for renting a helment. The helmet rental idea has been a hot topic, I believe that it should be an optional extra as it is an extra cost for us and not a legal requirement, other members of the group may believe that we should give them away with the bikes as standard equipment. I think that a lock and lights should be the only standard equipment considered – ready for use on the road and ready to be parked up safely (a benefit for them and us).

This week I also identified some operational risks with the company – considering safety with our systems online, backup systems procedure and company liability. The final thing I was tasked with is starting some data flow diagrams. I reminded myself how to do them by looking at examples online and finding out the correct syntax, I have tried to construct two, however I will need to have some feedback off the team to make sure that they make sense. I spoke to a friend of mine, they believe that data flow diagrams will be discussed in a later lecture, this information may help us.

Ian was tasked with:

  • Create a draft questionnaire for market research – this is an important step as we need to have some feedback on pricing, an idea of interest (quantity of stock needed) and other questions can be asked, such as should a helmet be supplied (NO!)
  • A list of possible operational risks
  • Type up a list of expectations that groups will have of us. For example a student will want cheap as chips, a tourist will went helpful information about local routes.
  • A rough business forecast in excel – run some numbers on stock bought and numbers of bikes rented out for different time periods. Taking into consideration staff and premises costs.

Thursday work – 1 hour

Friday meeting – 1 hour

Weekend work – 2 hours

Monday meeting – 3 hours

Monday work – 1.5 hours

Tuesday work – 2 hours

Blogging and slide review – 1 hour

Total: 11.5 hours

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What I learnt this week

This week I was reminded of the group deliverables for our project, this includes the group final report and a presentation given to business people, where they can ask questions about our idea.

The main thing that I learnt this week was about this business plan and what the business plan involves. The business plan should cover details of the proposed development, the company building it (us) and will include some aspects of the technology and marketing side of things – however these are supposed to be covered in detail in other documents.

Chris showed us where to find some resources such as template business plans and marketing plans, then proceeded describe the sections of the reccomended business plan, so we’d have an idea of what should go in these sections.

The plan covers the business idea, targets for the business, what the business does, legal requirements, marketing summarry, resources needed to run the business and the operational risks. After completing most (or all) of these sections, the most important piece of the business plan can be completed – the executive summary, it is important as the executive summary needs to convince investors that this is a solid gamble for their hard earned money. It’s the main message of the business plan, it needs to sell the idea – What will the business do? Why is this a good idea? How are we going to do it?

I was reminded by what was expected from us as a group, we need to spend a bit more time doing things and the group need to remember to include all of the details of the week’s activities in our blogs. Last week I didn’t complete the entry on time, I can’t let that happen again!

What I did this week

Friday 19th October

We held the first group meeting of the week, keeping up the same routine of many meetings that don’t last too long. This meeting was set so that we could begin progress with our newly submitted Aber Bike Hire idea.

During the first meeting, using what we’d learnt from the previous lecture, we discussed what documentation or research needs to be started – Use Cases, Rich Picture and User analysis were a few of the ones that cropped up as things that we might need to start right now.

We had an informal discussion where people spoke freely about what users should be able to do on the website, therefore this was discussing the scope of the IT solution and business. I believe that it is important that we keeps focused on doing a few small things well, so that the website isn’t too broadly ranged or contain too many features – it is primarily a bike hire company, there shouldn’t be too many off shoots, at least initially.

Everybody had different ideas about what users should be able to do on the site and how the ordering process should work, the ideas are good and mainly similar, however it is important that we do some work to ensure everyone agrees on the core functionality and design of the website.

It was decided that we should begin by doing research into what existing bike / motorbike / car rental websites look like, so that we can see what layouts and order methods seem most successful, find out what information they include on their pages and see what additional features and services are offered, besides plain rental. Seb and I took up the task of looking at these sites in the same industry and performing some analysis.

Tom and Sam were tasked to create some initial use case diagrams for a small number of scenarios. We thought this would be a good so that we have an idea of how the users will interact with our website and what actions they should be able to perform. Once we have these use cases, we can decide whether the interaction would work, could it be improved or should we explore different ways in which the user can achieve their goal (such as renting a bike or contacting customer support).

Ian was tasked to create a rich picture. This will be useful so that we can define the business’ stakeholders and how they will interact with the business. It won’t just be bike rental customers who are stakeholders, for example the Welsh Government may have an interest due to it being a local activity, also there are the health and environmentally friendly aspects of cycling which they may want to promote.

The next meeting will be on Monday, I have booked us the Joy Welch meeting room – it will be quieter than the Union and will mean that Rick Astley won’t be joining us.

2.5 hours

Sunday 21st October

I spent time at home researching existing bike and motorbike rental websites. After browsing approximately 8 websites, I decided to narrow the analysis down to a range of 4 websites, 2 motorbike rental sites and 2 cycling rental websites.

The reason I’ve looked at motorbike rental sites too is due to the small amount of choice of cycling websites, also the websites should broadly be aiming for the same goal – rent the product, sell extras, provide information.

I decided to present my findings in a PowerPoint presentation, so that it was easier for everyone to view, otherwise they’d be black and white A4 print outs and scraps of paper that I’d probably lose. I looked at what the homepage looked like, what the homepage was used for and what additional pages the sites had. I tested out renting a bike, where possible. I have the document here:

Powerpoint, PDF

3 hours

Monday 22 October 2012

I presented my website analysis to the other members of the group, I believe that it has helped us decide what should be feature on our website. Using this information we can decide on things such as – is our homepage an ‘about us’ or are we going straight to selling? This can be discussed in future.

We were also previously unsure of how we would set pricing for our bikes, we have now seen that it is standard to have a day rate / week rate / month rate.

Seb had printed his document containing screenshots of popular car rental websites, such as Enterprise Rent-a-Car. We noticed a pattern that most or all of those sites had a form on their homepage, so that a user could go straight to beginning the order process.

I think it’s important to remember that those looking to rent a car have gone there for that sole purpose only, while finding out the price and whether the type of car they want is available. With cycle hire we need to consider that users may want be persuaded by attractive routes, events and selling it as a day out or adventure. They may want to browse further information and find things going on in the area that involve bikes – after all it is a local / regional site not a national site, so will have a different target audience.

Sam and Tom had produced some use-case diagrams of some of the main interactions, we will be reviewing these in the next meeting. Sam had also produced a site map / flow diagram of how the website may link together.

Ian was not able to attend the meeting, therefore he will present his rich picture at our next meeting, which is scheduled for Wednesday.

2.5 hours

Final decision meeting

Prior to this meeting I completed a rough storyboard of how the process of creating an account and logging a support request would work, with the car repair idea.

Unfortunately I was unable to attend the meeting as I was ill.

The team decided to go with the bike hire idea – not my first choice I must admit! It was decided that the car repair idea had too many potential flaws and the possibility of the scope of the idea expanding too large.

We submitted our project sheet to Chris on Tuesday

What I did this week

So far this week I have reviewed the lecture material, considered group project ideas and met up with my group for the first meeting of the week.

Before the meeting I looked at the ideas that we had come up with and tried to decide what were the best ones in my opinion. The way I did this was by considering is there a market for this kind of product, are there similar products and if so, how could we make it better and finally – is it technically feasible or too ambitious (too much scope). Some of my favorite ideas before the meeting were:

  • Car repair – matches a client up with a service providers, for problem diagnosis, tyres, oil changes etc at the most competitive local rates.
  • Aber local events – listings for local events and activities. Could appeal to tourists, students and locals.
  • Limited edition items – selling rare / limited edition media such as DVD’s and Games.The system could learn what you like based on categories / subjects of purchase.

During the meeting we went through each individual idea, removing the many mobile application ideas that we came up with, in favour of  a web based IT solution. We discussed the scope of what we could include with some of our favorite ideas, we ended up with two ideas to take forward to Tuesday’s meeting tomorrow:

  • Aber bike hire – users could hire bikes. Bikes could be supplied for events. Events could be advertised on the website.
  • Car repair – user would log an issue / service / diagnostic request. Garages could get in touch with these customers or leave them a web message with more details.

Tom and Sam were tasked to look into Aber bike hire – by writing down the possibilities of what the site would include, also they were going to come up with some ideas of how the user would hire bikes or suggest events to be advertised.

Seb and I were tasked with looking into the car repair idea. I was tasked to come up with a basic storyboard, so that everyone could understand how the process of advertising a service request would work. This was suggested to get rid of ambiguity as everyone had different ideas of how it worked.

Ian was tasked with critical analysis of both ideas – picking potential holes and risks with these ideas.

What I learnt

The previous lecture was pretty packed (with information) – plenty to take in.

I learnt that deciding the scope of the system is very important, this should be done early by nailing down the right requirements. If this stage is not followed thoroughly at the start of the project then things could keep cropping up – an added feature here, an added feature there, a missing feature that some people thought would be included. This could lead to over-runs as the project gets more complex, or the development of a system that is not fit for purpose. A lot of the background to this was covered in 1st and 2nd year lectures, such as Software Engineering lifecycles.

Chris went through the various processes involved in deciding the scope of the system and deciding on all of the requirements, this included – Rich pictures, Scenarios / use-cases, Storyboards, user evaluation, DFDs and identifying risk.

One of the processes, Rich Pictures, sounds like a great way to visualize how people would interact with the product and can help you decide whether the product / service is a viable one. This is done by placing the product in the middle of a blank canvas, then add the various people, groups or organizations that may have some involvement in it. For example an app that advertises local businesses would have stakeholders such as:

  • Businesses – they want to advertise their business within the app, to get more customers.
  • Welsh Assembly / Govt – they may want to promote new / small / Welsh businesses. More tourists or spending in the region.
  • Customers – they want to find businesses that interest them, in a convenient way.
  • European Union – they may want to splash some Regional Development Fund (ERDF) money at the project, just begging to be spent.

If we did all of this small stages in the group project, documenting as we go along, we’ll end up with a section of documentation regarding the scope of the system.

Other than that, the lecture had a quick few minutes at the end regarding next year’s project – this is recommended to be web based, the core processes at the beginning will be the same as in this group project, however as it needs to be built there will probably need to be more analysis.

Another idea

I booked my car into the garage this week, as there was a problem that needed to be diagnosed. When they were booking me in they asked when was convenient for me, I told them “Wednesday afternoon”, the person I was speaking to said “I’ll just take a look”. I then heard the ruffling of pages, I though to myself “why can I hear the sound of a diary?!”.

Therefore another idea is developing a database with at least an interface for the service provider, so that the garage can book cars in and place a date and time for it in the calendar. There would be scope for developing a web interface, so that clients could retrieve service progress details. Using this system, the garage could allocate resources to particular tasks if applicable, so that they know when staff are free. Instead of ruffling through the diary they could view the jobs in the calendar graphically, allowing more productive administration and more effective resource use.

One consideration would be – Outlook calendars (or other calendaring) is a basic and cheap solution to this problem, this system idea would have to offer additional functionality to appeal, such as offering more bespoke features for it’s purpose.