How to Build a Great Product: 5 Lessons from BitTorrent’s Mobile Team
February 19, 2014
It’s 10:45am, and the Mobile team is gathered in their daily standup. At the center of the conversation is a scrum board covered in tasks, and the team’s dashboard (a large TV). Usually, the TV displays mobile stats. Today, it’s an image Rebecca Chu, a Sr. Visual Designer, put together with the new mobile app design and early reviews. The whole company is excited about the positive feedback that has been rolling in.
BitTorrent’s Mobile team is a team of awesome-doers. With a beautiful application, a growing following, and a group that works like a family, it’s clear they’re getting things right. We asked our Mobile guys to share the lessons they learned along the way to 50 million installs. Herewith, 5 lessons on building products and teams, from some of our resident experts.
With input from An Nguyen (Engineer), Rebecca Chu (Sr. Visual Designer), Annabell Satterfield (Sr. Product Marketing Manager), Nandhita Kumar (Interaction Designer), and Joe Joyce (Lead Engineer).
1. Foster friendship and trust
A team that plays together works better together.
Annabell: It’s easy to see how easily things like team off-sites, welcome lunches, and team lunches could fall off anyone’s list of priorities. Our Product Manager, Pramod, has made sure team-building happens. As a result, every member feels that they have a place in the team.
Rebecca: The team and the product benefit from members who trust one another.
We genuinely love working together. This creates a safe environment for new ideas, from all perspectives and backgrounds.
An: We bring each other baked goods, wine, and things from our travels. It fosters camaraderie. The team cares about its members, beyond any team I’ve worked on for the past 19 years. It’s especially evident when teammates get sick or suffer personal loss. The team is supportive, and there to help.
Nandhita: I think the one quality we have as a team that goes a long way is respect for each other’s skill set. We have developers, data scientists, marketing experts, test engineers and designers who work together on every kind of problem. Collaboration is an integral part of our process. As a result, we can arrive at better solutions and make better products.
Joe: Collaboration goes way beyond our small team. It is pretty cool how many people swing by our area when we send out a call for help. They come for the home made ice cream, they stay for the product discussions!
2. Put users first.
Listen to your users, your data, and your gut. In that order.
Nandhita: Putting users first means no issue is too small to address. We have an incredible number of users, and we care about all of them. We want to design and build something that works well; that is built with all of our users in mind.
Joe: One thing we put in to the new app was an easier way for our users to email us.
It has been huge. The feedback we got early on helped guide our future development.
Annabell: The team is full of smart, talented people – but we all leave our egos at the door. We trust each other, and we don’t push our own agendas. We think in terms of what helps the product meet the team’s objectives and also what’s best for the user. And we don’t assume we know what’s best for the user – we try things, and see what the data says.
3. Make data-driven decisions.
Your opinions are just that – opinions.
Annabell: Data helps us make decisions in a detached, consultative way. What does the data say? What is a common best practice? We don’t allow much room for decisions based purely on opinion, because we know that opinions are just that.
4. Be agile.
Be more efficient, more responsive and more collaborative.
Joe: About a half year back, the company invested in scrum training by an awesome scrum trainer named Adam Weisbart. This turned us around with how we are building the product. I think it taught us how to be critical and supportive of each other and the wider organization. It made people realize: together we can do even better next week.
5. Solve problems you are passionate about.
Believe in the product and the future.
Joe: The growth of the mobile and tablet industry adds a level of excitement and urgency to the team’s daily efforts. Working on what we’re working on is really, really gratifying.
Nandhita: From an Interaction Design standpoint, BitTorrent offers incredibly unique challenges. Designing software is fun. Designing software while dealing with a bunch of challenges is exhilarating!
Rebecca: Don’t focus on the platform limitations. Believing you can do more is what makes leaders in the field.