How a Slack App MVP is Informing Product Roadmap Decisions

Helping a Top 4 Professional Services Firm with MVP Slack App Design and Development

Have an idea for a new or improved offering? That’s a great place to be! But whether you want to build a new app, an AI-powered chatbot, or reimagined digital experience, there’s still a long road ahead and a lot of questions to ask. How do you know if that idea will work? How will you test it? When will you seek feedback? And how will you bring everyone else on board? Robots & Pencils supports clients at every stage of product design and development, including advising you on what ideas to test and how. Then, we help you get those ideas out into the world as minimum viable products (MVPs). By doing so, you can gather early feedback that will guide your future direction. Below, we share how we helped a major professional services firm test their idea with a Slack app MVP.

Recognizing the Power of Slack

One of the best things about Slack is its ability to bring together people, systems, and processes all in one place. If your organization uses Slack but doesn’t integrate other technology and workflows into the platform, you’re missing out on opportunities. Being able to interact with your systems right from Slack to get the information you need is a huge win. It benefits the employee experience and the entire organization by making work faster and more efficient.

Knowing the potential and promise of Slack, a top 4 professional services firm approached us with an idea. They wanted to give users of their Salesforce-based supplier lifecycle management solution access to the tool’s features inside Slack. This access, they hypothesized, would allow users to work more efficiently and effectively. Now, they wanted to build a Slack app MVP so that they could test the theory and demonstrate the benefits of integrating the two systems.

Creating a MVP Slack App to Test with Potential Customers

An experienced Slack services provider and longtime Slack partner, Robots & Pencils was well equipped to help our client. We provided expertise for the product strategy, UX/UI design, documentation, and development for the proof of concept Slack app. For this app, the team honed in on two important employee use cases: onboarding suppliers and collaborating on tracking issues.

In the resulting Slack MVP app, users can easily access and share new supplier details and onboarding statuses from Salesforce in Slack. Depending on their needs, users can share supplier info in channels or conversations. For issue tracking, our developers set up the integration so that new incidents added in Salesforce automatically post in Slack. As issues arise, users can discuss and collaborate on problems in real time. After an issue posts in the incident channel, users can also share it to other channels and conversations. Additionally, the Slack posts contain links that users can click on to see more details about the supplier or incident in Salesforce.

Robots & Pencils also assisted in configuring Slack and Salesforce to automate the app deployment process to the client’s internal AWS environment. Now, the client is demoing the MVP to customers and potential stakeholders to gauge interest in the app and its features. Already, the process has provided valuable insights for improving their product and refining their roadmap.

How to Get Started on Your Product Idea

If you’re ready to take the next steps on your product idea, Robots & Pencils is here to help. Early on, we’ll leverage stakeholder and user interviews combined with quantitative studies to uncover unmet needs and opportunities to innovate. In design and product vision workshops, we’ll align your team on goals, plans, and priorities. When you’re ready, we’ll partner with you to conduct technology and creative experiments to test the feasibility of your ideas and how they resonate with users. Of course, we also assist with agile product development, from designing and building products to measuring performance and learning in ways that power continual improvement and growth. Rounding it out, we deliver change management strategies and services that maximize business impact.

Want more information? Contact today!

Tailboards App Spotlight: Making Job Sites Safer

How Utility and Construction Companies Use our Tailboards App to Improve Safety and Reporting

When utility and construction companies want to streamline job-site safety meetings and help employees identify, document, and mitigate hazards, the Tailboards app from Robots & Pencils is a trusted tool.

An Opportunity to Improve the Worker Experience and Safety

Many electrical engineers, meter inspectors, construction employees, and other field workers face hazardous work sites daily. To ensure job safety and quality, field workers typically review risks and safety procedures in routine on-site meetings with their supervisors. Many organizations call these meetings tailboard meetings. Alternatively, some teams call them toolbox or tailgate talks.

Either way, these meetings require workers to carry and review heavy binders full of complex safety documentation. There is always a lot of information to cover! Employees also go through long, multi-page paper forms and checklists related to the job. Whenever a process changes, team leaders have to create, print, and distribute new forms and binders. In the unfortunate case that an incident occurs, management must sort through and review all of this paperwork. Basically, all of this paperwork becomes a big hassle.

After learning about these meetings and the extreme paperwork from a client, our team realized that moving these paper-based processes digital would be a huge win for organizations. A digital transformation would make work altogether safer and more efficient.

A Digital Solution for Hazard Mitigation and Reporting

Using insight and guidance from our clients, Robots & Pencils created an iPad app that eliminates the burden of physical paperwork and gives workers access to digital documents and workflows. The app is ideal for use by distributed managers, safety engineers, and other employees in ever-changing job site conditions.

Users can leverage the Tailboards app to review:

  • Required tasks and procedures
  • Job-specific safety forms and documentation
  • Assessments of potential hazards and threats
  • Relevant hazard mitigation techniques 

Field workers can easily complete and submit the necessary forms, including recording and reporting changes to hazard conditions. Form entries and submissions are automatically stamped with GPS location, date, and time, ensuring that documentation is never altered after an issue arises. 

For managers in particular, the app provides visibility into what’s happening in the field and what works remains. It also is a source of valuable data for analysis, reporting, and auditing–data that would be much slower and more difficult to access if it was on paper. Another benefit is the ease of updating safety processes or forms. No longer do companies have to worry about outdated forms or printing and distributing new documents. Instead, forms are updated instantly in the app and automatically distributed to all employees.

Driving Organizational Efficiency and Safety

As of 2023, the Tailboards app has been a valued industry tool for 10 years, with hundreds of daily users. By eliminating paper at tailboard meetings, companies have increased employee safety and efficiency, including reducing lost-time incidents. 

By streamlining hundreds of paper forms and documents into one mobile app, these organizations reduced manual errors and avoid the burden of completing and managing paper forms. If an issue does arise, workers can communicate quickly with management from remote sites, including via options previously unavailable like saving and sending video, pictures, and text descriptions of hazards in real time. The app also allows organizations to decrease their environmental impact and spending by drastically cutting the amount of paper printed.

Interested in Using the Tailboards App at Your Organization?

Robots & Pencils can customize and scale the Tailboards app for your unique job site and safety needs. We also offer a complete range of digital transformation services, including product ideation and strategy, design, development, change management consulting, and more. Contact us today at to start the conversation!

WITness Success: Reflections from a Women in Tech Event

What I Gained from WITness Success, a Salesforce Women in Tech event

by Danica Ríos, Client Strategy Analyst at Robots & Pencils

Attending the WITness Success Conference (a Salesforce Women in Tech event) earlier this year was nothing short of extraordinary. The event offered a tapestry of personal connections, newfound friendships, and an encounter with my favorite CEO that left me inspired and empowered.

I had the opportunity to establish more personal relationships than I could have ever imagined. The conversations flowed effortlessly. The shared passion for Salesforce created strong, instantaneous bonds. I believe these friendships formed through work and networking are more than just connections. They have the potential to be lifelines that sustain you through challenges. They can make you feel resilient in the face of uncertainty. 

Seeing so many successful women, especially in the tech world, at the WITness Success Conference was inspiring. From personal experience, I know that the connections we make and moments we share with others can leave lasting imprints on our lives. Watching the ripple effect of positivity, enthusiasm, and support at the conference reinforced this notion. Every individual has the power to uplift those around them!

Impactful Encounters

One of the most pivotal moments of the conference was meeting our CEO, Tracey Zimmerman, in person. A true force to be reckoned with, her presence exudes strength, determination, and a genuine commitment to our collective success. As she navigated the room with grace and purpose, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of admiration and respect for her leadership.

The words she spoke to me echoed in my mind, filling me with pride and validation. She identified me as a “hand raiser” – an individual who takes initiative, embraces learning, and embodies the spirit of growth within Salesforce. Hearing those words from someone I deeply admire was a testament to the impact of hard work and dedication.

Caption: Danica Ríos (lower left) and Robots & Pencils CEO Tracey Zimmerman (middle) pose with Charlie Issacs (left) and Corey Snow (right), members of the Salesforce community in town for Midwest Dreamin and WITness Success.

Looking back, I realize how far I have come in just two and a half years. From a recent graduate of the Talent Stacker program to a certified Salesforce Administrator, I have transformed my aspirations into reality. But it isn’t just my personal achievements I am proud of. I have found a company that resonates with my values. I have a team that feels like family. At Robots & Pencils, I discovered an environment where individuals come together to be more than just the sum of their parts. Tracey’s presence at the conference was a living reminder that great leadership is the driving force behind organizational growth and value.

Session Takeaways

I also found value in the sessions I attended. In particular, a panel of senior Salesforce professionals offered valuable advice on leveling up your career. Even just learning about their work experience and current roles helped me imagine what my career could look like 10 years from now. 

That panel also emphasized the importance of community involvement and mentoring. One lesson they emphatically shared was how mentors can learn as much from mentees as mentees learn from you! Moreover, they reminded us that every interaction matters in the workplace. Each time you talk with someone is an opportunity to contribute to improving communication and collaboration in your organization. Eventually, these interactions add up to create a positive atmosphere for all.

Closing Thoughts from WITness Success

As the conference drew to a close, I carried with me a heart full of gratitude, inspiration, and a renewed commitment to excellence. Witnessing success in its various forms – in the connections we forge, the friendships we cultivate, and the leadership that guides us – reaffirmed that this journey is about more than reaching milestones. Without doubt, it is also about embracing the profound impact we can have on each other’s lives, especially as women in tech. 

About Danica Ríos

Profile photo for Danica Ríos

Danica is a Client Strategy Analyst at Robots & Pencils. She is a Salesforce certified professional with expertise in product management, business analysis, and Salesforce administration. As a Trailblazer Mentorship Circle Mentor, Danica is proud to support the growth and development of fellow Salesforce professionals.

Constellation Research Names Robots & Pencils as a Global Leader in Digital Transformation Services

R&P Featured in the 2023 Constellation ShortList’s Digital Transformation Services: Global category

Robots & Pencils is proud to announce our inclusion on the Constellation ShortList in the Digital Transformation Services: Global category. 2023 marks the company’s fourth consecutive year of receiving this honor. The Constellation ShortList assists companies in their search for the technologies and support they need to realize their digital transformation goals. 

The ShortList’s Digital Transformation Services: Global category recognizes organizations that partner with companies to “reimagine business models, co-innovate and co-create future solutions” that can be deployed at scale. Organizations must work with clients across three or more continents to be featured. To identify the world’s top digital transformation firms, Constellation Research analysts evaluate over one hundred vendors, assessing client inquiries, partner conversations, customer references, vendor selection projects, market share, and internal research. 

Robots & Pencils was recognized in the Digital Transformation Services category for our proven track record of advising on best practices and delivering high-impact solutions. Analysts considered our work in areas such as:

  • Business strategy
  • Design thinking 
  • Innovative product and service delivery models
  • Technology strategy, road mapping, and execution
  • User experience
  • Innovation centers

With clients in education, financial services, consumer technology, and more, Robots & Pencils is known for creating journey-driven products and experiences that provide exponential impact. Leveraging design and technology expertise, we build solutions that unlock data and insights, infuse intelligent automation, and accelerate product innovation amidst a rapidly changing industry and technology landscape.

The Constellation ShortList previously featured Robots & Pencils in the Digital Transformation Services (DTX): Global category in 2022, 2021, and 2020.

The Constellation ShortList is produced by Constellation Research–a technology research and advisory firm known for delivering strategic guidance that helps companies transform their organizations through the early adoption of leading-edge technologies. 

To learn more about the services that Robots & Pencils offers, reach out to us today at

Training Artificial Intelligence with Real Heart: Legitimize, Confirm, Reinforce

Insights for training AI chatbots

Written by DJ Moody, Client Strategy Analyst at Robots & Pencils

“Alright listen, Sparky…”

My father tends to be laid-back. However, there are clear indicators when he’s getting frustrated. These are so predictable that the whole family knows when a customer experience goes awry. First, he refers to the person as “Buddy”. If the situation doesn’t improve, they become “Sport”. With each step down this path of names, the chances the agent will keep the business drop precipitously. The final moniker is “Sparky”. No one comes back from Sparky.

It’s a familiar experience. A customer service discussion goes poorly. We get frustrated. If it’s bad enough, we decide to spend our money elsewhere. After those conversations, our opinion of the company changes. We blame the business. The same isn’t true with static content. If we can’t find the answer in an instruction manual, we get a little annoyed, but our view of the company rarely shifts. Yet when we talk with a person who doesn’t have the answer, frustration bleeds over into our impression of the company in a much different way. A human failing tells us the company failed. The company doesn’t care. The company is bad.

More rare, but more powerful, is the successful customer service conversation. The one where you feel heard, where the other person takes time to understand your need and works to get it addressed. Even if you don’t get the answer you want, you gain a positive perspective on the company. The experience tells us the company is good; they put resources into their customers. They care about us. Reading helpful documentation doesn’t offer that same gut-level reaction.

It takes a person for something to feel personal. 

Chat-based AI attempts to mimic a conversation with a person. This brings with it many of the benefits of having a human involved. It is an opportunity to show the customer you care and to develop a personal connection. This also opens up a lot of the dangers. It takes a person for something to feel personal, and we are creating a digital facsimile of a person. So the question becomes, how do we make our fake person seem genuinely caring?

Artificial intelligence, real heart

Experiences can be designed, whether on a website, in an app, or with a healthcare provider, sales professional, or customer service agent. The major difference between a digital product experience and a human experience is flexibility. The former we expect to be relatively static. It’s primarily up to us to find the right page or tool. The latter we expect to change based on our actions. If we’re angry we expect a person to show empathy and change their approach. We don’t expect an app to understand us; we do expect that of a person.

As with all programming, what you get from a chat experience depends on what you put into it. We tend to focus on training AI chatbots with the right data. We want them to have the correct answer to any question they might be asked. That might be enough if users interacted with them as they do a static resource. However, we want the benefits of AI accuracy and efficiency with the personal connection of human interaction. Just as the best human communicators have training in both information and interpersonal skills, we need to include the same when training AI.

3 takeaways for training AI chatbots from the intersection of science and the humanities

1. Legitimize the need.

We want customers to know we care. Just like compassionate humans, our chatbots can show this care by simply acknowledging there is a need and a desire to help. We don’t have to promise we can solve the problem, just make it clear we know there is one. If sentiment analysis is available, adding that detail is even better.

Standard – All businessBetter – legitimize the needBest – legitimize with sentiment analysis
What solution do you want?I understand that this is a problem for you and would like to help.I can see that you are frustrated and would like to help.

2. Confirm and clarify.

Great human communicators reflect back to the customer what they understand about a request and ask questions to clarify. Communication is messy and questions clean it up. Our bots need to do the same.

Standard – problem statementBetter – clarifying questionBest – confirm and clarify
I don’t understand.Can you clarify your question for me?I understand you want information about your widget. Can you tell me more about what you are trying to do?

3. Set and reinforce next steps.

One of the more frustrating parts of customer service, for both the consumer and agent, is when a solution is offered but missed steps cause it to fail. We can reduce this likelihood by summarizing the discussion, including all steps, before signing off.

Standard – problem statementBetter – restate the solutionBest – reinforce and confirm understanding
Thank you for your question.Thank you for your question. Remember, your next steps are to turn off the router, wait at least 10 seconds, and turn it back on again.I appreciate your inquiry. To recap, your next steps are to turn off the router, wait at least 10 seconds, and turn it back on again. This will reset the system and help you get back online.
Do you have any questions about those steps, or is there anything else I can help you with today?

Developing and training AI solutions for your customers

These are just a few of the many ways your AI solutions can reflect the care and compassion you have for your customers. In order to fully accomplish our goal of more human interactions between AI and customers, each solution must be carefully considered from all sides. Poor communication can make even the most well-informed agent–human or bot–seem cold and uncaring. Conversely, bad data means even the best-behaved agents will be useless. For truly effective agents, those who can increase both customer knowledge and sentiment, we need to live at the intersection of science and humanity. 

Every team developing a chatbot should include specialists in data science and AI as well as experts in communication, user experience, and customer care. In the case of Robots & Pencils, our Robots handle the code, our Pencils ensure an excellent experience, and our Ampersands bring it all together. To learn more about how Robots & Pencils helps organizations approach AI technology with a human-first approach, check out our AI & data science page or drop us a line at

Dreamforce 2023: 5 Game-Changing Highlights

Dreamforce 2023, the annual gathering of Salesforce enthusiasts, brought together tech innovators, business leaders, and industry experts to showcase the latest advancements in customer relationship management and technology. This year’s event was nothing short of exciting, with groundbreaking announcements and product launches.

“AI was the theme of Dreamforce ’23. Many of our conversations with customers at the event centered on how they could take meaningful steps to take advantage of the AI opportunity,” shared John Carton, our VP of Salesforce Growth.

“Marc Benioff reinforced that Slack is ‘going to be the promise of AI for a lot of our most important customers.’ At Robots & Pencils, we feel that Slack is the perfect spot for customers to experiment and prove out AI use cases for your organization,” John added.

In this post, we outline five key takeaways from Dreamforce 2023 that are set to revolutionize the way businesses operate and interact with their customers.

Our Top 5 Dreamforce 2023 Highlights

1. Meet Einstein Copilot: Your New AI Partner in Productivity

One of the most remarkable highlights of Dreamforce 2023 was the introduction of Einstein Copilot. This AI-driven assistant is designed to revolutionize how users handle tasks including email composition, meeting coordination, and CRM data management. What sets Einstein Copilot apart is its focus on trust and safety. Salesforce has integrated the Einstein Trust Layer to ensure that AI can be a trusted partner. By avoiding toxicity and hallucinations, Salesforce is prioritizing responsible AI usage, making it a safer and more reliable resource.

2. Data Cloud’s Power Boost: Governance, Privacy, and Security for Free

Salesforce’s Data Cloud is expanding its functionality, particularly in data governance, privacy, and security. This development is significant as data is at the heart of modern business operations. What’s even more exciting is that certain licenses, such as Sales and Service Cloud, Enterprise, and Unlimited licenses, can access these enhanced capabilities for free. With Data Cloud licenses for up to 10,000 profiles, Salesforce is empowering organizations to take control of their data and leverage it for informed decision-making.

Additionally, Salesforce is offering two free Tableau Creator licenses, making it easier for businesses to harness the power of data analytics. Tableau is a dynamic data analytics product that leverages the capabilities of AI to not only crunch numbers but also generate insights. Tableau Pulse anticipates users’ questions, making data-driven decision-making more intuitive than ever before. By posing questions users might not have considered, Tableau can unveil hidden opportunities and challenges within your data. With Tableau Pulse in your toolkit, data is your greatest asset and insights are your guiding light.

3. Sustainability Cloud: Measuring and Mitigating Environmental Impact

In an era when sustainability is a global imperative, Salesforce unveiled its Sustainability Cloud at Dreamforce 2023. This innovative platform can assist companies in quantifying and mitigating ecological footprints. This tool enables businesses to track, measure, and reduce their carbon emissions, water consumption, and waste production. By integrating sustainability into their operations, companies can demonstrate a commitment to responsible business practices, enhance their brand image, and contribute to a more sustainable future.

4. Salesforce and Google Cloud: Supercharging AI Innovation

Dreamforce 2023 also brought exciting news of a strategic collaboration between Salesforce and Google Cloud. These two tech giants are joining forces to expedite the advancement of AI-driven applications. This partnership holds the promise of enhanced AI capabilities, better data integration, and improved cloud services. With Salesforce’s expertise in CRM and Google Cloud’s prowess in AI and cloud computing, businesses can look forward to more innovative solutions that streamline operations and deliver enhanced customer experiences.

5. Automate Your Success with Data Cloud-Triggered Flow

Last but not least, Dreamforce 2023 introduced a game-changing feature for Salesforce users: Data Cloud-Triggered Flow. This feature enables users to create automated workflows triggered by data events within the Data Cloud. Now businesses can set up tailored, real-time responses to specific data changes, enhancing their agility and efficiency. Whether it’s updating customer profiles, triggering marketing campaigns, or managing inventory, Data Cloud-Triggered Flow empowers organizations to automate critical processes and respond to changing data conditions swiftly.

What These Innovations Mean for Organizations and Industries

The unveiling of these new products and integrations at Dreamforce 2023 holds immense potential for Salesforce customers. Take, for instance, the impact of Salesforce Data Cloud. For any company managing multiple Salesforce instances and ‘data lakes,’ Salesforce Data Cloud can be a powerful ally. It enables seamlessly consolidating data from various sources, including third-party platforms like AWS. With the added advantage of data cleansing, deduplication tools, and AI-powered data analysis, companies can harness the true potential of their data. They can identify emerging trends, make more informed decisions, and ultimately, transform the way they operate.

Dreamforce 2023 showcased Salesforce’s commitment to innovation, sustainability, and responsible AI usage. All the above takeaways are poised to transform the way businesses operate and engage with their customers. Salesforce is not only keeping pace with industry trends but leading the way in shaping the future of CRM and technology. Businesses that embrace these innovations will be better equipped to navigate the evolving landscape and stay ahead of the competition.

Want to level up how your organization uses Salesforce?

Robots & Pencils helps clients leverage data and insights plus intelligent automation to get the most out of their Salesforce investment. Send us a note at to learn more.

How to Drive Innovation With User-Centered Design and Agile Development

Perhaps this story is familiar to you…

Your team has been tasked with designing and building a groundbreaking software product that focuses on putting the end user — the person who will use the product — at the center of the design and development process. The stakeholders want it delivered within 12 months.

Six months into the project, the hunger for innovative, user-centered features seems to wane.

The delivery team adopts a rapid agile cadence that values predictable delivery dates and velocity rather than experimentation to find the best solution for the user.

The design team attempts to get ahead of development in order to ensure user insights lead the build of new features, but priorities shift after each deployment, and much of that work gets thrown away.

Over time, a chasm forms between user-centered advocates and delivery — their ideas are just too risky and unpredictable for the mission: get the next release out the door.

An all too familiar tale, but with an ending we can change. I think there is a way to get the most out of the user-centered design and Agile processes while keeping to budgets, timelines, and a consistent delivery cycles.

First, though, why is this tale all too familiar?

A bias towards reliability and predictability

We’re naturally inclined to have a bias towards reliability, predictability and reducing risk. And Agile development does this by design.

The sprint-based nature of Agile development makes its output extremely predictable — yielding releases every couple of weeks. But it works best when requirements are understood upfront and can be accurately estimated.

New features and unfamiliar technical challenges are often overestimated to account for the delivery uncertainty, and this results in the most predictable features being prioritized over the most innovative ones.

In contrast, user-centered design focuses on the people who will use the software, and how they can easily and efficiently achieve their goals. It leverages primary research — actually getting insights and feedback from future users — to discover previously unknown friction points in the user experience. It seeds the invention of new experiences that offer that far better way.

While some of the ideas that come from this process can offer a 10x improvement in the experience, they are also unproven and often unfettered by technical and business process constraints. The discovery-driven nature of the process makes the output impossible to predict.

An incompatible match

The issue is that user-centered design and Agile development are incompatible.

  • User-centered design aims for maximal astonishment — let’s see if our users can tell us something we didn’t know.
  • Agile aims for minimal astonishment — let’s have as few surprises in our development process as possible.

To steal a concept from physics, user-centered design prioritizes voltage — a measure of potential energy, while Agile development prioritizes amperage — a measure of the flow of current.

And in the same way that you wouldn’t want to plug your TV into a high-voltage power line, the friction between Agile and user-centered design comes when you directly connect the two methodologies.

While the results might be less spectacular than an exploding TV, the failures are just as predictable:

  • Innovative ideas lag development timelines and create project delays.
  • Innovative ideas get chopped in favor of timelines.
  • Through long hours, a talented team squeezes in a couple of extra features deemed “top priority.”

In all three cases, the drive for innovation eventually wanes:

  • Unmet delivery promises undermine organizational and investor trust in the team’s ability.
  • Continuous cutting of new ideas demoralizes the team into a “good enough” mentality and opens up questions about the ROI of exploring innovative ideas to begin with.
  • Unsustainable hours create organizational churn and the talent carrying the greatest load walk out the door.

Still in order to successfully invent new user-centered solutions AND deliver them, we need the strength of both. We need a way to convert the high potential energy output of user-centered design into the high current that the Agile process demands.

Treat user-centered design as investigation, not validation

User-centered design is a process that requires a lack of preconceptions and an open mind. The goal is to understand the root causes of user behavior in order to formulate a new, better approach. Keeping a hypothetical solution in mind through the process creates a cycle that reinforces our original assumptions and often blinds us to other opportunities.

So, when a request comes in to “redesign an app,” start by abstracting that request into the underlying goals that the user accomplishes while using the app. Then, use primary research to validate that those goals are real and dig into how they are accomplished today. You may learn that users don’t care about what you think they do. You might also learn that an app isn’t even the right enabler for their goal.

At the end of this process, you will get a list of things to build that will improve the user’s experience… they just might not be the ones you expected.

Only feed de-risked features into the Agile process

In order to keep the Agile delivery process moving efficiently, ensure that any proposed features/stories are well understood both in terms of their requirements as well as their technical complexity.

Before ever estimating a feature, you should know:

  1. That implementing the feature will generally increase user perception of the experience
  2. The way to solve any key technical or data hurdles
  3. Confidently, how long the feature will take to build

If a feature doesn’t meet all of those criteria, then it could easily derail the predictability that is the key benefit of Agile development.

De-risking features enables teams to estimate without fear because the basic how of implementation is already well understood.

Use experimentation to connect user-centered design and Agile

The un-vetted output of user-centered design makes it a poor input into an Agile process that works best with low risk requirements. To bridge the two, we need an intermediary process that takes fledgling ideas and systematically de-risks, prioritizes and roadmaps them at a program level.

This middle phase — experimentation — acts as the glue.

Prototype, test and rapidly iterate on proof of concepts (POCs) with users to ensure that your features will have the desired impact on the user experience. These experiments provide a view into the potential ROI and, by providing a clearer picture into the new experience, can generate investment interest at the executive level.

Similarly, technology experiments (often referred to as technical design spikes) can be used to de-risk complex technical and data problems. In this phase, the priority is not delivering a minimum viable product, but taking the riskiest assumption and exploring the solution space.

At the end of experimentation, these pre-vetted features can be fully story-mapped and prioritized for delivery — the perfect input to the Agile delivery phase.

Run all three phases concurrently as an innovation program

While the experimentation phase ensures compatibility between user-centered design and Agile, it is important to note that these methods run at different speeds.

  • User-centered design takes a long time to conduct, but yields a high volume of opportunities.
  • Experimentation can be done quickly but the output may or may not produce viable results.
  • Agile generates small chunks of production-ready functionality at a regular pace.

To keep all processes operating at full speed, allow each of these phases to run independently and concurrently over time. Each phase generates a queue of work for the next — user-entered design creates a queue of experiments and experimentation creates a queue of user-vetted, de-risked features for implementation.

With a never-ending list of to-dos in all three work streams, the program will operate at full efficiency. And innovative, user-centered features will flow like clockwork into your products and experiences.

Tyler Klein is the Executive Experience Director at Robots and Pencils. Physics major turned HCI specialist, he uses what’s new to build what’s next and offers far better ways to interact with the world around us. Special thanks to Chris Chew, Jamie Reid, Mike Greening, Reid Sheppard and Aaron Slepecky for their contributions.

WWDC 2023: What Matters for Users, Developers, & Businesses

By Andrew Erickson, iOS Robot, Robots & Pencils

What should users be excited about?

Hardware Announcements

A new Macbook Air is available with a larger 15″ display. If a larger screen size is important to you, this could be an attractive option. However, if you already have a Macbook Air 13″, it might not be worth upgrading at this time.

Mac Studio and Mac Pro are for power users and come with some serious performance updates. Processing intensive tasks like video editing can greatly benefit from this type of power. With its high price point though, it won’t fit into many people’s budgets or add the value needed to justify the cost.

iOS 17

iOS 17 will be available to users in Fall 2023 on devices that have the A12 or newer processor. Unfortunately, this means that devices like the iPhone X and 8 will not be able to update to iOS 17. Below are the major new features and benefits of iOS17.

  • NameDrop will allow you to easily exchange contact information using AirDrop.
  • Live voicemail will show you what someone is saying on your voicemail live, so that you can decide if it’s important enough to take the call right then.
  • Autocorrect and dictation will be more accurate.
  • A new Journal app will provide smart suggestions to help you journal about your day.
  • Check In will allow you to tell friends or family when you’re heading home and automatically notify them when you get there. If you’re delayed, you can adjust your expected arrival time. If you don’t reach your destination, your loved ones will get a notification allowing them to check on you.

iPadOS 17

iPad is getting a customizable lock screen and live activities, and the Health app is now available on iPad. PDFs editing, collaboration and autofill also got significant improvements.

macOS Sonoma

With macOS Sonoma, you’ll be able to add widgets anywhere on your desktop. Video conferencing will also now allow video overlay, so that the speaker’s video isn’t lost while presenting. In Safari, you’ll get increased privacy as well as profiles that can separate your work, home, and school experiences. Additionally, you can create a web app from any website to make your favorite sites easier to access!


Adaptive audio will allow you to stay present in your surroundings and adapt to them. Also, AirPlay is coming to select hotels in the near future, allowing you to play content from your devices easily on the TV in your hotel room.

watchOS 10

watchOS 10 got some UI improvements, better tracking for cycling and hiking, and a few updates to Health including mental and vision health.

tvOS 17

tvOS now features a redesigned control center and offers the option to use memories as the screensaver for your TV. Most significantly, you will be able to use FaceTime on AppleTV using Continuity Camera from your iPhone or iPad.

Apple Vision Pro

The big reveal at the end of the keynote was the introduction of a new piece of hardware: Apple Vision Pro. It’s Apple’s response to an AR/VR experience known as Spatial Computing. A lot of iPad and iPhone apps will be available on the headset as windows with little changes required from the developers of those apps. You will have full control of where these apps are located in your space.

The design is well thought out, addressing issues of competing devices that are heavy and uncomfortable due to having batteries integrated into the headset. By having a cable that connects to an external battery pack, Apple Vision Pro significantly reduces the weight of their headset. The device will also come without external controllers, relying on eye and hand tracking for interactions. Eye tracking is kept private from apps and is processed at a system level to keep your interactions private and secure.

The specs are also above and beyond any of the devices already out there. With 23 million pixels across two panels, you get more than 4k resolution per eye. The processor that powers the device is Apple’s familiar M2 chip alongside a new R1 chip allowing for real time processing.

This device is set to start at $3499 USD which is going to be a large barrier to becoming a device seen in every home. Still, Apple has always been focused on creating world class products and devices that truly change the world. Based on what I’ve seen today, the Vision Pro has the potential to change the world just as much as the iPhone has over the past 15 years.

What should developers be excited about?

Swift Macros make it easier than ever to add common functionality to your app without writing code that is often considered boilerplate or repeatable.

C++ interoperability is now supported in the latest SDK

SwiftUI updates include those that were most requested by developers like improved animations, animated SF Symbols, and an easier way to manage state using the @Observed macro.

A Swift implementation of CoreData was one of the biggest reveals and something that developers have long been waiting for. SwiftData makes it easy to write your model code without having to repeat your data structures in a separate model object.

A new API TipKit was introduced that allows you to highlight features in your app to your users at the right time.

AVCapture performance improvements will make using the camera easier in your apps.

Developers are getting access to some new APIs including HDR, video conferencing, ScreenCaptureKit and Continuity Camera.

Updates to tools like App Store and StoreKit will make it easier than ever to create a consistent and familiar interface for products and subscriptions.

Xcode is getting some great improvements as well, including code completion improvements that are more aware of the code you are writing and suggesting more accurate modifiers or functions.

Test reports in Xcode got a huge overhaul and now contain much more detail and in-depth insights into issues in your app and its tests. You can step through points in your test and even reference an accompanying video to see exactly what went wrong that caused the test to fail.

Updates to Xcode cloud will make workflows 2 times faster and link speeds 5 times faster.

How to bring apps to the new visionOS is one of the main questions developers might have this year. Here are some of the things to know:

  • Apps can be made available on visionOS using SwiftUI, RealityKit and/or ARKit. Existing iPad and iOS apps will be available to be seen as a window in visionOS, but you must take into account that the screen size of that virtual window containing your app can be adjusted by the user. This means your layout must be able to accommodate a dynamic range of screen sizes.
  • You can also craft 3D scenes in visionOS using volumes. You can use RealityKit to show entities in 3D space, and combine it with the power of ARKit to understand your physical surroundings.
  • RealityKit is adopting the MaterialX open standard for geometry shaders which makes it easier to write complex shaders.
  • Developers will be able to preview their visionOS experiences using Xcode simulator. That functionality is coming to Xcode sometime later this month.

This week, there will be a total of 175 sessions that developers can watch to dig into all things new this year. 40 of those sessions alone are related to the new visionOS!

What should companies be excited about?


Now is the time for first mover advantage with AR on Vision Pro. This is the high risk, high reward play. The safer approach is to wait and see if there’s teething problems with the new tech. The “Pro” tag on Vision Pro likely means that a more affordable non-pro version will come at some point. I’d recommend holding off on buying them for the office unless you have a compelling need for them until a more affordable version is available.

The 15” MacBook Air is a good option for employees in need of more screen space without the need for more processing. Think people who are working with presentations, zoom, word processing, and spreadsheets all of the time.

Mac Studio and Mac Pro got upgrades for those who need high performance. However, there are only a few use cases where employee workflows require this type of power. Intensive video processing is one example.


On the software side of things, lots of new developer APIs were announced and lots of existing APIs have been improved.

If your app does image processing, it might be worth checking out Apple’s new HDR API.

StoreKit and SKAdNetwork are getting updates. If your app uses either of those frameworks for ads or in-app purchases, you may want to look further into what new features those frameworks will include.

A new framework called TipKit was released that will allow you to add timely tips for your users, helping them to easily discover new features in your app.

The new features and updates announced Monday include much more than the ones covered here, and we are excited to dive in deeper into each topic over the next few months to get a better understanding of how they will help us build better apps!

If you’d like to talk about any of the news coming out of WWDC and how it impacts your business, reach out to the Robots & Pencils team at

5 Factors to Consider When Choosing a Digital Transformation Partner

Frustrated with technology in your brand’s workflow? Wishing for more business insights? Need a better way to appeal to consumers? The right digital transformation firm can accelerate your business and innovation goals so that your brand operates more efficiently than ever before.

By doing a quick Google search, you’ll find that there are a plethora of digital transformation agencies to choose from. Doing an audit of your current workflows, honing in on goals and organizing objectives will help you choose the right partner.

Feel a little overwhelmed by your options? We’ve got you covered.

What Will a Digital Transformation Agency Do for My Brand?

When it comes to problematic workflows and less than ideal technology, a digital transformation partner can revolutionize your brand’s digital footprint.

A few improvements to expect include:

  • An optimized user’s journey
  • A more agile business model
  • Become an innovative pioneer in your vertical
  • Increase transparency and communication
  • Analyze more data at a larger scale
  • Implement data-driven business solutions
  • A sense of empowerment from reliable technology
  • Build a strategic future roadmap

First Things First: Identify Goals

Digital transformation takes into account your current workflows, your customer experience and culture to improve your way of doing things. Using technology, the right digital transformation agency will transform your business.

Before researching the right digital transformation agency, it’s crucial to hone in on your goals. Just a few things to outline include:

  • Budget
  • Areas of your workflow that are problematic
  • Timeline
  • Customer feedback and ideas about areas of improvement
  • Team members who will manage this project
  • Outdated technology

Consult Case Studies

Case studies are the best way to get a feel for an agency’s past work and brand alignment. They offer social proof of a digital transformation agency’s experience in your brand’s niche.

You can find case studies on the company’s website and/or you can ask for them from their sales team.

Don’t look for big name brands. Rather, look for a brand fit and proven solutions that are similar to your brand’s needs. Peruse the challenge that the brands in the case studies faced and the solution the digital transformation agency implemented. Do these things line up with your own goals?


A common pain point that digital transformation agencies solve is overcoming growing pains when scaling your workflows. So be sure to vet your potential partners for the ability to scale the technology solutions they implement.

One of the biggest reasons that brands seek out a digital transformation partner is because they grow too big for their way of doing things and know there is a better solution out there. In order to not run into the same problem again, it’s crucial that your agency can easily scale the solutions they implement.

Knowledge of Workflows and Industry

Digital transformation is necessary in all industries. So it’s crucial that your partner is familiar with your brand’s objectives and workflows.

Before activating a digital transformation agency, don’t hesitate to ask them interview style questions to determine if their experience is a good fit with your brand. The key question being have they developed or implemented solutions similar to what you’re trying to do at your brand?

It’s a big step to know you need a digital transformation agency and an even bigger step to find someone who is familiar with your industry.


It’s important for your digital transformation partner to be flexible in their approach to creating solutions for your brand. Oftentimes, issues will surface mid-project so it’s imperative that the agency you choose is used to being flexible.

Digital transformation should occur based on business needs and not a rigid set of black and white rules. It’s all about adaptation throughout the partnership.

A Technical and Creative Balance

Digital transformation embraces technical knowledge and a creative mindset. Look to your potential digital transformation partners for the implementation of both ends of the spectrum.

Your digital transformation agency should excel in tech solutions but don’t overlook the power of creativity involved. Upon choosing an agency, you will get a dedicated team so be sure that it is diverse and experienced throughout the vetting process.

What do you look for in a digital transformation partner? We’d love to hear all about it in the comments below!

The Burden of Ignored Tech Debt — and a Better Path Forward for POs

Technical debt 🏦 is often accumulated and ignored in software projects that are struggling with quality, timelines, and expectations. Instead, teams focus on fixing bugs, adding new features, and building quickly. However, technical debt is like a monster 👹 that the business knows exists but that it is afraid to talk about 🫣 or treats as an urban myth. Technical debt only becomes a priority when it becomes a blocker or costs more money. Until then, the business assumes that the team will simply learn to live with it.

The engineering team 🤹, in the meantime, works on a superficially stable 😵‍💫 product, patching up 🩹 and building new features 🏗️ on an already leaky product. The team may say they cannot build features X, Y, and Z due to technical debt and can only deliver X1 and Y1. Product Owners (POs), who feel the pressure or act for personal reasons, may find an alternative path to squeeze the set of features into the release, thinking they achieved the impossible 🥳. However, this is a 🧨 mistake as it ignores feedback from the team. Ignoring technical debt not only lowers a team’s morale and trust but also leads to an unhappy 😖 and less motivated team.

As POs, we prioritize the customer experience, but our responsibility extends beyond users 🧑 and the business to our engineering team 🤹 and other stakeholders. Once you put everyone in the frame, you will notice the rough edges and gaps. We must assess the gaps 🎢 in our process, discuss and create a plan 📝 to address the immediate and larger gaps, and set timelines to address others. The earlier we resolve these problems, the better.

I have come to realize by focusing on the collaborative product experience, including all primary stakeholders, and not just the customer experience, we can create a better outcome 📈 for all. We must set aside time on our roadmap 🌎 to review and address technical debt. Give time between releases for teams to recharge themselves 🏖️, reflect on their work, and come up with ways to improve the collaborative product experience 💡. It’s possible that tech debt is not the monster 👻 we always thought it was. Or, perhaps worse, we’ll find that by ignoring tech debt for so long that it was us who made it into a monster 👹. You will never know until you look.

If you want to know the type of monster you are dealing with, please continue reading. Here are some steps I suggest.

Begin by allowing the development team to conduct a technical audit to identify and compile a list of tech debt items. This process can be time-consuming, especially for teams that work on legacy infrastructure, products with stability concerns, or those that have not been actively managing tech debt. Product owners can help to focus the team’s efforts by providing specific goals for the next few releases or for the year ahead, allowing the development team to review connected pieces and identify potential blockers.

Once the team has identified tech debt items, work together to understand and categorize their business impact, development impact, and cost of fixing. Use a simple scale, such as small, medium, large, and extra large, to categorize the debt. Development impact refers to the effect of tech debt on the product from a technical point of view, the development team’s job satisfaction, and the team’s morale. You may also consider other factors relevant to your development team.

Map the tech debt items on a chart against business and development impact. The size of the circle should correspond to the cost of fixing. This will help you to prioritize which tech debt items to address first.

Prioritize addressing tech debt with high business and high development impact first. For example, this could be an app or site that not only frustrates users and leads to lost revenue, but also slows down the development team. Everyone should be motivated to eliminate small and medium-size circles within the current development cycle, but larger circles may require a conversation. Collaborate with the business and development teams to understand the impact of tech debt and determine if larger circles can be split into smaller ones. Resolve as much tech debt as possible while meeting release goals, and ensure everyone understands the cost of delaying or not fixing tech debt. Develop an action plan and timeline for revisiting remaining tech debt and make space for these items on the product roadmap.

Prioritize tech debt items with low development impact but high business impact based on their potential impact on the user experience or business goals. An outdated payment processing system is an example of such tech debt, which may not directly affect the development team but can cause users and the business to suffer. These tech debt items may surface in the future as feature requests, so it’s crucial to address them sooner when the impact is smaller rather than later. Categorize and prioritize these items based on their impact on the business and development, and create an action plan to address them.

Next, focus on the tech debt with high development impact but low business impact. While these items may not directly affect the business goals, they can have a significant impact on the development team’s ability to deliver quality products. Examples of such tech debt include code refactoring, code optimization, and writing unit tests. To prioritize these items, work with the development team to understand their impact and estimate the cost of fixing them. Then, identify a use case or scenario that demonstrates the value of addressing the tech debt, and present it to the business stakeholders. For example, you can show how refactoring a particular piece of code can improve performance and reduce the risk of defects in future releases. It’s important to approach these conversations with empathy and understanding and to help the business stakeholders see the long-term benefits of addressing the tech debt. By investing in the development team’s productivity and morale, you can help them deliver better products faster with higher quality and confidence.

Lastly, you have low development and low business impact tech debt to address. While these items may seem trivial, they can still add up and create technical debt. For example, the unused code or feature in the product clutters the codebase and might make it difficult to maintain over time. For this category, evaluate each item and consider its long-term impact on the product. For those that are strongly connected to the product roadmap and goals for the year, knock them off. For the remaining items, analyze and understand what happens if these tech debts are not fixed in a year. If the answer is little to no change in size and impact, then carry them over to the next year. But if ignoring the debt increases its impact, prioritize and create an action plan.

Remember, it’s important to regularly review and address tech debt as part of your product development process. This helps maintain the health and stability of your product and ensures that the development team can work efficiently and effectively. By prioritizing and addressing tech debt, you can create a culture of continuous improvement and quality, and ultimately deliver a better collaborative product experience. Ultimately, a positive and motivated team is essential for the success 🌟 of any project, and it is our responsibility as POs to ensure this. Do the right thing for your people and product.

This post was contributed by Rushi Pol, the Product Owner Craft Steward at Robots & Pencils.