I work at Hemnet.se as a UX designer. Hemnet is Sweden’s largest online residential real estate site. The product development team at Hemnet consists of UX designers, frontend developers and backend developers.
One of several things that made me want to work at Hemnet were their commitment to use a certain amount of work time for "lab days". One day every third week we got to work at whatever we wanted as long as we had fun and learned something new.
Everyone, be it in smaller teams or one on one, always worked on something related to Hemnet, even though there were no such restrictions. Such was the Product Development Team’s commitment to Hemnet.
More time for product development
We noticed the value of the work done in a single day every third week. Not to mention the value of having inspired and happy co-workers. Yet, there were never any time to get something deployed on the live site. To move something out into production, you had to use several lab days and some free time. That meant that a rather long time passed from lab day to the deployment of something on the live site.
So, instead of having a single day every third week the decision was made to use 25% of our time to really focus on product development. Instead of a day every third week we now have two weeks of lab days every sixth week. Ten working days to research, build and ship whatever ideas we all agreed on.
Pitching your idea
A couple of days before the lab weeks started we used half a day to research the ideas that we wanted to develop and wrote down what value it would bring and what we needed from the rest of the company to realize the idea. Then we used the other half of the day to pitch the ideas to the group and collected feedback. If you didn't have an idea of your own or if you found one of your colleague’s ideas to be better, you could always find something to do and contribute to.
Getting more inspiration from "Inspiration"
At Hemnet we have a section called "Inspiration". The section features selected photos from homes for sale all over Sweden. The photos are meant to inspire you with ideas for your own home or perhaps your future home. Almost half the traffic on that part of the site comes from mobile and tablets but page views per visitor is -15% from the rest of the site and the time spent is almost -10%.
We had an idea of using all the pretty pictures we have in that section of the site and making the browsing more fun and more inspirational.
That meant big pictures. A retina iPad have 3 145 728 pixels (2048*1536) to play with and that meant that we needed to save our original photos in better sizes. We also needed to build an API to access the photos as well as giving the user of the app an option to create and delete their own collections with their favourite photos.
From zero to app in two weeks
We started out with writing a mission statement. What our idea was about, what value it would bring, risks and then we roughly whiteboarded the app. While I started designing the app the backend team talked through the future API endpoints and set up the iOS-project.
It was ten rather stressful days. I had the easy part with the design, keeping everything and everyone together and some minor project management. With tremendous hard work from our backend and iOS developers we actually built and launched an API and had a working iPad app in two weeks.
This iPad-app will probably only be what it is at the moment. A concept. But we did do quite a lot of work with APIs for delivering hi-res photos and we will integrate components from this concept into future apps from Hemnet.
We delivered a lot of value these two weeks. But above all: We had tons of fun and came out of our lab weeks with renewed energy and lots of pride in what we've done for future work at Hemnet.
If you are curious of the end result you can check out the work section where I've done a small write up of the project.
Note: If you are interested of knowing more of product development on Hemnet you should check out the blog of Thomas Lindqvist and read his every thought. He is our agile coach, architect of awesomness, and a damn fine human being.