This may be the most important question of all, whether you're a potential client or a potential team member.
The answer has less to do with our expertise, our experience, or domain knowledge. It has far more to do with this question:
"Do you believe what we believe?"
We believe it is possible to delight users and that this is imperative to success. Our High-Tech Anthropologists® use discovery and observation, coupled with the humility of an iterative approach to uncover where their evolving design ideas are wrong, and use feedback from users to refine it into an experience that does not require training, help text, Dummies books, or user manuals.
We believe it is possible (and imperative) to work with pride when building software. Our paired programming approach, our non-hero-based team, our humanly sustainable work pace, our automated unit testing practice ensure that the possibility of a software emergency will be so small as to almost be a non-issue. (I hedge only because we are human, and therefore imperfect - but the last time our team recalls a software emergency is 2004).
We believe that the regular and systematic involvement of a project's sponsor is key to delivering the highest value within a time frame and budget. Further, we believe the only way to do this is through careful culling of lower value features and priorities. We utilize the simplest paper-based planning tools to allow our sponsors to see what impact (on both time and budget) each incremental feature decision will have. We are not miracle workers. Software is just plain old hard work, like everything else in life. In order to succeed, tradeoffs must be made. The trade should never be "quality or no quality?" It should be "this feature or that one?"
We believe the only way for a sponsor to actually know what is going on, is to see (weekly) the developing software and touch it in a Show & Tell. The team that worked on it the previous five days watches so that in this weekly exhibition we can hang on the emotional reaction of the people who are spending money with us. This weekly emotional reconnection is important because this work is the main source of our economic engine. This is the work that keeps us in our homes and puts food on our tables, it funds our future dreams both personally and professionally.
We believe that a culture free of artificial fear (that some mistakenly believe motivate) creates a feeling of safety for all involved. This safe feeling keeps us out of "reptile brain" and keeps us in our pre-frontal cortex, the part of our brain that makes us the most human. If people feel safe, then trust forms, collaboration begins, and teamwork emerges. Then you get what every company on the planet wants: creativity, imagination, innovation and invention. This is one of the main reasons we work in a wide open room, and use the walls for our most important progress indicators. Our space is a reflection of our culture: open, transparent, collaborative, relational, and non-hierarchical.
We believe that, while our approach may appear more expensive than most, the real comparison of value can only occur in one place: usage statistics by the people who are the intended users. We believe if you truly understand the user's needs, compassionately design a user experience with them in mind, and build the underlying software in a way that works without error, usage will soar and no one will question the slightly higher cost of the effort. On the flip side, we believe cheap software efforts that consistently frustrate users and regularly produce errors, will ultimately not be used unless management forces it. Poorly designed and cheaply-built software is just one more obstacle to getting real work done and users figure out a way to either not use it at all, or simply placate the system to make it seem like they are using it.
We believe we have demonstrated all of this consistently since 2001 and that we have devised an end-to-end system of design, development, quality and project management to produce the results we believe in. In all of this hard work, there is joy: for us, for our sponsors and most importantly for the people we serve in the world ... the users we delight and who love how well we've taken care of them. Our joy is derived from making their lives better through software.
We believe so strongly in this approach, that in many cases, we are willing to trade away some cash for equity or royalty. In other words, we are willing to bet that our approach will deliver business results while delighting users. This portends the highest degree of trust between a client and a vendor. The only word we know that applies in this circumstance is ... partner. Many of our clients feel as though they are a part of the Menlo team; they start using the word "we" when they talk about our efforts together. As I said earlier, software is hard work. Our team enjoys the work. They enjoy working with each other, they enjoy the challenge, but they find joy and it's business value in two things:
- Seeing their quality work go out into the world and delight users.
- Working shoulder-to-shoulder with our customers to make that happen.
If you believe in these things, and always believed it was possible even if elusive, then we are likely a good match.
Our system builds great project sponsors. We don't believe they exist naturally, they must be cultivated. We are pretty good at that, as long as an open mind is still in play. You will find us a gentle Sherpa along The Menlo Way™.
If you believe these things as well, we'd be happy to explore a potential collaboration with you.