Blackhawk Engagement Solutions initiated a major project to replace their product’s core technology platform. The legacy application limited revenue generation due to significant efforts required for enhancements and delivering customized solutions for customers. In addition, the web application did not support corporate brand standards and needed user experience improvements. Blackhawk Engagement Solutions engaged TDK to support their industry leadership in the prepaid incentive market.
Technologies Used
Ruby on Rails
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Blackhawk Engagement Solutions (formerly InteliSpend Prepaid Solutions), a leading global provider of customized incentives for businesses to drive customer loyalty and employee rewards, commenced the core technology project in January 2014 with an Iteration 0 effort to design the most effective project delivery approach. This involved senior IT leadership and business owner involvement to oversee the planning of process, resources and tools to optimize the timeline within budget constraints and deliver the highest quality system to the business for internal and external customers. In addition, Blackhawk Engagement Solutions contracted with TDK Technologies, a technology solutions delivery partner, to assist and advise them on Iteration 0 activities involving agile software development practices, business analysis, technology, software development and quality assurance.

Several specific opportunities and risks were addressed in the Iteration 0 phase that were instrumental to the project’s success:

  • A lean approach through a rapid prototyping design methodology was implemented. By adding a front-end software developer to the design team, the development team was able to meet design expectations faster, which gave the product a better user experience. The close continual alignment of front-end development with design/UX ensured a consistent design experience and accelerated development velocity throughout the project life cycle. Additionally, the alignment allowed for the effective use of a framework (Bootstrap) for accelerated development.
  • A resourcing and communication plan to effectively involve the business team’s product owner representatives to obtain timely input and decision making on product direction was developed collaboratively with the business customer leadership. The product owner team members at Blackhawk Engagement Solutions were highly leveraged due to previous projects and intense collaboration with internal and external stakeholders in a market that is in an extremely high growth period. It was critical to outline and set expectations for all involved on utilization and engagement of the product owner team.
  • User story development processes, standards and supporting tools were reviewed and modified to achieve an optimal level of effort for the business analysis, software development and quality assurance team members. In addition, the combined teams elected to employ a fresh model for estimating work using prototype features as a proxy for future features. This model proved to be highly efficient from both time and financial perspectives.
  • Blackhawk Engagement Solutions carefully evaluated the best staffing approach to support ongoing business operations and deliver the project objectives. While the technologies selected for software development included Ruby on Rails and Java, resources available and experienced in these areas presented potential challenges due to the size of the development effort. TDK Technologies was retained to provide two scrum software development teams to align their efforts with the Blackhawk Engagement Solutions teams and deliver full feature sets in parallel. 
  • Iteration 0 also provided an opportunity for key members of the external team from TDK Technologies to become familiarized with the client's business, project objectives and technology standards prior to the full team ramp up period.

Use of external teams allowed internal resources to focus on core business competencies and maximize business value.  The external teams brought industry standard expertise in non-core areas like services and consumer user experience. Structuring of user story backlog ensured those features were delivered completely as each team had responsibility for a full feature thus simplifying communication and tracking. Project team (business analysis, software development and quality assurance) members were added and rolled off to ensure proper backlog would always be available to support all team members, while also managing delivery cost for the business.

Business proximity and available onsite work space allowed the external team members the flexibility to work remotely (external team site) or co-locate with the Blackhawk Engagement Solutions team based on what was most beneficial for the project at any given time.

In addition to the daily stand-up meetings and the related communication aspects of agile software development, a weekly project review involving Blackhawk Engagement Solutions’ IT senior and mid-level IT leadership, the business product owner representative, and TDK Technologies project and technology delivery leadership enabled project monitoring and the ability to make adjustments throughout the entire project life cycle.

As a result of the planning from Iteration 0 and the ongoing monitoring and effective communication during the development, several successful product releases were achieved on schedule. Feedback from internal and external users has been very positive. Blackhawk Network, the parent company of Blackhawk Engagement Solutions, has implemented a growth strategy as the leader in the prepaid market in both the B2B and B2C space. The core application features designed and built by the joint efforts of Blackhawk Engagement Solutions and their vendor partner TDK Technologies has resulted in it being considered as a flagship ordering platform for the enterprise. This will enable future features to be added for other products at lower development costs and faster time-to-market.

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