Latex

Making new tech work for old pros

Strategy
UI Design
React
Mobile App

The Premise

Latex Construction is one of the top pipeline construction companies. They know everything that causes headaches on complex projects, including data collection. For years, project managers had been gathering this information in notebooks. It was slow, and decision-makers wanted data quickly. Latex turned to Urbity to develop a network of apps for logging information on a cell phone, and a web app for analysis.

Latex needed it done in six months because that’s when their next $100 million project was scheduled to begin. That meant Urbity needed to put its strategy helmet on, and help Latex determine the difference between features it wanted, and features it needed. The CEO was wary of using technology to replace a tried-and-true method, so the pressure was on to improve upon the old way.

The Solution

The client's needs are always important. But when you're talking about software development, the client isn't necessarily the user. In this case, the users would be industry veterans who liked their notebooks fine. The system wouldn't be effective if it wasn't easy.

Making it work for the audience

The project was ambitious. A mobile app used to log every bit of data on the project. There were simple things like coordinates of a fix, but crew leaders also needed to confirm safety protocols were met for the purpose of creating compilation Progress Reports within the web app. Then there were safety reports, and quality reports. And then you had wifi problems in rural areas.

Technically speaking, this was no problem. But strategically speaking, this needed some intense thought. This app would be used by grizzled veterans of pipeline construction, guys who had been doing it the old-fashioned way for decades. We needed this app to make sense to them, or risk alienating them; just because you tell them to use a new app, you can’t assume they actually will.

On the other side of the pipeline, the Latex web app would bring in huge amounts of data for analysis by the corporate team. Our design team needed to find a way to make these huge troves of data simple to view from a common dashboard, and equally simple to sort and export for use.

This was a big project, with a big budget. It also had a big deadline hanging over it.

The "problem" with good ideas is that clients are always looking to make them even better. That's all well and good, unless you're working on a tight deadline. Sometimes you've got to define the "now" good ideas and the "later" good ideas.

The task stack wobbles

This was a big project with a big budget. The "simple" Progress Report was the sum of many tasks: We needed to create separate reports for all users in the field, which needed to accept manual data entry while ingesting geographic and weather information, and also connecting to the user’s phone camera. It all needed to go to the right place and be organized into a digestible report.

And then Latex said that it needed a Fuel Tracking function as well.

It’s not an unreasonable ask. After all, any construction company that uses as much heavy machinery as latex does is also spending a truckload on fuel. Using an app such as this to track the use of fuel is logical. So we started looking into the solution.

The problem was we were already well into the six-month project window, and the time it would take to design, develop, and test an entirely new functionality was cutting significantly into the time we spent perfecting the Progress Reports. So we went to Latex and we told them the truth (if not an outright ultimatum): If we add this to the scope of the project, the Progress Reports will suffer.

We can’t afford to push back the deadline, and we never push back deadlines. We need to push back the scope. That isn’t to say that Urbity couldn’t create the fuel tracking functionality later, but it shouldn’t be done now. Basically, we hoped Latex would see the difference between what they wanted, and what they needed. Thankfully, they did.

“We had seen the work Urbity did for one of our contractor companies and we were intrigued, but didn’t necessarily have high hopes considering the deadline we were working under. Brian didn’t see any issue getting the thing done, and they got the thing done.”

Test

Test

We would never say that extra features aren’t worth pursuing, but sometimes they are worth delaying. The Latex app system demonstrated how effective the ground-level features were by themselves on the new project. Dedicating time to develop the extras, instead of rushing them right off the line, would pay dividends in the long run.

First impression is everything

This was a big project, with a big budget, and it was only going to get bigger if Latex had its way. Again, there is a lot that goes on during any given pipeline construction process, and the peak function of the app was to collect all of these going-ons into a simple Progress Report for the company to review. That simple report was the sum of many additional complex tasks, however. We needed to create separate reports for all of the users in the field, which in turn needed to accept manual data entry while ingesting geographic and weather information, and also connecting to the user’s phone camera. All of this information needed to go to the right place and be organized into a digestible report. It was one of the most involved projects we’ve ever committed to, already.

And then Latex said that it needed a Fuel Tracking function as well.

It’s not an unreasonable ask. After all, any construction company that uses as much heavy machinery as Latex does is also spending a truckload on fuel. Using an app such as this to track the use of fuel is logical. So we started looking into the solution.

The problem was we were already well into the six-month project window, and the time it would take to design, develop, and test an entirely new functionality was cutting significantly into the time we spent perfecting the Progress Reports. So we went to Latex and we told them the truth (if not an outright ultimatum): If we add this to the scope of the project, the Progress Reports will suffer. We can’t afford to push back the deadline, and we never push back deadlines. We need to push back the scope. That isn’t to say that Urbity couldn’t create the fuel tracking functionality later, but it shouldn’t be done now.

Basically, we hoped Latex would see the difference between what they wanted, and what they needed. Thankfully, they did.

We finished the apps in time for the company to break ground on their big project, and we continued to add new features in the months to come.Meanwhile, the Progress Reports had an instantaneous impact on Latex Construction’s productivity.

As crews completed sections of the pipeline, the big bosses were able to track the project almost to the minute. This allowed them to plan accordingly, improving efficiency and preventing shortages. Moving forward, they were able to provide more accurate quotes for future projects, especially after the addition of the Fuel Tracking function.

Latex couldn’t push back their deadline, but they could push back their scope. Once Urbity helped them identify the most effective strategy, everything else fell into place in good time.

What we learned

What you can do is important, but this project helped us realize that what we couldn’t do made a difference to the client’s satisfaction.

Timeline > Scope

Long-term projects inspire agencies to extend deadlines. There's a reason why "dead" is built into "deadline." Appreciating urgency is essential.

Saying No Matters

The client had a lot of viable ideas for the project. Too many. If we didn't say "no" for the time being, the more urgent needs would be impacted.

Don't Try Impossible

The worst we could have done was pretend we could pull off the unthinkable. Pretending otherwise would have left the entire project dead in the water.

Laying it Bare

See how we work in our
epic inter-company tales.

Check it out