Problem solving is tough. It’s easy to overthink the problem and end up with one or more unnecessarily over-complicated solutions. Often, if you strip away as much as possible until you get to the core of the problem, you find simple solutions that get the job done efficiently. Developers and product managers call this an MVP, or minimally viable product.
One of the more interesting projects I’ve been involved with over the past 16-plus years, one that I am very proud of, was designing and developing the first mobile website for syracuse.com.
At the time, I was the managing editor for syracuse.com after having spent a handful of years as a web producer. The mobile web was just starting to blossom and news media companies were all over the place. Some outlets had decent mobile-optimized websites, for that time, and some had nothing at all (like us). It was clear though that this was a space we had to move into. It was just a matter of hitting that critical mass of mobile users and demand for mobile content that we could no longer ignore.
This was something I was extremely interested in. I wanted us to develop a mobile website so badly that I started dabbling with minimal, stripped down versions of parts of our sites, like score boxes for football and basketball. I was hoping there was a chance to get involved once we finally made the decision to invest resources in mobile development. One weekend, I took my pet project a bit further and figured out an automated solution, with just a few lines of code, to feed our news articles in a way that did not disrupt our main desktop websites. This was a game-changer and from there I was able to tie together a simple navigation structure that brought the whole experience together.
Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity – Seneca
While sitting somewhere in the 200 section of the Carrier Dome watching a Syracuse University men’s basketball game, I sent a link of my beta mobile website to my boss so he could get score updates of the Syracuse University men’s basketball game on his phone. He worked out of our Springfield, Massachusetts office and likely wasn’t able to watch the game on TV, but as a fellow alumni of the Newhouse School and big fan of the team, I knew he’d be interested.
Within a week of presenting the prototype to management at our company headquarters at Advance Digital in Jersey City, the very rustic and simple mobile website was quickly put to use for all 11 media outlets spread across the country. It wasn’t pretty and didn’t have many useful features, like those sports score boxes because of a licensing issue that prevented us from using them, but it was something. An MVP to move us forward into the mobile space. The simple mobile websites were replaced about a year later with something more robust and feature-rich, but they served their purpose. They delivered the news to your mobile device in a format that was easily consumable.
It was a simple solution to an obvious problem that cost almost nothing to create. The timing was right and I got lucky with my MVP.