Iterate, iterate, iterate: the key to sustainable success

As we move towards the second phase of the website refresh project, we reflect on how our agile development approach promotes digital sustainability

5 min read

August 2020

Approaching phase two

We have talked about our agile approach to website development – a timeboxed, iterative approach that builds software incrementally from the start of the project, instead of trying to deliver it all at once – and this continues to be at the heart of the project as we move into phase two. We will build upon and refine what we have delivered in phase one, as well as planning and delivering new elements.

The agile development lifecycle is fuelled by an iterative, sprint-based process. Every iteration is a single piece of the development puzzle that works together until the final product is delivered. 

Our new homepage design was made up of multiple iterations – different elements such as new hero image functionality, updated gallery and accreditation styling, which were developed in an order to make the completed jigsaw make sense. Multiple iterations of a product become invisible to a public audience: a seamless development.

Post-it notes scoping the project following an agile methodology.
Project scoping: planning using post it notes before working in Pivotal Tracker

The value of knowing your MVP

MVP stands for Minimum Viable Product and this is a key term for a successful agile methodology. This does not mean the minimum amount of work you need to do to a product before you can deliver it, but a strategy for iteratively learning about your audiences and goals in a digitally and financially stable capacity.

Aiming towards an MVP – a 1.0 version – enables the development team to learn more about their goal by having the opportunity to test ideas as they go. 

There is room to adapt a product based on feedback – iterating on what came before, to create versions 1.1, 1.2, 2.0 etc – rather than investing extra time and money in a fully-fledged product before it can be adequately assessed whether it meets the required value.

A digital sustainable strategy

An MVP allows you to test your beliefs in the most affordable way to know that you are moving in the right direction. As a process, it requires both flexibility and discipline. 

It will help reduce risks and make the team more adaptable to change in a digitally sustainable way. 

As well as delivering a product that is more likely to function and tick all the goals for product owners, content editors and end users.

An MVP approach helps to avoid failure and going over budget because as a team you will not waste time and money on unnecessary features and functionalities that are not required for your target audiences. 

Massive corporations like Google, Netflix and Facebook continually work towards an MVP – always iterating a solid, working platform in order to improve functionality and service for their audiences.

When creating MVPs, we’re intentionally building just enough functionality to ask the right questions of ourselves and our goals – is this what our audiences want? 

Do these icons make sense? Does this workflow improve the user journey?

Evaluating our MVPs

Having phase one MVPs successfully deployed, we can now evaluate as a development team and plan towards future iterations of these already stable features.

It's important to remember that although a MVP can be seen as a first draft of a product, it is not a sketch or a wireframe, it has to meet the threshold of a successful iteration, complete a goal and be evaluated. Continual evaluation is a vital aspect of iterative development.

Over the next few weeks we will evaluate our phase one releases, listen to user and stakeholder feedback and work towards further iterations of the features we released if required, as well as planning new ones.


Why is digital sustainability important?

Following an agile methodology and working in an iterative way towards MVPs is a successful model to help with our digital sustainability. Our approach that harnesses one of the most powerful forces for societal change, namely digitalisation, to deliver what we need and want in a sustainable way. [Digital Sustainability PDF report]

Thinking sustainably is an important ethos of our website refresh project. We can produce and development a platform desirable for our audiences and contribute to making Plymouth a green university through our iterative approach. But it's not just about what our external users see. Much thought goes into the tools behind the scenes to make sure we're not inadvertently creating onerous tasks to update these new features. This allows us to release useful products in an efficient manner, saving time, costs, energy and lowering our digital footprint as we maintain content long term.

An iterate process: from sketches to development and testing in Pivotal.
An iterative process: from sketches to development and testing in Pivotal

The benefits of sustainable design

Sustainable design is simply design that is efficient and accessible. Creating good experiences for both mobile and desktop users improves accessibility. Our website has long followed a mobile-first web design, which helps avoid loading large assets designed for desktop machines, which improves our site's speed and energy efficiency – a development favoured by Google.

The easier content is to find, the fewer pages a user has to load to locate information. This means fewer server requests are made, saving on bandwidth. 

These small energy savings accumulate over time, which is why it is very important to ensure that navigation around your website – from the homepage to individual landing pages, to global navigation and individual pages – is continually evaluated to produce efficient user journeys to satisfy calls to action.

When developing our website it has been important to think about what impact our site will have on the environment. Just about every website's carbon footprint can usually be lowered.

This is important, because taken as a whole, the internet consumes large amounts of electricity in data centres, across networks and devices. If the internet was a country, it would be the 6th largest polluter in the world and is expected to grow considerably.

We seek to continually embrace a digital sustainability inside the project and with business as usual, working towards creating a web that is good for both people and planet.

As part of our website redesign, we discussed some really high-level questions. For example, what deserves or needs to be on our homepage? What value does each element on a homepage bring?

These questions are an intrinsic part of iterative development and are asked daily as part of the project. And these type of questions will continue to be asked as we begin to scope, test and deliver new features throughout phase two as efficiently as possible. 

When done well, iterative design really can be a powerful method of development to improve not only the web, but other digital platforms and the environment as well.


Website Refresh Project 2020

The University's external website is undergoing a refresh to update certain design elements, functionality and content, as part of a project ending on 31 July 2020. 

Keep up to date with everything that's happening – from the latest new content design features, to the next developments on the horizon

Post-it notes used for Agile planning.