The COVID-19 virus and related quarantine have left some of us in need of help and others who are able to provide assistance, but not sure how.
by Steve Cleff
At Promptworks, we are committed to solving problems that matter and User Experience Designer Diana Funk found a way to make an immediate difference with a new app, YourNeighborGood.com. After asking for volunteers at Promptworks, team members were able to act quickly using hard work and a UI/backend accelerator we built called Stackup to design and build the web app in less than two weeks.
We wanted to share this story with you in case you can use the app, or if it can provide some inspiration during this challenging time. We also need volunteers to help those who need it, so please take a look at the site and spread the word!
Promptworks is also working with the Department of Health and Human Services and other organizations to see how our Design and Engineering expertise can help solve other COVID-related problems.
Diana explained the background of the project in a Q&A with Steve Cleff, Director of Product Design at Promptworks.
Steve: How does the YourNeighborGood.com app help people?
Diana: We created an app that allows anyone in the community to post something that they need, an errand that needs to be run, or groceries they need to be picked up, or anything of the sort, and then we’ll allow another person in the community to log in, see that task, and decide to complete it.
Where did the idea come from?
The idea came from two different places. One, I came back from Europe two weeks ago and was immediately quarantined, unable to get groceries, (so a little bit of a selfish issue). Second, in seeing a number of organizations try to provide this kind of support for their communities, they were doing a lot of work matching a volunteer with someone who was in need, and weren’t able to spend much time actually organizing the community. So we figured if we could use technology to match the person in need with the volunteer, they’d be able to get out and actually do the job of giving people the assistance they need.
How long did it take to build?
With everyone’s hard work and with using the existing UI and code in our Stackup tool it was all done in less than two weeks!
Typically Promptworks helps other companies to design and develop their products. You were essentially the Product Owner here?
I asked the company in one of our Slack channels if we could take this on and some designers, developers, and PMs volunteered their time with leadership’s backing to create this.
How many different people worked on the app?
A lot of people have worked on the app! About half of the company has done something to help with it.
What type of positive impact would you hope comes from using this app?
I hope that this app empowers everyday people to ask for help. I know there’s a lot of stigma around admitting that you need help, especially at a time like this. And I think that blinding that request through the app makes people a little more likely to ask for help. People don’t love to call and talk about these things. So hopefully, filtering that request through an experience we have everyday will be beneficial to everybody.
What was the first task requested?
The first task requested was actually to pick up concord grape Manischewitz for Passover. We were putting the final touches on the app when the request came through. I was so excited I volunteered to be the one who picked up and dropped off the wine.
The Core Team
We also asked the larger team about their experience putting this together so quickly.
Diana Funk, Designer/Product Owner
Samantha Vitale Kofman, Designer
Ray Zane, Engineer
Dan McClory, Engineer
Angelica Suarez, Project Manager
Jay Newlin, Quality Assurance
What made you feel the best about this project?
Jay, QA: I was glad that our company was doing something for free that would help people most in need of assistance.
Sam, Design: I like that this project was temporally-aware: everyone knew its success depended on a speedy roll-out and were willing to work outside of business hours to get it done.
Ray, Engineering: It was nice to work on a project with a sole motivation of helping others. Building a time-sensitive minimum viable product (MVP) forced us to focus on what really mattered.
Angelica, PM: I was excited that we were able to pivot our energy and talent to something immediately beneficial to the community in its time of need.
Dan, Engineer: We’re in a situation where we all feel pretty powerless. It felt great to take some skills that we already had and apply them to some kind of forward action (that is very small in the grand scheme of things, but hopefully still useful).
What do you hope happens with it?
Ray: I hope to get the word out to people who need help and to attract volunteers to support their local communities.
Sam: I would hope for city-wide adoption, with volunteers spread across Philadelphia.
Jay: I hope that it continues beyond the current crisis — and that it rolls out to other places. I suspect that it will work best in cities, but I’m hopeful that I might be proven wrong.
Diana: Definitely hope that it reduces the stigma of asking for help and that this type of system becomes just as comfortable for people as other tech platforms do in everyday life. I also hope that volunteering on a less-committed basis than showing up at the same time and place every week encourages more people to get involved.
Angelica: I hope that YourNeighborGood increases access to assistance for those who need it. Not everyone has a nearby friend or neighbor, and not everyone feels comfortable asking for help. This can help people get the assistance they need in a way that feels comfortable for them.
Dan: I hope that the number of requested tasks don’t overwhelm the number of volunteers! I think it won’t.
What was the biggest technical challenge?
Ray: Because we had refined the scope to only the features that were absolutely necessary, this wasn’t a particularly challenging application to build. The real challenge was making sure that we were able to roll this project out in such a short period of time to maximize the number of people that it could help.
What was the biggest design challenge?
Diana: The biggest design challenge was how to keep this safe. We don't have the manpower to background check people so we landed on a closed referral system for our volunteers. Other than that, the biggest challenge will definitely be just driving people to the app. I see people looking for exactly this type of program on Nextdoor daily, so just answering those people and getting the word out.
Sam: I only contributed lightly to the design process, but I recall one issue in particular: it was tricky to determine whether user types should be fluid or not (i.e. should a volunteer be able to change roles to become a neighbor in need).
What was the biggest QA challenge?
Jay: There weren’t any. The site was engineered well, so the testing was fairly “routine.” I appreciated the speed with which bugs were fixed because we were so interested in rolling it out on a specific date. I see potential in eventually layering in some UI-layer test automation to “keep an eye on” the site, so that no one will need to spend a lot of time with hands-on testing.
What advice would you give someone who wants to help with something similar?
Jay: If you’re at all interested, and if you think your particular skill set is or will be needed, get in “on the ground floor.” Don’t wait for someone to ask you to do a thing that you know you’re good at.
Sam: Speed to MVP is critical for time-sensitive solutions like this. Don't get bogged down in perfection; aim for something usable above all else.
Angelica: Trust that you have something to contribute and just start working. You don't need to be an expert in order to help.
Anything else you'd like to say about the project?
Jay: I appreciate having been asked to contribute. I’m impressed with how well and how quickly this came together. Kudos to everyone involved!
Ray: We built the simplest thing in order to make it available as soon as possible, but we hope to continue to add additional features. We hope that we can make this app useful for disaster relief in general.
Angelica: I am honored to have worked with such a dedicated team. Everyone felt a shared sense of urgency to help our community.