Before joining Fueled, I had spent a few years as a Senior Project Manager at an app development agency where I worked done project management for 20 projects for a variety of clients. Additionally, my first job was in a digital advertising agency where I combined experiential campaigns with online marketing strategies to produce award-winning results.
During my first year in project management at Fueled, I was assigned a project that would be one of the most challenging and enjoyable of my career. Little did I know, it would end up taking almost two years to complete and be in an industry I knew nothing about. The client presented us with what they thought was a simple brief: “We want to build a social stock trading platform.”
Before the project began, we knew we would face challenges for a few reasons:
- We had never built a Fintech app before
- At the time, there weren’t many products in the stock trading space on the market.
- This was going to be a larger project than we had typically taken on at Fueled and broader than the MVP type apps we were planning at the time.
None of that turned us off. In fact, I felt those challenges contributed to our success and ultimately drove us to a collective feeling that “We can do this, and we can knock it out of the park!”
We jumped in head first. Luckily we were working with a very understanding client who was willing to educate us on the industry and understood how to scope and build a startup product.
From the beginning, we knew that we couldn’t just build this product from scratch. Working with our client and team, we reviewed a number of third-party API vendors that we knew had already built apps with the functionality that we wanted to include in ours. We discovered that we’d have to use a number of different software solutions in order to create the product we wanted. This was one of the biggest learning curves during this project. We ended up working with six different API partners to integrate into one backend solution to our iOS app.
What we ended up with was essentially our very own stock trading platform, that we could update and bug fix without having to rely too heavily on our frontend app. But it wasn’t always smooth sailing.
There are always a number of issues when working with third-party products. You don’t always have control over when they are updated or need fixes. Not to mention, that at times they may go unsupported for a long period of time, which can end up causing more issues during development. In addition, when there are several vendors involved, in multiple time zones, communication and obtaining documentation from third parties can be very painful.
But we soldiered on. We initially scoped the project to take three months of development. Looking back now and knowing what we learned from this project, that was very optimistic. But also looking back we can’t help but be proud of the technology we ended up producing.
The technology wasn’t the only hurdle we had to overcome. Compliance was another area that was new to our team when building a product. FINRA, or the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, also needed to be consulted during the design and development phases of the product. This pressured us to take into consideration two factors:
- Timeline impact on getting approval
- Security concerns
An added benefit to using the third party API software meant that security was already taken care of, as we only ever used systems that already had FINRA compliance approval. However, as the product and platform concept was new to the industry, we would need to brief FINRA on what our app does and how we were building it, within their current guidelines.
From a project management point of view, this meant in order to keep our development timeline on track we would have to plan design reviews with FINRA as part of our process. Tools like Invision help us communicate our vision for an unfinished product to a committee of stakeholders that are not necessarily literate in tech. This was the slowest part of the entire process, as FINRA compliance often takes a long time to review. Submissions would often be returned with questions and a follow-up note requiring updates on features and documentation we needed to provide, making for an iterative process that felt like it was never really complete.
Working in Fintech, I learned a lot about keeping teams on the same page. That ranged from making sure our team developers and designers were up to date with client requests, to keeping our third-party vendors updated on our development work, to scheduling meetings with the clients on a weekly basis. Every step as important as the next. A project management role is about making sure the trains run on time. This would not be achieved if we didn't have total transparency with our client from the start. Remembering that as an app development team, we had our area of expertise and our client had theirs was key. Exchanging information and keeping each other in the loop was vital to completing this project and creating an accessible app.
My advice to young project management professionals is to invest more time figuring out a roadmap for the project before development. Get acquainted with the project’s finer details and the parties involved, especially the client's background and the third-party vendors you'll be working with. Do your research and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Remember that you don’t need to be an expert in every field, as long as you are willing to put the work in to make a killer app.