Engineering as a discipline exists at the intersection of art and science. At its core, engineering is about creation and turning ideas into reality. But those ideas must be bounded by scientific rigor for the resulting products to be manufactured, reliable, supportable, and cost-effective.
Balance is important, especially for collaboration products. Collaboration touches upon the core of who we are as people and how we interact with others. Too little art, and the result is a functional yet dull product that no one wants to use. Too little science, and the user experience becomes as unpredictable as a roller coaster ride. We can all think of past products that veered too far in one direction or the other.
I was struck by this need for balance while attending the InfoComm show last week. InfoComm is one of the premier events for our industry and everyone brings out their latest goodies to show and tell. Polycom used this opportunity to unveil our newest product, Pano.
Pano has been a labor of love for the Polycom team over the past 18 months. It isn’t often you get to work on a completely new product category, and our goal with Pano was to transform the industry. Collaboration solutions have traditionally focused on great audio and high-resolution video, but content has been like Cinderella, waiting on the sidelines and not invited to the party. Sure, you can share grainy slides if you can find the cable, and if you can get your PC to cooperate and if the room controller isn’t too confusing. We felt it was time for content to become a full citizen in the collaboration experience.
Polycom Pano is a little box with inner bigness, and has been designed with the user experience in mind. User experience has always been Polycom’s North Star, and we strive to strike the right balance between the art of the possible, and the science to deliver a consistently great experience at a great price. Pano provides simple, easy, wireless content sharing. It supports beautiful 4K images, multiple users and multiple streams of content. It integrates with your existing video collaboration infrastructure, for example RealPresence Group Series, so that this great in-room experience can be shared with everyone. While Pano supports standard monitors, when paired with a touch monitor, it is full of “delighters” like intuitive touch control and annotation.
Pano is also an ideation solution. It has a responsive electronic whiteboard that supports fingers or stylus. Draw, erase, draw and save. If you have ever run out of space while capturing your ideas, you will appreciate Pano’s infinite whiteboard feature which lets you resize or move your content however you desire.
We built Pano to be a transformational experience. The engineering team at Polycom has been moving to an Agile software development model over the past couple of years and, like most well-established technology companies, it has taken some time to (metaphorically) replace the engine while the car is moving down the highway. Pano represents one of the first new solutions that we have built top to bottom using Agile. One of the most important things we’ve learned throughout the process is that Agile development can bring significant value to creating great user experience in our products.
Agile tells engineering teams to break development down into user stories, tasks that produce results that can be directly experienced and verified. Development teams are small and closely coordinated. This forces new capabilities to be integrated at every step of the program, and results in an early focus on continuous testing and automation of new test cases.
Traditional waterfall development might specify everything, design everything, implement everything, integrate everything and then test everything. This puts tremendous risk on the backend of the program because it is late in the process before you can get end user feedback. It also leaves the most complex task, integration, to one of the last steps. By structuring work around user stories and early integration, Agile keeps the team focused on working code and enables much earlier feedback. For example, Pano became generally available this month but we sent early Alpha units to customers 6 months ago. This has allowed our engineers to get plenty of feedback and we have made many user experience improvements based on customer feedback.
Pano is part of a solution comprising the hardware device, the Pano app companion application, and a set of cloud services. It was built by teams spanning four countries and 15 time zones. This introduced some unique challenges for coordinating the development program and we had to come up with new approaches to ensure our Agile software development was effective under these conditions. Polycom relies on our own technology for collaboration, but how do engineers look at code, test results, user interface mockups, while on opposite sides of the world?
Of course, we used Pano!
Our early Pano prototypes became a key component of scrum team meetings and software development. End of sprint demos were shared with everyone. The only problem that Pano couldn’t handle was differences in time zones. Maybe we will work on that next.
Building Pano has been a fine example of the balance between art and science that underlies engineering. The art of user experience design has been harnessed with the science of Agile software development, and the result is user experience that inspires our imagination combined with thoughtful integration into existing collaboration infrastructure. Pano, an easier way to share content at work.