If you are part of a distributed team (aren’t we all these days) or agile development team, you, your team, company probably do or have done demos at one point. Demos are an amazingly valuable part of the development process for the company, especially given that most of us are now working remotely. At Tempered, we constantly innovate and never stop thinking of ways to make our product even better. We started demos Fridays; it allows us to connect to the product team and everyone in the company. Demo Fridays provide a space for us to communicate what we’re working on, get instant feedback on new features, and collect priceless insights from the rest of the team.
Every Friday afternoon, we gather on Zoom and deliver short (15 minutes or so) demos to the group. Each presenter has about 15 minutes for his or her demo, including some time for Q&A. The presenter takes the stage to introduce what he or she is working on and shows us how it works, live.
This is a great way to build team knowledge and spur rapid development. Below are five reasons why you need to start this tradition.
- Create an artificial deadline. Maybe you’ve heard the phrase that the last 10% of a project takes 90% of the time. Getting your code and hardware all set up to demo is a good exercise. Friday demos don’t have to be polished, though. We encourage rough edges and joke about the demo gremlins (see #5). It helps to establish interim milestones for an effort. It usually involves an actual use case. And once teammates expect a demo by a certain time, it serves as a good progress indicator and something to drive towards.
- Raise awareness of what teammates are doing. Meetings are OK and necessary, but what startup engineer wants to attend more meetings? Demos tend to be more hands-on and interactive. We all clap at the end of a demo, failed or polished, and celebrate little (or big) accomplishments. It’s a more visual style of learning than emails, Slack, or PowerPoint meetings. We almost always see new ways of using our product. Demo Friday also fosters cross-team information exchange. It’s not restricted to engineering and often features guest presentations from Sales/Marketing, Project Management, HR, etc.
- Gather invaluable feedback. Why didn’t I think of that? Discussions we have around a feature spawn new ideas and features. The demo is a safe place to try new ideas subject to internal critique. Something we may think is clear or easy to use could really be confusing or missing features. Exposing your ideas and implementation to different sets of eyes, different viewpoints helps you learn about what works and what could use improvement.
- Hone your presentation skills. Market your own ideas and work, help sell it to other teams within the company, and even help Sales explain solutions to current (why should I upgrade to that version?) or prospective customers. Plenty of engineers could use the practice of explaining their ideas to different audiences of varying skill levels. For our new engineers, the interns -- delivering a Friday demo at the end of their internship is a requirement.
- Expose the bugs. They always happen. It works perfectly at your desk, plugged directly into your 5-port Ethernet switch. Then in a crowded room with WiFi and screen sharing using Apple AirPlay, maybe without access to a server, people watching, things start to fail. The notorious demo gremlins are a great testing tool. Applying your code or your device to a functioning use case may offer you some surprises.
Example: a recent series of demos involved deadlines, awareness, feedback, and bug exposure: Airnet -- the internal name for our free Airwall Teams offering. One or two developers worked somewhat independently on this web app, so it was great to socialize what they were doing. Early demos were interactive, where participants received invites via email. And everybody's platform seemed to be different (Android, iPhone, laptops, etc.) Things didn't always go as planned, with one or two clicks to the "golden happy path." Subsequent demos turned into usability testing as we brought in employees unfamiliar with using the software -- just like our target audience. We added more platforms until a single demo covered Linux, iOS, Android, Windows, and Mac clients. The process was iterative, and the product became better and better as a result.
A Demo day is a win-win for everyone in the company. It is extremely useful for the client-facing teams who are better able to communicate the new features to clients and the developers’ teams who gather valuable, hands-on feedback. Try it, too, to connect all your teams with the product and keep everyone in the loop.