Make Dash MVP

The process of creating a good product

Vincenzo Marcella


The steps me and Severiano Badajoz took to create our product, Make Dash.


When we think of products, we may think of these highly polished, fully functional, and completely finished items that can be bought and used by people. But as we’ve rolled into the era of information that type of product has rolled out. Products have evolved from being these fully completed projects into smaller components that are able to work regardless of the project being in a “finished” stage or not. This type of methodology is known as agile development. Agile development specializes in transforming the development of products to be component driven, meaning that we can work on and release smaller components of our product before we actually have a “finished” product. This allows us to get working versions of our products out to the market while still being able to improve them and add new features. Most software based products follow this style development because of the flexibility it allows for updates and rollbacks that can be made to the product with minimal effort. It also allows products to accumulate user bases early on that can be used to provide feedback and help the product grow. As great as agile development sounds, it alone does not produce a great product, so what exactly does? In this article, i’m going to try and demonstrate the journey of creating good product through the one me and my coworker, Seve, are currently working on; Make Dash.

Make Dash

Severiano and I are both students at a software engineering school called Make School. While me and Severiano both thoroughly enjoy our time at the school, we found two notable problems that arise by simply being a student:

  1. Our school dashboard doesn’t have much functionality
  2. Keeping track of what work we have to do takes a little bit of work, especially while being enrolled in multiple courses.

While these are problems manageable, how we manage them can be improved. The way the dashboard is currently implemented is that when you sign on to the Make Schools website, you’re instantly brought there. Pretty standard for a dashboard, but it doesn’t provide anything useful for the student other than enrolling for classes (Something we only do every couple of weeks). As for the progress tracker, the current setup involves manually modifying an excel sheet per class that we take. This is slightly tedious, as we have to constantly keep track of every excel sheet we have. Being frustrated with the current setup, I then tried to take the perspective of a Make School instructor and what they have to endure. Not only do they have to also have to keep track of these excel sheets, but they have to create them, modify them, and then somehow archive them. All of these tasks are something that sounds like a computer should be doing, so why isn’t one? This is what Make Dash hopes to accomplish. We not only hope to accomplish automating the process of tracking student’s progress, but also enriching the entire dashboard experience.

Validating Make Dash

While the idea of Make Dash sounds good, does Make School really need it? Is this a product that would serve purposeful for others or something only Severiano and I would like to use? Thankfully, there are methods to validate whether or not a product would be a good fit. To get started, Severiano and I created user interviews to better engage our future user base and to gain insight on features that may be lacking from their perspective. Our future user base would consist of two types of users:

  1. Instructors
  2. Students

Having two types of users means that we’re going to need to create two types of user interviews. Since our two types of users aren’t going to be interacting with the app the same way, generic questions would only get us so far into engaging really what will cater to the specific needs of each type of user. With this in mind, it was time to generate our first round of User interview questions:

Instructor user interview question:

  1. What software does make school provide to help you run/manage your classroom?
  • Does this software satisfy the needs of instructors?
  • Does it improve your productivity as an instructor?
  • What are some improvements that you think could be made to this software?
  • How well does it get the job done?
  • Is it scalable for larger classes?
  • How transferable is it transferrable between classes?

2. What is the hardest part about being a Make School instructor?

  • What in your opinion are the solutions to the problems you face?

3. What’s the dynamic between the software you use and grading assignments?

  • From assignment administration to grading and providing feedback to the student, what is the hardest part of that process?

Conducting a user interview

Since Make School Instructor are on site all throughout the day, it was pretty easy to schedule a user interview with one of the instructors during their free time. On November 9th, I conducted our first user interview with Mitchell Hudson, an instructor at Make School that primarily teaches the front end curriculum. From the user interview, I was able to learn quite a few important pieces of information:

  • Make School is currently trying to implement their own learning management system, but there is a lot of conflict on whether or not it is worth reinventing the wheel
  • The current progress trackers force all maintenance on them to be done manually, which in turn has lead to some frustration while entering in new fields/items that need to be tracked.
  • The current progress tracker does not scale well and is very tedious to transfer the template they currently use to other classes instructors would like to use it in.
  • The current progress tracker needs to be changed in the near future.

After the user interview, I felt that my partner and myself were much better able to understand the current state that Mitchell was in as an instructor trying to keep track of his student’s progress. With these current pieces of information in mind, we now had a better foundation to develop our app off of, which lead us into wire framing.

Wire framing

Coming up with a design that will provide the user a beautiful and rich experience is no easy task, so it must be approached in steps. After sitting down with my partner and discussing what would be the best design, we decided to go for a modernized design that loosely followed Make Schools website design. We decided to loosely follow Make Schools website design because we believe that to truly make the trackers experience feel natural, we need to make sure that the users are interacting with a Make School product. Here are some of the results of our first iteration:

Coming up with an MVP

During the first couple of weeks, my partner and myself spent a lot of time planning out our nontechnical operations but building off of all the research that we had previously conducted, it was time to bring this product to real life. During our retrospective meeting for the week, we sat down and decided to scope what a MVP, or minimal viable product would look like for our product. Essentially, an MVP is just a very minimum product or feature that is young enough to be both released and expanded on. Scoping out what our MVP would look like also helped us decide roles for our team and what technologies each role would be using. Last but not least, it was time to plan more strictly followed meetings and retrospectives that would help us drive towards our first working version of the product.

Creating the MVP

With an end goal in mind, it was now time to start working towards it. Over the course of 3 weeks, we spent time both together and away from each other working on the project and creating the MVP the specific goals that we’d set for each other during our meetings in between. By setting smaller goals, we were able to celebrate way more victories, albeit tinier ones, to help us strive towards reaching the next one. Along the way, we both learned the importance of communication and the willingness to be ready for changes that can occur at any given time. While communication is very fundamental, being open minded and reasonable can be just as effective if not more when faced with adversity working on a project with a team.

Bumps along the road

The journey towards creating the MVP was not smooth, such is life. When teammates don’t get agree on something, put equal amounts of work in, communicate enough with each other, or all of the above, the whole team suffers. However, it is not the bumps in the road that define you or your team. The defining moments come from the way you roll over those bumps and the strategy you devise for the ones that may come ahead. While nothing is perfect, planning and dedication to being a good teammate take you very near it. Severiano and I both worked very hard to get Make Dash into the state it is in today, but with better teamwork and a more developed strategy, I believe we could’ve taken the projects first version much farther. We will not let this bump in the road deter us from our end goal, but instead use it to help us find out what can make us better as a team to make a better overall product.


The dashboard
Class display
Creating an assignment

How we designed it

Choice of color was pretty easy for us to decide on. Since we were making a Make School progress tracker, we thought that we should incorporate the Make School’s website color design. By doing so, we feel that we’re able to directly target our core audience, Make School Instructors & Students more directly by utilizing a color pallet that they’re already accustomed to seeing.

Getting Typography right seems like an easy thing but it is very easy to utilize fonts that don’t fit the design of your website or mix well with other fonts that you have used. For Make Dash, we decided to stick with Sans Serif, as it’s design is very sleek and makes our website look more professional.

Visual Hierarchy plays an important role in what the end user will see first and therefore process first. If your end user isn’t interested in the content presented to them, you may lose their interest. You also don’t want to overload the user with information of the same Hierarchy, especially if the visual is large. For the Make Dash MVP, we decided to make courses and the resources that are attached to the courses of the upmost importance within our visual hierarchy. Being that our app is a progress tracker, it only felt right to make what tracks the progress of our user the most visible visual on screen.

User testing

With a working version of our project, we needed to reach out to our intended user base and gauge what their experience on our product would be like. Below is a video of the actual user interview conducted on another Make School student that will be using our product:

User interviews are a really good tool to learn more about your product when conducted properly. During the interview, I tried my best to keep Tim as active as possible during the app by speaking out every thought he was having while interacting with Make Dash. This in a way removed a filter on the interaction occurring between the user and Make Dash, allowing me to observe a good representation of what a real interaction with my app would be like. I really appreciated Tim’s time spent interacting with my app, as he provided very useful information about not only what could change with the design of my app, but the functionality of it as well.

Closing thoughts, lessons learned, and one last pitch

As Severiano and I continue to work on this project, I can’t wait to develop more as a Software Engineer and a better teammate while creating a product that will potentially serve a lot of users. During the development of this product, I learned a lot about working in a team, the development life cycle of a product, Product design and what differentiates good design from bad ones, Product management and planning, and the role that user interviews can play in creating a product. Being able to write this journey as I experience has been an amazing experience and I appreciate both those that experienced with me or read along. Before you go, below is one last high quality pitch on what our product is and what it aims to do. Thank you, and enjoy.