Our challenge: Massey Knakal was NYC’s leading investment sales firm in the $50MM and under market. The result of a driven team and innovative territory system, Massey came to dominate commercial real estate in Manhattan and the outer boroughs. However, they faced a challenge with respect to their software systems. Now more than a decade old and difficult to maintain, the integrated application suite known as MKSS — responsible for supporting day to day operations — had become a pain point among personnel. Massey engaged Union NY DC to modernize and improve upon MKSS in order to meet the demands of their rapidly-changing environment.
Planning, UX & Design
We began by interviewing key stakeholders in order to understand business objectives, unify decision makers and establish guidelines for ongoing communication. We also used this opportunity to describe our structured approach to systems analysis and development. With management’s support, we then lead a series of focus groups to gain deeper insight into the technical challenges faced by Sales and Retail Agents. At the onset of each session we defined clear discussion topics in order to maintain focus and maximize the value of our time together. Regular engagements over the course of 3 months resulted in a comprehensive set of hi-fi wireframes and information architecture diagrams to illustrate visual layout, user flow, and system functionality.
Nearing the end of our planning phase, we explored foundational components on a more granular level beginning with Users (Agents) and the CRM. Leveraging our detailed wireframe set, we wrote and prioritized an initial backlog of User Stories, which describe system functionality as told from the user’s perspective. For example:
Given I am logged in to the system as a Sales Agent, I may add a Contact to my Personal Contacts list by clicking on a Contact, and then clicking “Add to Personal Contacts”. Once added successfully, the Contact will become available to all members of my team under Contacts > My Contacts.
Stories were organized into fixed-length iterations and made accessible to relevant stakeholders for input and feedback throughout the project lifecycle. Two or three Iterations were continuously planned in advance of programming which ensured relevancy, reduced the potential for rework, and accommodated potential variations in the product roadmap.
With the scope of work defined, our team began evaluating technologies that would support the client’s business model, while remaining flexible enough to meet and exceed future demands. Initially we completed a series of deep-dive evaluations, seeking existing third-party solutions to augment our development efforts, but quickly concluded these solutions were too rigid and would only hinder our ability to deliver the expected results. We knew a more flexible architecture would be required to achieve our goals and chose the following core technology stack to rebuild the system from scratch: Ruby on Rails, Ember.js, PostgreSQL, and Nginx running on AWS EC2.
Leveraging User Stories and Wireframes, we began to construct the data model and program foundational components, beginning with user authentication and Agent team permissions. Delivering early and often allowed us to establish a tight feedback loop between stakeholders and developers. With only a few features deployed, stakeholders were able to log in and experience the work-in-progress. This pattern of transparency became extremely valuable as we approached more complex areas of the system, and served to eliminate any possible misinterpretation of the application requirements.
Throughout the development phase our team relied on a series of web-based tools to facilitate internal communication and track progress. Like many agile teams, we used Git for version control. Each developer was responsible for testing and merging feature-specific branches for continuous deployment to our staging server — a pre-production environment where new features are tested by stakeholders.
We presented regularly to the management team; verifying functionality, documenting feedback, and collectively organizing future iterations. In January of 2014, Massey Knakal was acquired by Cushman & Wakefield, and a few months later, merged with DTZ. The system is currently being reviewed for adoption and integration into the firm’s global infrastructure.