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The Softer Side of Software

By Rob Ross, EVP, Head of Development, eMoney Advisor

Rob Ross, EVP, Head of Development, eMoney Advisor

When I joined eMoney Advisor about seven years ago, our development team was in a unique position. Technology and software was in high demand within the financial service industry, with savvy advisors realizing the days of keeping complex spreadsheets, printed financial plans, and giant rolodexes were long gone. What they needed were innovative, online tools for wealth management. And luckily, that is exactly what eMoney had been providing since 2000.

"As a company, we understand that our core solution—financial planning software is, and always will be, at the heart of what we do"

But as technology adoption spread and competition mounted for our company and our clients, we needed to differentiate.

Cross-functional, collaborative, and ideally co-located teams are incredibly important to building and maintaining a great product. As is the fusion of design, technical, and business prowess. And it should go without saying that writing good code, supporting scale, and having beautiful design are table stakes.

But those pieces of our puzzle are the “how” in what we do. And though we are damn good at that part, they are not the reasons “why” we come to work each day. Or the reason “why” eMoney is now re-setting our industry expectations for disruptive innovation.

For that, we look to the intangible characteristics that have helped lay the foundation for innovation and success here at eMoney. Think of it as the softer side of software development, and it may just help your team better define their purpose, approach their roles, and realize success as well.

Listen more than you talk and do not rely on the grapevine alone.

Often times, development teams “plug-in” and hyper-focus on what is directly in front of them. But doing so can be a disservice to the user. You need to resist the temptation to work in a bubble and remind your team to think of their client base. In doing so, they can make better decisions and stay at the top of their game. These are lessons they can take with them long into their careers.

The bubble also applies to the people on your team. If you surround yourself with the same people, you will hear the same opinions and you will not be able to bring new ideas to the table.

Here, we are a veritable melting pot of interns, new grads, and folks with decades of experiences, some who grew up in the finance industry, and others who are brand new to it. We bring on individuals and sometimes entire teams with strong and diverse beliefs on what it means to “do development right.” And though we like to say all of our engineers are full-stack developers, each has a distinct passion for the specialized expertise they bring to the table.

But the way to really progress and develop is to step outside of the walls of your company. In addition to leveraging formal beta and pilot programs for feedback, make it easy for your engineers to get in front of clients in all different settings.

When our company hosts a conference, advisory board meeting, or attends an industry event, our developers often go. Many of them connect with end users individually, and over time, have built strong relationships with our clients. This enables us to grab quick, unfiltered feedback when necessary. And it was from these crucial conversations that we gained the perspective we needed to introduce the biggest product update in our history, in December 2014.

As I am sure you will soon learn, having this insight and a clear path allows you to make better decisions to help your company grow.

Be open-minded and accept the idea that you do not know what you do not know.

From day one, we knew that technology would revolutionize the business of delivering financial advice. And year after year, we would improve strategic areas of our infrastructure, iterate on our core feature set, and keep up with the latest usability and design trends all to solve our clients’ challenges and provide the best financial planning software solution available.

But as the financial technology space became crowded with other solutions—and our clients faced the daunting task of integrating more tech into their businesses than they ever imaged it became clear that their needs had evolved.

While we initially set out to learn how we could improve our planning product, we took a step back and asked advisors to explain to us how they work with their clients, how our offering fits into their workflows, and most importantly, what they spend their time and efforts on outside of our tool. Once we expanded the conversation, we saw that advisors have way too many digital tools in their tool belt.

From this, we seized an opportunity that has put our team on the leading edge of development and design for the financial service industry. You can do the same in your industry if you listen to your users, expand the conversation, and do not assume to already know all of the challenges they face.

Culture trumps all—what is driving yours?

Motivation is key to developing innovative software. The problem is, many development teams lose steam—or spend time on the wrong things—if they do not have an understanding of your organization’s overall goals. At eMoney, we have established a clear vision: put our clients, and the clients of our clients, in the best position to succeed.

That means taking a holistic view of our clients’ services and developing tools that would make their lives easier, even as their needs change. As a company, we understand that our core solution—financial planning software—is, and always will be at the heart of what we do. But we also are driven to expand our scope to create a comprehensive digital wealth planning experience and provide the agility our clients demand.

As your clients and their industry evolves, you need to evolve with it. Smart development organizations keep their finger on the pulse of their customers’ industry to discover the challenges they face and find ways to better serve their needs, without ever losing sight of the reason why they come to work each day.

Bring it all together.

Soft skills alone are no substitute for technical proficiency, but reframing your approach to embrace these ideals can transform good teams into development leaders. They provide real, immediate value no matter what industry you work in, the size of your business, or the size of your team. So the next time you are evaluating your projects, remind yourself of these three statements. You will be surprised at what new paths you will forge, innovation you will un-tap, and winning experience you will create.