Our Manifesto

The Astar Vision

The internet is a key driver for modern business and so all organisations become digital eventually. In the near future digital services and products will be at least as valuable as their physical counterparts.

Astar Digital’s place is in helping people achieve Digital Product success by using best practice to define, create and manage software projects.

The Astar Digital Approach

We build and sustain our business by understanding our customers and finding what is valuable them. We create software solutions to real world problems.

We believe in:

Design Thinking

  • To build insight and empathy with our customers

The Lean Start-up approach

  • To focus on our customers value points and deliver in a fast, efficient manner

Using Marketing to build connections

  • To help us understand how we build a partnership with our customers

Lean and Agile

  • To deliver with strict focus on the changing customer priorities
  • Eliminate waste and create continuous improvement

We use the strengths across these ideas to understand; what is important and valuable to our customers, validate or disprove assumptions and identify strategies to solve customer problems.

We want to be partners with our customers rather than pushing our own interests on them.

Design Thinking

Design thinking aims to understand people, empathise with their problems, prove or disprove assumptions in their problem space and find solutions that may not be obvious at the outset. Design thinking covers everything a business does, not just the deliverable product.

We can, and should, design every interaction our customers have with us. All of our touch points are geared towards a deeper understanding and partnership with those that engage with us.

Design Thinking

We follow the approach outlined by industry leaders Interaction Design Foundation. The five steps below have strong synergies with Lean Start-up and Agile.

  1. Empathise
    • With customers and potential customers. Listen and learn about what makes them tick
  2. Define
    • Their pain points, needs, wants and what you have learned
  3. Ideate
    • Challenge assumptions, break down perceived barriers, look for solutions that are analogues to solve problem at hand. Think outside of the box.
  4. Prototype
    • Build something that enables you to learn. Something efficient and quick to gain as much feedback as possible
  5. Test
    • What you have created to make sure it really does meet the customers requirements. Hold interviews, schedule questionnaires, watch them use our product

These five steps are not linear, they are ongoing even in mature solutions. We are always seeking to understand the problems that need to be solved for our customers. This process is active throughout our business and is not constrained to the software solutions we build.

Lean Start-up

Many of our core ideas come from the famous book Lean Start-up by Eric Reiss. In his book Eric outlines an iterative process to building products and businesses. It defines a ‘Start-up’ as any organisation engaged in creating something new. An Entrepreneur is anyone engaged in that organisation and process. We are all Entrepreneurs.

The Lean Start-up approach is broadly described by:

  1. Outline the Vision
    • What is the future going to look like and how does the Start-up fit in that future?
  2. Outline the Strategy
    • How will the Start-up achieve its Vision?
    • The Strategy can, and should, change as learning takes place
  3. Identify assumptions
    • Every Start-up is based on assumptions and it’s critical to prove or disprove these assumptions as quickly as possible
      1. Value Hypothesis – what will our customers find valuable?
      2. Growth Hypothesis – how will our Start-up and solutions be discovered and grow?
  1. The Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop
    • A Start-ups main focus should be on proving or disproving as many assumptions as possible
    • MVPs
      • Build artefacts that help check our assumptions. MVPs range from Market smoke testing all the way to full blown releasable Products. We always focus on creating the most efficient way to learn as possible
    • Pivot or Persevere
      • Using MVPs and customer interactions we use the information to decide whether our current assumptions remain true, and we should move on in the same direction, or whether the assumptions are false, and we need to change direction.

The way to think about this process is trying to quickly and efficiently find the correct solutions for our customers. Everything is based on feedback collected, not our assumptions.

Defining the market

Our approach to defining our market, and building our business, largely follows a nine-step process. The key is to build trust with customers by becoming a thought leader in their community and giving them value for free.

By becoming a trusted voice in the community, we open the door to much better interactions and ultimately finding better solutions. A lot of these ideas are taken directly from 1 Page Marketing by Alan Dib but with our own take that better matches the Astar Digital ethos.

  1. Target market
    • Who are we trying to reach?
  2. Message to target market
    • What value are we trying to give them?
  3. Media to reach target market
    • Where can we reach them?
  4. Lead capture system
    • What value can we give them for free, so they want to follow us?
  5. Lead nurture system
    • How can we become a trusted voice in our potential customers community? How can we keep providing free value and be thought leaders rather than salespeople?
  6. Sales conversion strategy
    • How do we make a sale when our customers are ready to buy from us?
  7. World class service
    • After a customer joins us how do we go over and above to delight them?
  8. Maintain customer engagement
    • What other problems can we solve for our customers? How can we improve the solutions we give them now?
  9. Referrals
    • How can we impress our customers so much they are happy to refer us on to others?

Agile & Lean working

Lean

Lean originated in Japanese manufacturing then was popularised by Toyota’s success in implementing it. Toyota used these ideas in their manufacturing plants to help compete with General Motors and Ford in the automobile market.

Lean is an incredibly deep subject rooted in Japanese thought but in short:

  • Lean keeps a razor focus on Customers and the Value to them
  • By keeping a focus on customer Value, we map all the operations that directly deliver Value
  • To increase the speed of Value delivery, we remove anything that does not directly deliver Value
  • Create an adaptive organisation that seeks to achieve perfection by identifying and removing process issues

Agile Software Development

Agile is a form of software delivery where the customer is kept in a tight feedback loop with the development team to remove communication barriers and increase visibility.

We follow the tenets of the famous Agile Manifesto:

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more

Work is delivered in time boxed schedules of a few weeks or less (called Sprints) which has the added benefit of allowing a change in direction should new understanding or business drivers affect the customers priorities.

Agile is the antidote to traditional software development termed “Waterfall” where an error on the initial requirements or the communication of them can cause systemic issues in the delivery that are only found after months of work.

Wrap up

These combined approaches each have a wealth of history behind them; we actively engage with them and weave them into our business. There is significant cross over between each theory, but they all bring their own strengths. We see the combination of these things as the very best way to help our customers and encourage everyone participating in our business to gain an understanding of them.