Product strategy, design and engineering teams working with Gladstone to solve the challenges faced in delivering customer-facing web applications to the leisure industry.
Gladstone Software is the leading supplier of Leisure Management Software in the UK and Ireland. The business has a long and successful history of software engineering, serving the complex needs of leisure operators; from single-site leisure operators (such as University gyms) to nationwide chains - including those operating multiple public sector contracts as well as private household names.
The scale and complexity of the business models and product pricing structures that Gladstone's end clients use varies significantly. So they needed a product delivery team who could help them strategise, conceive and deliver flexible and featureful customer-facing web applications that would meet the industry's varied needs. Not just the needs as they stand today – future-proofed and ready for whatever new challenges and pressures leisure industry operators may meet.
iCrossing's history of successfully delivering transactional membership applications and award-winning digital transformation work for leisure operators (as well as wider experience working with Speedo and England Athletics / This Girl Can) made us the perfect partner to support Gladstone's creation of new customer-facing membership sign up, online booking and member profile web applications.
“Over the past six years we've built an extremely strong and collaborative relationship with iCrossing which is paramount when creating a digital experience that truly works and serves our customers. The digital experience will continue to play an ever increasing role and I'm looking forward to building on these foundations in the months and years ahead.”
Having designed and engineered similar applications in the past, the most dangerous approach would have been to dive in without fully immersing ourselves in the structures, processes and ways of working for different types of leisure operator.
Listening, asking and listening some more
We assembled a panel of stakeholders from Gladstone end clients: the Special Interest Group (SIGs). This enabled our Discovery & Insights phase to tap into a nationwide operator, a regional operator with an extremely varied mix of facilities, a smaller self-managed Council facility, and an operator blending the needs of their local community alongside peaks of tourist traffic.
Our team of product managers, designers and engineers collaborated closely with Gladstone and the SIGs through a series of workshops, interviews, analysis and desk-based research to devise a product strategy.
And our product feature mapping matrix came into its own, as we carefully documented just enough detail for each feature before rating their risk, impact, effort and the final priority based on business value.
To ensure an unbiased approach, we factored in weighted inputs from the various functions within Gladstone, their product leaders, senior management and the SIGs.
This approach not only provided us with a solid sprint plan, it also set delivery expectations and highlighted some critical "unknown" elements at the core of the applications.
Our feature mapping matrix was an invaluable tool for the Gladstone research and development team to plan 12+ months of work streams, creating and servicing APIs to support the front end.
Product Strategy / UX & UI Product Design / Progressive Web App
Through a single ecosystem, we conceived a membership joining product and a booking product. Either could be licensed to end clients in isolation but they also had to work seamlessly together.
The workshops and interviews emphasised the value placed on human resource. Far too many mandate queries and tasks were tying up staff on-site, robbing them of valuable face-to-face time with their members.
A membership account / profile was introduced for features related to "self-service" but also to create a more "sticky" experience for members by providing summary data and convenience for day-to-day activities. This also provided a bedrock from which Gladstone would further mould and develop the value born out of user engagement – beyond transactional processes – for the years ahead.
Although the front end applications would sit within Gladstone's scalable infrastructure, they needed to be agnostic to any data. The variance between the leisure operators meant the application had to be designed so that it could survive on the API responses provided by Gladstone's back-end systems.
Any given view along a user journey is consuming data or configuration from APIs which tells the application how that operator has structured their products and pricing, restricted member permissions, created discount pricing scenarios or even set out their tone of voice and brand presentation.
With scale and flexibility at the core of the architecture, the product design team had to distill each feature down to its core, end-to-end function. They also needed to consider the operator variants for that function and, crucially, the data and API structures that would service those.
The user interface design required a product design system which would be effective, well-structured and flexible enough for any leisure brand in the market to be able to use the customisations features to make the experience look and feel like their own.
Never before have the product managers, designers and engineers been more thankful for our flavour of Agile (Scrum). They undertook the discovery and insights sprints prior to COVID-19, and carried out the early conceptual work and prototyping during the first lockdown.
Not only were the team's ways of working tested, but the fundamental concept of the gym sector and leisure industry changed overnight; from memberships and booking activities in bricks and mortar spaces, to video classes and working out with Joe Wicks virtually in your living room.
For most product delivery teams, the solutions they conceive invariably need to cater for a variety of end user needs. Gladstone's applications service an entire industry rather than a single client.
This scale adds complexity. Either through load or variety born out of the number of leisure operators, each with their own products and pricing models, managing all manor of leisure facilities and interacting with millions of users across the UK & Ireland.
leisure operator clients with unique business models to be accommodated by the white label application
public users of the applications, representing a broad range of needs, goals and services being consumed
dedicated product teams collaborating closely with the client's Research & Development team
One of the most important considerations for the tech stack selections was that these applications sit at the core of Gladstone's provision to the UK leisure industry. They're set up for continuous evolution, driven by the changing needs of their end clients, for up to a decade.
The applications were designed under the watchful eye of Gladstone's engineers as we were always going to transition them in-house. We therefore placed a greater emphasis on Gladstone's skillset; predominantly back-end engineers with a Microsoft / .NET background.
We chose Angular for how it lays out models and patterns (where we may have otherwise chosen React). The desired user experience helped steer the architecture of the APIs as we opted for a "chatty" application, NgRx or state management and Protractor for end-to-end tests.
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