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Making app-building accessible for non-software developers

May 21, 2021

Written by Paige Whitson

We've been talking a lot about "no-code" lately, and if you've attended one of our introductory webinars, hopefully you understand why! But if you haven't yet been introduced to the world of no-code tools or you still don't understand what the hype is all about, this is for you.

To get right to the punchline, "no-code" tools are just really nifty platforms that let you build your own apps. Even if you have no idea how apps work! You don't need to be technically inclined in the slightest or know anything about anything- you just need to be willing to learn how to use something other than your spreadsheets. And to really illustrate how doable it is by even the lay-est of people, we're going to share why we actually talked a customer out of paying us the big bucks for custom software development, and instead handed the app contract over to Paige, our team coordinator, and Daila, our business administrator... aka two people who couldn't be further from software developers.

The task? Replace and consolidate the customer's current workflow model of using multiple spreadsheets across multiple departments (none of which communicate with each other) all into one user-friendly application. Also, incorporate the ability to track a job in real-time as it moves through the different stages of production, and use that tracking to produce data. Oh, and have the app ready to be implemented in a matter of weeks.

Enter No Code!

Daila and Paige had never built anything in a no-code tool before. In fact, Daila had never even heard of it until we started discussing what the odds were that we could build a slick application that does over 80% of what the customer was asking for, at 1/5th of the price and in 1/5th of the amount of time. So how in the heck did these two n00bs build an app?

Well, first we decided on which no-code tool to use to build it. We decided on Coda mostly because our boss and guiding light, Jonathan, was familiar with the tool and felt very confident that it could do what we needed. In retrospect, Coda was definitely the right tool to go with for a number of other reasons as well. Turns out, it's a great stepping stone from spreadsheets due to its intuitive and formulaic foundation, and its limited design capability pretty much guarantees a simple, tidy interface. Then it was time to learn the dang thing.

Coda, like all of the no-code tools we've encountered so far, has no shortage of resources available to help you learn the ropes. From their incredibly robust communities to their unique "academies" of how-to tutorials, the support and guidance is thorough. As Coda so eloquently puts it at the very top of their Learn Doc, "if you can type in a doc, you can use Coda". And it turns out, they weren't lying!

What did we come up with for our client?

We started off with building a CRM (Customer Relationship Management). Just a really simple form for their designers and sales staff to enter the info of their potential customers into.

Form with inputs for Name, Phone number and Address
Simple CRM

Once someone is in the CRM, a job or "opportunity" can be created from their file and the opportunity can move through the different stages of their qualifying process. This already created huge value for our client who, on their cumbersome spreadsheet model, had no good way of knowing how many job opportunities were moving through the pipe, or where any given potential customer was within the pipe— short of calling the designers on a daily basis to find out.

Jobs showing on cards with customer information and sorted into stages of completion
Designers move the Opportunities through the appropriate qualifying stages until officially becoming a Job.

The other key part of this tool is the Production section. By creating different views of the same table, we were able to build a page for each of the 10 production stations with only their respective jobs to be done or jobs in progress showing. Based off that exact same table, we created another page for management to easily view all the jobs out on the floor.

Jobs showing status of where they are in production
Management can view all jobs in production, which station they're sitting at, whether they've been started, and how long they have been in each respective station.

Again, huge value right there. Previously, every time a foreman needed to know where a job was in production, they had to physically go out to the shop floor and ask around to find it. Now they can watch in real-time as the production workers start a job, pause it for lunch, resume and complete it, then send it to the next station. And thanks to no-code, we were able to build this awesome tool that solves these problems in a matter of weeks! Even if Daila and Paige were super nerdy software developers, it would have taken them substantially longer to build this up from scratch in custom software.

The other big benefit to being able to track which station a job is at and how long it's been there is the data this provides for our client.

Bar graph showing time jobs spent in different production stages
Pie chart showing time jobs spent in different production stages

Despite being in business for a significant number of years, their current business model simply couldn't provide them any frame of reference for how long a given job should take. Our client noted that often times, there seemed to be a lot of variation in how long the same kind of job might take to go through production, but without any concrete data to set a standard for the shop, you might as well be pulling numbers out of a hat. Thankfully, this data will now shed a lot of light onto these unknowns and have a significant impact on overall efficiency.

The overall no-code experience for both our client and Two Story Robot can best be described as super exciting and encouraging. It's fast to build in, allowing for quick iterative testing on the clients part and therefore, quick delivery of a completed product on our part, and it's so powerfully dynamic.

So there you have it, folx. If you can dream it, you can build it in no-code! And if you need a little assistance, feel free to contact us and we'll be happy to help. And be sure to check out our directory of tools and their respective resources that Daila and Paige have found to be helpful in their own no-code journey.