6 Things I Learned from Creating the WorkVisual App

clarity Jan 10, 2019

Some people call me crazy. Some think I have a magic pill for time traveling. Some friends say I'm super organized. My wife would agree with the first.


Besides running my own business with a team of 6 people now, giving lectures at two German universities, delivering strategy facilitation and coaching with my clients, developing Biz4Kids and sustaining Playing Lean and writing the book „Creating Innovation“ (German only) – I have created the WorkVisual App.


The WorkVisual App is a niche app for the iPad to perform live Visual Facilitation work connecting to a projector for large (or small) meetings, workshops, and conferences.

A lot of professional Visual Facilitators like me are using the WorkVisual App. But I will stop pursuing this venture this year…you can read why on my Facebook post here.


The WorkVisual App has been online for four years now. And I learned a few things along the way...


1. The right team is crucial

A project like this – like any other business endeavor – will not succeed without a great team. I would have failed on day one without the help of other people. There were plenty of them…


Some came from the field of visual practitioners, soon to become users. Some from the field of programming, the guys who put the code together. Some from project management, helping to stay on top of things. Some from testing, finding every single bug in the early versions. And last but not least, some from design, helping to give shape to the User Interface of the App.

It was a tough time, especially in the early days, but we managed to push through it. The core things that worked as a glue for all those people were me plus their intrinsic motivation. I paid money as well. But that was not so important for them. It was the motivation of every single team member to bring this App to life, that finally helped us overcome the burdens of the beginning. Plus me as the guy who took the phone calls, organized meetings and workshops, did the extra hours to prepare stuff to work on and kept staying connected with a positive mindset.


If I had stopped fueling the engine with my energy, the project would have ended before it began.


If you want something to happen, it is not the task of your team to stay motivated, but it is your task as a leader to give them something to be motivated about.


2. There are more friends than I could imagine

When I announced that I was going to develop the WorkVisual App, I started making new friends who are still good friends to me years later. Our friendship started when we had a topic that brought us together.


Developing the app addressed the pain of a lot of people. So we had something to talk about. Something very nerdy. A niche topic, that we could talk about forever. I met wonderful people online and offline. We had in-depth conversations and fun. We became friends.


If you have a topic you care about, and you are creating something that solves a problem for more people than only yourself, you will find new friends where you didn't expect to.


3.  I can do this

Yeah. That's quite egocentric. But it's true.


I've written about my other occupations above and didn't mention my wife-three kids-dog-family. I discovered that I was able to bring the WorkVisual App to life and still sustain all of that – family, business, projects, etc. This wasn't easy at all, to be honest. It was hard. But the pleasure, the energy that the project gave me, was enough to keep doing it.


If I can do this, you can do something similar too. You think you can't write that book alongside your day-to-day business? You can. You think you can't build a new online platform for like-minded business professionals? You can. You think you can't create more assets (in the words of Mark McGuinness)? You can!


You can make anything you want if you set yourself to it and keep on doing it. Depending on what you do during your business days it might take a while. (The first crappy, ugly prototype with minimal features in it took me nearly a year.) But if you stick to it, you'll look back in four years thinking: "I've made this. Nobody can take this away from me anymore.“


4. Complexity emerges fast

In the first days, I thought: "It's just a drawing app. What could go wrong? It's not too complex. Just two main screens to work in." Boy was I wrong…


I know I said you can do it. But be aware of the complexity beast. Even a small app like the WorkVisual App quickly becomes surprisingly complex. I could not imagine it upfront. So many things are dependent on each other, users can make so many actions. The possible paths to mistakes are unlimited.


And it didn't stop with the software. I had to maintain a website for the app. And organizing the uploads and sales in the Apple Appstore. And fund a new company for it. And communicating on social media and provide support for users. Complexity hit the classic hockey-stick-curve in no time!


You need to admit that you can't figure it out completely. You need to live with the inevitable failures you will create. There is no way around this. Within nearly every project you will hit a level of complexity where you have to say to yourself: "I can't understand and fix all the challenges that will arise during this project. I need to take the first step and solve the problems along the way."


5. Set your priorities!

I gave it a long thought. I had a lot of discussions around it. And I decided to kill my WorkVisual App. That was hard. Especially for me. And of course for the users. But especially for me.


I could only do that by setting my priorities. And those are in the correct order:

  1. Become and stay healthy.
  2. Enjoy my family.
  3. Do fulfilling work.


Those led me to the equation that I have X projects and Y amount of time a day. And the WorkVisual App became a project that was more pain than fulfillment throughout the last year. At that point, I had to let it go, and focus on the work that will bring me - and others - more fulfillment.


Think about your priorities and then decide what you can do and what you really want to do.

6. Master your workflows

I never stop thinking about my workflows. When I started using the iPad for Visual Facilitation in 2010, I relentlessly tested different ways to create visuals digitally. I experimented with apps, and I played around with possible workflows (like click here, pull there then colorpick, then draw, etc.).


I kept doing it even while using my own app. I had workflows within my app as well as beyond the app. Connecting it with other apps to define specific colors or adding layouts and text for example. If I figured a missing piece, I relentlessly tried and experimented until I found a workaround I could work with. I think that is a specific mindset of mine. Never stop finding better ways to do what I do. Especially when it comes to digital tools. If a tool can't perform a task I want it to perform I will find a way to do it anyway.


And because I still work with this mindset, it is easier for me now to switch to another application because I will do it again. I will play and test different ways to reach my goals.


In the end it not about the application. It is about how you approach your workflows and how you master your specific craft.





Holger is writing about his thoughts on how to create clarity with visual tools. Especially with a focus on how we can work better together to solve our business challenges. As a Strategy Facilitator, he helps teams and leaders solving their strategic problems.
In his workshops and training, he has taught his approach to thousands of people. If you're interested, check out the next dates for his workshops or reach out to him directly.

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