How to Create Successful Sample Apps

Empower your platform team with safe and effective experience

By Bradley Clerkin, BreakFree Solutions CTO


At BreakFree, we build awesome platform products for developers and data individuals. However, it does not matter how awesome the platform is if no one uses it. What we have come to learn is that there is a skillset gap for a lot of developers and data folks that needs mending.


We have numerous skills-development capabilities that help with this but the one that scales the best and seems to be overlooked the most is sample apps.


Platform teams should be investing substantial amounts of effort in the development of sample apps and skills-development capabilities that make use of them. This will drive substantial increases in effective use of the platforms they build.


Sample apps help to provide a safe environment for users to explore the features and workings of a platform. As they work with these sample apps, they generate examples of how the platform can be used in real-world situations. This allows IT leaders to see how their team is utilizing the platform and get an idea of the potential applications for it.

Here are 7 tips to consider when creating a sample app program for your team:

1.   Provide supplement training and knowledge to support the pattern(s). The user should have fully accurate and detailed guides for: how to make use of the sample app, the underlying purpose of the sample app, and how this would relate to real-world applications and use of the platform.


2.   Layer on increased complexity. Start with a simple sample app and then continually increase complexity until it is as close to real-world as possible. You can even go further and build a sample app that breaks traditional boundaries of what is possible to promote out-of-box thinking. We love to use a “belt” system (even though we know its nerdy).


For example, the easiest sample app is referred to as a white belt and the most complex is a black belt.


3.   Ensure that the sample app's path to learning, skills building, and onboarding is very apparent. If possible, make it the front door to the platform. We take every opportunity to remind folks about the sample apps available to them and look to integrate those with other programs.


We celebrate their use and let everyone know who is using them and what enhancement we have planned. You should be sharing updates about the sample apps as often as you share updates about the platform.


4.   Have a chat channel where users of the sample apps can post for help. You can create a chat channel on a messaging app so that users of the sample apps can ask questions and you can provide support for users to ensure that they are getting the most out of the apps. Get the user community to build the FAQ. Help connect black belts with white belts.

5.   The amount of detail you provide for the sample app's instructions is worth considering. Too much detail and the users don’t actually learn anything. Too little detail and the users will get stuck. Finding the balance is key. The chat channel, as a feedback loop, is quite useful.


6.   Make sure to include plenty of links to external information and training in the instructions. Don’t assume your user community understands the platform; instead, make the instructions free of adding information as it can make them overwhelming.

Sample apps tend to have the least amount of investment when the opposite should be the case. If you invest in sample apps and use the tips above to ensure they’ll be successful, you have a set of tools that are acting as a true force multiplier.


Feel free to contact me at bclerkin@breakfreesolutions.com if you’d like a live demonstration on how to effectively create and use sample apps.

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