Forge on Forge: Three lessons we learned building 80 Forge apps

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What do Atlassian engineers and a late 90’s cult classic film starring Brad Pitt have in common?

Well, not much as it turns out, but Forge Club is on a mission to push the boundaries of what it means to experience building Forge apps the way our users do. 

We're always passionate about asking our community to share their thoughts, but it can be difficult to know we're building something that solves our users' real life challenges. However, there's another way to gather feedback: Be your own user!

Introducing Forge Club

While we've supported developers worldwide to build incredible and innovative apps, we've also been using the platform internally to build our own apps and continually test Forge itself. This usage follows the same pattern as other well-known Atlassian tools that we use heavily ourselves, like Jira, Bitbucket, and Confluence. In early 2021, leading up to the GA release of Forge, we launched an internal project called Forge Club. 

Forge Club, which was created to encourage more Atlassian engineers to build Forge apps, has built more than 80 apps since Forge became Generally Available. We've invested all the energy and learnings from our experience right back into the platform itself. Exposure to Forge – like all our internal tools – is a part of our engineering culture, and Forge Club does this in a way that's fun and encourages experimentation while also providing valuable first hand feedback. At the end of the day, this dogfooding process (as in, a company should "eat their own dog food" or use their own product) means we build empathy and understanding for our Forge users, road test new features, and ultimately ship quality user experiences.

How Forge Club uses Forge

Most importantly: Just like our users!

We keep three things in mind when using Forge internally: 

  1. No special "Atlassian-only" features
    We use the platform just as anyone else would.
  2. Right tool for the job mentality
    We don't recommend Forge if there's a better way.
  3. Blockers start a conversation
    We use blockers and limitations to drive improvements.

We also keep in mind that Forge is a relatively new platform, and there are still certain limitations and missing features. When we build on Forge and dogfood the platform, we use it to drive improvements continuously. If we find a bug, or notice a feature that can be prioritized, or should be shipped, we can make the feedback loop a lot smaller. Here are three lessons Forge Club members have learned this year that can help you use dogfooding to drive improvements at your organization. 

Lesson 1: Road test your product and understand your user experience

Person-centered design is important to us. Forge is built by developers, for developers. Keeping those users at the center of our decisions means we know we're not only building apps that automate or improve efficiency of processes for the app users, but also for the app builders themselves.

We want to continuously tweak and improve the platform, and are highly motivated to fix bugs or UX issues that we know (first hand!) that our users face. Seeing those issues ourselves also helps us to understand the relative priority of bugs and improvements. It's an ongoing process, and we'll continue to deliver on these improvements.

Lesson 2: Set aside time for innovation

Experimentation has always been a big part of engineering culture, and we place value on tinkering with our own tools. Forge Club encourages innovation by scheduling time for Atlassian employees to explore, build, create, and experience what it's like to use Forge. This builds empathy, user knowledge, and product knowledge – on a team and an individual level. It makes it possible to collect feedback and improve, and look at extending the functionality organically. It also creates time and space for people to simply explore; what one of our Forge Club members called being able to step back "and see the potential of [a manual] workflow being replaced by an app."

Lesson 3: Don’t let good be the enemy of perfect

Many internal projects built on Forge are complex production apps that require a high level of polish and execution – such as the apps built by the Compass and DevOps teams, and more. That said, in a setting like Forge Club, it's more about getting engineers to experience the platform – which is where Forge makes it easy to move fast and learn things. Whether the outcome is a complex or straightforward app, Forge is a platform designed to encourage jumping in and getting started; and in fact, many of our best discussions and discoveries have come from rapid prototyping rather than building a totally polished, finished app. Building a prototype or MVP can be useful for gaining experience, improving processes, and learning the use cases that this MVP would be perfect for in the future.

Summing up…

We don't just use Forge Club to build apps. It brings us closer to Forge, our users, Atlassian, and helps spark creative ideas.

We've loved building on Forge so far and building a better platform daily. Forge is fast to set up, and perfect for testing those quick little ideas. Read "Getting Started with Forge" to learn more.