An Interview with the Creator of MyShiftPlanner – Chris Pimlott
To mark the release of version 4.0, Chris Pimlott, creator of MyShiftPlanner and founder of My Buzz Technologies, tells us how he came to create the app that’s so popular with shift workers across the world.
What led you to create MyShiftPlanner?
It’s just over four years ago that I built the first version of My Shift Planner. I did it as a favour to my brother-in-law. He works at Manchester Airport and was trying to add his shift pattern onto his iPhone calendar. He was working a basic nights and days, alternating 4-on 4-off pattern.
We quickly realised the built in calendar wasn’t capable of handling any kind of work pattern – he was going to have to manually add each shift – which was time consuming and boring! A quick search of the App Store proved fruitless. There was nothing out there for shift workers who wanted a simple tool that was responsive to their needs.
At the time, I was a developer for a major software and hardware giant, so I put my skills to good use and built him an app, creating the first version of My Shift Planner for the iPhone.
How did MyShiftPlanner grow?
Word of mouth, at first. I released the app onto the App Store for free, so that he could have it. He started using it, then told his colleagues. Before I knew it, the app had quickly picked up a great following. Shift workers of all types loved the simplicity and the fact that it was tailor made for them.
From there it evolved quickly. More people started using it and spreading the word. After a few months, I realised that we had ten thousand downloads. There’d been no advertising or marketing, so it was purely down to good reviews and users spreading the word.
It helped that people were giving it a five star review rating. I think we are one of the few apps that has never added reviews ourselves!
What was your next step?
I quickly realised that this wasn’t just a one off a gift for a family member, but a useful tool for people who needed it. And if people were beginning to rely on the app to help them organise their lives, I had a responsibility to make sure it did what it was supposed to – and got better!
I created support email and feedback channels, so I could get that all important feedback about what people wanted. It’s been an important feature of all our development since then. Any changes we’ve made to the app have always been driven by the users feedback.
We built up a roadmap based on this. There was lots of demand for the app to evolve. Some people needed more complicated shift patterns, or to add notes to days to tell them they needed to pick the keys up before they went on-site, or that they had a maintenance schedule to follow. They wanted to be able to track holidays or add when they had training days etc.
All of this told me several things. Firstly, that this was a great tool that people needed. But, secondly, that the app had an identity of its own and I needed to respond and make sure that we had the ability to evolve with our users and not just die out, like so many apps do.
How did you make sure MyShiftPlanner wasn’t just a flash in the pan app?
Three years ago, we created My Buzz Technology, to look after the app and support our users.
We were getting a big demand for an android version, so we rewrote the app branding it as My Shift Planner and giving it a more personal identity.
That’s important to us, because the app is for people. I built the app to directly support a shift worker. It exists to help make shift workers lives easier – which means that it’s all about the people!
What devices do you support?
Each platform has it’s own technology, iCloud, Google Drive etc. Too often, platforms don’t talk to each other very well, and manufacturers try and persuade you to stick with one brand for everything you have.
We decided that in the real world, it’s different. People have lots of different types of devices in their homes – sometimes a work phone and a personal phone, sometimes an iPad and android phone etc.
Our users want to be able to back up data and share shift patterns on any device, so we created our own cloud services, the My Shift Planner Account.
We are excited about this because it allows us to do lots of really interesting things for the shift workers. In the next two months, we will be able to do live sharing, so that you will be able to see other people’s calendars. We manage all the cloud data ourselves, so we know that it’s safe and our users won’t lose the information they need.
Who uses MyShiftPlanner?
Our users come from a broad range of sectors. There is a very big trend in terms of care, healthcare, hospital workers, nurses, doctors, emergency services – paramedics and ambulance drivers, police and fire services. We also know from discussions with our users that London Underground workers find the app invaluable, as do most of the Scottish Fire Service. Recently we’ve had a conversation with oil rig workers who told us the app was perfect for their type of industry.
Going beyond the UK, lots of emergency services from the US, New Zealand and Canada are using the app, and we have had regular contact support from Saudi Arabia and other countries.
All in all, we have over a hundred different sectors, over multiple countries. We are truly an international app.
What about the future?
Shift workers are busy. They need everything to be quick and easy to use. The app needs to work on the technology they are using now, and the technology they will be using in the future. To keep up with this, we are adding in new versions and technologies all the times to make it’s future proof and to make sure we keep providing the best support to our users.
We have a great support team who are very engaging, and we try to give the most to our users. If you contact us we will always try to respond back within 24 working hours.
We try to get a dialogue going to find out more about what our users do, so that we can evolve the product to suit our them. Because it is for their benefit – they are the ones who keep us on our toes. We have lots of ideas from them, but we can’t do them all in one update. We only have so many people working on this!
By evolving in a careful direction we can provide the features people want and need, as quickly as we can, but in a flexible way. That allows people to take advantage of it as quickly as possible.
What’s coming in the new version?
Auto sync between devices is in the new version 4.0 release. Following on from that will be Live Sharing. This will allow different people to see each other’s live shift pattern. This could work with colleagues, so that they can work better in a team, or with partners, which is a common request, so people can see what’s coming up in their partner’s shift pattern.
It’s all driven through My Shift Planner account and through our technology, so we can keep track and make sure it’s working perfectly for our users.
Everything we do is to make the lives of shift workers better, based on all of the feedback we are collecting. We have up to sixteen requests for new features every week. We’ve built up the roadmap for development, trying to do everything we can, but we are having to do it all in a order. So, as much as we always listen, we can’t always add the new features we want to straight away. Please be patient, we will make sure that we don’t overcomplicate it.
What do people like the most?
Everything we do is to make shift worker’s lives easier!
People love the simplicity of the experience, and we want to make what that what is inherently a very complicated and pretty unpleasant situation – being a shift working and managing your shift pattern – as simple as possible.
The tool is there to make your life easier. That’s what it’s there for, that’s why we built it and that’s why our users love it.
Anything that we do that makes your life harder, fights against what we are trying to do. So, every decision that we make, every feature that we add, every update and change, always has that as it’s primary goal. To make your life easier.
Find out more about Version 4.0 of My Shift Planner HERE