Thanks to their flexible policies, accessible prices, and seamless customer experience across all fare classes, Southwest Airlines regularly ranks in the top five largest domestic airlines in the US by the number of passengers carried every year. In May 2022, Southwest Airlines introduced its first new fare product in over a decade called Wanna Get Away Plus. This undertaking was no small feat, involving coordination between 1,700 Quickbase users, 58 teams, three analysts, and two product managers.
Launch activities extended over 58 shifts, requiring 27 applications and three launch readiness and product support systems. At the core of ensuring the successful launch of this product were Ellen Crowley and her tech team.
To streamline the process, Southwest leveraged the power of Quickbase, bringing together essential information, teams, and product development and launch programs into a single, cohesive app that acted as the launch activity command center and product sandbox.
Creating a System to Address All of Southwest’s Needs
Southwest’s Wanna Get Away Plus fare brought new benefits such as the option to transfer flight credits to friends and family in case of a cancellation and the ability to make same-day flight changes or get on a standby list at no additional cost. Given the airline’s extensive coverage of over 4,000 domestic flights in the US daily, this technological initiative necessitated an integrated command center to implement.
While the product launch was rolled out in a single night, the preparation spanned five weeks. Ellen and other Southwest Airlines teams faced three main concerns during the launch activities.
Need #1: Easy-to-manage application
First, the app needed to be easy to manage. With so many users and teams working in parallel, it was crucial that the Quickbase app was managed by one person with ad-hoc support. Southwest needed to understand what the long-term goal was, identify the minimum viable product, and determine when to move on if the team could not deliver a capability in the way that they initially planned to.
Tapping into the capabilities of Quickbase, Southwest Airlines successfully developed a scheduling app that played a pivotal role in coordinating the launch activities shifts. Ellen’s ‘efficient-is-best’ approach involved automating a primary shift task which would then populate shifts for different teams. The person in charge of a team would only need to assign the shifts to individuals, eliminating the repetitive task of creating shift assignments each time. This solution helped resolve the challenge of streamlined shift management.
Additionally, Quickbase was instrumental in enabling Southwest Airlines to discern its minimal viable product. According to Ellen, “the minimal viable product (MVP) is the most valuable product because if you can’t deliver something, then it has no value to you.”
Quickbase functioned as a veritable sandbox for Southwest’s new fare product, helping facilitate thorough testing. Teams could submit validations to ensure functionality and verify that the new product operated in accordance with expectations for their MVP.
Need #2: User-friendly interface
The second concern revolved around ensuring the user-friendliness of the Quickbase app. With the diverse range of development proficiency among team members, it was crucial that the app catered to everyone’s needs without introducing additional work. Ellen and the team’s objective was to create an interface that would empower individuals to effortlessly edit and maintain the information on Quickbase, regardless of expertise in the app.
Southwest took advantage of Quickbase’s user permission settings to safeguard against unintended damage caused by changes from other teams. By implementing a carefully tailored permissions structure, Ellen granted herself exclusive deletion authority, mitigating the risk of inadvertent damage.
To enhance collaboration and maintain data accuracy, Ellen fine-tuned the permissions settings to allow users to add records. Restrictions were put in place to limit editing privileges to team members or records directly associated with their team.
This prudent approach significantly minimized the potential for any substantial harm that could be inflicted by unauthorized modifications. Additionally, Southwest discovered that they could grant specific users or administrators access to confidential fields for the purpose of grading validations.
Another Quickbase feature Ellen leveraged was the Alerting functionality. Numerous teams were pulling in secondary developers and testers for ancillary support, many of whom were not part of the company’s Microsoft Outlook Team group, which meant sending critical notifications to all parties could pose a logistical challenge.
However, the Alerting feature provided a solution. In cases where major rollbacks or a sudden cease activity order was necessary, Southwest could utilize this feature to promptly—and comprehensively—inform all stakeholders with a single, mass notification.
Need #3: Integrations for flexibility in the face of challenge
The last point of concern was ensuring the app’s capacity to deliver flexibility during challenging situations by integrating external, disparate tools and apps such as Dash Lite, a data visualization tool, a product change tracking app, and a file and data sharing app. Ellen and her team firmly believe that attempting to locate resources amid an issue is the worst time to do so, and their app needed the capability to integrate fragmented apps and information into a centralized source accessible by every authorized user in real-time.
It was essential that each user could resolve an issue with a maximum of three clicks. That standard meant any resource needed to implement a solution needed to be easily accessible. To achieve this goal, the app was designed to provide users with seamless access to all tools they needed, making integration of Dash Lite, other Quickbase apps, and various development apps a critical aspect of their command center.
Before this comprehensive Quickbase app, Ellen and other teams had to navigate through multiple platforms and apps, including four other Quickbase apps, a tool tracking app, a production change tracking app, Microsoft Teams, an app and production performance monitor app, and a file and data sharing app.
To help consolidate this information, Ellen introduced a functionality called “Today’s Launch.” It served as a centralized hub, performing a roll call of everyone on shift and announcing activities from teams along with their respective agendas, allowing individuals to have a clear understanding of the validations that needed to be run, and ensuring everyone was on the same page regarding the day’s objectives.
“Today’s Launch” also populated tasks for individuals, based on a calculation Ellen made. “This feature scaled nicely for us and proved useful on dates when multiple teams, individuals, and validations were involved,” says Ellen.
In addition, Ellen and the team were able to migrate their visual data from Dash. By inputting URLs into Quickbase, they were able to present and view data in the form of interactive content, including pie charts and texts.
The consolidation of all these apps and functionalities empowered teams to work collaboratively and provided them with the tools needed to respond swiftly to unexpected challenges.
Southwest Builds a Centralized Command and Testing Center
Ellen and other Southwest teams refine the final version of the Quickbase app over five weeks. They input over 500 validations and 1,800 shift assignments, tables, documents, external references, and help and monitoring data between technology teams, business stakeholders, and programming teams.
The shift assignment automation and a few formulas may have required a hint of previous tech knowledge, but Ellen proclaims that “it really wasn’t complicated at the end of the day. It didn’t require technical acumen about how to code or pipelines, but we still extracted a lot of value from this.”
According to Ellen, the Quickbase app growth happened organically, and in four stages: tech validations, launch activities, business validations, and shifts and schedules. A project of this scope generated a lot of data, and Ellen recognized the need to migrate the information to a central source. In this case, the data was collected from Word Docs in Microsoft Teams and put into the Quickbase app.
The initial validations required launch activities and tech teams, which required pulling data from Excel into Quickbase. The next step was adding the business validations, demonstrating the value of building out an MVP in a simple, scalable way to get everyone on board. Finally, Ellen transferred the shifts and schedules into the Quickbase app, migrating information from a Quickbase application, which was originally an Excel sheet.
Making it easy to win buy-ins
In all, Southwest’s launch activities involved nine readiness pillars and 11 deliverables. The experience validated the value of persistent experimentation, clever reporting, efficient shift management, and establishing a single source of truth at the company.
There were unexpected advantages with Quickbase, too. Ellen was surprised by the ability of Quickbase to consolidate information and references from fragmented sources using home pages and links—something other document-based programs cannot provide. Emphasizing the value of clever reporting and communication, Ellen reflects on the fact that it is easier to garner support for a product when you can anticipate what your end stakeholders will want or need, especially if you can use dummy data to show what the program can do in advance, which is what she accomplished with the Quickbase app.
Most importantly, Ellen restated that you “don’t need to be an expert to drive value from Quickbase. You don’t even have to get it right the first time. You can be a non-expert and still iterate quickly. Quickbase makes it really easy to iterate and build on what you’ve done. It’s really easy to get buy-in when you have a good proof of concept, and Quickbase makes it easy to build one out.”