A story is the promise of a conversation

Reading Time: 2 minutes
Illustration of how much we know about a user story over time.

In agile development the whole point of a story is … well, it’s a story.

It illustrates an instance. It illuminates an essence.

It tells a story.

There is a user. An actual person, who needs to get stuff done. A hero.

They probably need to get other stuff done too. This, whatever that is, is just one thing on their neverending to-do list.

Their reasons could be very simple or very complex.

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Preparing for Brexit

Reading Time: < 1 minuteI’ve been a small part of a team working on a new digital service to help Scottish businesses prepare for Brexit.

PrepareforBrexit.scot is an effort from all the agencies and organisations in Scotland’s public sector to help equip our businesses with the tools they’ll need to anticipate and deal with any shocks caused by the UK leaving the EU.

Mostly, my focus has been on analytics, helping colleagues newly drafted into that area to get on top of their game.

The site launched on 1 November. The data should become richer over time.

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You can do things, or you can get things done

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Imagine you work for an organisation where, on average, people have six things on the go at any given time.

Let's assume that, again on average, each of those things takes a week of your effort to get done.

Given that – and it doesn't feel too outrageous – we should be able to deliver a thing a week, shouldn't we?

But that doesn't seem to happen in real life. Why not?

Well, essentially, we have two choices: we can do things, or we can get things done.

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Fidelity increases as uncertainty decreases

Graph showing how the fidelity of your product increases as uncertainty decreases, but asymmetrically

Reading Time: 3 minutes

No, this is not a couples counselling site.

I and others on my team have had a lot of discussion recently about what we are doing, why we're doing it, what we can test and why we are testing it.

In an agile team, this is healthy. As long as the discussion remains respectful, talking is great, because we need to reach a consensus, agree a course of action, and commit to it. As a team.

We may not all be 100% convinced that what we're doing is the right thing to do. But we all agree to do our best to achieve it, even if (sometimes) our motivation is to demonstrate that it was the wrong thing.

But you can only demonstrate that by doing the wrong thing right (if you see what I mean).

I saw this on Twitter this evening.

Then I did this recalulation.

Continue reading “Fidelity increases as uncertainty decreases”

We need feedback

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Yes, we do.

But what do you mean?

We need to understand why those users don't engage further with our content. We need to get in front of them and ask why they think the way they do. Why aren't they engaging with our content?

A feedback loop
A feedback loop

If those users are 6,000 miles away, that's going to be pretty expensive feedback. Sure, it will be valuable, qualitative feedback. 

But it won't be the most valuable feedback we can get.

Because what people say and what they actually do are two completely different things.

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What digital transformation really means

Taking a digital photograph

Reading Time: 3 minutes

First, the bad news: it doesn't mean everyone gets an iPad.

Digital transformation isn't about technology, it's about the change the technology enables.

Think about the railways in the 19th century. You didn't have to be Robert Louis Stevenson to understand that being able to get from Edinburgh to London in day, rather than a week, was a game changer. 

You don't have to be able to design the train, or even ride it, to benefit from it.

Let me give you a picture.

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Why users do what they do, when, where, how, and what they do it with

Storyboard showing people using mobile devices while commuting, or in social situations

Reading Time: 3 minutes

OK, so that's a long title.

It's why we use a bit of jargon in user experience (UX).

We call "why users do what they do, when, where, how, and what they do it with" context of use.

It's a crucial piece, or, rather, set, of information.

If you know who your users are, what they're trying to get done, why the want to do it, and how they will interact with it – including the environment and circumstances they're in – you will have a really clear picture of what your product or service needs to do to make that happen.

It's critical to know, because – well, basically, if you don't know this stuff, failure is an absolute certainty.

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Towards agile UX

Reading Time: 4 minutes

So I recently studied for, and sat, the exam for, the CPUX-F qualification*.

It stands for Certified Professional for Usability and User Experience (that's the UX bit), if you really want to know.

It was interesting, though not novel; most of it was just formalising knowlege I and my colleagues have already acquired, willy-nilly, over the years.

Here's what the process look like.

The human-centred design process
The human-centred design process

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Designing for mobile first

Reading Time: 3 minutesWe recently released a Beta version of our export health check diagnostic.

It’s a simple thing that asks you 7 questions with yes or no answers. You can run through it in 2 minutes.

We know this, because we tested it through a rapid series of iterations. We made a prototype, put it out for testing and changed it the next day based on what we had learned the night before.

In the space of a week we had something we knew worked well, that people could use comfortably and delivered something of real value.

Export health check
Export health check (desktop version)

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Embrace uncertainty

Rhinoceros

Reading Time: 4 minutes

OK, here's a quiz

I was going to write some whizzy code for this, but then I thought: be agile. What's the quickest, cheapest thing you could do to test this idea?

So I'm going to trust you.

All I'm asking is that you read the question and answer it without thinking too hard about it … your gut instinct is what I'm after.

Take no more than 10 seconds to reach a conclusion.

Otherwise, I may have to write some whizzy code to stop you from cheating …

Question

You have £100 to invest. You decide to invest it in a bank account that pays 1% interest per day.

After 1 year, how much money will you have? Scribble it down. Right now. Doesn't have to be on a post-it.

(And it would be great if you could tell us your estimate in the comments at the end of the article.)
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It’s your first date. Behave …

Reading Time: 5 minutesWe’ve been experimenting with mood maps to record customers’ emotions while they use the prototypes we test with them. The results are revealing …

Mood maps are pretty simple graphs of emotion over time. You just observe someone interacting with the app or content you are developing and plot how positive or negative their emotions are for the duration of the test.

But they allow you to tell a story.

Here’s what a mood map looks like.

Mood map
So, how was it for you?

Continue reading “It’s your first date. Behave …”

Open up

Reading Time: < 1 minute

Those of you with a 4 (or even a 3) ominously close to the start of your age will recognise the title of of a song by Leftfield with John Lydon on vocals.

For us, it's about being open, honest and transparent about what we're doing.

We don't want to hide the successes – and failures – of the things we try. It's just as important that we learn from our mistakes as our triumphs.

So if we try something and it doesn't work … well, here's the data.

Up to now, we've been open(ish) about our results. They're on a wall, visible to everyone who comes to see us, and updated every day.

But they're invisible to people who don't come to visit. And updates are manual. So we thought it would be a good idea to automate them, and to publish them publicly. And update them more frequently.

Every hour? Every minute? every second?

Very short update frequency seemed overkill for our needs. The truth is, though, that we didn't, and still don't, know.

So we thought we'd try to find out what the best thing is to do. And you, dear reader, are part of our experiment.
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Making it up

Reading Time: 2 minutesI remember childhood games where my friends and I would say:

Make it that you’re a baddie and I’m the goodie.

Then 5 minutes later someone would declare:

Make it that we’re hiding and you cannae see us.

Or:

Make it that we can fly so when you find us we just fly away.

I’ve been on holiday for a few days, and I’ve been thinking about that phrase. “Make it that …”

Children playing
Make it that …

It’s like my 6-year-old self and my playmates really believed we could bend reality to our imaginations. If we decided we should make things this way, they would just be that way.

Of course they would.

Then I grew up and discovered that, unfortunately, the world doesn’t work like that.

But what if – in our work, at least – it did?

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Love’s the needle, not the North*

Reading Time: 2 minutesIn a previous post, I said that big design up-front was a recipe for disaster.

And it is. So what’s the alternative?

The answer is not to plan less, but to plan more.

IMG_0392

Just don’t do it all at once. Plan the next week or two, do what you planned, and learn something.

We plan a lot. But we do it in small chunks. Lego-sized. Frequently. And regularly.

Because we recognise that the future is uncertain. We can’t predict it.

It’s pretty simple really. Don’t pretend that you know what will be happening in six months’ time. Accept that you won’t.

And move your planning cycle into a place where you can have some degree of certainty,

It’s like the weather forecast. We know what will happen in the next few hours with pretty-much 100% certainty.

After that, things get fuzzy. The weather next week looks cold, but that could change tomorrow.

And after that … well, the weather forecast two weeks from now is pretty much wishful thinking, even with the best brains and massive computation that the met office can throw at it.

This is what we’re about; what can we get done in the next week or two?

What can we get out there in front of actual people?

What will they do with it? And, in two weeks’ time, what will we do with that?

* If anyone got this far, the headline is a line from an Andrew Greig poem. My interpretation of it is that the thing pointing the direction we’re travelling in is not so important; where we’re heading for is.