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 minutes

We’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.
Continue reading “Open up”

Making it up

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I 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?

Continue reading “Making it up”

Love’s the needle, not the North*

Reading Time: 2 minutes

In 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.

Stop starting. Start finishing

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Can you run this report and get it to me by Thursday morning?

How do we stop starting and start finishing?
How do we stop starting and start finishing?

Eh … OK. But it’s now 4pm on Tuesday. And I’ve got to do …

… I need it by 10am on Thursday for a management meeting. Can you do that?

Yes … but …

… Is that OK?

Sure, yes. 10 o’clock on Thursday …

I’m sure I’m not the only person who has ever had a conversation like this. In fact, I’m pretty certain most of us have.

After all, the only way to escape these conversations is to be the big boss – the high heidjin, as we say in Scotland – and, necessarily, very few of us are that.

So what’s the solution?

 

Honestly, I don’t have an answer to that. But I do know this: if managers keep trying to stuff ever-fatter elephants down the pipe, it won’t end well.

Continue reading “Stop starting. Start finishing”

Go on then. Motivate me

Reading Time: 2 minutes

So, here I am.

I turn up for work, regularly on time, frequently early. Occasionally late.

Trains…

I sometimes leave the office early, but, if I do, I will always check emails later, when I get home.

Well, mostly. (We’re being honest here. And we are talking about email. As motivations go, it’s not up there.)

I do a good job, I think. No-one’s ever told me otherwise, Though, frankly, I don’t think anyone could write my job description any more.

I include myself in that, though a hashtag might cover it: #whateverItTakes

So, how could you motivate me to do a better job?

You could give me more money. Money’s always good. Isn’t it?

Continue reading “Go on then. Motivate me”

Faking it

Reading Time: 3 minutes

This week, I did something I thought I’d never do: I deceived our users. Our visitors.

Our customers.

That’s pretty much a sacking offence, so maybe I should explain.

As part of the digital first team, we’re looking for ways to get user feedback. After all, how will we know if customers think our products and services are valuable unless we ask them?

We can’t always do that face to face. Is there another way?

Continue reading “Faking it”

Why Big Design fails

Reading Time: 3 minutes

When businesses take on big IT projects (or any kind of big projects, I suppose), they puff their cheeks out and say, metaphorical hands on not-at-all-literal hips:

Gonna cost you guv.

They’re thinking: we’re going to have to plan this. We’ll need a risk register. We’ll have to fix the scope, gather all the deliverables, consult all the stakeholders.

Then we’ll create a PID, and a project plan. And if we get approval, and funding, we’ll start on an 18 month delivery plan that we’ve already been talking about for 6 months.

Then they’ll spend 2 months going round everyone who may have even the smallest stake in the project. They’ll seek their opinions, solicit their preferences.

Everything will be documented, in documents that will never be read by anyone.

Once all the stakeholders have been consulted, they’ll start planning. The risk register will be completed. A project plan will be drawn up. It is submitted for approval, and approval is granted.

Hey, we’ve been working on this thing for 6 months already and have delivered nothing but documentation. But we’ve already spent so much money on it that we can’t stop.

Sound familiar?

The Product Owner explains his priorities

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Complexity. It’s not complicated …

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I’m part of the digital first project, the team that’s looking into new ways of working that will help Scottish Enterprise improve its projects’ performance.

One of the things the team is doing is a 12-week training course on Value, Flow, Quality. That probably doesn’t mean much to most people, but basically it’s a methodology we can use to organise ourselves and our work to deliver value to our customers, quickly and flexibly.

One of the things we looked at in our first session was why IT and software projects regularly fail (by some measures, only one project in three is successful).

This alarming statistic tells us something is very wrong with the way businesses approach these projects. But what? Continue reading “Complexity. It’s not complicated …”

Our first live event: the facts and figures

Reading Time: 8 minutes

On 22 and 23 July, we set up a live stream from the Commonwealth Games Business Conference.

As well as the YouTube video stream, we used every channel at our disposal – twitter, LikedIn, Google+, our websites – to stimulate the debate.

Scottish Enterprise CEO Lena Wilson talking at the Commonwealth Games Business Conference
Scottish Enterprise CEO Lena Wilson talking at the Commonwealth Games Business Conference

It was a huge effort for a small team. Three of us – including Erica Goodey, who led on this project -were at the event. I was backup and tech support, though thankfully I was not needed for that. Everything went smoothly. Others back at the office pitched in too, publishing updates live on our sites.

So, roughly half our entire available resource tied up for two days.

And there have been months of planning, preparation and practice leading up to these two days.

In all, we estimate our total effort involved in these two days is 124 hours: equivalent to one person working on nothing else for nearly a month. And we’re not even half-way done yet. Much of our planning is around what we do with the material we’ve gathered now the event itself is past.

You can see how the two days were received on our storify.

This was a first for my team, and for Scottish Enterprise/SDI too. We have been a publisher for years, but this was the first time we have been a live broadcaster.

So, how did it go?

Continue reading “Our first live event: the facts and figures”

Personas: fact or fiction? Answer: neither, and both

Reading Time: 3 minutes

In the 1930s, the German physicist Erwin Schrodinger proposed a thought experiment.

I’ll spare you the detail, as it was an experiment about quantum mechanics, and quantum mechanics is a bit weird. And it involved a cat, in a box, which may, or, may not, have been alive, or dead, or possibly both, or possibly neither.

But the upshot was this: If you have an equal chance of an event happening or not happening, a cat my or may not be alive or dead. And you won’t know which is actually happening until you look, at which point you destroy the possibility of the outcome you did not observe and therefore make the outcome you did observe real.

Schrodinger concluded that, until you actually observe the outcome, the cat is neither dead nor alive, but both.

I told you quantum mechanics was weird.

Continue reading “Personas: fact or fiction? Answer: neither, and both”

Design content first … who would have thought of that?

Reading Time: 5 minutes

In November 2007, when I was part of what was then the SE web team, we were asked if we could take on a project.

The objective was to completely re-design and rewrite the SE website. Some of you may remember what it looked like back then. Including an incredible floating woman. Stock photography. It’s why we banned it.

The Scottish Enterprise website in 2008
Way back when …

Oh. And it had to be ready by 1 April 2008. SE would have a new remit by then. Would that be OK?

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Why accessibility matters

Reading Time: 3 minutes

My mother-in-law has cancer.

It’s been painful, these last few months, watching a woman who was skiing in the Alps at Easter hobbling around on a crutch this summer. Though not a fraction as painful as it has been for her.

The disease has entered her bones, causing them to become so fragile that she has fractured her pelvis. Which is where the crutch comes in.

Fortunately, her prognosis is good. Radiotherapy, not chemo, was prescribed. Bones can recover, and injections speed the healing process. Her health improves daily. Continue reading “Why accessibility matters”

The problem with pixels …

Reading Time: < 1 minute

You see, Apple’s newest tablet, the iPad Mini, creates a vexing situation: Its device-width viewport tag defaults to the same values as Apple’s original iPad (768×1024 pixels), even though the Mini’s screen is physically 40 percent smaller. That means every button, graphic, link, and line of text on a web page on the iPad Mini appears tiny—even when we try to do the right thing and build flexible, multi-device experiences.

http://www.alistapart.com/articles/vexing-viewports/