When a Product Manager of legacy confronts UX.

 UX meets Product Management...

I've been sitting on this blog post for quite some time trying to articulate how I see the two sets of roles interacting and co-existing with one another. I've been in both these roles both separately and collectively and it’s really a puzzling uncomfortable experience. The problem today, is simple – UX has traction and before we all start high fiving each other on this victory, we still need to reconcile how this whole thing is going to work. Today, typically UX is a huge challenge for product teams to invest in, especially if they are deeply entrenched in legacy solution(s) that range in age (5-10 years old). The challenge isn't about providing “reasons” to go full UX, as anyone who’s picked up a tablet/smartphone will get the reasons immediately. The real challenge lies in the “how” do we move away from this old way of doing things to the new way of doing things that are often filled with “excuses” or “nostalgia” fuelled ranting. Moving forward with the times is hard enough but even more so when the reaction to UX is to just “hire” some UX person to dig everyone out of the hole they are in without a strategy being in place to begin with. As a UX Architect it’s somewhat more of a challenge for me than it was being a Product Manager, as in this role my job is to provoke teams into taking an introspective look at how they have arrived at where they are at today – chances are the very people in the team haven’t always been there through the whole journey either. If you ask a team three simple questions “What features do you have right now?”, “What’s working and what’s not working” and lastly “what do you want to do tomorrow?” well you get some pretty awkward frustrated looks (greenfield projects obviously it’s not the case). As really what I'm asking is “do you even know what you’re doing right now?” and it’s a pretty intimidating question as it forces people in that space to admit “well…not really..” As a Product Manager you’re really there to help steer the ship in a direction that has usually momentum attached and having some upstart UX guy make you sit down and account for what you have usually isn’t an appealing process given well “that’s the past lets talk about the future!” is the vibe at the time. We don’t ask these questions of status quo to weaken the position of the team or detour them from the future, it’s really there to give us all a platform to build up from. If they can answer the questions that means they are ready to start attaching “features” to “personas” so then we now have a better understanding of who owns what feature and why, which then leads into how you can take the said features and distribute them around various flavours of devices/desktops etc. Product Management and UX go hand in hand and the danger of a UX role is they could very easily become a Product manager, as its very easy to slip into this role especially if the current status quo doesn’t have a strategy on where they are going or how they arrived at the point in time they are in today. In summary – A UX role has to sit down unpack his tool kit, and simply break down the product back to its grass roots, force the team to sit down and focus on what they have right now and what they want to take from the past into the future while at the same time create “new”. It’s not as attractive at times but it’s the reality that must be faced otherwise you end up like Microsoft did in the past “oooh look shiney object, let’s go make it and screw what we have right now” (aka Silverlight/WPF strategies to date! 🙂 )

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A lesson in humility from my son.

I had one of those moments this morning on the way to work. It was a moment that I'm still trying to fully unpack in retrospective because at first It was me trying to teach him how to be a man, but what really happened was he taught me what it takes to be one. It was one of those double wins. My son has a really rare condition called Trisomy 8 - 128 kids have it world wide last count and usually about 100 of those don't make it. Every day we have Corey with us is a day that I'm reminded how lucky and grateful I am to have this kid in my life, and moreover how despite all things he has going for him he still isn't out of the woods yet - this each day is a gift. This morning he saw a disabled man hobble across the road and despite all the surgeries, difficulties and social issues he faces daily he still looked at this man as being a lesser - not in a malicious way but in a way of empathy and pitty. It initially made me a little angry because my dad always taught me that a disability is extra weight on a person, much like a racehorse gets in a race. They still face the same challenges as us, but they are weighed down with extra to make it harder for them but we're never to treat them any different. I wanted to pass this kind of thinking onto my son, to push the idea that you remember that people aren't normal, some just hide it better. This is my best moment with Corey to date..

Corey and I

*Corey watches disabled man with shorter leg than the other and hooked arm walk across the crosswalk on the way to school this morning*

Corey: Dad... what's wrong with that man ..

Me: Well ..his body umm..his body isn't the same as other peoples so he's got some difficulties in walking so that's why he hobbles. His arm probably wasn't made the same as yours so it hooks in like that.

Corey: oh... poor man dad.. you should help him by like giving him a lift or something.

Me: ...hmm... Let me ask you something, do you think that man is strong?

Corey: umm...strong like you ...no...

Me: Well.. the thing is buddy, that man is probably the strongest man you'll see all week. Think about it, he has all these problems with his body but he still gets up every morning, gets dressed, puts his backpack on and walks to the bus. He then goes to work and keeps doing that day in day out. That's pretty strong.

Corey: ohhhh ok...

Me: Corey you have only one eye left you can see out of, you find it hard to speak your mind because your brain works faster than your mouth but you still get up every morning, try and sneak in a computer game or two before mum & i catch you and you go to school like that man. Does that mean both of you are now not strong?

Corey: No... I guess... i didn't see it like that..

Me: Remember this moment mate, because people may look at you like you looked at him at times but remember that being strong isn't about lifting heavy things or being able to fight people.. being strong is about getting up and facing the day by not using excuses on why you shouldn't do something.

Whenever a kid teases you next time at school remember that they have all those abilities you and that man don't have but they still aren't happy and think that by making you feel bad is a way to be strong... when..well they aren't, they are weak and lazy.

Corey: So ...they are losers right..

Me: kind of, they are ignorant..

Corey: what's that mean.

Me: it means they don't know better, so next time it happens, just remind them of the difference but at the end of the day remember you don't make excuses, you just get on with it.

Corey: ok...

Corey: I like this redstone book you bought me...

That pretty much happened word for word, and the thing I love about my sons attitude to life is that despite being dealt a really shitty hand he's like a rhino, thick skinned and focused..nothing really gets him down, he just see's life through the eyes of curiosity... and minecraft... mostly minecraft..

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Lost: One Microsoft PR Genie, last seen in the bottle.

It turns out yet again Microsoft and Waggener Edstrom (the folks they outsource their PR to) seem to have this ongoing disconnect between reality and the Redmond Zip code. In that when a journalist on sites like “The Verge” or other(s) taps you on the shoulder for comment(s) in around what the *ACTUAL* strategy is going to be for Windows Phone 8 and future upgrades / updates.

Take the freaking call.  😳

In ignoring this, they in turn let the message around what this all actually means fall into the hands of the horde, which in turn means a lot of assumptions, assertions and most importantly anti-Windows Phone fuel for the rumor mill fire(s). First reading you will take a pass at this being a case of Microsoft looking to rub their greedy hands together and go for the ye olde replenishment model. If you shift all your energy & focus onto a new release for new phones, only you can replenish your profit margins with the existing user base – as that is exactly what Apple does. After careful consideration however and you continue to read on in this saga you may stumble upon a link or two that points you to the real story in around the upgrade future(s) here, in that Microsoft will promise to give you a 8.x update.

“..Distribution of the updates may be controlled by the mobile operator or the phone manufacturer from which you purchased your phone. Update availability will also vary by country, region, and hardware capabilities...”

I could sit here and go all Troll/FUD on that last comment but in reality its like kicking that sick puppy again. I will simply say this; the messaging for this got lost yet again and now Microsoft have to spend cycles trying to put this genie back in the bottle. The only real way they can do this is by giving concrete assurances & specifics in around what 8.x vs 9.x will look like, specifically what does this whole Windows “Blue” strategy likely to become? They will not do that, as that would be as if again someone in Microsoft + Wagged were actually taking a proactive stance on Public Relation(s) – Probably reading their PRIME scores upside down still. To quote Tom on my facebook thread:

“..Microsoft used to control the messaging of updates a lot better, putting the blame on carriers. Carriers didn't like this, so Microsoft removed the tables they used to supply. Some phones in the US don't even have Tango right now, let alone 7.8. Have Microsoft committed to supplying 7.8 for every existing device? No. They've remained silent consistently about 7.8 and even pushed versions with buggy live tiles without a PR strategy. This support document with life cycle information has never been published before, and yet Microsoft has not managed the message well once again. It leaves people waiting for Tango or 7.8 concerned they will be left in the dark once again. Don't defend it, ask for change…”

Simply put, this isn’t a story about Windows Phone upgrade good vs bad its more about how the hell does a company like Microsoft constantly forget to sit down and write a PR Strategy that actually makes sense. If you know you are about to launch a phone, then start campaigning now and furthermore do something about the release in a more visible / visual way that covers off your talking points of concern. The fact Microsoft are constantly trying to figure out a way to pander to the carriers in order to push more units is probably a strong indicator as to why Surface Pro has failed to go outside handful of zip codes as they still haven’t figured out what “logistics” and “partnerships” really look like. Apple is also being constantly used as baseline for success/failures for Microsoft in that all too often I see “but Apple do…” stop right there, Apple firstly have a strong history of success not simply because they had first move advantage on a touch-enabled phone but they have a very tightly controlled release strategy. When Apple sit down and release a product post, its actual design/development they focus in on the important areas such as:
  • “How do I get this phone to some kid in outback Australia and New York at the same time?”
  • “How do I control the entire PR noise around this launch so everyone takes queues from me not bloggers”
  • “How do I convince consumers to move to the next phone without them realizing I’m replenishing my market”.
PhoneHyper Tim Cook from Apple probably got the succession from Steve Jobs probably (no idea) because he was brilliant at logistics & retail, in that he can get the job done around what it takes to release (even when Apples at its worst it still hits a better stride than Microsoft lately). Before one compares Microsoft to Apple, take stock in the fact that Microsoft’s failures are not technical or by its design faults. It’s actual failures always constantly orbit in its ability to broadcast its message and make good on delivery. In reality its comparing Apples to Lemons (hah!) This is whole upgrade fiasco is yet again filed under “How not to do Product Management & Release”.  

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Microsoft officially supports Flash’s future over Silverlights past.

In late 2008, I remember being in a strategy meeting to discuss how the ubiquity problem for Silverlight could be energized more. In that meeting we were throwing ideas around how to get Silverlight into various “forced” updates in order to combat Adobe Flash’s “98%” metric which at the time was the biggest threat to Microsoft’s web-app future(s). It was during this meeting we discussed the banning of Adobe Flash on all Microsoft owned websites (which would later take into effect via an executive order to ban Adobe Flash on all sites hosted on Microsoft.com) Today, Microsoft is shipping Adobe Flash as part of the IE10 browser to help close the loop on the Microsoft Surface “it just works” principle (i.e. play video online etc.). However, they have not shipped Microsoft Silverlight as well, as that would probably send a mixed signal to the market. Mixed signals like today where each developer is sitting at their cubicle wondering what exactly is Silverlight used for still and is there a future in developing application(s) for it? Despite the 20yr time support pledge from Microsoft whilst alongside the reality that the ratio of adoption from WinForms,WPF and Silverlight still outnumber Windows 8 development. The reality is the moment Silverlight is put into IE10 and on Surface Pro; automatically developers will likely ignore / bypass the new set of Windows 8 start screen (appstore) and instead continue to develop their applications in a way that works as it would whether you had Windows 8 or Windows 7. By not adding Silverlight to the IE10 install simply places a layer of friction to this workflow and in turn probably encourages these developers to either bite down hard on the Windows 8 *ONLY* application developer workflow and/or retreat back to WPF/WinForms for the same level of development. Failing that, they will obviously then decide to go for the “it works on all” pipedream known as HTML5/JS and use that as their development platform of choice. In doing this not only did they just cut Microsoft out of the Microsoft UX Platform adoption cycle but they may even instead opt for an alternative to their server-side delivery (doubtful but more and more folks are trying out server-side solutions like node.js). In all directions you look at this, bottom line is the mixed signal they may refer to is filled with just utter chaos that orbits around which framework you wish to choose and how you wish to navigate all the prickly parts to the Microsoft current “broken promise” strategies on display. In my opinion, Microsoft should continue to support Silverlight but in a way that goes beyond their comfort levels + limited imagination. Having Silverlight act as a plugin for the “old” would enable developers to bridge the gap between Windows XP, 7 and Windows8 as there is absolutely no reason why you couldn’t push out Silverlight 6 as being the XAML Runtime you find today s Windows 8. Yes it would mean Silverlight 5 apps won’t work in Silverlight 6 but also allowing the two runtimes to be co-installed isn’t a hard thing to achieve (we even talked & spec’d this out in the early days to help with parity in runtime changes for future versions, that and removing the need to restart the browser after you installed given we used 2x process GUID instead of 1x). By keeping Silverlight runtime in this fashion you allow developers to continue to build muscle where needed in the XAML/C# domain therefore ensuring you have continuation in the ranks around development on Microsoft platform(s). The pipedream of simply saying to all “stop doing managed code and go for broke on HTML5/JS via our custom built solution” is just that. If you were saying to developers to opt out of the C#/XAML development story and into the HTML/JS then why would I continue to take your beatings Microsoft? Instead, if I do decide to go down this path I will look to keep it 100% neutral. That is to say to any Microsoft staffer – YOUR AUDIENCE WILL ADOPT MAC/LINUX AND WEAR “I HATE M$ T-SHIRTS” If you’ve ever spent any time inside Microsoft you will come to know one simple thing, Microsoft internally are fierce competitors and you will constantly hear about Apple, Google & Oracle’s movements. Specifically what is being done to combat them and how “unfair” these companies are playing the game (hell look at the Twitter feed of most staffers and its obvious thing to see)?

Never go full retard.

Bottom line is that out of all the bone head tactics I have witness Microsoft perform in the last two years this by far is the biggest and stupidest tactics by far. Good news is your XAML/C# skills are transferrable right?...anyone?....its just a namespace change guys...come back..guys....  

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Microsoft Surface Retail strategy in Australia is broken.

If you walk into a retail store such as Harvey Norman, Dick Smith or JB HIFI in Australia with the sole intent on buying a Microsoft Surface then you will be probably shocked to learn that it is likely to be buried amongst the “laptop meets tablet” mutations. Photo 7-03-13 12 58 18 PM The Surface Tablet is hidden amongst an array of competing brands that are usually higher in price whilst being presented as a “laptop” in its initial resting “display” setting. Is there an attempt to highlight its form factor? No and more to the point there is absolutely no attempt to profile the branding of “Microsoft Surface” other than a strange font, which is 10%, compared to the price tag that is clearly the most important focal point. To me the entire Microsoft Surface marketing campaign in Australia seems to be a broken situation whereby it appears Microsoft Australia are clearly metric / goaled around “impressions” and less about “conversions”. I say that as if the two metrics were linked then getting people into the “stores” would be 30% of the battle as once they are in, soliciting the potential consumers into a purchase would be where the real energy needed to be spent. Photo 7-03-13 12 58 24 PM Today, in these same stores if you were to walk in and buy an Apple product you would immediately notice that they are separated from the horde of random brands but all accessories that are officially owned by Apple’s brand machine are also within reach. That is to say they are clearly spending a small sum of their retail channel delivery budget(s) on ensuring that resellers such as these brands are retaining the brand(s) needs (Meyer’s in Australia also acts as a conduit to Apple’s branding). However, why should Microsoft spend on securing the Microsoft Surface segregation? Microsoft should and needs to put pressure on retail chains like this to have Microsoft Surface separated from the horde for the following reasons.
  • Price pressure. Clearly, the other brands are opting for the Microsoft Surface Pro approach to tablet & Windows 8 bundling with a high “laptop-centric” price tag attached. That’s fine but in reality if Microsoft wants to invoke change in the OEM channels around price and industrial design then having the beacon of example (Surface) separated ensures that these guys have to compete harder to win hearts/minds more. If Microsoft can put pressure on price models with a “lead by example” model, they can in turn regain some much lost control over this entire cluster f***k of tablet/laptop sales pipeline.
  • Differentiation. Right now, the whole Surface RT in Australia is all you can buy so there is minimal confusion around what the brand “Microsoft Surface” represents. It is only after you introduce Microsoft Surface Pro into the mix that the confusion will start to fester, especially when retail chains like the one mentioned seemed to be preoccupied with price. Having a clear definitive marquee / in-store controlled visualizations of the matrix would help clear up potential buyer’s remorse going forward.Furthermore it would again encourage put pressure on other OEM providers to consider the RT route but I highly doubt that will occur given the current failings of RT today (perception and execution wise).
In Summary, the question in the room still remains unanswered, why did Microsoft enter the tablet space as a hardware provider & not just software. I have read and heard multiple accounts as to why, to which me distills down into simply the “lead by example” formula. If Microsoft wishes to lead by example then they need to in my opinion work harder to continue to put pressure on hardware brands like Dell, HP, ASUS, and Samsung etc. in a way that forces the consumer to start to consider an actual comparison between the brands and Microsoft’s “best of breed”. In doing this they would also start to build some muscle & discipline in helping hardware companies focus more on the industrial design of the said device(s) as opposed to just re-using patterns they have formed whilst making Laptops (i.e. look at Android’s screen resolution issues to date and avoid that from spilling over into Windows). Simply put, I think the overall marketing / delivery service that’s in play today puts strong indicators around the fact that not only is Microsoft lacking hardware leadership they are really living and likely to die by their previous Zune strategies (Good idea, just badly executed).  

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Inserting the UX into an existing Agile Project.

It is a Wednesday afternoon in Sydney North Ryde, humidity is quite hot and I am walking up a fairly steep hill panting and cursing to myself about getting to the gym sooner rather than later. I glance over to my left and I see this person riding a unicycle up a hill whilst listening to music and moving at a pace that is faster than my walking (yes that is how unfit I am). I simply stopped in my tracks and first chuckled at how amazingly insightful that was to witness as I immediately thought “that basically was the visual for my role as a UX Architect” – which was to say, “Poor me, how hard is my job as only an idiot would ride a unicycle up a hill”.
Sometimes life is like riding a unicycle up a hill.

Sometimes life is like riding a unicycle up a hill.

As I continued to walk, I started to think about how much effort that person is putting into attacking the hill before him. Firstly he has to balance whilst at the same time maintain a steady forward momentum (too fast he falls, too slow he falls). Secondly, he is listening to music while he attacks the hill that I can only assumes helps him focus on the mission ahead by blocking out distraction(s). That encounter inspired me, it gave me a renewed sense of energy at facing down the biggest problem I have today – "how do you integrate UX into existing Agile projects cleanly". I mean to say the task before me is not easy, it is filled with many uphill battles such as balancing between function and form, whilst at the same time not spooking stakeholders into cost blow out panic attacks. I also am required to have a concentration level that simply at times feels inhuman given the unchartered territory ahead. The difference between that role and the actual guy on the unicycle is well at least he gets to see what’s ahead of him whereas a UX in Agile world is typically doing the same thing blind folded.

Discovery vs Delivery.

I spent over three years travelling around Australia in every capital city visiting “developer” teams for all types of companies (enterprise, startups, government etc.). I have seen the same thing happen over and over, whereby each company swears by their agile manifesto and how important it is to maintain “agile” discipline. I also notice they cherry pick agile each time to make sure it fits in with their culture and more importantly to not take it as an absolute but more a relative approach to designing software. The part that often sticks in my craw is not the sprint cycle(s) or the sprint backlog creation. Nope, the part that I immediately notice as being the fatal flaw to why User Experience is often the sacrificial lamb in the development process is well the discovery of the said feature(s). For instance, a team will often sit down in a room with a whiteboard and then begin coming up with some stories around what they are hoping to achieve with the software. They then will likely document these stories with the usual “As a User I want the ability to do X so that I can do Y” style sentences. After that process they, would likely then unpack these at a later time into developer task(s) along with success/fail criteria (tests, definition of done blah blah)? I would guestimate that 90% of the hundreds of developer teams I have visited do pretty much the above. Furthermore, I would often be invited into some of these teams at around the last few sprints to help “make it look UXy” as if there was some way I could just “Integrate” into the team(s) development process, fix the UX problems, low impact to the code and do the aforementioned in a timely manner (Usually I say: “You don’t need a UX Architect, you need a priest as this thing is dead and all you’re after is a lot of prayers to reanimate the corpse”). Let me simply say this, as a contractor I would love nothing more than to have you do the above, especially if I am charging you per hour. I could simply tread water and extract large amount of free useless work hours knowing either outcome still does not result in a successful delivery. Ethics 101 aside, today, I am not that contractor, I am a UX Architect and I have a queue of other products waiting in line for my same attention. I do not have time to drag the timelines out so I have to instead get the above optimized. The flaw in this aforementioned process of white boarding features is the part that you first make your biggest and ultimately largest mistakes when it comes to making a software product (which is a general argument to make, but hear me out). As when you sat down to the feature, you did not document whom you are making the product for. In addition, how much time did you spend on refining the process other than the first bunch of fragmented ideas? Lastly, how do various stories influence one another? Agile is not an excuse to just deliver a project without planning and planning doesn’t mean you have to spend the bulk of your time in “waterfall” delivery purgatory either. Great quote from Jeff It is probably a good point to say that if you are focused on delivery and you spent little time on discovery, well you are basically in for a lot of turbulence and “UX Tetris” in the coming sprint cycles.

Unpacking the Discovery phase.

Take an existing project you are on today, now look at the User Stories you have (ignore your tasks). Now grab these stories whilst grabbing some pens & notepads. Now take some of these stories (does not matter where you start) and begin drawing a comic book of your product, that is “how would you draw an activity from the moment the user clicks on an icon to the splash screen and then to what they see first”.

Example – If I was building Outlook I’d say scene(1) is user clicks on icon, scene(2) splash screen loads, scene(3) outlook opens in default folder view, scene(4) user creates new email etc.


The objective behind this in the first part of the discovery phase is to illustrate that your story whilst at first sounds perfectly fine is not really “done”.  How many UX Personas did you draw in the comic? I would wager maybe one? Moreover, how many times did you redraw this process before you exhausted the steps into what you would consider “simplicity”.
  • How much influence did iPhone, iPad, Microsoft Office, Outlook, Windows 8, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Visual Studio etc. all play in the mental model you had for the software(s) design?
  • How many DataGrids and Tree controls did you “assume” existing in the UI as you drew the comic story?
  • Did you draw the UI as a wireframe or just abstract shapes? (If you did wireframe, stop, rub it out and keep it abstract).
A Definition of a Story is “An account of imaginary or real people and events told for entertainment” - the key words from that definition are “An account”. That is to say, it is your own personal bias coming through on how you foresee the event taking place based on existing ideas or experiences from the past. Now, to bake your noodle, grab three or four of your colleagues and get them to do the same process on the said story but be very careful not to lead them on the same path you just took (e.g.: “draw a comic book for how our customer can create a new email. STOP. No more information”). I have done this a few times and usually what happens if done correctly (i.e. everyone is in isolation) is the story typically has similar patterns but the ordering and approach taken often has mixed result(s) (especially if its domain specific to your companies problems and not generic like email checking). First lesson learnt here is that we all approach the design with a bias in mind and yes, we feel that if we all share the same pattern in design it will in turn invoke less agitation on the end user(s). Agitation such as this is still good and most of the time the behavior of the said end-users will likely follow the approach defined. Problem is you are not in the business of “good enough” anymore. Software today is expected to rise above mediocrity and everyone is under pressure to deliver products as “simpler” and less “dense” in terms of feature(s) and/or layout design(s). With that, it is your job to put this entire story design on a very strict diet that should take more time than you probably anticipated. Typically you will want to time box this process as it can drag out and I highly recommend you grab a healthy mix of developers, customers (trusted), sales, marketing and if possible receptionists (i.e. people who aren’t your target user) in the creation process. The more diverse the background the more likely you can feed of each other’s ideas of “simplicity” without having blinders on. Lastly make sure it’s in a room where everyone can draw their ideas and do not break these sessions into hourly mini meetings – make them days, in that spend five days in a room fighting, crying, swearing, hugging and so on (as you will take two days to get everyone in a relaxed mode whereby failure won’t be seen as embarrassing – humans are funny like that). ProTip: Simplicity can be measured. A Comic style slice of all your user stories can feel like a complete time waste, especially if you have pressure to deliver. In order to do this you have to justify how this can improve cost of delivery whilst at the same time it looks dangerously close to “Waterfall”. Truth be told, in under a week or maybe two you could potentially visualize your entire current story catalog in a way that would likely reduce countless hours of communication issue(s) around design which in turn would without a doubt reduce communication costs. That being said, that is a very loose “return on investment” pitch to make.
  1. For giggles, take the existing slice you have designed and then unpack that into tasks with forecasts attached. Record that number and cost it out in terms of effort.
  2. Now, for giggles again, take your team and tell them “make it simpler” that is refine the story further, squeeze it to the point where you automatically feel it is not as “Powerful” in terms of feature design.
  3. Once that occurs, run your costs against that.
If done in a way that I am assuming you should see a fluctuation between the two cost(s) and it can be either higher or lower in terms of cost. You have the first measurement to add to the “simpler” cost center, in that if it’s lesser in terms of cost – awesome, see we just reduced a lot of excess coding time!. If it is higher then well how badly do you want a better user experience for the product you are making? (Sneaking this past people usually ends badly, so be honest and if executives do not subscribe then you have an answer on how they feel regarding “experience matters”). Often when I do it, the cost initially increases (i.e. short term loss, long term repeatable win) because as I am refining the stories I am looking to make the behavior of the user less effort for them. That is to say I am thinking how the software’s job is to make their life easier and that it should do 90% of the work for them and that means at times decluttering the task from the usual user interface design and being context specific (i.e. isolate the user to carry out a task that’s reduced of distractions). An example.

If you mapped out Outlook comic story you would probably have imagined outlook as it is today, whereby you have the tree of folders, you click “new” and prompted the same way it does today. 

I think of it differently, I think that whatever behavior I invoke that triggers “new” is initiated, the entire user interface goes into “new mail mode” that is the existing chrome/HUD is screened back and all the specific requirements I have for “new email” is in front of me. To my left there is a smart way to access my contacts, especially given I’m in a large enterprise and often have issues between first/lastnames and aliases”. To my right I have a different way to create an email in that am I creating just a text email or am I creating something that I want to insert media into for all to visualize my point?. My point here is I could easily increase the development cost in order to assemble the user interface in a way that for me puts all the necessary pieces the end user will need in order to carry out the said task. Simpler doesn’t mean minimal (as that can often be misleading) it means how does one make the life of the persona simple in carrying out the task – given software is made to make our lives easier right?

UX Personas are not what you may think they are.

Having redesigned the new email some may declare “..hang on, you didn’t specify the feature criteria fairly..” which is true, I did not. The next thing one needs to learn is my idea of a user and your ideas of a user are highly likely two different types.
Example of Useless "UX Persona"

Example of Useless "UX Persona"

A UX Persona discovery will fix the assumption failure(s), whereby if you sit down and you unpack the word “user” to the point you exhaust your collective knowledge of that means. A UX Persona is not a story about “Jim who is 22, likes fishing and blah blah” as bottom line who gives a shit who he is or what he likes. A Persona designed like that is used for marketing purposes to help sales teams position the messaging & roles the said product will likely excite. A UX Persona typically needs to focus on two simple areas, that is what behaviors they are currently exhibiting (AS-IS) and what behaviors they should be exhibiting (TO-BE). The word “User” needs to absorb the fact that sure, a user is doing xyz today but you are in the business of innovation so you in turn need to move them to a new set of behaviors!

Eg: When Apple sat down to design the iPod touch they were not pandering to existing behaviors user(s) were exhibiting on mp3 players. They moved us all over to the touch interface and it was initially confusing but today I see five year olds queuing music & playing games.

Defining a UX Persona for me is mainly about breaking their behaviors into four categories uxagile-fld-geo
  • Influence (low to very high). Take training, mentoring, buying power, optimization etc. as categories you can help shape the low to very high score. Basically how much influence does this persona have over the adoption of your new product, the training burden required in order to use your new product and lastly the output of the product (i.e. are they the end customer for your customers customer).
  • Usage  (low to high). Similar to influence but now how much of the actual product are they going to be using? Specifically which modes of the product are they using (e.g. Visual Studio – Build time, Debug & Runtime). If you are writing software for both an executive assistant and their boss, then basically it is likely the assistant is going to have a higher rating then the boss depending on the scenario (vice versa).
  • Form Factor. What are they using to access the product? Given tablets, smartphones, laptops etc. are all evolving technology what is the likely input of choice. Do not just isolate this to device/platforms but also are they using stylus pens, are they using modified keyboards etc.
  • Environment. What is type of environment are they using the product in? Is it inside a coal mine where it is dark (i.e. white vs. black colors are a safety issue), is there many hazardous issues nearby? Is it noisy (distraction and cannot hear sounds), is it inside an office? Is it inside an operator building where your product is one of sixteen screens?  Environment is really an important amount of information that gets lost in the “Story” creation. As we really need to pay attention to how much duress, the user is under in order to make their life simpler.
Notice I never discussed usability issues such as their age, sight quality, gloves vs no gloves, color blind vs non color blind and so on? Well, if you did not now you have. Usability is a completely new chapter on its own, suffice to say I typically design for extreme in mind that is I assume the worst and hope for the best, make the process accessible and it in theory should put you in a position to refine for specific usability & accessibility scenarios (ie design garden sheers for people with arthritous and in theory you will design for both people with and without in mind). Keep breaking the UX Personas you design down until you simply cannot come up with new ones. Then go grab some customers you have today or want to have tomorrow and play a game of “Guess Who” with the existing ones you have defined. If you cannot line them up with what you have or you end up with orphan UX Persona(s) then consider how to merge or separate until you reach a “best guess” group of personas to attack with your new product. The trick here is also to focus more on “TO-BE” not “AS-IS” as the moment you release your product to market you are changing the rules of usage. You are invoking change in an area where existing mental models are either hard wired into the users or have no concept of said feature(s) even existing. Once you have the list of Persona(s) grouped in a way you feel make sense (make tribes if it helps with the grouping) then I want you to divide into two piles – first being 80% and second being 20%.  Dividing these personas into the 80% and 20% piles gives you two options going forward. The 20% pile could be the first target users, these are the ones you want to launch version (1) of your new product with. It means you have a much simpler feature set to attack but it also means you can iron out the kinks in this new process whilst illustrating the value of “simplicity”. The 80% pile could be the same as the 20% or it can be the persona(s) that are distracting you from simplicity, which is they aren’t as important for the first round of delivery? Either way you choose to approach this just settle on one of these piles as your “target” user base. The truth is you will never hit 100% of your persona(s) needs in your ongoing deliveries, and once you make peace with that, the pressure of being everything to everyone will be reduced. It means that over time, you will have to work harder to regain the lost personas back but that is fine, provided you stick to that mission and remain calm.

Example – When Silverlight was being built, the first version pretty much took the 20% path with a focus on video persona(s). As more and more versions of the product where released it then would take the missing 80% pile and subdivide that into 80/20 and again, take that 20% and chip away at those personas that wanted more than video.

ProTip: Consider putting these personas into a deck of "Cards" and hand them out to all members in your team. As when you are discussing problems in your day to day development get into the habbit of keeping them in view when you say the words "Customer" or "Users".

You are in the patterns business.

Do not fool yourself into thinking the software you are working on is unique and never been done. There are elements to the software you are making that is fresh in terms of features here and there but ultimately you are highly likely re-using existing UI patterns found in software today. The question is what UI patterns are you using and why have you changed them? That is to say which Color Modal are you going to use and why don’t you like existing patterns out there should it be different? uxpattern It’s at this micro level you isolate your users actual behavior and can be majority of the time field tested with customer(s) to establish what is “usable” and which isn’t. It is also at this point you can attach “who” the UI pattern is designed for. If  you catalog these UI patterns you can also begin the “visual” treatment process before any code is even written (in parallel) as its really about which assets are missing, which you already own and when they can be queued for delivery. Lastly and the most important point of all is that you can identify which Patterns are “Fresh” and begin your patent application(s) for retaining your intellectual property rights whilst at the same time ensuring that you’re not infringing on other existing patents out there.  (i.e. have you read the terms & conditions of Office Ribbon, Adobe vs. Microsoft legal case around panel snapping etc.?)

Discovery integrates with delivery.

To recap, you have taken the simple “user stories” and you have mapped them into visual stories that help illustrate the “before” and “after” in terms of refining them down into “simplicity”. You have also identified whom the actors or “user” actually are finite detail that even talks to what, where and how.

So, discovery phase is done right?

No. This is the easy part as now you have information and you have a sense of possibilities. What comes next is the part where you often will lose the executive owners of your team. It’s the prototyping phase of discovery, that is take your ideas and come up with some wireframes or small time boxed interactive prototypes of how the comic stories can be achieved. I say you lose them as if you do not handle this carefully you will position this phase as being “wasteful” or “not as important – function vs. form”. The trick is to factor this phase as being part of your “delivery” but knowing it is actually more to do with “discovery”, (it is as if you Jedi mind tricked the project management & executive fears). Prototypes, Wireframes and Comic Stories are deliverable that works the same as actually writing the code itself in a normal agile scenario (i.e. they too can follow sprint cycles). You can do it parallel (if you are in v2 of this process) or you can do it sequential but the key is to deliver something that shows the investment is not wasted. You also iron out the unknown and can often deliver drops to candidates for the software(s) release to get a sense of what success/fail will look like had you spent months coding it for real. Remember Windows Longhorn? Yeah most of that was Macromedia Director. Remember Silverlight on the Nokia N9 back in MIX keynotes? Yeah that was kind of a mini PowerPoint style animation! Point is when you demo something, nobody 99% of the time asks to see how many lines of code it took to make. This approach builds confidence that your development has balanced the feature(s) required with market readiness/attractiveness whilst at the same time maintains a disciplined delivery schedule. It also allows  you to really validate your UX personas against the features that they are attached to, as then you can start to formulate a fairly accurate understanding of what feature(s) are going to make the release and who they are being targeted for. Having just this alone can improve your “feature” cutting when the time for reducing scope occurs; again, you know more about the impact than a general “user” statement. It also helps to know this when forecasting costs for a new products development, which is how much this will cost to produce and who the first, second, third round of releases will likely excite. It also helps training / documentation teams begin preparing their work streams on how to manage change management issues. This also helps testing teams understand how to attack their tests to ensure the said quality gates are kept intact and aren’t being approached from “generic” scenarios (i.e. play the role of the UX persona not the roles like “let’s see how much of this I can break”). Finally, it helps Marketing/Sales teams get actually ready for the “launch” in a way that hits your target market squarely in the places it should.  I.e. they know who to avoid making eye contact with during launch time should that UX Persona group not make the cut).

Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

Before I close out this poorly written tomb, let me say that no matter what choices you decide to make, ensure you keep it all open and transparent. There is nothing worse than having all the discovery and delivery processes being locked up in the hands of a select few or worse making it available but displayed in such an abstract format that it simply holds no clarity around what just happened. The combination of UX and Code delivery needs to happen clearly, there needs to be KPI’s set and lastly you need to ensure everyone in the room has a visual simple display as to what is being worked on. uxkpi An executive does not care about your “Done” board in agile and they do not care about how many stories you have to write code against either. They also do not care you have unpacked a generic User persona into five sub personas and lastly they do not care about how you have improved the “AS-IS” comic style user stories into the “TO-BE”. The assume you do this normally, so don’t expect an “Adda boy/girl” pat on the back as well it’s like being asked for a high five for knowing how to check email? The mostly care about progress reports – where is their money being spent and why. They will care at times when visiting peers or their power brokers come by for a visit, in which case bring all the above out for a full show & tell (factory visits is what I call them). If you can justify the costs in a meaningful way that does not involve reading text then you are miles ahead of other teams who assume that just because a Story is written down that everyone “gets” where they are heading. Visualization of your products early often gives everyone in the room clear communication around what the vision will end up looking like. There is less pressure for demos to be at a fairly high standard given comic stories, prototypes & wireframes will paint that end point in a much more cleanly digestible way (which ultimately will mean memory recall – which is what you all want). Lastly, before I close out, can I just say aloud – everybody relax. The agile movement is simply about taking a lot of big lumpy problems and breaking them down into really small bite sized pieces that are easier to manage. This is a strategy that is not unique and exclusive to software development; other industries do this daily and without as many issues as we often create. An Example of this process is grab 3-4 unique small “beads” and drop them into a bucket of sand. Mix the sand up, then using just a small scoop, plastic bags and a scale come up with a strategy on how you can sample the said mix evenly. Solve that problem and you can have a future in geology but at the same time, you will also be in a better position to understand how Agile + Forecasting actually work.    

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Dont be a clone, be different.

It’s been roughly a week or so now since I got my Windows Phone 8 iPhone clone – I mean, Nokia Lumia 920 (it was a joke, relax). The phone itself is quite large, and that for me isn’t an issue except I find my thumbs don’t get as much surface coverage on either side of the phone. The battery life on the phone is nice but the overall user experience within the phone drives me mad. The camera for instance was annoying because when it came to take a photo I had forgotten I had the setting on close up, so when I took my shot of choice it came out blurry.  It took a while for me to remember that the setting was changed as there was no visual indication that the said phone was in a particular setting – as if having an icon on display all the time was a failure Nokia wouldn’t tolerate (you failed me Nokia) There are a lot of other settings that also drive me crazy and I could list the postives & negatives all day (Still trying to sort through my emotions on whether this phone will last or go).  However, the one and most crucial thing of all that I dislike about the experience is the App Store clones. What I mean to say is, despite the various ups & downs that come with having the actual phone – which I can live with – the one piece to this equation is just how immature and terrible the applications that you have on offer are within the Microsoft store. It's like all the other kids (iPhone/Android) are riding dirtbikes but your parents give you  a new bmx bike (Windows Phone 8) with a fake muffler attached. I’m struggling even as I type this to come up with some examples of great apps, the ones you cannot live without. The only application that I find actually useful and fairly well designed was Skype. I found Twitter apps to be half-done, broken, prone to “an error has occurred” status messages or the worse offender of all – the official Facebook app (which feels like it was written by a first year programming intern). These are really two applications that a smartphone today must own in terms of unique experience, as these i'd argue are probably the most frequently used outside email (would it kill the design team to use "bold" font to indicate unread emails btw?? and text messaging + threads... really.. threads? what is this a texting forum?). There is much I’d tolerate about owning this phone but looking at my iPhone apps that are sitting idle and then staring at my Windows Phone I can’t but help develop buyer’s remorse at the moment. I miss my instagram, twitter, flipboard, facebook (yes even iPhone Facebook app), games,  XBMC remote, ANZ Bank and the list goes on and on. There are really only two applications within the Windows Phone 8 market place that stand out for me – Qantas and ZARA.  The Qantas app is still a bit flat but it looks different enough to give it a pass whilst the ZARA app (Fashion) looks quality elegant / tastefully done – even though I have zero use for it but can appreciate its design. My underlying point is this. I want to keep using this phone, I want to get off the iPhone crack and try new things but if you keep rinse & repeating the same stupid template driven applications whilst touting “I’m being authentically digital” then you in turn are killing yourselves more than my experience. If this phone has a chance of success it’s going to come down to development teams engaging a designer and throwing out the Windows Phone 8 “Design Guidelines” by Microsoft. Microsoft have not a consistent coherent clue as to what good design is and have consistently shown they themselves can’t even lock onto the concept of what good design is. They rely heavily on design agencies, contractors and partners to do the majority of the actual design for solutions they “make”. There are currently 90+ designers on the Windows Phone 8 “team” and I ask a simple question – What the f**K are you all doing? You’re not helping the community & marketplace that’s for sure. So please hire a designer today.

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The fall of Sinofsky ..where’s the gold plated AK47?

Yesterday I read a tweet that Sinofsky was leaving Microsoft and my immediate thoughts were along the lines of most – oh, it is early but not unexpected. As I read countless more news articles about the event and listen to others give their assertion as to what is happen and how it was not as bad as it looks and so on I simply come to a single conclusion. Worst retirement party ever. If you read Sinofsky’s parting letter mixed with Steve Ballmer’s as expected carefully polished internal email one would assume it was a parting of positivity not negativity. The reality is you do not take a high powered executive like Sinofsky and have him resign effective immediately you setup what they did with Bill Gates – a long goodbye. You temper both your internal staff and external shareholders with a 3month transition at the very least (maybe 6 month). You want to make it feel as if it is Steve Sinofsky’s choice and he now wants to leave Microsoft and go paint in Italy or something mundane like that. Bring a sense of calm because if you don’t, well you have his name trending in twitter and conspiracy theories that make Microsoft look like they have zero control over the PR beast. The latter is what actually has happened, Microsoft lost control over this entire thing and that is the part that I think is the most interesting. I personally do not think this was a calm exit, from everything I know about this company this entire issue has been simmering for some time and I think it came down to a titanic power play which seemingly backfired on Steve Sinofsky. I wonder how the whole thing played out though; I mean you had Steve Ballmer on stage at the Build keynote giving a technical demo that actually did not do any harm – which to be clear in all the years of Microsoft I have never seen before. That sent some mixed signals early on, as to say “hmm.. Steve Sinofsky is a vain person who likes to soak up his victories, why on earth would he be sidelined at the crowning moment?” It could very well have been a planned departure – I doubt it – but if that were to be true then first thing Microsoft Board needs to do is figure out why they are paying their various PR firms money as quite frankly this was a disaster beyond most normal marketing/PR fails the company is used to. As a friend said once "Microsoft takes every opportunity to fail and then comes back asking for more" in this case he was correct - again. Lastly, I went to Sweden last week and gave a presentation on decoding the Microsoft roadmap where I talk about the rise of Sinofsky and you can view it here.

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Is Microsoft mobility still a choice for business?

Mobility is fast becoming a topic, which does not seem to yield a concrete answer. The more you sit down and analyses mobility within an organization, the more you begin to notice there is a lot more choice on offer than before. That is to say, not getting an answer is not due to lack of choice. The plethora of choice available is what is causing the paralysation of selecting one or more platforms to adopt. A company today who as adopted .NET cannot accurately answer the question around which mobile device they should target. They cannot answer this,  simply due to the uncertainty of what Microsoft’s current product line(s) look like today, let alone unsure if what they propose will fit tomorrow. A company first must contend with the idea that the .NET developers within their pod will have to be outsourced and/or up skilled in order to begin mobile development. Choosing a platform of any kind in the mobility offerings is often times based around a few conditions such as these:
  • Ubiquity. Will the chosen mobility platform work on as many customers as possible whilst giving the maximum chance of profit and/or adoption.
  • Reduced Development Costs. Will the chosen mobility platform increase or decrease development time(s). Will the platform also enable or empower a uniform design experience across one or more platform(s) that compliment proposed ubiquity needs.
  • Workforce Ready. Will the chosen mobility platform stand up to various conditions workforce is likely to put them through in their daily work style(s). Will they be compliant for industrial work not just office work, will they have work around to employee’s wearing gloves (safety) and so on.
These three core choices often will end up dictating an outcome for adoption within an organization. Choices like these are not the only criteria for selection but they often become the core starting point, which then will branch out further into other criteria. A choice will not always just be one it typically is more than one if not all three and often more times than not ends up with compromises built-in. The choice of platform is a bad thing for Microsoft customers in that it will hurt both Microsoft and the customer. A customer who is thinking about adopting a secondary platform will approach the subject with a sense of relaxed state, despite the anxiety of choice. The reason for the relaxed state is they will have to lower their expectations initially in order to test the notion that XYZ platform will work for them. Furthermore, security teams within an organization will not be able to guarantee or support the security policies that they have developed for Desktop in mobility. Lastly by way of seeking out alternative adoption they in turn build muscle in coping with the idea that Microsoft are not part of the adoption discussion, which results in potential harm to Microsoft itself. Choosing a non-Microsoft platform is not bad; in fact, many companies around the world actively do this and not only survive but generate enormous profits. Today a company looking towards moving closer to a cloud-like environment may ask the question whether Windows as an operating system continues to be relevant. The rationale for most organizations around owning office is due to “Office” like software and dependency on solutions they use day in day to make their business run (e.g. Architecture firms with ACAD, Finance companies with TAX software etc.). Mobility today, has the ability to affect the workforce in a way that goes beyond desktop. A mobile device can go from just being an “Angry Birds” casual gaming platform to now being a first-response workflow-processing tool. The device can also become a basic work tool for email, word processing, spreadsheet refinement and even presentation preparation readiness, all for significantly lower cost than desktop. “Does the desktop software need to exclusively sit on desktop?” which is now become the question most of the vendors are asking themselves quietly. Microsoft customers also face a secondary influence when choosing mobility, which is financial hardship. The global financial crisis sent most organizations into immediate survival mode, whereby they slashed costs as deep as they could in order to weather the financial storms. By switching into survival mode, they in turn explored options around how to keep their organization lean and agile enough to reduce its capital expense by also switching it over to operation expenses. During this switch, software and hardware leasing also normalized and it was largely due to the suppliers of these two industries also adapting to the crisis by coming up with smarter, more affordable service plans. Today a customer within the Microsoft community simply faces uncertainty in around the mobility offering they have before them. They see failure at almost every turn, they see developer relations showing visible signs of souring whilst lastly they see Windows 8 “Start Screen” as a massive distraction that they may not desire or want. Mobility inside the Microsoft community has more noise than signal when it comes to developer skills reuse, existing IP reuse and lastly basic hardware considerations. A seasoned .NET influencer today would find it hard if not next to impossible to predict what the next 2-3 years would look like from a company such as Microsoft. It is fair to say any industry right now cannot predict 2-3 years from now but when it comes to setting up internal discussion or position papers around purchasing, it helps to have at least a hint or clue that arrives at a confident bet. Today, you do not simply get that unless you can read between the lines of journalism or worse, you rely on blog posts like this for the answer. In summary, Microsoft faces a massive challenge ahead. They first must bring a sense of calm back to their markets by using Surface and Windows Phone 8 in a clear & specific manner that does not involve the word “consumer” (which they will of course). They second must also reassure developers more clearly, that their C# and XAML skill reuse in mobility by providing clear and well-defined instructional-based solutions (dev. center needs work, it is a mess). Thirdly and most importantly of all they now need to convince the business community that their platform is cheap, reliable and touches on the above three points in a manner that trumps all. If Microsoft can produce answers to these few questions, they in turn can regain lost market share within the business communities. Do you see it happening?

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Public Apology to Steve Sinofsky – My Bad.

On Saturday morning, I was in a 1:1 email thread with Steve Sinofsky talking about a few things regarding Microsoft and .NET (mainly what is the future of .NET Framework). In the back and forth Steve stated that he thought my name-calling was unprofessional and that I should at the very least treat him like a human.
“..Dont respect me.  Just act like a human.  Dont say things you would not say to a person face to face in front of others…”
That bugged me a little, as in the end, he was right It was uncalled for from my end. I tell people from time to time that one of the biggest things I disliked inside Microsoft was the bullying behavior that took place. I found the overall behavior of watching someone verbally and emotionally beat others down to be a toxic thing to witness and is why I believe good ideas never rise to the top – yet – here I am via this blog doing the very thing I cannot stand to someone with whom I have a disagreement with in strategy & execution. I mean I teach my own son that this behaviors not acceptable yet here I am doing it. (Shameful). There is no need for me to call him names via blog posts and it is probably a good reminder for me that despite my strong disagreements with Steve’s choices in the manner of .NET community in the end he does have one positive thing that I am in firm agreement with – consolidation of the brands. Windows 8 and so on may or may not be a success and we can pick over the bones all we want but we all mist collectively admit that the first time in the history of Microsoft (that I can remember) the branding and product teams do show outward signs of alignment (which is rare). That all being said, I submit my humble and firm apology to Mr Sinofsky for any remarks or Photoshop doctoring of images and will not continue this behavior. Scott Out.

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