Business must embrace Agile alongside IT

From Jason Little’s book Lean Change Management:

The introduction of Agile amplifies the complexity of interconnected organisations. When IT adopts a radically different way for implementing projects and focuses on earlier delivery and cross-functional teams, the business  must change their strategy and structure to match. When that doesn’t happen, friction between IT and the business is amplified.

That friction leads to more separation between IT and the business and ultimately leads to the organisation sliding back into the old way of doing things.

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Design vs implementation, from Marty Cagan

An excerpt from Inspired: How To Create Products Customers Love by Marty Cagan (a founding partner of the Silicon Valley Product Group and previously senior vice-president of product management and design for eBay, vice-president of product at AOL and Netscape Communications):

One thing that many teams try to do in parallel – but should not – is user experience design and implementation.

There are several reasons for this:

First, there is a dynamic in software teams that is important to recognise; once implementation begins, it becomes increasingly difficult to make the fundamental changes that will likely be necessary as you work through your user experience design ideas.

Partly this is technical – engineering teams must make some early architectural decisions based on assumptions about the requirements and designs in order to make progress. These early decisions are important and have big consequences.

Partly, this is psychological – there is a mindset that takes hold once the team shifts into implementation mode, and it’s demotivating to go backwards.

Partly, this is practical – the clock is ticking, and rework and churn just compounds the pressure the team is under. So even though methods like Agile advocate embracing change, you quickly find that some changes are much more welcome than others.

Second, user experience design deals with the very difficult question of both usability and value and, in order to come up with a product that is both usable and valuable, you will need to try ideas out – early and often.

One common response is “We’ll get feedback in beta,” or with Agile teams, “We’ll test the idea out at the end of the sprint.” Unfortunately this is far too long to wait to test out an idea. A good user experience designer will want to try out dozens of ideas and approaches in a matter of days, and the thought of waiting even for a two- to four-week sprint would be debilitating as the frequency is an order of magnitude too slow.

[…] Fourth, while it often makes excellent sense to break up a release into several iterations to implement (this reduces risk, improves quality, and eases integration) a user experience is often not something that can be designed in pieces. You have to look at the user experience holistically – it has to make sense to the user at each release. While it’s easy to “stub out” software that’s not yet available, it’s not so easy to do the same for the user experience.

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Efficiency versus consistency

Here’s a real world example of where consistency can matter more than efficiency: The traffic light controlled intersection at Haydon Drive and Jaeger Circuit.

Because there’s only a single lane coming out of Jaeger Circuit onto Haydon Drive southbound and because of ACT road rules, vehicles must stay in that right lane, so technically traffic in the left lane of Haydon Drives southbound shouldn’t need to stop at this intersection. But for consistency and to reduce confusion, all traffic is brought to a stop when cars on Jaeger Circuit have a green light.

Map of traffic light controlled intersection in Bruce, Canberra

To increase efficiency, the intersection would need substantial modifications to ensure signals are clearly comprehended by drivers and installing barriers as has been done at the south end of Anzac Parade for the left lane of northbound Parkes Way traffic. Also the Wentworth Avenue – Canberra Avenue – Sturt Avenue roundabout in Fyshwick where southbound traffic from Wentworth can safely bypass the roundabout onto Canberra Ave.

A poorly-designed example is the Yarra Glen – Yamba Drive – Melrose Drive roundabout in Woden where there is an increased risk of collisions because those same structural measures haven’t been implemented other than a solid white line, further compounded by the physical layout where vehicles on Yarra Glen are essentially going straight ahead onto Yamba.

Imagery © 2017 CNES / Astrium, DigitalGlobe, Map data © 2017 Google

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High quality is a way to pay respect to customers and users

From The Axe Book, a booklet that accompanies axes and tools made by Gränsfors Bruk, a forge north of Stockholm in Sweden:

What we take, how and what we make, what we waste, is in fact a question of ethics. We have an unlimited responsibility for the Total. A responsibility which we try to take, but do not always succeed in. One part of this responsibility is the quality of the products and how many years the product will maintain its durability.

To make a high quality product is a way to pay respect and responsibility to the customer and the user of the product. A high quality product, in the hands of those who have learned how to use it and how to look after it, will very likely be more durable. This is good for the owner, the user. But it is also good as well as part of a greater whole: increased durability means that we take less (decreased consumption of material and energy), that we need to produce less (gives us more time to do other things we think are important or enjoyable), destroy less (less waste).

Gränsfors Carpenter's Axe

Photo © Tito the Spoonmaker

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Excerpt from Jon Kolko’s book Well-Designed

From Well-Designed: How to Use Empathy to Create Products People Love (2014) by Jon Kolko:

Most of our product development processes are arcane and reflect outdated ways of thinking. The “product requirements document” for example – a leftover artifact from the 1980s – still seems to find its way into product development meetings, and those same meetings seem to spin endlessly around arguments about features, alignment, and time-to-market.

As the market demands products that are simple to understand, robust in their technical capabilities, and most importantly, delightful to engage with, our legacy processes obviously don’t deliver. And with consumer expectations relentlessly rising, becoming overwhelmed with the complexity of feature matrices and specifications is easy. In this increasingly complicated and pressurized world, it’s hard enough delivering a useful product at all, much less one that someone really loves.

In the past decade, mostly in reaction to this anxiety and complexity, a number of methodologies have developed that purport to be fast, nimble, and quick. These methods reject documentation and deride linear process, swinging the pendulum in the direction of speed and results. Run loose and lean, it is said, in order to fail fast and succeed sooner. Yet these methods introduce a mess of their own, and as a result, consumers often end up with incomplete products that feel half-baked.

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“Gold-plating” is often used to criticise designers when they attempt to thoughtfully design a useful and usable surface or interface for a product.

The approach here is that the breadth of the product is locked in and we progress across the entire base from the bottom towards the top, and clawing back time and money is done from the top down.

As long as the functionality is implemented and passes QA, effort spent at the surface is regarded as low value.

Diagram describing gold-plating as being the surface or interface of the UX layers model

But in reality the gold-plating has typically already happened before the build starts with the staking out of a product scope far in excess of what would satisfy the business objectives.

This is often due to the cumulative nature of requirements gathering (“Is there anything else you would like?”) and counterproductive procurement processes that demand clients precisely specify the solution before engaging the professionals they need to devise that solution.

Diagram describing gold-plating as cutting vertically through the UX layers model

The gold-plating is really entire vertical slices of scope, unnecessary systems integration, automation, and functions that should be demoted to the bottom of the product backlog ensuring that the highest value stories are implemented correctly and to a high level of quality; not merely “works” but at least “useful”.

Gojko Adzic software quality pyramid

Sure, getting your EFTPOS terminal hooked into your POS system would be nice and it’s what a system architect would strive for, but plenty of businesses get by just fine with manually entering transactions into the machine, including my local chemist, butcher, newsagent, and health food store.

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Trying to get info on ACT Road Rules

Or When Knowledge Bases Inevitably Go Bad.

I wanted to look up the ACT road rules to check what I thought was a new rule that came in last year about having to stay in your lane when going around corners on multi-lane roads rather than drifting across while cars are trying to merge.

If you’re curious what I’m talking about I’ll have to draw you a diagram because so far I’ve been unable to find information on it.

Anyway, so I started with the government one-stop-shop portal for the ACT, Access Canberra.

Access Canberra website Transport section

I started with Roads but that had articles on road closures, weighbridges, reporting road damage, and bus service accreditation.

So I went back and tried Safety & Rules:

Access Canberra knowledge articles

Ah there we go, ACT road rules:

Access Canberra cycling section

Hmm, Cycling section? Well, road rules are road rules … but what’s this about mobile phones? Did it link me in too deep? No, I guess that’s a frequently-asked question or something they’re promoting at the moment.

Well, there’s a link there to ACT road rules so let’s keep following the scent.

Ah great, is that seriously the best you can do, send me to view the actual legislation?


Guess I’ll give Google a go … and found what I was looking for, titled the ACT Road Rules Handbook [PDF]

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When e-commerce gaslights you

With over 400 registered accounts for websites I may be in the upper percentile for web users, but I’m sure everyone has at least once had an online account “lost” by a business.

Sometimes e-commerce businesses lose their user database through data corruption, accidents etc, sometimes through migrating to new systems and not being able to or bothering to migrate user data, often from moving from a system that stored passwords cleartext to encrypted.

When you register an account you make a contract with that business that you will hand over personal details for safe-keeping in return for faster service and other benefits; you nominate them as a preferred supplier for a product or service as opposed to sites where you make purchases as a “guest” customer with no plans to shop there again.

Sometimes when online businesses recognise they may have lost user accounts they’ll own up and provide mechanisms for recreating your account in their new e-commerce system.

Sometimes they say nothing, and it feels like they’re gaslighting you, like this morning’s example from Officeworks.

I know I have (or had) an Officeworks Photos user account because I keep all my passwords in a vault; I can tell you I created the account in October 2013.

But this morning when I went to log in it told me “I’m sorry, your password was not correct. Please try again“. No that’s not possible. Using a vault like 1password means there’s no scope for typos.

But okay fine I’ll say I “forgot” my password …

Officeworks is telling me I don't have an account with them

No culpability here from Officeworks, no suggestion that perhaps something went wrong their end.

Nope, it’s all in my head. I don’t have an account. Never did. I’m imagining things. Thanks, this makes me feel like a valued customer …

I don’t mean to single out Officeworks, this has happened over and over again, and creating a new account is no big deal, but it does feel dismissive and even derisive.

Losing user data shouldn’t happen, but it does. It would be a nice gesture just to say “Hey we can’t find your account, there’s a chance we screwed up and if so, sorry”.

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Usability and software architecture

Contribution to The UX Book (2012) by Len Bass from NICTA:

Architectural decisions made early in development [may] preclude the implementation of a usable system. Members of the design team are frustrated and disappointed that despite their best efforts, despite following current best practice, they must ship a product that is far less usable than they know it could be.

This scenario need not be played out if important usability concerns are considered during the earliest design decisions of a system, that is, during the design of the software architecture. Software architecture refers to the internal structure of the software – what pieces are going to make up the system and how they interact. The relationships between architectural decisions and software quality attributes such as performance, availability, security, and modifiability are relatively well understood and taught routinely in software architecture courses.

However, the prevailing wisdom in the last 25 years has been that usability had no architectural role except through modifiability; design the UI to be modified easily and usability will be realised through iterative design, analysis, and testing. Software engineers developed “separation patterns” or generalised architecture designs that separated the user interface into components that could change independently from the core application function.

The Model-View-Controller (MVC) pattern is an example of one of these. Separation of the user interface has been quite effective and is used commonly in practice, but it has problems: (1) there are many aspects of usability that required architectural support other than separation and (2) the later changes are made to the system, the more expensive they are to achieve. Forcing usability to be achieved through modifications means that time and budget pressures are likely to cut off iterations on the user interface and result in a system that is not as usable as possible.

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Cook your damn chicken

It’s like if a bunch of people had eaten chicken all their life and then you come along and suggest cooking it, and they reject that idea because it takes too long and seems unnecessary, but you knew cooking it would put an end to the ceaseless Salmonella poisoning?

That’s what UX is like. It’s not something extra, it’s something you’ve been missing, and its omission is a reason why your “tried and true” approach continually results in misaligned, mediocre, unsatisfactory and poor quality products and services.

It’s not someone dragging another chair up to the table, it was already there and was vacant for too long.

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