“Daddy designs companies” – my year in brief

This September marked the end of my second year working in a startup tech company. It would be a cliché to say ‘it’s been a rollercoaster ride,’ but guess what…?

This year has been particularly eye opening, and not only for the reasons that everyone is talking about. Here’s a few sketches of what’s happened, and what I’ve learned. Continue reading ““Daddy designs companies” – my year in brief”

Escape the Build Trap? Yes. Silver bullet? No.

mt-successfulIMAGE: Modern Toss

In “Escaping the Build Trap”, Melissa Perry presents a lively and cogent argument for a structured approach to building (digital) products, in order to deliver sustainable value for businesses and their customers.

That sentence only describes some of what Ms Perry explains in her relatively short and eminently easy-to-read book.

Continue reading “Escape the Build Trap? Yes. Silver bullet? No.”

Mirror, signal, manoeuvre: what I’ve learned from working in a remote team

I’ve spent the last 9 months working in a team with people from as near and as far as Darlington, Portishead, Nottingham, Sheffield, Bordeaux and Bangalore.

In the last few months, we’ve added 4 new people from Porto, adding some more non-native English speakers to the party.

Standup meetings and Slack have become good fun as we’ve got to know each other, but some of the pitfalls I expected from remote working have surprised me.

The remote working ideal swaps a long commute for improved productivity and more time to see your family (and do household chores). That has certainly been the case for me. But much like starting in any new team I’ve found myself putting in extra effort to fill in the gap that an ‘in real life’ presence – with all of its nuance and non-verbal cues – leaves behind.

Where I’m working, the approach to making software is vaguely agile, so there’s no shortage of team communication. Nevertheless when a remote team is learning to work with each other, there’s no opportunity to just get everyone in a room and “whiteboard it out”.

Regular voice and video calls provide a useful yet limited simulacrum of a team workshop environment. But there’s nothing like putting your own post-it note just in the right place on the wall yourself, then stepping back to see it in context.

RealTimeBoard (now mysteriously rebranded as Miro) has worked as a decent replacement for visualising ideas and doing team reviews, but I’d rather have a research wall in the office everyone could see on their way to and from their desks. I think the real life version embeds deeper in the sub-conscious where all the best ideas come from.

Tackling larger challenges together is more or less impossible. I’ve found I’ve had to hand off work more frequently than when working in one office, rather than working through it together. Handoffs are also more brutal because the shared space to share, and discuss, and bounce off ideas is not as rich, and the feedback less flowing than when I’ve worked in the same room as the rest of the team.

I’ve put a lot more effort into typing things up after conversations have been had, explaining the rationale behind the work and making things readable and easy to understand. In short, I’ve produced quite a bit more ‘short term’ documentation, just to communicate direction, rationale and status, and ensure people are informed and consulted as we move through design and development.

I’ve also been doing my best to stop myself from starting on new pieces of work or tackling things in new ways until I’ve made sure at least some of the team knows what I’m doing. I’m a self-motivated sort so this has been the hardest – to make sure you’re bringing the team with you (and with their blessing) when you feel the need to act immediately.

None of that is in itself bad. It’s a trade off for what for me is a 2 x 2-hour commute every day. And I think the extra work is helping the ‘lay people’ the team is dealing with – people who have limited previous experience building software  – understand the effort and thinking that goes into making a quality product.

An old client had a modus operandi for working in a bigger company. He said: “Always remember: mirror, signal,  then manoeuvre”. That way people understand your intentions rather than striking out (in vain) on your own.

I think that’s also a good motto for trying to build a remote team.

How to identify when agile isn’t working for you (and what to do about it)

Dilbert Does Agile
Dilbert Does Agile

I’ve now had the pleasure of working with five different kinds of agile in different companies with different teams and different cultures.

It’s hard to make an objective assessment of a methodology’s impact when you’re using it and doing your darnedest to make it work. However being critical of ‘normal’ practice is a default for me. And I have reason to suspect that teams use agile to paper over the cracks of poor leadership, bad practice, and poor discipline.

During this time working with agile teams I’ve identified a few areas where you can quickly tell if things aren’t working, and what you can do to turn things around.

Continue reading “How to identify when agile isn’t working for you (and what to do about it)”

Getting the most impact from user experience

Over the past 10-15 years, the practice of user experience within organisations has matured significantly. But why do some organisations get more benefit from UX than others?

The answer stems from how UX is positioned within the organisation, how the organisation measures the success of its investments, and how UX groups seek impact. Those who report having a high degree of impact behave differently to those with low impact.

Continue reading “Getting the most impact from user experience”

The thought before the click: the locus of attention

This is the second in a series of fundamental user experience concepts useful for understanding people’s behaviour when using the web and mobile.

Scrabble Pieces VectorLet’s play a little game.

  1. First, think of your first name.
  2. Now, think of the last letter of your surname.

Neither of these are difficult tasks, but it takes longer to complete the second than the first. This is an illustration of the difference between conscious and unconscious thought. While your first name springs to mind immediately, you had to work a bit harder to come up with the last letter of your surname.

Meanwhile, when you were completing the tasks you had to switch your attention from this page to the task and back again. In doing this, you had to adjust what’s called your “locus of attention”.

Continue reading “The thought before the click: the locus of attention”