Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Where’s Wally? Aka the Value?

If you are developing a new product or service creating value should be at the forefront of your mind, not an afterthought or lost in the noise. Constantly ask questions about what value you are creating and the beneficiary, and ring the alarm bells if value cannot be easily specified or articulated. 

There has been widespread coverage in the press over the past couple of years about large IT projects that have cost millions yet have failed to deliver anything. Many projects are written off, while c-level heads roll. The book of blame is passed from poor requirements, to poor systems, to poor platforms, to poor delivery methods, to poor vendors, to poor management, to poor strategy.
While all this is happening and procurement processes are tightening to avoid repeating costly mistakes I still see projects that make it off the ground, with funding and approval yet nowhere in the business case has value been specified. Or maybe value was in the beginning but as the project has evolved the team has lost sight of what value means and who will benefit from the value created. Another common problem is specifying value for the business but failing to address the value proposition for customers of the business. Having a digital or mobile strategy just because the competition has one will not win the hearts and minds of customers, nor will it win you any favours with the shareholders when you have to explain that you are writing off a £5-10m IT project spend because it failed to deliver any meaningful results. 

If you are developing a new product or new system continually ask ‘what is the value proposition?’ and ‘who will gain from it?’ As well as delivering value to the business, if any part of the system is customer facing then there must be some value delivered to the customer in order for the business to reap the rewards. ‘Value proposition’ can sound all a bit ‘consulting-speak’ but restated in simple terms just ask ‘what’s in it for me?’ with your business and/or customer hat on?’ This simple but effective check can be asked at a macro or strategic level and can equally if not more effective of all the subsequent strata of the project including the lowest level of detailed requirements. If you can’t articulate a true tangible, measurable value for a specific beneficiary at any/all levels of the project then it’s time to ring the alarms bells and stop what you are doing. To continue is to risk waste of time, effort and money. If you don’t know the answer, it is fine to proceed and base your efforts on assumptions, as long a) the assumptions are flagged as such and that you make pains to test those assumptions at the earliest opportunity; and b) that in your assumption you identify both the value proposition and the beneficiary.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Panic not over yet - one click from you can help Amnesty (no commitment or payment required)

Exciting news! Further to a previous post about the success of the Makeathon, some of my colleagues have continued the great work on the Panic Button app. Amnesty International has just been chosen as a finalist in Google's Global Impact Challenge for the work on a mobile alert system ("panic button"). The app enables human rights activists to trigger rapid response from their network in an emergency. Four out of ten projects will win £500,000. Public voting open now and until the 31st May. Please watch and vote at http://bit.ly/13KtuEl. Please vote and help share this widely with your colleagues, networks, friends and families!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Notion of Girl...

So this is my first post in a year. I took some time out from my professional activities so that I could focus on the new addition to our family. But my brain is reawakening now and I’m starting out with a bit of an introspective question. ‘Who am I?’ Does it change who I am now that that I am a working mum?

The question was fuelled not just by the change in my personal circumstances and also my imminent return to working life but an article by Caroline Drucker (@Bougie) in Wired (Feb 2013), which argues that females in IT are not doing themselves any favours at all by referring to themselves as ‘girls’ -  while it makes you approachable 'does it say you're here to do business?' She continues to say 
that if females working "in the sausage party that we call the tech world" want to be taken seriously, that we need to take ourselves more seriously.

I have gone by the handle ‘guigrrrl’ for a long time. The pseudonym was born from fun days working on a fun contract with “aichtemelboy’ (@stusteel). He was the UI developer and I was the UI designer. No one else in the business knew anything about UI stuff from the product director to the lead programmer and so we built up a bit of kudos by making the application sing and dance in a way it hadn’t before or had been envisaged. The girl suffix to GUI (and the boy suffix to HTML) was all a bit tongue-in-cheek but had some reverence to cartoon super-heroes like AstroBoy. I love GUI, I know GUI, I’m passionate about GUI and I do GUI. It’s my professional superpower. It’s a blend of design, psychology and computers – three things that I have always loved.

So all this has led me to question the notion of what it means to be girl. I am a mum of two and have worked in this industry for 15 years so clearly I am not a ‘girl’ any more. But is it demeaning or damaging to my career to adopt the characteristics or playfulness of what it means to be a girl? To be a girl means to be female, yet free of stereotypes and expectations of what it means to be a woman. As soon as you stop being ‘girl’ and bcome ‘woman’ all sorts of other complications and expectations arise, not least of which include sex, physical, mental and professional ability, domesticity, behaviour, psychology etc. Drucker says that ‘girls are not threatening’ – so if I stop being a girl does that make me more threatening and is that a characteristic I want to be identified with? Not particularly – I want to be taken seriously, I want to be valued for my contribution and expertise, I want to be respected by my colleagues at all levels but do I have to stop being a ‘girl’ to achieve that?

Thoughts any alternative suggestions for a new non-girl handle appreciated :-0

Friday, March 9, 2012

Panic Over – Social Innovation wins the day

Lindsay Ratcliffe & guest contributor Jill Irving

ThoughtWorks were invited to participate in design-powerhouse IDEO’s first London-based Make-a-thon, which ran over two days in February. We jumped at the opportunity to collaborate and provide some of our agile application design and development experts to the event.

The ThoughtWorks-strong team went on to win ‘best pitch’ having designed and delivered an interactive web-hosted prototype demonstrate the Amnesty International ‘Panic Button App’ concept in less than day. The team built an alert app and platform for signalling at risk situations using Google Maps and HTML5 technologies. Accessible via mobile browsers by those at risk, individuals can hit the alert button to register when they’re in danger of being taken, sending their location and details. A group of volunteers then monitors the platform and in turn notifies the relevant local organisations.

Making the IDEO Way

The Make-a-thon was the brain-child of Haiyan Zhang, OpenIDEO Design Lead. The idea was to reinvent the ‘hack-a-thon’, keeping collaboration open, but by adding a more of a flavour of design methods and human-centred principles than a typical hack-a-thon would do. The event was a great blend the best of design jams and hack-a-thons as it brought together end-users with design talent, business minds and experienced developers to solve social impact problems in an offline open-collaboration forum.

To start there were eight challenges in all attracting teams of about six people each. Despite the fact the event was self-organising most challenges managed to attract a balanced team with members of diverse yet complimentary skill sets. The first day was spent exploring the briefs with divergent brainstorming and rough prototyping before presenting the initial ideas to the rest of the group. Then on the second day the teams refined their ideas to produce an experience prototype, which was then tested with on-site users or out in the real-world where possible.

Setting the Challenges

In September 2011, Amnesty International in collaboration with IDEO launched an open innovation challenge on the OpenIDEO forum - an online forum for promoting open social collaboration. The challenge was to identify and define ways that technology could be used to help people working to uphold human rights in the face of unlawful detention. Following on from the online challenge IDEO were inspired to hold a real-world Make-a-thon to take progress to the next level.

The aim of the Make-a-thon was to experiment with cross-functional collaboration for social good while tackling a number of briefs for both Amnesty International as well as some local community design challenges. These included making the London Bike Hire scheme (fondly known locally as Boris bikes) more user-friendly for tourists and making it safer for cyclists in London.

Exploring new Ways to Help Amnesty International

The event was a great platform for Amnesty International to explore new ways for people to give to the cause other making a donation or letter writing campaigns. As described by Owen Pringle, Director, Digital Communications at Amnesty International, ‘our traditional model is one of responding: a human rights incident occurs, we send in a subject matter expert and we use the evidence that we gather to affect policy change at a government level – it’s what we’re good at…however we also want to focus on the rights holder and be able to proactively intervene or prevent violations occurring if possible.’

With the Amnesty challenges, the organisers were aware that human rights issues and situations are often difficult. So IDEO and Amnesty collaborated to produce the guiding principles of optimism, solution-focussed and respectful to give the event a sense of purpose and direction.

One of the major differences of the Make-a-thon was the inclusion of users. In the case of the Amnesty challenges the teams had direct access to people who had first-hand experience of being unlawfully detained and interrogated. This was invaluable to help the team understand the emotions, needs, context, environment and constraints, and in fact the whole premise behind user-centred design. The users, along with the business representatives, provided information and stimulus for the concept generation but also feedback as to the suitability and viability of the products as they were designed and developed.

From Pitch to Prototype

The ThoughtWorks strong team, who won ‘best-pitch’, built a mobile web application nicknamed ‘Panic Button App’. The app enables people at risk of unlawful detention to send an alert to a ‘buddy’ if they are in danger, which could include a message (where time ad circumstances permit) as well as their geographic location. In order to allow access for the largest range of mobile devices, it was built with HTML5 and accessed via a mobile web browser. The team also experimented with SMS technology. An important facility was being able to provide support in parts of the world that do not have access to a mobile data network, and also to make the app accessible by non-smartphone users by using the SMS network.

The ‘Panic Button App’ team – Amir, Jill & Yu from ThoughtWorks and Bianca from BBC

The team imagined several different scenarios that considered the time as the critical factor when using the app:

  • Option 1: Panic Button only – this could be used in critical situations and would take a matter of seconds.
  • Option 2: Send a pre-composed message – where time is still of the essence, but not quite as urgent as above, the user can select a pre-composed message to describe their situation. The messages can be composed at the time of registration, rather than waiting for an event to occur.
  • Option 3: Send a custom message – where time permits the user can enter a custom message to describe whatever critical information could help them in their situation. 
  • Thanks to the ThoughtWorks developers, the ‘Panic Button App’ team was able to go straight from sketching ideas with marker pens and post-it's to prototyping in code. They uploaded the app onto a cloud hosting service so that it could be used on mobile web browsers. Once the prototype was working in a live environment they tested it with users throughout the rest of the day. After refining the design and interaction based on the user input they then did a live web demonstration of the end-to-end concept to the rest of the Make-a-thon team. 

For the prototype the team made use of Google maps and developed code to track messages, showing the locations of the user as they were entered during the demonstration (although this would not be a part of the Amnesty service is this was developed fully).

Images from the ‘Panic Button App’

A Game Changer

The make-a-thon event proved to be a game changer from the perspective of the organisers at IDEO and also Amnesty as providers of some of the design challenges. The real success was the blend of all the different skills and being able to design and develop and prove concepts at speed.
Haiyan said ‘Thanks for organising to have such fab developers at our event! We couldn't have done it without them.’

Owen Pringle of Amnesty waxed lyrical about the make-a-thon saying “We want to replicate [this event] as soon as possible” He also went on to say “The prototypes were amazing…we’re keen to get one or more of the prototypes into the live environment”

ThoughtWorks were also really honoured to be invited to take part and very proud of what they achieved on the day.


Thanks to Jill Irving for contributing to this article and helping to make the day a success from ThoughtWorks, IDEO and Amnesty’s perspective.

Jill is a, Lead User Experience Consultant and UI developer at ThoughtWorks - she has loved creating things for the web since she used Netscape 1.1. Jill proudly considers herself to be slightly geekier than your average designer — bringing a rare blend of creative and technical ability to every project.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Customer Experience versus User Experience

I just read an interesting post on Leisa Reichelt’s blog tackling the subject of “Customer Experience v User Experience” so I thought I’d attempt to articulate my thoughts on the subject.

The U in UX stands for ‘user’. A user in this context is a person who interacts with a computer system. During the advent of e-commerce UX suddenly found itself thrust into the limelight as it was thought that UX was one of the major contributors to determine product success – and failure where there was a lack of a coherent UX. However the users of the computer systems in the context of ecommerce, were no longer just mere users – like in the old days of desktop software –they were now potential 'customers'. These customers have quite different characteristics to users and they behave in different ways because they have higher needs, motivation and choice.  A customer will do what they need to in order to inform their purchase decisions; to make sure they are buying the right product, at the right price to meet their needs. This behaviour will invariably take them to various different places sources online and also offline. So the experience a customer has, is all encompassing and should consider passive and active experiences across all channels, not just the online channel.

A few years back I was engaged as a UXer by @alancolville, at what is now Virgin Media, to help design the hardware and the software for a new cable TV product. We began thinking about the ‘user experience’ but soon migrated into thinking more broadly about the total customer experience. Along with @damienread we took into account the broader experience ecosystem that included everything from online/video/TV and phone-based customer service and support, online/ offline and TV-based sales and marketing channels, operational support of installations, disconnections, fault-repairs and upgrades. It became a full-service customer experience programme.

This is where customer experience and service design actually become one and the same because you need to design for the full cross-channel customer experience. When you are dealing with a premium product of that complexity and a customer base who has choice through highly competitive offerings and a voice on public internet forums you need a much more holistic and strategic view. To play effectively in this kind of game there needs to be organisational changes to create an empowered cross-siloed, cross functional team who are responsible for delivering a customer experience that synchronised both internally and externally. Customer data and intelligence needs to be centralised so that all channels can benefit from the shared learning’s, then understand and act on the strengths and weaknesses in whole customer experience.

Here are some principles to consider when developing a customer experience strategy:
·      Know me” – recognise and respect customers’ identities, preferences and behaviours across channels. If they have signed-up online and completed a customer profile, don’t make them do it again in-store to join your loyalty scheme.
·      Do it once” – if customers move between channels to complete a purchase, minimise repetition of effort on their behalf to complete the deal. For example if a customer starts a mortgage application online but decides to finish the application in a branch, because they need some face-to-face support, don’t make them start the application from the beginning.
·      Be consistent” – customers don’t see channels they see a single brand. If your experience or product offerings are different across channels there should be a very good reason for it.
·      Be relevant” – design for everyone pleases no-one, so ensure that the design of the experience is focussed on the most important customers. Sure all customers are important, but you need to prioritise who the most important customers are to your business and make their experience relevant. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Create compelling customer experiences by blending design thinking with agile, lean and continuous delivery

An Experience Design approach that blends innovative, creative design thinking methods with the delivery methods of agile, lean and continuous is the most efficient and effective way to design, develop and deliver compelling experiences that delight customers and drive business success.

What’s in a name?
Experience design is the creative process to design human-system interactions that shape perceptions and influence emotional responses and behaviour. As a discipline it has evolved and merged with a number of disciplines over time. Perhaps it’s strongest influence stems back from the world of human-computer interaction (HCI). One of the key components of HCI is to make the design process human-centred, so that it’s always focussed on the human activity and the goals that the users want to achieve.
While experience design evolves as a design discipline, the most recent influences that are shaping design methods have come from outside the design industry. Process methods such as ‘agile’, which came from the IT industry and ‘lean’, which came from large-scale manufacturing are now shaping both business and design thinking.

For over ten years there has been a groundswell of change within IT delivery methods. As a result the industry has seen the widespread adoption of ‘agile’ and its derivative methods. Agile is a set of guidelines, written in the agile manifesto, for the collaborative development of software that focuses on delivering value rather than features, that delivers working software in frequent incremental chunks, rather than in the more traditional, risk-fraught, big-bang way.

Lean on the other hand, came from the manufacturing industry, is focussed on delivering value in the most efficient and effective way. Its philosophy is based on ‘just-in-time’ principles, or manufacturing when it’s needed, thus seeking to reduce waste in any form, be it effort, materials time and costs.
Both agile and lean are all-inclusive environments. Where once experience design practitioners were used to designing in ‘design phases’ of the project in the comfort of their design studios, they found that they were hoisted out of their comfort zones and expected to work in these new collaborative multi-disciplined environments. Some practitioners who recognised the need for change, saw the benefits and advantages that these new methods offered. Experience Design practitioners who have an appreciative understanding of lean and agile have been seeking to ‘redesign design’ and move away from the practice designing in isolation and in advance of development and instead are adapting experience design to fit within agile and lean frameworks.

One of the underlying principles of both methods is ‘continuous’.  The agile manifesto recommends that we strive for ‘early and continuous delivery of valuable software’ and lean talks about the practice of ‘continuous improvement’ or ‘kaizen’. ‘Continuous’ is most relevant in this the digital age, where the notion of the ‘deadline’, as once enforced by the production schedules of the large industrial machines, is almost obsolete. ‘Continuous’ is iterative and evolutionary and change is built into the process as a priority requirement, rather than something that is prevented or discouraged.

Interestingly there are strong parallels in the design industry. ‘Design methods’, which emerged in the 1960s, is the discipline that looks at the processes and techniques for creative problem solving. Design methods (see Jones, J.C. 1970 and Cross, N. 1989) has always advocated an iterative and evolutionary approach to creative problem solving especially as it pertains to product development and engineering. Likewise, the disciplines of human-computer interaction (HCI) and user-centred design (UCD) have instilled an evolutionary approach, augmented by ‘test and learn’ methods. This is where possible design solutions are tested with end users of the intended product to ensure that it is fit for purpose and meets the users needs.

And so by combining design methods with lean and agile methods the practise of ‘continuous design’ is now emerging. Continuous design is a philosophical and practical approach that uses empirical techniques as well as qualitative and quantitative data to continuously steer experience, service and product design and development.

The continuous design approach is applicable at any point in the design development lifecycle. You can take the approach at the start of a ‘green fields’ project or apply it down the track when looking to improve existing products. To look at how to apply continuous design we’ll start by looking at a green-fields project and take you through the process.

Validate the opportunity or problem space
During the early part of the process you need to look to discover why there is an opportunity or a problem. Don’t just take it as gospel. Question everything. Be almost child-like in your pursuit of the answer. Use all the sources available, including internal and external stakeholders, market and competitor intelligence and key to the continuous design approach the customer perspective. You need to understand who the new or existing customers are. This is not just demographic information but you need to know what drives them, what influences them, what makes them tick and what turns them off. You need to develop a sense of empathy, which also needs to be shared by everyone on the project team. Once you have collected all your data you need to understand what it’s telling you. You need to analyse it, look for insights and develop a hypothesis about the opportunity. We call it a hypothesis because we acknowledge that at this point it’s just a best guess based on what we have learnt so far.
A primary objective in continuous design is to validate any hypothesis as quickly as possible in order that we can either ‘fail-fast’, change direction or scale quickly. Underpinning the continuous philosophy is the lean mantra of avoiding waste. We don’t want to spend lots of time, effort and money on something if we are uncertain it will deliver the expected results. So we need to test early and test often.

Design Thinking – where magic happens
While having a plethora of data is great, it’s true value is in understanding the patterns and stories that inspire action.  Armed with customer insights, understanding of context and our product hypothesis, we can set about envisioning the solution. Here’s where the art part comes in. We use design-thinking methods to explore the opportunity space. We might start by using divergent thinking techniques to explore the opportunities available. We combine this with visual communication to rapidly sketch out ideas to inspire further development or tangential ideas from the team.

Once upon a time ago, design was done in a creative vacuum by creative people, however in the world of continuous design anyone who is willing to think creatively about the problem or opportunity space is welcome. This collaboration can include anyone on the project team from subject matter or functional experts that are part of the project team or anyone who has direct contact with customers, such as sales or customer service people. After a time-boxed period of thinking broadly, we assess all the ideas and start to converge on the ideas with the most promise. We then take those ideas refine them and add a little more rigour around the thinking.

Design, test and learn
This is the first opportunity to get out of the office and test the concepts with the target market. We take our strongest candidate ideas and seek to validate our thinking with customers. This process of explore, test and learn underpins the whole philosophy of continuous design. The idea is to avoid creating waste in terms of time, effort and money by developing the detail of a product until we have first validated that the concept is viable. Everything that way has done to this point has been an assumption, or guesswork and now what we want is proof that we are on the right track with the right idea.

Testing your concepts with customers is not an automatic tick in the box. You need to be prepared for failure, if it happens. Just because you, or someone on the team thinks it’s a good idea, it doesn’t mean that customers will agree. However the key point it is better to find out the idea is not a good one as early as possible so that you can change direction or drop the idea altogether before you have spent too much time or effort on it. With the right mindset you can still view failed ideas as a positive experience because you have new learnings and a new set of information which you can add to your knowledge base. Like Thomas Edison once said, "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."

Continuous Improvement
The design, test and learn approach does not just happen once. In agile development environments it happens every ‘iteration’ or even as often as weekly. We want to continuously build up design knowledge and confidence that we are delivering the right product for the right people at the right time. We apply the techniques throughout the project and also beyond once the product or service is launched. In fact, the live environment is the best environment for truly understanding how customers are interacting and responding to the product, service or experience. Therefore we need to be in a position to continuously monitor and measure the experience so that we can adapt and refine where the results are less than optimal.

To have the most benefit we need to be in a position where we can deliver improvements almost in real-time, rather than having to wait for the next infrequent production release cycle. To do this we combine the continuous design, test and learn approach with continuous delivery– “releasing high quality software fast through build, test and deployment automation”.

Continuous improvement is a seismic shift for organisations. It requires operational, cultural and process changes across the board. However it is the most effective way to reduce risk and waste while delivering compelling products and experience rapidly to market.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012