4 key success factors in developing for the digital world: Reflections from the Agile Open Space meeting in London

inUse Experience

I had the great pleasure to join a team of highly skilled and intelligent people in a very inspiring Open Space Meeting in London in February. All of us attending the meeting are advocates in an area that could be called “to give people better tools to produce valuable software”. Some of us are more skilled in the area of development process and producing working code, others are more into design and user experience, but we all have a strong urge to make it easier for teams to deliver “the right thing”. Discussions at the Open Space Meeting in London 2013The discussions in the meeting were engaging, exploratory and illuminating. We reflected upon that projects in general, including the agile world, are great at deliveries, but could be far better at delivering real value for business and users. By the end of the day we tried to summarize our findings for the afterworld. We all agreed that great results happen when :

  • People know why they are doing their work
  • Organisations focus on delivering outcomes and impacts rather than features
  • Teams decide what to do next based on immediate and direct feedback based on use
  • Everyone cares
I have a strong opinion about the meaning of “the right thing”. To me “the right thing” is a product that users appreciate and thus creates expected business values. My reflections on the 4 key success factors are deeply rooted in the perspective of Business Impact Mapping and Management (BIM). The core idea behind BIM is:
  1. Investments in “IT” is not made out of the blue, but to achieve some enhancements for the business. BIM gives the best support in exploring and defining the expected business benefits so they become actionable and measurable.
  2. It is not the product itself that creates value, it is the usage of the product. Furthermore, it is the sum of all people using the product that creates the defined expected business value. BIM gives excellent support in describing use and what users evaluate when using the product.
  3. In the design process, success will be decided. If the product is designed the right way it will give expected positive values to the Business. If the product is badly designed it will give lower or (in worst case) negative value to the business. The Business Impact Map gives the best support to do good design at the first try. Furthermore BIM gives the ultimate support in order to - at any time - evaluate how good the design suggestion is and the progress of quality-in-use.
People know WHY they are doing their work, thus they care Quite a few of us have been engaged in projects with fuzzy purposes for building the artifact we are working on. In those projects no - or only dim - answers to the question “why” is given to team members when they want to know the reason to include a feature, to use a certain pattern or to do the visual design in a certain way. Working in the dark, without understanding the big picture is very frustrating! Many people handle this situation by taking on an attitude to just doing what you are told, instead of working to deliver the “right thing”. When a clear chain of reasoning is lacking, another problem arises. It becomes very difficult to evaluate design, and in worst case all design suggestions are equally good. A Business Impact Map gives the answer to most of the “why” questions that project members have in a project, by giving a clear chain of reasoning
  • from WHY (expected business impact),
  • through WHAT (description of intended use)
  • forward to HOW (solution capabilities and functions).
Furthermore, when a project has a BIM, the business side can receive clear answers on their “why´s” : why one design is better than the other, why some functions are more important than others and even why forcing users to log in in order to receive simple information most likely is a bad thing. Research shows that engagement from the business side throughout the whole projects is the tipping point for successful projects. I am convinced that many decision makers lose their interest when they lack techniques for understanding. And the thing that happens is that they make decisions without solid foundation. My conviction is that most people really want to do a good job, they really care. But they lack support. Many of the questions people have are not answered, have only dim answers or ends up in endless discussions. A BIM answers quite a few of the “why’s” that project members and business side have and gives the best possible ground for engagement. In addition, the BIM gives the foundation to move discussions from features to business and usage, i.e. discussing the right things. Organisation focus on delivering IMPACT rather than features I am convinced that people really want to deliver products that are valuable. Project teams do not just produce design and working code, they want to make a difference to users. The BIM gives a chain of reasoning about the matter “real value” and thus those kind of meaningless and sometimes endless discussions can be avoided. One example from the real world:

A client of ours had a web for giving payment services. They were very eager to present sales messages on the page when user were logged in. in order to pay. I think many of you have engaged in this discussion

Marketing: “we want them (the users) to know more about our products and offerings”

Design: “but we do not think that they are interested at that point in the interaction”

We skipped the discussion and analyzed the click rate, that was 190 clicks per week. Managers had to admit that this was very low, and agreed upon trying our suggestion. The result? The click rate went up to 4700 per week.

The business purpose was to “give the best service to users making their payments”. The marketing saw that they could offer so much more to their customers (better service). We pointed out that users must be given the service they had in mind first, before the interest of other services really is even an issue.

Simple? Yes - in the design sense. No - in the project management sense. Managers have their “cause” and will strive for it at any time. Project members need sound models for reasoning, otherwise any design is equally good. At that point it is very easy to stop being engaged as a developer, and to start doing what management tell us. Teams should decide what to do next based on immediate and direct feedback based on use One inherent attribute of the BIM is to allow for evaluation of any given design at every given point in the project - Even better -the BIM makes it possible to know whether the design at hand is good or fail from a business perspective. Does the design makes reason that the expected business benefits will be met? This show us that the BIM makes it possible not only to evaluate design in use, but also to evaluate if the product design is “the right thing”. At the “How”-level, the The BIM carries a description of the capabilities the product must contain in order to meet (or exceed) users’ expectations. Skilled developers can easily get a good feeling if a defined capability e.g. “present an overview that gives ground for deciding what to do next” is met or not in a test. It is very straightforward to construct a user test when this capability is evaluated and the outcome is either a) fail b) success or c) defined needs for redesign. We all had a great time at the meeting, and I must give a million thanks to Gojko Adzic, the guy that made this meeting happen! Gojko, Henrik Kniberg and Karl Scotland have also reflected upon their thoughts from the meeting: The February Revolution February revolution, part 2 How to build the Right Thing Heuristics for Building the Right Thing This is the improved version of the “Effect Management” that is described in the book “Effect Managing IT” (the book is out of print, under rework). BIM is today somehow a de facto standard in Sweden for managing ideas and requirements. Up til today, inUse has taught +300 people how to use BIM.

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