How to make digital teams work better together

The art of making really good digital products happen has so many facets. Team culture and team dynamics are among them. Developers, designers and product people have really different priorities and styles, so getting them to gel together as a team needs attention and skill.

I moderated a panel about ways that tech teams can work better at the Merge conference in Johannesburg in December 2019. It was part of the “Tech team playbooks” track.

Topics included:

  • How to encourage constructive and honest communication without hurting people’s feelings
  • Making mistakes, and dealing with them constructively
  • Knowing whether you’re making good decisions when each outcome is too small and lag time is too big

Plus amusing detours into Gmail in North Carolina, Tastee Wheat, measuring whiskey consumption and the effects of sleep deprivation on junior designers.

The remarkable panel members: Ashi Krishnan, Warren Foxley, Ridhwana Khan, and Dean Broadley.

Here’s the video, if you’re in the mood. There’s also a transcript. Or, get the podcast version..

“Everything” I think about UX – and why

I was interviewed  Anne Gonschorek, from Offer Zen. She wrote a great article about UX, that made more sense than most of the things I write.

In it, I ramble on about…

  • How designers think
  • How to do human centred design
  • What design thinking is (sort of)
  • Designers working with developers
  • Lean UX

It also contains a surprising number of pictures of spice racks. Like this one.

Thanks, Anne and Offer Zen, for all that generous effort. I hope everyone gets something out of it.  I certainly did.

Here’s the article…

https://www.offerzen.com/blog/why-a-lean-ux-mindset-makes-for-better-software-products

A whopper of a usability issue – and the product lesson it teaches us

It was a big fat usability issue. I haven’t seen one like it for years: a broad, bamboozling beauty that ate 3 hours of my time.

I thought I’d capture it here for you as a special treat. Donald Norman fans will love the mental models aspect. And for product teams everywhere it’s a grim reminder that you need a robust product delivery process, rather than just assuming “it’ll obviously work for customer.”

Let’s set up parental controls, kids!

The kids were turning into housebound zombies so I bought a new router with parental controls. An TP-Link Archer D7. It had an app so you could control and configure it from your iPhone.

I sat down at my computer to Continue reading “A whopper of a usability issue – and the product lesson it teaches us”

Design Thinking: How, why and why now?

The popularity of the term “Design Thinking” seems to be spiking at the moment. So I did a talk about it recently at Cape Town’s Western Cape Funding Fair.

The talk is at the bottom. First – some thoughts!

expo-complex

Design Thinking isn’t…

Design Thinking tends to inspire passion. I think the primary reason is that it’s a lot of fun, and it promises a solution to a pretty dreadful status quo. But sometimes people expect Design Thinking to be a universal approach for situations of all types – which it isn’t. In Digital, for example, Continue reading “Design Thinking: How, why and why now?”

Crossy road:  7 kinds of persuasive design techniques in a tiny package

The epic list of game mechanics at work in Crossy road, the hit iPad game, might inspire you to gamify whatever you’re working on.

Crossy road is a simple and wonderful game, based on the arcade classic Frogger. It swept the iOS world in November and December. And it’s still sweeping.

There’s nothing to it – just and infinite sequence of roads and rivers to cross until you die. Why is it so compelling? Here’s how they encourage you to keep playing…

Crossy road

Loveliness

You can tell the makers love gaming and loved making their game. It’s ingeniously stylish to look at, and has a great sense of humour. Those are key: if the game was ugly and joyless, the game mechanics alone wouldn’t stand a chance. But the first couple of persuasion/gaming principles are there:

  • Liking: The game is loveable and it’s easy to be friends with it. We all like hanging out with nice people in nice places.
  • The halo effect: it’s a lovely looking game – unconventional, stylish and “in”. So that must mean it’s worth spending time with, right?

Goals: Micro and macro

A good game needs a clear goal. It’s one of the key principles of Flow. There are several layers of goal in Crossy road, which will keep you motivated on the time scale of seconds all the way up to weeks.

Goals

  • seconds: get as far as you can in one game
  • minutes: collect enough coins to buy another avatar
  • hours: beat your personal best
  • days: beat your friends via game centre leaderboard (their scores are marked right on the game board so you can see them “in the flow” of the game).
  • weeks: collect all the avatars

Building your collection

Arguably the uber goal of the game is to build a complete collection of avatars. Collection is great because:

  • Endowment effect and ikea effect: You feel like you’re building something of your own
  • Closure: You’re working towards the complete set
  • Flow: Every time you get one more item you’re making visible progress towards your goal.

In addition, collections multiply the value of each individual gain. Adding one item to your collection makes the whole collection feel new, so you get the feeling of gaining something bigger: an improved collection.

This is the only place where the game attempts to monetise. The authors say that they wanted to take a different approach to monetisation: You can play quite happily without every paying a penny. But if you’re going to spend it on anything, they think you’ll spend it to complete your collection of avatars.

Your avatar collection

Social

  • Competition: Yes that leaderboard is a social mechanism. Being best at Crossy road is an important skill and a way to clearly establish your superiority to all your friends. Right?
  • Social currency: For something awesome to share with your friends, you can record your game play and share it so that the world can witness your finest hour.

Variable rewards

After a pre-determined time (often 6 hours) you get a gift of a random amount of “cents”. You can spend the cents on a random avatar to add to your collection. So we’ve got…

  • Appointment/incentive to return: Knowing you’ll get another gift in a few hours creates a sort of “appointment” dynamic. Don’t forget to check the game in a few hours time to see if you’ve got a new reward.
  • Skinner box 1: The cents gift is a variable reward, which means it’s a skinner box. Variable reward is more compelling for longer, than a fixed and predictable reward is.
  • Skinner box 2: When you collect 100c (usually 1 gift’s worth), you can get a gift from the gift machine, containing a random avatar for your collection. Another skinner box!

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Try for FREE, and get a FREE gift

After a few goes, the game gives you a choice of a few avatars that are not in your collection and you can try one for three turns. After 3 turns, you have to “give it back”, or choose to buy it for 69p and get an extra 250c thrown in for free. So we’ve got…

  • Endowment effect: it’s hard to give back something that you have “owned”. (The power of a free trial).
  • Power of Free: When you pay 69p you also get 250c for FREE. Dan Arielly fans will know all about the power of free stuff to make people do things they would normally not consider.

Tight game loop

You’re practising a (mostly pointless) skill and there’s that drive to “just try one more time because I was SO CLOSE”, that propelled Angry Birds to the top of the charts. The moment you die you can restart as fast as humanly possible, so that you can stay in the zone and master that skill. It’s that heady mix of dopamine and opiates that keeps us trawling Pinterest or Twitter, looking for info-gems.

In a funny way, each level is a skinner box: Play one more time and you might get lucky and set new personal best.

Packing this many persuasive design techniques into such a simple app is quite impressive. But I have a sneaking suspicion there may be more hiding in there. What have I missed?

Usability testing for agile software teams

I did a talk at Agile Africa last week.

A couple of key points:

  • The really valuable kind of user feedback often doesn’t just come to you. If you want good quality feedback, you have to go get it with usability testing.
  • It’s easy to forget to gather user feedback because Agile projects deliver incremental, gradual change… so you don’t notice how far your interface has come.

A unified product management framework

If you want to succeed as a digital businesses you need product management. But understanding what product management is, or what a product manager does, can be difficult. I thought a diagram might help.

Part of the problem is that product managers need to adapt their approach based on context. You might be product managing a startup, searching for a killer business model. Or working in a large corporation, creating a digital interface to an existing business product. Or perhaps you’re managing software that has been around for years, with dedicated and vocal users.

Tactics will be different in each case. But there are some fundamentals about the process that stay true regardless. So I came up with this.

The product management process

Three phases, four tracks

All in all there seem to be three phases. They can vary in length and importance, and there are different tactics you can employ in each one. But there do seem to be three. I’ve called them product discovery, ship MVP and grow incrementally.

And in each of the phases, you should be doing some of everything: Designing, planning, building and learning from customers.

What changes from phase to phase is the balance and purpose of the activity on each track.

Continue reading “A unified product management framework”

Designing journeys from the hamster’s point of view

Want to be “customer-centred?” Instead of designing from a birds-eye view, the simplest change to make is to use journey maps and design each step as the customer would experience it.

On Saturday mornings, we occasionally build mazes for the kids pet hamsters out of Duplo. This is fun for everyone, including the hamsters who get a chance to come out of their cages and stretch their little legs.

As the architects of the mazes, we come up with various features that make the mazes more interesting to us. Rooms full of tasty treats at the end of long and complicated tunnels. We even did an elevator once. Here’s a typical maze…

A maze for the hamsters, made of Duplo bricks and viewed from the top

The hamsters have different ideas. They rarely go for the tasty treats because they are rarely aware they exist. From the their perspective the maze looks like this…

The hamster's view of the maze. Just a few walls and a left or right turn.

As you can see, it’s pretty hard to tell where the rewards will lie. To the left? Or the right? That’s all the hamster can see. Very often, the hamsters choose to escape from the experience altogether. (It’s amazing how tall you need to build the walls to stop this. That’s a lesson in itself.)

The hamster pops out the top of the maze and stops playing.

To make a successful maze that the hamster will run around it, we have to appreciate that the hamster can’t see the whole maze at once. They can only live through the experience of it step by step. And if a given step isn’t easy and clearly rewarding, then they won’t take it – even if there’s a mountain of popcorn waiting for them just a little further on.

As Flow has worked with various corporations in South Africa, it always seems to come down to the same key activity: Helping teams think through “what would our customer want to do next”. The simple act of viewing an experience step by step, as a customer would, solves squabbles, uncovers points of pain, and drives out simple new ideas that make things work better for everyone. Without doing this, business units and dev teams tend just to think about the component parts and how to click them together. And customers are faced with fragmented experiences that range from irrelevant to downright bizarre.

A sample scenario/simple journey map

The tools I’m talking about are just personas, scenarios, and journey maps here – techniques that are as old as the hills. But they’re still fundamental, and if you do them earnestly and intelligently they make all the difference.