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Old and New Visuals for User Experience October 4, 2010

Posted by Edwin Ritter in User Experience.
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When it comes to web design, User Experience (UX) is one area where I learned a lot and, came to appreciate the value of, early on in projects. Having a good UX design is a key success factor in a good web site.  As the web is a visual medium, using a simple graphic to describe the site design elements is a wonderful thing.

Having the UX defined is typically an early deliverable and is useful as the project goes along. It may be tempting to minimize the time spent on UX. If you skimp on the UX, as with other project fundamentals, you will revisit it later many times until you get it right. Pay early in the project and allot the proper time required to get this as complete as possible. In a visual medium, good design can be an intangible thing. You know a good design when you see it. Trying to articulate what makes a design work can be simplified by using these graphics.

Elements of User Experience

Classic UX from Jesse James Garrett

The classic image from Jesse James Garrett shows the elements involved in UX. This timeless visual is now 10 years old also and still relevant. I keep a copy of this with me constantly on web projects. When the discussion turns to UX, I often refer to this image to understand and help drive a solution.

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Fast forward to our current gestalt with User Centered design and here is a great graphic that uses the familiar iceberg analogy.

Elements in user Centered Design

There is a lot of information conveyed in this visual and includes the elements from Garrett’s classic UX. I like the progression taking a strategy to concrete concepts, showing how planning drives design and results in launch taking while into account the personas, user testing (!) and observation. Last, I really dig the various ways the user goals are shown. It gets to the intent of the site and who will use it – instruct (tell me), inform (show me) and reveal (involve me).

This visual captures a lot of the current best practices for web design. Notice that the design is agnostic on platform delivery. This approach on basic design concepts works for the web, mobile and tablet platforms.

Both old and new visuals are useful for UX (and information architecture) discussions to convey the concepts for a site ‘look and feel’ . Each clearly shows what is required in UX and helps ground everyone on how the site will be used.

Have another useful visual? What is your favorite?

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Project Roadmap and Holidays December 14, 2009

Posted by Edwin Ritter in career, Project Management.
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One of the benefits of being an experienced professional is being able to define an annual roadmap. The roadmap in this context is a list of project level commitments defined in a schedule. Crafting a roadmap visually is a great way to communicate with your team, clients and sponsors. Through experience and some lessons learned, I found that using holidays for project milestones has many benefits.

  1. Using the holiday schedule enables creativity and great team discussions.
  2. Holidays are easy to remember. They are highly visible to everyone.
  3. It keep the team focused on key dates.

I found that using Thanksgiving as the roadmap end date was useful also. That left time (a.k.a. slack) if any project slipped but more importantly, it left time for the 11th hour rush of requests from internal clients. Typically, the month of December is when my team would need to deliver on many unplanned updates. By having our roadmap finished, there was enough time to accomodate those requests. Client happy, staff happy, boss happy. A good place to be. 😉

Everyone is familiar with the holiday schedule. As project milestones, holidays are great motivators also. Everyone wants to complete a major effort before a 3-day weekend, right?

As a manager, you need to envision how to position your team for success. Keeping things simple is always a good mantra. Using common tools and techniques is a powerful thing for you and your staff. Communicating in a clear and consistent way is a key enabler also.  By knowing the team roadmap, my staff planned their individual vacations accordingly.

It has taken some lessons learned over time for me to appreciate this as a routine planning process. Having that experience, I can have rational conversations at any level about the merits in this approach. I realize it may not work for everyone. Many times, project dates are assigned for you. Been there, done that.

Remember, the magic quadrant is a reasonable level of insanity. The least preferred quadrant is unreasonable level of insanity.

Hope your roadmap is in good shape and you are able to manage the time left to complete it in time for the New Year. Happy Holidays!

Execution – Flawless vs. Good Enough June 17, 2009

Posted by Edwin Ritter in Trends.
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I attended an interesting talk today titled ‘Flawless Execution’. Interesting topic on getting improved and consistent performance from your team. The event was organized by the Rochester Small Business Council (SBC). Kudos to them for scheduling this event. The main speaker, from Afterburner Consulting, was a retired Navy fighter pilot who flew F-14s. He described how they plan each mission and the elements involved in the planning. The steps they use include  :

  1. Plan
  2. Brief
  3. Execute
  4. Debrief

For the armed services, that dedication and commitment to execute a common process is the difference between life and death. Literally. So it follows that having a debrief of what worked and what could be done better is a key part of that process. The speaker also stressed that during that discussion, it is nameless and rankless. That is, everyone involved, be they leaders, peers or  subordinates, are candid and admit to mistakes. They also point out to each other  improvements. It is win-win for each individual and also the team. It makes perfect sense and the candor for a subordinate to call out a squad leader on their mistakes – within the debrief session- is an accepted military practice. The team attitude is ‘I made a mistake, I will fix it’.

When the process is run with flawless execution, the result is a Win. Successful mission, objective realized. Live to fight another day. In the military, those aren’t cliches, they are the truth.

In the business world, having a common, repeatable and reliable process is a good thing also. Flawless execution by your team will lead to increased sales. It better, else what good is perfect execution if it doesn’t lead to sales? That is another problem. For now, let’s assume the team is working on the right things. Getting your team to be consistent where everyone knows their role can be trying at times. As a manager, having consistent team performance can be very challenging. There are lots of reasons for this admittedly and you control a good part of that. Some within a teams’ control; other things are beyond their control.

In business and in war,  speed is a key enabler. For many, omitting the Debrief part of the process is tempting and easy to do. Roll the Lessons Learned into the planning – save some time. Works for awhile – until the Lessons Learned are gone. Then, a team repeats mistakes; does not learn, can’t pass on their knowledge to others. Lost opportunity, lower sales and things slow down. Not good business.

The speaker also stressed contingency planning – ‘What if’ scenarios. If the Squad Leader is taken out, what is the chain of command? If there is equipment malfunction, what is the backup plan? One all those elements are in place (steps 1-4 and contingency), then the team is ready to perform its’ mission.

The business consequences of not making a sale, losing to a competitor are not as drastic as in military combat. It is not life and death.  We tend to use the military based cliches, but they never have the same intensity or impact.

All told, it is not a new process, not a radical way of managing. It is common sense. I have heard this in other forms in the past; I’m sure you have too. In the business world, we tend to make assumptions about these steps and the process in general. Not every team has SMART* goals. Getting everyone you work with committed to,  and, using a common process can be an unrealistic goal.  For most businesses, simply having a process  is good enough. Some times, execution is good, others; not so much.  From my experience, that is due to the corporate culture and management style. What is accepted behavior? How are people rewarded? Do they each have SMART goals? Don’t assume so.

Flawless execution requires everyone in the organization is using the same process in the same way. I have seen this in the past with ERP projects. Lead, follow or you’ll get run over because ERP is coming. Common process, common goal, common deployment of teams working on the same timeline. Works and there are lots of consultants willing to help you get there. 😉

Do you want your execution flawless or just good enough? Your choice and your teams’ also. Good luck.

*Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Timed.