Day 1 of Agile2010

Of course the first thing one has to do at the start of the day is eat. So I wandered across to the Dolphin where the entire conference will be held. I was quite surprised at the sheer number of conference attendees – there must have been about 100 round tables, which could each seat about 8, and they were fairly full. In addition, there were a lot of people milling around, registering, chatting etc.

I decided today to attend 2 sessions which form the UX track of the conference:

1) LiveAid Extreme Makeover – Usability in Action

2) Help me see it: Using collaborative sketching to bring product ideas to life.

Sessions were each 3 hours in length. I was surprised at the lack of interest in the ‘Usability in Action’ session. I think there were about 20 of us there.

The idea behind this session was that we would have the owner of the not-for-profit organisation Mano A Mano website present, and we would spend 3 hours suggesting changes to the site, which would be developed over the duration of the conference. Sadly the owner of the site couldn’t be present, but we did have a ‘customer proxy’ in the form of Mano A Mano’s web development agency (who I presume work for them, for nothing).

Whilst I struggled to see how this related to ‘UX in Agile’ (which I had expected since it was on the UX track of the conference) I think the exercise illustrated some pertinent issues:

  1. You can’t underestimate the value of having the customer involved in a project – both for the contextual knowledge they bring to a project, but also because of the decision-making power.
  2. You can’t expect the customer (or customer proxy) to know everything, or to understand everything you talk about. You will think about things that they would never consider, and they need time and support to figure out an answer.
  3. People (customers, developers, some user experience designers) love to jump to solutions before thinking about the ‘problem’ or challenges in sufficient detail.
  4. You need to work closely with all involved parties to establish priorities, and to come up with an impact/effort matrix to provide a strategy for change.
  5. Multiple heads are better than one. You may come up with broadly similar ideas, but it’s the differences and the discussion of these differences which can provide the greatest value.

So this session didn’t answer all my questions about UX in Agile, but I did get to meet some really clever and interesting people; and working with these people has given me new ways of thinking about things. Which can only be a good thing.

Lunch was amazing. There was soup, salads, pasta, chicken, fish, cooked veg, puddings galore… I was stuffed. Lunch breaks are fairly long, so I decided to go for a bit of a stroll. I had completely forgotten where I was – whatwith being stuck inside windowless rooms all morning – so it was a bit of a shock to walk out into glaring sunshine and 30+ temperatures. A pleasant shock.

The afternoon session was with Jeff Patton. It was quite well attended – perhaps 50-60 people in all.

Jeff is a great speaker – I, for one, remained engaged all afternoon. I wasn’t convinced I would be able to with the aforementioned big lunch, and also with the prospect of jetlag kicking in. The session was also very hands on and interactive which helped.

My big take outs from his session were:

  1. Sketch, sketch, sketch. And practice sketching. This ties in well with an article by Jared Spool, which I recently read, where he describes sketching as one of the five key skills any user experience professional should master.
  2. Multiple brains are better than one. Sketch separately, then discuss together. Good stuff comes out of this.
  3. Test, test, test. And you can do this quickly and cheaply. Paper prototyping is extremely effective. And it’s quick. And cheap.

And one big take out from both sessions – post-its are an indispensable tool for collaborative working. In fact they could probably work for lone working as well. Perhaps we should try using old fashioned paper and pen before diving straight into a software package.

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