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There is a lot of love out there for the symbiosis between Agile and UX these days. More often than not, companies that are using the likes of Scrum or XP (eXtreme Programming) as their software development methodologies are including user experience professionals as part of their delivery teams. So why am I writing yet another blog post about this very topic? Well, from my experience, this marriage doesn't work quite as smoothly as advertised...
The acceptance of user experience in agile organizations is a relatively new concept. Being able to quickly research, perform IA work (typically task flows, wireframes and sitemaps), create high-fidelity prototypes, perform UT (usability testing) for a story and then be able to serve it up to software developers is enticing to every development manager out there. And while this concept may work from a theoretical perspective, when it comes to execution and deadlines, it quickly becomes very clear that if the team falls behind, there are typically two areas that suffer: user experience and scope (and ultimately quality). Development managers are delivery driven (rather than quality driven), and for them delivery means one thing: code. As a user experience professional working in an agile environment, how many times did you hear a development manager telling you that you no longer have time to spend with the end users for user research, and that those deliverables (be it wireframes or high-fidelity prototypes that are required by developers for a particular story) are now due in less than 24 hrs or even worse, not needed altogether because the functionality is fairly simple and the developers will be able to go straight to code without them?
In my career, navigating the extent of my involvement within agile teams has sometimes been rocky. Yet at this point, looking back at projects ranging from the success stories to those that were quite simply narrowly avoided disasters, two distinct themes have emerged, and are going to be the focus of this article.
This particular blog post has been on my mind for a while now. Nowadays, a popular topic of conversation in the UX world encourages UX leaders everywhere to become more involved in business leadership and business strategy, as opposed to staying in their traditional sphere of influence related to UX strategy. There have also been a number of discussions/comments on a variety of UX blogs lately, about whether the term 'User' in our discipline name is accurate enough, or whether it should be replaced with a different term, such as 'customer' (as in 'customer experience' as opposed to 'user experience'). Others are proposing for the word 'User' to be dropped altogether, so 'user experience design' would end up known simply as 'experience design'.
In my opinion, the fact that these discussions are taking place around the same time speaks volumes about the lack of maturity in many of our practitioners' strategic thinking. Don't get me wrong, I think User Experience as a profession has come a long way in the last 10 years or so in terms of methods, process and industry standardization. We have successfully aligned or integrated our process within various software development methodologies, and we have even been promoted to participate in discussions at the big boys table with the business, technology and marketing folks. There are no doubt a few UX professionals acting or in line to act as CEOs, CXOs, CIOs or CTOs, who, through practice and years of experience, have aquired that business acumen needed to become a true leader in the boardroom. But before we even begin talking about user experience professionals setting the tone and creating the overarching strategy for all those non-UX areas, I would venture a guess that there is still a lot we need to learn about what constitutes a successful business, the parameters within which it operates, and last but not least, its terminology. This guerilla movement within the UX community who are trying to replace 'user experience' with 'customer experience' are obviously not aware that the term 'customer experience' has already been coined and it is used frequently in the corporate world to describe a completely differently business concept.
2010 happens to be the 20th anniversary of Improving a Human-Computer Dialogue, the ACM paper by Jakob Neilsen and Rolf Molich that introduced the concept of employing a list of heuristics when assessing the usability of human-computer interfaces. Four years later, Jakob Nielsen made history again with his famous 1994 heuristics, which are heavily used in usability evaluations even today. In the past decade, additional lists of heuristics related to various aspects of typical UX methodologies have been compiled, yet Nielsen's original list continues to defy the usual laws of longevity that typically constrain the web world. Most likely, this has happened due to the generic nature of the 10 heuristics, which provide largely general statements and consequently, most usability problems can be easily molded to fit the items on Nielsen's list.
Early in my 10 year career as a UX professional, I've used Nielsen's 10 heuristics as the de-facto standard whenever I've performed usability evaluations. As time went by, I gradually went away from Nielsen's original list and I've gradually started employing additional heuristics that are less general and allow to clearly identify modern usability / user experience pitfalls of web-based systems. While the number of heuristics I typically use for an expert heuristics evaluation now stands north of 60 and because I believe that some of them are more relevant than others, I've decided to choose my own top 10 as an homage to Nielsen's timeless original list.
The term 'intrapreneur' is not a novelty in the business world. It's been around for 25 years and is defined by the American Heritage Dictionary as "a person within a large corporation who takes direct responsibility for turning an idea into a profitable finished product through assertive risk taking and innovation". The idea is gaining a lot of traction these days in the corporate world, with companies like Google and 3M allowing their employees to spend up to 20% of their time incubating their own side ideas. In government however, spending time on rethinking a process or product while working around bureaucracy is a notion that is typically frowned upon.
Governmental bureaucratic structures typically enforce compliance with rules and procedures and can kill new ideas because innovation often requires challenging the status quo or questioning long-held assumptions that may have worked well in the past. Furthermore, cultivating innovation is an evolutionary process and cannot be done overnight. Trial and error, experimentation without taking on undue risk, and adaptation to change should be concepts in the arsenal of every PS employee especially given the government's newly adopted PS renewal mantra. In this day and age, intrapreneurship seems to be the only cost-effective way governments can quickly replicate successful internal and external innovations, by adapting them to local contexts instead of always trying to reinvent the wheel.
Like most people who have chosen a career path as consultants on large projects, I've spent a lot of time in hotel rooms. Until recently, I shared an outlook on travel, loyalty programs and living on the road with George Clooney's character in 'Up In The Air'. Luckily, my job was a lot more interesting :O)
Spending years living out of a suitcase also meant that every other week, or in some cases every other night, I would sleep in a different hotel room. At the advice of a fellow UX professional, I've decided to write this post about my thoughts on the user experience of these rooms. I'm not an interior designer, so I know nothing about building codes and I will make no reference to Feng Shui. This post is about the business traveller and the little things that can be done to make the hotel stay experience much more enjoyable for people like me.
I typically flew out every week on Monday morning, went straight to work after I landed, put in an full day's work, and then finally made my way exhausted to the hotel. This means that by the time I was about to check it, it was nighttime about 99% of the time. I arrived in front of my hotel room door, keycard in one hand, luggage roller in the other. One of the most frustratings moments when checking into a room is not being able to immediately find the light swich beside the entrance door. I'm not picky in terms of which way the door opens, as long as on the inside of the wall, beside the lock, I can feel the light switch in the dark right away. Having the switch on the opposite side (which means I have to get my luggage inside, close the door, and then keep searching in the dark, is not an option. Neither are multiple light switches unintuitively budled somewhere inside the room, an even worse as it forces me to prop the door open with my luggage so I can find a light switch, any light switch, that I can turn on in order to orient myself through furniture maze of a room layout that I am not yet familiar with.
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