Monday Apr 06, 2009

Sun VDI 3 UX Story - Concept Workshops

About a year ago I joined the Desktop Virtualization team at Sun as an User Experience Architect. I knew Sun already from my previous job on OpenOffice.org/StarOffice, and also a few of my new team mates which gave me a kick-start. But the area of desktop virtualization was completely new to me. So you can read this as an experiment how to dive into a new domain with just some user experience methods and team collaboration tools in your back pocket.

One of the tools is the concept workshop. It is a meeting that takes at least half a day and that can also be conducted over several days. It involves all engineers of a specific area, and as far as the user interface or general concepts are concerned also my participation. The dynamics is hard to explain, but we start with a topic and distributed expectations and knowledge and end with a common understanding of what we want to accomplish and how to get there. A moderated pace and lots of space on multiple whiteboards are important aspects for successful workshops. As shared knowledge is very transient in nature, we capture the results by taking photos of the whiteboards and transforming the important aspects into diagrams, concept maps, or white papers. They are stored on the team wiki or in internal blogs, so that everybody can refer to the results and add the latest twists.

Here is one of my favorites examples to give you an idea. It covers the cluster install process of Sun VDI 3 on at least 3 servers. And because it did not fit on one whiteboard the image below is a stitched version.

The outcome of the initial workshop in May 2008 was an object model for Sun VDI (users, user groups, token cards, pools, desktops, desktop providers, ...), actions on those objects (create, add, assign, login, ...) and task flows or scenarios (sequences of actions to accomplish certain goals). Together with some estimations on the expected number of objects in the system this was the raw material to start designing the user interface.

Another benefit of concept workshops should also be mentioned. Especially during the early stage of a project, workshops help to define a project language for the team. Furthermore, different mental wave lengths are adjusted and the people are enabled to work together -- even remotely. This matters in an international team such as the VDI team with engineers from Ireland, Spain, Mexico, France, and Germany at two main sites. The extended team also includes people from India, the US, and Canada.

>> VDI UX Story: Part 2: User Research | Part 3: Power of the Web

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