Sunday Apr 26, 2015

Book Review with a Real-World Application from a Master | Keeping It Simple, SaaSy

By Floyd Teter, Director, Strategy Group, Oracle Higher Education Practice at Sierra-Cedar, Inc., and guest contributor

Floyd Teter (@fteter), Oracle ACE Director, Oracle Applications User Experience Speaker, ORCLville blogger, and main man behind ”simple is the new cool” shares his thoughts on a book about Lean UX.

A few months back, I received an interesting request from my Oracle Applications User Experience sensei, Ultan O’Broin (Mr. @usableapps). Ultan asked me to read and share opinions on the book Lean UX: Applying Lean Principles to Improve User Experience (Jeff Gothelf with Josh Seiden). I read a few reviews myself and got excited about what Gothelf was trying to do: build a framework for applying Lean principles to user experience (UX) design. I agreed to give it a go.

Lean UX: Applying Lean Principle to Improve User Experience on Amazon

Lean UX: Applying Lean Principles to Improve User Experience by Jeff Gothelf with Josh Seiden

First, let’s be a bit more specific about the book. The intent is not just to apply broad Lean or Agile principles (Gothelf references both, sometimes interchangeably); the real intent is to apply the Scrum methodology to UX. It’s no secret that I’m a bit of a fan and heavily engaged with both Scrum and UX, so I was excited to dive in.

The meat of the book is divided into three sections: Introduction and Principles, Process, and Making It Work. Each section contains multiple chapters.

In the first section, Gothelf lays out the argument for Lean UX: internet-based software distribution, lower barriers to market entry, continuous integration, agile software development, continuous deployment—all activities that put pressure on teams to shorten cycles to release product early and often, critical to meeting the faster innovation cycles in the SaaS and PaaS world.

Gothelf proposes Lean UX as a deeply collaborative and cross-functional method that enables teams to build a shared understanding about UX design by focusing on objective goals rather than being distracted by deliverables and documents. Having presented this argument, Gothelf then discusses the three foundations of Lean UX: design thinking, agile software development, and the Lean Startup method of build-measure-learn feedback loops, originally founded by Eric Ries.

Design thinking, as defined by design firm IDEO CEO and president Tim Brown, is “innovation powered by . . . direct observation of what people want and need in their lives and what they like or dislike about the way particular products are made, packaged, marketed, sold and supported . . . a discipline that uses the designer’s sensibility and methods to match people’s needs with what is technologically feasible and what a viable business strategy can convert into customer value and market opportunity.” That’s a real mouthful, but it comes down to designing elegant and simple solutions that people will want to use.

Gothelf defines Agile methods by reviewing the Agile core values and utilizing Scrum to apply these core values. This is not new, but it was good to see Gothelf sign up for using Scrum in UX design. Makes sense.

Finally, Gothelf promotes build-measure-feedback loops. I’m still mostly onboard here, although my preferred viewpoint is a build-observe-learn approach (with observe being mostly watching and listening).

Throughout Part I, which is really a discussion of principles and theory, I’m thinking Gothelf could be my twin brother from a different mother. We’re both singing off the same sheet of music. Part II does seem to be more of a “difficult second album” though.

In Part II, Gothelf applies the principles discussed in Part I, a journey where the metaphorical wheels begin to come off the tour bus. Lean UX relies heavily on written deliverables and formal structure for starting up a UX design effort:

  • A hypothesis statement, with assumptions, hypotheses, outcomes, personas, and features 
  • A problem statement, with product and/or system goals, problem description, and a description of an explicit request for improvement that doesn’t dictate a specific solution 
  • A business assumptions worksheet, including prioritized assumptions 
  • A recommendation for written subhypotheses 
  • A written declaration of metrics to be used along with current state of each metric 
  • A written list of features matched to groups of user personas 

After we’re done with writing (he comments “finally!”), Gothelf proceeds to lay out some pretty formal structure for design studio sessions, including time-boxing presentation and critique, iteration and refinement, and team idea generation. Gothelf also argues for creating a style guide prior to design (as opposed to building concurrently as you progress and learn).

This is the point where Lean UX stopped making complete sense in my world. Agile and Scrum make a point of minimizing written deliverables, especially anything that might be a barrier to getting started with the actual design and build work; the idea being the sooner you get into feedback loops, the quicker you’ll deliver a product of outstanding quality. Gothelf acknowledges this in Part I, yet his recommended process is based on the opposite. Gothelf continues with the formality and structure throughout Parts II and III.

I’m now hard-wired against formality in development; software development cycles in the cloud almost demand that. Partners and developers need to create real solutions fast—formality presents the risk of getting wrapped up in management processes that distract from the essential tasks required to design, innovate and build rapidly.

A final point of contention for me comes with how feedback loops are addressed. These loops are mentioned a founding principle of Lean UX in Part I, yet there is almost no discussion of how to leverage their value (by observing and learning). How do you elicit feedback? How is feedback filtered for relevance and priority? What techniques are used to assure the user that he/she was heard . . . which, in turn, elicits even more feedback. Discussion? Tips? Techniques? Zip. Zero. Bupkis. Notta. Nothing.

My own applied techniques? I suggest following the discover-design-deploy approach on the Oracle UX Direct website.

Discover-Design-Deploy from Oracle UX Direct

Discover-design-deploy approach from UX Direct

Begin by recording the required features on Scrum story cards, cutting to the essence of what’s important from your discovery stage. I’d then follow the Scrum process for estimating and prioritizing features prior to starting the first design sprint. Now, I’ve tried lots of virtual Scrum boards for geographically-dispersed project teams to keep track of everything, but Trello remains a favorite. Sprint productivity can be further accelerated by use of UX design patterns and guidelines so that developers can focus in on technical areas.

Trello

Trello virtual Scrum board

In summary: The book presents great conceptual ideas, but the approach and implementation didn’t rock my world of delivering on enterprise applications UX today. It left me hoping for more.

My point of view would be to stay away from structural overheads and formality, and stay truer to Agile concepts. I’d recommend a mix tape The Elements of Scrum (Chris Sims and Hillary Louise Johnson) and the simple discover-design, and deploy approach to UX on the Usable Apps website.

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You’ll quickly build simple, elegant solutions.

Read more Floyd Teter insights on ORCLVille.

Thursday Dec 19, 2013

Oracle Social Network: Collaboration and Productivity Enabled with Oracle Cloud Services

Julien Laforêt (@julienlaforet), Procurement and Financials Sales Consultant, Oracle Social Network Business Leader, and User Experience Sales Ambassador, tells us why social network integration with enterprise applications is revolutionizing business communications and how Oracle customers and partners can collaborate efficiently using Oracle Social Network Cloud Service.

Millions of people (about one in seven worldwide) today are connecting using social media. The world of business has joined the trend and is now taking advantage of these same collaborative technologies. Enterprises now use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social media applications externally to share knowledge about their products and services; to create user or customer communities; to communicate about events; to inform the market of product offerings; to respond to customer requests and issues; to find opportunities, influencers, new employees; and much more...

But what about social collaboration inside the enterprise?

Prior to the advent of social media, enterprises have been limited to email and meetings as a means of collaboration—tools that some have found are not always the most efficient means of communication. Take for instance this YouTube video that shows an actual collaboration business case that an enterprise “managed” using email. I had to laugh at the complexity and frustration that resulted! But such inefficiency—an email tree that involved 61 exchanges to arrive at a single decision—is no laughing matter for businesses whose priority is to increase productivity.

More and more companies are exploring enterprise social networks as an alternative and more productive means of collaboration. And the enterprise applications market is responding to this interest by delivering modern technology solutions that users are already familiar with from the consumer world.

But to bring about a return on investment, when we talk collaboration inside the enterprise, we must link it to enterprise requirements and goals. That means not just connecting people in the enterprise, but also connecting them in a secure environment with all of their business transactions, data objects, and daily tasks. For example, we might use social media to enable collaboration when working to resolve invoice discrepancies that require justifications, when negotiating or awarding contracts, when collecting information on suppliers, or when involving multiple stakeholders at different levels of authority or expertise in an approval process or transactions of common interest.

Oracle Cloud Services recognizes the value of social networking collaboration applications in the enterprise environment and has introduced Oracle Social Network—a powerful, yet intuitive application. Whether your employees use Oracle Human Capital Management, Sales, Marketing, Financials, Procurement, Projects, or other applications, Oracle Social Network provides a means of collaboration that seamlessly integrates business task flows and objects.

Oracle Social Network also provides users with the flexibility to match their preferred way of working: they can collaborate from anywhere at any time and on any device—from tablet to smart phone—using any modern web browser, or Microsoft Outlook. The result is optimal business efficiency through employee participation, sharing, and streamlined communication around tasks and objects.

Collaboration in action with Oracle Social Network: auction creation

In this example, we see how, directly from an auction, a buyer, Calvin Roth, has started a conversation so that the key stakeholders can review the contract terms and propose any amendments. See how Roger Bolton, responsible for final execution of the contract, is kept informed centrally, while other employees without access to the auction itself can still see important information about it and can collaborate on establishing a new contract template.

Shared auction in Oracle Social Network

Auction collaboration in Oracle Social Network.

Stakeholders securely collaborate on the auction document using Oracle Social Network

Stakeholders securely collaborate on the auction document using Oracle Social Network.

Directly in the document, employees can collaborate on and annotate any part of the document with their review comments:

Annotating a document with review comments.

Annotating a document with review comments. Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Adobe PDF, and so on formats can be attached to the conversation.

The document remains attached to the auction using an Oracle Social Network conversation, which conversation members can access securely and contribute to at any time. The beauty of Oracle Social Network is if newcomers are added as contributors to the conversation, they will see all the historical conversations and work already completed by their peers.

And your company? 

Think about how your company might manage this kind of negotiation today. Visualize the number of email exchanges, the effort required to orient everyone involved in the process, and the challenges of tracking transaction progress and history.

If thinking about that makes you feel anxious about lost productivity today, then imagine how frustrated you will feel tomorrow, learning that your competitors are using collaboration tools to effectively link their employees, transactions, and business data in one seamless, productive user experience!

But don’t lose heart. Oracle Social Network Cloud Services provides a solution that enables collaboration inside your company. So those using this application can sleep better tonight knowing that their businesses are communicating efficiently—bringing the right people together to collaborate on tasks and to provide the right answers at the right time.☺

Julien is one of our latest User Experience Sales Ambassadors. You can find out more about the SAMBA program on the Oracle Applications Blog

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