My Agile 2011 workshop – How to design stuff that matters, fast

That's me telling the best in the Agile world how to design fast!

If I had to sum up Agile 2011 in Salt Lake City, Utah in three words it would be, “Wow, wow, wow!” I was lucky enough to have been accepted to present, speak and run a 90 minute workshop at the 10 year anniversary of the signing of the Agile Manifesto.

Workshop attendees had to solve my design challenge in less than 90 minutes. The trick is, the actual challenge is not revealed till 5 minutes after the start of the workshop. With ‘surprise’ workshops like this it is vital for me to get participants to emotionally buy-in to the challenge from the very beginning in order to then successfully guide them rapidly through each step of my design ideation and creation techniques.

My workshops are very fast and furious. There is very little time to think. More importantly, though, there is, however, just enough time to be creative and make decisions in order to move on to the next creative ideation technique phase.

Here is are the workshop slides

My take on important factors when running a collaborative workshop where time is short and creativity needs to be high:

  1. Set the scene. Make it real and personal
    “New conference attendees who arrive in a foreign town away from home have limited knowledge about where to go and what they can do locally…”
  2. Surprise them. Issue the challenge and make sure it is interesting
    “Design a mobile app to help people new to Salt lake City & Utah explore all that the area has to offer from a ‘local’s’ perspective.”
  3. Let them know it can be done
    Show participants what each subsequent creative ideation technique phase is going to be. Give them an overview from start to finish. Giving them this visibility will help them understand what they need to complete to proceed to the next phase.
  4. Guide each step of the way
    I had to facilitate 6 teams in the workshop. Even though personal attention all of the time is not possible, I gave them hints and tips at each creative ideation technique phase on screen, then proceeded to walk round and act as a design ‘catalyst’; challenging ideas and creatively ‘nudging’ teams to help them move towards successfully completing each phase.
  5. Make it good not just OK
    Just because it is a 90-minute workshop where time is short does not mean the ideas need to be ‘below-par’. I always encourage participants to push their ideas harder and further. After all if you can’t do it when you are having fun (hopefully) when are you going to do it? Some participants are there to just observe and learn the techniques, which is great but I always make sure each teams knows they have to present back to each of the other teams. I find that introducing this low level of competition makes team members want to do a better job of their overall idea.
  6. Be passionate
    My workshop was a huge success and for me personally, I never tire of seeing how creative people and teams can be once they embrace and start sketching! I am so privileged and proud to have been allowed the opportunity to share the way I do things in the best possible way… by being infectious and work together with willing individuals to collectively create some thing from nothing in less than 90 minutes. I do this every day of my life. For me this way of agile creative ideation is part of my DNA and I hope has become part of all those who I have ever worked with.

Thank you to Darius Kumana, Darci Dutcher, Jeremy Sutherland, Anders Ramsay, Pat Kua, Martin Fowler and Jonathan Rasmusson as well as all other participants for making my day in Salt Lake City one of the best ever!


Experience design – a positive disruption

Observation allows one to be objective and offer a fresh and if need be, positive disruption.

We have our own unique ways of running workshops and facilitating ideas as an inception team and I as an inception (early business envisioning and feasibility) lead. BUT we must humble ourselves it we are to remain open and suggestive to ideas. A leader and a strong team need to also listen. We should not be afraid to embrace a challenge, listen to ‘outsider’ feedback and incorporate it as part of how we create.

6 up - 30 minutes for ideas on related content, sharing, market differentiation, cross navigation, other navigation and user generated contentYesterday, I had the opportunity to go in and ‘observe’ an XD workshop as part of an inception. If anything I wanted to see how another team collaborates creatively with a client to get that good stuff we need to create stories to estimate that allow us to create the holy grail of a release plan.

What I learnt:

  • Ignorance is bliss – I came in NOT knowing anything about the project (it is not a programme!). The team brought me up to speed on the essentials and I looked at the personas for starters. I had to learn fast BUT that element of ‘not knowing’, if used ‘right’ allows you to rely on assumptions based on past experiences, different to what the team has already experienced in the inception -  a fresh view
  • 2.5 weeks is a ‘long’ time if most of it is spent exploring and not nailing the essentials fast
  • Visibility is key – We need to make sure the Parking lot, Out-of-scope, In-scope, RAIDs are ALL VISIBLE and referred to all the time – these need to be up on the wall so the client can see it and so no wires are crossed. Use these spaces to move features in and out but aim to slow movement down before estimating asap
  • What a difference a day makes – from little to no new stories to a huge bunch by the end of the day – fantastic BUT existing stories need to mapped to these quickly, Gaps highlighted and ‘filled’ and estimated asap. The client writing stories was great but they need to be read out and clarified asap.
  • Help where you can be most useful – sketching, user flows, writing stories, questioning technical feasibility, generally offering a holistic view as an agile coach
  • I could be the bad guy – I could bring stuff up and challenge the status quo and stir things up a little. This is interesting as it allowed me to re-energise and bring back items that may have been thrown out earlier into a new light for re-consideration
  • Break up – Based on prior experience, working to a tight schedule, separate in-depth, focussed technical break out sessions went well. At some point techinical folk need to separate and nail the technical RAIDs in order to write new stories etc.
  • One design is good enough. Remember it is an ‘experiment’: a minimum delightful product. There are enough user flows mapped and enough sketches to start consolidating them into one now. Splitting the groups into 4 instead of 2 meant more exploration but there are many commonalities. Unique ideas can be prioritised and represented all into one layout now. Don’t be afraid to narrow it down and propose one idea quickly. You need this to write and map stories.
  • Show progress from one day to the next. Don’t just walk away after a hard days work and pick up from where you left it with the client when they left. User journeys made up of related stories was brilliant they will love that. It shows how we have consolidated a days learnings into a considered and useful new arefact. The same needs to happen quickly with all other aspects of XD and technical e.g. re-sketch screens and interactions to map to user flows leading quickly to an exercise to create one design and eventually wire frames and hopefully a rapid prototype to demonstrate a key our journey with many if not all main touch points

Grouping stories together to form a user journey - spot the gaps, write more stories!

A few last words…

Some clients, some are are still quite set in their ways. Often when a rigid brief is handed to you, personas, prior research, wire frames, ideas are brought in almost as ‘non-negotiables’. Some ideas have even been ruled out before they have even been usability tested or realised. Not easy to take, break and remould…

Perhaps bringing in a casual observer (who never really just observes), who can disrupt is something we should be doing at strategic parts of envisioning and delivery all the time?

ok it is 4am and have have ranted enough (back to bed). Thoughts?

Design Jam, London, November 20, 2010

I attended the very first ever Design Jam on Saturday, 20 November 2010. 10 teams were set a challenge and given 8 hours to produce a prototype each that solves the problem.  All my life I have been designing based on my creative skills and 6th sense of what it is a client really wants. With experience design maturing into a recognisable and successful practice this kind of ‘design’ session highlights gaps in the level of experience design being practised. It therefore also allows a bunch of enthusiastic designers, developers and artists to learn from each other in order to provide better service to their client and raise the profile of experience design.

With only 8 hours (plus a lunch break) there really wasn’t alot of time to mess about. Leisa Reichelt, in her blog, mentions some good tips on how to get quickly to iterating and forming a design in time short sessions like this. Here is a summary of those points from her blog:

  1. Spend less time choosing your idea and more time defining it. Specifically, what problem are you solving?
  2. Define your audience by understanding the important behavioural characteristics.
  3. Get sketching! Generate and evaluate lots of design solutions before you start wireframing
  4. A group is a resource and a liability (user your numbers, appoint a facilitator)
  5. Pitch clearly and persuasively
Here are am with our team "MindStorm" discussing our ideas with Leisa Reichelt

Here are am with our team "MindStorm" discussing our ideas with Leisa Reichelt

MindStorm - Sketching the ideas for paper prototyping

Here is the MindStorm App (my design!) being discussed - we were the only ones to get it this finished!

The MindStorm team:

Read more about the day here: