Category Archives: User Experience

Build products that take the guilt away from the users

From time immemorial there have been products (discourses, books, tools – whatever) simply devoted to tackle these seemingly simple blockers embedded in human lifestyle:

  • Procrastination
  • Expense Management
  • Stress

The problem with most of the products is that they put the guilt of not being able to be perfect in the first few hours or days on you. You get an impression that the things you are trying to achieve are Utopian in nature  or you do not have it in you to address these needs and you drop-off within no time. I found three products, which empathized with the users and their problems, taking the guilt away from the users.

anyAny.Do for Procrastination: Things we procrastinate are things which we would want to do it in near term future but like the proverbial golden deer, we never seem to catch-up. Perhaps you want to take a dental checkup in the near future and want to take a trek to the Himalayas some day. What I found really good about AnyDo is it allows you to categorize tasks you want to do into “Someday” and “Upcoming” apart from the usual “Today” and “Tomorrow”. That’s a nice shift from “To-do” list to “any do” list.

Spendee to manage expenses: Most often, although we spend, we have serious problems spendee-mastheadmanaging expenses because we struggle to do things seemingly simple – like categorizing an expense and recording the expense as it happens. Perhaps we need an AnyDo to ask us to fill Spendee. Also, most people have 95% of the transactions which are expenses, so most transactions can be categorized as expenses by default. Spendee does most of the things right – makes recording of expenses a pain-free process interaction-wise by not asking you too many things to fill in – it is so easy that you can fill-in a transaction in the same time the cashier swipes your credit card.

headspaceStress management by Headspace: The stress management programs usually are elaborate time-wise and most often repeat ad-nauseam to get your mind under your control. Most of us cannot start bringing the mind that has been wandering off for years now to control and assume that it is beyond control. The mobile app Headspace has taken a “Lean” approach to the whole idea of meditation. The first course is just for 10 days and for just 10 minutes each day. The beauty of the course is that, the initial days at the end of the day’s 10-minute session the instructor makes it clear that if your mind has wandered off, it is fine and normal – so much reassuring to hear. The step-up from one day to the next is very smooth.

These three services/apps have done something that takes them to the next level: taking the guilt out of the user.

Key takeaways:

  • Old problems need complete solutions even if people have tried since ages to solve and perhaps only partially achieved them
  • There is emotion beyond the design and function of any product; sometimes it could be that new technologies enables you to satisfy that emotional need quicker – but there is always an unmet need. One idea is “take the guilt away from the users” – don’t make them feel like they are dumb.

Case Study: The Waterproof Umbrella

This one is a old story. This happened somewhere, sometime in late 1950s.

Case Study: Waterproof Umbrella

Case Study

AB Corporation is among the leading manufacturer of Umbrellas. They manufacture a range of umbrellas that protect users from rain and blazing sunlight. Competition is heating up as there are many new entrants in the industry and AB corp is facing stiff competition ahead of the monsoon season. The Product Manager of monsoon umbrella proposes new range of attractive umbrellas to increase market share and profitability. Idea is to shred away old type dull looking umbrellas and introduce colorful and stylish umbrellas that just don’t protect from rain but also becomes a style quotient in this monsoon.

So the Product Manager calls for a  brainstorming session with research and development team and puts forward the proposal of launching a new  range of designer umbrellas for this monsoon. He shares following specification with the team;

Key attributes of the umbrella were envisage as:

  1. Weight: 30% lighter than the existing umbrella series.
  2. Cloth color: 6 colors, blue, yellow, white, black, red and green.
  3. Cloth material: 40% Transparent
  4. Tube: silver color, non-corrosive coating
  5. Rib: fiber
  6. Top end: lesser than 2 inch with protected ferrule
  7. Handle: straight (not like hockey stick) with soft leather cover

….other attributes remains as they are today.

Research team found the idea worthwhile and started working on new assignment with various ideas and one fine day invited Product Manager to have look at their new offering. On the day of first demo, Product Manager took this invention in his hand for the first time, it was lighter than what he had planned for and it was looking stunning in those bright colors. A dream come true indeed. That evening Product Manager decides to take one umbrella back home, use it for few days and even show to shppowners in nearby locality to seek their opinion.

Next day morning on his way to office, Product Manager gets first opportunity to use his new umbrella. It started drizzling and our man opened his umbrella and started walking with pride. In no time rain was at its peak and he felt like hero, but only for few minutes. Soon, water started seeping, water cracked through the cloth and starting falling on product manager. No this definitely was not kool. He ran through his way all the way till office, straight into the R&D office. Wet and upset, he started talking to team in an assertive manner, sharing his morning experience. “What a crap have you developed? this could not withstand a normal rain for more than few minutes. How do I sell this?”. The team though was puzzled, they were surprise to see our man in such a mood. “Oh well, we thought you liked the Umbrella. But this one is not a waterproof umbrella. Why did you use this in rain?”. Now that took product manager by surprise, “What do you mean, an Umbrella is supposed to be used when it rains.” The argument continued till Product Manager realized what had happened.

Research team’s understanding was that the new umbrella would be used for protection / shielding against sun light. That’s how it has been traditionally. They had never designed anything other than black umbrellas for rain. To make the matter worse, product manager in his specs never mentioned that the cloth used should be waterproof, specs just mentioned about color and transparency.

Today, at fag end of 2013 we still end up meeting such “Out of Context engineers” who would go on developing anything without learning about domain and market. While a Product Manager may try and detail as  much as he can but the question is more about engineers with very low level of involvement in their work. They are brilliant and once specifications are delivered they would deliver what is asked as mentioned in the document. Now why would an engineer limit his thinking or design to what is mentioned in a document? Why do they miss on something that is so obvious and expected? The out of context engineers often end-up creating such horror stories. Escape route is always very easy: it was not covered in the specifications.

Mitigation

While the engineers would work as they work, what best a Product Manager can do to avoid unplanned bath on road is to set the expectations clearly. Be sure of what you have communicated and be sure that you do routine checks and verification with research team as they work and not at the fag end. There is always too much detailing to do but they are necessary, do not take things for granted, mention all expectations and specifications. A little extra effort may save the day for you, and of-course a pair of clothes as well.

@mathurabhay

3 Key Personality Enhancements from Agile

All over the world, Agile methodologies are changing the ways of working and are leading to faster value realization for both the businesses and customers. The value that Agile methodologies are bringing is evident from the fast paced and the high volume of companies and organizations adopting Agile.

Scrum-personalImpr

However, the angle that we are looking at here are the personality improvements that individuals get from being in an Agile team. These are traits that team members get from working in a self organized Scrum team and will be an asset for life. These traits are visible across most flavours of Agile, but we shall stick to Scrum for the moment.

Small steps with feedback: Scrum advocates frequent small releases to market with valuable content rather than one big release at the end of the project. This way, each time a small release is made, feedback is obtained and is ploughed back into the product to make it better. Scrum teaches you to take small steps towards the goal, not relying on one big jump at a later point of time. Scrum understands that planning is important, but it is more important to get moving. Similarly, with each personal goal, it is good to identify the goal, break it down into smaller parts, implement them one at a time, observe the results and fine tune or change the goal as needed. Many times, the personal goals and resolutions need constant reminding and by making frequent small changes, you are not only keeping the goal alive, you are also taking steady steps towards the final goal. As Ralph Waldo Emerson puts it “An ounce of action is worth a ton of theory”

Effective Improved Communication: Scrum puts power into your hands as a team member. To exercise this power, you have to talk and express yourself in planning and estimation sessions, make your voice heard in daily stand-up meetings and voice your opinions in Retrospectives. Scrum’s rituals are all about being heard without being dominant. Initially, it might be hard for some team members to lose their inhibition, but Scrum’s daily stand-ups, planning meetings and retrospectives urge each one to open up and participate. In a positive way, team members are forced to open up in a trusted team environment and over time, this gives confidence to individuals to be more expressive in bigger groups and forums. Voila, Scrum has made you a better public speaker.

See the other person’s perspective: A team composition in Scrum consists of subject matter experts (SMEs) in Development, Testing, etc. As they plan together and work together Sprint after Sprint, they orient themselves towards the Sprint goal each time. With this, once a person is done with his/her task, he/she is now looking to pick up and contribute towards any other task that needs to be completed to meet the Sprint goal. The team member is picking up new cross functional skills and looking at things in a new perspective along with contributing towards the Sprint goal. Development and testing silos are broken and the team becomes self organized. Each person is able to understand and appreciate the other’s views and experience.
This experience teaches us to think more broadly when we face a situation in life where instead of criticizing a person who holds a different perspective, we try to put ourselves in his/her shoes and think from their perspective. Though this is no rocket science, the experience from working in an Agile cross functional team allows us to pause and listen to a perspective that could be valid and totally different.

Do let us know how your personality has gained by working in an Agile environment.