Thursday, 19 December 2013

Agile revisited

Last week's blog from the British Interactive Media Association was on the subject of Going Agile. It reports on a masterclass from Jo Wickremasinghe and Jim Bowes, one of an ongoing series of events from BIMA.

We've commented on Agile in the past. One difficult perception has been how to reconcile the inherent flexibility (which is a good thing) with budgetary planning and hitting deadlines. Jo Wickremasinghe noted that an agile approach has flexibility to cope with big changes that can (and usually do) derail waterfall projects. Change a major parameter and how would the project cope? This becomes especially crucial where a project has a long time scale. (Cue notes about big UK Govt and BBC IT projects.)

You can build mid-term re-assessment into long projects. The European Commission did this with large long-term research projects, even allowing changes of consortium partners. In iMedia terms though this is rather like trying to dam the waterfall part-way down. Having relatively short and clearly defined mini-projects (ie agile sprints) and having the flexibility to plan individual sprints almost as you go along, as circumstances and stakeholder minds change, has to be a better way.

It is easiest if the project can be divided into constituent parts that can be sprinted almost independently, in any order. If you can make features functionally independent then you can sprint them individually. I am about to start on a project like this and even though it's being scoped and checked by potential users we know that real users only come up with good suggestions when they start to use the 'completed' system. Taking an agile approach means features can be released along the timeline, giving more scope for changes.

Moving back to the BIMA presentations, one of Jim Bowes's slides shows a product vision board. With this you can elucidate the target market, what they need, what the product is and what is the value of doing it. He boils it down to one sentence: "As a user I can do this and I get that benefit". For example, "As a user I can find the latest digital camera reviews so I can choose the right one for me".

I recommend checking back to the BIMA blog occasionally, and maybe their events will make it useful for your company to join, especially if you're London-based.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Educating clients – worth every effort

Often your client's way of thinking is a world away from your development perspective on what is right for them under the circumstances.

Does this statement ring true for you? Winning projects and keeping clients happy are not easy. You are often pulling in different directions, either because you know the technology and what it is capable of, you know they can't afford what you could really give them, or you know how their customers relate to technology and the client isn't the listening type.

Maybe you should consider educating your clients regularly by a drip feed of soft training advice. This is best offered when you're actually not in the throws of a project as they can react badly to such advice then. They are, after all, the clients and paying you to produce what they want.

We came across a few bits of advice that are really worth passing on. Avara - internet marketing consultants - list their five top tips as:
  1. Be careful what you wish for, (really telling the client to think carefully before directing you, the developer, to do something.)
  2. You are not your customer, (sound advice to get the client focused).
  3. Never use the words like/dislike with feedback, (difficult to grasp without the explanation but very compelling so take a look. They suggest substituting, 'that doesn’t work because...').
  4. There's usually a good reason, (this encourages clients to trust your experience before they comment).
  5. What do you want your website to do? (tips on how to get clients to give you clear statements of what they want by agreeing what they wouldn’t want).
How and when to get your soft training messages across might be the subject of some debate. Avara does it on their website. But perhaps you could offer to send through a bi-monthly short article link for your clients, written by you and of interest to you both. This might be a solution. (Or you could direct them to suitable posts in this blog perhaps.) You know your clients and you'll know what is right. The strategy might vary for different clients, but it will be worth it to save some of the differences of perspective that always lead to debate/hassle in projects.

Top marks to Avara for analysing the prime issues they have found problematic with clients and for translating these into a credible, non-threatening set of tips. Their 'related news, views and advice' are worth noting too.

How do you educate your clients?