Incorporating Usability

In my quest to incorporate usability into our Scrum model in an agile way, I came across this article on Agile Usability.

It advocates drawing the design on paper to hammer out the big concepts, and running a heuristic analysis with several usability experts to uncover any major design flaws. The designer and developer then pair program to create the interface. Once a prototype is created, perform small scale usability testing. The requirements can then be adjusted. It also points out that Usability experts can help break down the items on the product backlog.

For us, the concept of having usability break down the product backlog is something we are already starting to do, and definitely something I want to continue. The idea of having our designer pair program with a developer to create a design is interesting. I wonder how he’d feel without Photoshop?? The rest of the cycle makes pretty good sense, isn’t that far from what we did this Sprint and seems like a good way to play once the team is all in London (until then, if we can’t be perfectly agile, I’m happy to live with it!)

I’m still researching, but this one was worth highlighting.

Launch48, round 2. This time, it’s different.

This time, I know what to expect. I’m not pitching. I’m not project managing. I’m coding, and this time, I want to finish something.

Friday Evening

I’m stuck in traffic on the Putney Bridge, while somewhere in the depths of Kingston University, Ian is tutting and wondering why I haven’t arrived yet. Hours later, it seems, I nearly give up after wandering the empty halls fruitlessly trying to find a group of would-be entrepreneurs. Finally, a couple of lecturers point me in the direction of voices and I breathe a sigh of relief that I have just about managed to catch the last of the pitches.

None of the ideas scream out to me, but some spark an interest: a diet and exercise website, a specialist food store building on the Tesco API, and fashion website Look Book.

Second round: Joe jumps up to present mobile spy game Espionage, which is one of the winners alongside Look Book and group travel planning site Trips Together. He’s energetic and fun, and despite not being a gamer I am drawn to work with his team. We’re going to allow people to create secret agencies with their friends, and score hits for targeting their enemies. Good old passive aggressive fun.

Our team includes developer Michael, designer Bruno and front-end developer Richard as well as the usual marketing and business junkies – in this case: Joe, James, Jonny and Nick. We have a good mix of skills, and to my delight the team are in eager agreement to keep things small and simple.

We discuss technologies, and Joe’s eyes glaze over slightly, but he’s excited that we have something resembling a plan.

I go home inspired, and spend a few hours tinkering with Appcelerator and PhoneGap to get a basic Android application running. It’s way past bedtime, but sleep seems far away as the ideas keep flittering through my head … need … to … code …

Saturday morning

Junk food, it seems, is the theme for today: our team have a stack of chocolate biscuits and Haribo which Trips Together put to shame with their crisp mountain.

My first task for Saturday morning is to get the map up and running, but despite being from the same company, Google maps doesn’t want to run on the Android emulator. iOS seems happier with it, so I switch to iPhone, and by the time the first board meeting comes around I’m happily in the zone. I skip the opportunity to be distracted and hounded by the mean mentors (no offence, Ian) and remain at my laptop.

By lunchtime on Saturday, I have a working map with some fake friendlies and enemies appearing on it, and I can tap a target to make a hit. Bruno is producing slick designs and Richard is working on the styling. It’s like a dream come true, all I need to do is the fun stuff of making it work, and they make it look amazing.

Mentors stop by occasionally, I ignore them. I’m not here to start a business, I want to hack something together and I’m loving this team atmosphere.

By mid-afternoon, we’re in a position to pick a few features to focus on for Sunday. The app is working but isn’t very inspiring, so we decide to make improvements to the game play, including a revolving target area on the map.

I go back to my laptop and realise I have no idea how to calculate points on a circle, a quick google search reveals it involves some kind of trigonometry … I dredge my mind to recall lessons from secondary school maths, but it’s too deeply buried. Thank God for the interwebs though: I find that somebody has already done it and we’re moving forward again.

One topic for the second board meeting is technical strategy, so I reluctantly tag along. I should have known better: this is of course the point where the mentors flex their muscle, and we are no exception. Angry Bird Julien Fourgeaud questions why we have chosen the technically difficult route of creating a location based app rather than a website, and lectures us on building a decent user base.

I’m not too concerned since the app is built using web technologies anyway, but Julien is on a roll and declares that with the Rovio user base, he could easily take us out. Joe stands his ground, that could be true of any start up.

I’m mildly disappointed that I don’t even get a chance to talk about the technical architecture: Ian brushes this aside as he’s seen our app running, so we limp back to the team area. Feeling slightly battered and randomized, the team fall into debate over the game purpose and name while Bruno, Richard and I work on tidying up the game play and user interface.

Tired and growing irritiable from overdosing on sugar, we began to tail off around eight o’clock. I spent the evening playing with Ruby on Rails and Heroku, trying to build a simple back end for the app.

Sunday

Sunday morning, I threw myself out of bed with the consolation that Monday was a day off work, and therefore, a lie-in. Launch 48 is truly exhausting if you give it your all, but it is only one weekend, and it didn’t take long to shake off the tiredness and start planning for the day.

We arrived to find Joe grinning and acting mysteriously. He declared that he’d cracked it, and it was amazing, and he would tell us everything shortly, but first we had to write down why we decided to join his team. I debated what to write, finally deciding on, “Passionate and energetic pitch, it sounded like it would be fun”.

Turns out the great idea was a strapline and mantra: Spontaneous Disruptive Gaming.

For the presentation, he said, we’ll go in there and tell them we don’t have a business plan, we don’t need one. We’re about fun and spontaneity, we’re being disruptive! It was a good way to avoid spending all day working on boring stuff, and I was intrigued to see what the mentors would make of it. After all, this is really a weekend people choose to attend, if we don’t produce a business plan, so what?

The day progresses and the code progresses. I’m having a lovely time. In the early afternoon, we have real users and Joe, James and Nick see the app working for the first time in a mobile browser. They are delighted, which in turn lifts the energy even further. We’re on fire!

With nearly three hours to go, a simple working app and lots of ideas, I hand Joe and James a pile of stickies with features on to prioritise. Joe immediately ditches over half of them, leaving us with a few tweaks that look pretty achievable within the time, including an array of guns with different ranges.

So the app is slowly coming together, but with no business plan to prepare, the group is meandering a bit. Where’s our facebook group, I demand, our twitter account, our domain name? They shift up a gear, and I bury myself in my laptop again.

The afternoon flies by and suddenly we’re being rounded up for the presentation. Typically, I break the app trying to adjust the web page in the last few minutes before the presentation, which I haven’t even seen until I’m standing at the front of the room, craning my neck to see the slides. It was slick and well put together, although I am hoping for a bit more attitude and disruption. I think that I would definitely have liked to see the boys in suits and shades or something. ;)

The demo is a bit rocky, and I make a quick fix during the mentor’s questions, but there is no denying that what we’ve achieved within two days is impressive and looking pretty damn good.

Finally the reason for writing down why we joined became clear when James reads all of our slips of paper out to the group: every single person had thought it sounded fun. We don’t have a plan for the future, but we’ve had a damn good time.

The other teams present: Trips Together still looks hopelessly ambitious to me as a project, but Look Book have a working website with commission based links and of all the teams, I think this is the one that may actually go far with it.

In our case, we’ve been in it for the fun, it’s been amazing, but I’m done, and I achieved my objective. I have no desire to be part of a game start up; it doesn’t fit in with my nomadic lifestyle. All I want now is a nice glass of wine and to go home and collapse.

But something’s not right: I go home but I can’t put my laptop down, I’m proud of it and I don’t want to let it go. I try to get the facebook integration working, when that becomes impossible I lose myself writing a blog post. I wonder to myself how I will think back on this weekend in a week, a month, a year; will it change my trajectory?

Monday is spontaneous and disruptive: maybe it’s not over after all. Over the following week, the six remaining team members (Joe, James, Bruno, Richard, Nick and I) exchange over a hundred emails, grab a domain name and a basecamp project, and make plans for another hack weekend. Apparently there’s still a lot of excitement and energy.

It may never become anything, but whatever happens … it’s definitely, definitely been fun.

The “finished” app: Espionage!
The in progress website: Espionage GPS
We did finally get a Twitter account