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How to make a 2-week Agile sprint

One of the hardest parts of Agile development, but also one of the most powerful and rewarding, is figuring out how to make the process work for the team you’re part of.  Even though the guidelines are clear, there is simply no “one size fits all” approach when it comes to Agile.

We as Product Owners need to loosen up a little when it comes to pre-determined process, and work with our development teams to design an Agile process that works for everyone involved.  With this in mind, developer @darb and I evolved the following sprint guidelines for one of the applications we are responsible for here at Yola.

The ingredients of a good sprint

Every two weeks we sit down and discuss the next sprint, and we make sure the following ingredients are included:
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GeekDinner Presentation: The highs and horrors of website redesigns

Last night I attended my first Cape Town GeekDinner, and I have to say that I will definitely be back next time.  Good food, good wine (thanks Delheim!), great atmosphere and discussions, and a few 10-minute geeky talks sprinkled in between… yes, this is an idea I can get behind.

I also got to do a short talk on 5 things I’ve learned about website redesigns from being involved in various projects at eBay and Yola.com.  The slides are posted below.  As I mentioned in my talk — since you can’t say a whole lot in 10 minutes, I went with breadth over depth here.  There are obviously a lot more that goes into redesign projects (and yes, I know Content Strategy is about more than not using Lorem Ipsum in your designs…).  But these are a some things I’ve learned going through the process a few times:

There is no excuse for confusing site navigation

I am moving countries with my family in 3 weeks, so I have been doing a lot of account canceling over the past week or so.  For the most part, it’s a pretty smooth process.  But that changed when I encountered the labyrinth that is the Microsoft Billing department. Describing how I was eventually able to cancel my Xbox Live account would take way too long, so let me just focus on one part of the experience that is indicative of a company stuck in late 90s Information Architecture.

In order to get to my payment options for Xbox, I have to follow this sequence:

  1. Go to www.xbox.xom
  2. Click on “Marketplace” at the top (this automatically shows the “Xbox LIVE” link in the second tier navigation as selected)
  3. Hover over “My account”
  4. Click on “Manage payment options”

Here is the screen with the major areas called out:

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On Google Buzz, online privacy, and where we go from here.

Google Buzz is really messing with my brain.  All my other social media activities fit nicely along the private-public continuum we all have to juggle.  But Buzz feels like an invasion of my personal space.  By infiltrating the most private of online communications (email), it’s also daring me to move that privacy line a little bit, and let people in on conversations that they really have no business in being a part of.  One of the few positive reviews I’ve read about Buzz so far is this tweet by my friend G-J:

Good point, but Tweetie for the iPhone already threads Twitter conversations, and I use Twitter lists to keep up with people in my closer network.  So I’m just not sure what to do with it, and that makes my brain hurt.
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The problem with Twitter’s official Retweet feature

Something’s been bothering me about Twitter’s version of the Retweet.  A lot has been said about the pros and cons of the feature, but here’s my main problem with it:

You can’t easily see when you’ve been retweeted, and by who.

Twitter Retweets don’t show up in your stream as @ Mentions, so the only way to see when you’ve been retweeted, and by who, is by going to Twitter.com, clicking on “Retweets” in the right nav, and then clicking on the “Your tweets, retweeted” tab.  That’s just too many clicks.  Some iPhone apps like Echofon and Tweetie support the Twitter Retweet, but they don’t show you who retweeted you.

The problem with this is that it reduces Twitter’s sense of community.  I often like communicating with those who retweet me, and this takes away that ability (unless you go through a lot of work on Twitter.com).

There are, of course, other issues with the Twitter Retweet function, like:

  • No ability to add your own comments (but this is what the “/via @” syntax is for, so that’s probably ok)
  • Diluting the value of retweets because some people use Twitter’s Retweet feature, and others use the traditional “RT @” syntax
  • Weird and confusing syntax when someone uses Twitter’s Retweet function to retweet a “RT @” tweet.
  • Tweetdeck, Echofon, Tweetie… they all handle Twitter Retweets differently, so it makes for a confusing UI.  For example, if I want to unfollow someone who Retweeted something, I can’t do that from within the tweet-level functions in Tweetdeck.

This might sound like I’m nitpicking, but it’s not my intention.  I applaud Twitter’s initiative to embrace the Retweet function.  And I think ever since Doug Bowman joined the Twitter design team, they have made Twitter.com a lot more useful with some great features.

But I do think this Retweet thing isn’t quite working yet.  I think having Twitter Retweets show up in your @ Mentions would solve a big part of this issue.  So, Doug – can you make that happen please!?

6 tips for better collaboration among distributed teams

I recently realized that you don’t hear the word “globalization” all that often any more.  And I think it’s because globalization has moved from being a buzz word to a reality that is just part of the way we do business now, making it unnecessary to give it a fancy name.  As we become more comfortable with managing companies and projects across multiple locations, it’s easy to assume that geography does not matter any more.  And certainly the technology is there to support the around-the-clock collaboration that is so valuable when you work across time zones.  With cloud computing now a reality, and plenty of collaboration applications to choose from, working together has never been more efficient.

But I believe geography does still matter, and can result in decreased efficiency if not managed correctly.  The difficulty with working across multiple locations is not technology limitations, it’s human nature.  We tend to not trust what we can’t see, and that’s a problem if developers, product managers, and marketing folks sit in different offices and different time zones.  Once different work philosophies come out and you’re not able to talk about it, things can escalate out of control and make for really bad relationships if conversations happen intra-office but not inter-office.

This is not an insurmountable problem though.  Here are some things I believe can help distributed teams run smoothly.  Please also add your tips and ideas in the comments section!

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It’s 2010. Isn’t it time to start demanding good user experience design?

I should probably get up, walk around, and have a cup of coffee before I write this post.  Or maybe a little righteous anger over something small is good for the soul?  I’ll go with the latter…  I recently ordered a 2010 calender from Runner’s World.  A few days ago I received the calendar, along with the invoice.  Their payment is handled through a company called Rodale.  I just went to pay my invoice at www.rodalequickpay.com, and the experience left me frustrated, and incidentally still in debt to Runner’s World.

I know this shouldn’t bother me that much, but let me walk you through the experience, and then make a couple of observations.
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4 design lessons we can learn from U2 concerts

If you’re a designer (or just into good design) and a music fan, I’d like to recommend the book U2 Show. The book is about how the various U2 tours were designed — from Boy all the way through Elevation. It explains the countless hours that go into stage design, lighting design, sound & speaker stack design, and a whole bunch of other areas (and it has some great photos too). I really enjoyed the window this book provides into what goes into the design of a large rock concert, and it showed me again that basic principles of good design translate to all media forms.

Here are some things I believe the design community can learn from the way U2 design their shows:
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