Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What should we do? Development methodologies. Just a few thoughts.

Every few years I spend some time thinking about development methodologies. This last year I've been very inspired by Bill Buxton's book sketching user experiences. The idea that design is both a specialist task and a collaborative task is one I do subscribe to. Also the very practical tip to keep sketches look like sketches is one I have found useful: When something looks to polished, it is easy to get the wrong kind of feedback. When something looks unfinished it solicits input, and one of the things Buxton shows is how designers use this knowledge to add pencil-drawn lines to computer-drawn models, just to make them look more sketchy (but still very nice :-).

We applied this very idea to a portal design project that started a little under a year ago. It's not in production yet, *cross-fingers* but the first six months got every bit of contribution from the stakeholders that we could wish for. I'm quite willing to give a good chunk of the credit for that to the inspiration from Buxton's book (hmm, perhaps it's time to read that book again).

Today a colleague of mine pointed to the "guimags" website. They promote a way of developing user interfaces using magnetic gui elements on a whiteboard (combined with whiteboard markers). They have even written a book about it called "The Unplugged". I believe this is an intersting addition to a toolkit for interaction design. It's not a substitute for mockup and prototyping tools like Axure, balsamiq or napkee, but it's sure something that lets the number of throwaway prototypes go way up without adding much or anything to total project cost, so that alone means it's probably a neat idea. (Also, in the spirit of full disclosure, I'm getting a free ebook for having blogged about this :-)


Zarko said...

I was lucky enough to go through the e-book. It is a rare example of a book from which you can carry away something valuable after reading. There is much more then talk about magnets in it.
Basically, the authors elaborate that the software development process (idea->product) is an art on its own and give a highly attractive approach to the mechanics.
Keeping me up in the night until 2AM, I highly recommend it.

rmz said...

I have one more comment that I didn't put in the original post. On page 58 the author says "PROFESSIONALS HAVE THE DISCIPLINE TO WAIT BEFORE THEY DIVE INTO THE ‘COOL PART’". I believe that is a really, really -=*REALLY*=- dangerous thought.

The reason is that exessive waiting is periously close to a "waterfall" style of thinking (See's blog post where he quotes Winston Royce's 1970 paper on the waterfall model) and that is a method that is extremely risky, since it puts almost all integration risk at the end of a project, where you both can't remove it and absolutely don't need it.

If "The Unplugged"'s author is not advocating a waterfall style development process (and I don't think they are), then he must be advocating a process where only low-risk technologies are being used during production. That's ok. I don't mind that. But it does mean that opportunities for value creation that exists closer to the bleeding edge cannot easily be tapped using "The Unplugged" method as it is described. That's ok too, but it's not stated up front in the book (or at least I could find no such statement).

Efraim said...

Hey Zarkoh!
Thanks for your email and praise on the book.
Very thorough feedback, awesome!

With waiting before you dive into the cool part, we don't disregard waterfall style development though, merely holding back shear enthusiasm for a little bit to think through multiple aspects before finding yourself stuck and fed-up with the original idea. That's all.

Again thanks for your comments, keep them coming!!

CTO GuiMags

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