Give me a reason to love you

Agile software development is a collection of principles about the development of software.

It’s much discussed and has many enthusiasts and detractors, I’m fairly keen, though I am concerned about the usability of the output; that’s been much discussed too.

A long time ago I came across a book which suggested that the principles of software engineering (at the time mainly a linear process called “the waterfall model”) could be applied to website design, and suggested that this be called “media engineering” – I liked the book a lot, but the concept never really caught on.

I guess it didn’t catch on because the majority of people involved in internet / intranet production come from a different background and didn’t want to go through the rigours of formal software engineering processes just to get some web pages created. But also because formal software engineering methods didn’t have a good reputation, they were slow, bureaucratic and failed to deliver, so suggesting they be applied to web site design felt a bit like suggesting in 1969 to the newly formed Led Zeppelin that they wouldn’t be successful unless they followed the techniques of the previous years best selling artist – Engelbert Humperdink.

However software engineering has changed since then and there are many great ideas for ways of working that are ripe for re-use by intranet managers.

Here is my first stab at suggesting a few things an agile intranet manager should do:

Agile intranet management

What will agile intranet management look like?

1. Much shorter design iterations. Have reviews of content every month.

It need not be – indeed it should not be – an extensive analysis, merely a trawl through available information to find out if anyone can improve anything. You want to answer the question: “What problems are people having and how can we fix them?”

2. Don’t talk to users, observe and measure them.

Agile methods use many techniques to remove themselves from the old ‘statement of requirements’ built-in-stone binding agreement that is out of date before the software is finished. You need to measure (automatically if you can) how successfully people can achieve their goal when using your site. You only get that information once you have something out there and working, so get something out there quickly and lead the folks using your site to help you improve it.

For instance, if you have a ‘help’ or a ‘FAQ’ or a ‘feedback’ or a ‘contact us’ link, get rid of them. (A lot of people like FAQs, but I think they are an admission of defeat – the goal is not having people asking questions frequently!) Instead have a link saying ‘Can’t find what you want? Tell us’. This is very similar to the agile software development discussion about not listening to users (via JermolineFND ). Never ask your users (and especially not ‘key stakeholders’ “What do you think?”.

Agile intranet management is going to be important, as more and more social and collaborative techniques make it into the enterprise. The reason for this is that these technologies require the user to actively want to use the features or the system fails, being obsessed with end users and delighting them is the only way they can work. When it comes to “social/web2.0/collaborative” platforms agile software development isn’t agile enough.

Which leads to the choosen pop music to go with this post. The new Portishead album P3 is fantastic, but the title of this posting is a quote from Glory Box from their first album ‘Dummy’, and if you’re searching for a manifesto for the agile intranet manager, then forget the cluetrain, all you need are the lyrics of Glory Box.

“we’re all looking at a different picture,  through this new frame of mind, a thousand flowers could bloom, move over and give us some room”

Give me a reason to love you indeed.

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4 Responses to Give me a reason to love you

  1. shaidorsai says:

    “For instance, if you have a ‘help’ or a ‘FAQ’ or a ‘feedback’ or a ‘contact us’ link, get rid of them”

    … sure, but if it’s static content, you’d better make sure that the “Tell us ” link is *way* prominent – so folk can indeed tell you when your content is wrong or expired – and definitely don’t point the link at a person. Because people leave or move…

  2. sandyblair says:

    Of course it should be prominent, the point is that you want – no make that “need” – information on your users experience.

    There wasn’t really room to go on about what I would suggest is best practice for this, but I would suggest its a web form (not a mailto link) that the header commits to a reply from a human. My all time personal hate is an autoresponder that says “please do not reply to this email”. That says so much that is wrong about the relationship between the people running the site and their customers. I know why people do this, I’ve looked after systems that said this, and it was a combination of the sendmail process from the webserver not connecting to the email system – but mainly because you get pestered by stupid questions.. You do have to keep reminding yourself that there are no stupid questions sometimes…

    I’ve also ran sites that used FAQs – but I’m still right, they were there because of failing of the rest of the system.

  3. sandyblair says:

    addendum, actually I’ve changed my mind, if you are getting user feedback then make it and your reply public and make that a FAQ, what I was really suggesting was the fake ‘FAQ’ which is added into the site before its even launched (and mea culpa, been there. done that).

  4. Nancy says:

    Hi,

    Excellent article – I really appreciate your knowledge about Agile Software Development & Agile Intranet Management and I have bookmarked it for later viewing and forwarded it on.

    Cheers.

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