Book Review: Lean UX

Posted on Jul 22, 2014 in Books, QA, Tech | 0 comments

Work book review!

I grabbed this one for its relevance to what we’re currently working through. It builds upon the principals from Lean Startup, which I haven’t yet read. In hindsight, I probably should have read that first, but this book stands up pretty well on its own.

Who would I recommend it to? Anyone with their hand in UI/UX design, which should be everyone out there.

The premise is that designing a user experience is difficult to do in a lean environment. All too often we get caught up in the old BDUF approach. Collaboration is the key and it starts at the design phase. Someone from every discipline of your team should be involved from the start to the finish. This establishes ownership and understanding of the goal and product. There’s no more “Oh, my job is done, on to the next thing and I’ll half-assedly glance back at this other thing now and then.”

One of the key suggestions for getting great UX in a fast moving environment is to design toward outcomes rather than a backlog of must-have deliverables. Similar to how a backlog is created (or how one should be created), customers are polled. Rather than having one person responsible for that interaction, the entire team is. How? Regular user acceptance testing. Get the product in front of actual customers and see what they say. Have everyone view the results. This book and idea are primarily focused on UX, but it can go for any feature of the product; getting more people involved in understanding customers can never hurt.

My Highlights (brackets = paraphrasing, indented italics = my comments):

  • “Get out of the deliverables business.”
  • [Your] most urgent task [should be] delighting customers.
  • It is time to break down the silos, unite the clans, and get to work.
  • The biggest lie in software is Phase II.
    • Just don’t do it… From the start, create a 2nd release. Give it a real version number.
  • You’re not going to get it right the first time.
    • Don’t try to. Make the roughest of plans and iterate. Don’t be afraid to ship UX debt, but do be sure to note it in the backlog and address it appropriately.
  • To generate the best solutions quickly, you must engage the entire team.
    • And do so in a meaningful way. Don’t e-mail out a spec and ask for comments. Call out specific people for comment. The project manager should ensure that someone from each group has signed off.
  • Working software [is better than] comprehensive documentation.
  • [Respond] to change over following a plan.
    • Don’t code to a spec that you know isn’t perfect. Just like your code, it will never be. Roll with it.
  • “Lean Startup processes reduce waste by increasing the frequency of contact with real customers, therefore testing and avoiding incorrect market assumptions as early as possible.”
  • [Minimally viable products don't have to be made from code]. Each design is a proposed business solution — a hypothesis. Your goal is to validate the proposed solution as efficiently as possible by using customer feedback.
  • Their involvement must be continuous, from day one of the project until the end of the engagement.
    • This is in regard to folks from different disciplines in your team.
  • Keep your teams small — no more than 10.
  • Understand what the users are doing with your products and why they are doing it.
  • Research involves the entire team.
  • Give potential customers a chance to provide feedback on your ideas sooner.
  • The success or failure of your product isn’t the team’s decision — it’s the customers’.
  • Rockstars, gurus, ninjas, and other elite experts of their craft break down team cohesion.
  • The answer to most difficult questions the team will face will not be answered in a conference room. Instead, they will be answered by customers in the field.
  • Frequent failures lead to increased mastery of skills.
  • The team’s focus should be on learning which features have the biggest impact on the their customers.
  • Our goal is not to create a deliverable, it’s to change something in the world — to create an outcome. We start with assumptions instead of requirements. We create and test hypotheses. We measure to see whether we’ve achieved our desired outcomes.
  • The hypothesis statement is the starting point for a project. It states a clear vision for the work and shifts the conversation between team members and their managers from outputs (e.g., “we will create a single sign-on feature”) to outcomes (e.g., “we want to increase the number of new sign-ups to our service”).
  • None of your metrics will be meaningful if you don’t have a benchmark in place.
  • It’s much easier to pivot from a failed approach if you haven’t spent too much time laboriously documenting and detailing that approach.
  • [Promote] “individuals and interactions over processes and tools.” – Agile Manifesto
  • Style guides create efficiency.
  • [With style guides,] reviews become more focused on the core product.
  • Build MVPs that allow you to observe and measure what people actually do, not just what people say.
  • Usability testing should be a group activity.
  • [Iterations should have themes.]
  • [You should have iteration planning meetings.]
  • [Scrum meetings offer little value without the above because nobody cares or knows what anybody else is working on.]
  • Proactively reach out to your [support team], product owners and executives.
    • Nobody knows the customer better than the support team. They should have regular views and chance to comment on what you’re working on.
  • Your organization needs to adopt a mantra of “competencies over roles.”
  • Break your big teams into what Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos famously called “two-pizza teams” (http:// www.fastcompany.com/ 50106/ inside-mind-jeff-bezos). If the team needs more than two pizzas to make a meal, it’s too big.
  • “Speed first, aesthetics second” (https:// twitter.com/ jasonfried/ status/ 23923974217).
    • Iterate, iterate, and iterate. Don’t spend too much time on any one design. Makes it that much easier to throw away when it is deemed deficient.

A decent read and pretty quick read. If you’re interested in UX in the slightest, you ought to give this a go.

Portland Trail Series (Summer) #1

Posted on Jul 18, 2014 in Running | 0 comments

Trail running hurts, and there really is no cross-training for it (unlike road racing, which is more about cardio [that I can get on the bike]). I’m in great shape, but not for this and it showed. Up and down, and up and down turned out to be the murderer of quads, hamstrings, and calves. Two days later and I’m walking pretty funny. I’m pretty sure I used and spent muscles that I didn’t know existed.

So… This was my first ever trail race. I realized that when they asked the crowd at the start who was new to trail running and maybe 2% of the other folks (capped at 100 runners) and I (without hesitation – then I second guessed myself, but realized it was in fact true; after hundreds of races, this was new to me) raised our hands. I’ve run on dirt before, but nothing in the DC area comes close to the trails out here. Rock Creek might be considered a trail out this way, but it would be in the “flat” category. In preparation, I ran once the month prior and had three other runs on my trail shoes since moving west. Totally prepared for ~5 miles up and down trails on a 1100ft ridge.

Why did I do it? Heather’s coworker told me it was awesome. I suppose it could be at some point, but I’m not there yet. I think I may be too much of a numbers person; you can’t really pace yourself by time, you never really know how much further you have to go, and you can’t compare one performance to the next. Those are all things I love about road racing and cycling; they’re so quantifiable.

Not too much to say about the race other than I went out a bit quicker than I probably should have, walked up a massive hill with said coworker of Heather’s (he caught me there and pulled away the rest of the race), and am not too pleased with my overall performance. I guess my expectations should have been a bit lower? Bah. I suppose I could blame it on riding my bike for a full day a few days earlier, but I honestly felt pretty rested otherwise I wouldn’t have even showed up so “bah” on that too. All was not bad, though; I won a free pair of socks that are pretty awesome (wearing them now) and valued at 1/3 of the series entry fee!

So my running will now consist of these weekly races, which combined with the fall series that I was brilliant enough to already register for (have to get in early) will occupy me until the end of October, and a weekend maintenance run of 2-4 miles.

I’m hopeful that things will get better as my body learns to do what it has never done before, but… ow… and the races only get longer from here.

GPS
Official Results 

Seattle to Portland 2014

Posted on Jul 16, 2014 in Cycling | 0 comments

A few months back, a high school friend/tuba buddy contacted me on Facebook. She has been living just outside of Seattle for a few years, but is going to have to leave the area shortly to finish up/continue her nursing “stuff.” On her bucket list was a ride I didn’t know about, the Cascade Bicycle Club Group Health Seattle to Portland. 203 miles over two days. I had ridden a century before and it wasn’t the most enjoyable thing ever. Doing it two days straight? Ugh, but I obliged her. If anything, it’d force me to do some proper training, and Lord knows I may never get another chance to do this with someone again (I’d not do it solo) so I might as well get it out of the way.

About ten days before the event, out of the blue, my friend asked me if I’d like to do it in one day. Without hesitation, I replied “YES!” I’m not sure why I didn’t hesitate, but I suppose the thought of a single ridiculous effort interested me more than two slightly less ridiculous efforts. An added bonus is that it greatly simplified the logistics of camping in a field for a night. Given the life events that occurred a few weeks prior, I needed simplification, especially since I wasn’t even in town and would only be back for a couple of days beforehand.

Also given those life events, my training was a bit stunted and I didn’t manage get any long rides in all season (I typically do hard efforts for 20-30 miles, which prepares you very little for riding all day), but I was feeling pretty good about my general fitness so I knew I could get through it. At a certain point it becomes mental more than physical anyway.

Friday night, I pick Heather up straight from work and we head up to my friend’s house. A bit of traffic getting out of town, but then it is smooth sailing with a quick stop for some burgers and gas. A few miles later and we arrive. Said friend lives in a house with an absolutely stunning view of Puget Sound. We unload the car, setup an air mattress, and grab some sleep for the short night (arrived at 9PM and need to be riding by 5AM – she lives 30 minutes from the start too).

Wake up, grab some coffee and bagels, pack up the car, short drive up to U of W, get stuck in traffic trying to get to the appropriate parking lot, decide to park it at the local QFC (like many others), and go from there. After a quick half mile cruise to the start, we’re off. 203 miles to go.

We stopped every 25 miles or so, but sometimes when things were rough we’d only make it ten (that happened once, after lunch). I’m not going to provide details on the stops and in-between, but suffice to say this was a really well put together event. If you needed a break, there was one at most 5-10 miles away. The volunteers were amazing, plentiful, the food options were above satisfactory (I did start to get bored with the same options over and over again), and I really can’t praise the ride organizers any more. They managed to safely get 10,000 cyclists (25% do it in one day) the length of an entire state. No small feat at all.

So how did it go for us? We didn’t know what to expect. 14 miles per hour? 20? Would we find a nice paceline and cruise along only doing work every few minutes? Would we even be able to do this? It turned out that we were two of the stronger riders out there save for the paceline that started right from the gun and supposedly rolled through the first 100 miles in four hours (“gun” was 4:45AM – we didn’t get there until 5:15 or so due to the unforeseen traffic so we missed out on riding with the more serious folks). One or the other of us ended up pulling pretty much the entire day. I think I can count on my hands how many minutes of rest we both got. We’d take a few turns in the wind and then look behind at the folks eating our drafts, but nobody would ever come to the front. That turned out to make it a hard day, but it was also eye-popping; when moving we averaged about 19mph (GPS shows 18, but that counts walking through rest stops for minutes at a time). My friend turned out to be more up for the ride as she was smiling the whole damned way and towards the end was pedaling away from me.

My body more or less ran out of “go” at mile 90. The hardest part of that was realizing we weren’t even halfway. Five hours on the bike and not halfway home. Ugh.That first 100 was likely harder than the second because there’s no good way to tell yourself that you’re getting there; you always have 100+  miles to go, which in itself is a tough ride. When you’re already beat, it hurts to think about. Following 100, you can at least count down. Interestingly, from 90 until about 130 miles, I had nothing in the tank. From 130 to 180, I found a second wind, but lost it as we approached Portland. Tough day. It certainly didn’t help that temperatures were above 90. It was literally not possible to get enough fluids into one’s body; I’d fill myself completely at stops and during segments, but bathroom breaks told me I wasn’t fully hydrated. Did I mention that it was a tough day?

All in all, I’m glad we did it. No small feat and one that I’ll always cherish – especially that finish. I’d go so far as to say this was mentally tougher than a marathon. Physically? I was able to walk without looking odd the next day so I’d have to think it was easier on my body. Then again, I do still have some numbness in a couple of fingers and a toe. :P

Will I do it again? Maybe. I’d need the right group, and I’d probably not do it next year; the suffering will be too fresh in my mind. If someone does convince me, I’ll be doing the two-day at a leisurely pace or the one-day with a really solid group that can help do the work and aim for less than 10 hours (20mph).

We finished in just over 11 hours for a GPS-claimed average of 18mph (as mentioned earlier, this includes walking around rest breaks so I’m certain our average was more like 19). 203 miles. 7000+ calories.

A special thanks goes out to Heather and my friend’s husband. They both had to do the round-trip with us by car and were both there for hugs at the finish (I didn’t hug him, but would have if he offered). Thanks, guys!

Click here for the Facebook photo album.

Mount Tabor Race #6

Posted on Jul 10, 2014 in Cycling | 0 comments

I got back into town Tuesday night and figured I might as well ride in this final series race, which I had already paid for. I hadn’t seen a hill in three weeks (NC is pancake flat, and while I was able to ride once I got a bike [missed a week], the climbing muscles got absolutely zero work) so my inability to win was only exacerbated. What to do? Alternate plan.

The first lap of the race comes with the award of beer. Assuming nobody else was hell-bent on getting it, I figured I could go kamikaze, win that beer, and not care about the rest of the race. I didn’t know if it’d work, but it was the plan.

Showed up at the race, said hey to my friend, shared with him my plan, lined up, and we were off. One of the youngsters (the juniors race with us) decided to bomb up the initial hill and then die (figuratively) at the first corner (an uphill hairpin) so that caused a bit of a of a bottleneck that served to spread out the field unlike ever before. Two guys got away and three of us chased. I had planned on taking the lead from the start, but it wasn’t in the cards. Hrm. Plan already foiled? At the base of the final climb, we caught the lead two and I was on the back of the group. I dropped a gear and put the power down to surprise anyone else that may have been interested in the prime and create a gap. Luckily, nobody went with me, and halfway up the hill a glance behind told me I had it. I was pretty gassed, but continued to give the hill everything I had (not much) and crossed the line first. I was so far ahead of the other guys that I slowed up at the line and pointed at my number to make sure they knew which race I was in (a number of races run simultaneously).

Leeroy Jenkins!

From there, I didn’t care how it all went. I let off and allowed my heart rate drop back from max. Already tasting blood (happens when you overwork your lungs)… Ick. Recovery took an entire lap and I likely ended up near the end of the field. I kept with a couple of guys back there as my lap times only got faster following that second one. A waste of a race, but hey, I won more than ever so was it really a waste? Maybe winning the first lap/primes could become my MO? Regardless, had my best result yet with 14th, but a few fast guys were moved up and relatively few people raced so the result must be discounted a good amount.

Added bonus to this day was that my friend won the overall. He’d been getting ~5th every week, but this week was his. Very happy for him.

With that, the race series is over. I really wish it could go on all summer; I need more racing. A look at the race calendar now that I’m back in town tells me that the season is nearly over. Bummer! Cross is upon us, but I still feel like I need base miles. This year’s training has been a mess… Maybe next year will be the year I shine? Hoping for no quality excuses. Yeah, next year will be my year. I want more than beer. I’ll get more than beer.

Up next is riding from Seattle to Portland on Saturday (doing the one-day) and then the beginning of the trail racing series. I’m in horrid running shape as evidenced by the monthly trail runs I do that leave me nearly unable to walk the next day. Naturally, I should just go ahead and race those runs, right? Never boring!

GPS

Mount Tabor Race #3

Posted on Jun 19, 2014 in Cycling | 0 comments

Another one in the books.

My plan to go after the prime on the first lap fell through when it was clear at the start that some faster guys had that in mind too. I didn’t even bother as we hit the ramp up to the line.

The race went very similarly to the last one as this is really more of a time trial than a tactical road race (it’s all about individual fitness as long as you’re not a moron and miss the start or take on more wind than you should). I started seeing a gap open between me and what was left of the field after about four climbs, pulled it back on the downhill once, and then the next time through could not and was on my own.

Same exact placing as last week except there may be an update or a couple since there’s one glaring error I know of (my friend, Dolan, finished in the top 5, but they have him down as last place – I’m assuming they thought he was getting lapped… Ouch. Dolan, look faster ;) ). Again, two people off the pack. I’ll get there someday. Maybe. Bonus this time around is that the Women’s 1/2/3 race caught me on the last lap. They’re pretty quick. I took the lap easy/let them around and dragged a few gapped riders down the hill. If there’s on thing I’m good at, it is going down hills. I suppose that’s not really a bonus :?

I’d been noticing some funny noises from my rear wheel and also a slight wobble. Sure enough, popped a spoke in the middle of the race. Didn’t affect anything, but descending and cornering at 35mph may have been a little more loose than usual. Didn’t stop me from putting in a PR on the downhill. Replaced the spoke myself and took the bare wheel into the shop today (I don’t work on wheel innards), they pulled it apart, bearings were fine, but the axle was a bit loose. They fixed that and showed me how I can do it myself in a matter of 30 seconds next time it occurs. He cleaned up the insides and trued the wheel slightly for $10. I slipped him a $20 because karma/beer. They said that typically after three popped spokes they recommend a wheel rebuild. I’m at two so I’ll probably just get that done over the winter whether or not I lose another.

I went up the climb section four seconds faster than last week and twenty seconds faster than the week before so the improvement is measurable and good. I’m pleased.

I’m unfortunately missing the next two races, which leaves only the season finale. With a total of zero series points, I’m nowhere close to being in the running for anything, but a bit bummed I’m missing them anyway. Following that, I get into running a dozen or so trail races in a row on Wednesday nights. I’m definitely going to have to get into the Monday night road races and maybe look into some Saturday races too because I’ve got the racing bug again and it must get itched.

GPS.

Mount Tabor Race #2

Posted on Jun 12, 2014 in Cycling | 0 comments

I was on time for this one! Man, what an easier race when you’re able to draft. No win or podium, but pretty pleased with my performance on a course that isn’t particularly ideal for someone with my build (read: fat).

For this one I put the carbon wheels back on since there is absolutely zero braking in this constant up and down affair. Also picked up some new pedals and cleats because I developed a wiggle in one of my old ones and a rebuild didn’t resolve it perfectly. Everything held together so that was good.

I started on the front line with two friends of mine, hung with the pack for about 4 solid laps. On the 5th, I let a little gap open, which required me to pedal the downhill, which had me gassed for the uphill, and then the 6th lap was merely the growth of that gap. I was 1st place for “behind the pack” so that was cool. One guy was close to coming off after me, but I think he battled his way back on. The guy behind me put in a serious final lap effort to make me feel a bit of  pressure, but he was simply too far back… So once I was off, I was racing alone and held my place. Pretty happy. 17th place so no series points, but I’m feeling good and know I’m getting faster week after week. Great little workout. I don’t know if it was because I was with the group most of the race or that I’m in better shape, but I tasted far less metal/blood in my lungs this time around and riding the next day was also much better.

Added bonus is that I created a goal for myself (based on my faster friend’s best) on the uphill segment of the race. It was so much faster than how quickly I did it last week that I set the end of the race series for the due date. Well, I got it yesterday. So I guess I need a new goal. Maybe stay with the pack the entire race? Boring, but maybe I’ll shoot for that by the end of the series. I’ve got it! As this isn’t much of a race for me to win, I think the 1st lap prime (1st place after the 1st lap wins a six-pack and it wouldn’t have been much of a challenge) is very attainable and I’m going to go for it. I’ve no way to get the beer home, but that’s only a minor detail. Maybe in my belly? That’d be a fun ride. BEER.

GPS

Mount Tabor “Not” Race #1

Posted on Jun 9, 2014 in Cycling | 0 comments

My first race back on the road yesterday turned out to be a mild success; I didn’t break anything.

Unfortunately, that was because I rode the entire thing solo.

The Mount Tabor Race Series is a set of six weekly (Wednesday) races around a 1.3 mile loop with 140ft of elevation that I’ve signed up for (5 of 6 are scored for series points, which only matter for bragging rights – I’ll only be able to make 5 due to being in VA one week and this week was a wash so I’ve got no chance even if I do find the legs I don’t have). In reality, I’m mostly doing it because Mount Tabor is a volcano and I think it’d be cool to be able to tell my grandkids that I used to race bikes around one.

Due to the length of the laps and the elevation change, the race is a constant push-fest. If you’re not going uphill, you’re going downhill, and there are no brakes required at all due to the course structure; literally 0 rest. Possibly different if you’re with the pack, but I was not. I haven’t tasted that bloody metallic lung taste since the days of high school cross-country.

So why did I race alone? The primary reason is I showed up late. Except not too late. I was 20 minutes early. They don’t offer preregistration saying they can handle everybody with ease. Except at Race #1, I presume a lot of folks are renewing their yearly memberships so the process was pretty slow. I received my bib with two minutes to go until the race. I rushed over to some random guy, asked him to pin it on, and he completed the last pin just as they started us. I wasn’t clipped in and was at least 100ft from the start. By the time I got halfway up the hill that begins the race, they were already heading down a 35mph, .6mi hill. My chances of catching them were slim to none.

So I raced alone. Picked off a few stragglers, but mostly an uneventful solo time trial that really hurt.

Results are here. Relatively good considering the circumstances (27th out of 38)? I don’t know… At the very least, I was able to recon the course for next week and get a start under my belt (the upgrade from Category 5 to Category 4 requires 10 starts).

Pretty excited for the next few races. Based on the fact a buddy of mine who is faster than me and a much better climber didn’t podium, my hopes aren’t too high, but I do hope to hang with the group through most of the race.

My GPS dump including ride to the race and then ride downtown to meet Heather at work so pretty much useless for getting any data from it other than solo segment times.