How We Do Spikes

Sophie Déziel gives a great summary of her team's approach to research spikes. We handle them in a similar way at Closely but I especially liked her simple framework for documenting the outcome of the work (something that too often gets ignored in the rush for an answer):

The goal of a spike would be to produce knowledge and to reduce uncertainty. So, it’s important to follow some guidelines to make sure that the knowledge is communicated. This can be very useful for every level of development and management. So, here is the questions to be answered (and documented) in the time allocated:

  • What is the problem that we want to solve?
  • Is it feasible?
  • How much effort does it need?

When the conclusion is that it is possible and the amount of effort is defined, the knowledge produced and documented should be enough for the product owner to create the stories to do the real work and help the development team to estimate it.

How Bungie Embraced Evolutionary Product Design with Destiny

Dave Tach makes a great observation on the evolutionary nature of software products:

This is the ebb and flow of software development, where bits and bytes evolve beyond their creators' initial conceptions. Developers make educated guesses and pitch their product to the public. After it's released and potentially millions of people use it, they learn whether they guessed correctly. In some ways, Apple guessed wrong about the fundamentals of the software that powers its popular wearable. It is far from the only company to have done so. Set for release this fall, watchOS 3's big changes are the result of observation, reassessment and refinement.

His article is an interesting look at how game design has changed from monolithic single releases to an iterative process where designers adapt their games based on how players play it.

Common Log-in Problems and Solutions

Nick Babich has a fresh look at one of the first and most error-prone experiences users have with any software product. Especially like his focus on the messaging presented when users make a mistake (error messages tend to be an afterthought during the design process):

Detailed analysis of major e-commerce sites found that 45% of all customers had multiple registrations in the system, 160,000 people requested their password every day, and 75% of these people never completed the purchase they started once they requested their password.

Log-in is a big deal — big enough that most sites and apps have started exploring new designs solutions for the problem.

The Trouble With Photos

Over the past year, much has been made about Apple's declining software quality and while I'm not part of the 'Apple is doomed' camp, Walt Mossberg's observation about the Photos app hit home for me: iCloud Photo Library works quickly and accurately on my iPhone and iPads, but is slow

Brian Erickson Brian Erickson

How to Split User Stories

Some good advice from Mike Cohn on how to approach story decomposition:

When something will take a long time to develop, that's exactly when I want to use a process that forces me to get early and frequent feedback. This will counter many developers’ tendency (including my own) to retreat into a cave thinking we know what our users want.

In my experience, it's always worth digging a little deeper during planning to find ways to split user stories so they can be delivered in a single sprint.

Hearthstone Deck Recipes

I've been a closet Hearthstone player since shortly after the game launched in early 2014. As a player, I enjoy the game mechanics and strategy but as a Product Manager, I've come to appreciate the design decisions the team has made and how transparent they are with their process.

Recently, the team announced a feature aimed at new and returning players and I think it's a great one:

Deck Recipes are a new feature coming to Hearthstone to help budding deck-builders get a head-start on quickly crafting a solid deck to play in the Tavern. They’re great for both new players who haven’t built many decks, and experienced players who don’t want to create a deck entirely from scratch.

I'm constantly impressed by how much thought goes into each new feature they launch, such as the ability to suggest a missing card:

Don’t have all of the cards to complete a specific Deck Recipe? No sweat! Simply click on one of the greyed out cards you’re missing, and the greatly improved “Suggest a Card” feature will help you replace it with a card from your collection. This should help make it easy to quickly finish a deck, and start playing!

Suggest a Card

Capturing the Spirit of Hayao Miyazaki

The Verge has an excellent write-up of the Miyazaki Spirit gallery event that happened in San Fransisco this past weekend. Hayao Miyazaki is one of our family's favorite directors, and I love this synopsis of his style:

From Princess Mononoke and My Neighbor Totoro to Ponyo and Howl's Moving Castle, Miyazaki has spent the better part of four and a half decades pioneering a style of anime that is as transportive as it is grounded in recognizable human struggles. Spirited Away's Chihiro may be trapped in a bathhouse full for the spirit world, but it's still a coming of age story that could function flawlessly without the fantastical elements.

Don't miss the gallery of images from the event!

The (Hidden) Costs of Real-Time Communication

Jason Fried on the pitfalls of group chat (he discusses some of this in a recent episode of Product Hunt radio):

At its very core, group chat and real-time communication are all about now. That’s why in some select circumstances it really shines. But chat conditions us to believe everything’s worth discussing quickly right now, except that hardly anything is. Turns out, very few things require ASAP attention. Further, ASAP is inflationary — it devalues any request that doesn’t say ASAP.

Jason makes a good argument that the presence of well-meaning features in group chat tools doesn't matter much if the design doesn't encourage them at a fundamental level:

A product is a series of design decisions with a specific outcome in mind. Yes, you can use tools as they weren’t intended, but most people follow the patterns suggested by the design. And so in the end, if people are exhausted and feeling unable to keep up, it’s the tool’s fault, not the user’s fault. If the design leads to stress, it’s a bad design.

More than any other group chat software I've used, Slack has gone out of its way to promote good behaviors (like the absence of 'idle' states). However, it's up to your team to be aware of the cost of real-time communication and make sure you protect against the types of issues Jason brings up. Hopefully, we'll see more features like Do Not Disturb hours coming from the Slack team to promote better communication patterns.

Coffee Cups of New York City

Gear Patrol presents a visual survey of New York's disposable coffee cups:

The receptacle was not born in New York City, nor is it unique to NYC’s busy streets — but the to-go cup’s ubiquity is symbolic of a certain lifestyle shared in the most populous place in the nation. Obtained from blue-collar breakfast trucks and high-minded cafes alike, these cups, each emblazoned with its own place of origin, together represent the democracy of a place with too many people and too little time. But quick as New Yorkers are to toss them, the disposable cup is here to stay. It’s simply a part of life.

Trader Joe's Says NO to Social Media

Alicia Eler on why Trader Joe's chooses not to maintain a presence on social media:

If Trader Joe’s were to join social media and chat with consumers, would that not just create the feeling of a fake, forced relationship? The right sort of customer craving the right sort of authenticity doesn’t need to vicariously latch on to brands on social media to feel complete. They aren’t slaves to Facebook or Twitter either. They have a “real” relationship with Trader Joe’s, grounded in going to the store, being there, being present. Trader Joe’s will not tweet at you. The only way to be recognized by Trader Joe’s is to have the cheery cashiers remember your name, to riff on Seinfeld-isms with some bearded guy serving samples of kung pao chicken with a side of brown rice. At Trader Joe’s, it’s IRL or nothing.

This article highlights the feelings of many small businesses we've worked with while building Perch. There is a perception that social media is too impersonal and only something 'big brands' can do effectively.

It would seem like this strategy could backfire with millennials, who are less likely to privilege IRL over online, if they even bother to distinguish them. But Joe doesn’t need to be your “friend” online. He doesn’t want a Tinderized relationship. Trader Joe’s is counting on capturing successive generations of its target consumers by being the choice for no-choices, the place where generic brands can feel exclusive. You’ll know without having to be told. You’ll buy without ever wondering if you’ve made the wrong choice.

While this may work for a nationally known chain like Trader Joes, for many businesses the key is finding a balance where social media becomes an extension of the face-to-face interactions you have every day with your customers.