What Developers Want

If you are a Development Manager here are 5 things that your Developers will thank you for.

1. Quiet: Developers want and need quiet uninterrupted time to write code and solve problems. Remember those “thought problems” in school? Every development problem is a thought problem, on multiple projects simultaneously. The need for continuous hours of quiet, uninterrupted code writing is crucial. Uninterrupted means absolutely uninterrupted. Do all you can to restrict direct access to Developers.

For the definitive answer on quiet, and why it is craved by Developers and not a management priority, see Paul Graham’s post: Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule.

2. GSD: Cut the non essentials and Get Stuff Done: Read Getting Real, by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson (37 Signals, now Basecamp).

3. Trust: One good Developer will accomplish more than 10 average Developers. Find your top-10 Developer(s). Trust him/her to guide you in the right direction. Don’t manage by committee or consensus.

4. Flexibility: Developers are unique individuals. Developers will get more done working at home than when working in the office. They will thank you if you can solve simple life problems, like suggesting work at home while waiting on a delivery. Learn the unique ways to reward each developer.

5. Professionalism: There are 2 types of Developers: (Type B) those that go home after 8 hours and (Type A); those that code at home, read about development, go to meet-ups and conferences, teach others, and contribute code to the open-source community. Promote and protect your Type A professionals.

One last idea for the non-Developer Development Manager. Learn how to code and learn the language that your Developers speak. If you take this as a homework assignment to do on your own time, you will better empathize with the Developer who is working after hours, or the one on call for production code.

“One really good person will get done in a day what ten not-so-good people will never get done.”
~James M. Spitze, SCC Sequoia

Website Activation

Where’s Waldo? How to activate a website with a contest!

I’d like to share a technique once used to activate a new website and get 100% of existing clients to happily switch over to a completely new version of the website.

  1. First we launched the new website and kept the old site running.
  2. Next we promoted the new website from the old one using a “Where’s Waldo?” contest.
  3. If you found an image of Waldo on the new site you could enter a drawing for prizes.
  4. Every day we would give hints about where to find Waldo – and over a period of time directed everyone to the major areas of the new website.
  5. Once a week we would announce the latest contest winners, which would bring more clients over to the new site.
  6. After users found their way around the new site, they didn’t bother to go back to the old one.
  7. We also discovered that our particular client base loved contests and awards.

I can’t take credit for this idea. My friend (and he paid me to add this: creative genius, wine connoisseur, dog lover, philanthropist, master of irony and all around trend-setter) David Pearson came up with this idea that we used for a large insurance agency portal implementation in 2004. In 2005, the website was awarded recognition by A.M. Best as the top Insurance Agency Portal website in the U.S. Our Where’s Waldo website launch technique was part of the presentation leading to the award.


“Sales reps are coin operated.”
~Mark Vayda




Ground Hog’s Day 2.0

The hallmark of a true professional is the ability to treat each person and situation with the same enthusiasm and interest as you did the very first time. This means that you will repeat yourself any number of times on the same or similar topics with the same or new clients. This is especially difficult for developers, who are trained to get to end point as efficiently as possible and, specifically, don’t repeat yourself (DRY principle).

I’ve recently put myself in someone else’s shoes – practicing patience and empathy. All I asked was that they do their job at the same quality level that I do my job. Is that too much to ask? It may in fact be too much to ask if the other person is put into an untenable situation, with no support from the company they represent. Imagine if you lacked the wherewithal to make a difference and had no control over your time or schedule and did not have the tools and resources to get things done. This person is responsible for delivery and installation of expensive equipment. However, the very company that stands to lose from a bad customer experience almost guarantees failure upon final delivery. Why so much emphasis on selling instead of delivery and service?

If you don’t support your team all the way to delivery of the end product you may in fact have a broken process. What kind of feedback loop do you have in place to find out what the customer experience is really like? I highly recommend that you follow your service or product to the end delivery point to see the results from your customers perspective. If you use 3rd-party sales, delivery or service reps then it is even more important to monitor final delivery results and follow up after the sale and delivery. A “Voice of the Customer” survey is not nearly enough to ensure customer satisfaction and good word-of-mouth referrals.

Repeating a broken process on a daily basis will not eventually fix the process.

“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”
~Sir Winston Churchill




Real World Responsive Web Redesign – Jonathan Stark

Breaking Development Conference – Nashville – July 2014
Conference Session: Real World Responsive Web Redesign
Jonathan Stark

This session discussed the RWD/redesign of Entertainment Weekly. I took away more about about project management than RWD but I was more so looking for PM tips.

My Notes:

  • RWD Guiding Principles: speed is a feature; progressive enhancement from low device to high; assume low; easier to progressively add features than to degrade gracefully.
  • Design: No Big Reveal – Constant feedback during design. Final design is 1 week from last review.
  • Big Pieces From Client: we knew all photos, videos, etc. from current site, and challenges before we started design process.
  • Advertising is a big challenge for mobile.
  • Prioritize Design with typical sticky note voting. Allow 20 seconds for +/- reactions to similar sites or comps/mood boards.
  • Set Initial design decisions: e.g. no carousels, progressive content, etc. Now you have a roadmap.
  • Did not use Agile or Waterfall but a hybrid, with information architecture, visual, and development in parallel.
  • Weekly build and push to dev site. Weekly all hands review with client. Weekly freeze.
  • Throw out elements client doesn’t like (e.g. which callout do you not like). Thereby weekly not a sign off.
  • Always design and demo in the browser, not comps.
  • Emphasize phone view in weeklies.
  • Start with small scale elements for review (e.g. and build to footer, then pages).
  • JavaScript: “Every script has a cost”
  • Consider starting with a site that works without JavaScript.
  • Create your own JavaScript library is better for minimum footprint. Don’t go to extremes with JavaScript.
  • Help yourself out: Use a common/single bug tracker; lots of screen shots for bug documentation with re-creating; we used multiple trackers – should have learned GIT better; automate deployment.


“Communication Trumps Process!”
~Jonathan Stark




Content First UX
Steph Hay

Breaking Development Conference – Nashville – July 2014
Conference Session: Content First UX
Steph Hay

Steph Hay presented a fresh approach to web site design by way of defining all of the content and information architecture up front, before you make the first wireframe or comp. The result is an outline of the site’s IA, which resembles a sitemap but is a complete definition of the site and actual copy. This reverses the typical process of adding content after design.

The process follows a user journey/dialog that is approached as a conversation. Elements of gamification are used to help the user seek goals and reinforce the learning experience along the way. Hay spent time in her presentation on this aspect of the process, which I cannot do justice here – but it’s important to the process. My main takeaway is her rethinking of the site development process. Putting content first makes absolute sense if we believe that content is the foundation of website experience.

My Notes:

  • Content First: Create the content and information architecture first, without tradition wireframes and other design techniques. This is a design-agnostic methodology.
  • Feels like a conversation. Promote user engagement.
  • Write all the content and structure in an outline [yields sitemap byproduct].
  • Greatly speeds up the overall a development process by improving front-end definition time.
  • Note: more than one speaker stated a ratio of ~3-to-2 | definition-to-build/activate.
  • Content First is inherently low risk, low res, and low cost. Promotes greater collaboration and helps define the end result more quickly without getting bogged down in design (speculative) considerations. Will result in faster overall development and launch.
  • Use with analytics to determine audience and solve the right problem.
  • Make a content workbook.
  • Language Boards: Core messaging; Choose Your Own Adventure style.
  • Ben &Jerry’s content written from a single statement/tag line.
  • User is Hero; Iterate until you win.
  • Conversation rather than structure. Hero journey; next steps…

Book reference: Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning (not Made to Stick) – some degree of difficulty in learning improves retention; applies to user journey as well.

Other conference notes on Steph Hay at BDCONF can be found at: http://www.lukew.com/ff/entry.asp?1899

Steph Hay on YouTube | How Two Startups Used a Google Doc to Plan Their User Interface


“Content Defines Structure, not the other way around.”
~Steph Hay




Mobile Design Now
Luke Wroblewski

Breaking Development Conference – Nashville – July 2014
Conference Session: Mobile Design Now
Luke Wroblewski

Luke Wroblewski is synonymous with Mobile First. He set the mobile design tone for the 2-day Breaking Development Conference.

My Notes:

  • Lots to learn but more to unlearn about mobile.
  • Above the fold: Scrolling is a continuation. Clicking is a decision.
  • We’re trying to fit large screen to small.
  • Hamburger Menu is a case of follow the leader imitation. The word menu, outlined to appear as a clickable object, was interpreted as a menu 21%+ more than the Hamburger Menu in A-B testing.
  • It takes big changes to go small.
  • Compared hotel sites with +/- 50% difference in process steps. [the difficulty of any extra field or step is magnified in mobile]
  • Startup: Release/Refine/Repeat; Learn Faster

Luke Wroblewski conference notes can be found at: http://www.lukew.com/ff/

[On Mobile] “It takes big changes to go small.”
~Luke Wroblewski




5-Day Rapid Prototyping
Daniel Burka – Google Ventures

Breaking Development Conference – Nashville – July 2014
Conference Session: 5-Day Rapid Prototyping and Testing – Build for Speed
Daniel Burka – Google Ventures

I’m not sure which Breaking Development session was my favorite but I could really relate to the information about rapid prototyping presented by Daniel Burka of Google Ventures. I was first introduced to rapid prototyping in 1986. The concept is the same today but we have now learned to include the client and customers directly in developing the solution in order to be successful. Amen.

This was an excellent session on rapid prototyping and, more importantly, about quickly getting to a high quality decision on the viability of an idea. Daniel Burka is with Google Ventures, the VC arm of Google. He has prior history with Digg and Milk, both of which are startups by Kevin Rose. Rose is a General Partner of Google Ventures.

A 5-day Rapid Prototype sprint can be applied to many different business ideas, technical or not. The presentation at #BDConf was based upon applying the process toward improving overall sales at Blue Bottle Coffee, based in San Francisco.

5-day Rapid Prototype:

Day-1: Put pressure on the team up front. On Monday, invite 5 prospective/customers to evaluate the prototype on Friday. Five is enough to provide an adequate evaluation and to complete the eval in one day.

Analyze: Dig into the design problem through research, client interviews, and strategy exercises. The client also participates. Listen and learn. The team includes both client and Google Venture folks. Build user flows, look for patterns and thoroughly understand the problems, constraints, and goals.

Day 2: Start to design solutions – but don’t group-think or brainstorm. Rapidly develop as many solutions as possible. Create multiple, individual solutions. By end of day two you want 10 to 20 divergent solutions. Actually write the copy, make sketches that can be matched to real images for build, and sketch out and document each idea thoroughly so that it can be directly prototyped.

Day 3: Select from among the ideas, as whole solutions or an amalgam of ideas. This is not a democratic process. Everyone votes with blue dots on mock-up sketches. All ideas compete and are pitted against others in a bake-off. Executives and leaders who are most responsible get extra/super-votes (e.g. red dots). Being democratic will water down the ideas, just like brainstorming creates design-by-committee solutions. By end of day three you want your three best options.

Day 4: Build the Prototype, usually as a website and/or mobile site mockup: Burkas demo of a low fidelity prototype was actually very graphically rich. Keynote or Power Point make good prototyping options (Keynotopia). Make the prototype clickable, with design elements to simulate real web pages. Use a technique that also makes the demo viewable on a smartphone, tablet and laptop PC.

Day 5: Validate: Show the prototype to the people you invited on Monday to learn what works and what doesn’t work. Again, keep it simple. Burka talked about using a USB camera to view and record phone interaction, over-the shoulder of the customer/test client. No 2-way mirrors and lab coats.

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You may also want to read about Google Ventures’ Rapid Prototyping process as documented by Google Ventures and at Venture Beat:

The Product Design Sprint, 5-day Recipe for Startups (Google Ventures Methodology)
Jake Knapp – Design Partner Google Ventures

How Google Ventures Does Rapid Prototyping ‘Design Sprints’ With its 170 Startups

Here’s a link to a video of the presentation: Video: 5-Day Rapid Prototyping – Google Ventures


“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
~Albert Einstein