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UX Myth: People actually read on the web

Steve Krug, author of Don’t Make Me Think, claims that web users don’t read, they scan. Only when people are interested in the content do they read web pages word for word. Normally, pages are skimmed for highlighted keywords, meaningful headings, short paragraphs, and scannable lists.
 
Well-structured pages designed for cursory reading are more likely to be read. Web-usability studies conducted by Neilson suggest that most users read merely 28% of text on a web page, and that concise, scannable and objective copywriting can result in 124% better usability.
When people arrive on a web page, they immediately begin scanning to decide whether or not the page is of value to them. For this reason, web content constructed for scannability can certainly pay off.
 
According to usability.gov, six factors can provide a superior user experience and convert visitors into readers:
1. Usefulness – Content is original and fills a need.
2. Usability – Site is easy to navigate.
3. Desirability – Design elements have pull and appeal.
4. Ease – Content (onsite and offsite) is locatable and effortless.
5. Accessibility – Content is viable for those with disabilities.
6. Credibility – Source is believed and trusted by users.
 
Creating effective, usable content for any site is of great value. One way to do this is to write and format for scannability. Wherever possible, incorporate bullet lists, block quotes, subheadings, emphases, concise copy, short paragraphs, and visual elements, Infographics and visuals can quickly convey instructions or data, and are far more interesting than dull and often frustrating tables.
 
This being said, there’s no point in scannable content creation if a site cannot support it. It is wise to employ site-wide CSS, allowing for ample whitespace around content copy, headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, and lists.

UX Myth: Simple = Minimal

Simple and minimal go hand in hand, but they are not synonymous.
Minimal design is a visual decluttering of objects, forcing designers to say more by displaying less. It is a reduction in style elements, adding only enough to tell a story, accomplish a task, or meet product goals. According to Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, minimalism is skin deep. What appears simple-looking can contain hidden complexities in UI.

 

Minimal Website: Landlife

Minimal Website: Landlife

Minimal Website: basecamp

Minimal Website: basecamp

Simplicity seamlessly blends the whole experience. Where there is both simplicity and usability, the overall product/application will shine. Design choices are meant to support product goals and empower users, period.

 

Simple website: Apple

Simple Website: Apple

In his book, The Laws of Simplicity,( http://lawsofsimplicity.com/, John Maeda notes, “On the one hand, you want a product or service to be easy to use; on the other hand you want it to do everything that a person might want it to do. […] The simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction. When in doubt, just remove. But be careful of what you remove.”
To that end, keeping text copy simple and accessible is key––but not at the expense of meaningful information. Combining both elements is simplification at its best, working in support of both clarity and user experience.
Simple Website: Uber

Simple Website: Uber

The fewer elements on the screen, the more potent the communication. This is respectful design, as long as users are still able to perform intended functions. We should all strive for simplicity, while avoiding the cost of oversimplification.
To quote Albert Einstein, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”
More UX Myths
UX Myths Infographic

UX Myths Infographic

The Future of Digital Government

The Future of Digital Government

Going Digital means more than just using new technology to deliver services to people. It involves solving problems in new and different ways. It means changing how people work and enhancing operations in a myriad of ways. NASA has done this by deploying Virtual Reality as a data visualization tool, and the Department of Veterans Affairs has used it to treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It will no longer be business as usual when the government fully embraces new technology. The changes will impact every federal agency and every federal employee.

Businessman pressing button on touch screen interface and select Government. Business, internet, technology concept.; Shutterstock ID 334796147; PO: digital government

The Emerging Landscape of the Digital Government

The changes in how government work happens through digital technology are changing every year, progressively, in many ways.

Digital Government 1.0

This is basic e-government. Paper transactions were replaced with online transactions. The workflow itself remained more or less the same. Only the medium changed. Agencies began the process of investing in new infrastructure and modernizing their systems at a fundamental level.

Digital Government 2.0

This was advanced e-government. Agencies worked with technology to make transactions within the government more secure. Citizens began to be able to apply for things like benefits and permits electronically. These services have been offered in independent, detached departments that deliver services to people but do not integrate to improve the overall quality of services. While digitizing citizen services, the government simultaneously sought to develop shared services for back-office operations like HR and Finance.

Digital Government 3.0

This is the current state of government, for the most part. New, collaborative technologies like Social Media created multiple ways for citizens and businesses to communicate with the governments. Mobile apps and open networks created opportunities for the government to deliver services to the people, to regulate businesses, and to manage the government’s processes. These new technologies rely on cloud computing.

It is now more common for multiple agencies to co-create and co-produce policies and programs. Leveraging open source and agile development, technology platforms facilitate the formation of communities from the public and private sectors. These communities create new systems that deliver a better user experience. By delivering services through central portals, it is possible to provide a lean government. A lean government is more effective and more efficient.

Digital Government 4.0

This is where we are going next. A digital reinvention of government is not just about changing service delivery. It also demands that those who are served by government take charge of the process. Only by putting the beneficiaries first can the full speed and scale of digital technologies be realized.

A citizen-driven government adapts itself to the needs and expectations of citizens, businesses, non-profits, and other partners. It creates interactions that are personalized, interactive, and easy to access. Cognitive technologies can enable systems to understand, reason, and learn over time. This allows the government to interact with the broad public in real time without compromising cybersecurity. Agencies can leverage digital approaches to transform how government engages with the public across the full range of mission and mission support activities.

Bringing IT up to Speed and Realizing the Benefits of Digital Government

According to a recent IBM Center report called Digital Service Teams: Challenges and Recommendations for Government, an essential driver to rethinking government approaches to digital service delivery is the so-called “legacy IT” problem. This problem stems from the fact that many countries started digitizing their operations decades ago using technologies now “aging in place.”  GAO reported that about 75 percent of record-high spending on government IT in 2016 went to the operation and maintenance (O&M) of legacy systems that are becoming obsolete. OMB has estimated that $3 billion worth of federal IT equipment will reach end-of-life status in the next three years.

Private sector experience has demonstrated that strategic investments in technology can produce long-term cost reductions and bring a significant positive return. As noted in the Technology CEO Council (TCC) report The Government We Need, duplicative and obsolete legacy systems can be replaced with modern technologies on more cost-efficient platforms. A 2015 report by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation suggests that every $1 increase in new IT spending led to as much as a $3.50 reduction in overall government expenditures. This means that the Federal Government can potentially save billions of dollars while becoming more productive. Building for the future requires agencies to transform legacy systems using cloud services and shared solutions that will result in substantial cost savings, allowing agencies to optimize spending and reinvest in critical mission needs and leverage modern technologies such as mobile and the Internet of Things.  The government’s recently released IT modernization strategy provides a roadmap for agencies in achieving these objectives.

Implementing Digital Government

Driving change in the federal government requires more than new policies or the infusion of new technology; it requires a sustained focus on implementation to achieve positive and significant results. Agencies must find ways to invest in modern technologies to support secure and scalable applications. Identifying and prioritizing efforts for investment, integrating these priorities into the agency and federal budget planning cycles, and applying appropriate measures to track the success of key efforts will drive solutions based on modern, cloud-enabled IT infrastructure, mobile services, and IT security. Critical to effective investment in digital modernization is understanding the existing barriers to capture savings over time from those investments and identifying means to overcome these barriers. Defining pathways to invest in emerging technologies that can help government will inform where and how private sector entities may most effectively support digital transformation in ways that improve performance and reduce costs.

For example, changes in IT contracting practices also involve government leaders identifying new approaches to procure commercial technologies and recognize the return on investment (ROI) over time. Current procurement rules limit agencies’ ability to buy technology “as a service” and pay for it over a 5–10-year period. With private sector funding, agencies can approach IT modernization as a service they buy over time, not limited to whether they have funds for a multi-year investment in the current year’s budget. The government can work with private sector partners and acquire modern technology to provide cost-effective services for American taxpayers.

Conclusion

Digital government empowers citizens and an increasingly mobile federal workforce to access high-quality information securely, data and services anywhere, anytime, on any device. As government adjusts to this new digital world, agencies must work together to build the modern infrastructure needed to support digital government efforts and leverage the federal government’s buying power to reduce costs.

The digital government of the future will not merely automate previously manual processes. Instead, citizens will help drive agencies to modernize, and agencies will work together to integrate systems and applications across platforms. As the 21st century evolves, the digital government will drive efficiency, effectiveness, and performance improvements. It will harness the power of technology to meet the challenges of today while seizing the opportunities for tomorrow.

Enabling a Digital-forward Government | Key Takeaways from the Digital Transformation Summit 2018

Digital transformation in the 21st century demands leaps of rapid innovation. Federal agencies, though, are not famous for speed. Their legacy systems represent huge investments and are vulnerable to emerging security threats. Future-proofing government infrastructure requires agile development processes to create progressive, sustainable delivery models.

Senior officials from Federal agencies and technology companies gathered at the Dell Digital Transformation Summit to discuss how agencies can evolve to better serve their customers, meet their mission goals, and succeed in the connected future.

DigitalTransformations-image

Here are a few highlights from the summit:

Creating a NextGen Cyber Workforce and an upcoming hiring regulation
Disruptive Technologies
Digital Intelligence
Cloud Smart
Data Analytics
AI + VR

Col. Chris Wade, Director, Task Force Cyber Strong, G-3/5/7, U.S. Army says the Army is training young talent to be problem solvers, in lieu of specific technology training that will be outdated in a few years.

“85% of jobs we will have by 2030 don’t exist today. We should expect to partner with machines & utilize AR/VR technologies.” – Marius Haas, President & Chief Commercial Officer, Dell EMC

“There won’t ever be a single solution for all mission needs; it’s about a consistent infrastructure, consistent operations and consistent developer experience”– Robert Ames, Sr. Director, National Technology Strategy, VMware

During the “Creating a NextGen Cyber Workforce” panel, Basil Parker, senior advisor for Government-wide IT and Cyber Workforce Development at OPM, announced that The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) will soon release a new regulation that will allow the Federal government to directly hire cybersecurity personnel. This will significantly shrink a lengthy hiring process that has bogged down the Federal government. Currently, it takes an average of 106 days to hire new personnel, and this regulation will aim to reduce the bottlenecks and lengthy vetting processes that are obstacles in securing cyber talent.

 DigitalTransformations-image

Referring to the Federal government’s IT ecosystem, Matt Lira, special assistant to the president for innovation, policy, and initiatives at the White House Office of American Innovation, emphasized the need to focus on true, enterprise-level, agency-wide transformation.
Lira said, “We want to be able to say that the United States government is able to change, is able to adopt the latest technology–whatever it may be.”  

In his keynote address, William Bryan, senior official performing the duties of the under Secretary for Science and Technology, highlighted two crucial issues of the digital age: The impact of advanced technology on the security landscape, and how the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) is adapting research and development business practices to keep pace with these emerging threats.
 

“How we serve our citizens is at the center of what we do, Don’t just have a project mentality, but a continuous evolution dialogue.”– Suzette Kent, U.S. CIO, Executive Office of the President
Watch Video:
Bill Bryan, Sr. Official Performing the Duties of the Under Secretary for Science & Technology, DHS on Mobilizing Innovation to Secure the Homeland

Are You Afraid of Accountability?

If you want to be an effective leader, there is one word that will make or break your leadership: Accountability. An accountable style of leadership doesn’t come easily. Many people in leadership are afraid of it. How about you?

Accountability means you have to be willing to hear the truth and give it. This takes courage and a willingness to be transparent. Leaders may talk about accountable leadership but fall short of implementing it. You have the opportunity to make it work.

If you are willing to build your leadership around accountability, you will be amazed at the transformation all around you. Here are four basic keys to accountable leadership.

 

1. Be Fully Engaged 

Maybe there was a time when leaders could separate their work from the rest of their lives. Or maybe that luxury never really existed. Either way, that time is no more. To be an effective leader, you need to be as fully engaged in your working life as you are in every part of your life.

A friend told me a tale of two bosses, one just above her, and the other above him.

The manager at the top was vibrant in every aspect of his life. In his family, he was a strong and caring father. In the community, he fought for social justice. And he treated his clients and employees the same way.

But the manager just above her was two different people. As a boss, he was a cardboard cutout, ready to whitewash at the first sign of trouble. It wasn’t until my friend joined a corporate ball league that she saw him as a person. Night and day different. If only he could have been that person in the office, perhaps their department might have experienced a different outcome.

As a leader, it matters what you do and how you do it. If you are distant, why should the people on your team care about what they do? That’s a sure recipe for your business to suffer. On the other hand, when you are fully engaged as a leader, your team, clients, customers, and business will be fully alive and successful.

2. Set up Real Accountability

Let’s say you want to be an authentic leader who is fully engaged. How do know you’re achieving this? You have to be willing to be accountable.

Accountability is so important to leadership success that you’d think we would do it better. Too often, businesses try and provide accountability through ineffective means.

The company pays lip service to accountability through the voices of “yes” people. They are so afraid of losing their jobs or so determined to get a promotion that they will tell you what you want to hear.

On the other extreme, a board or committee sits in judgment without knowing you, your goals and vision, or your leadership capacity. While you may be subjected to it, that is not effective accountability.

True accountability must be set up by you, and every good leader needs to do this. Choose people who know you well, and who you can trust to be honest. Give them permission to hold you to a model of leadership that is above reproach.

Listen to them. Respond. Make changes along the way. Grow into the leader you want to be.

3. Speak the Truth 

For effective leaders, there are two sides to accountability. You have to be willing to receive it. But you also must be willing to give it. This requires speaking the truth.

Even the most determined leaders may be uncomfortable in this role. It’s human nature to want to be liked and appreciated. You might fear people will turn on you if you are honest with them.

The dilemma goes like this: If I tell my employee of the negatives I see, will that person become even more negative? Shouldn’t I just placate, sugar coat, or ignore? After all, it’s only business. It’s just one more thing to put up with.

Your response to that dilemma can define you as a leader. And sure, the reaction may be negative. If so, perhaps that employee will be better off somewhere else – in another department, in another role, in another company. Imagine the honest conversation that could open up in this regard. Would that be so bad? The outcome might even amaze you.

Nor should you assume a bad response. The first manager I met who was willing to speak truthfully to her employees changed their lives. Every one of them was grateful. Her truthfulness allowed them to flourish. They became the people they had always wanted to be. Why? Because she saw those characteristics in them, told them, and held them to it.

What if you could provide that kind of outcome for the people you lead?

Truth-speaking doesn’t just apply to the people you are managing. It works in the other direction as well. Are you willing to be truthful with the people you report to, whether that’s a senior leader, business stakeholders, or even the surrounding community? When you need to tell them something they might not want to hear, can you be honest? Or are you afraid and more concerned with protecting your job?

It’s a risk to speak up. You might lose your job. On the flipside, that insight that you are reluctant to give might be the very thing that turns your business around for the better.

Either way, your leadership effectiveness depends on your willingness to lead from a place of accountability.

4. Give People Freedom

As a leader, when you create an atmosphere of honesty, you will find that you have also cultivated an environment of trust. Trust is powerful because it leads to freedom. And freedom means everyone does what they do best, and they do it in the best possible ways.

Too often, leaders err by taking away freedom. Most of them don’t realize they’re doing it. I’ve seen this with colleagues who are passionate about their work. The surest way to put out that fire is to micromanage them. Everything in them resists. They start to dread their work.

I’ve seen this in many work settings. Someone is enjoying a project and giving it his all. His manager comes up and says, “Try it this way.” Or even “Are you done yet?” There goes the enjoyment. There goes his all. You can see him deflate. A shell of him is left to “Just get it done” or “Get it done the boss’s way.”

The problem with this is that the boss isn’t the person who does what this employee does. The boss hired him for that. He was hired for many reasons: talents, wisdom, experience, insights, creativity. And the boss keeps hitting the mute button on all of those reasons.

To be an effective leader, you have to be willing to trust your people to do what you chose them to do. You worked hard to find the right people for your team. Don’t negate that by taking that freedom away. Let them flourish. Watch what happens. Suddenly you are also free to do what you do best.

What if you want to create this kind of environment, but you aren’t really allowing it? Leaders often have the best intentions but lack the follow-through. You might not even recognize the ways you inhibit freedom in your team. Or maybe you are in denial.

Here is another place where accountability comes in. Are you willing to have your day-to-day leadership style critiqued? Are you willing to listen and look at reactions from your team, and recognize your responsibility in those areas of concern?

Will you allow your own accountability group to evaluate your day-to-day problems with leadership style? This will help you bridge the gap between ideals and reality. It may not be pleasant, but it will produce great results.

Accountable leadership is not easy. It takes intentionality and courage. But it also creates an environment where amazing things happen.

From innovation to Innovation – 10 rules to go beyond the buzz

To innovate can be defined as “The action or process of innovating. Creating a new method, product, or idea.” It is certainly the buzzword of the moment in business, governance bodies, and institutions worldwide. But what does it mean in practice, really; beyond just the next incarnation of tired terms like value, intelligence, design, or dare I say, ‘digital’?

Organizations are now trying to turn innovation into Innovation, a special-noun function of their business, as much as say Accounts Payable or Online Sales. This doesn’t feel altogether right. It is what the definition states, but also it implies a new way of thinking and working – a step-change aside from the norm to create something bigger, better, more effective in an order of magnitude separate from what has gone before. Let’s not forget, Innovation, and the surrounding culture and practices, created the wheel from an innocuous boulder, the motorized car, the internet, general relativity, space travel and the nuclear bomb. New, creative and bold ideas to answer big questions or fix big problems.

However, Innovation is not clean. There is no set formula or hidden knack. The Innovation machine cannot just be switched on and immediately start to change an organization from business as usual to the next ‘unicorn.’ Despite that, there are a few common things in successful organizations, that grease the wheels of creating new ideas, products, and methods – and make them more likely to be effective – and it is as much about the soft cultural factors as assistance from set methods and tools.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In this vein, and although by no means a definitive or forensic analysis, I have pulled together my ten key rules for successfully harnessing the modern meaning of Innovation.

Innovation to the core – Innovation needs to be implicit in the overall culture of the organization. It must become a brand value influencing the approach to all problems, not just the particularly tricky ones.

From the top to the bottom (and back) – It must be driven from the very top in behavior and actions, and permeate every level of the organization, making it inclusive all the way to the shop floor and back up again. It is those getting their hands dirty who often understand the drivers of value and wants of the consumers, users and citizens, the best

Innovation requires enablers: Innovation cannot function in a vacuum, it is not a standalone thing, rather it is as much a result of many factors acting in harmony:

  • People – Innovation ‘champions’ – banging the drum and driving involvement. Leadership – setting examples and encouraging behaviors. Disruptors – speaking out, finding faults and shouting ideas!
  • Reward/Incentives – Encouraging innovative practices and effort towards being innovative.
  • Tools – Providing systems, materials, and resources to innovate effectively; e.g. Collaboration spaces, eTools, Feedback platforms, etc.
  • Processes – Guides to help people innovate and use the resources and inputs available; Design thinking, iterating ideas, continuous feedback loops and assessment, etc.
  • Data – Relying on facts not assumptions to measure the success of an idea from the investment made.

The risk balance – Innovation cannot always run free and inevitably must balance against risk (be that financial, reputational, brand, etc.) A new approach to risk appetite must be embedded across all teams and drive different allowances and decisions (for example, releasing funds to be sunk with little expectation of serious return.)

Long versus Short-termism – Long-termism must replace short-termism – a good idea may just be a good idea for a long time, before a way to monetization or other leverage can be found. This shouldn’t necessarily be a reason to fear it; many amazing ideas would never have been innovated if only a short term gain was the driver!

Success factors reimagined – Linked to the previous point, the classic view of good EBITDA, NPV or Free Cashflow may need to be replaced with alternative metrics focused on customers or other measures of success (for example, customer engagement, net number of users, social sentiment, etc.).

Frenemies welcome – Partnerships are not just welcome but in many cases encouraged; frenemies are more common than not. Ecosystems need to be built and understood, where innovation in one area helps and enables innovation in another. Innovation is hard. These networks and co-symbiotic relationships are critical to lessen the load and de-risk big ventures.

Innovative innovation – The approach to innovation must in itself be innovative. Standard processes and old ways of working cannot be simply rehashed for the new purpose of ‘innovation management’. New approaches must be explored in support of ideation, development, and iteration.

Prepare to pivot – Ideas can never be too precious. One of the key aspects of successful Innovation is ‘Pivoting’ – changing course, rather than scrapping and going back to square one, as the context of an idea evolves or as new functionality is uncovered. Often the original idea isn’t what ends up being the best idea – not being precious and understanding the emerging opportunity and being quick to respond, changing tack in the development of an idea, business practice or goal is critical to Innovation success.

Find your problem – As illustrated above, Innovation should not be overly constrained. However, a laser focus, in the moment, on the problem or need requiring innovation helps drive any cultural, process, or systematic efforts. Organizations must free resources to pursue innovation but innovation cannot exist just for itself, as budgets and positive emotion will expire long before the ideas.

These principles are at play in some of the highest profile organizations, known for Innovation – Facebook, Tesla, Uber, to name just a few. They effectively understand their customers, their resources, and their goals; and invest time in innovating and embedding Innovation into how they develop their strategy, products, and operations. They never rest on their laurels and continue to adapt and pivot to the context as it evolves around them. Through this they are setting the agenda in their fields, what they do affects their customers and users but also has the power to impact the whole ecosystem around them – competitors, suppliers, partners, and society. Their approach to Innovation means they often make the big, new ideas, break new ground, and ultimately change the world. Of course, not all organizations have their vast scope or leverage, but by understanding what Innovation is, and as much what it isn’t, all organizations can make a step-change in what they do.

The Role of the Product Owner in Scrum

Shot of colleagues having a brainstorming session with sticky notes at work

The concept of a Product Owner in Scrum evolved from the Chief Engineer role pioneered by Toyota in the car manufacturing industry. By crossing from manufacturing into software delivery, it is now a formative component of Scrum and one of three defined roles in the framework. Considering the importance of this role, a frequently asked question in Agile 101 sessions is what does a Product Owner do and what challenges exist when establishing the role? This article sets out to answer these questions. We can begin by listing some of the key responsibilities for a Product Owner:

  • Set the product vision, and with support from the entire scrum team, drive the success of the product
  • Lead the backlog ‘grooming’ (i.e. prioritization) meeting and set the product roadmap and sprint priorities
  • Collaborate with the scrum team to sign off requirements’ acceptance criteria and when requirements can be considered done (i.e. built, tested, demoed and ready for release)
  • Participate in sprint meetings acting as a single decision-making authority
  • Cultivate relationships with product stakeholders and protect the scrum team from ad hoc requirement requests

This list isn’t exhaustive but does highlight how Product Owner roles demand a diverse skill set to engage with both business and technology teams. Below are some common skills we should expect to see Product Owners demonstrate in their roles:

  • Stakeholder management: the ability to manage multiple stakeholders across the business to ensure the product vision is defined and supported
  • Product knowledge: an ability to understand – ideally at an intricate level – the design, function and build of the product in order to set a vision of how to create, transform or improve it
  • Negotiation (and communication): in order to reconcile business demand with development capacity to deliver a product that meets the needs of customers

If you’re familiar with scrum delivery methods the role description and skillset above probably won’t be new to you. However, often Scrum projects still encounter decision making challenges that impede development. Here are some flags to look out for:

  • The Product Owner has been appointed by proxy: this may occur when the real decision maker can’t make time for the project and can lead to delayed decision making and/or misdirection in terms of setting the product vision
  • The Product Owner makes decisions by committee: consulting on product and project vision is always a good thing but spending multiple hours in meetings discussing decisions that need made will impact sprint velocity
  • The Product Owner isn’t really a Product Owner: this can occur because a Product Owner is simply appointed to the role because they are available or have a similar role already (e.g. a BA with bandwidth but no knowledge of the product)

The list above is by no means exhaustive but it’s a useful starting point for assessing how to resolve some of the common pitfalls. A recent Viderity retrospective identified ways to overcome these challenges and to avoid some of them when starting a project. Below are some of our findings:

  • Clearly define and assign the Product Owner role upfront – this may include in the contractual agreement for the project and will benefit both parties by aligning expectations for the role sooner rather than later
  • Coach and mentor new POs – initial sessions with POs to discuss roles and responsibilities across the team can help every team member understand its importance. Retrospectives can also be a useful forum to discuss improvements.
  • Frame decision options for Product Owners: Scrum teams should proactively offer options to Product Owners when issues arise (e.g. a late requirement gets raised in a project). Issues come in all shapes and sizes. Once identified, often the next step is to consider the options to resolve them. Framing a number of options with related impact assessments will help the Product Owner make a more informed (and often faster) decision that will help unblock delivery
  • Be flexible around Product Owners’ other commitments – this sounds intuitive but is worth highlighting. If the daily scrum doesn’t fit the Product Owner’s diary because of a school run – then move it!

Our Agile Values

At Viderity, we are big fans of Agile ways of working. There are various methods branded “Agile,” with Scrum™ being the most well-known, although people sometimes incorrectly conflate Agile and Scrum. However, Agile is not a method. Rather, it is a set of principles stated in the Agile Manifesto, and a resultant way of thinking about how best to develop software. A given method can be more or less adherent to these principles, and so be more or less “agile”.

 

The awkward truths of software development

At its heart, Agile is about acknowledging and addressing some awkward truths about most, if not all, software development activity:

  1. Requirements change

We often assume that with enough up-front analysis, solution requirements can be fully described and documented before development starts. The reality is that modern software projects are so complex and the stakeholders in a typical development project so diverse that requirements almost always change throughout a project.  We improve our understanding of the solution as we work through a project, so our very best understanding of the requirements exists at the last day of the project. Our methods should embrace and harness this learning-by-doing, not sweep it under a carpet of denial or change control governance designed to prevent even legitimate change.

  1. You cannot plan the perfect solution

We often want to believe that we can design the correct technical solution on paper before we write a line of code. Get the best architects and developers in a room, the argument goes, and they can thrash out a great design that will save us rework later.

This argument is flawed in three ways:

  • If the requirements are not fully understood up front, it is impossible to design the right end-state solution wholly up front.
    • Modern software development is far too complex to describe a fully consistent and optimal design at a moderate level of detail without the aid of development tools and techniques like code analysis, refactoring and test automation.
    • The bottleneck in any complex software development project is not the time it takes to type out the code, but a myriad of other activities such as detailed design (even if just in a developer’s head) and various levels of quality assurance. Trying to perfect a design to avoid reworking the code is unnecessary.

All of that is not to say that we do not need architecture. There are some decisions that are expensive to reverse, and so make sense to make up front. We like to say that a good architect is someone who can tell you which decisions you have to make now and which ones you can defer. Our aim is to defer decisions to the latest responsible moment to maximize flexibility and return on learning.

  1. Large batches don’t work

Inherent in the two previous points is the common belief that working in large batches is more efficient than working in small ones. Isn’t it better to stay focused on requirements analysis and get it all out of the way, before we start figuring out how to build those requirements? Shouldn’t we be thinking about all the requirements in the greatest possible detail and then designing a solution that encompasses all of them in one hit?  This is the sort of thinking that got American carmakers into trouble a few decades ago. Lean thinking teaches us that large batch sizes are problematic. For example, what happens if we misunderstood a core requirement that was the basis for a lot of design and development activity and the misunderstanding was overlooked during requirements sign-off? In a large-batch scenario, the client may not see the manifestation of this requirement until most or all of the solution has been built, months or even years later, having already done a lot of wasteful or harmful work.  Furthermore, the overhead of producing, managing and re-consuming the documentation that is required for a large batch approach is significant.

In Agile projects, we try to write down only what is necessary, believing that a conversation is a more useful and efficient way to transfer knowledge from a business analyst to a developer than a document that has to be written in great detail, then read months later when the original context is obscured. At the end of the project, that document has little value: the client only cares about the software solution it results in.  To realize this efficiency, we need to be working in small batches, taking a requirement from analysis to build in a matter of days or weeks and being prepared to learn from this exercise, possibly resulting in some restructuring of the technology (what developers call refactoring) at a later date.

  1. Estimating software development is very complex

Project managers faced with complex, long-term projects will often take a reductionist approach to planning: break the work down into small chunks of activity, estimate each, identify the dependencies, and add it all back up again to get a project plan.   Unfortunately, this is pretty much impossible in an environment of great uncertainty (see the first two points above). Both the identification of activities and their individual estimates are subject to too much variation. Alas, we often see project plans that try, making wild claims that designing such-and-such a module will take four hours, whilst building it will take six. We might imagine such a guesstimate would be subject to a 100-1000% margin of error, making the plan useless.

Instead, if we can break deliverables (e.g., a requirement going through an analysis-design-build-test cycle) into sufficiently small and similarly-sized chunks, and if we can start delivering these very early in the project, we can use a moving average throughput rate as a simple way to let past performance guide our planning and forecasting. This type of radical simplification also helps reduce the sometimes significant overhead of managing the plan and can give us useful data about where we have bottlenecks in our process and how to remove those.  There is usually still a Gantt chart: activities such as training, stakeholder communications and product marketing are often much better understood and so can often be estimated and planned with greater certainty. On this plan, however, development is shown as a series of boxes that deliver software at regular intervals (say, every month). These become milestones on which other aspects of the plan can be hung. What happens inside these black boxes is left to a development process more focused on flow and efficiency than up-front planning.

  1. Budgets are limited

Few projects have unlimited time or budget (if only…). Most start with some idea of scope that needs to be delivered. As time, budget, or both, invariably become squeezed, it is natural to try to apply the less popular levers of project management, such as overtime or increased pressure on developers, to try to get the project in on time.  We should be reporting on progress against the stated goals of the project, and we should be trying to optimize our delivery approach as we learn how well it is working (though improving the system and process the team works within will produce order-of-magnitude greater improvements than trying to address the problem at the level of the individual). However, by treating scope, time and cost as constant, we fall victim to the dirty secret of software development: A good developer can write almost anything in weekend or two. He or she can probably even jerry-rig it so that it passes external quality control. Look at the code, however, and it will be a tangle of shortcuts and compromises. It will not be maintainable, scalable or robust.

The majority of the lifetime cost of most enterprise systems is incurred in maintenance, and most new projects have hopes of providing a long-lived platform that can be extended and improved over time. Compromise quality from the beginning, and maintenance costs soar whilst the business starts thinking about how to replace the solution wholesale in another expensive project.  In times of pressure, we usually don’t sacrifice quality because we consciously decide to, but because it is the hardest to measure. Agile (and the Software Craftsmanship movement) try to address this balance by suggesting that it is usually better to consider scope to be the variable. If we deliver incrementally (remember: small batches) and prioritize our work so that the most important requirements (as we understand them at the time) are fully built, tested and accepted early in the project, we have the option of pruning scope to deliver a higher quality solution. Cutting cost is about doing less for less, not doing more for less.

Our Agile Principles

In working with our clients delivering complex, multi-faceted software development projects, we face all of these challenges and more. We have found that neither the Agile Manifesto nor the core practices of Scrum™ alone fully encapsulate how we need to work. In part, this is because working in a professional services context is a little different to working in the type of long-running product development team that a lot of Agile literature takes as a starting point. For example, our teams often have to deal with things like fixed-price contracts, clients who have limited time to act as “product owners” guiding development, and teams that do not survive intact from project to project.

However, we believe that a set of core values are universal to all of our projects. In true Agile fashion, these have evolved over time (and continue to do so), but at the time of writing they are:

  • Focus on business value: Let every team member be guided by an understanding of the client’s business and the strategic goals of the project
    •Quality: Build quality in from the beginning and manage quality proactively throughout the project
    • Simplicity: Design and build the simplest (and most elegant) solution that will meet the requirements
    • Collaboration: Flatten the team and work hand-in-hand with the business
    • Feedback: Build feedback loops into the project and use this to improve throughout the project, both as a team and as individuals
    • Commitment: Commit to the business as a team, and stand by those commitments
    • Visibility: Provide the business with up-to-date, meaningful metrics of our progress and early access to the solution we are building

We teach these values to our new hires and describe them to our clients at the beginning of our projects. The exact process we follow on a given project will be tailored to the circumstances, but these values remain and we use them as the guiding light by which we make decisions about how best to tailor our approach.

2018 Digital Trends Impacting Government

Technology is constantly changing as new tools are developed and old tools are modified or repurposed, and these commercial innovations are having a growing impact on how we govern.

What citizens come to expect from the government is evolving as these new advanced tools mesh with their daily lives. This is requiring government organizations to not only understand these new tools, but to know when and how best to implement them to further their mission. Going forward, let’s explore four technology trends that are currently impacting citizen engagement and digital communications, including live video, immersive tools, bots, and wearables.

 

Trend 1: Live video

Live video is a teenager in Internet years, but with Facebook launching their live video product in 2016, there is now an upswing in its usage and popularity. Facebook live videos are watched three times longer than regular videos. With live video embedded into social media platforms, it’s no longer one-sided consumption, but an opportunity for a two-way conversation through comments and engagements. Aside from Facebook, other platforms include YouTube Live, Twitter Live (previously known as Periscope), as well as independent platforms like Livestream, and time-sensitive videos for Instagram and Snapchat. There is no shortage of options when it comes to sharing videos.

Government organizations can use live video for a behind-the-scenes look at events or in the field, interviews with agency leaders, or a speaker series on a relevant topic. They can be used in a variety of ways in order to get information to the masses in a way they are open to receiving it. Several agencies already use live video. A few have their own agency-specific channels, such as HHS, FCC, and the State Department, among others. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health at NIH discovered the benefit of leveraging a social media platform for live broadcasting. They hosted a free lecture series on integrative medicine that they modified to stream through Facebook along with a post-lecture question and answer session. They found that the lectures had six times more views on Facebook Live than through their own streaming service. The benefit of using these social media platforms is their reach – there are two billion visitors to Facebook every month as compared to the same number of visitors to all government websites every three months.

Trend 2: Immersive technology

Immersive technology, such as 360 videos or virtual and augmented reality, uses digital simulations to replace or enhance the physical world. Sometimes used interchangeably, virtual and augmented reality are not the same thing. Virtual reality (VR) involves being totally immersed in the computer-generated simulation, typically using a headset. Augmented reality (AR), on the other hand, involves blending computer generated components with the real world. Though it is expected that there will be 171 million active virtual reality users in 2018, many believe that augmented reality will see the greatest growth and applicability.

It’s easier to imagine how virtual simulators can be used to train astronauts, for example, but how can immersive technology be used for more everyday citizen engagement? It can be effective for improving citizen preparedness. The Singapore Civil Defense Force has been using VR to prepare their citizens for natural disasters. It can also be useful for building awareness of a city or work. Australia has created 360 videos to attract tourists to areas across the country. This technology can also be useful for recruitment. As an example, the British Army found that by using virtual reality to simulate common training scenarios, it led to a 66% jump in recruit applications.

Trend 3: Chatbots, virtual assistants, and messaging apps

Bots are programs that simulate conversation, can answer questions, or help with various tasks. AI components, particularly, Natural Language Processing and machine learning are what makes them useful. Chatbots are everywhere and in every industry. Gartner estimates that by 2020 the average person will have more conversations with bots than with their spouse. Messenger apps, such as Whatsapp, which have been steadily growing and are now the most downloaded type of app, provide a means for delivering bots to the billions of people who are using those apps every month.

Bots can be helpful in delivering services, providing expertise on a topic, or responding to customer service questions. Arkansas launched a personal government assistant for its citizens. Gov2Go, as it is named, can keep track of deadlines, send reminders, and help with related questions. There are currently more than 300,000 users of Gov2GO.

Trend 4: Wearables

Wearables are network-connected devices with sensors worn anywhere on the body. We’re all familiar with wearable watches like Fitbit. Aside from watches, there is eyewear, wearables, and even programmable clothing. This market is still fairly new, despite over 100 million devices being shipped in 2016, many go unworn or scarcely used, but it will continue to grow in popularity.

In the future, wearables can be used to provide notifications or collect sensor data. It also has the potential to add to an end to end user experience. Disney Parks currently use their MagicBands to create a more seamless experience in their parks. It’s possible this same technology could be leveraged for our national parks in order to track rangers and visitors in case of emergency, send notifications about weather or sites, and even integrate payment for food, park entrance, and souvenirs.

Citizen engagement is not simply about the latest technology, however. It’s about meeting the needs of the user where and how they wish those needs to be met. The end user has to be at the forefront of all digital design and execution. To do so, this includes:

  • Partnerships: Creating a single end to end citizen experience may require coordination across an entire agency and perhaps even across multiple agencies. It may require bringing in private companies or collaborating directly with citizens.
  • Data: Data can help inform design, understand results, make decisions, and create a more effective service.
  • Personalization: Citizens don’t want a generic answer or experience; they want their specific needs to be met. Personalization requires more mature technology, deeper analytics, and faster machine learning. One way to start this effort, though, is by developing a common set of personas through design thinking exercises.
  • Security and accessibility: Digital technology can easily be hacked, and protections need to be in place for encrypting data. However, that needs to be balanced with creating tools that are easy for everyone to use.
  • Ethics: Technology is not immune to bias simply because it is not human. The government has a responsibility to lead the way on both ethical policy and implementation.

These components must be embedded into the process from the very beginning, into the design, the programming, and the testing. If there is one takeaway, it’s how important it is to be thoughtful upfront and not leave things to post-production.

While there is a lot of interesting technology, it alone is not the answer to citizen engagement. That is not to say organizations shouldn’t be bold, try new things, and continue progressing and changing with market needs, but the first step is to understand the problem and the best solution for it. The best solution may lie in one of these technologies, but only time will truly tell.

The Keys to Driving Successful Digital Transformation

The terms “Digital Workplace” and “Digital Transformation” swirl so prominently in the corporate air these days that it is hard to go a day without hearing them, if not inhaling them. In a recent study conducted by IDG Research for Unisys, nearly two-thirds (65%) of respondents stated that it is “highly important” for their organizations to implement digital business over the next 12 months by substantially modifying their technology as well as their IT processes and resources. The survey identified five key priority areas: mobile application development, cloud deployment, social media, data science, and security.

Digital business transformation requires an experimental mindset that is inclusive of the entire business—marketing, sales, services, IT, R&D, and customer and partner communities. Unfortunately, many companies still cling to a vertically oriented, bureaucratic, hierarchical system of operations and governance, essentially the calcified spine of an operational model that once propelled progress but now erects roadblocks to change. Large companies therefore lack the single most important attribute required for successful digital transformation: adaptability. I believe that a lateral, rather than vertical, orientation must form the basis of a new business model that ignites creativity instead of inhibiting it. I will explore aspects of this model in detail below. First, however, let’s examine the central elements of successful digital transformation.

Keys to Digital Transformation:

1. Make Customer Experience (CX) the top driver of digital transformation. Digital Transformation analyst Brian Solis notes that, “Companies that don’t grasp or internalize the customer journey are obstructed from seeing its potential for optimization and innovation.” In far too many cases, IT and marketing departments still influence technology investments without fully understanding customer behaviors and expectations. Customer experience should be a top driver of digital transformation, and organizations should map their processes to the customer journey, rather than, in essence, asking customers to alter their behaviors to fit an existing corporate process.

a. Understand that evolving customer behaviors and preferences are the primary catalyst for change. Customer expectations and behaviors are dynamic. Effective digital transformation is impossible without an understanding of the changing preferences of existing customers and the new ways of thinking that potential customers bring to the table. Businesses must therefore invest in smart applications combined with artificial intelligence, including deep learning, machine learning, and proactive and prescriptive analytics. It is also advisable to include marketing automation technologies that integrate with both services and sales lines-of-business for improved understanding of customer behaviors.

b. Map out the journey of new, connected customers. Twenty-first century connected customers differ in fundamental ways from customers of the past. It is critical to gather information on their unique attitudes, behaviors, and experiences. IDG Research found that 71% of executives describe the number one challenge their organizations face as understanding the behavior and impact of new customers. Yet only half (54%) of survey respondents have completely mapped out the customer journey. Without such a map, it is impossible to implement truly customer-centric changes that improve the overall customer experience.

c. Familiarize yourself with mobile data and the challenges it embodies. Become more familiar with the challenges inherent in mobile data, and deploy this intelligence to drive digital transformation.

d. Respect and improve the mobile customer journey. “Mobile is just the beginning of disruption in the customer journey,” Solis notes. “With the runway for disruptive technologies still ahead (e.g., wearables, Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality), companies will need a resilient infrastructure that adapts to not only mobile’s ‘micro-moments,’ but also the impact of all these trends and new devices over time.” Any effective digital transformation strategy has mobile technology as a centerpiece.

2. Focus on the top three digital transformation initiatives:

  • Accelerating innovation
  • Modernizing IT infrastructure with increased agility, flexibility, management, and security
  • Improving operational agility to more rapidly adapt to change

3. Recognize that CMOs and CEOs continue to lead digital transformation. As digitally savvy leaders, CMOs and CEOs must accept personal responsibility for the progress of digital transformation, and must rise to the challenge of leading their companies into the 21st century.

4. Create formalized, cross-functional digital department workgroups. Of the 81% of companies with digital departments, only 40% have a formalized cross-functional workgroup. This deficiency directly impedes the development of a laterally oriented structure that fosters innovation. Create a strong group of four to five full-time employees that focus on digital transformation.

5. Embrace digital transformation efforts and eliminate “fear of disruption.” According to Solis, “Another top challenge facing digital transformation is the very thing that governs the course of business: a culture that is pervasively risk-averse (63%). Boards, shareholders, and stakeholders want to make improvements and increase profitability but are often unwilling to examine and change the governance in place today.” Understand that disruption helps create new customers, products and markets. Embracing disruption spurs future growth.

6. Create short-term plans for digital transformation: The digital world changes frequently. Create short-term plans for growth that leave room for updates and the inclusion of new technologies.

7. Create a multi-disciplinary digital transformation approach. Accelerate innovation by launching a formal “innovation center” to promote the testing and understanding of new technologies and the development of new solutions and services.

8. Combat internal barriers to progress and expand innovation by partnering with startups, investors, entrepreneurs, and universities. These partnerships accelerate the adoption of new technologies, shortening the timeline for digital transformation.

9. Exploit the combination of an innovation center, partnerships with startup ecosystems, and a focus on concept development and product innovation to boost digital transformation ROI. Create a plan that combines multiple areas and harnesses the strengths of each one. Improved cross-sector understanding will facilitate ongoing collaboration and ensure that every sector continuously tracks toward enterprise-wide digital transformation goals.

Implementation and the New Business Model

A recent Huffington Post article serves as a good reference on the six stages of digital transformation identified by Solis, and on how mature companies implement emerging technologies. Yet no matter the level of a company’s commitment to proceeding through those six stages by adopting the principles detailed above, adherence to a 20th-century business model will bring the most well-intentioned efforts at digital transformation to a grinding halt. A new, laterally oriented business model must underpin any digital transformation initiative if the potential ROI is to become a reality.

Social applications of digital technology offer a world of new possibilities for organizing and orchestrating work inside an enterprise. Whereas hierarchical communication structures tend to breed the very sort of toxic, manipulative corporate culture that has driven so many talented people away from large firms, cross-departmental social engagement fosters a spirit of collegial collaboration, boosting morale and productivity at once. Such a model promises to reshape the way executives and employees alike think about internal support functions, by focusing those functions on creating, maintaining, and improving the individual micro-services that form the heart of the organization’s operating platform.

From a management perspective, embedding rules, processes, and workflows in the platform itself is both simpler and more reliable than using manual control methods to enforce them. From a technology perspective, the organization can create an integrated, internal user experience layer that brings together what is usually at present just a collection of point solutions and off-the-shelf software. From the perspective of employees, this shift toward lateral integration cuts the puppet strings that control them from above, instead weaving processes and workflows into a supportive platform that becomes a stage on which to shine. Stage directions still provide guidance, but employees become actors with greater freedom to perform.

Benefits (ROI) and Challenges of Digital Transformation

Research has demonstrated that effective digital transformation realizes the types of ROI any C-suite or board appreciates…

  • Increased market share (41%) and increased customer revenue (30%).
  • Improved employee morale: 37% of respondents stated that second to increased market share, employee engagement was the next big return.

…but it will not happen overnight.

“Digital Darwinism favors those companies that invest in change,” Solis observes. However, he adds that, “Digital transformation isn’t easy though. Its true evolution takes time and resources, with benefits delivered in the long-term. This, to some, can represent deliberate moves away from delivering against quarterly returns. That’s the paradox of investing in digital transformation; it gives returns to those who treat it as a long-term investment versus those who expect immediate impact,” said Solis.

Measuring Outcomes

“Digital strategists must still rethink metrics to chart future development in new channels, experiences, content, and devices,” Solis explains. “Existing KPIs help validate early work in digital transformation. But often, measurement efforts are focused on measuring isolated efforts within each department/function. For example, only 22% of those surveyed cited having a content strategy in place that addresses customer needs at all journey stages, but content analytics are in the top five most important metrics measured. There is disconnect between strategy and measurement in digital transformation efforts.”

Therefore, once the new business model is implemented, exploiting the emergent cross-sector connectivity to develop metrics measuring all stages of the customer journey is crucial.

Measuring internal progress toward transformational goals is equally important, and equally difficult. An Enterprise Social Network (ESN), internal collaboration system, or social intranet is a powerful tool to address this challenge. The network can serve as a human sensor array to help guide improvements to the organization and its functions over time. Input must be sought from people at all organizational levels to identify the key capabilities the organization should possess in order to fulfill its strategic goals and respond to emerging threats and opportunities in its markets.

At the leadership level, these capabilities are typically broad and strategic; at the departmental level, they are often quite tactical; and, at the level of individual teams, they might consist mostly of simple tweaks or solutions to bureaucratic pain points. The ESN facilitates gathering these capability targets as agile user stories. Progress can subsequently be measured using a combination of available data (e.g. Social Network Analysis) and by querying the human sensor network, which will also contribute strategies to realize particular target capabilities.

This simple framework provides a way to bring together all transformation actions within the organization, both those planned and those already underway, and to view them through a common lens of capability development.