We’re moving forward with the project to the point that we need to pin down just how the service will work, so we know exactly what we’re building.
Within the framework of Agile software development, this phase of the project consists of writing user stories. With a service like this one, this phase consists of writing a lot of user stories. Each of the index cards on this very large wall is at least one user story (some are epic user stories, which, as the name suggests, means they need some breaking down):
User stories are short statements that describe what users want to do. Each user story specifies which type of user we are talking about (for example, an administrator versus an unregistered user) and then says what they want to do. Each also includes acceptance criteria — how we will know the goal of the user story has been met. Here’s an example:
As an SME, I want to report an internationalisation success story. [Acceptance criteria: success story must be attached to company name]
As you can probably surmise, the user story process is a long one, and the more you want your service to do, the longer the process takes! Last week we pulled together a group that included both UKTI representatives and Made by Many folks, and we got to work on the first round of user stories.
We made some headway on the project but the work is nowhere near done. Over the coming weeks we’ll continue generating new user stories and refining the ones we have until we are satisfied they are all clear and complete. From there we will estimate each (how much effort they take) and then prioritise them. The goal is to structure work so we release working software sooner than later, and then improve on or add to it in an iterative way.
We should be able to post more user stories in a more readable format in the next couple of weeks… we just need to work through a two-inch stack of index cards first!
Made by Many arrived back from Austin on Thursday after five days of rather intense thought and debate at SXSWi.
I attended a range of sessions on communication, cross-channel storytelling, creativity, and so on. One of the things I noticed over the course of the conference was the development of several themes. I don’t think this was a deliberate move by speakers and organisers; rather, I think the community as a whole is talking about these things right now.
Two of these themes — failure and creative leadership — are especially relevant to this project and the community of business start-ups, and for that reason I’d like to unpack them here. Any comments are very, very welcome — this is designed to start conversations rather than lay down an edict of how things should be!
We’ve recently completed the design of an interactive prototype of the Going Global service. We would love to take some UK firms through the current incarnation and get some initial feedback. If you’re interested in taking a look at the designs and can come and visit us in London next week, please let me know (mike at madebymany.co.uk).
The team at Made by Many — including Tom, Mike and I — is heading off to Austin, Texas this Thursday. We’re attending SXSW interactive, a five-day conference on just about everything to do with digital technology and innovation.
SXSW is stacked with opportunities to learn and network. Every day there are panel discussions, round tables and workshops on everything from content to start-up tips to development, mobile apps, and design. We each plan to attend several sessions that support the work we’re doing on Going Global.
Going Global meets the Digital Mission
Mike and I have spoken with Sam Michel of Chinwag Digital Missions, both about Going Global and about the changing needs of tech entrepreneurs looking to enter new markets. Sam will be leading a mission to SXSW and he has invited us to stop by a Digital Mission event and chat with participants — the very people we hope will use this service — about their experiences taking their businesses to new countries. We’re really looking forward to this.
This should be a fantastic opportunity for us to gather further insights, both into the challenges businesses are facing, and in regards to the solutions and tools they’re looking for. Everything we learn will we incorporated into the work we’re doing here, and we’ll also upload a post-SXSW write-up once we’re back in Blighty.
Here are two more views — a content object page (in this case, a document that’s been uploaded by a service provider) and a profile page. Images click through to PDFs.
It’s important to note that at this point, these sketches are mainly about content and user interaction — so, what’s on the different pages, what the user can do on each, and how users move through the service.
Layout, look and feel and general design elements are more placeholders than anything else. In fact, the design for the profile page has changed a lot since this sketch, but the content and interaction elements are still accurate enough. With that in mind… what do you think?
Content object page sketch
Profile page sketch
Here are a few sketch designs we’ve been working on for the service.
First up, here’s what we are calling the Country Dashboard view. Essentially, you would be able to select a country to view statistics. Stats from doingbusiness.org such as Ease of Doing Business, Risk, Cost of Entry etc are visualised and presented alongside top-level info from UKTI such as opportunity industries, a map of the area or region, a brief description and an indication of some of the activity that is happening on the site relating to this area.
This view relates to a country, such as Turkey but this template may also be used to represent a region or a city.
We think this view is going to really help firms understand which countries are right for them.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.
These user journeys explore how three different users could interact with the site and how it might benefit them. Each journey touches on key screens from our model.
*Please note, you might have to view these full screen so the text is readable.
I spotted a couple of things in my personal Twitter feed today that I thought would be relevant to this blog. Here they are:
Looking for funding? Forbes.com’s Martin Zwilling reports on Seven Investors To Avoid
Trying to do something new… or do something old in a new way? The Heart of Innovation blog reports on 50 Ways to Foster a Culture of Innovation (my favourite is number 5: ‘Make new mistakes’)
Last Friday Mike Butcher came into the Made by Many offices for a chat about this project.
As the Editor of TechCrunch Europe, Mike’s got a good view of what’s happening in the tech world. He also knows a few things about start-ups. For these reasons we were keen to walk him through what we’re planning and get his thoughts on the concept and the approach.
First, the big-picture stuff: is there space for this service?
We showed Mike a couple of user journeys to demonstrate how this free, collaborative, peer-to-peer knowledge exchange could work.
Right away, he understood what we were aiming for and was really positive about it… which was a relief. (If you have to explain your concept a few times, doubts begin to creep in about the soundness of it all…)
Like a lot of the people we spoke with at the outset of this project, Mike was quick to emphasise the importance of local knowledge and the challenge of sharing information and connections. The trick, he thinks, is getting in touch with that ‘golden contact’ — the person who knows who or what you need to know. If this service can help people do that, we think it could make a huge difference to the people who use it.
The importance of working with, not against, everything else
One of the things we’re looking at is how to integrate this service with what’s already out there. Mike was quick to bring this up. Shoehorning this into a busy digital marketplace without making any connections or synergies between this service and others, like Twitter, LinkedIn, Zing and so on, is just not a good idea.
Mike also mentioned of the importance of a viral loop: giving the people who have used the service a reason to come back and promote it. To do this, we need to build a service that does what it sets out to do and creates a lot of happy customers, but one that is also easy to promote: if users have to work to share it, they won’t.
If we make this service super share-able, we could help people make online and offline communities on their own, as they find each other — for example, all the people who use a certain resource in the service might connect to talk about how they can help each other. We like this idea a lot.
Nitty-gritty stuff: how to go about it
Like us, Mike thinks having an open API is a great idea. It’s crucial we get this right from the start, rather than bolt it on later. It’s also critical that the API is simple — Twitter’s API is a great example of this.
In keeping with our aim to make our service super-workable with other services, we should think carefully about how we release data that other developers can do things with.
For example, when people are at a place or event, they do things — they Tweet, update their Facebook status, write blog posts, etc — that create data. That data can be captured and put to work, so when someone else goes back, they can see who’s been there and done what… and create connections. We’ve got to make this a part of what we build.
Towards the end of our chat we started talking about failure. I’ve blogged about this over on the Made by Many blog, so I won’t repeat myself, but I will say that for me, this was the most interesting part of our conversation.
Most people are afraid to fail, and that in turn makes them risk-averse. Mike suggested we use this service as an opportunity to get the word out that failure isn’t necessarily a disaster, and in fact, is often a big step on the road to success. He cited the Silicon Valley start-up motto of ‘fail fast’ and James Dyson’s line, “I always make interesting mistakes” as examples of fail-friendly language — the kind of language we need more of. As a writer, this is something I need to think about when I put together the copy for this service.
Mike’s final comment on our project was, “It’s a long game with a long tail.” One-off satisfied customers are not enough. We need to give people a reason to return and share content (on the site) and experiences (of the site); we also need to build it in a way that makes it easy for it to go viral (sticky content, low barrier to entry, ease of use; quality content). Tall order, but we’re up for the challenge.
All in, we got a lot out of this chat — huge thanks to Mike Butcher for taking the time to come in and take a look at our project.
Here’s one of the diagrams we’ve been using to convey how our system works. You can download the PDF or click the image below to bring it up in a new window.
There are three main parts.
We figure that anyone searching for information about internationalising their business is going to be looking for 1 or more of the following types of information:
- Geographical location – i.e. Spain, London or EMEA
- Industry – this might be the user’s own industry (horizontal) or it may be the industry they are looking to serve (vertical)
- Subject – this might be something very general like taxation or something more granular such as VAT
We believe that many people will be looking for very specific bits of information but may also be making quite broad searches. We hope the service will provide information and classification at all these levels.
There are lots of different types of people who might use this service, and each type of person is going to be looking for different value from the service.
It’s important to ensure that the value is reciprocal and balanced. Service providers need to believe they are going to get some business by helping people on the service, UKTI need to have an understanding of how the value they add is measured, and UK SMEs want to get the information they need at the right time.
The guide is made up of goals. These are in turn made up of sets of prompts which are categorised by subject. The guide doesn’t give you answers or advice, it merely prompts you to think about the right kind of thing at the right time. Of course, some people won’t want to use a guide, and that’s fine. But some people like the idea of ticking off the things they need to think of.
This really encapsulates a lot of the thinking on this project, so if you have any thoughts or feedback, we’d love to hear them.