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!
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
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.
Last Friday Mike Butcher (@mikebutcher) gave us a little help getting the Going Global word out there by tweeting the following message to his many followers:
How can uk gov’t support tech companies launching in other markets?
His tweet attracted thirteen suggestions — here they are:
- Offer TSB/NESTA/RDA-type funding funneled through UKTI or other dedicated body
- Give us help with patents (advice, money to get them) both here and abroad so UK ideas stay with UK companies
- Help with flights; arranging meetings/”demo days” with potential partners/clients through embassy; provide local market information; help with PR
- Check out the UKT&I Global Entrepreneur Programme — how about an equivalent to that but with a local/national focus?
- How about a free local PR agency?
- Promote Webmission-like initiatives
- More school leavers with foreign language skills
- How about seminars on what other markets expect from you — getting language and marketing pitch right for those markets etc?
- Do a quick analysis of the brand name, appearance, and packaging would be very useful — just to make sure there’s nothing obviously inappropriate for the country/market in question
- Shared office space to operate out of on trips to key geographic markets; also, local legal help
- Advisors in UKTI with experience of building tech companies
- Allow application of R&D Tax Credits to travel and overseas office expenses
- The Government could assign case workers at consulates, dedicated to your company, to make introductions and assist
This is a pretty full list, and I expect some if the items on it may be a touch contentious, but I think it’s great to get some debate happening on this subject. What do you think — do any of these resonate with you?
Just a note — we’ve followed everyone who suggested something. If you’ve got ideas about how we can make this service better, tell us in a tweet (@goingglobalbeta), or follow us and send us an @ message. We’ll then follow you back so you can DM us. Not a Twitterer? Comment away…
We’ve started referring to this service as a free peer-to-peer knowledge economy. Big name, but simply put, it’s a means for industry peers to share knowledge.
If you want information on, say, start-up success rates for a specific region of China, you can use the service to search for just that.
Your search will (probably) generate (some) results, as do most searches. So far, so ordinary.
But here’s where it gets interesting. If your search doesn’t turn up the information you’re after, you can ask for it.
We haven’t yet designed the pages, so we can’t show you those, but here’s the process — first in a slideshow…
… And now in words:
You fill out a quick request, specifying just what information you need.
The system fires off your request to the people best placed to answer it — so in this example, it might be the UKTI people on the ground in China, but also UKTI contacts in other regions that might offer an alternative option.
You get a heads-up as this information is created and uploaded onto the system.
You read the information, rate it and/or comment on it. If it does the trick, that’s it — job done. If not, you can request more information through the same process.
… So what do we think?
Here’s an update on the project. It includes some stats on the market’s need for a service like this, as well as more information on how the service would work. There are also three user journeys.
All of this is subject to change as the service evolves, but for the most part, this is where we’re headed.
If anything in this presentation resonates with you, please feel free to jump in with a comment.
Mike and I attended TechnologyWorld 09 in Coventry this week to meet some people who we hope will use this service. We wanted to find out what they think of it, and ideally start to build a community of interested users.
We spoke with a lot of people who had some really positive feedback about the work we’re doing. One of the challenges we had, though, was explaining just what we’ve been doing.
From words to pictures and back again
I’ve been working ‘in digital’ (sorry, folks) for a while now, and something I find endlessly tricky is figuring out the right way to explain (in spoken words and — at least in my case — flappy hand gestures) exactly what you’re creating (out of written words, pixels, algorithms, etc etc).
I don’t know if there’s one best way to do this, but I suspect there isn’t — in fact, I reckon it’s a lot like teaching something, where you find that some people learn with a teleological approach, whereas others do better with a metaphor or hands-on learning or whatever other method.
And so, without further ado, here are my findings on how to get early feedback from future users, with nothing but words and hand gestures…
1. Whatever you do, don’t bore them…
Sometimes I walk the potential user through a possible user experience, but I find that to be a roundabout way of doing things. It’s sort of like telegraphing punches: by the time you finally deliver, your target has been anticipating it for so long that they’re almost bored… and needless to say, you don’t land the punch quite as powerfully as you’d have liked to.
I avoided doing this in my TechnologyWorld chats, as I thought it asked for too much time and commitment from the people I was speaking with (after all, they want to tell me about their work, too).
2. Problem-solving sometimes works
Another way of going about it is with a problem-solution method, where you can walk through a problem and show how your product solves it. The downside is that this can take a while, and you run the risk of losing your audience if the problem you spell out doesn’t resonate.
3. Answer the biggie: what’s in it for me?
Finally — and this is the method was very successful on Monday — you can try walking users (well, future, would-be users) through the benefits of what you’re doing. I found that people responded very positively to learning about how this could help them… even if they didn’t necessarily need all of the help it could offer.
One thing I have learned though is that it’s prudent to be really humble when you do this — it’s all too easy to alienate the people you’re talking to by sounding a bit overconfident about the horse you’re backing.
I’d like to know how other people approach this challenge. Ideally, we’d have hours to play with and all sorts of sketches and slides and user journeys to walk through… but that isn’t always the case. With five or fewer minutes to play with, what’s the best way to (really, solidly) explain a digital service?