Saturday 4 November 2017

Problems and regrets of my survey project

Even the best looking projects that succeed on the outside, might suffer from internal problems and struggles. Sometimes these are hard to spot, sometimes somebody else will take care of it. Either way it is always important to address them.

I spoke about this amazing success in designing survey with AI and gamification. But it was not all flowers and sunshine, there were some problems.

Project management – agile vs waterfall

Working on our survey project, we had very strict timetable for development. But with pixel-perfect mockups for our project approved the development could start. PM assembled the team, made sure everybody understood their job and the project in general. Timetable was problematic and he had to leave for 3 days. To address his absence he completely handled the bureaucracy needed for overtimes, found mentors in case there were some hiccups and made sure everything technical was prepared. We had everything we needed and he could go away knowing we will finish it on our own.

This all happened around time when I had conflict with management so I decided to play by their rules and not consider anything my responsibility as per my instruction from above.

Second day into PMs unavailability a question arose. We were supposed to support multiple languages but some of the texts were missing and some were altered. We needed to update the translated texts. After that another question appeared. Are backend and frontend teams well coordinated? There is so little time and if there is issue with missing texts, is there no other unexpected surprise that might get unveiled on release day?

Under normal circumstances I would sort it out instead of PM. I would ask backend and frontend developers if they are synced and have everything planned out. I would also write clients about translating the text they approved. After all I spend 3 weeks discussing design with them, I was more involved than PM himself.

But these were not normal circumstances. I was told by my superiors to back off from anything outside my direct UX responsibility – that entailed backing off from project management however small my part it would be.

So I asked my superiors, what should I do? There are questions and some small management is needed. PM is unavailable and there is no stand-in appointed.

I was told to find leader of PM team, explain the problem (again) and ask for someone to handle it. In my foresight I included bunch of people on cc. It was those people who showed effort in solving the problem. A point for me I guess.

I was pointed to another person but not connected with him – I needed to explain the whole problem again. The person was stand-in for my unavailable PM, but only on ordinary projects. This project was classified as special, so it was a no-go there.

I was asked to give him my phone number so that the unavailable PM can call me with instructions how to settle the situation. But this would only mean it would be delegated onto me and I would be doing something my superiors told me not to do.

At the end, the PM had to come online during his unavailability to deal with the situation he had no knowledge about. That regrettably prompted the communication to include errors which needed to be remedied by someone available and not instructed to do nothing.

Instead of simply sorting it in 30 minutes tops I was asked to spend hours explaining problem multiple times. I was to look for somebody with a role of project manager who would had information about project that I had already and watch as it proved to be inconvenience for everybody. Eventually it did not even get solved using this approach.

It was a nice example of how trusting your team, spreading the responsibility and ownership will always be better solution than waterfall where everybody has clear set of responsibility, where if one important person leaves, the team will fall apart like house of cards.

My regrets – lack of research

I do not regret pulling that stunt with project management nor consider it my mistake. I regret that the people who praise agile as the next thing we all must strive for, failed to even start thinking in terms of agile and still live in waterfall world.

What I regret was not having or making enough time for testing. This would be the perfect opportunity to perform some guerrilla testing with co-workers, spreading the UX culture little bit more by getting people interested in some fun activity.

I had plan to create a prototype which I would put on tablet and went around the office to test it with random people. Somebody walking to them and handing them tablet with black and white prototype asking for their input and how they would use it – that would surely distract them from the daily routine and show them the fun part of UX.

I made the prototype and put it on tablet. But I had other project to focus on – one that was more important to me even if it was way more painful one to deal with. And so I have never found the time to test it with people outside of my team. It made for an interesting showcase inside the team but that was it.


It was shameful to watch these problems unfold and play role in them. But I sincerely believed that a wakeup call was necessary. Nevertheless, the message did not get through. Once again, the clueless people were saved by someone else. I was also blamed for not handling it despite the fact I was told not to. Sometimes you just cannot win.

As for my dream of guerrilla testing in the office, it was painful but I will find other opportunities. When it happens again, I will find the time.

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