Jony Ive and Design at Apple

I’ve been an Apple fanboy since my days using an Apple ][+ back in 1981. Apple has always been about design, but with Steve Jobs return in 1997 and the rise of Jony Ive, the focus on good design reached an entirely new level. I’m fascinated by how Apple makes this work. In many projects I’ve worked on, good design is seen as a luxury to be considered “if there’s time at the end of the project.” Hint: there’s never time at the end of the project. I think good design is part of the technical excellence that must be the foundation of all projects in order for them to be flexible, sustainable and maintainable. For a glimpse into who Jony Ive is and how he’s changed Apple and industrial design, check out the interview.

Jony Ive

Photographed by David Sims, Vogue, October 2014

Can “One Windows” Fix Microsoft’s App Problem?

History of Windows logosWhat Does One Windows Mean for You? – Don Jones on Pluralsight blog

The idea of one Windows is intriguing, but as Don points out, it can mean different things to different people. The elusive “one application to rule them all” approach to cross platform support has been around for decades without ever truly coming to fruition. My experiment with Microsoft Surface over the last year has taught me that the tablet apps and desktop apps are entirely different animals. Microsoft’s attempts to build one operating system that does both desktop and touch at the same time has produced an OS that does neither particularly well.

I hope that Microsoft is leaning from the dismal uptake of Surface (and other Windows tablets). It’s all about the user experience. While people say they want to run all their Windows apps on any device, if the experience becomes a frustrating series of impossible-to-click buttons and text editing nightmares, they’ll decide tablet computing just isn’t worth it. Don’s view is that much of Apple’s success with developers hasn’t been because of write once/run anywhere software. Instead, he suggests that Apple’s iOS and desktop application boom comes from allowing developers to reuse code to create separate applications that cater the strengths of each platform. I agree. Microsoft has to embrace the advantages of each its various computing platforms (phone, embedded, desktop, tablets and Xbox) while making it easy for developers to move and reuse code between all of them.

Does Iterative Development Stifle Innovation?

bulb in hand“Shorter sprints leave less time to recover if a promising but risky initial approach fails to pan out.” – My Primary Criticism of Scrum, by Mike Cohn

I came across the above blog post from Mike Cohn today and it got me thinking about whether and how my development teams innovate. It is definitely easy to get into a rut, where the team is constantly focused on the simplest possible solution and burning down. It is up to the project leads (Project Manager or Technical Lead) to be intentional about encouraging innovation within the boundaries of the agile process. For our project teams, this is a two step process:

First, project leads must look for opportunities to innovate. Sometimes this will result directly from a Retrospective improvement. Other times, the project leaders need to recognize when a project has a need for innovative solutions and the space and time to pursue those solutions. There is no science here, this is a balance of project resources (people and time) against the value of the innovation.

Second, once we make the decision to explore a new technology, approach or process, we break down the steps to complete this exploration. We define a user story, estimate the story and break it down into smaller stories as necessary. Next we task out the steps needed to satisfy the story or stories and, finally, we execute the stories in time boxed iterations.

I’ve found it useful to place time limits on research tasks. Research is one of those activities that can go down the rabbit hole. When asking developers their Definition of Done for research tasks, it’s not uncommon to hear, “I’ll know it when I see it.” I could work with the developer to force them to define “done” for the story or task, but instead I usually just say ask them how long they want to spend on the research (e.g., four hours, full day, whole week). We use that time frame as a hard stop to discuss the next steps in the process. For example, is more research needed, should we implement the solution or is the approach is unworkable?

What the Customer Wants

Girl Eats Huge Sunday

During a recent customer design session (combination requirements meeting and design discussion), I was surprised when one of the stakeholders quoted me as saying that it was the development team’s job to build whatever the customer wants. I paused for a second and thought, “What did I say that was interpreted that way?” I know I would never intentionally tell a customer that our job is to build whatever they want. Our job is, of course, to build what the customer needs. There is a world of difference in those two statements and I took care to explain that difference to all of the stakeholders at the table. Neither of the teams truly knows what the application we’re developing will look like in the end. We all have ideas (at least as many different ideas as there are people on the team). My job as an agile project leader and business analyst is to facilitate communication between all of the players in a way that uncovers customer needs and results in a system that can meet those needs in way that our customers find at least acceptable (but hopefully exceptional).