The past 2.5 months working out of New York City with a team based in Singapore has felt like a test for me. A test to see how early I can wake up, on a daily basis, and be coherent enough to start a scrum meeting. At this point, I'm pretty confident I'm running a passing grade on that test–but dang, 6am is legit early for this New Yorker.
But this project has also brought on challenges working with a UX team that not only resides on a different continent, many many time zones away, but working with a client that resides in a completely different location than us both.
Here are two challenges we've worked through and some of my personal takeaways:
UX Challenge 1:
How could our UX team best collaborate on creating a best in class product experience given our opposite time zones.
My UX colleague in Singapore and I started by setting up a daily schedule were we would adjusted our working hours in a way where we could overlap 2-3 hours of our day. While this obviously created working hours there were a bit uncharacteristic for our profession (me 6am-3pm, and my colleague 12pm-8pm), it was practical given our situation. Most days we spent our overlap hours on Skype calls and video sketching sessions, white boarding, and post-it-noting. We worked through complex user flows, content categorization, and user stories live on a Google-drive document. Each of us would populate our ideas while discussing our rationale, and then we'd move items around. In many ways it was almost like working together in person, at the same table, except most days I worked in my pajamas.
- Many hours apart, technology was the key that helped us bridge a communication gap, and aided in the facilitation of a more collaborative working environment that seemingly only 20 years ago may never have been possible (or just way to expensive to even consider). Regardless of whether we were in the same city or half a world away, real-time tools (Skype, GoogleDrive, etc.) helped us quickly convey thoughts without having to save a 25mb file and send it via email, only for it to get stuck in an outbox. GoogleDrive has since become my tool of choice for a lot of UX-related tasks–planning/estimating, aggregating research, writing findings reports, building sitemaps, and even storing folders worth of sketches–basically anything that I need to access wherever/whenever with whoever. This cloud thing is doing wonders for my ux work.
- I never considered the obscene number of distractions a regular office environment could produce–coffee breaks, meetings, puppy play time, meetings, client pop-ins, meetings, birthday events, meetings, lunch and learns, and obviously MORE MEETINGS. Having working hours where the majority of the team was sleeping made my day, for the most part, 100% uninterrupted work time. I found I could complete tasks faster and more efficiently with less interruptions. And, this also made my daily morning scrums and team calls that much more focused. Win/Win.
UX Challenge 2:
How does our UX team most efficiently convey our complex design concepts to a client we would not have to opportunity to see or work with in person.
After working with the same client last year, we knew it would be key to sell our well-thought out experience vision to the client. With 8 sprints set up to manage the various areas of the product, we utilized each of those sprints to set up a focused presentation with the client. Much of our work had been done behind the scenes–researching, thinking, validating–and we struggled a bit to find a way to condense 3-4 weeks worth of information into a single 1 hour presentation. We decided on a hybrid presentation approach. We would first set the stage with a few slides that brought the client up speed on our progress (in the grand scheme of the project), what we were presenting in the review (to get their blessings on), and the next steps for everyone involved. Outside of that, my colleague and I utilized many of the sketches we created in our sessions and stitched them together using the prototyping software, Axure. We wanted to use this as our presentation tool, to walk the client through our visualized structure and as well as use it to key in on why we proposed specific experiences.
- Don't be afraid to fail or do it wrong the first time. Our first attempt at presenting our UX via interactive sketches turned out to be a bit difficult for engineers and our very technical audience to comprehend. But, that was, in theory, great. We learned something about our audience! They wanted something more tangible. They wanted to see real content they already had populated in our work. This learning would guide our next presentation.
- Sometimes what you think may be the most efficient way of working turns out to be less efficient than imagined. Sketching is fast–down and dirty and not really super focused in on the details, but rather the core concept. That's great for communicating quickly, but having to scan sketches in, resize them, link them up in a prototype all to learn that you forgot a key item in the experience can really slow you down. We were on a limited time frame and to make small text edits and rearrange items in sketches became much more difficult than it would have been had we simply built our concepts out in Axure to begin with.
And those takeaways are why I love what I do. No two projects are the same. No two clients, teams, offices, or tools are the same. It's really an act of progressive learning. We take our best stab given our past knowledge, current situation, and team structures with the understanding that we will have to be agile–always learning and adjusting appropriately. So, cheers to new experiences, whether in the same city, or half a world away.