Group Voting – Watch the Bias

Oct
16
2013

Melbourne Street Art 2011

Recently I have been noticing a heavy group biasing effect with internal teams. This seems to be occurring a great deal around any visible voting system such as Dot Voting.

This has been to the extent that people are voting down the real intent and privately desired outcomes in favour of a conservative group safe outcome. Which is usually not what is wanted.

Dot Voting

Currently dot voting is achieved by handing out a nominated number of dots (votes) and these are placed in full view of  group members on the nominated items, with the previous votes visible at the same time.

This type of voting process usually occurs when we have a limited number of selections, like after a brainstorming session, affinity or any decision making process.  The selection at this point is usually just to allow for filtering of ideas that move forward.

As you can see this means that the complete group dynamics of dominate personalities, internal relationships and the like will come to into effect and change or direct outcomes.

For example, if a participant doesn’t like the way a manager voted they may vote the other way just to counter their vote.

This means that we are not going to get a really true indicator of what people are thinking and how they are evaluating the items without running into the groupthink bias.

Not something we really want, sure it can’t be helped, but we can try and minimise the manipulation of the results.

 What We Need

What we need is a process that can just simply help to remove the bias.

Ideally we want to allow people to:

  • Vote quickly
  • Vote without scrutiny
  • Vote in private
  • Vote without reference of the current results

This means that we may have to consider taking the process off the wall.

Even so we still we need the process to be:

  • Logistically easy to do.
  • Easy to implement.
  • Easy to tally results.

Ideally why not just take the post-its for the items concerned off the wall and vote privately.  This would be good, but you know there would be biasing on some people recognising the handwriting and voting accordingly.  Also the major negative would be in  managing the volume of large research discovery processes with hundreds of items.

This leaves us with a separate quickly transcribing a handwritten list showing the relevant items.   However that doesn’t allow people to see the context of the information that makes up a category for instance.  This would also slow the process down as the list is compiled.

During the voting process you basically want to hide the votes and yet also not allow any hint that there is a preference for one item over another.

Alternative System

Now if we considering that we just want to use the resources we have on hand, dots, postits and sharpies, then any process change has to be simple.

Let’s consider this:.

  1. Hand out the dots as normal.
  2. Hand out postits.
  3. Allocated a unique number to each participant.
  4. Each participant writes their unique number on the front of their postits.
  5. Approach the wall, for the first item.
  6. Vote on the back (the sticky side) of the postit with the dots.
  7. Each participant then places the voted postit on the wall, number visible.
  8. No vote, then just place a numbered postit on the wall.
  9. Move onto the next item.

Write Number, Vote, Place on wall.

This way the votes are hidden, but can be amended, as a participant knows which are their votes.  Tallying is easy.    You can’t tell really who voted for what.  A downside maybe the number of extra postits on the wall.

Okay it’s a bit of a process, but not much really.   Now if you suspect you are getting groupthink happening this maybe a way around it.

Sketchnoting as a Talk Review Tool

Oct
13
2013

Two models of design lead innovation - Steve Baty

I have been sketchnoting for a while now and I do find it a very easy way to personally document and retain information.

Over this period of time I have sketchnoted a good deal of technical and non-technical talks sometimes about subjects that I didn’t have a full understanding of.

The other day I was reviewing my sketchnotes, musing over this talk or that event,  and I noticed something, a pattern within the sketchnotes.

Due to the nature of sketchnoting, I do find that I will often get into a flow, listening to the speaker’s voice, and occasionally glancing at the screen. It really is a case of loosing track of time, as I become completely focused on the drawing and the presentation.  In a way I’m almost channelling the talk into the sketchnote.

Patterns Appear

The patterns related to the level of maturity of the talk and the way it was presented.

The collaborative process - Domenico Bartolo

The more mature talks will often have all the problems worked out and run smoothly. A mature talk doesn’t mean that it has been presented a lot either.  I have sketchnoted talked that just worked on their first presentation.  However you could tell there was a degree of maturity in the presentation development.

The better the talk, the more streamlined and well paced it is – hence the easier it becomes to sketchnote; as I tend to follow the logical rhythm of the talk itself.

Now I’m not going to point of cases where the speaker was poor at presentation or the talk just needed a little more work, as that would be unfair to the speakers concerned.  Most of the ones that were hard to sketchnote I have approached personally anyway.

Reading the Patterns

There is some commonality with the resultant sketchnotes and the delivery of the talk.

Better product definition with lean UX and design thinking - Jeff Gothelf

Generally if a talk is loaded with lots of good information in the beginning then this will be reflected in an overloaded first half of the sketch.

You want a sketchnote to be balanced and clearly highlighting the key points and representing the overall theme of the talk.

If the speaker is unclear about a point or seems to be muddled on the clarification of the talk sections or major concepts – then I find this is reflected in the sketchnote, topics will merge, concepts will in turn be indistinct.

Sure while I’m  sketchnoting I will try and pull out the relevant points and transcribe them, but sometimes it’s an uphill battle.

If the balance is out in the talk, for example, if the latter half is just a summary of the first half.  You are going to get a large graphic at some point, as I’ll end up with time to draw big picture; as I wait for new information or ideas to be presented.

If the talk presents as not having any real direction or flow to it, then the sketchnote will look the same. These talks can be frustrating to sketch, as you really have no idea where the speaker is going.

Angel Investing - Greg Riebe

I have had talks that by the 40 minute mark of a 45 minute talk the speaker was yet to reveal the overall theme of the presentation. Again this is reflected in the sketchnote as not having a clear theme.

For speakers if the sketchnote is balanced and all the major points are covered, that’s a good thing. If topics are merged or it’s not balanced then maybe something was a little off with that talk.    Think about this when you are looking over a sketchnote.

If you sketchnote have you seen this patterning occurring too?

The Old Webmaster is New Again

Oct
7
2013

Rusted Train wheels

The other day I was browsing through various online job boards looking for contracts or longer-term work, as you do.

It was becoming apparent that the wheel is starting to turn full circle. The days of the specialist maybe waning, as the generalist takes hold again.

Back Yesterday

Remember back at the start of the web (1994-95) when you had one person doing the development, design, analysis and devops for a website.  Oh the “good old days”

Apt the websites weren’t that complex, back then, but to counter that the tools we have now where just non-existent.

And we used to call them Webmasters – god I hated that term. There was always something wrong, dirty or just plain stupid about it.

Anyway you had to be across all areas especially the back end, front end development and design components. This did have it’s advantages, but on the downside it did cause bottlenecks in processing.

It was a time of some very weird designs and concepts until the HTML-Table slicing mob with their Killer websites arrived. A little like mobile now.

And Today

Today we have positions appearing demanding skill lists that are basically the same, give or take a little.

Development, mobile, web, front-end, visual design, understanding of UX, requirements gathering, devops experience are being rolled up into one position.

This type of legendary person clearly isn’t going to be a champion at all these areas. However taking with some recruiters, it doesn’t matter, there is a demand.

Usually they are called UX developer / devops. As if the UX is now just shorthand for UX and UI and design.

Sigh!

What’s next “UX plumbers” or “UX Hairdressers”. Clearly the UX (User Experience) brand and even just the “Experience” brand is well and truly overused and dead.

Still it’s interesting how in an effort to save costs, companies are looking again for generalists.  Wheels are a turning.

The Slow Rot of Stagnation

Sep
16
2013

Melbourne Graff August 2013

This happens to all of us from time to time.

We get in the situation where we are stagnating.

You know it well – it has been months since we learnt any new skill or technique. It’s not that we are just perfecting our existing skills.

The day to day routine isn’t unpleasant, it’s just not stimulating, it has become more of the same.

The research is all the same, the analysis is just the same common patterns. Everything seems to be on a constant washing machine cycle of rinse and repeat, sound familiar?  Think about it, are you stagnating?

Is there Anything New

When was the last time you applied something new, or discovered a new technique, instead of relying on the usual suspects (techniques) to help you through your day.

In the UX industry it is especially important we try and avoid this as it doesn’t help the client or end of line customer at all, let alone our own level of professionalism.

I always take the view if you aren’t learning and growing, you are already half dead as it is.

Often the reality of the situation escapes us while we are in this rut. Modern society and our own wiring wants us to take the easy way out, and do nothing. The reasoning behind this are usual not one distinct factor, but a combination of external and internal forces.

Your Environment

It can be your work (or home) environment that is not conducive in allowing you to try new techniques.

There are even extreme cases where you maybe pushed to just “do what you did before”.   While I can understand this situation from an employers view, you shouldn’t be treated as a robot.

However sometimes this millstone is of our own making. In many professional environments, we perceive that there is culture of repeating the tried and true methods. When in fact this is not the case, it’s just that our own bias convincing us that its the culturally expectable easy road.

That’s not to say that poisonous design factory environments don’t exist , they do, regardless of the outwardly facing veneer they may project.

Solution

The ideal solution here is to openly approach this with your team or boss.

Voice your concern,  even if it’s unfounded, and there is no real restriction.  At least it will show you are thinking on the subject.

I have found in most cases people around you will want you to grow and try new methods.  It’s just you holding you back.

The kicker factor the stops this is usually a project viability or profitability.   To overcome this it may pay to tryout new techniques on less critical projects or ones with established clients.

What happens when the environment isn’t open to change.   This is when you have to resort to stealth methods to improve your skills.   If this still isn’t going to work, well I would question really why are your there in the first place.

The Time Factor

We all say we don’t have time, it’s a common cry from any professional.

We will make excuses, time and time again, preferring to find the simple path, the one with low cognitive load.

This will just lead to you putting off any professional development, hoping you will have time in the future.

Time management is no different, we can fool ourselves into believing we are time poor, when in fact we are not, we just make excuses for ourselves that we believe.

Often you get into lifestyle patterns, we can’t help it, afterall humans are the great pattern finders, we do it without even thinking about it. No matter how random you may think you are, you will be following some patterns and will be organising your life accordingly.

Solution

This really is just simple time management.

Just like you, I personally hate doing this, but I find it a necessary evil to keep my chaotic nature at bay.

Find those dead times, the times you waste with no real benefit, like watching mindless TV, driving to work, on public transport, taking a break between tasks.  What do you really do with them, are they productive?

Often we only “think” we use them productively; but have a good hard look at them, even consider keeping a diary.  I bet you’ll find you waste most of them.

These are the moments you need to fill with something that is really productive.

Draw up a regimented routine of professional development, slot it into some of theses dead-times.  Fill them with information resources from podcasts, collecting and reading blogs, books (e-books, audiobooks, paper books). Podcasts, audi0 books, e-books, blog posts and the like can be consumed when you have those small moments of dead time.

While  face to face or longer term activities such as meetups, formal online or remote education to conferences, will take some planning.  Take the time to do this and don’t put it off.

Remember time isn’t unlimited it’s finite, once it slips through your fingers it’s gone forever.

Another key is to also get lots of sleep and exercise.

Ignorance

It is very easy, in some roles, to become closeted and not have a lot of contact with the outside world.

All you see from day to day is the same people in your team, and you know most of them have been there forever.

We can even fool ourselves into believing we are having the right level of contact with the right people, and that we are savvy to the direction our industry is taking.

When in reality we are just being fed the same old outdated information from a regular media channel.

This can happen very easily if we aren’t in contact with a wide variety of people all the time.  Now the problem is as humans we trent to want to circulate with the same people, with the same options, read the same authors –  our tribe.  As you maybe aware this just leads to an echo chamber.

Solution

Just a matter of finding the right resources (see below).   The key here is to trying a new topic or maybe looking into the background material to something you are already familiar with.

In the UX space this can be particularly helpful as it will lead you to new viewpoints on your existing knowledge base.

Read into areas outside your normal interest, you will find a point where it ‘s all the same or old information from your view point, this will be the middle ground of that topic.

This is the point were you need to stretch and read more. Networking into new related circles would also help, try looking for groups that are related yet outside your usual crowd.

Fear of Failure

This is the one aspect we tend to brush off and tell ourselves it isn’t an issue.  Really it’s all based on the fear of the unknown, than failure, of not knowing what is expected or how hard it may be to learn a certain topic.

In some ways it could just be a lack of self-confidence with a new topic.  There is also the flip side of this in perfectionism, where you won’t try something new because you won’t be prefect at it in the first instance.

Solution

This can be a big issue, as we will procrastinate and ignore it, however it just needs a change of view point.

Realistically we just need to cut ourselves some slack.

Take the view when you start a topic it’s in a way “already half done”, by just taking this first step in the process.

Also think of the worst case scenario, if you don’t push forward and do this professional development. That’s right the honest-to-goodness worst case.

The secret is look hard for the “real” worst case, not the watered down one. This should act as a motivator in this instance, as something you want to avoid.

Can’t find Resources

Really!

You know I don’t think this is a problem anymore, years ago maybe, but now there are so many good UX resources on the web and events to attend (even in Australia).

To the extent that one can be spoilt for choice. I have found that the more you learn the great your reach of resources will become.

Solution

Most of the time the resources I find are always now just a simple search away.

If this doesn’t uncover what you are specifically looking for then ask your peers, ask twitter, approach blog or book authors, most of the time you will find them very helpful, particularly when you are after very specific resources for a specialised topic.

Learning is not Learnt

You may have it all organised to regularly undergo professional development and learn new skills and techniques.  This is good.

However we have to remember you have not truly learnt a technique or skill until you have practiced it and really applied it in a real world situation.  Up to that point you are just familiar and aware of it.

The practical application is where the real learning comes in.

So if you are stagnating, what are you going to do about it?