As is now customary, I’ve made my sketch notes available elsewhere, but this year I thought I’d have a go at rounding up and responding to the sessions.
For more detail there is very comprehensive coverage on Lanyrd.
I’ve seen Neil speak a few times now, and am always impressed at how embedded the UX and User testing activities at Edinburgh seem to be. In this session Neil was open in his admiration for and lessons taken from Jeff Gothelf’s Book and the idea of why things exist – to support a business objective – is such a clear and simple one, but remarkably complicated for an organisation to have clarity about. I suppose the dream for this activity would be to trace everything you produce back to a business goal, and then measure how effective it’s been at meeting it. I also liked the emphasis that features on their own, are not good measures of success – The product death cycle
The big thing I’m hoping to take out of this is to start taking some concrete steps towards structured, sustainable and practical user testing activity
The team from the University of Greenwich started with the seemingly arbitrary date they were set for a new website. Instead of turning the exercise into a dreaded ‘reskin’ (with accompanying great slide) they took the admirable step of doing things better and taking the change as an opportunity. In a trend that I’ll talk more about later they engaged some external consultants to help identify tasks for the triage of the mess, and more important in many ways use their external power to validate the teams ideas throughout the organisation. What really cam through from the talk was the thoroughness with which they stepped back and assessed what was likely to be achievable with clear ideas about how they wanted to do things. The timescale for a ton of work was extremely tight, but rather than wading in straight away I got the impression that endeavour was well considered before starting.
It sounded like once the thinking and planning was done the tasks really benefitted from the up front time spent planning. Not for the first time I heard Kanban and Trello mentioned in the same breath. Also – go read Kirsty’s great roundup – that great slide is in there.
This workshop session was more than some dry examination of ‘leadership’ – I’m sure we’ve all sat through our share of those. Perhaps why this went well was the desire in the room to recognise ourselves in the styles described and work out ways forward. This was the afternoon of the first day and I’d already had a few conversations with people in teams being reviewed or restructured, so the bits where people talked about the importance of leadersip through change was a precursor of lots of the sessions and conversations to follow. The categorising of problems according to tame, critical and wicked was new to me, and will give me some homework to go through Claire’s slides.
First talk from an external consultant and an interesting explanation that inviting them in isn’t sowing the seeds of one’s destruction, but turns out, they can help. Rob’s round up of the different ways that Universities have engaged Precedent worked as a good reference for me. Having examples and case studies took some of the mystery out of getting consultants in for me, especially since that’s not in my remit and can seem a bit if a mystery. In an event that lasted a week I might have found the time to seek out people from those teams to get more detail.
It stuck me during Rich’s talk that because the team at Bath have be so thorough in talking about how they work and the standards they apply that when giving a presentation like this it must be hard to deliver surprises. I liked the example he gave where accommodation content was improved and the improvement measured. It seems like a very rewarding way to work, and impressive on behalf of the team to stick to their guns and the overall plan when it must be difficult to navigate the political and territorial byways of a university. Of particular relevance for me was the reminder that there are many people that depend on what web teams produce – bit end users, but also internal users that need supporting – something that I think we’ve been ok at, but need to do more on.
Gareth’s talk on establishing digital began with some familiar tales of restructuring, then some more and hopefully have settled on a structure that works. More importantly it seems, they have also jumped in with both feet (or however many feet the collective has) to DSDM Agile working – which excitingly is described as a ‘battle hardened approach’.
More change management here too! – this time the Kotter 8 Steps process for leading change.
I noted that ‘Business as Usual’ as a phrase cropped up here and also later, describing the activity that doesn’t get logged as project work but is where lots of valuable work happens. The team at St Andrews also seem to have menaged to make a ‘Project Board’ work with Agile – mo mean feat considering the inherent inertia that can infect such committee structures.
Special mention has to go to Duncan for coming up with the most enjoyed slide – his ‘Wordpress Facebook Twitter’.
One particular insight from Duncan was the beneficial effect of joining new teams and learning what made them tick and how that then informed later ways to restructure. It also was really useful for him to understand how to make changes in processes that were practical. By this time in the conference a theme of making changes to processes is coming through strongly – that you can’t make real change without addressing more deep rooted problems. As was touched on in last year’s event ‘Digital’ is often the banner for that change.
I’m a big fan of prototyping sites to get ideas out early instead of endless discussions about features and how it will all work. The impression here seemed to be that there was a great deal of momentum being built up by getting things in front of people early and responding to the feedback. It strikes me as a demanding but rewarding way of working. In this case Headscape helped to validate the approach and nuture the activity long enough to let the benefits speak for themselves. Also cool in this was an acknowledgment of the tons of different skills that go into creating good experiences. Overall a big endorsement of the ‘show, don’t tell’ approach.
Another talk of a more tactical nature, Richard explained the rationale behind unifying the sprawling number of sites related to JISC and their activities. I was mostly interested in the Pattern libraries, since it’s something that we are just beginning here at the University of South Wales, but it was a good reminder that style guides and pattern libraries, whilst rewarding to produce and deploy, have to go hand in hand with communication to explain why they are good and what benefits they can bring to people.
Always good to throw in a geeky exploration of tech among all this strategising, and Martin didn’t disappoint. I’m sure there were plenty of people having ‘oh, we could do that’ moments during his talk. I’d forgotten about the measurement protocol, but thankfully Edele at Kent didn’t. Overall it emphasised what I’ve been realising for a while – that learning (more than my basic) GA will be of real use in better understanding what people are doing and wanting on the things we build. The hard part I think is investing the time to get up to speed. The masterclass session I attended on Tag Manager, was a stretch for my limited analytics knowledge, but did do plenty to inspire me to get cracking in Tag Manager.
The masterclass sessions are classic for firing you up and doing things when you get back to the office.
I have to admit to being a personalisation skeptic, thinking that often people try to do clever personalisation without fully understanding the difficulty of doing it well. Maybe a bad personalised experience is much higher risk than a good generalised one? This talk did make me see more opportunities to do it well. I especially agreed with the sentiment that there needs to be more thought put into the transactions that make up navigating and interacting with our offerings and information. Also like the reminder to know the difference between vanity and useful metrics. Plenty of new ideas for steps into personalisation.
My favourite thing from this one was the super simple (but no doubt hard to do) aim to save a person an hours’ worth of work a day with IT. (I hope I’ve summarised that correctly), and the use of ‘Top Tasks’ to get started. I think there can be a tendency in university teams to assume that an agency will always be expensive and temporary. The relationship between LJMU and Mando seems to be more symbiotic than that, with the benefit to the University the ability to get stuff done in a timely fashion. The example was an iBeacons trial where the agency bore some of the costs and hence the risks to get a trial up and running to test it’s feasibility. Sounded like a very happy marriage.
The only talk that directly mentioned CMA, but as I mentioned earlier it’s spectre was looming over the conference. I think that CMA is an opportunity for Universities to make some changes to content workflows that are sorely needed if my conversations with people about course information and all the issues around accuracy and clarity are to be addressed. Marieke managed to convey some of the issues but was also pretty frank in saying that no-one really knows how the CMA will pan out in the sector, until some of the complaints from students are tested.
I’ve seen Matt once before and it was equally smooth this time. One particular thing of interest this time was the fact that the ONS isn’t part of GDS (Government Digital Service) but kind of affiliated with a similar outlook on the importance of user needs and development standards among other things. What is really gratifying is that all those standards and aims actually do translate into great products.
A common theme emerged from the conference was the added value of meeting people from a variety of orgs often facing similar problems. I felt that I didn’t meet as many new people this year as previously. I might put it down to the city centre nature of the event, which was great fun and Liverpool was lovely, but meant that groups dispersed easily. I think I’m already resolved to make more of an effort to be as welcoming to newbies next year (if I get to go) as people were to me at my first way back in 2009.
CMA seems to have taken over from CMS as the acronym de jour. With lots of uncertainty about the practicalities with lots of people waiting to see real world cases of CMA information being found wanting. In the meantime I loved Mandy’s observation that CMA is in danger of being treated like a Health and Safety issue and leading to organisation being overly cautious about the information made available for fear of the the consequences. It’s this reframing of CMA as a risk that might undermine innovation in meeting users needs and expectations.
and finally it was great to see so many examples of Change management underpinned by solid theory and on the ground activity.
Who’d have thought I’d be writing a sentence like that a few years ago ;-)