Posts in Nerding Out


Lean UX – Part 1

I don’t know if I’m going to post more than once, but I’m hoping for it, which is why this is Part 1.

I was recently set as the Product Manager for our website,, which meant I needed to learn how to manage, prioritize, estimate, schedule and track all issues and tasks on our site…both on the current code and the re-platforming project they hired me to design. Needless to say, it’s a bit daunting. But I’m up for the challenge.

So I started doing research (and still am). I’ve looked into all these different software development methods like XP, Agile, Kanban, Waterfall, etc. Now I’ve never personally been a part of a development team or a design team. Being self-taught and doing freelance work, I’ve never had those experiences before. But I have tried using Agile workflows before with design teams I’ve lead and it didn’t go over well. Sure, we pushed out a ton of work, but no one felt any ownership of a project and it didn’t allow for a ton of time to create exceptional designs. So I’m at a place where I have to find which method, which workflow is going to work best for us, but I can’t make the decision in a bubble. I have to discuss it with everyone! How do my developers like to work? One of them wants to crawl into a cold dark room, put on his dubstep, and just crank out code like a wood chipper. Another has to talk through every step of the way and gets easily distracted with new features and bugs. I also have to talk to my boss, the CEO. He has a ton of knowledge and comes from a history of product ownership and dev team leading. What has been his experience? What would he recommend? But more importantly, how much involvement does he want to have? What deliverables does he need?

So I’ve spent the last 2 weeks reading and watching everything I can find on Agile, Kanban and Lean workflows. I got side tracked for a day trying to figure out how I could create a LEGO kanban board. I got side tracked again when I couldn’t figure out how to best prioritize our issues when we have a time-sensitive project going on. And again when our CEO placed a pair of Google glasses on my desk and said, “Have fun!” But I think I might finally have an idea of how to best mange the current projects and workflow of my team.

Our dev team got together yesterday and created milestones from our requirements list. The milestones are definite: Issues and Features we have to accomplish in order to move forward on the project. Each milestone has a date, which is purely speculative. It’s hard to say it will take us 4 days to create a new feature, if we’ve never created that feature before. So we estimate on the high end. Each milestone has a issues, tasks, and features within it. For instance, one Milestone is to create a single sign on feature for the site. We are integrating Drupal with our Magento platform and need to create a single sign on (that also allows for social sign on) for user accounts. Within that Milestone are like 10 tasks such as research, installing Drupal, installing the social login plugin, etc. We estimated each task to help us estimate the milestone due date. These milestones will help us schedule the project and manage our time. For instance, if we are ahead of schedule for a certain milestone, but can’t move forward until another milestone is reached, we know we have time to address some lesser bugs on the current site or work on a “nice-to-have” feature. That’s another thing, milestones can be running simultaneously. As the UX Designer, I have specific features and tasks that I have to do before a developer can get his work done. I’m blocking him. So I created milestones for myself. Our front-end developer has milestones and so does our backend.

TeeFury Kanban - Agile Board - JIRA

The milestones get versions (0.1, 0.2, 0.3, etc.) and we use those to label our issues and features in JIRA. JIRA is what we use for all issues, bugs, features, and tasks, including design. I created a Kanban board in JIRA that I will continue to update as the team progresses through issues. Anyone can view this board. I have also created a physical Kanban board in our office that we will use for 2 week Sprints. This board has been complicated to create. I saw a ton of videos saying, “Oh you can create a Kanban board in 5 minutes”. Yeah, if you’re a single guy working at Starbucks and it’s just for yourself, sure. But for a product as complicated as an e-commerce site, with a re-platforming project going on, and old code to fix, plus you have a team of developers and tons of story owners demanding their issues be resolved…well now its a bit more complicated. We use columns, swimlanes (I learned those were basically rows), colored sticky notes, colored circle stickers, magnets, and of course, LEGO avatars. Because I was going to find a way to include LEGOs into my board somehow!

So now the physical board represents what we are currently working on, and the virtual board represents where we are at in the grand scheme of the project. So now I have a large and small view of the product.

What’s next is to implement some of the Lean UX principles I discovered from Jeff Gothelf. More on that later…