This was the first [proper] week of the Alpha build project. The team from Methods have moved in to a corner of our office in Newport with me for company.
We treated this week as a ‘sprint zero’ with the aim to getting the team settled in and up to speed before embarking on the first of the official 2 week sprints from Monday.
The team has had a rather..comprehensive…induction in to the objectives of the project and the extensive discovery work we have undertaken. One of the things that became clear early is that we needed to agree on a common lexicon for the duration of the project as it is easy to find people talking at cross purposes with the terminology that we are using to describe the work of the ONS. Members of the team have drafted a project ‘dictionary’ to get us started defining some of the key terms and I’m sure this will be a living document that will grow over the coming weeks – it is a hugely valuable resource already though.
Things have been moving pretty quickly – the team has set up an environment using a combination of Github, Travis CI and Heroku so we can get things pushed to the web regularly with an additional manually maintained Heroku instance for ‘public’ builds at the end of each sprint. In fact we have already starting booking in slots for user research in our lab for the end of the first sprint to ensure we maintain momentum and get some real feedback as soon as possible to verify (or not) the work we are doing.
The week hasn’t been without stumbles. There have been some issues picking up the (still indevelopment and thus not really ready for handover) ‘pattern library’ from CX Partners as the team here moved quicker than I expected in moving from investigating to building. An initial call putting the two teams together helped resolve some of those niggles and I’m confident that it is just a blip that we’ll soon get past.
The first objective, not surprisingly, is to get a basic static build of the proposed site somewhere people can see it. Alongside this the team are looking at ElasticSearch and seeing what quick wins we can get from that – we know search is a perenial bugbear for our users so we have started looking at that immediately. I want to get that aforementioned user research underway nice and early and also get out and about providing ‘show and tells’ to interested partied both within the ONS and externally.
Everybody involved with the project is alive with ideas and if anything the difficulty is keeping things focused on a small amount of key things we need the Alpha to test. The more time you spend looking at the project though the more opportunities present themselves to you which bodes well for the future.
We are using the wonderful web tool Slack for team communiction (and yes it does live up to the hype) and combining this with Github and Trello in particular has really been brilliant for creating a single place where you can get an overview of what is happening and quickly check in with the team without breaking their concentration – I am aware of the old ‘makers vs managers schedule‘ idea from Paul Graham and while it has been a while since I was so closely embedded in to a development team I am trying to stay out of the way unless needed. I think the idea of ‘servant leadership‘ is an interesting one – particularly in this kind of context – so I am *trying* to live up to that.
Elsewhere in Digital Publishing there is a lot going on as well. The Digital Content team took part in some ‘agile’ training this week and also started planning for the organisations first ‘design sprint‘ based on the Google Ventures model that the BBC have also embraced. It is an interesting approach to idea/product generation and I think it could be really successful at ONS as there is a growing desire from the organisation to try new things andthe Digital Content team are a talented bunch just looking for appropriate outlets.
In social media world it turned out that vacuum cleaners of all things were quite the hot topic;
Never thought I'd see the day when I'd report that retailers cleaned up in August as vacuum cleaner sales provided a boost!
— Kate Davies (@StatsKate) September 18, 2014
Over in the Publishing team they were carefully following guidelines about publications due to this weeks Scottish referendum which was good training for next years election!