Leaning Into User Experience with Twilio and Turn2me
The awesome agency of design thinking, personas, and sketching of ideas bring a minimum viable product (MVP) to life by communicating desired outcomes across agile teams. Here’s how using Lean User Experience (UX) enabled a cloud communications and digital mental health charity to collaborate and rapidly make a social impact, and the lessons learned . . .
Recently, I was psyched when asked to help out with some UX insight for a great collaboration between Twilio and Turn2me in Dublin to build an online mental health experience to engage teenagers.
This fun little project was enabled by Twilio’s Pledge program for doing social good while creating value. The Twilio and Turn2me folks dovetailed nicely, applying design thinking and agile software development principles to work fast and flexibly.
I’m kinda fond of the wry definition of “millennial” from my old boss, that “perennial”, Larry Ellison: “Everyone who is younger than me”. But what do you do when faced with the challenge of rapidly creating a solution for even younger people when there’s none in the room? How do you walk in the shoes of the world a lot younger than you?
Enter some best practices from the world of Lean User Experience (UX), a favourite agile framework reference of mine.
The Twilio/Turn2me challenge was to deliver an online “life issues” engagement solution for young people that would engage them immediately but also encourage exploration and participation.
We based some working assumptions about our customers from analysis of the results of a survey of the Turn2me community to determine their needs and wants, pains and gains. We added feedback from other stakeholders, from what was hot in the innovation space and media, and favourite UX examples.
Then, we collaboratively formed a select number of engagement hypotheses, by combining business and user outcomes, customer personas, and product features that might be what we needed when tested as working software.
Central to our approach was the creation of a user persona; sketching out some low-fidelity wireframed interactions that would enable us to communicate the challenge; and the writing of agile user stories to frame the tasks involved and create momentum for the development team that we could iterate on.
The wireframes were first white boarded, reviewed, photographed, and turned into Balsamiq mockups, complete with text annotations about problems addressed, open issues, and questions for developer and product management to clarify.
For the MVP, we prioritized on the key engagement points and features that were innovative yet worked in a familiar way on mobile devices.
The wireframed mockups were iterated on by development and product management collaboration and formed an important communications device, not only between product managers and devs but with other stakeholders (founders, funders, strategic decision makers, sales and service teams, and so on) about what was coming.
Keeping It Personal
We create a persona based on known information about a typical “user”, on market data; and by leveraging a well-known personality to help communicate the emotional side of their experience.
Personas are a powerful framing method to help agile teams focus on providing a solution by providing answers about how the customer might act, feel, or think in typical situations.
Telling the Story
The product folks wrote agile stories to communicate to developers what was desired, using the simple format of, “As a …. (user), I want to (do this)…, so that I can… (achieve that)”.
We held a kickoff meeting between Twilio and Turn2me, attended by product managers, owners, customer advocates, cloud developers and a UX rep to explore the initial set of sketches, persona, and stories, to set expectations, to figure out how to best work together, and to agree on what the deliverable should be: working software by the end of the week.
And then the Twilio team got on with it!
The Twilio folks delivered a working MVP for our Turn2me customer in days, sheepdogged by standup agile meetings to check in on progress and close communication online and in person.
At a demo session, the Twilio team explained what was about to come; then stepped through a solution live where the product owner was only too happy to accept the delivery, and where all could celebrate in the achievement. What we saw demoed was a compelling, mobile, and innovative engagement experience worthy of kudos all round!
(After MVP code and artefacts hand off, the next stage is to validate the MVP with real customers, iterate on feedback, and continuously deliver value. More of this later.)
So, having leaned in with some UX, here are some key lessons I learned from the experience:
- The customer is boss. Identify their gains and gains, happy paths, cultural and technical touch points, expertise, and so on. Take a walk in their shoes and capture it using a persona, with a name and picture.
- Assumptions are not bad things when framed as testable hypothesis based on outcomes, personas, and features that can be changed too.
- Let teams self-organize and come up with ideas shared using personas and wireframes before writing a line of code. Build enthusiasm and let people take ownership. Let developers do what they’re good at: developing stuff to solve problems.
- Start doing it. Get going as fast as possible and create value to review internally and then externally. It’s hard to critique and build on nothing.
- Try different things. It was great to see alternative options presented by developers, changes, and revision. Adopt a ready-shoot-aim approach. “Ready” beats “Done” mentality.
- Prioritize working software over PowerPoint Karaoke Decks and lots of written documentation (staying true to the Agile Software Manifesto!).
- You do not need to go to art school or to be able to draw to sketch ideas or write user stories. You do not need to have a degree in coding to use design thinking to be innovative or to empathize with customers as you ideate. If you have background in storytelling, visual, written, or verbal, or just being able to relate with real people in real places, perfect!
- Maintain and update sketches and use them across product stakeholders to set expectations about what’s coming, to get more feedback, and to create a product roadmap to realize a strategic vision and marketing message.
- When it comes to “User Experience”, focus on the “Experience” (or “Engagement”) part and turn the “User” part into a real person with a name, purpose in life, and reason to use your product as opposed to you competitors.
As we say in Ireland, “Sure, Just Give It a Go!”
You might like to consider the Lean UX approach for your work too. It’s a fast, low cost exercise in creating real user and business value that you can test and measure quickly.
Better to be surprised early, in a nice way, rather than late in a very bad way that is costly to try and fix.
Let us know how you get on! Find the comments . . .
A big thanks to Twilio and Turn2me for the opportunity to participate! Woof!
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Ultan O’Broin (@ultan), Eighties hair and music fan, is a cloud UX consultant. With far too many years of product development and storytelling experience in Silicon Valley and Europe, he has written extensively on design thinking, innovation and product management.