It’s no surprise that successful software and even product development is more science than it is art.
Gone are the days of someone simply dreaming up an idea and inserting it into the maw of a hungry marketplace where it could hopefully survive on its own success. In today’s technology-driven economy being able to effectively analyze and test software, apps, and even products are one of the main key’s to its success.
Jeff Patton is a veteran Product Manager, Agile, Lean, UX, and Product Design Evangelist, operating out of the state of Utah. His firm Jeff Patton and Associates have worked with a variety of companies, and industries throughout many sectors. Jeff is also the author of the book User Story Mapping, which illuminates one of the strengths of his own personal methodology.
He often shares his insights by speaking at a variety of events and conferences including things like the Agile Utah Meet Up. The concept behind User Story Mapping is a relatively simple process that employs a lot of common sense. The goal is to explore the user’s journey through how a product is used. It calls for developing a simple model that accurately describes the user’s story. In most instances, it makes it easier to work with user stories in agile development.
User Story Mapping also ensures that you keep your intended user’s interests and activities at the forefront of your product development. This methodology helps move the process beyond the all too common practice of trying to debate or even sell assorted features.
“In agile terms, you are often looking for some little stories that you can grow quickly or are buildable. User Story Mapping is a process that lets you unpack a big thing and turn it into a bunch of little things, by telling a story about your product. The story map lets you visualize the whole product in small pieces,” said Patton.
Patton often contrasts the benefits of User Story Mapping against the concepts employed by other types of testing and development. He often starts by taking a closer look at a concept known as “Minimum Viable Product,” which has seemingly reinvented by Eric Ries in his book “The Lean Startup.”
This type of process goes beyond simply testing things to eliminate bugs. It’s assumed that any product worth bringing to market has been thoroughly tested for technical faults. Instead, Minimum Viable Product is attempting to test whether or not the product you are developing is actually something that people really want. Patton further notes that just a few years ago the concept of the minimal viable product was little more than a market term where viability was a mere measure of whether or not you could make money off of a particular product or software.
When it comes to terms of agility and testing the demand or general interest for a product from users Minimum Viable Product may require different forms of testing. “There are a lot of different ways you can do it,” added Patton. “Afterward you end up trying to sell it to them.”
Some companies who embrace lean startup principles talk about the value of a landing page test. “With a landing page you are advertising a product and giving people the opportunity to buy it, but you let them know that the product isn’t available yet. Then they can be identified when it is,” explained Patton.
The sample size and the amount of interest generated by a landing page test can often be instrumental in deciding how product development will go forward or if it will go forward in earnest. However, it is not the only effective testing method for gauging market demand.
A/B Testing, which is sometimes referred to as “Split Testing” is another method for testing or making alterations to an existing product. “With A/B Testing you want to test a variation of a feature or a whole new feature directed to a subset of your audience,” added Patton.
User Story Mapping’s ability to unpack a larger or more complex product to analyze how the user will use it, allows you to make broad changes through smaller improvements. It also focuses on exploring the user’s motivations and activities.
One example that Patton puts forth is an online vehicle retailer he worked with. “When you know the make and model you are interested in it’s pretty easy to find what you want. But if you only have a basic idea of the features you want or you are not sure about things like the difference between a crossover and a small SUV, it can be hard to find the vehicle you want,” Patton explained.
The experiment Patton was working with was designed to improve the user’s ways to search. Making alterations to their existing Android app was easy enough. They kept all the usual interface features in place, then added a small comments box where people could more accurately tell them what they were looking for.
The information in the box was sent to a group of people who could quickly research the topic or look for vehicles that best matched the description. It was then entered into a clean and professional looking email template and the customized search results were then sent back to them.
“There was one person in the room who quickly saw the test as an opportunity to employ some form of AI or an algorithm in their search feature,” Patton said.
The overall speed and efficiency of a test like this is also a big benefit. “With that test, the lead time was very short. I think the idea for it came up on a Tuesday night, we ran the test on Wednesday, and wrapped it up by the end of the day on Thursday,” Patton added.
Patton also notes that he is not the first person to employ the concept of story mapping. Indeed, it has been used by highly successful screenwriters for decades. Taken in the context of the writing process, story mapping takes plot points and details are spread out on a storyboard and used to tie together smaller details from one episode to the next, while also propelling the plot line forward. All the while the emphasis is on making sure that the audience will understand the connections.
Patton sees a direct correlation in how products and software should be developed “I want people to see their products in the same way that screenwriters develop a story. I want them to think about their product in the same perspective of the user or the customer!”