Donuts, Post its and Sketchbooks

nicola-edwards-500px.jpg

Here in the first of our occasional series of Arconaut blogs, Nicola Edwards, shares her secrets about how she gets the information she needs from clients.

Hello, my name is Nicola and I’m Product Manager (UX) responsible for Housing at Arcus Global.

Working at Arcus means you become part of the mission, to ‘build innovative Cloud based products that help people doing the most important jobs to do them better.’
 
With a background in government and the charity sector I’m proud to be part of that mission. My particular responsibility to make our housing solution the best, most efficient and user friendly on the market and by doing so we improve outcomes for the people accessing services. 

So how do I do that?

Well, I spend a great deal of my time with users, the people who ensure rented housing is decent and safe to live in, who help those who are at risk of becoming homeless, or housing those who are homeless right now, and I start by asking them questions, such as …

What do you find most frustrating about your job right now? 

In response people often laugh, unsure about me, or what I’m asking, so I continue… 

If you could change one thing about your job what would it be?

Bad jokes often follow, ‘the coffee’, ‘Gloria’s taste in shoes,’ while the quieter folk look at me wonderingly. ‘Do I really want to know what they don’t like about their job?’

Most of the time people want to be helpful, and try at first to give me the answers they think I want, not understanding that I want them to complain, to tell me how frustrated they are, what they hate about their job and most importantly why. 

Questioning like this, especially in a work environment, can make people feel awkward, or defensive. People often wonder if I’m criticizing them for not doing their job well, mistakenly thinking that an awkward workflow or ineffectual system is their fault.

Understandably, it takes a while for people to feel comfortable and to trust me enough to be honest without fearing they are saying the wrong thing, or putting their job at risk, but once the conversation finally starts, we begin to discover the real problems we need to fix. 

A good discovery session, depending on the size of the team, will often take at least three bags of doughnuts (from a good local baker) and enough coffee to encourage people to relax, have fun and talk openly while drawing and writing ideas down.

A good product manager is practically identifiable by the contents of their bag, like Mary Poppins; it will contain: post-its, various colours, whiteboard pens, possibly a sketch pad and of course the aforementioned doughnuts. With this bag of tricks the magic begins. The users sketch a new system out for the developers - the real magicians - to create new solutions.

Perhaps this is why many developers and others working in software love fantasy, because they are in the business of making dreams come true-or at least to making work systems fit the needs of users, rather than the other way around? 

As James Battle at Eastleigh Borough Council said…
“Working collaboratively we get great knowledge sharing as well as being able to genuinely re-write processes to meet our needs rather than change our processes to match the system.” 
James Battle, Support Services Manager, Eastleigh Borough Council 

Magic!

Arcus CultureNic Williams