Mathew Cropper

Aaron Swartz: The Internet’s Own Boy

Feb 2015 {People, Shares}

A must watch. The description of the documentary is copied below:

The film follows the story of programming prodigy and information activist Aaron Swartz. From Swartz’s help in the development of the basic internet protocol RSS to his co-founding of Reddit, his fingerprints are all over the internet. But it was Swartz’s groundbreaking work in social justice and political organizing combined with his aggressive approach to information access that ensnared him in a two-year legal nightmare. It was a battle that ended with the taking of his own life at the age of 26. Aaron’s story touched a nerve with people far beyond the online communities in which he was a celebrity. This film is a personal story about what we lose when we are tone deaf about technology and its relationship to our civil liberties.

Vernā Myers: How to overcome our biases? Walk boldly toward them

Jan 2015 {Diversity, Shares}

What do we do about the fact that our brain automatically associates? You know, one of the things that you probably are thinking about, and you’re probably like, you know what, I’m just going to double down on my color blindness. Yes, I’m going to recommit to that. I’m going to suggest to you, no. We’ve gone about as far as we can go trying to make a difference trying to not see color. The problem was never that we saw color. It was what we did when we saw the color. It’s a false ideal. And while we’re busy pretending not to see, we are not being aware of the ways in which racial difference is changing people’s possibilities, that’s keeping them from thriving, and sometimes it’s causing them an early death.

Analysis foundations for process improvement

Dec 2014 {Analysis, Design/UX/UI}

Process improvement is all about getting from where we are now (As Is) to something better (To Be). It’s about finding out the things we can do better, and then actually doing them better.

One very easy way of making that happen is simply to have your ears to the ground and listen out for pain points. Trust me, you’ll have no shortage of things to work on as a team if you follow this approach.. BUT it is disorganised, lacks prioritisation, and panders to the loudest voices.

This post is about using some seriously powerful analysis techniques to help put structure around process improvement, create consistency, and hopefully add value to the process by using them.

The three key things, from my point of view, are the following:

  • Domain model: understand how everything hangs together
  • User journeys: the end to end experience of your users of your product or service
  • Process maps: the processes you follow in house to deliver the product or service, preferably linked back to the user journeys


How do these things help?

  • To produce all three you have to have conversations about how the nitty gritty of the service works, and together they cover the most important aspects of any business; your customer experience, the processes that support that experience, and the organisation of your company/dept/domain. This knowledge is invaluable, and visualising it in these documents makes it accessible.
  • Well written user journeys and process maps highlight pain points and ‘could do betters’. For example, the user journeys we use in our team don’t just contain the end to end experience, but also mood maps and ‘what is the user thinking’ annotations (the diagram above is a crude mock up of what this looks like). A single glance at a user journey document will tell you the parts of the process that need focus.
  • The three sets of documents together show you easily whether there are downstream impacts or dependencies relating to any changes you make. It’s a super powerful group of documents!
  • Value of processes is made clear, making prioritisation simple.

The problem is, nearly everywhere I’ve worked before has lacked these. They take time and effort to produce, which means moving analysis effort away from things that have a more obvious customer value.

Trust me, the effort to do this is completely worth it.. The level of understanding you create, as well as the number of useful conversations it fosters, bring an amazing level of insight to any team. The documents themselves will become the cornerstone of your analysis work in future, your product planning, and your understanding of what value you deliver.

Beyond the UX Tipping Point

Nov 2014 {Design/UX/UI}

Read: Beyond the UX Tipping Point here

This was shared by @boheme earlier this week, and I had to re-share it here. I’m spending a lot of time at the moment thinking about user journeys, their experience across our games and services, and this article struck a chord. Have we reached the tipping point? Well worth a read, folks.

My favourite free Omnigraffle stencils

Sep 2014 {Tools}

I use Omnigraffle a lot.

I love it, and have ended up building a number of stencils of my own to make common tasks easier. That said, who really has the time to create a kick-ass iOS 7 UI elements stencil, or other really detailed designs? For that reason, I’m sharing a list of my favourite free templates, all from Graffletopia.

  1. Mobile Devices
  2. iOS 7 Wireframe Kit
  3. Facebook Applications
  4. Touch Gesture Reference
  5. Best Practice UX Forms Stencil 2.0

And, a worthy mention at just $19, the iPhone / iOS 7 Color Stencil is also superb and well worth a look.

Post your faves in the comments!

Women as background decoration

Aug 2014 {Diversity}

The fantastic Feminist Frequency channel on YouTube recently shared the two videos embedded below. They talk about how games use women as background decoration- sexualised and abused non-playable characters.

These aren’t just videos and ideas relevant to people working in the games industry or playing games, but for everyone; they bring to life themes relevant to all of us, but possibly ones that we seldom consider.

Bringing Agile to ‘the Business’

Aug 2014 {Agile, Project Management, Techniques}

Bringing agile ways of working to teams comprised entirely of people focused on business (ie. the non-tech folk) is a challenge. It’s notoriously hard to do, because the kind of work that’s undertaken isn’t easily shared, paired on, broken into sprint or sub-sprint length tasks. It’s not impossible, though. Here’s some of my experience (a work in progress).

Bringing agile ways of working to a team used to waterfall methodologies, reporting, and documentation will never happen overnight. Prepare to be very, very patient.

Understand the journey

Start by understanding what it is you want to achieve by bringing agile to your team. It’s not a magic pill that suddenly makes you more efficient, not by a long shot. Take a look at the things you aren’t doing well as a team, examine the reasons why that’s so, and then objectively evaluate whether or not practices from the world of agile delivery are even appropriate. They may not be, and certainly don’t assume that an ‘all or nothing’ approach will work.

What’s not so great? On joining a team there was a very clear structure (in terms of org chart) and clear reporting lines. Roles were well defined, but largely in silos. As a result collaboration wasn’t great, and nor was communication. Earphones were often in use throughout the day.

What’s the cause? Having a formal hierarchy and roles in silos makes it very difficult to collaborate. Visibility is poor, and so opportunities to contribute don’t exist.

What’s the agile journey? A full roll out of a formal agile methodology isn’t needed, but bits of one are useful.

Create visibility by employing some kind of information radiator (eg. JIRA). Create a space to interact by reviewing stories (eg. Backlog grooming). Create a collaborative environment by showcasing work and inviting discussion (eg. Monthly showcases).

Build understanding and buy-in

Once you have an idea of simple, actionable changes you can make to the way you work, the next thing to do is to start building support for those initiatives. Depending on where you are working, this may be somewhere between super-duper-easy and super-duper-hard to achieve, so here are my tips.

Start small. This is why I say that ‘all or nothing’ isn’t the best place to start. People like to be eased into things, for change to feel natural, and the best way to do that is to be focused on the smallest changes that will have the largest impact. Sticking with the example above, that’s why we’ve chosen to start with an information radiator.

Consider your audience. Different people in a team naturally take different roles. You have leaders, influencers, trusted confidants, followers, thinkers.. You name it, most teams will have people who fill one or more of these roles. Your job before you get going is to understand who to talk to first.

By and large, my tactic is to start with the influencers and their confidants. Win them over, and the rest will come along on the journey. The best way to do that is to share your idea in terms that state clearly what the benefit is to them personally. For example, if your influencer is a Project Manager you can sell the benefits of a communal information radiator as a way to make reporting and monitoring easier. Remember, you’re not aiming for an agile culture overnight, and so thinking in those terms (ie. reporting and control) are fine. They’ll change over time as you iterate over your plan.

Get the OK. Win over the person responsible for the team, get the go-ahead, and then share your thoughts with everyone on the team. That last step is key because it’s a subtle nod towards the kind of openness and visibility you’re trying to create.. it sets the tone.

Take baby steps

Implement your change, one at a time at first, and slowly. Take baby steps. At first you will find things difficult, but don’t be discouraged. The graph below, showing the Satir Change Model, and taken from this great post by ThoughtWorks on Adaptive Leadership, shows what you can expect.. in summary, after a change there is inevitably some resistance and difficulty before things significantly improve.


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