Time Keeps on Ticking: How to reset timelines

You busted your butt for four days to complete a set of mockups derived from a “final” PRD. You even took the extra effort to include the wireframes and a mini-spec. Then the Product Manager has a genius idea that changes everything, and suddenly you’ve got to start over from scratch. You don’t mind; it’s a good idea and after all, that’s job security, right?
Then comes the punchline. At 5pm on Thursday he presents his scope and direction change to you, and smiles blankly as he says “So when can we have updated mockups? I’d like to show them tomorrow at 2.”

I know, I know… but murder is illegal and slashing his tires only means he’ll spend more time in the office. You have to find a civil way to educate the poor fool. Honestly, he’s not TRYING to give you an aneurism. It’s just ignorance.

So, how do you educate a Project and Product team that, when scope or direction of a project changes, they have to accept a timeline slip? O Grasshopper, you’ve come up against the age-old dilemma of more than just the UI folks. But lucky for you, this Old Man On The Mountain has an answer.

You have to be stubborn, manipulative, and flexible all at once.

First of all, we all know the Scotty Principle, right? At the very beginning of a project you’re always asked to give a guesstimate of how long it’s going to take you. Usually, without all the info you need. So, you take a good guess, triple it, and make that your estimate. The product or project manager always goggles and clutches their chest, you subtract two days, and they breathe a huge sigh of relief. Then, you can deliver early, look like a hero, and the developers thank you for the extra wiggle room later.
That Scotty Principle padding will come in handy when the project changes. If you delivered early, you can just assert the rest of your reserved timeline.
Second, you may have to exaggerate the amount of work that goes into restarting a project. Don’t LIE – because it’s important that people know they can trust you. But you can beleaguer the point (“I kinna do it, kaptin!”) and let them draw the conclusion that it’s more work than it is. Then, when you ask for 3 days instead of the half-day they offered you, they’ll be impressed that you’re willing to work so hard and so fast.
Third, employ some negotiating skills. My Scottish ancestors are well known for their frugality and their ability to haggle – something I’ve employed liberally in my career. Ask for more than what you want, and let them work you down to what you DO want. Don’t be afraid to be outrageous with your requests.
Fourth, and this might be the most important – be willing to work the extra hours if it means doing the right thing for your users. Be willing to pull an all-nighter to meet an unreasonable deadline, because in the end, you’re part of a team, and sometimes timelines CAN’T slip by much. Understand that while it’s important to put our feet in the sand, and teach the lesson that good design takes time, it’s also sometimes important to be flexible and work your butt off for the greater good.

Knowing when is the bigger problem. :>

Today’s Glossary Term:
Storyboards – These are rough, high-level sketches used to indicate workflow and possibly basic functionality. Sometimes they’re done by hand, sometimes with Visio or some other program. They should not indicate what a page or step LOOKS like, only provide a user-based series of steps including important information, decision points, and backtracking.
These are really useful in making optimal workflows, and working through intial requirements. I color-code them, as well, to help indicate where an experience might be less than perfect.

Today’s Interesting Link:
http://kuler.adobe.com – Adobe’s Kuler is not only a beautiful interface, it’s also terribly useful. Looking for a color palette and stumped? Needing inspiration? That’s the place. There are so many color palettes, you’re sure to find something to satisfy you. Apply it to more than just software design – I’ve used this in making clothing, decorating my house, and painting!

Today’s Usability Quote:
“Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.” – The Buddha

Today’s Music To Design To:
In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, Afro-Celt Sound System. Whether you like to design while listening to music with or without lyrics, Afro-Celt is sure to please. Their stuff is an interesting combination of African, Indian and Celtic music, with some great electronic beats. They’ve worked in collaboration with some top-notch singers including Sinead O’Connor and Peter Gabriel. I can’t recommend them highly enough.
Buy the CD or
Download the MP3s

Welcome to The Mythical User

Through the mist, a brilliant light cuts a swath of whiteness. Somewhere impossibly far away, a black speck mars that perfect shining bar, and as it grows you realize a person is walking toward you, as if the light were a solid path. The figure grows and you see it – average height, average clothing, average income, average age, indeterminate gender. As celestial choirs of angels sing, you realize you are in the presence of the Great and Holy User.

Okay, so maybe it’s not like that in the real world.
The reality of user interface design is that rarely do we ever get to consult our users even a fraction as much as we should. Whether the company is large or small, startup or mature, UI design is often given only a token nod in project plans. No matter how trained the project or product manager is, they always seem to forget up-front research. So, we, the mockup monkeys of the world, resort to our weapons – industry standards, emerging best practices, and least tangible of all, instincts.
Then there are our engineers.
We love these people, don’t we? Some of us started out as developers, others are headed that direction eventually. Regardless, the people who receive and implement the pretty pictures that designers make are often so removed from the User that it seems like a myth, wrapped in mysterious symbols and color-codes and head-shaking illogic. We, the designers, often take on an evangelistic role, preaching the Greater Good of the Lowest Common Denominator from our soapboxes like southern roadsermons – but hopefully without the polyester suits.

If this sounds familiar to you – if you’re that beleaguered designer, mystified engineer or even a user who can’t fathom why his voice isn’t heard, you’re in the right place. Stop in, kick your feet up, and join in the discussion. Together, we’ll build a more usable world.