You know that feeling when you’re part of a focused team working together towards a common goal? It’s great. It’s productive and engaging. But it’s kind of hard to get there.
Maybe it’s because it requires quite a few things. For instance, the possibility to focus on one thing at a time, with few disturbances. This can be difficult to achieve working in an open-plan office space within a company managing a few of the most visited web sites in Sweden. People tend to make sounds, technology tends to brake down, problems arises from seemingly nowhere and on top of that there’s a future to plan. Also you’re often requested to estimate how long something you’ve never done before will take. Etc.
So we try to find ways to make this manageable. We apply different processes, organize and reorganize, invest in new technology, use deck of cards to help us estimate. Etc.
At the moment many of us at Bonnier Broadcasting think that the best tool at hand right now is mob programming. The web teams take on it is simple. A group of people. One computer. One screen, a really big one. One problem. And then we attack it. From start to production.
We’ve created a few mob spaces where we manage to be part of the open-plan, but still isolated enough to keep an all-day conversation going without upsetting our co-workers too much.
We enforce hard restrictions on our business surrounding when it comes to prioritizing. We can handle one thing a time, pick the one you wish for the most. That is of course not entirely true. We are still responsible for a fairly complex product that needs tending to. Meetings needs to be attended and so forth. But we can manage that. For instance, one person can leave the mob to focus on a problem that emerged or attend a meeting. The work still goes on in the mob.
The mob becomes a natural place for communication and cooperation with people and functions outside the team. For instance we have a great UX team. Unfortunately they don’t have time to hang around our team all day long. But with the mob approach it becomes natural for them to swing by when they have an opening. They can become part of the mob for a while, and together we can discuss problems and develop solutions. If a stakeholder wants to now how things are going, they can simple stop by. Maybe just watch for a while, as the result of our work is almost always right there on the screen, the really big one.
A few weeks ago the top priority was an initiative to enhance the news section of TV4 Play. This has been in the making for a while. Lots of discussions, UX work, wire framing and so on. But now it was finally time for us to build something. It had been agreed that the most wished for feature was a new player module. Where the live news stream would be rolling right from the start but with no sound. A single click on the video should start the sound and on the right hand side there should be a list of the latest news clips that could be started quickly.
So the mob started to work. Things went great. Seemingly, our previous work reactifying our views paid off. At the beginning the UX team spent a lot of time in the mob. We identified problems and found solutions. Together. A few days in, everything started to feel production-ready. At that time we brought in people from SEO and Analytics who helped us to set up reasonable tracking and make sure google would still be able to find our news content. We were ready for production. One day ahead of the US election.
The sound of commercials
One thing you simply do not do, when developing an online video service all day long in an open-plan office, is having your volume set to more than a bare minimum. Especially when we’re sharing one big screen and not using headphones. Maybe that’s the reason we didn’t notice earlier that we had a huge problem with our video player. When switching between the latest news clips at a swift, but reasonable pace, the player could end up playing the sound of the commercial from one clip while playing sound and video from another. That’s a horrible user experience.
Into the mob enters one of our developers from the video player team. With common effort we could determine the problem was mainly caused by a bug in third party code. But we could also see a way around it. So we pulled up the code for the player and together we managed to fix the problem, and at the same time refactor parts of the player to make it more manageable and more easily integrated with TV4 Play. Now, we were really ready for production. We only missed the US election by two days. Well. At least we hadn’t estimated, “sync up meeted” and “moved stuff around in jira” our way into missing, what seemed to be, a perfect launch opportunity.
The bug we found in our third party code is acknowledged in their support system. We’re told that a fix is planned to be included in a release that will be available in two weeks from now.