This is a guest post from a wonderful colleague of mine in Registers of Scotland, Mark Hanlon, republished here with his permission; the original appeared on an internal blog after I helped facilitate a World Cafe event with RoS, Scottish Government and Local Authorities. It’s a developer take on his experience of modern product thinking and designing with ‘real’ and passionate users!

Once I tried to organise a works Christmas night out. Trying to get 15 people to agree where to go was like herding cats (and that was cats with strong opinions). It was even worse trying to do it via email (all non-verbal clues, context and tone completely eliminated).
It was only a night out, not a major life decision but blow me down if it didn’t cause some arguments.

So imagine then if you had 32 customers all with different priorities about a product you were developing. Added to this, they really really really care about what is coming next and are all ready to lobby for their biggest issues.

With this in mind, the Landlord Registration team, Communications team and Scottish government recently hosted a Networking day for the Local Authorities to let us find out what was most important to them. We wanted to find what features would give the most benefit to the largest number of people. We wanted to find this out in as collaborative/pain-free way as possible.

The bulk of the day was a “World Cafe” exercise. We hosted 6 tables that each had a mix of representatives from the local authorities, some people from ROS and some folk from the Scottish Government. There was on average 9 people at each table.

The table was tasked with prioritizing 21 features in order of what would deliver the most benefit to them. Coming up with a collated top 10 of priorities at the end of the day.

Features were discussed and ranked in terms of benefit by the people actually affected by the inclusion/exclusion of the features. The organizers only facilitated by giving a nudge here and there if the conversation was getting sidetracked.

Here’s what I found really interesting from a dev’s perspective.

  1. What we thought could be important often was torpedoed by something we could have no awareness of (e.g. Relaxation of Validation rules to allow for foreign phone numbers was almost pointless because of the operational effort involved in the LA’s to call abroad).
  2. By dividing the users into 6 tables allowed for a more balanced discussion where everyone felt a wee bit more comfortable chatting. Rather than a town hall-style format where the loudest most confident person usually wins.
  3. Deciding priorities is really really difficult if it’s not face-to-face where you have a large volume of customers. If we tried to do this via email, it would have been a disaster.
  4. You have to absolutely have a have structure for the users to rank features, otherwise, it would have been a chat with no decisions.
  5. The dev team should never have to manage/second guess/coordinate the priorities. Any strong opinions should be conducted between people with strong opinions face to face. Really we have no clue what the users want.
  6. People are really reasonable face to face.

This was much much more fun/easier than organising a Christmas night out.

Mark

p.s. If you are organising a Christmas night out you should get a “Pride of Britain” reward.

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