Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

Usability Back to Basics: Should Links Open in New Windows?

Let me preface this post with the admission that I am not a professionally trained web designer. I have had experience designing web-based learning materials and have knowledge and exposure to Usability and User Experience (UX). Some of the past organizations I have worked for held UX as a primary goal in producing good products. I am still very committed to learning how to provide the most user-friendly solutions to the content I deliver. Happier users are more productive workers.

DESIGN QUESTIONS:

  1. Should website links to external sites open in new windows?
  2. If so, how do you differentiate links on a site to external pages to links that point back (internally) to the site?

I wanted to do some research on the questions above to help provide answers but also to solve a problem I am facing with a website I have inherited. This site, which I vaguely referenced this site in a previous post, needs a major overhaul starting with a card sort, but the immediate need is to update some of the more visited pages with current information.

The site was created as a hub to connect learners with other content both within and outside of the site. Therefore,the site is linked to both internal and external resources and each page has multiple links. Sometimes dozens of links.*  Returning to the two questions above, I found the camp somewhat divided on opening in a new browser:

 

YES, open in a new window

 

NO, do NOT open in a new window

After reading the advice and developer discussions on the sites above as well as additional resources, I’ve come to the conclusion that I will continue to keep external pointing links pointed to opening in new browsers, because they are reference to content outside of our own.  I’m also leaning to proposal #1 below to help guide or teach users where to go.

My proposed solutions to fixing the page content would be as follows:

  1. Train users where to expect internal pointing links vs. external pointing links. If possible keep the internal pointing links together in 1 section at the top of the page. Links that point to an external site are kept in a second section. There are no explicit instructions that warn users, but eventually repeat users learn that anything they click at the top of the page points to the same site, but links on the bottom half are external links. They start to expect the behavior.
  2. Give the users a choice. Have the current link open in the same browser, but provide an icon that allows them to open in a new browser. While this seems like the politest option, from a web developers perspective it is the most labor intensive. Also, it will me you will have to update links in two places.
Proposed temporary solution to web page design.

Proposed temporary solution to web page design.

* I have to resist the desire to say that such hub sites are NOT helpful  to users because their architecture is often not based on personal user experiences.

 

 

Part 2 on herding cats: diving into using Six Hat thinking

Six_Hats_For_Evaluation_Feedback_Session_Agenda_Generic

Six Hats Thinking agenda for feedback

Six Hats Thinking agenda for feedback

Most brainstorming sessions I have participated in frustrate me because it seems that people are so inclined to jump into the part where you solve the problem before you have enough data or information. In an earlier post, I mentioned how useful Edward deBono’s Six Hat Thinking is for herding those proverbial cats in the workplace.  What I really appreciate about the deBono model of facilitation is that it helps bring thoughtful order to collaborative work without forcing participants to use a highly constrictive process. If facilitated smoothly, it allows the group to separate their egos from objective sharing while still giving a voice to intuition and feelings.

Also, most importantly, Six Hat Thinking allows other voices to come into play in discussions other than just those four to five loud ones that typically are most heard the most vocal in many larger group discussions.

Recently, I held a project wrap-up and feedback session built around deBono’s Six Hats. We had a very limited amount of time and we were all pressed to providing meaningful contributions to a discussion after a heavy lunch.   I did find four things most helpful for the discussion’s success.

  • Allow people to gather their thoughts in accordance to the Six Hats thinking model prior to the meeting. I provided an optional worksheet or prompts for the discussion. At least people could frame their thoughts prior to the session rather than feeling as if they had to respond on the spot.
  • Keep the explanation about deBono’s theories and the Six Hats to a minimum while restating the main objective of the feedback session which is to gather information to improve the project management process going forward.
  • Gather the information ahead of time about the project charter (Blue hat thinking) and an initial set of project facts and stats (White hat thinking).
  • Take the colored hats reference out of the agenda but share it later or as part of a handout.

The last piece of advice, I applied last minute to my presentation because I didn’t want to focus primarily on the process of using the hats but on our main objective to gather information to improve our process for future initiatives. The discussion was rushed, however being able to shift between the positive (Yellow hat) and negative aspects (Black hat) of the project before diving into the solution space (Green hat) allowed us come up with a more exhaustive list of areas for improvement.  I was also careful to make sure to include time for the Red hat at the end to express our intuition and emotions about the project because it gave us an opportunity not to achieve some closure, but to express the emotions or thinking that are often pent up during a project as well as to celebrate our feelings of accomplishment and even relief as an end note.

I actually, wished that we had done this more regularly, but upon reflection, if the context and some guidelines (rules) aren’t provided around sharing of emotion and assumptions, discussions might not be as productive as you’d like. This is the part of meeting facilitation that I want to improve at going forward.

You can view the templates and slides I used for my feedback session here:

Slides used (pptx format)

Six_Hats_For_Evaluation_Feedback_Session_Agenda_Generic_Ex

Pre-work template

SixHats_Feedback_Input

Slideshare: Being an excellent but quirky boss means you need to get opinions from the “straight men” on your team

It’s hard for one not to like a show that demonstrates spot on storytelling and character development despite its 30 minute format. It’s hard not to like a show that not only makes you excited about music but inspires you to see connections between art and the realities we live in. This show was just plain fun to watch and it re-affirmed to me the importance of passion and commitment as leadership qualities I admire. Maestro Rodrigo embodied these characteristics, and I spent time examining how and why.

Continue reading ‘Slideshare: Being an excellent but quirky boss means you need to get opinions from the “straight men” on your team’

Bathtub management model

Have you ever wondered how much engagement you should have in your team’s projects as a leader and supervisor. This short video on the Bathtub Management Model gives you a new perspective on how hands on you should be with your teams.

5 Things I’ve learned or been reminded of this month

Hopefully I’ll have time to elucidate more later.
Continue reading ‘5 Things I’ve learned or been reminded of this month’

#dl09- Formalizing informal learning

Preso Description – NA couldn’t find one.

Dublin presented.

See chart I will add reflection later.

This was a particularly helpful session.

Some of the key takeaways:

  1. The concept of  “Informal Learning” is not new.
  2. Between Formal and Informal Learning there is a Grey Area that when asked if a learning piece should be “Formal” or “Informal” we respond… “It depends” (on context, audience, nature, etc.).
  3. Process for Formalizing Informal Learning Includes:
  • Step 1: Get Organized
    • Agree on problem and what success will look like
    • Determine metrics
    • Identify key stakeholders/audiences
    • Formulate approach
  • Step 2: Get Oriented
    • Agree on scope
    • Understand organizational factors
    • Identify weaknesses in current state
    • Identify milestones
    • Recruit
  • Step 3: Get Smarter
    • Architect solution components
    • Develop detailed design
    • Integrate into larger system
    • Mobilize
    • Test, learn, iterate
  • Step 4:  Get Real
    • Continue to learn and iterate
    • Listen and communicate
    • Check your metrics
    • Support and institutionalize

Miyamoto Mushashi’s Rules for Work and Living

 

Miyamoto Mushashi Miyamoto Mushashi

 

 

 

  1. Think of what is right and true
  2. Practice and cultivate the science
  3. Become acquanted with the arts
  4. Know the principles of the crafts
  5. Understand the harm and the benefit to everything
  6. Learn to see everything accurately
  7. Become aware of what is not obvious
  8. Be careful even in small matters
  9. Do not do anything useless

I was on the train the other day and I started re-reading The Book of Five Rings. The nine rules that Mushashi notes are the key to learning military science seem to apply to all endeavors as well… including living. In a way I think most of the problems we face in both life and work stem from the fact that we don’t follow such a set of rules (not necessarily his).  That day, I spent time reflecting on two of my favorite rules.

My first favorite of the rules is ” Become aware of what is not obvious.” Though, you must have a good objective eye and awareness. I don’t think we train enough children and young people today to really wait and notice things. Think about it, we’re all walking around with headsets in our ears listening to our music or podcasts and living in our own encapsulated bubbles.  During my morning walk the other day, I purposely left my headsets at home. I wanted to hear what was going on around me, notice more. Besides there’s part of me that feels that when you’re wearing the sets, you’re a bit vulnerable because you are not really paying attention to what’s going on around you. 

Many of us at work operate in such encapsulation. Sometimes we work in a dysfunctional workplace so we remind ourselves to focus only on ‘our part.’  At the very least, we miss opportunities to function better in our roles, at the very most we don’t see the causes for the dysfunction or how possible solutions for fixing it.  In the cases of some companies or workplaces this the growing dysfunction can lead to financial ruin or bankruptcy. If my experience in life so far has taught me anything, it’s the value of  understanding how the details fit into the larger picture. However, sometimes seeing this picture and using it means you have to do a lot of work.

Still, I can see Mushashi’s rules, like any set of rules,  being misapplied or perverted in the sense that certain individuals can become paranoid and nitpicky when it comes to rules such as “Be careful in even small matters.” There are some people, including myself, who tend to overthink things given enough time on their hands. Perhaps that’s where applying a Zen philosophy towards living comes in. Again, it’s about achieving a certain balance, and observing some unwritten rules of nature. This often stumps us here in the West because we almost always need to have everything explicitly stated for us unless we’re operating on blind faith.

Understand the harm and the benefit to everything. This is so important to me, to understand both the good and the bad sides to the things that enter or influence my life. For example,  why is the Internet great? It puts a wealth of knowledge at my fingertips. Why is it bad? There is so much information I can easily get overwhelemed or side-tracked and I require a greater amount of focus to get my work or even thinking done.  

Still, asking these questions to probe both the ‘good and bad’ of things has served me well throughout my life as long as I can use the information to make decisions well. Plus, there is a part of me that questions blind adherance to anything. Last night at dinner my brother (and husband) spent a bit of time dissing things like twitter and social networking. In their discussion I heard messages like:

  • It’s a waste of time
  • It might be good at first, but once everyone does it, it all becomes noise
  • Why do I care what other people think?

I had to jump in on their piss parade and say, you cannot really make judgements about things until you truly try them. And I suggested that trying Twitter meant more than just loggin in and checking it out for an hour. It means participating in larger conversations or joining groups or communities or doing several searches for keywords and information.  I did acknowledge that this particular social media has become inundated with marketers and advertisers which make it harder to separate the wheat from the chaff, but that there are tools and aps that help you do that. Moreover, I noted that the limitation of expressing yourself in less than 140 character might have an appeal to many people who seek to express their experiences and states of mind succinctly.

So there is a good and a bad to everything. You simply have to take more than a second look.


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