Enterprise Executive - 2017: Issue 2

Mainframe Perspective

Chris Malin 2017-04-12 02:22:18

The Need for Delightful UX and Agile Design In Mainframe Software In today’s ultra-competitive digital economy, faster time to market and a delightful user experience (UX) are game changers and necessary for software companies to survive. Agile and DevOps practices are leveraged to help deliver and react faster. What software design techniques can we use in this new, Agile way of developing software? What role do mainframes play in delivering delightful UX? This is what we’ll explore. Mainframes and Delightful UX We often equate UX with modern UIs; e.g., mobile and web. But when we take a deeper look at all the parts that contribute to the user experience, far more often than not, we find that mainframes are involved to a great degree. The mainframe is an unsung hero in our story, playing the role of system of record, excelling at reliability, availability, serviceability, security and scaling. Mainframe software must continue to leverage these strengths; otherwise, the user experience will suffer and even the slickest mobile and web UIs won’t matter. Additionally, a symbiotic relationship between the mainframe and interfacing development teams is essential toward delivering delightful UX; i.e., understanding the overall UX design, moving at a similar cadence and responding to change. How Agile Software Companies Do Design As mainframe software vendors progress down the Agile path, the bulk of education and shared knowledge is centered around the functions of a product owner, scrum master and development team, working to determine how software will function. A frequently less charted area for Agile teams is design. This is somewhat understandable, since most Agile frameworks by nature are minimally prescriptive, meaning they allow freedom for the user of the framework to determine how things are accomplished, and design isn’t always a primary concern. But traditional design methods need to change to keep pace with the cadence established by Agile teams. Software designers must leave behind the days of creating monolithic, magnum opus design documents that are outdated shortly after being approved. Those documents should be put in a barrel and sent over the waterfall. Don’t go in after them. It’s time to take a new approach: Agile design. Two excellent bases for an approach to Agile design are Alan Cooper’s The Inmates Are Running the Asylum and Jeff Gothelf’s Lean UX. In The Inmates Are Running the Asylum, Alan Cooper discusses goal-directed design, a method of designing for personas, an idealized user, based on their goals. Lean UX complements goal-directed design. The idea is to eliminate waste by having designers do the least amount of work necessary to measure the success of the user experience. Creating bite-sized artifacts like prototypes is much more effective for a designer to quickly learn if generated ideas solve problems for the intended audience (personas). This process is repeated until the designer learns enough to either start building a minimum viable product or pivot in a different direction. This iterative approach can be described in three steps that are the essence of Agile design: build, measure, learn. Agile design doesn’t stop when development begins. That’s a Waterfall mindset. Designers continue to build, measure and learn during development. Agile teams show their work at sprint reviews that are held at the end of each sprint. This gives UX designers, customers and other stakeholders the opportunity to provide valuable feedback on the usability of the product. Usability issues, technical obstacles and new and better ideas spring up. As Steve Jobs said, “There’s just a tremendous amount of craftsmanship in between a great idea and a great product. And as you evolve that great idea, it changes and grows. It never comes out like it starts because you learn a lot more as you get into the subtleties of it.” Get feedback from your potential customers and target personas at every opportunity: during discovery (vetting ideas), design (prototype reviews) and development (demos and usability testing). Whether the feedback is positive or critical, it’s extremely useful in making decisions to tweak, pivot or forge ahead. Give New Developers modern, Familiar tools Developing and designing modern and delightful tooling falls on the shoulders of mainframe software vendors. So, if you’re in a mainframe organization, what should you expect from your software vendor? Mainframe development teams are rapidly hiring new, younger faces to offset the retiring workforce. Thus, the demands on mainframe development teams are greater than ever. The tooling that software vendors provide mainframe organizations with for their developers should be delightful, familiar and should put them in a flow state, enabling them to be as productive as possible. Modern tooling that is familiar, leverages strengths of platforms like Eclipse and web, provides application understanding, etc., is vital to helping your developers more confidently develop delightful software for their customers. As mainframes become more essential to the stability of customer-facing applications and, therefore, face bigger demands, mainframe teams have the onus of adopting tools to help onboard new developers. But it’s the job of software vendors to provide customers with a delightful UX that enables that transformation. By developing and designing in an Agile and collaborative way, there is always something to learn, build and measure as you make changes toward a delightful UX. Chris Malin is a UX designer at Compuware. He has worked for over 20 years developing and designing software for mainframe developers. Email: chris.malin@compuware.com

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