A UX lesson from a decade ago

Do you know that feeling when you put all your efforts in a project? When after months and months of hard work you finally arrive to what looks like a good result? And you feel like this project has claimed a part of your soul and a good chunk of your physical self too? And you have the champagne in the closet and can hardly wait for the moment when you will be finally able to pop out that cork with the rest of your team?

A sequence of challenges

Well. It was one of those projects. The Sysmex Non Public Pages (or NPP by its short name) was a system designed to synchronise complex documentation from a web library to personnel laptops. It provided a wide variety of information for Sysmex employees, distributors and partners. The content varied from scientific to product and technical information.

And here came the problem: the technical information provided in NPP was needed by Sysmex technicians to maintain and repair Sysmex products at the customer site. Quite often it was not possible to go online to access the necessary information, as the labs usually had poor connection to Internet, if at all. In order to be able to browse the NPP information offline, a Windows application had to be developed, that would be capable to download all NPP contents.

As it turns out, it was easier said than done. A very particular mix of challenges and misfortunes made the project roadmap look like tangled wires. When one problem was addressed, another one surfaced.

A first big challenge was with the way information was organized on the Sysmex NPP site. Then, the communication between the development team and the customer was somewhat indirect, which made requirements gathering rather difficult. The planning was also quite rigid and sometimes required us to bend over backwards in order to meet the project milestones. And on top of all, the team needed to learn some new technologies on the go. The expectations were high and the stress level even higher.

Long story short, it wasn’t the smoothest project. But inevitably, the release came and the customer seemed rather content with the outcome and that champagne was finally pulled out of the closet.

Moments later, some feedback arrived from the customer side that the technicians’ laptops were heating a great deal during the synchronization process. It turns out that the “laptops” were some 10” Toshiba tablets and the synchronization process was too much for them. … All that time spent fighting an imaginary dragon, only to find out it was barely a lizard. In the end, we returned to the design phase considering this significant piece of information.

pop that cork gently

We felt that cork kicking right in the face. And hopefully, together with that bottle’s content, some useful lessons went down, as well:

The first one, and most valuable for our development process, was to always question the requirements, and never refrain from asking the “stupid” questions.

The second was not plan too much ahead, but rather iteratively, and to live room for change.

And the third one was for our hurt ego to slowly absorb in the years to come: on the long run, your past mistakes have the tendency to bail you out of difficult situations. But only if you learn from them.

Over to you

For us, as a team, it took a lot of time to process this experience in order to be able to understand what we did wrong and be able to share it with the rest of the world. Have you ever been through such trying moments? It would be nice to hear your story.