4 min read

Users In The Mist

Users In The Mist
Awwwww look at those gorillas. I mean, she went full vigilante at the end there, but still an amazing lady

I don't consider myself a very innovative person.

Iterative maybe, but not innovative.

To me, innovation is creating something entirely new and different. Something unexpected that might succeed beyond your wildest dreams. Something that might crash and burn spectacularly.

But even though I don't consider myself innovative, when it comes to innovation time at Atlassian, I aim to get myself well and truly out of my comfort zone.

Do You Think I'm Weird?

I've written about innovation at Atlassian a number of times already, so I'm not going to repeat myself much here. The short version is that Atlassian dedicates a few days every quarter to innovation with a company-wide event called ShipIt.

The most recent one of these events took place on 19-20 May and was ShipIt 54.

I do my best to participate in every ShipIt that comes along, because I honestly believe in them and what they are trying to accomplish.

To me, ShipIt is an opportunity to:

  • try something different
  • meet new and interesting people
  • encourage other people to participate

The last point is all about acting as a role-model for those around me. One of the most powerful things you can do as a manager is actually embody the ideals that you want other people to exhibit. In this case, I want to let the people around me know that ShipIt is a good use of their time, and I can't think of a better way to do that than by participating myself.

In comparison, the first two points are all about me. I want a break from the stress of my day-to-day job, and ShipIt is a great opportunity to replace that stress with a different type of stress altogether. I get to play around with new things, get to know different people and generally have a grand old time.

It's something of a break.

But I still aim to pick an interesting project.

I Think You're Wonderful

For ShipIt 54 I picked a project related to ethnography.

Ethnography is a branch of anthropology that is focused on understanding culture from the point of view of the people experiencing said culture.

Design ethnography is a variant of ethnography focused on understanding a user's experience with products and services from their point of view. To gain insights into design that normal user research might not uncover by getting closer to the source of those insights: the user.

The pitch for the project was simple enough: put together a proposal to use design ethnography at Atlassian, to get our users directly engaged in acting as researchers themselves. The hope was that this would result in different (and potentially better) research data that we could use to make our products and services even better.

Seems pretty innovative to me.

In order for it to be successful, the proposal would need to cover off things like:

  • Suggested tools that could be used for data collection
  • Candidate users who might make good participants
  • Training material to supply to the participants

All of my ShipIt boxes were ticked (new concepts, new people, something interesting, out of my comfort zone), so I signed up and dove right in.

What The Hell Have You Been Doing?

The first thing I did was help to evaluate a piece of software called Indeemo.

I did my best to put myself in the shoes of a user (i.e. someone who is very familiar with Atlassian software and has agreed to do research for us) and honestly, it was a decent experience.

Unfortunately, it was a less decent experience as a moderator, i.e. the Atlassian researchers who would be collecting the data. Setting up a project inside Indeemo involved filling out a Word template (!) and uploading it, which just seems insane to me.

With the software evaluated, I moved on to locating potential participants.

This involved digging through a bunch of data sets to find users who fit a certain profile (i.e. power-users of our software, interested in research, friendly, from companies who weren't too big or too small), which meant it was fairly repetitive work. I have no problem with that sort of thing, so off I went.

I didn't really get a good set of candidates out of this, but I did learn a bunch about some of the data gathering and analysis tools that are available inside Atlassian (spoiler alert, there are a lot, and they are pretty sweet). I resorted to Google Sheet shenanigans at the end, but I think that is more a statement of where my analysis skills lie than in anything else.

Being that we didn't actually manage to locate a set of candidates, we decided to flip the script and changed the proposal to let people opt-in to participate.

Moving on from data analysis, I then proof-read some of our training documentation, using my wordsmithery to make it sing. I enjoy this sort of thing, but I do worry that I change things to sound more like what I want them to sound like instead of just focusing on them being correct and achieving the goal. Still, from my point of view the training documentation was better after I touched it.

Lastly, I helped to create the video presentation for the project, which is a requirement for ShipIt, such that other people could see what we had done and vote on it. Really, I just recorded a bunch of Zoom interviews with the team members and then exported the raw video files to someone who was better at making videos than I am.

At the end of the day, we managed to create the proposal and I think it was pretty convincing.

I had a great time, got to know some people from the user research team in Atlassian and learned about some new concepts and tools.

That's a victory from my point of view.

Waiting For You

Reflecting on the whole experience, even though I greatly enjoyed myself, when it comes to participating in innovation events, I'm still not really sure what I bring to the table.

I specifically don't want to do the same sort of thing that I do every day. For example, I try very hard to not organise things, which is my natural instinct as a manager.

It easy for that to be a frustrating experience for me, but it's also liberating in a way, because I can just focus on the doing and not worry about the bigger picture.

It does feel like the groups that I join get the short end of the stick though, because if I'm not using my main skillset, what exactly am I contributing?

Still, that isn't enough to stop me.

I'll continue to try new things, meet new people, and generally make a nuisance of myself, and ShipIt is the perfect place to do that.