Asics: Superior trainer. Superior UX.

A new runner

I recently started running seriously with the goal of completing the two half marathons that are hosted in Sydney (SMH Half + Blackmores Half) along with a couple of 10km runs and a 14km and ultimately a triathlon at the end of 2017.

Full of enthusiasm in October 2016 I pulled on my Nike Free 5.0s, purchased when I last attempted to take up running in 2015, and started hitting the tarmac around Sydney. I thought all was well until my brothers, who are both regular runners, recommended getting new trainers to facilitate better performance and a reduced risk of injury that comes hand in hand with the increased kms I will be putting in throughout the year.

Research

I am not one to commit to a purchase of this nature without ample research going in first. Similar amounts of research went into a wrist watch I asked my wife to purchase for me one Christmas as well as a GPS training watch I bought for myself.

Searching for best trainers for running and training shoe review predictably yields thousands of results. Far and away the best content was returned from runningshoesguru.com, runrepeat.com.

Results from this initial research lead me to a decision between two manufacturers; Asics and Mizuno.

Do you pronate?

During the internet research I was introduced to pronation and I quickly discovered that broadly speaking, trainers are designed to cater to one of the following running styles:

  • Underpronators
  • Neutral
  • Overpronators

This new term introduced an area of uncertainty to the purchasing process as I had no idea how to categorise my running style. I have regular arched feet which apparently reduces the likelihood that I am a serve overprontator but that is where my confidence in my running style left me.

Asics vs. Mizuno

Since I had narrowed my choice of trainer to two brands it was time to hit their respective websites and see how they approached matching trainers to different running styles.

Mizuno

Mizuno has a microsite (myprecisionfit.com) that allows users to follow a few steps in order to determine their recommended training shoe. It’s a pretty good experience however, having just done all my reading into pronation, arch types and running styles I was surprised that the result page didn’t give me much apart from a couple of recommended shoes.

Further to this, I completed the journey from a couple of different paths and was presented the same recommendation which cast a shadow on the legitmacy of the recommendations.

Finally, when I clicked through from the results page here, I hit a 404 page on the main Mizuno website. Sad times for Mizuno and the end of my customer journey with them.

Asics

Asics trainers came highly rated by all the review sites I visited and anecdotal evidence was also given to me by my brothers who both run in Asics.

I hit the website and was delighted to see my newly learnt vocabulary echoed on the page as filtering options.

What was also great to see on the site was a very engaged community that have left reviews on comments on all the trainers I looked at. This may be a minor point but it demonstrates to me that Asics purchasers continue to feel engaged by the brand after purchase has been completed.

In store

Despite all the online research, reviews and recommendations the final step in the running shoe selection process had to move to the real world. Armed with my new vocabulary and a list of potential Asics trainers to buy, it was time to head to the Flagship Asics store in Sydney’s QVB to try them on for size.

Thankfully the online experience was carried over to the in store experience at the mix of superb customer service, knowledgeable team and in store technology to get to the bottom of my pronation question meant I came out a very happy customer and the proud owner of a pair of Kayano 23s.

In conclusion

I do pretty much all my shopping online so much so in fact that I can’t remember the last time I bought anything cycling related that wasn’t from wiggle.com.au.

In a world where so many people shop online it must be hard for physical retailers to even get customers through the door, let alone make a sale.

I was actually tempted to visit the Asics store, get my running analysed, use the expertise of the team and then take my business online and save myself at least $60 but what stopped me was a combination of a great online experience, an even better offline experience and what seems to be a very engaged Asics community.

The learning for me from the whole experience is that high street retailers aren’t dead, they just need to offer something that online retailers can’t and Asics has completely succeeded in my book.

Agile – Sprint Goal Ownership

Retrospectives improve process

Far too often retrospectives become a chore that agile teams feel obliged to do and forget their core objective of being an open forum for the team discuss both triumphs and failures in order to improve processes and efficiency. Happily the team I work with use our retrospectives for their intended purpose and there have been some significant changes in the way we do things that have made the whole team work more efficiently and produce better outcomes.

The poor PM

Before the change in process, the team were setting goals every sprint. The problem came at the sprint planning sessions where we reviewed the previous sprint and saw that we weren’t achieving all our goals. In some sprints we were only achieving 1/3 of our goals.

The obvious conclusion to draw from these failures is that we were setting too many goals. Upon inspection of our sprint velocity compared with the amount of development time in the sprint, the amount of goals looked to be accurate. The conclusion we drew therefore was that there was a lack of focus in our team when it came to completing goals.

One of the main issues we face in our team is that there aren’t separate roles for scrum master and product owner. These roles end up being performed by a single person, the project manager (PM). When these roles are combined, the PM’s focus is split between tracking the current sprint, grooming future sprints and scoping out future features.

Goal owners

Our retrospective had the following outcome. Where previously we had multiple goals and a single role (PM) assigned to completing the goals, we now have multiple goal owners.

We found the benefits of this change in approach were threefold:

  • responsibility for completing goals now rests with multiple owners instead of one
  • there is a greater sense of the team working together to complete goals rather than relying on one individual to drive all goals toward their completion
  • the PM has more time to focus on grooming future sprints and scoping out features in more detail

The result

The introduction of this change in process saw an immediate impact on sprint goal completion and team efficiency and is now a core part of our planning and execution.

Agile Gamification – Sprint Leagues

Buzzword

Gamification is a real buzzword in the tech world at the moment. But with good reason, games make things more fun.

Meaningful process change from a retrospective

A developer in my team added a question to the Start doing arm of the starfish retrospective a few weeks ago: Is there a way we can gamify our sprints somehow?

Sprint League

The approach to the question was two-fold:

  1. How can the gamification improve the efficiency of the development team?
  2. Can I design it in such a way that the team will enjoy it as well as make the sprints more efficient?

The outcome of the sprint gamification was the setting up of a sprint league for the team.

Premise

Every member of the team is in the league and points are awarded for each goal they own that they complete.

Rules

Each sprint league season lasts for 10 sprints. At the end of the season the winner is the one at the top of the league. There are no play-offs.

Scoring
  • 100 points will be awarded to the owner of a goal that is achieved within a sprint
  • An additional 50 points will be awarded to the owner of a goal that is completed in the first half of the sprint
  • If someone has > 1 sprint goal and achieves all their sprint goals, they get a bonus 100 points
  • For every goal that is assigned to someone that is not achieved, 50 points will be deducted from their score
  • If either Agency team or Client team completes all their sprint goals, every member of their respective team get a bonus 100 points
  • When someone gets to 1000 they will get a (star) on the leaderboard
Table

Agile team

How can the gamification improve the efficiency of the team?

The gamification has had the following impact on the teams it has been applied to:

  1. During the sprints, the owners of the goals are more focused on getting their goals completed
  2. The pace of the development in the first half of the sprint increased as bonus points are awarded for completing sprint goals before the half way mark
  3. Team members maintain their focus even if they have achieved a few of their sprint goals in order to get the bonus points on offer for completing all the sprint goals they own
  4. At sprint planning sessions the team think more about the sprint goals they own because if they own a sprint goal that is not completed, their points tally suffers
  5. The team work together to assist each other with sprint goals for the greater good of the whole team in order that the whole team can get the bonus points for achieving all sprint goals owned by a team
  6. The longer term performance of each team member is easy to track as those near the top of the league are very likely to be achieving goals and those near the bottom of the league are very likely not to be achieving their goals
Can I design it in such a way that the team will enjoy it as well as make the sprints more efficient?

There is no point in making a game if people don’t enjoy playing it.

The sprint league has had the following impact on the team:

  1. Friendly rivalry between team members
  2. Something quick and tangible to track team progress that everyone can access and gauge their performance against
  3. A fun segment in sprint planning meetings sandwiched between the more process driven What was achieved last sprint? and What are the goals for the next sprint?
  4. Rewards at the end of the season given to the winner gives everyone something to aim for

Applications of the sprint league

There are multiple applications for the sprint league in an agile environment

  • A single product team can use the league to make themselves more efficient and encourage friendly rivalry between team members
  • An agency team and client team can have a league each so the client team can be in competition in their own league as well as comparing performance across leagues
  • An agency team and client team can also be in a single league – depends how the scrum master wants to run the game
  • Multiple product teams running simultaneous sprints can each have their own league and then the winners can face off against each other at the end of the season in a non-agile related activity to determine the champion of champions for the season. The champion of champions can be determined by almost anything; internal code-off, game of pool, push ups challenge…

Flexibility

The rules and scoring system above are what my sprint leagues currently use. At the end of the season we’ll review the rules and see if any changes need to be made. There are plenty of additional rules that could be introduced such as:

  • Goals with dependencies on other goals having less of a penalty if they aren’t achieved
  • A goal weighting system where fewer points are given to goals that are easier to achieve
  • Points for achieving a goal starting at 100 on day one and then reducing by 10 points each sprint day so completing a goal on the last day of a two week sprint is only worth 10 points

All of the above were considered when defining the rules of the game but were omitted from the season 1 rules in order to keep the game simple.

IMPORTANT

The absolute key to the sprint league is that it is a game to facilitate efficient agile development so the team must keep it fun in order to get the best results.

I have introduced the sprint league on my two projects and the initial results are very encouraging. My teams and clients are engaging with the new process and so far the gamification is having the desired effect of meeting more sprint goals and making the team more efficient.

If you introduce the sprint league to your own team let me know how you get on, in the comments.

Social Media. One for the sceptics and cynics of the online world.

The dawn of the 20th Century saw the professional development of a special breed of influencers. Forget philosophers and political leaders. These are the men and women of the marketing world. The ones with the real power…

Marketing techniques have followed the same line of trajectory as technical advancements. From humble beginnings on billboards and in magazines to radio and TV. Then came the internet. Banners, pop-ups, email, then… Social media.

Little wonder then that with the development of social media in the 21st Century, every marketer is looking for new and inventive ways to exploit it.

Marketers are making wonderful use of Twitter as a way of truly connecting with their customers.

Twitter_icon

Social media marketing has changed the marketer/customer dynamic from a one way street to a two way street. This change to a century of marketing best practice has meant most marketers have had to throw the rule book out the window and start a fresh.

The early days of Twitter were an innocent time for marketers where trial and error was the order of the day and social media gurus were still mere mortals.

Social media as a concept is still in its infancy but have marketers already killed its innocence?

Marketing efforts on social media appear to have gone from playful and innocent to sinister and manipulative in double quick time. Consumers are not unaware of this shift however and are perhaps not as passive as marketers presume/wish. The scepticism and cynicism that some consumers view social media interactions is likely caused by the fact that, unlike other media, it was popularized and adopted by the consumer before the marketer. I see this role reversal as a key influencer in the way social media has been approached by marketers and the power that consumers hold over them in the digital space.

The clued in consumer views many Twitter interactions with a suspicious eye. Take this perfectly innocent conversation between consumers and what turns out to be 5 big UK brands.

Twitter conversation

Image courtesy of Buzzfeed.

Is this a perfectly innocent serendipitous turn of events or a well-choreographed Twitter ballet?

Probably the latter but it has humour, connects with people and most importantly in my view, doesn’t appear to be trying too hard. Two thumbs up to the social media Sith Lord behind it.

How not to divide your web real estate by Lloyds Bank and TSB

Lloyds TSB relaunched their website just a few months ago. It worked pretty well as a responsive site and given the hyper-sensitivity of financial data/login details; was a mobile experience that gave the user confidence in the security of the portal and a user experience that did not result in unwanted transactions or wrong account numbers being entered.

During divorce proceedings however it would appear both parties completely forgot about their web real estate and preferred wrangling over which high street outlets each would get and what the brand of each ‘new’ bank would be.

It is rather baffling that their respective websites would be such an afterthought given the push of all services online, the drive to get people to ‘go paperless’ and the amount of transactions, direct debits and standing orders that are now processed completely independently of an actual high street bank location.

With this in mind let me explain the result of the split.

Lloyds Bank has kept the design of the new Lloyds TSB site launched a few months ago but in the reskin process has lost all responsiveness. It is not a bad site to navigate and does have some nice design elements to it but the use of a bold font in the buttons is messy. Take a look at the letter e and you’ll see what I mean.

Lloyds-Bank-new-website

Although it’s not bad, to lose so many parts of the relaunched Lloyds TSB site is a bit of a disaster.

Not as much of a disaster as poor TSB though. In the divorce court, TSB was either the bumbling husband who let his domineering wife get whatever she wanted or the absent minded husband that still uses a Filofax to keep all personal data and hasn’t ever used a computer.

TSB, instead of investing in a new website to accompany their relaunch into UK banking, have taken the old Lloyds TSB site (scrapped a few months ago) and reskinned it with TSB branding. And the whole site is aligned to the left of the browser… Pretty horrendous.

TSB-new-website

Lloyds Bank must be laughing all the way to the [INSERT PUN] for although their site has lost some functionality; TSB has been fobbed off with an old site that 4 months ago wasn’t fit for purpose.

Lloyds Bank has also kept the domain lloydstsb.com and redirected it to lloydsbank.com.

I would think both banks will update their sites in the not-too-distant future but for now, both have to put up with what the divorce court has given them. Of course the real loser in this situation (as in a real divorce court) is the kids. Us.