Step 1) Understand the ecosystem – PART 2

“A wise car hears one word and understands two” is a line quoted by one of the characters in Cars 2 movie.

A designer precisely does that 🙂 and comes up with his/her ‘mental model’ of the ecosystem using a visualization technique.

Mind map is a visualization technique that was introduced by Tony Buzan (http://www.tonybuzan.com/). Google “mindmap” and you will get loads of links that explain how to create a mind map. A very detailed explanation of this can be found on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mind_map

Mind you, mind map is just one of the techniques of visualization. There are entity-relationship diagrams, time-series data, statistical distributions, maps, hierarchy diagrams, etc. You can use any or combinations of these techniques to create your view of the ecosystem. As discussed in the last post, I am comfortable with mind maps. Sometimes, I create infographics to depict my understanding of the ecosystem.

An advanced mind can refer to Edward Tufte’s books (www.edwardtufte.com) for deeper understanding of visualization methods.

To express the ecosystem in a graphical form, one need not be a great artist. Content is an important as the treatment. The ecosystem infographic is generally designed over a period of time – fine tuned every day as you (designer) get deeper insights on what is happening, who is influencing what, etc.

Engage with stakeholders, development teams, book their calendars. Set up some lock-down sessions with them :). Encourage them to express their wishful thinking using whiteboards. White-boarding activity is a sort-of ice-breaking ceremony between designers and stakeholders, which define the course of product/service design. Sessions like white-boarding activities need to be orchestrated professionally. Stakeholders are short on time and attention – pick their brains that will help you understand what and how they envision the product.

Some examples of the white boarding activities that I participated are shown below:

Whiteboard Sample 1
Whiteboard_1_NEW

Whiteboard Sample 2
Whiteboard_3_NEW

Whiteboard Sample 3
Whiteboard_4_NEW

Whiteboard Sample 4
Whiteboard_5_NEW

In your ‘lock-down’ sessions and white boarding activities perhaps, you may discover key information that is not documented anywhere. Record like a dicta-phone and act like a Sherlock :).

Last year I participated in one of the stakeholder workshops to understand the business requirements. The business goal was to transform the legacy desktop application (serving 13 US geographical states’ telecom professionals) into a portal based solution.

I quickly sketched the following (an infographic) that captured the essence of that meeting:
Migration_NEW

On the left is depiction of PMO (present mode of operation) = old vendor’s engagement model with cost.

On the right is FMO (future mode of operation) = my development team’s engagement model with cost.

The picture was clear to me – My development team had to deliver a tough assignment at a very low cost in a less timeframe. We were at loss. As indicated by the management, we delivered in spite of all the constraints.

While I was on a teleconference call with one of the stakeholders for another project, I quickly drew the following, took a picture of it and shared with him in the call:
eM_NEW
The overall goal of the system design was captured correctly. In the call, we nailed down the granularities of processes represented by numbers.

Lets go back to our earlier thread – the mind map.

Mind-map is your view, how you see things and their relationships with other elements. It’s your ‘mental model’. A mind map starts with a goal (e.g. “reduce the no. of help-desk calls for the company”). This goal could be further broken down into sub-goals and sub-sub goals. Imagine a tree structure with the centralized goal radiating out branches (that represents sub-goals) that reach wide. Every sub-goal paves way for a sub-sub goal and so on. I think Buzan explains this better than me :). Copy-pasting the following 10 steps from Wikipedia, hope this helps.

Buzan suggests the following guidelines for creating mind maps:

  1. Start in the center with an image of the topic, using at least 3 colors.
  2. Use images, symbols, codes, and dimensions throughout your mind map.
  3. Select key words and print using upper or lower case letters.
  4. Each word/image is best alone and sitting on its own line.
  5. The lines should be connected, starting from the central image. The central lines are thicker, organic and thinner as they radiate out from the centre.
  6. Make the lines the same length as the word/image they support.
  7. Use multiple colors throughout the mind map, for visual stimulation and also to encode or group.
  8. Develop your own personal style of mind mapping.
  9. Use emphasis and show associations in your mind map.
  10. Keep the mind map clear by using radial hierarchy, numerical order or outlines to embrace your branches.

This list is itself more concise than a prose version of the same information and the mind map of these guidelines is itself intended to be more memorable and quicker to scan than either the prose or the list.

Too much of information overload? Don’t worry, have a look at the following mind-map I created for a financial software company:
InnovationCulture_2_NEW

Here are some additional mind maps I created for various enterprise portal dashboard assignments:
MigrationPortal_MMAP_NEW

EnterpriseApp_NEW

Practice the mind mapping technique or any other visualization technique that you are comfortable with. Do it on paper first. Spend some time with your visualization, talk to people, refine your visualization based on insights gathered. There is a digital tool too to create mind maps, Mindjet Mindmanager (http://www.mindjet.com).

That brings me my tools for paper prototyping. Here are they:

  1. An A5 size notebook (plain paper). I use notebooks by Nightingale (http://www.nightingale.co.in/Social_Stationery/Hand_Book.htm) – good paper & packaging quality).
  2. Stock of A4 papers
  3. 0.7mm mechanical pencil (I am currently using Camlin Klick Pro pencil – http://www.ithinkstore.com/camlin-klick-pro-0-7mm-mechenical-pencil-pack-of-10-pencils.html) Why 0.7mm? Because you can get thicker lines on paper prototypes :).
  4. Color pencils (any make, no preference).
  5. Eraser (Staedler – http://www.staedtler.com/en/products/pencils-accessories/erasers/tradition-526-t-eraser/#id=250&tx_solr[page]=1)
  6. Post-it notes (3M, of course)

This 1st step (understanding the ecosystem) is a crucial one. This is the foundation of your building. Plan it well.

Get the picture?

3 thoughts on “Step 1) Understand the ecosystem – PART 2

  1. Hi Taral,
    Good overview. Write more…
    I agree that mind map is a very useful concept. EVERYONE does it while grasping the new ecosystem. They just don’t represent it usually. Your article is a great help for designers and others!
    -Ganesh

  2. Thanks Ganesh :).

    Will definitely write more on this. I will also share some examples of ecosystem-views in upcoming posts.

    Regards,
    Taral.

  3. Pingback: Step 3) Create the user task matrix – PART 3 | Paper prototypes for everyday design

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