Very quick wins and failing very fast with a One Hour Upgrade

Posted in: One hour upgrade

What good can you do with just one hour? Quite a lot, it turns out.

When Rich and I were at IWMW 2014, we were quite taken by the idea of running a one hour ‘makeover’ on a website (we think we heard colleagues from Manchester talking about it). Last week the University of Bath Digital team decided to find out what each of us could do to improve bath.ac.uk given the gift of 60 minutes to use as we wished. We called it ‘One Hour Upgrade’ (for want of a better name).

Is it really a ‘thing’?

Each member of the team got to pick a thing they wanted to improve about the site, which they believed they could complete within the hour. This ‘thing’ was to be a personal choice and not something from a current sprint backlog or maintenance board. Just so long as it was a lasting improvement.

We used a sprint board and throughout the morning each person stuck up their proposed improvement. Then at 3pm we got together in a stand up and each person explained why their thing was an improvement worth doing.

Some suggestions fizzled out under scrutiny (is that really a thing? can that really be done in an hour?). But most improvements were validated and refined by the team giving us the confidence to proceed. Another interesting development was that a few team members opted to help out on someone else’s improvement rather than pursue their own after hearing the other person’s impassioned pitch.

That ‘planning’ took about 10 minutes to complete. Valid improvements were moved through to the ‘doing’ column and then we got down to work. As the improvements were completed, they were moved through to ‘review’ column and at the end of the hour, we had another stand up to ‘test’ whether the improvements were done or not.

What did we do?

What didn’t we do?!

  • Iris, Rhian and Rich switched http://www.bath.ac.uk/study/ug to a template that was less text and more task orientated.
  • Liam and Dan removed the use of a spyglass icon on the search field on /students replacing it with the word ‘Go’, bringing it into line with other pages.
  • Charlotte and Dan made sure extra curricular (which is wrong) was replaced by extra-curricular (which is right) plus some other style guide enforcements.
  • Paul banished residual metadata referring to us as Web Services, which is what we were called back in the day.
  • I made sure that every blog has a tagline (which they should) and that no summary closed with a full stop (which they should not).

What didn’t get done?

So you can achieve a lot in an hour. But there are limits.

  • Kelv and Tom Natt didn’t manage to complete a functioning dashboard on the office screen showing the status of Bamboo builds.
  • Tom Trentham couldn’t complete his improvement to the blogs deployment process'.
  • Justin didn’t have the time to restructure the content on coaching and mentoring in the HR section.
  • Dan didn’t get round to making an SVG version of the uni logo.

Was it worth all that vast amount of time and effort?

On balance, I think yes it was.

It was fun and productive. We made a number of small but valuable improvements to the site, quickly, and we deployed them immediately. It was cathartic for some of us knowing that those problems were no longer out there annoying users. While for others it was revealing.

And, it was an interesting exercise in distilling Scrum down to its raw elements, which proved a good refresher for us all.

Will there be another Hour?

We agreed that we will do it again. But we will iterate and do some things differently and better.

  • The items we put in the ‘upgrade’ backlog were written out as tasks but we should do user stories.
  • People generally worked on their own, which we usually discourage so more teamwork is in order.
  • Most of the stuff we did involved fixing something someone else had done; rather than fixing it for them it might be better to use the hour instead to educate and pass on the skill.
  • Most of what we did was fixing debt and that’s not what the opportunity is really for; the next ‘One Hour Upgrade’ should be about innovations.
  • Discovery is as valuable as delivery; there doesn’t need to be a deployment at the end of the hour.

If you try something like this yourselves, let us know how you do it.

Posted in: One hour upgrade