Sunday, March 7, 2010

Show effect - collecting ideas!

Hello, my dear fellows.

Show effect - as is
I have recently thought of the 'Show effect'. You know it - when you are presenting your application, or the new iteration to the customer (or anyone external) - you frequently run into situation when the small action results in a large stack trace spanned for the screen?

Imagine the demo to your customer. You:
  • show nice things - feature A is implemented
  • show great things - feature B which is very important for the business - is implemented! (applause on the background)
  • show awesome things - the designs ARE there, even if they were provided 2 days ago!
  • and then you are about to show little bit of functionality (notifying user about their registration), which is not that important (and thus not that verified) - you get an awful error statring with text Unhandled exception java.lang.NullPointerException
Then all your show becomes a bit compromised.

Minimize your risks with smaller efforts
So, I kept thinking on this for a while - how does one minimize these 'show' risks?
I have been feeling this myself - we had a demo each week for 5-6 weeks with a customer, and we had to demonstrate the progress.
It is pretty hard to show significant feature progress within a week, isn't it? And we were on really tight schedule.
So, these are several things I figured out - sure that I'm not the first who found them, but better would be if you the readers would get them from other's experience than from own:
  1. Time and connection. Be sure that you don't make everyone wait too much and also that everyone is setup for the show. In the distributed teams it is common that dev team is located in different country, so that the technical solutions for presentations are being used (screensharing services and the voice calls usually)
    Make sure everyone knows where to get and how to setup the screensharing before you start the show. Provide your help if needed.
  2. Always have a plan of presentation. Even if the things are simple, you need to have written plan before you so you don't waste time thinking on 'what should I click next?'. You should be presenting your work in such a way so your listeners feel that you are completely confident with what you are doing.
    Surely, there is always a place for unforseen changes - your customer may ask you to perform some action which does not fit to your plan. Be calm and confident :)
  3. Rehearse the demo, at least 2 times, following the written steps you've done in item 2 of this list.
  4. Try not to show too much - if some features are half-implemented you'd rather not show them than make the whole appearance of the project half-complete.
  5. Make sure no one could compromise your demo without knowing it. Good point here is that you ask no one to touch demo server during the show - by any means. 2 demo users logged in with the same accounts from different machines can lead to catastrophic results.
  6. Don't forget about the user experience. If you are showing something to non-technical people (or even technical people but not of your organization) make sure that you have the unexpected exception page configured correctly - so that even if everything fails, user is still presented with the comfortable page with correct and unambigous steps of what to do next. Making custom pages for HTTP 500, 404 etc is also a nice thing.
    Another point here is that if the custom error page is not breaking the overall design feeling. With this little trick subject of your demo would feel much more like a complete application (if it even is a prototype).
  7. Put mocked things in. If you have designed sketches with very nice flash application you don't have yet (and your customer knows you don't) - put them as static pictures. And then as soon as the new feature is completed, replace that static pictures with the functioning parts.
  8. Don't forget to say thanks once the demo is over - the people involved had to put off their ongoing work and tasks (which may be also important) to take participation in your show.
  9. ...
The question is still open
It would be great if you could share some of your great experience - cases, practices, ideas - about the show effect.
Thank you! And comment on, I'll add the wise thoughts to the list :)

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