It's Already There...

In recent user research and product feedback I've noticed long-time users of our software suggesting improvements that were already there.

I suspect it's the combination of perhaps three things.
  • The way we asked
  • The user expectations from knowing the software
  • Not wanting to ruin things for others

Ask and You Shall Receive a Response

We've asked, "what would you expect on this screen?" or "would you need this kind of information?"

I'm trying to avoid leading the interviewee, but this kind of question to solicit a response based on the desire to answer. Perhaps the person asked isn't sure or might have a few ideas, but the question itself encourages perhaps a single answer.

Maybe I can leave things more open ended questions and work with our UX researchers on how I can ask better questions.

Midas Rule

As a new customer, I remember asking my first Tridion trainer the difference between an Embedded Schema and a regular Schema ten years ago.

As a new implementer, I remember creating my first Schema(s) and the reaction of my editorial team when they finally had control over their content library a few months later. No more requests to IT to deploy something to Staging to then re-approve on Live!

They eventually explained to me that, "No, we don't publish to Staging. We just publish to Live and fix anything if there's a problem."

As a new consultant, I remember my colleague asking me how I knew all the "best practices." I had four years of experience with the product by then and a few years "managing" content before that.

As a new Product Manager, I remember telling another colleague four years after that, "well, Tridion doesn't work that way." He reminded me that we could change it.

After a decade in the industry and about 13 years in IT, I'm also realizing I'm not so "new" anymore. :-)

Now as a Product Owner for the DX Suite, I'm remembering last week's demo where dozens of UI improvements were implemented in a sprint for the new Graphene User interface (due after Sites 9.1) as well as a "yass!" reaction from an editor to some small, but significant page editing improvements for Tridion Sites 9.

And today I'm letting the Tridion Docs content model slowly sink into my brain after a great session with our lead technical writer.

By the Midas Rule, many of my colleagues and I were not the first to touch this software, nor will we be the last. But we do care enough to be proper stewards of the previous vision, while we work on forging a new one... in Graphene. ;-)

Passing on the Donut

It's already (only) been 2 years since the move to the Netherlands and I'm saying goodbye as the Donut Product Owner and Hello as a POBA.

After joining SDL Professional Services in 2011, moving from my hometown of San Diego to San Jose and meeting many great Tridionauts from across the pond, my original dream was to learn even more about our other products and our customers at the "Tridion Mothership" for at least 2-3 years. Before that, I wondered if I could do Tridion at least part-time.

However, we already had a great Functional Consultant in Amsterdam while at the same time Product Development had an opening for either a Business Analyst or Product Manager with a chance for to focus on the User Interface.

So I thought of course! Coincidentally, one of the interview questions when I first applied to SDL was what might I be interested in doing beyond consulting. My answer was something like:
"Training or maybe development (well not as a developer, but rather, perhaps, maybe... as part of the development team?)."
Getting the job was like being that Excel geek that gets a job with Microsoft.

That first year was about understanding Dutch home/work culture, learning even more about customers, and even changing work culture through new roles and processes while continuing to share, but from within development.


I also had a chance to work with (in) the Translation Manager team for a bit before kicking off the Second Year with even more product add-ons.

Though we started with the safe and boring Team 1/Team 2 format, by #MidasRule, I dubbed our team, "FT1ntegrations" and also brought Legos to the office, to umm... emphasize the metaphor that we connect modular pieces of software. Yeah.

Proper tea has been replaced by a coffee cup to properly anonymize individuals. No, my colleagues aren't actually Minifigs.

Three Little Pigs

There is a story about agile practices and 3 little pigs. This is not that story.

There were three little pigs who wanted to live somewhere near wolves for some inexplicable reason. Astro Naught the Pig planned to make a design that had a plan for a two-story brick house. A. Gile planned to make a wooden single-story house and would iterate, not increment, on the design to make a great home. Scrappy wanted to face the wolf but only had a straw budget.

Day 1

Astro Naught had designed the ultimate house-designing plan designer and had his first prototyped brick when the Wolf appeared.

The wolf bellowed, "I'm going to..." but Astro threw the brick at the wolf's head and ran to his neighbor. The Wolf scampered away.

Day 2

Astro and A. Gile were having dinner in a single-story wood-framed house when the Wolf appeared at the front door.

The wolf knocked and demanded, "Let me in, let me in, little piggies!" But then he noticed the walls were not quite complete and he was able to slip into the house between some unfinished planks.

The two pigs squealed and ran away into the night in different directions, leaving the Wolf alone, disappointed, and hungry.

Day 3

Hungry and tired from chasing the first two pigs, the Wolf spied the small straw hut of Scrappy Pig.

"Now's my chance!" he thought as he started running to the small house.

As he huffed and puffed from the sprint, he entered the already-open front entrance. It wasn't quite a door, because... straw. Suddenly the straw floor gave out from under him and he fell into a fairly deep trap hole made by Scrappy Pig.

Scrappy Pig continued to solve harder and harder problems until he was renowned and praised for business books like The Way of the Straw and The Night the Wolf Fell.

The Morale of the Story

Iterative designs are good. But not when there is a Wolf at the door. A perfect, expensive architecture is great, but not when you don't have time.

The pig that wins is the one that creatively makes do with what it has, focusing on the biggest problem first. It also helps to be lucky enough that the Wolf didn't appear on the very first day.*

*Successful people work hard. But not all hard work is rewarded by success.

Care to read more? Try sausage.

Thanks to the kids and BSMSO for helping inspire and revise the story of Astro Naught, A. Gile, and Scrappy. Credit to Joel Spolsky for "Architecture Astronauts." I'm not sure if he coined the phrase, but I first learned about it from his blog. I muddle his point on abstractions of abstractions, but couldn't resist the pun.

Getting Started with SDL Tridion Sites Community in 2018

If you’re new or haven’t seen them in a while, here are some great places to (re)start with the SDL Tridion Sites Community:

  1. The SDL Tridion Sites group on SDL Community, especially the Developers group if you’re technical (start with Jan Horsman's Community Review posts).
  2. The SDL AppStore for extensions and the community-created Alchemy Web Store.
  3. Tridion Stack Exchange for Q&A from the implementer community
  4. Blogger or Wordpress to start or revisit an old blog.
  5. if you want to blog with other Tridionauts, but outside of SDL (not my first preference, but no problem for externals)
  6. Consider attending or presenting (again) at the Tridion Developer Summit.
The hardest part of participating in the community is realizing you have something to contribute and then giving yourself permission to share.

The second hardest part is doing it again. :-)

CMS Vision 4: Rise of the Machines

If I can read the text, give me the text in human and machine-readable format.

If I can interact with it, let a machine interact with it.

If I can see some content, list, or relationship in my CMS, let me give the same information in the format of my colleague's preferred tool.

Properly labeled elements for users and machines, or semantics if you want to get pedantic, will/is giving give rise to the machines that will help the humans.*

*Remaining humans if you subscribe to a dystopian view of the singularity. 

CMS Vision 3: Templates are not Templates

Not to be confused by Content Management (Tridion) templates, "templates" in a typical office setting are starting points for users to change and adapt to their needs. They're accelerators of sorts.

I've seen a few approaches for managing such templates, starting with copying and pasting.

Templating Level 0: Copy & Paste

If you're an occasional author/editor/content writer, it's often enough to start with an example, edit it to create your version, save a copy, and continue on with your main job.

This is great where the structure of the document or content is well-defined and repeatable. Copying an existing newsletter or article works since both have an already-defined heading or title with perhaps an author, date, and option for related links.

Copying has problems when the new document relies on up-to-date pieces of information. For example statements of work, proposals, and press release may include boilerplate company information and standard answers that need to be maintained.

Templating Level 1: Example Document

If you care about re-use and need more consistency, you may make a starting example and call it a "template." This prototype lets others at least start with an existing document for some consistency.

For example, last year my colleagues in Marketing created an example for the company's PowerPoint "template." You might also call this a prototype or toolkit.

Templating Level 2: Actual Template

You might even create official templates for everyone else to use (e.g. PPTX and DOTX files). This lets you manage the look-and-feel of a document as well as make sure this original starting document isn't easily changed since users are prompted with "Save As..." to create a separate instance of their document.

This year's marketing template is actually a PowerPoint template.

In a content management system, you may offer an entry form or wizard to create content in a guided manner. When someone uses this "template" (content definition or schema), a new instance of this content type is similarly created.

Level 3: Example Content

Word has a quick parts feature. Most of Office can use SmartArt. And my company's PowerPoint template includes some creative example content to guide template users (employees) in the right direction.

Example process, timeline, and roadmap slides make using our template.

Level 4: Swappable Themes

If you work with different branding or customers, you may make themes or styles. The idea here is that your content could use an agreed-upon set of styles so that updates to styles can easily be applied to documents.

Themes in PowerPoint

Most of these approaches apply in Tridion Sites, though there are some differences.

First the approaches again:
  1. Copy & Paste
  2. Example Document
  3. Actual Template
  4. Example Content
Copy & Paste works in Tridion Sites to recreate a Page or Component. However, since references are managed, the copied item will keep the same references.

To make this better we have the page type as an example page that defines which references to keep as-is (e.g. re-use the same Banner Component) and which should be re-created as well.

"Actual Templates" from the Word and PowerPoint view is similar to how Tridion is inherently designed through schemas and explicit metadata options. But in Tridion the term Templates are not the templates I describe above. Rather, they render pages or content in a certain arrangement.

Finally, Example content is done through content types in Tridion Sites.

But my vision is that any page or existing whatever could be a page type. Anything could be a template because Templates are not Templates.

CMS Vision 2: Welcome to Content Management

To: Mr. Other Department
From: The CMS on behalf of Alvino Tinto
Subject: CMS Invitation (Edit Article Pages)

Welcome to content management. You've been invited by Alvino Tinto to Edit Article Pages.

Edit your first page now or get familiar with the content manager.

CMS Vision 1: How Fast Can You Make a Page?

I've been thinking about user experiences lately. Having looked at typical content management scenarios (e.g. create a page), I was trying to figure out a better way to explain "this has 12 steps but it should be lower."

In the spirit of the Future of Content series but a bit more meta, I'd like to explore a few topics over the next few posts:
  • How fast can you possibly make a page?
  • Onboarding experiences
  • Templates, Types, and Prototypes
  • Explaining the System
So, how fast can you possibly make a page?

As fast as you can say it.

"Start a new article page. Use the same template as my last page."

"No, the template I used before that."

"Good. Now add a Marketing Banner... with a blue background."

"Use the third background."

"Perfect, yeah, save that banner.

"Go to the main article. Set its date for tomorrow."

"Insert the text from Mr. Tinto's last email, in Outlook."

"Yes, keep rich text but clear any styles."

"Save this in my draft folder but send it to Mr. Tinto for review."

"Email and chat, no text message."

As fast as you can think it.

"Please turn this email request into a page and send it for review when ready."