Agile Development, Business Analysis, Business Case, Information Technology, Usability Testing, User Analysis, User Experience, User Stories, User Studies, User-centered Design

Jai ho!

Hurrah! It’s a joyous and proud occasion for all of us at the RSC and Rave. If you wonder why, well, RSC Publishing’s new content delivery platform, ‘RSC Publishing beta’ was launched today. Released as beta, which is bound to have further improvements, even as it stands today, this product is undoubtedly one of the finest platforms in the ‘STM publishing’ area. It is the culmination of various factors that resulted in the successful planning, execution, delivery of this platform. This is the combined victory for users, technology, agile methodology, collaborative team work and of course, sustained commitment and support from the RSC.

Refer http://www.rsc.org/AboutUs/News/PressReleases/2010/betaplatform.asp for more details on this.

When Taj Mahal was completed after almost a decade since the work was started, everybody who was involved in making it was excited and overjoyed to see it complete. This list included the persons who just carried bricks to the site. So also with the newly launched platform, everybody who has been part of the development project has a reason to smile today. With the beta launch, which can be equated to completing one pillar of the Taj Mahal, I think it is time for us to pause and reckon the project’s history. Being involved with the development of this platform from the beginning, I will try and give you a peep into how it all happened.

First, there was the Vision

The stakeholders at the ‘RSC Publishing’ had a dream, a shared vision of building a content platform that powers the Chemistry community with quick and easy access to the Chemistry content. Not just that, they envisaged that the platform delivers their content using superior technologies with the right user-experience. It all started with understanding their visions and expectations of the product and then we arrived at the unified product vision and roadmap.

Well begun is half done

As we discussed in the last few posts, in the software product development, if we align our processes to the users’ needs and their tasks, that product will be successful. The same happened with the RSC Publishing platform too. Right from the word go, they realised that ‘User’ is the engine that powers the rest of the product development. The team started off to gather intelligence about the users and arranged for some user studies in three different continents. Sound domain knowledge, being in the publishing industry for decades, added to the rich insights and contextual usage related data from the users. The end-result, a clear idea of what needs to go into the product and that exactly helped push the platform to the next stage.

Blueprint for the building

You cannot build a house without an architectural layout and blueprint. Similarly we cannot develop a software product without sound architecture and framework. When I say architecture, it does not mean just technical architecture. Task-flow re-engineering and information architecture also form part of laying the foundation for the product. Studying the existing systems and understanding the non-functional requirements helped build a solid technical framework, while user studies helped get closer to the conceptualisation of the structure of the user interface. Both these formed the foundation on which the entire application was built in the later stages.

Mantra behind the yantra

Can anything great be ever achieved without Technology? Definitely not, in this era of computers, and mobile phones. If Computer is the ‘yantra’ or machine, software is the ‘tantra ‘ that runs it. Here too, the right selection and implementation of technologies played a great role in ‘building’ the product from scratch. Because this platform is a content delivery product, RSC team selected a contemporary technology such as XML to help manage the complexity, volume and structure of content. Also, the selection of the content server technology played a critical role in storing the content effectively and delivering it faster. Also on the front end, superior technologies backed by integrated teams helped in shaping up a nice-looking and simple interface to the platform.

Go back to the user

It was good to have a clear understanding of the user needs and designing the product based on that knowledge. However, we cannot accomplish true user-centred design and development unless we close the loop by getting the product evaluated by users. It was again with the help of the key product owner and marketing team, we could arrange a few user tests and feedback sessions. These helped a great deal in correcting some issues which were not noticed till then.

Two teams – one goal

Hillary and Tensing could not have scaled Mount Everest individually. It is only by coming together and working together that they could achieve the feat. I think the Agile methodology’s paired programming concept would have been applied by them. In the case of the platform development too, collaborative team work has been the mantra for success. With dedicated and smart members working on both sides, RSC and Rave continued to leverage the  benefits of agile development methodologies. Continual interactions, empathy and collaborative working had proved to be the key turning points in this project.

There is only one way

And that is the way forward. With feet firmly on the ground, we are now poised to surge ahead with focus, renewed energy and the continued support from stakeholders and users. Now that the platform is in front of the users, we expect lot of feedback, comments and suggestions to come from the user community. The potential next steps are -addition of new functionality, changes to the existing features, usage of advanced technologies and fine tuning the overall application architecture for better serving the users. This would help us continue our march towards making the product better, quicker, simpler and a joy for the users and also for us, to be associated with the platform.

Here is the final score card, at the end of the play:

Users – 10 points, Technology – 10 points, Business – 10 points, Team work- 10 points! (On a scale of 0 to 10) victory to one and all. The game did not end here and now. It just began.

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