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Once upon a time, designing and developing software at FreshBooks took ages. Then development switched to agile scrum, which works on a weekly sprint. Development got much faster but our typical design process was still more akin to a monthly crawl than a weekly sprint. We knew we could do better.

So how do you design a software experience in a week? Hire 100 designers? Raise a billion dollars? Work all night?

So how do you design a software experience in a week? Hire 100 designers? Raise a billion dollars? Work all night? Nope. We use our own version of a Design Sprint based on LeanUX (find out more about how we got our mojo back here.) …

Or, “The Patient on the Table”

by Jeff Kraemer, Principal UX Designer at FreshBooks

Imagine you’re a surgeon operating on a kidney. You’re focused intently on that kidney, but you can’t forget there’s a whole patient beneath the white sheet on that table. You’re not looking at the lungs, or the heart. You’ve got a kidney to transplant, friend, and that’s plenty. But if you don’t monitor the heart and lungs — if you don’t remember that there’s a whole patient under that white sheet — you’ve got a well-installed kidney in a cadaver.

Similarly, UX designers sometimes take on a design problem and apply too much focus, to the exclusion of the overall user experience. That might stem from the way work is siloed in their organization, or simply a designer’s inexperience — but too much focus on the immediate design problem can lead them to forget about where their work fits in to the big picture. …

How a Group Sketching Session Will Kickstart Your Design Sprint

By Kiley Meehan, UX Designer at FreshBooks

At the start of my career I was under the impression that to be a good designer, you also had to be a design “star”. Once given a problem, you would sneak away for a few days and emerge with a brilliant, jaw-dropping solution. Accolades and applause would follow.

I tried this. It never quite worked out.

Looking back, this failure had less to do with my design ability, and more to do with gaps in my knowledge. The “unknown unknowns”. In product design especially, there is no shortage of constraints that you need to work within. Some problems can be tough to crack without proper insight into the development, design and communication paradigms. For one person to shepherd a solution, with little more than a brief and time on their side, is an arduous task. …

By Kiley Meehan, UX Designer at FreshBooks

For much of my career I’ve worn the label of a “Creative”. To many colleagues, what I did was akin to wizardry. I toiled behind the curtain in isolation, sustained by coffee and the spectre of an impending design review.

My process was self-realized, attuned to my idiosyncratic work habits, driven by perfectionism. When the time came to present my mock-ups for a stakeholder review, my hands were clammy, my chest was thumping. Because, after all, I put weeks of blood, sweat and tears into this work — it had to be good. …

Lighting the way

Mastering ways to produce light has been a pretty good thing for the human race. From the moment Prometheus stole fire from Zeus to give to humanity, we’ve been iterating new ways to use light to our advantage:

  • Fire let us see and keep predators away at night
  • Gas lamps let us navigate city streets on horseback
  • Electric bulbs made it safe and pleasant to have light in our homes
  • Batteries and flashlights made light more easily portable

These things all sound pretty good, and they are of course. But not all methods of producing light are good in all situations — you wouldn’t light a fire in your tent, would you? …

By Matthew Dominici, Scrum Master @ FreshBooks

When FreshBooks made the transformation from waterfall to Scrum, there was one role that we were completely missing any kind of internal expertise in — Scrum Master. We had no project managers in the company, or anyone that seemed like a logical fit to convert their roles to Scrum Master. We knew that every team needed a Scrum Master, and we had five teams… so where were these people going to come from?

Fast-forward two years, and through a mix of internal and external hires, the Scrum Master team is up to 8 people. Along the way, we’ve learned that great Scrum Masters often have a background that is decidedly UNscrum. Amongst our ranks you will find former Testers, Project Managers, Developers — even Sales People! No matter their backgrounds, they each displayed a proclivity towards Servant Leadership — a sort of native wiring that is likely to serve as the foundation of a successful career in agile.

While there are many attributes we look for when selecting potential Scrum Masters, there are 3 in particular we’ve noticed Scrum-Masters-in-the-making demonstrate, no matter what their current role is. …

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Its been almost two years since FreshBooks switched from Waterfall software development to Agile Scrum. The transition to Scrum was a painful one, but by sticking with it, we feel we’re executing as a team now better than any time in our history. When we made the switch to Scrum, it came with consultants, training, and a very detailed user manual that explains all of the “rules of Scrum” and an edict that tells you that you must follow all of the rules or risk seeing your adoption of it fail.

We followed this edict for nearly two years. Eventually, some of our teams demonstrated (to themselves) they were ready and willing to move beyond the rules, so they began (and we supported them) to ‘break bad’ in order to move faster. …

Here at FreshBooks User Testing has saved us from the horrific embarrassment of delivering broken software experiences to our customers on more than one occasion. It can help catch important usability problems and be an effective tool for validation during a product design sprint (for more design sprints see our post on How FreshBooks Got It’s (Design) Mojo Back.

For a long time we didn’t actually do user testing. We had a long list of excuses for why not — it takes too much time, it costs too much, recruiting is hard, we need an expert to do it right. These excuses were so common they felt like mythology, handed down from generation to generation, you’d think user testing was some sort of mythical unicorn — widely believed to be awesome but rarely seen in person outside of design story books. One day we finally asked ourselves — could mythology be wrong? Over a year later and after countless failures and iteration, we have discovered that yes, conventional thinking is wrong. …

FreshBooks sets its audacious objectives on a yearly and quarterly basis. When I say “objectives” I’m talking about things like Revenue targets, as well as delivering on major strategic initiatives.

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Pioneered at Intel, OKRs help companies focus on what matters most.

To set and communicate these objectives at FreshBooks we use a methodology called Objectives & Key Results (OKRs), which was pioneered at Intel, and has since been adopted by the likes of Google, eBay, and many others in the Tech world. OKRs are used in these companies as a tool to help focus and align the efforts across several departments, as well as from top-to-bottom within departments. …

Got Its (Design)

Mojo Back

This is the second post from FreshBooks’ Product Development team. Our goal is to share what we’re learning, in the hopes of giving back to the broader community of companies building software products and services.

This is the story about how FreshBooks lost its Design mojo, and how we used Lean UX to get it back.

Since the very beginning, design has been an important part of FreshBooks. We care about design because we care about our customers — small business owners. …


FreshBooks ProdDev

Product, Design, and Development at FreshBooks

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