Agile Content Conference: What I learned

I volunteered at the Agile Content Conference yesterday and there were some fantastic speakers on the line up. These are a few of the lessons I learned when I was able to get into the sessions….

Credit for these insights go to Jo Wolfe of Breast Cancer Care, Jonathan Kahn of Together London, Lauren Pope at Brilliant Noise, Alex Watson from BBC News, Sarah Richards at the Content Design Centre, Naintara Land formerly of the GDS, Trish Doyle also of the GDS and Meg Rye from Facebook.

Government Interview tips: Situation + Action + Results = a competency

If you ever find yourself at an interview in the government, they have a very structured approach to hiring people. There is literally a list of competencies that you must demonstrate you possess, otherwise you won’t get the job, regardless of whether the interviewer is your friend, your mum or Michael Gove… In order to illustrate that you meet a competency you must talk through an example clearly demonstrating the situation, your actions and the result of them.

Facebook have two progression tracks: One is for managers and one for ‘Individual Collaborators’

Facebook run a Manager Track and an Individual Contributor Track for their personal development programmes. The Manager Track is a more traditional route for promotion — you end up leading a team and focus on the improvement of their outputs, whilst liaising with various other departments and removing blockers. The Individual Contributor Track allows those with a professional discipline to remain as practitioners of that, whilst still increasing their salary and influence within the organisation. They feel that this is the way to get the best of both worlds and not lose people to frustration in their work, competitors or setting out by themselves.

The hardest part of breast cancer emotionally is after your treatment finishes

Jo Wolfe talked us through how Breast Cancer Care came to develop their innovative new BECCA App, to support women diagnosed with breast cancer. The graph below shows that when someone is initially diagnosed, even though their physical health will deteriorate, they don’t have time to struggle emotionally. This is due to the large number of things to do and people around to support them. Once treatment has finished, many of these support systems disappear though and people really begin to struggle. This the part of the cancer journey which BCC are looking to target with their app — aiming to be ‘the friend in someone’s pocket’.

Conflict arises when people have different mental models

Mental models are created by people to help understand the world around them. They are usually a set of assumptions or shortcuts that they hold dear and are created from their experiences, wider study or upbringing. Because they are so deeply engrained, they are not the easiest thing in the world to change. When two people with different mental models engage around a subject they can come across as completely alien to the other. This is not a difference of opinion, it’s a difference of reality as they both perceive it.

User researchers exists to understand mental models other than their own

Content and services should be designed to help people in achieving a goal. In order to effectively do that, you need to understand what they need and where that arises from. To fully design for that, mental models are the way you get to the bottom of a user’s need. This covers everything from the vocabulary they use to the emotional states they are going through as they experience whatever situation you’re designing for.

Use open forums for initial user research

If you need to get a quick sense of the vocabulary a certain audience use and more importantly the problems that they face, google a few forums and go take a look for yourself. Most of them have a ‘most commented’ filter so you can immediately identify where people’s pain points are.

Keep track of your individual user examples when you aggregate your research

You’ll often start a project by speaking to lots of different people about their challenges and needs. After that, your normal step is to draw some overall conclusions as to their priorities, opportunities and preferences. When you do this, don’t forget to reference the initial evidence in your final proposal so you can quickly and easily illustrate it with a video, or quote etc…

Hire T-shaped people to help organisational co-ordination

Whilst obviously being able to work across different functions as part of their role, I’d never thought about the benefits that T-shaped people bring to communication and co-ordination. If you have a Product Manager who is comfortable with Analytics, then they’ll be able to have a much better conversation with your planning or data team. A designer with an interest in content strategy is going to be able to work far more effectively with an editor than someone who doesn’t share the same set of vocabulary or concepts. Bring these people into your organisation to start breaking down the barriers that naturally happen between different teams and specialisms.

Pair writing for the win

Write some content with a colleague where one of you is actually typing on the screen and the other is commenting as you go. The main role of the commentator is to keep bringing the copy back to the user goals it is trying to meet. You do this for 5 minutes and then swap roles. The process builds empathy with people’s styles and eventually (when combined with other practices) leads to a more trusting relationship.

Positive + proactive + passionate = Breast Cancer Care Digital

Jo Wolfe also talked about the inherent qualities she looks for in a new hire. Whilst a charity like BCC is unlikely to be competing on salary, they are able to attract people because of their cause and a chance to cut their teeth in a nationally recognised brand at a relatively low level of experience. This often means they move on after a couple of years, but the impact they are able to have is significant. To pick between these people, Jo looks for them to demonstrate these three ‘P’s. They need to demonstrate an ability to see the best in a situation, take active approaches to problem solving and to take pride in what they do.