Thursday, June 23, 2011

Why QA is important and not just an afterthought

QA or "Quality Assurance" is an integral part to any project digital or otherwise. We do it because we want our end product to work, we want our client to be happy, we want our users happy. QA is never optional.

QA is NOT an afterthought - it should be an essential part of every step of the project
Imagine this purely hypothetical scenario. You're a phone developer... you develop a new handset, you spend millions researching and developing the hardware and software, millions more on marketing and bringing it to market. How embarassing would it be if you then found that the phone you spent so much on bringing to market didn't make phonecalls reliably? No doubt people would laugh at you, your company reputation would be damaged. Fortunately this is hypothetical and has never happened.

If QA is considered from the very start of a project then the dedicated QA team can ensure that what is delivered at the end matches the requirements set out at the start. The requirement "must make phonecalls" will be tested by the QA team all the way through from the initial design (does the phone sit in your hand, is it comfortable for a phonecall?) to technical specification (are we including technology that lets you make phonecalls) to delivery (we've built the phone, does it work - yes it does). If QA is an afterthough then you might have spent millions on design, research, specification, building prototypes, etc to only find that money has been wasted because your phone doesn't make phonecalls... if a QA team was involved from the start then at everystage they can ask - has this phase of work done what it's supposed to, is this a quality bit of kit, has this been done right?

QA is NOT only for big projects.
Why would QA not apply to small projects. QA means you only output quality work - if you skip it for smaller projects, even a tiny banner or minor copy change, then you still risk that those tiny bits of work could be crap (lack quality)... QA EVERYTHING.

QA does NOT mean purely technical testing.
Testing that a website works doesn't just mean do the buttons go to the right place. A proper QA will ask - do the designs match those signed off? Is the architecture of the site fit for the user? Does the copy have any typo's? Is the content in the right place? Can the server handle the expected number of users? Does the code meet standards (e.g. accessibility)? Does it match the functional and technical spec? Have we overspent?

QA can be carried out by anyone... but it shouldn't be you QA'ing your own work
It's true that bigger pieces of work benefit from a dedicated QA team - but smaller bits of work (or agencies without a dedicated QA team) might not need this. The main thing is - make sure someone has understood the brief, reviewed the work and signed it off.

QA is systematic
QA should be thought out - another reason QA should be considered from inception is it is time-consuming and costs money. It takes awhile to understand requirements, write systematic test plans, understand test requirements (do I need automatic scripts, what should I test on, etc).

QA is not money down the drain
Making sure you test everything seems obvious. If something lacks quality then it devalues the end user experience of the product. If something is worth doing then do it right; you'll save a fortune if you take the time to always get things right.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

1 in 100 chance of winning a car*


Just read an interesting article about the lack of engagement with Facebook competitions meaning the chances of winning the top prizes can actually be quite high:

"In the rush the “engage” fans, and grow fan numbers, hundreds of brands are being very quick to give away fantastic prizes in competitions on their Facebook pages. The problem is very few of them actually think any more beyond this point. They get a prize, create a tab with the competition (those have read the guidelines and know not to use the wall etc for promotions) and think their job is done. In the race for fans very little thought is put into how people will find it and why people will actually want to enter this competition if they find it.

Unsurprisingly this results in hundreds of competitions a week being started by brands that only get a handful of entries. I’ve seen competitions giving away cars with less than 1,000 entries, and holidays to New York with less than 50 entries. With a one in fifty chance of winning a trip to New York you’d be silly not to enter."

Read the full article on: eatsleepsocial.

Tenuiously linked cat photo below:

Monday, June 20, 2011

Above vs Below the line marketing

A term I had not encountered before, but have recently heard a lot of, is: "Above or Below the line marketing"... For those of you who didn't know what this is either it's:

"The way in which promotion is targeted is traditionally split into two types - “above the line” and “below the line”.

Above the line promotion
This is paid for communication in the independent media e.g. advertising on TV or in the newspapers. Though it can be targeted, it can also be seen by anyone outside the target audience.

The main aims of above-the-line promotion are to inform customers, raise awareness and build brand positioning. Above-the-line tends to have a higher cost since the promotional methods used are less precise.

Below the line
This concerns promotional activities where the business has direct control over the target or intended audience. There are many methods of below-the-line, including sales promotions, direct marketing, personal selling and sponsorship."
So now I know and so do you :-)

Friday, June 17, 2011

Should Computer Science be a core lesson in schools?

I was reading this BBC News article "Are children becoming 'digitally illiterate'?" which piqued my interest yesterday. It points out that computers have become ever more complex over the years and kids are taught in schools how to use them. Most young people know how to use Word, Excel, etc... they can work Windows, they can use a smartphone, they can email, tweet, blog, facebook, play games (from consoles to flash to mobile), they can do many complex tasks from a very early age. Some kids can surf the net before they've even started school... yet they don't understand nor are they taught the basic foundations that allow the creation of this software or hardware.

When I was a teen I had my first computers. They were simpler beasts. Through experimentation I knew how to take them apart, upgrade them, format them, etc. I found ways to make outdated DOS games work on newer versions of Windows. I took games apart, played with the code, customised the look and feel, built my own levels... I found little hacks, little fiddles, I knew the ins and outs of the kit I had to play with. I taught myself HTML and could produce some pretty fancy websites (for the time). Some of my peers took this further - they learnt how to write little pieces of software and scripts.

Many of the people working in the digital and software industries today started their careers as a teenager fiddling with their hardware in their room (chortle at implied inuendos).

But things were simpler then! The mind boggles how a teenager now could learn to build a website now - sure they could learn basic HTML and produce a crappy site like the ones I used to produce (crappy by todays standards)... but can the average teen learn PHP (etc), CSS and proper HTML skills from their bedroom in the same way? Is it possible to take things apart in the same way without irriparably breaking them? Things are so much more complex now than they were. And what's the motivation?

Many of the most well known, multi-billion pound, software and digital offerings started life from some kids bedroom. Someone who'd been tinkering with code as a teen and took this further into something that became Facebook, or Windows, or Spotify or... etc. Many of the well-paid programmers, contractors, producers, MD's, UX's, designers, etc started their careers pottering with a crappy basic computer at home.

But today's generation have super-whizzy computers, mobiles, etc. To complex to take apart - so where can a new generation get the knowledge they need to ensure the UK continues to have a thriving technical industry? Surely in school! As the Beeb article asks, should Computer Science be taught as a lesson in school? I say absolutely - every kid should know basic IT (how to use Word, internet, apps, etc) and they should know the science that goes behind it.

The UK is not a country rich in material resource but (in theory) it is a country rich in smart people. However, if enough people aren't nurtured and encouraged to follow careers in software, media, etc then we'll loose out to other countries that can do it more cheaply (China?).

Everyone needs to be taught basic foundations that will help them get through life - that includes the classic disciplines of science, maths, english, etc - but being able to understand the technological world we live in, how it works, how to manipulate it, how to follow a career in - that's as essential as being taught how to read and write.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The ultimate project management tool?

I've just discovered Smartsheet - a tool from Google that is essentially MS Project online. Very cool! So far it seems to do everything you might need and more, including allowing you export into Excel or Project.

Day 4

Well it's day 4 on my brand new Dare adventure and day 3 in the big smoke. So far I've met a host of talented people who have explained what they do and why. I'm still one excited bunny and looking forward to Friday, my second day in the Bristol office, where I'll be getting to grips with my new role.

My London adventure so far has been great. I've eaten two pizzas (Gym everyday next week I think), caught up with a few friends. If it wasn't for the rain and the angry commuters I could easily live here. But it has been raining, and those commuters are angry, so I have to say after two nights in a very comfortable hotel I am very much looking forward to a night in my uncomfortable Ikea bed (I think saving for an upgrade is in order).

Anyway - ramble over, happy thursday!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

He who Dares...

Well it's my second day at Dare. Yesterday was something of an information overload; I can see I'm not going to be bored. I'm not going to have time to be bored (and nor am I thinking this is a bad thing)! Today I'm in London meeting and greeting Dare people who I'll be working closely with in the future. So far I have managed one out of three meetings - not because I was lost but rather because they've been re-arranged... like I said, Dare is a busy place. After time I'm sure they'll realise I am so wonderful and they will prioritise meeting me over rediculous client meetings.
I have to say (and not just because I'm on 3 months probation and conscious I'm writing in a public forum) that I'm rather excited about this new role. A fresh challenge - a chance to dust off old skills, learn new ones and generally challenge myself. Sink or swim I have an exciting and exhausting few months ahead. Wish me luck!

The thought has crossed my mind that I will sink like a BP oil rig before the month is up and be hated by all... but then I have thought this before and ended up becoming an agency rock-star and loving the people I work with. No doubt the same will happen at Dare. Once they figure out my love of Lolcats, my inappropriate sense of humour and ruthless determination to be awesome in all I do I'm sure that things will be fine. As Pam Ann says "We only make the same mistake three times... ....maybe four." Fortunately I'm not Pam Ann! Phew!

Now... just to decide where to put my "I love my cat" picture frame.

My only gripes about Dare so far are no company laptop (I'm using one of those big boxes, you know, like they used to have in olden times) and no company iPhone. The former I can live without (for now - until I find a justifiable business reason to insist on getting a shiny new one on order)... the latter... well I feel like I've had an arm cut off. For instance I went out for lunch earlier and had to rely on a PAPER map (like some sort of animal!). When did I make the switch from seeing the iPhone as a shiny gizmo to an extra limb? Until you go without the basics such as food, water, sanitation or iPhones you don't realise how important they are. I can't wait until the iPhone5 comes out and my current contract ends... I'm naked without it.

I just hope this one can make phone calls. 

So what's my point? Well to sum up - Hugh is working at Dare, Hugh is happy and hopes he will more than do the job with utmost awesomeness and he wants an iPhone.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Angry birds live (from T-mobile)

When you thought t-mobile's ad campaigns had started to get samey and boring they produce this... brilliant.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Wii 2 (Wii U)

I'm loving E3 2011 at the moment. I spent half an hour yesterday looking through trailers for new games that have been announced. I'm rather excited by Star Wars the Old Republic and Prototype 2... and potentially Resistance 3 but then Resistance 2 was god awful.The game I'm most excited about, and yet so unsure about, is Bioshock Infinite. Bioshock 1 and 2 were stunning; and I expect this will be great. My only reservation is will the move away from the underwater Rapture towards a sky setting work? I'm also pretty excited by Aliens Colonial marines... but I've been waiting for this game for so long, and was so disapointed by the last Aliens Vs Predator game, that I'll wait to see what it's like when it arrives.

Perhaps one of the most exciting is Wii U... which sounds as far from the Wii as possible (read more about the Wii U on the BBC). A good move for Nintendo or not? It sounds like they've ditched the wavey wavey hand controller for something a bit more traditional, i.e. a controller with heaps of new features, camera, screen... etc (some of the things I suggested before would be great to have in the next gen controllers... am I a tech guru; or just one of many many hopful gamers who dream mad things? I think the latter, and it sounds like Nintendo have been listening. Hoorah!). Nintendo are trying to bring back the core gamers... but does this mean the Wii U won't cater for the new market of family and casual games they've created? Are they ditching this market following recent competition from XBox Kinect and PS3 Move?

I'll be keeping an ear out to see what Microsoft and Sony plan to do... will the PS4 or next XBox be announced soon?

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Solar panels... on the moon

Another article about sci-fi that could soon be reality... or at least a dream that, in the wake of recent events to do with the Fukushima Power plant, has been given more consideration.

The concept is simple(ish)... send robots into space, land them on the moon, and use the moons natural resources to build a giant belt of solar panels that would beam energy back to Earth solving the worlds power problems in one single, green, swoop.

Read the article on Treehugger "Japanese Company Eyes Building 6,800 Mile Solar Array On Moon, Constructed By Robots".

Of course the technology, funds or will doesn't actually exist yet. Indeed while the idea is sound I'm not quite sure how they would get the energy back from the moon to Earth (visions of cities being microwaved by giant arrays)... and what if something went wrong; would we come to rely on the moon belt so much that the whole planet gets turned off (would we end up eating eachother?) - no, it's a great idea and one I hope gets properly considered. Dream big and who knows what we may end up with! Certainly we live in an age where I hope to see pioneering projects and journeys to space becoming the norm (e.g. space tourism). But in terms of powering our planet? I'd like to see more green power generated down on here on Earth.