Visual Impact Priority (VIP)

My job includes the weekly iteration kick off for a development team. We look at the tasks for the week and prioritize them. Some tasks are front-end and some are back-end. Some are look’n’feel and some are more technical. And the end of the week, we demo it for everybody in the company.

I’ve long had a feeling that, at the end of the week, the more visual aspects of the tasks at hand had had less “love” then they warrant. Lets say we add a new page – all the new fields will be there, the new needed functionality will be implemented, but the visual glue, that’s supposed to pull it all together is somehow missing. It gets pushed to next week, where the same thing happens.

Sometimes we working from photoshop generated mock-ups, and the designer will have spend most of his time making sure the alignments are just right, or the color gradients are just as they should be.

All of this usually gets low priority with the developers – “it’s not crucial” – and it isn’t. In the pressure to have somethings to show off on Friday, the visual elements, paradoxically, gets down prioritized.

The Problem

I understand why this is – the developers focus on the hard stuff first. They want to know that the core is okay, before they spend time on other things. It’s more important not to have errors, than to have “bling”.

But at the end of the week – when we demo the changes implemented, we also have a system that doesn’t look as good as it could. When the only comment we get is “Why is that button still green? I though we agree it should be red?”, after the demo of some nice new feature, you get the feeling that nobody saw anything, except for the missing red button.

And I understand this too. The business people can only see the surface (the UX). So you added a ton of code behind a field in a form and switched from one framework to another and upgraded jquery and fixed the broken dependencies… and all they can see is that it’s the wrong color.

What we have been doing until now, was to take out a week, once in a while, and only do the visually oriented stuff, that normally gets down prioritized and focus on them, without any functional issues getting in the way. This works, but it doesn’t solve the issue of the Friday demo.

A possible solution

I want to add a bit of priority to the “low priority” of the visual issues, and currently my idea is to do what I want to call Visual Impact Priority.

I don’t want to throw away the usual priorities, but I want to add an extra step in the process.

The idea is to simply look at the page/task as it is, and select the lowest hanging fruit/task that will have the biggest Visual Impact on the system.

The way you calculate this is very dependent on the system, but very concrete things like the number of pixels involved and how big the color change is, could be a place to start. Change a small area a little bit – Small Impact. Change a big area a lot – Big impact.

Changing a the background color of a page from black to red will have a huge impact on the page, and take all of five seconds to do. Changing the headline color from one shade of gray to another, is probably low impact. Changing it from green to red, is bigger impact as it will be noticed. Adding a new field to a form, will have a big visual impact. Even if it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles it’s supposed to have.

It’s a bit like having two priorities on all tasks. One if “Functional (Impact) Priority” (FIP) and one is “Visual Impact Priority”. And you alternate between them. Sort the task list on FIP. Take one from the top. Sort on VIP – take one from the top. Repeat.

And it doesn’t mean that you can’t slice the tasks. Maybe the specification is for a nicely graded green header. Making it green takes a minute. Making it graded takes an hour. So you spend a minute and make it green. Huge impact. And it allows the designer to see that green wasn’t that great a choice and he can change his mind, before you spend that hour doing a graded version.

I’ll let you know about our experience with this, when we’ve been doing it for while.

p.s.: I’m using word “Impact” in my priority-types to indicate that the balance between how important something is and the amount of works that goes into it is important. Your basic Return On Investment assessment thing.

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