I’ve been asked by Redgate to get involved with some product research sessions this year. I’ve had a few phone conversations in the past about my usage habits with various tools, but this was quite different. The first session was a bit disorientating but having got one under my belt the second was an enjoyable experience.
Can we talk?
I downloaded SQL Clone before Christmas for a client demo and that led to a discussion with Andy Richardson who was interested in organising a chat around the products in the SQL Provision suite. Whilst I was more than happy to offer my time up I did try to balance out expectations given I haven’t properly used the tools in anger in a production setting, just my own research and playtesting. That wasn’t a problem on their part, they were interested in my general experiences in the field and my reactions to some things they are trialling.
I will call this the OMG LOTS OF PEOPLE session. I’ve spent the last year in perpetual lockdown, I’ve largely been talking to the same 3 people for that whole time and I didn’t really have an expectation of what a product research session was, so it took me a bit off guard when I jumped in a zoom meeting to be met by 5 or 6 smiling Redgaters!
I’m a little slow to get going in unfamiliar social settings, but mixed with lockdown-cabin-fever and issues with my webcam (webcam refused to work) anxiety was a little high but the folks from Redgate are a great bunch and they helped me settle pretty quickly. We had an informal chat about my background, experience and familiarity with the products. They then they asked me to playtest some changes to the data catalog product.
This was essentially a session where a screen was shared, I was given control and asked to perform a few activities on a possible future state. The Redgaters watched me walk through some general activities whilst asking questions like;
- How would you go about doing x?
- What if you needed to do y?
- What do you think this widget is going to do?
- Does that widget do what you would like it to do?
I couldn’t get out of the idea that it was an aptitude test and so fumbling over some of the tasks just made me a little uneasy, more anxiety!
They asked me how I felt about different buttons, widgets, layouts. How I felt customers might feel about this process, or how a customer might approach this challenge. Some of these questions felt a little difficult given my lack of use in anger nevertheless, framing my responses in the context of how it might have been adopted in organisations I’ve worked with, or my perception of how difficult the challenge would be given constraints, appetite to risk, imagining which teams might have collaborated together etc, provided the Redgaters with useful insights to life in the trenches.
Once the session finished, I spent a bit of time reflecting on how it went. Some of the questions I struggled to find decent responses to. I am a reflector by nature, I tend to spend a lot of time listening and considering, often my best thoughts arrive later once I’ve had time to consider things for a while and so I followed up the session with some ideas and thoughts that came to me later in the day. Having also expressed my heightened anxienty levels, it also turns out that there were a few anxious folks on the other side too as they were conducting one of these sessions for the first time.
I also considered that what they really want from me out of a session like this is brutal honesty of what I’m experiencing and how I think it should work - it is quite easy to resist the temptation to say oh I don’t like that for fear of causing offence, but in reality they want to understand whether something is intuitive because otherwise they’re not making “ingenious simple” tools right?
I can’t have done too badly because they asked me back in quick succession, phew!
The folks on the Data Catalog team asked me back to run through some very cool features they’ve been working on to better automate the process of classifying data. This time, I was sent a link to a site and asked to share my screen. Again, lots of questions;
- I would like you to do x, how might you do that?
- This widget here, what would you do with it?
- Does this do what you are expecting it to?
- What might you expect this search bar to do?
Having a better appreciation of what I should bring to this session, I provided much more honest feedback about what I was observing and experiencing;
- Well that feels pretty ambiguous to me, I wouldn’t know without having to read the docs.
- All this white space, could you use it to just briefly explain what this thing does?
- How can I tell which things I’ve edited? It’d be great if you could identify which things I’ve edited.
- I LOVE this feature (this was a thing)!
- I would want to be able to group these things into categories like you do on this other page.
- I don’t think that column name explains itself very well.
It was an enjoyable session, it still felt a bit like an aptitude test at times, which is my issue not theirs, it’ll pass as I do more of these sessions. We talked more generally about how I would envisage this being adopted in places I have worked, where pressure points were and how they might be addressed by the new features. Hopefully they found the second session useful!
It’s been fun
I’ve enjoyed the two sessions, it’s been fun to look at new features and have some input. I’d encourage anyone to give it a try even if the product involved isn’t something you’re familiar with. There was lots of interest from insights into the verticals I’ve worked in and how they are structured around data management, governance, security.
If you do volunteer for one of these sessions try to talk yourself through the activities as you do them. It’s a bit unorthodox right? You don’t sit in the office and out loud say, so now I’m going to open a new query and run this system view and see if the results are what I’m expecting. But in reality, this is the sort of interaction the folks are after.
Really looking forward to getting involved in future sessions and I’m now waiting keenly to see whether any of my suggestions make the final cut :)