The level of technology that goes into a tool is only as valuable as the service that you, as a user, get out of that tool. Some low-tech tools--such as the four that Esther Derby lists here--have a place in the technologist's toolbox, too.
Not too long ago, my husband and I decided to spend a relaxing weekend at our cabin in northern Minnesota. I'd been traveling for weeks and was looking forward to walking in the woods instead of sitting on a plane. I flew in from a client visit, repacked my bag, and we hit the road for the cabin.
We arrived mid-afternoon, hiked the trail across the road, made a simple supper, and got ready to turn in for the night—at which point I realized that in my haste (and haze) to make the 6 a.m. flight home, I’d left my toothbrush sitting beside the sink in a hotel room halfway across the country.
"Guess you’ll have to use the toothbrush God gave you. Hold out your finger," my husband said helpfully and squeezed some toothpaste onto my fingertip.
It wasn’t quite like my usual toothbrush, but it did work. And it reminded me that sometimes we use fancy technological tools when simple tools will do.
The following are some powerful low-tech tools that aren’t in the Tools Guide listings but are great additions to any technologist’s toolbox.
I recently did an exercise with a team whose members were convinced they could obtain all the information they needed from their project scheduling tool. However, they indulged me when I asked them to block out their work assignments with colored stickies on a long wall. They were skeptical until they stepped back to look at it.
"I had no idea we were spread so thin," one team member said. "No wonder we’re not getting much done."
"If we sequenced our tasks differently, I think we could complete the deliverable sooner," said another.
The low-fidelity picture created with stickies revealed aspects of the work that the sophisticated tool obscured. And stickies have other uses as well—generating user classes, fleshing out features, finding the connections between ideas, and many more!
Flip Chart Paper
A development team was having difficulty deciding how to approach an important technical problem. Team members had too much detailed information to hold in their heads, so we wrote the information on flip charts and posted them around the room. That way, when people needed a fact, it was there in front of them. And they could see the whole scope of data without flipping back and forth between pages.
Flip chart paper is also useful when a group is discussing alternatives. I can't tell you how many times I've listened to a group argue in circles, only to discover that each person was considering slightly different data. Once they wrote the data in a place where everyone could see it, the group quickly reached an agreement.
Another team I worked with used index cards to design software. Team members simulated the interaction of objects by moving labeled index cards around on a table.
Other groups wrote their requirements on index cards and then sorted them by categories or priorities. They pinned the cards on a wall to show work in queue, work in progress, and work completed.
I once watched a customer attempt to convey to a programmer how a software program was creating a problem. The programmer was working hard to understand; he asked questions, paraphrased, and summarized his understanding. But he was still missing key points.
The customer walked over to the whiteboard and drew a picture. The programmer then walked over to the picture, pointed at different parts, and asked questions. The customer elaborated, explained, and added to the picture. Soon, the programmer was able to articulate the problem in a way
|The Power of Low-Tech Tools||35.91 KB|