On the first floor of Peabody Hall, UFIT Application Developer Analyst and COMPASS ONE.UF Team Lead Jacob Prater cracks a couple of jokes to break the ice before a presentation to 24 of his team’s most important constituents – University of Florida students.
Jacob and COMPASS’ ONE.UF Team are using a variety of innovative methods to develop ONE.UF, the university’s “one-stop-shop” portal for self-service functions, i.e., those that do not require assistance from UF staff to complete.
One of those methods involves holding student focus groups, where up to 25 students at a time can see ONE.UF in development and offer feedback on the look, feel and utility of the portal. Students are recruited from a cross section of UF units and organizations including the Office of the University Registrar, the UF Computing Help Desk, the UF International Center and UF Student Affairs, and provide the ONE.UF team a diverse on-campus constituency group.
UF Team Lead Jacob Prater demonstrates the new look and feel of ONE.UF to students
Jacob, along with ONE.UF Project Manager Amita Amin, have held 10 student-focus-group sessions, and many of the suggestions received from students have been incorporated into the development of ONE.UF thus far.
“Students are the perfect sounding board for this project. They are very enthusiastic and helpful about giving input on what works and what doesn’t, and since ONE.UF is being built to optimize their experience using the portal, we feel it’s important that they help develop the product they’ll be using.” Amita Amin, ONE.UF Project Manager
The ONE.UF Team has also enlisted the help of Assistant Professor Dr. Lisa Anthony of the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering and students of her “User Experience Design” course. As a final group project for the course in both Fall 2015 and Fall 2016, Dr. Anthony’s students lent their design skills and input to ONE.UF’s student workspace and notification center, respectively. Much of what portal users will see in these features has come from ideas generated by these student projects, Jacob says.
In addition to student input, Jacob and his team also solicit feedback from COMPASS workgroups and the ONE.UF Steering Committee, which is comprised of project sponsors and other key constituents from across campus.
“We’re fortunate to receive continual feedback both from our COMPASS workgroup teams and the ONE.UF Steering Committee. We understand that the portal will be used by a wide range of UF community members, so it’s extremely valuable to us to be able to hear from those perspectives, with the ultimate goal of presenting an unparalleled and uncomplicated user experience.” Jacob Prater, ONE.UF Team Lead
After soliciting input via the aforementioned methods, Jacob and Amita take the feedback to their team to discuss requirements and the viability of new feature ideas, but not with set edicts about what tasks they’ll prioritize next.
Instead, the team uses strategies adopted from Agile project management to organize two-week periods of work, known in the Agile world as “sprints.” Agile development strategy stresses non-hierarchical forms of leadership, frequent constituent collaboration and continual delivery of software developments.
During ONE.UF sprint-planning sessions, which occur at the conclusion of each two-week period, the team gathers to set its development goals for the upcoming sprint.
“We specifically cut out time to, as a group, discuss ideas and prioritize our upcoming work to make sure we’re on track to meet our deliverables,” Jacob said. “I think it’s important that each team member can regularly weigh in on ONE.UF’s priorities and development, and I put my trust in their skills, abilities and input.”
The ONE.UF Team also regularly conducts portal-feature demonstrations to COMPASS workgroups. Demos allow the workgroups to validate requirements, known as “stories” in Agile-speak, and give the ONE.UF Team further feedback on the features before they’re moved on to testing and, later, production, Amita says.
Jacob’s trust in the team has led ONE.UF to become an innovative student-service portal technology, as few universities have attempted to develop a unified self-service user-experience layer on top of existing systems.
Most of the schools using a portal like ONE.UF, Jacob says, have only built a custom landing page that essentially acts as a front door, taking users to several disparate systems to complete tasks. Few schools have developed a custom system like ONE.UF which provides an integrated experience for the user while interfacing behind the scenes with a variety of back-end systems.
COMPASS’ ONE.UF Team
Jamie Burgess, COMPASS Testing Team Lead and ONE.UF Testing Analyst
UFIT team member since 2016
Describe the ONE.UF Team dynamic. How does the team work to solve problems? Does everyone have an opportunity to voice his or her opinions?
"I was assigned to this project this past March after the team had already been established. I was so nervous, but they made the transition an easy one. I have never been a part of a team that is so eager to help someone or provide guidance if they have a problem. They are beyond intelligent and willing to share everything they know to help you become a better tester or developer. The group understands the impact ONE.UF will make on the campus and is willing to do what it takes to ensure that happens."
Kate Haskell, ONE.UF Developer
UFIT team member since 2002
How important is the user experience to your development goals for ONE.UF?
"Software lives and dies based on user experience. Period. If users don't understand how to use your app or they don't find your app pleasant to use, it simply doesn't matter how many features you've packed into it. As developers, we acknowledge that we don't always know what our users want, so instead of guessing, we get out there, put our app in our users' hands, and let them tell us what needs to be improved. User experience is important to us because our users are our partners in building ONE.UF."
Matthew Johnson, ONE.UF Senior Developer
UFIT team member since 2014
How will ONE.UF help create a “connected campus,” one in which data and information can be accessed from all areas of campus?
"ONE.UF is available with equal functionality and experience across all modern devices and browsers, and we envision that students, faculty and staff will all have a reason to use ONE.UF on a daily basis. So, being the centralized place for all UF constituents to go for their self-service needs will make ONE.UF a great asset in helping to create a connected campus."
Wen Huang, ONE.UF Application Developer Analyst II
UFIT team member since 2015
What do you think is the most exciting current or upcoming feature of ONE.UF?
"The workspaces. Workspaces are going to have Student, Staff and Faculty sections in the future. Users will be able to login to ONE.UF and go to the workspace that’s associated with their affiliations and roles. From the workspace, they’re able to access all the available apps and associated functionality. For example, the student workspace is going to replace the Student Admin site (http://student.ufl.edu) in the future, making it much easier for them to check their class schedule or degree audit, or to register for classes, check financial aid and much more, even by mobile phone."