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Creating a Global Team and a Global Infrastructure

By Daniela Marghitu and Raymond Van der Zalm

World Usability Day requires a website for an international audience, produced by an international volunteer team on a small budget. The day itself is about raising people's awareness of the fact that today’s technology, products, and services are simply too difficult and not accessible to everyone. When this year’s WUD Web team was formed early in the year, we knew we had a powerful brand but also that we would have powerful challenges, some of them related to those same technologies, products, and services.

The challenges and issues that arise when people work together from diverse parts of the world are common to many global teams, and the lessons learned in the process of creating the global team and platform can be carried from World Usability Day to other projects. The steps performed during a user-centered design process are well documented elsewhere (including recent issues of this magazine). This article concentrates on the special challenges faced and bested by the WUD Web team:

The Challenges of Geographic Separation

Interdisciplinary teams are widely considered to be central to the success of complex professional projects, but building and holding together such a team is never easy. The WUD Web team included experts from the usability and accessibility, computer engineering, information technology, education, and marketing fields. Add to this diversity several major locations ( Sydney, Australia; Auburn, Alabama, USA; and Bellingham, Washington, USA) and we had another level of difficulty. The team comprised: (bulleted list)

The geographical separation meant that most of the communication was done via email, telephone, and chat, but to add to the mix there was the complication of vastly different time zones (up to seventeen hours apart). Therefore, at the beginning of the project, we spent some time setting up structures and controls in hopes of overcoming these known pitfalls. We chose to make use of several free collaboration tools now available on the Web. These included: (bulleted list)

Keys to Success

The 2005 WUD website was a successful first attempt at a worldwide event website. This year, we built on this success by specifically targeting key objectives that the Core Committee had identified: (bulleted list)

As with all non-profit projects, the budget was small but the scope of work significant, and its success largely depended upon the generosity of its volunteers and the team putting in that little bit extra to make it work.

Accessibility and Internationalization

The site needed to be highly accessible—to be viewable across the widest possible variety of platforms by people with differing vision abilities, such as low or no vision (requiring the site to be navigable by screen readers) or people with low-contrast color deficiencies. At the same time, the site still needed to be vibrant, professional, and engaging for all users.

English was the official language used for communicating among the World Usability Day Web team members, event organizers, and users. It was surprising to discover that, on both technical and non-technical levels of communication, there are different meanings and even different spellings of the same English words. For example, some team members were using "organize, organizing, organizers," while others were using "organise, organising, organisers." These differences required the team to reach a consensus on spellings and meanings for certain words. Communicating solely via phone, webcast, and email was also a major challenge. Body language is truly an important part of communication among humans!

We also needed to address multiple languages and times of day. The content management system allowed pages of the site to be presented in various major foreign languages: English, French, German, Hebrew, Chinese, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish. The World Usability Day Charter was translated into eight languages and a Web page was developed for each translation. Based on feedback obtained from Chinese event organizers, we had to develop two separate Web pages for the Chinese, using both simplified and traditional characters.

The official time of the World Usability Day central website was GMT . However, the information for each event included the time zone of its geographic location as well as a "What time does this start for me?" link. This link went to a website that helped users determine their local time for an event of interest.

Tolerance and inclusiveness are always tough challenges facing multicultural global teams. Cultural and religious background can obviously affect even the most professional individuals’ attitude and behavior: (bulleted list)

Using appropriate professional language (across gender and age) and avoiding regional and/or national language differences was sometimes a challenge. For example, in the Northeast U.S., we recently had a severe problem with a bug called a "tick." It is found in long grass and its bite can cause Lyme Disease, a debilitating illness. Meanwhile, in Australia, it's very common to say "tick boxes" instead of "check boxes"; for example, "you can tick this box" instead of "you can check this box,” as in "If you are having problems specifying the location of your event using either method above, you can tick this box to request assistance from an event administrator."

Measuring Success and Planning for the Future

With 225 events (including thirty webcasts) across forty countries and five continents, outstanding media coverage, and great feedback from organizers and volunteers, World Usability Day 2006 and its website were deemed a huge success. Just between 1 and 22 November, more than fifty thousand visitors browsed more than one hundred thousand Web pages on the World Usability Day 2006 website using more than sixty languages. By these measures, the project team certainly met their goals.

About the Authors

Daniela Marghitu holds a PhD in Computer Science, is a faculty member in the Auburn University Computer Science and Software Engineering Department, and an academic publications author. She was the Web committee chairperson for World Usability Day 2006 and a key organizer for the local World Usability Day event at Auburn University.

Raymond van der Zalm is a Senior Project Manager at Different Solutions in Sydney, Australia. He has worked in the information technology and interactive industry since 1998, working for a large corporation’s e-commerce department, a dot.com company, and an interactive agency. Raymond was also a key organizer of the Sydney, Australia World Usability Day 2006 event.


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User Experience Magazine is by and about usability professionals, featuring significant and unique articles dealing with the broad field of usability and the user experience.

This article was originally printed in User Experience Magazine, Volume 6, Issue 1, 2007.

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