John Bethke on Process Before Product

John BethkeOur latest Champion, John Bethke of Bethke Consulting, LLC, contacted us to tell us about how he uses Balsamiq Mockups in his work. What I like about his story is that it's a reminder that software is frequently only one part of the solution to a client's problem. In his consulting practice John makes a point of analyzing the client's entire process, of which the software interface is only a piece.

It is often too easy to focus only on the software aspect and specifically the user interface. But improvements to the experience can be made at many points along the way. John described to me how a key part of his success has been to take the time to understand his client's world. He even makes sure to use the specific language his clients use. He told me: "It's important to maintain the vocabulary used by the people in the business process roles and keep a glossary of all terms used."

Read on for my interview with John.

Q&A with John Bethke

Who are you and what do you do?

I'm a self employed management consultant with 15 years experience working at the strategic level (Product or Process Vision, Enterprise Analysis, Workflow modeling) and tactical levels (User Stories or Use Case, Product Management) for business process improvement and software development initiatives.

What trends do you see in your role or industry?

Requirements elicitation and stakeholder review is being done virtually more often which means effective techniques and communication mediums used for discussion, review and confirmation are crucial.

What tips do you have for people who do what you do?

Before interviewing a stakeholder, find out about what they do and what gives their work purpose.

Before interviewing a stakeholder, find out about what they do and what gives their work purpose, i.e., understand relevant business rules, key business events, company policies, process documentation, industry regulations. It will inform your interview questions and the stakeholder will appreciate you took the time to understand their processes and problems. In return, they will be more likely to give you information to do your job because they know you are trying to solve their business problems.
Business Process DiagramJohn creates business process diagrams to show that he understands how everything is connected.

What sets you apart from other people/companies that do what you do?

I use techniques I've developed to efficiently organize the reams of information for understanding and analyzing a business process, identify problems and succinctly describe the process as well as create the artifacts used for the scoping and implementing the software solution. I continue to deliver and my clients continue to engage me to be a resource on their projects.

What's challenging about your job and how do you deal with it?

Each project brings its unique set of problems to solve and stakeholders that have the problems. The initial weeks on a project are about getting the stakeholders to trust me that I will deliver the correct expression of the problems that they need solved and effectively communicate it to the project team members that will scope and build the solution.

Why do you use Balsamiq Mockups?

I've used Balsamiq since 2012, mostly for elicitation and confirmation of user and system needs. When ever I'm assigned a new project, I take inventory of all the business events, domain objects, business rules and workflow states. If applicable to the engagement, I build wireframes in Balsamiq and use the list of events the UI supports and any related process or workflow state model to create the story of who, what, why and when. The combination of Balsamiq mockups and related user events supported is well received and really advances the conversation to get to meaningful requirements for development.

It is 6 times cheaper to fix a requirements defect before code is written.

It is 6 times cheaper to fix a requirements defect before code is written. Balsamiq helps users clearly understand and articulate their problems and see the solution before building it. This leads to more useful requirements and reduced development time.
Workflow State DiagramAn example of one of John's workflow state diagrams.

What other tools do you use for your job?

I use Enterprise Architect and Gliffy diagrams for modeling Business Process, Actor models, Business Domain Models and Workflow states. I use Atlassian Confluence for text documentation and collaboration. I use Hipchat and Lync for instant messages and screen sharing.

What is your favorite or most-used Mockups feature?

I use the datagrid quite often for tables. I like using the the field set to group functionally related items. The export to PDF is handy when executive stakeholders want to see a printed version.

What has been your experience showing your mockups to other people, for instance team members or clients?

Very positive. The simple view of a mockup created in Balsamiq is disarming and helps keeps the conversation about user needs and problems to solve rather than about detailed and final design, which can derail a work session.

The simple view of a mockup created in Balsamiq is disarming.

When I show the mockups with a list of events the UI supports and related diagrams for context in the business process, it is well received and makes review sessions very productive. Designers can take the mockups I've created and quickly design in the intended software knowing the user needs are understood and requirements are well developed.
Mockup exampleA mockup for one of John's projects.

Do you have any feature ideas or suggestions for how we can improve our product?

  • Another markup feature: be able to draw a circle or box around a group of items
  • A better line drawing markup tool (like Snagit) - it would be helpful to have a straight single arrow to use, instead of having to manipulate the double arrow
  • Be able to control a single column width in the data grid /table [Editor's note: this feature is described here]
  • Project assets stay with file if the BMML file is moved to another directory [Editor's note: stay tuned... 😉 ]
  • Text wraps on a button
  • Spell check - if it does not slow it down too much, the lightweight nature of the tool is one of its best characteristics

Do you have any Balsamiq tips or tricks that you'd like to share?

I screen share the tool and make updates on the spot during review sessions.
  1. Keep the directories for files well named and organized. It will help when asked to produce PDFs of mockups or when necessary to create a quick update.
  2. I screen share the tool and make updates in the tool on the spot during review sessions.

Thank you, John, for sharing your tips and suggestions. You are a Champion!

Do you have a story to share about the awesome things you do with Balsamiq? Send an email to champions@balsamiq.com with your stories or blog posts!

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