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Making the new BBC Weather site

Peter Deslandes | 10:50 UK time, Tuesday, 5 May 2009

I was introduced to the project to deliver a new BBC Weather website in early 2008 and spent the following 12 months running it. It has been an interesting experience!

We took over responsibility for the BBC Weather website in 2007 and began work on a new version of it almost immediately. We had a really clear vision & scope from Weather and a strong set of designs based on audience research and thorough user-testing. For various reasons we decided to run it in a more specifically agile way than had been done in FM&T J before.

We put together a team, including a business analyst who produced a full set of written requirements. The developers, from a broad range of teams within the department, produced high-level timescale estimates from the requirements. This was all quickly prioritised by the stakeholders and a release schedule was drawn up in place of the usual project plan. The schedule just says what we expect to release when, and is easily adjusted if priorities change.

WeatherProjectPostItNotes.jpgA space was found that the project team could occupy together. We had wall space for all sorts of visual project aids such as the designs, post it notes and 6" x 4" record cards that had each of the high level requirements written on them. These are some of the things that make agile projects work well as you can review the project status quickly with other members of the team and scribble on the designs and notes if necessary. The high level requirements are then used on a weekly basis to plan a few days of work in small increments.

A preview version of the site became available in September 2008. Between then and the actual launch date we continued to work on it, tweaking things and adding more content until we were finally ready to go live in March 2009.

The "agile" life doesn't seem to be for everyone. The little-and-often development process, which requires everyone to think in little bits, can take some getting used to. Perhaps less-noticed is that collocation is not always welcome, sometimes moving people away from such comforts as friends, a much-loved view or perhaps a slightly faster walk to the train home.

However, the effectiveness of a dedicated, collocated team certainly appears to outstrip that of others and easily justifies the cost of making the effort to change. Furthermore, I am fairly confident that the immersive nature of collocation has brought many other benefits. I'm not sure if the term "peer pressure" really applies, although it is used a lot in agile theory - I'd rather talk about "peer motivation" - but there is no doubt that the constant attention of colleagues and the quick verbal exchange of information results in a higher quality of output, both in terms of the coding and the design. This all adds up to project success.

NewWeatherSiteScreenShot.jpgAs I write this we are preparing the results of a project review. It is pleasing to note how many agile concepts have been identified as positive factors. There are still lessons to learn but we certainly benefited from the things we did well.

Next up is a series of audience reviews of the work so far while we continue to improve and update the new site and the infrastructure. There are still some old-style pages to be moved, and we will be adding new features and a brand new feeds system. The mobile Weather site will also get a makeover very soon.


Peter Deslandes is Product Manager for Weather in FM&T Journalism.

Comments

  • 1. At 11:13am on 06 May 2009, AgileDev wrote:

    "We put together a team, including a business analyst who produced a full set of written requirements." - does not sound particularly Agile.

    I think your team has done well with the site, however whilst it seems an attempt at Agility has been made, from reading this I don't think it was very successful, a lot of what I expected to see is missing.

    I am also disturbed that "peer pressure" is considered as "being used a lot in Agile theory" - rather than the valuing of "Individuals and Interactions over Processes and Tools".

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  • 2. At 1:04pm on 06 May 2009, Hedley Lamarr wrote:

    Perhaps a little less focus on your PM methodology and a bit more focus on the product itself might be in order?

    Previously, the BBC weather page used to work on iPhones. Now, it's terrible.

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  • 3. At 08:06am on 11 May 2009, michaeldunny wrote:

    How much faith can you put in a weather site that insists my home town of Dunbar is in Northumberland, England - rather than East Lothian, Scotland? I am sure a lot of work has gone into this revamp but not so certain about the end result.

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  • 4. At 08:29am on 21 May 2009, limitations wrote:

    It sounds like the agile design process has been a great success for this process, and has produced a great-looking and well-polished website. I do not believe this to be the case, though. For me and the dozen or so people I've talked to about it, the site fails to deliver the only thing we want from a weather website, most of the time. This is the quick overview. The previous website did this, and only this. The grid view was clear and could be read at a glance. The new version lays out this information in a way that is not as quick to read.

    Thank goodness I can still get what I want elsewhere. This website represents exactly what is wrong with the design process a lot of the time. The core funcionality has been forgotten in favour of fancy tools and swanky web 2.0-ness.

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  • 5. At 8:49pm on 21 May 2009, EnglishMohican wrote:

    I am sure it was all excellently organised - but the old site had useful things like wind speed and direction and isobars - for the Atlantic as well as locally. It has all disappeared on this site.

    I like the time bar across the bottom - the site represents rain pretty well - but when is the rest arriving. Why go live with a site that is only half finished - at least - I hope that it is only half finished.

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  • 6. At 07:43am on 26 May 2009, StephenD wrote:

    How disturbing to read how focused the management behind this dreadful revamping project were on appearing like 'agile' 'stakeholders'.

    This is the sort of nonsense that gets inexperienced managers a bad name in business. Next you'll be telling us about the 'synergies' of the team and how 'blue sky thinking' lead to this dog's breakfast of a site.

    Just where did the public appear on your 'roadmap'? I think the responses posted here should be sending you (and more importantly, your manager) a clear message.

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  • 7. At 2:34pm on 26 May 2009, mtthwbrnd wrote:

    Why are there no numbers on the plots of temperature associated with the colour bands? This is dumbing down to the extreme. I don't use the BBC weather. I don't want to know that the temperature is going to be light orange today, I want to know what the temperature is in Celsius.

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  • 8. At 12:12pm on 28 May 2009, ScudLewis wrote:

    Recommendation (repeated at bottom): how about having an interactive menu / key, which would allow the user to select what they wanted to see on the forecast map - isobars / temps in numbers / wind arrows etc..?

    Ok - the site looks 'nice' - but presenting a weather forecast is not one of it's strengths (at the moment - I hope).

    What is done well:
    * Presenting rain and cloud is good
    * Slider very nice feature
    * General Next 24 hours and 4 Day summary are reasonable and clear (for local too)
    * The National and local iPlayer forecast is excellent

    What is not so great:

    * Very little information/data/detail on General national map (other than rain)
    * Lack of wind direction on National General Map
    * Lack of temp data on National General map
    * National Temp map is purely laughable and vague - not useful at all (colours are too highly granulated - can you tell the difference between 3 and 9 degrees?) - have numbers again!
    * Local general maps - in a word - pointless (only use for rain forecasts - which is good)
    * The key is not very helpful at all - why have pressure fronts and not use them(?!)
    * Don't know about the problems with mobile phones - but you used to heavily promote that - so it must be an key issue for those posted above.

    I could go on - but that would be unfair.

    Why not have a more concise forecast - dare I say - more like the old forecast maps? Have temp (in numbers), wind speed (in size arrows) and isobars of pressure - all on the same map.

    Alternatively - how about having an interactive menu - which would allow the user to select what they wanted to see on the forecast map?

    Thanks for all your work - it is appreciated!! Really!

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  • 9. At 10:02am on 01 Jun 2009, Leewok wrote:

    "As I write this we are preparing the results of a project review."
    Can I suggest you be sure and mention that you were so focused on your interpretation of agile and all the cool stuff you could do you forgot to take into account the users.
    Congratulations on taking a useful site and rendering it completely unfit for purpose, I now go elsewhere for my weather.

    As a test engineer who is currently watching a market leader switch from waterfall to agile let me assure that getting a bunch of developers in a room and letting them do whatever seemed like a good idea at the time is not agile.

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  • 10. At 3:53pm on 06 Jun 2009, jpbutler23 wrote:

    All BBC weather is useless as far as I'm concerned. Rainy forecasts tend to be exaggerated - so if it doesn't rain as forecast, the public are 'happy that the sun's out'.

    I want accuracy, not pleasure out of my weather forecast.

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  • 11. At 12:02pm on 08 Jun 2009, upperholme wrote:

    All very interesting. Now can we have the old site back please. This new stuff is appalling. It offer so little of real use or value I am amazed it was allowed to be released. I have gone with it over the last few months, and given the benefit of the doubt. But it is now time for you to admit failure, go back to something that works, and start again - assuming you are determined to redesign.

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  • 12. At 9:09pm on 08 Jun 2009, Tony wrote:


    Have given up with this site its okay for Play School and the like but so
    much is missing from the old site Atlantic Pressure charts no longer there
    were of great use to me and many others the new charts sorry there Horrible
    why was it deemed necessary to Tinker about "IF IT ISN'T BROKE DON'T FIX IT"

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  • 13. At 3:28pm on 10 Jun 2009, JohnJinwales wrote:

    Looks pretty, lacks info though, whatever happened to the pollen forecast.

    Try looking at the weather forecast about 6am in the morning, out of date and from yesterday evening. I can always go to the met office website which is more up to date, however I'm more likely to go and use Metcheck. At least they know Mold is in Flintshire,not in Manchester and I have a fair chance there of getting an accurate local forecast.

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  • 14. At 01:14am on 05 Jul 2009, InternetMug wrote:

    I have not used the weather feature for some time and needed to look up some world weather a few days ago. Talk about agreeing with everything the other posters have said. If this is what the site is like 2 months on, how bad was it to start off with? Where is the weather information? The presentation has been dumbed down to such an extent that it becomes meaningless.

    And, far more important: what about accessibility? The rest of the BBC site works without javascript - in fact most areas work a whole lot better and faster with javascript disabled. All the weather offers is a notice that javascript is needed. When I click on 'map key', even the words 'map key' disappear.

    Please BBC, the next time you decide to do any work on your website, get a professional to do it. Get it quality tested in the major browsers, including text only readers and handhelds. The main site is bad enough since the redesign with text often disappearing under other page elements. Now the weather is disappearing. Please, we are British! How are we to exist without talking about the weather?

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  • 15. At 8:05pm on 06 Jul 2009, HerbertMarcuse wrote:

    I remember the old site - it was useful. It was my default weather site. Haven't used it for months (redesign rendered it useless), but did so today - is this version still in beta? It seems unfinished and I still can't find a straight text summary - which quite often is all I want. Maps and diagrams are all fine and good - well they would be if they didn't take up so much space on the page and lead to endless scrolling, or if I could look out into the Atlantic and see what the pressure systems were doing.

    And that blog - is it an attempt at satire? If so, it's not very good.

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  • 16. At 02:19am on 14 Jul 2009, hugheswdave wrote:

    Seems like almost everyone hates the new site and wants the old one back. I couldnt agree more. I came here to make my heartfelt comments and was intruiged to see how many people felt the same.

    This new weather site does the BBC a disservice and while techically complex, and is some sort of achievement in that respect, does not actually deliver a clear and useful reivew of the weather in the way that Met Office or Metcheck does. The old site was iconic and brilliant. Now something that did not need fixing is broken. I do not regularly use this any more, as I used to, because I can not just glance at it and get a review of the weather. I also agree with above comments on over emphasis of specific aspects of a day's weather making it unrepresentative.

    Oh BBC how can you let this happen?

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  • 17. At 10:13pm on 27 Jul 2009, balajiseo wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 18. At 6:18pm on 17 Oct 2009, Magpie77 wrote:

    Have the people responsible for the BBC webpage heard about the recent improvements made to the PM radio weather forecast? It might be useful for them to take a look at the positive reaction on the PM blog. I've not used the BBC weather site since the catastrophic new one was launched earlier this year - I find Metcheck is the best substitute - but I resent a useful national resource being handed over to a business analyst, prioritising stakeholders (what are they please?) and an immersively collocating (?) team to play with. I'm sure they all had enormous fun, they've been paid, they can put it on their cvs - and now PLEASE can we have the straightforward, fast, useful, old one back? - as many others have requested before me.

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  • 19. At 11:49am on 14 Nov 2009, ScudLewis wrote:

    @Magpie77 I agree (sorry BBC) I have now officially moved over to the excellent weather forecasts from metcheck and netweather (in my browser bookmarks). The viewing options and detail is excellent. Since the BBC took away the pressure charts and all in one summary views - it has been of little use.

    Still - on the bright side - the weather reports and presenters are still doing an excellent job. Although, I am really enjoying the return of Michael Fish on netweather - who is doing a weekly weather forecast report - amazing and bless the internet!

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  • 20. At 12:45pm on 09 Mar 2010, aniya wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 21. At 1:37pm on 20 Mar 2010, Tico wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 22. At 3:17pm on 03 Apr 2010, Paragraf wrote:

    I do not believe this to be the case, though. For me and the dozen or so people I've talked to about it, the site fails to deliver the only thing we want from a weather website, most of the time. This is the quick overview. The previous website did this, and only this. The grid view was clear and could be read at a glance. The new version lays out this information in a way that is not as quick to read.

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