Friday, September 30, 2011

Bring me a rock

"Bring me a rock" is an exercise in which a manager or client asks an analyst for a particular piece of work. The analyst runs off and does the work. The conversation looks like this:
  • Mgr: "Bring me a rock."
  • Analyst: Finds a rock and shows manager the rock.
  • Mgr: "Not this rock. I need a different rock."
  • Analyst: Finds another rocks and shows it to the manager.
  • Mgr: "No, this isn't the right rock either. Bring me another rock."
...and so on. This can end in any number of ways, but it usually doesn't end well unless the analyst is able to get the manager to explain his goals for acquiring and using the rock. I've written about one version of this pattern before, and called it generate me some alternatives.

I'm going through a bring-me-a-rock exercise right now that includes a strong element of the value-add demotivation technique. It's interesting, and it really helps to have models of these scenarios to help understand what's going on under the surface.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Counting points, or "stats are for losers"

Sports fans are familiar with the phrase "Stats are for losers." If your favorite team got hammered last Sunday you can count on a few people jumping into a discussion with an argument about how the team "should have won because we outgained the other guys 500 yrds to 250 blah blah blah..." The simple rejoiner from the winning side is, "Stats are for losers."

I was thinking about this in the context of an agile project that was comparing its iteration point count with another team's. "Yeah, we got 25 points last iteration, the other guys only got 21." Agile practitioners know that if you're doing estimating correctly, the points are only measures of relative effort, comparable only to the team's effort within a release. They can't be used to compare to, for example, another team's point estimate. The team that was congratulating itself had delivered a design that was flawed (and they knew it) but didn't fix it once the flaw was pointed out, because it would have affected their point count.

Stats are for losers. Winning means delivering high quality product that is of value to the business, not having a high score on some arbitrary measure like points.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Spammed by an ex-favorite

I've been deluged with junk mail recently. I'm pretty careful about where I send my email address. Then someone tipped me off to the privacy changes in LinkedIn. I started going through all the privacy settings and fixing them - it took a while to find them all. But I have them all set properly, and the spam has mostly stopped. I can't guarantee it was caused by LinkedIn, but circumstances suggest that it was.

LinkedIn, you aren't doing yourself any favors by exposing your customers to a bunch of crap. As I've asked before, when did "social media" come to mean "spam?"

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Designing for freedom

Writer Andrew Potter thinks that Steve Jobs is selling conformity to the masses, and his greatest success has been to market conformity as freedom. Potter sees Apple's products purely in terms of marketing success, and points to the famous 1984 TV ad as evidence of excellent branding and positioning statement.

Potter doesn't acknowledge that the success of consumer products often depends on the ability of the company to fulfill its brand promise. Apple's products are a marriage between great design, functionality, business model, and marketing. Jobs' great success hasn't been to sell a vision to hipsters, it's been to sell a vision to his employees that says, "We only create the best. 'Good enough' isn't acceptable here." Based on that vision, the designers, engineers, and marketers know what they need to do.

I was in the market for a laptop recently, and I looked at the various Wintel machines first. They all come with a little demo program that says, "Let me show you all the cool stuff you can do. But keep your hands off the machine, you'll see what I want you to see." The demos all sucked. Then I went to look at Macintosh laptops at the Apple Store. There are no demos. The machine itself is the demo. You get to drive. That's how Apple markets its products. For Potter, having the ability for a customer to drive is just freedom disguised as conformity.

Monday, July 25, 2011

A simple test for UX design sensibility

A manager says "the customer understands x," where x is a concept, a complicated control on a UI, or a navigation path through a web site.
  • If you respond to that statement without a question and simply wait for the next requirement or instruction, you're a technician.
  • If you react to that statement with immediate, polite skepticism and ask how the manager knows that, you're a designer.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

You're doing it wrong: American Airlines

I've been writing about other peoples' experience with service failures lately, so it's time to post one of my own. I was flying back from Chicago yesterday after a business meeting. I got to the airport early, at 5:30pm, and noticed there was a flight to Raleigh-Durham that was boarding. I went to the counter at the gate and asked if I could step on the flight. The attendant snapped at me, "I'll have to check." She checked, and said "Yes, you can. It will be $50." Fifty dollars to step on a plane that was boarding, and I'd paid full fare for my ticket! Apparently the attendant was simply checking to see if I was a Platinum/Gold/Rewards blah blah member who merited some small free service. I said no thanks, and walked away.

My own flight was at 7:30pm, and after the obligatory delays, the attendant announced that the flight was ready to board. And, he added, they were looking for three people to step off the flight because they were overbooked. They were offering $300 to anyone who would agree to re-book the next day!

If they had allowed me to move to an earlier flight they would have had an extra seat. American Airline was willing to forego $300 to not allow me to move from the later flight to an earlier flight, and they earned a dissatisfied customer in the process. As a final, perfect note to their general incompetence, the attendant announced, "the bathroom on the plane is out of order, so customers are urged to use the airport facilities before they board."

And the management of AA probably doesn't understand why they're getting beat to death by Southwest Airlines and its culture of customer service.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Want to work on strategy? Don't call it strategy

I used to work at a company that struggled with strategy, as many companies do. The leadership team would issue vague aspirations at the beginning of the year about producing software better, faster, and cheaper, and would forget about strategy until the next end-of-year planning cycle. However, there were strong ownership issues around strategy, and anyone outside the leadership team who used the word "strategy" found themselves with some explaining to do. The "strategy of no strategy" may sound like a zen-like approach to life but it's no way to run a company in a very competitive environment.

I decided that the way around this problem was to pull together some like-minded individuals and develop an innovation strategy, but simply not call it by that name. We would call it an "engagement approach" or "marketing meta-analysis" or something similarly vague that wouldn't hit any leader's hot button, but the content would contain a real strategy. We worked on it for a little while but the business sponsor of the effort left to pursue a developmental opportunity and was replaced by someone who wasn't with the program. I left the company a little while later.

I was reminded of this incident after reading Richard Rumelt's excellent The Perils of Bad Strategy. Rumelt's describes the hallmarks of bad strategy, including (1) failure to face the problem, (2) mistaking goals for strategy, (3) bad strategic objectives, and (4) fluff. The descriptions of each will be familiar to anyone who's seen bad corporate strategies. Highly recommended reading, but I wonder if any strategy-impaired leadership teams will recognize their own so-called strategies in the descriptions.