Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Design anti-patterns: the value-add de-motivation technique

In a recent article, Marshall Goldsmith describes a scenario familiar to anyone who designs products or websites. A designer presents a new idea in a meeting that includes his or her manager. The manager pipes up with "improvements" to the designer's original idea. As Goldsmith asks, what does that do to the designer's commitment to the original idea?

I've seen this scenario occur literally dozens of times. In one case, a business analyst was developing a streamlined, iterative software development process for use by an IT department. Another analyst wrangled an invitation to the review sessions where the business analyst was presenting the new process. The invited analyst proceeded to shred the recommended process and, through argumentation and stubborness, inserted her own approach to software development into the process. When the new process was released the invited analyst cheerfully noted that she had gotten everything she wanted in changes to the process. However, the business analyst who had initiated the work and had intended to implement and steward the new process, was so demoralized by the experience that she left her role for another position in the company. The new software process was published but, with no one to steward it, it was never used by project teams in the IT department.

As Goldsmith points out, a lot of this behavior occurs because managers (or analysts) are trying to make themselves look good in front of others. "Looking good" implies that the culture supports and rewards that sort of behavior. The other factor here is that managers value concrete deliverables, whether designs, code, or published processes. There's less awareness of, and value placed on, intangibles like commitment, loyalty, and motivation. How can a manager "prove" that he or she increased his direct reports' commitment to their projects by some percentage in the last quarter? But commitment to a project can make or break the project. Managers need to understand that.

Monday, October 26, 2009

"Innovate violently!"

"Innovate violently!" was poet Guillaume Apollinaire's advice to Picasso. And "innovate violently" he did. I went to the fabulous Picasso exhibit at the Nasher Museum in Durham last weekend. The exhibition shows how Picasso used printed language as part of his painting. It presents some of his poetry. It's great that we have a resource like the Nasher in town. The Picasso exhibit runs through January 3rd.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

GMAT as selection criterion

I took the GMAT four years ago, when I decided to return to school for an MBA. At the time I didn't think it was very important. I already had a lot of job experience and a lot of education, so I knew GMAT wasn't going to be a big factor in my application. I looked at a test prep book for a couple of days and took the test and scored mid 600s. That's not great, but it was good enough for what I needed.

Then I read this article that says the GMAT is being used as a selection criterion by employers who are trying to weed through all of their applications. No matter that the test wasn't designed for that purpose.

This trend is even worse than using personality tests for selection, and that's pretty bad. I wonder if some employers have simply given up on trying to interview people for their qualifications and fit and are looking only at the numbers.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Ally Bank: "We speak human"

Ally Bank is a new pure-play internet bank. To introduce themselves to potential customers they purchased a 2 page ad in a recent Business Week:
"There are times when you just want to speak to a real, live person about your money. And at Ally Bank you can, anytime, 24/7. Just just push "0" to speak to a real live person. It's that easy. No complicated phone trees to navigate and no repeating yourself three times to a robot. We even publish our current wait times on our website. It's just the right thing to do."
With all of the financial turmoil and lost investments and failed banking institutions that have beset consumers recently, Ally Bank's pitch to new customers is this: avoid the stupid IVRs whenever you want and talk to a person. This is not a glowing recommendation for the speech IVR industry.

In fact, when it comes to bad IVRs, there is plenty of blame to go around. Companies that install IVRs as a front end to their call center go often go into projects with inflated expectations of what speech IVRs can reasonably do. Others do not, but don't feel that usability is very important and will settle for "good enough," however that is defined. Vendors will oversell the technology's ability to recognize speech, or put more emphasis on the technology than on design.

There are lots of reasons why speech IVRs fail. And there are now companies like Ally Bank that are exploiting consumers' dissatisfaction with telephone automation. I hope every company with a speech IVR will take notice.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Usability testing next week

I'm working on contract to conduct usability testing of a nice, cutting-edge product that analyzes network traffic. If you're an administrator or network service analyst and would like to see and help test this product, let me know. $75/hr for a one hour (or less) test.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The smartest cities

I live in the "smartest city in the U.S.," according to a website I'd never heard of before this week. I guess that's a good thing, but if our city (metropolitan area) were really smart I think we'd have better public transportation and better bike lanes and be more in touch with new urbanism and things that promote cities instead of sprawl. Research Triangle Park, located between Raleigh and Durham, is a monument to 1950's style suburban planning. Smarts isn't everything--planning and a sense of aesthetics is needed too.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Who needs MS Office...

I love You can download an office suite of tools that has the functionality of Microsoft Office for free. Don't want to pay for a version of Powerpoint or Excel for your laptop? Go to OpenOffice, get their free tools, and you can create and change those apps for free. Very nice.