What Do You Believe?


I believe there is value in the identification of ones beliefs. Knowing what you believe helps you find others that share your beliefs and it helps you crystalize what’s important to you in life. So here is portion of beliefs that have been cruising around my head lately.

Trends swing like a pendulum that slowly moves the center.

We are currently in the middle of a megatrend towards the simplification of software and in the infancy of defining a set of more natural user interfaces that will slowly replace existing software over the next 20 years. Gabe is only 9 months old and can’t fathom that a screen exists he can’t touch directly to play with.

Right now the pendulum is still swinging towards larger social networks and more connections between users, but it will swing back towards a set of more personalized “niche networks” that cut through the noise to help you focus on what is important to you at the moment. However the larger network will always be there for you to pull from.

Users will demand a more personalized experience with the software that runs on their most personal devices.

I can tell your there is absolutely a skill mismatch between employers and job candidates today. Interviewing these people makes me always think about the famous Seinfeld declaration that “90% of the world is un-datable”. And when Elaine asks how all these people get together… “they settle”.

Our work and personal lives will see a huge upshift in the number of geo-disperse connections and experiences. You will share goals and challenges with team members around the world and you’ll watch movies on your couch with your family across the country.

Waterfall development of any product is dead. Every aspect of product design, development, and packaging will be iterative and be directly connected to your customers.

We are going to expect and demand more transparency from our friends, co-workers, bosses, corporations, and government than at any time in the past. Facebook is already known as “the truth machine” amongst our friend group. This transparency will lead to more efficiency and collaboration than we’ve ever seen before. The best big business are asking themselves how they can create less private data.

Moore’s law for individual excellence has reached an end. The new “moore’s law” measures the number of connections and improved collaboration between software, devices, and people. This number is going to double each year and lead us to a more connected, efficient lifestyle. The win is in enabling seamless loose ties and tighter connections with smaller teams.

Product testing is ripe for reinvention.

We’ll have access to more data and statistics about our health, lives, and competitions than we’ll know what to do with. Solutions that cut through the noise to show us the important numbers will quickly become a dependency. Before Gabe was born we had access to more data about his development than had ever been collected about my own health throughout my entire life.

Being first is a good feature… just not the most important one… ask Microsoft.

The transparency and data available will serve to motivate individuals and teams to compete and evolve over time.

Amazon is setting the standard that is to be expected for a personalized application (kindle) to work seamlessly across devices and follow you everywhere with the combined knowledge of other readers. (popular highlights)

People can change and evolve themselves over time… But it takes determination to constantly challenge your comfort levels and reinvent oneself. Not doing this will lead to your eventual inability to do the things you love for a living.

First Review of GoodDay – 4 stars

Its always thrilling to get reviewed on ones work. I had been waiting for a while for this, but must have missed it showing up recently. It’s great validation of the direction I took. And since this is my one customer… And his requests align with what I’d like the app to be… Then he’ll be very happy when the next version comes out. Thanks Lumpy!

Nice concept! – ★★★★

by Lumpy Rutherford – Version 1.0 – 23 November 2010

Fills a middle ground in the goal tracking apps that I’ve tried. Great for tracking diet, exercise, and skill enrichment pursuits. Just two small things to perfect this app: • goal sorting • editing goal names

Building an iPhone App Part 4: Selling your App

Having only sold 60 copies of GoodDay you probably should seek advice outside of this post, but these are the things I learned in my app store process.

1. Research your name, keywords, and categories by searching and browsing both the store and google. These are things you can’t change after your app is approved. You’ll also see how bad the app store search is. Unlike Internet searches there doesn’t appear to be any word stemming. So “goal track”, “goal tracking” and “goal tracker” (for example) all seem to return different apps. 🙁

2. It took 8 days for v1 to be approved. Which meant I had time to build the web site after I built the app. 🙂

3. Sales data only updates once a day. It took me a while to learn to stop hitting refresh.

4. You can update your description any time… But that doesn’t seem to impact search results.

5. If anyone knows a way to see all your reviews let me know. For now it seems that you have to pick each country and look for reviews. I don’t see a way to see all.

6. Build in your own feedback/news channel into the app that links to your site. I didn’t do this and now I have no way of knowing what people think or really connecting with users. I would also consider an easy way for people to share it. But thats just a guess for me at the moment.

7 You won’t find out how many people get to your app in the store and don’t purchase. It just seems like that sort of information would be useful. That’s why I’ve used bit.ly to track the success of different links… At least i can see how many people are clicking through my sources.

8. If someone lands on the app page they are way more likely to buy than I imagined… Based on my numbers it seems that about 5% of people that land on an app that costs a dollar seem to purchase. ( this, of course, could be way off. )

9. Direct links to the app store entry seem to do better than linking to your own landing page. This seems like common sense since you are bringing people closer to the point of purchase.

10. Go global. I think it was the default, but I don’t see any reason not to sell an app to all the different country stores. I feel like GoodDay is the David Hasselhof of apps with all the copies I’ve sold in Germany. Next up… Localization.

Thats all for now. It’s at least a good list of things I’d like to do better next time around. Do you have any tips to share?

Good Quotes from Rework

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Over the weekend I finished Rework and figured I’d share some quotes from it as well. This book was excellent and the perfect complimentary read to Linchpin.  There was a lot of overlap and similar concepts.  While Linchpin was more psychology, Rework gets a little more practical and specific in it’s advice.  Now, onto the quotes..

“Another common misconception: You need to learn from your mistakes/ What do you really learn from mistakes?  You might learn what not to do again…You still don’t know what you should do next.”

They go onto to talk about how the best learning comes from success.  This, IMO, is like choosing to build your product based on it’s strengths and not it’s weaknesses.  If you’ve done something well then chances are you can do it even better the next time because you will have learned from the success.

“We’re just as proud about what we don’t do as we are of what they do… We’re willing to lose some customers if it means that others love our products intensely… if you had to launch your business in two weeks, what would you cut” 

Just a reminder of the classic advice that you can’t make everyone happy.  I also loved the discussion that follows about how the are OK when customers outgrow their software. 

“The business world is littered with dead documents that do nothing but waste people’s time, reports that no one reads, diagrams that no one looks at, and specs that never resemble the finished product.  These things take forever to make, but only seconds to forget.” 

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a 60 page specification written when only 10 pages of the functionality are implemented. It’s so much easier to say yes when you are months away from doing something than it is when you are right about to do it.   The ones that read the document are blinded by the end of the story about the awesome thing they saw in their heads… which wasn’t really the key part of the feature being described.  The writing it just not consistently that good.

In our last cycle there was an opinion that we never wrote specs or planned features.  The reality is that, if you lined up the work item descriptions, comps, and real mock-ups we generated nearly 300 pages of documentation.  But the hit rate on those 300 pages was MUCH higher than if we’d started out be trying to write 300 pages of functionality. In retrospect we were working hard to remove “the illusion of agreement” that Jason described. 

When it comes to reports… I’ve also written my share of reports that I’m pretty sure I could have filled with LOLcats… and no one would have noticed.  Critical data doesn’t need to be repeatedly shared.  One time analysis, when it’s needed, is MUCH more powerful than regular, de-humanized, status.  So, my advice would be to at least try and humanize any required status reports you make and come up with one insightful stat that means something to everyone that week.

“If what you’re doing really worth it?  is this meeting worth pulling size people off their work for an hour? Is it worth pulling an all-nighters tonight, or could you just finish it up tomorrow. “

One of the best managers I’ve had put it to me this way “If a difference of 1-3 months matters that much then what you were doing probably wasn’t going to succeed anyway.”  Not weeks… MONTHS. 

“Interruption is not collaboration, it’s just interruption. And when you are interrupted you’re not getting work done. “

One of the advantages of being a remote worker is that I get 2-3 hours of “alone zone” time.  It really is when I’m most productive.  I’m not sure how anyone in the office gets real work done without working 12 hour days sometimes.  I also enjoyed Reworks rant against meetings that followed this. 

“Meet at the site of the problem instead of a conference room. Point to real things and suggest real changes”

+1

“… estimates that stretch weeks, months, and years into the future are fantasies. The truth is you don’t know what’s going to happen that far in advance”.

This continued Reworks assault on traditional planning.   Do you think the release known as “windows phone 7” was actually on Microsoft’s roadmap… or did it completely break the long term plan when they saw the market rejecting Windows Mobile?

“How should you keep track of what Customer want?  Don’t. Listen, but then forget what people said… The requests that really matter are the ones you’ll hear over and over… You won’t be able to forget them. “

I’ve found this VERY true.  The important bugs, features, and requests will simply keep coming up. The ones that seem important to one customer, when it’s not repeated, is probably not that important.

“Geography just doesn’t matter anymore. Hire the best talent regardless of where it is.”

+1

“The more people you have between your customers words and the people doing the work, the more likely it is that the message will get lost or distorted along the way.”

I tweeted “Second hand feedback kills” a week or so ago.  This could not be more true.  The people that file the best customer reports are the people that simply post verbatims or even recordings of what the customers actually said and know how to ask the best questions.  No interpretation can substitute for the customers actual words.  The skill is not in the translation… it’s in the interview.  The answers should speak for themselves.

“There are four-letter words you should never use in business… they’re need, must, can’t, easy, just, only, and fast. When you use these four letter words, you create a black and white situation. But the truth is rarely black and white.“

+1

“Create a rock star environment… there’s a ton of untapped potential trapped under lame policies, poor direction, and stifling bureaucracies. Cut the crap and you’ll find people are waiting to do great work. They just need to be given the chance.”

This was the part of the book that really overlapped with Linchpin.  The simple point was to create an environment where the linchpins can thrive and you’ll get more out of everyone. 

Just like Linchpin, there are a bunch of quotes I didn’t share with you all, but that’s why you should read the book.   🙂

Good Quotes from Linchpin by Seth Godin

imageThanks to the birth of our first son I’ve been granted a lot of reading/feeding time.  You could say that this was baby Gabe’s first book.  I can’t say what he thought about the book, but I can say that I really enjoyed it.  It was the first book I’ve read using the Amazon Kindle service.  I don’t have a kindle so it was 100% absorbed through my iPhone and the PC app.   Along the way I highlighted some quotes and wanted to share them…

 

“…Achkowledge to yourself that the factory job is dead.”

“Having a factory job is not a natural state. It wasn’t at the heard of being human until very recently. We’ve been culturally brainwashed”.

I love how Seth correctly describes how “white collar” work has been successfully converted to a factory system over the last 100 years and how that’s now made the majority of our workforce replaceable.  There are even whole books dedicated to how you can create your own software factories. So not even “modern” jobs like software engineering are safe from the commoditization… and who wants to be a cog… which of course becomes the key part of the book. How to avoid being a cog.

“Answering questions like ‘when was the war of 1812 is a useless skill in an always on wikipedia world”

I found this in a chapter about how our educational system brainwashes us from the start to worry about questions like this.  It made me very grateful that my parents rejected public schooling in my area.  Most of my education focused on answering the why’s and hypothetical’s instead of the what’s.  I missed out on brainwashing. 

“Six-Sigma refers to the quest for continuous improvement, ultimately leading to 3.4 defects per million units.  The problem is that once you’re heading down this road there is no room for amazing improvements and remarkable innovations. “

This explained, to me, why pursuing training in the ways of Six-Sigma never interested me. It’s learning a skill that takes you down the path of a solved problem for perfecting execution… which isn’t interesting to me.  It’s the perfect example of how white collar work has been turned into a factory line. 

“Artists think along the edges of the box, because that’s where things get done.  That’s where the audience is, that’s where the means of production are (still) available, and that’s where you can make an impact. “

This statement tackles the absurdity of “thinking outside the box”.  The real win is doing something on the edge of possible that keeps pushing the goal line at the intersection of innovation, audience, and possible to ship.

“You work with people who are totally at the mercy of the resistance. They assist the devil by being his advocate in meetings. They follow the rule book, even parts you didn’t know about. They love what worked before and fear what might be coming. “

There is a lot of talk about “the resistance” and “the lizard brain” that comes from our evolutionary heritage where survival comes first and change is scary.  I thought there was some oversimplification of these points, but it served the book well.  Everyone has a resistance in them that tries to prevent us from making forward progress, improving ourselves, and shipping something outstanding.  The resistance could include fear, office politics, and generally worrying about things you have no control over.  You do, however, have control over what you do every day and a chance to do something awesome with your time instead of 20 things that are merely good.

“In a world with only a few indispensible people the linchpin has only two elegant choices: 1. Hire plenty of factory workers and scale like crazy. Take advantage of the fact that most people want a map… 2. Find a boss who can’t live without a linchpin.  Fine a boss who adequately values your scarcity and your contribution, who will reward you with freedom and respect. Do the work, make a difference”.

That sort of speaks for itself.

There were a lot more sections that I highlighted to share with you, but i committed that I’d ship something on a deadline so here we are.  🙂

My Starbucks has Slow Service. How about yours?

imageMy Starbucks has slow service and they are going to improve.  How do I know this?  They’ve posted it right next to where I pick up my drink.  They seem to be posting the results, each month, of the local customer satisfaction cards for everyone, including their employees to see.  They aren’t shy about this feedback either.  I learned yesterday the Starbucks down the road “puts out stale food that isn’t fit to be sold!”  

starbucksWhat does a manager have to do to tell them to work faster… show them what the people paying them had to say. Starbucks was clearly ahead of the curve when they were one of the first companies to employee the mystarbucksidea.com concept and this, IMO, is the next logical step. 

They need to arm their local outlets with the same sort of tools to connect with customers, publish their feedback, and respond.  Enter the “hyperlocal ideation” age.  It’s only a matter of time before they will want software to manage this process once this concept proves popular.  Heck, every star bucks I go to already has a big-screen that could show this information. 

Combine the data from cards, online surveys, a group created for that branch, foursquare tips, etc and you can get an idea of the type of BI that a local manager could soon be armed with to improve business. 

Develop Strength Based Product Development Practices

TPS Reports Everyone believes that their product has a few strengths, This is the set of things that your product does better than anything else out there.  If you didn’t you wouldn’t be building it right?  But do you really know what those strengths are?

 

The reality is that you have very little to do with what your true product strengths are.  True product strengths (or TPS for office space fans out there) is really defined in the intersection of what you do well and how customers use the product you sell them. 

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On the left side you see “Employee Talents”. This is what you are good at building and what you may currently be defining your product strengths as.  On the right side you see customer usage.  This is how your customers are using the product you sell.  In the middle is your TPS… this is the set of things that you really do excel at that combines the two. 

Strength based product development would be a set of practices that focus on growing the True Product Strengths intersection by focusing on them.  A very simplified set of practices could be incorporated into any development methodology:

  1. Self Evaluation – Always re-evaluate your employee talents, what you are good at building, and define the list on the left hand side. 
  2. Customer Listening – Working with your customers to identify what parts of your product they really love and leverage you for.
  3. Create your TPS Report – Create the unison (TPS).
  4. Prioritize the TPS items in your development.

It’s not rocket science and any good company is doing at least #1 or #2, but doing it right involves combining the two into step 3. 

The side effect of doing this right… You will stop focusing on your weaknesses and your requirements become absolutely clear. Other than baseline requirements for all products like security, performance, etc you are wasting time you spend not focusing on TPS.  Features & requirements that don’t focus on TPS will only frustrated your teams since they aren’t good at delivering those things and your customers will complain they get things they don’t need to pay for.

Executing strength based development properly will result in growing the true strengths of your product, employees will love working on things they are good at, and customers will be delighted that you are delivering more of the things they already love about your product. 

It’s Festivus – Time to Air Grievances

It’s that time of year and as Frank Costanza famously said… “I’ve got a lot of problems with you people…”

This years list is a large one so bear with me.

Google Chrome and every other company that decided to release their own web browser – I love you, but you’ve added yet another browser to test web applications against. You should therefore be required to all contribute to an agreed upon suite of tests (ACID is fun, but isn’t real in the least) and test harnesses that web developers can run to validate their applications look identically pristine in all browsers.  I also hate  you because you remind me how much I despise the market share IE6 still enjoys and the 35% development tax that must be paid to support it.

 

 Social Media Experts that grow on trees. You people are as useful as the so-called SEO experts you all used to be and the talking heads on 24 hour cable news channels.  I’m glad I’m not on any of these lists.  You can game social media just like SEO, but the crimes are going to catch up to the poor companies who bought your advice. 

The immutable laws are now that the web is social & that people will go where-ever the best conversations and content lives.  If you don’t have something worth talking about and good content to seed discussions with then it doesn’t matter what else you do. This goes for your companies intranet as well. 

 

Twitter.com Twitter has a spam problem it’s ignoring. I’m sure a social media expert has a strategy bullet for it, but I call it thread hopping.  Just about every post I make earns me a public reply with someone offering their services, asking me to try out schmap-it-a-ma-gass, or (not kidding) buy an official festivus poll from their site.  Don’t create an inbox you want people to check if you aren’t going to prevent spam from getting to that inbox.  Don’t get me started about the # of spam followers I have that get to send messages directly to my real inbox.

 

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I’m sorry that, like the underpant gnomes, you haven’t figured out what step 2 is on your 3-step plan for profiteering and world domination.  That does not, however, excuse you from continuing to dupe users into making their content public so you can serve more pages.  I suspect a lot of them starting using your service because they believed (wrongly) that it was more private than posting everything to flickr and public blogs. 

The message I received logging into facebook one day was “We think you may have set your privacy settings incorrectly…” because I had locked down a lot of content.  Trust me, if a user found their way to your security panel… the action was very intentional and they do not want to open up their lives.  I accept that if I post something online there is no place that’s really private but I don’t accept the assumption that your users were dumb and really meant to do something else.

 

People that don’t realize they can change the channel. These are the app developers that complain about the App Store approval process and the lack of one for Facebook apps.  The solution is simple… don’t play.  Write a mobile web app or go build an opensocial widget instead. 

 

image The SQL Express management console installation process. Have you done this lately?  There is nothing “express” about it.  It’s easier to install the operating system. At least it asked less questions.  Yes, this made the list because I did it today.

 

Anyone that confuses Excel with Infopath or a documentation tool. Excel is awesome for spreadsheets, graphs, calculations, etc.  Word is awesome at word processing.  Excel is a terrible word processor and Word is a terrible spreadsheet.  Lets all agree to use the right tool for the job.  How the heck to you enter a line break in Excel anyway?  Bullets?  Sometimes I think the worst thing Microsoft did was make the office products work so well together that people think you only need one of them.  Yes, I had to do this today too. 

 

Fairy tales sold as business books. I may agree with your concepts and will implement any good advice I receive regardless of the source.  But I want you to come back to me when you have case studies, hard data, and real success stories.  Until then you should have stop your analogy at the level of a long blog post.  It would have been just as insightful. (Perhaps even more so as a manifesto)  But there is no need to stretch out a storyline in a non-fiction book.

 

image Major League Baseball is broken.  I don’t know how you are going to fix it, but when one team can command a payroll of 5 other teams combined and 6 umpires can blow a foul ball call by 1 foot there is not competitive balance. And I’m not just a whiney Red Sox fan.  They enjoy the same unfair advantage that the Yankees have in terms of relative payroll… the Yankees just did a better job exploit
ing the system this year. Every other sport seems to have solved this problem and now it’s your turn. 

If you’ve read this far I hope you can see this post for the humor it was intended to be.  I really do love Baseball, Chrome, Facebook, Twitter, etc… but there will always be a list of grievances. And it’s no fun to complain about things you really do hate.

Happy Holidays everyone!