Saturday, September 08, 2007

30 Second Book Summary: We Don't Make Widgets

The essence of the book is in this paragraph from page six:

The three myths--we don't make widgets, we don't have customers, and we're not here to make a profit--prevent us from seeing the reality of our organizations. Simply put: organizations, both public and private, are collections of systems. Systems are processes (including the inputs, suppliers, and employees who work in the processes) that produce widgets for customers in order to achieve some desired result or outcome. The way we improve an organization is to improve its systems.

(My comment: it would be interesting to contrast this thesis with that from the book Systemantics--maybe another time).

On page 13 Mr. Miller phrases this another way which I believe is telling of the rest of the book's approach:
You can't improve government by looking at it from 30,000 feet. The problems with government aren't visible at that level. It's only when you open up the roof and see the factories inside that you can find the opportunities. Improving government is a battle that is won on the ground, not through the air.

On page 30 Mr. Miller quotes Robin Lawton from the book Creating a Customer-Centered Culture: Leadership in Quality, Innovation, and Speed when he describes a widget as:
something created by work, which can be given to someone else to achieve a desired outcome.

On page 35 Mr. Miller further summarizes what he sees as our only options on how to improve:
If you want better results (outcomes), your options are actually very few: change what you produce (the widget), or change how you produce it (the process).

Memorable Quotes

The best way to get meaningful measures is not to ask for measures, but to ask for answers--answers to questions that everyone wants to know.
-Page 43
Aggressive measuring changes the learning and behavior of a human being to the same extent that meteorology can change the weather.
- Peter Block, "Someone to Watch Over Me," News for a Change, March 2001

Vision is not enough, it much be combined with venture. It is not enough to stare up the steps, we must step up the stairs."
-Va'clav Havel, Communist reformer in the Czech Republic

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Lessons in Agile Project Management from Big Wave Surfing

I just finished watching a great surf film called Riding Giants by Director Stacy Peralta. I had to stop the film a few times and transcribe some of the quotes because I thought they captured a few principles of Agile project management beautifully:

Big Wave Surfing Legend Micky Munoz on the first rides of Waimea:

Everything is moving. Everything is in flux. Nothing is constant. It's so dynamic that you can't pre-plan it.

Director Stacy Peralta on using a film printer to print hundreds of photos of archival film footage:

We wallpaper our offices with all these photographs. When I'm putting together a sequence I can go all over the office and say, "I need that photograph, I need this photograph, I need that photograph" and also by coming into the office and looking around these walls your constantly getting input from these photographs and it starts to get into your subconscious head. You know you kind of start to drink this stuff and it's really helpful in the making of the film.

Editor on using drawings to depict events for which there was no footage:

When you have a great story that you want to tell, but you don't have the coverage for it, was a lot of the things that we came across--especially with Macaha in 1969--and so, we use drawings; that's when we went to story boards.

Director on same topic:

One of the shots that we wanted to get in the film is we wanted to figure out--we wanted to see what it looks like--wiping out at Mavericks. Of cource we couldn't afford to get a camera down there, and even if we did get a camera down there we'd probably need a lot of light because the water's so murky and then I don't even know if we'd get the shot so we just thought, "Why don't we draw pictures? Have somebody draw pictures of what it might look like down there. Shoot the pictures on a motion mat camera, and cut it together. Just pure experimentation. Let's see if it works. If it works we'll use it, if it doesn't we'll throw it out. "

So I had an artist draw pictures like this. And he sketched them out at first, and these are all different pictures of what it might look like of a guy wiping out at Mavericks, and that led to more ideas of more drawings of, you know, sketches of guys holding onto leashes and
things like that. There was a process of experimentation--let's see what we can do--if it works, great, if it doesn't work it didn't cost us that much money to experiment.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Agile and Spaghetti Sauce

I recently discovered TED. I have no idea how it's not hit my radar until now, but I can't listen to and watch the talks fast enough. I was watching Malcolm Gladwell talk about a personal hero of his, Howard Moskowitz, and the role he had in discovering the value of providing calculated varieties of a product versus trying to find the one, "perfect" product that will meet the needs of the majority of the market. With Seth Godin's work and The Long Tail we tend to take this idea for granted today, but Malcolm does a wonderful job of taking us back in time to a point where this paradigm was uncommon and even revolutionary.

One of the many anecdotes that impressed me was when Mr. Moskowitz concocted nearly endless varieties of spaghetti sauce using variations on sauce thickness, amounts of various spices, introducing bits of vegetable chunks, etc. and then fed 10 bowls of various varieties to a number of subjects. When he worked through the data of people's preferences he found they fell into three groups: plain, spicy, and chunky. He concluded this latter category represented the preferences of about a third of the population--and there was no sauce on the shelves with chunks of juicy vegetables at that time. Prego went on to release such a product and make a fortune, but the lesson I want to focus on is one observation Malcolm makes in his narrative: no one had mentioned they would like a chunky spaghetti sauce in any prior focus groups. The lesson Malcolm draws from this is that people don't really know what they want until you give it to them.

This conclusion is reinforced in protracted software development projects that follow a rigid waterfall approach. The requirements analyst asks the business users what they want and their answers are often within an implicit and many times unconscious context or menu of what they've already got in an existing system or think would be possible based upon a limited understanding of possible system features. In other words, they say they want a good tasting sauce.

In Agile or more iterative, prototype-rich methodologies, the user would be presented with rough drawings of user interfaces, story boards, and HTML and/or PowerPoint mock-ups, over and over again throughout the very initial stages of the process. In other words, the developers spend a fair amount of time up front cooking up a ton of varieties and keeping the business users taste-testing. Now the possibilities are open and we're getting several quick cycles of real-time, visceral feedback. Now we can get from the 40-50% approval ratings Malcolm mentioned are the usual result of a homogenized solution to the 75%+ delight ratings of people who get what they didn't know they really wanted.

Tom Peters mentions how Ritz Carlton aims to "fulfill the unexpressed wishes of its guests" in a few of his books. The Japanese have a common practice of insisting on finding seven viable solutions to a problem or challenge before they select their approach.

It is incumbent upon those of us in the IT solutions field to translate what is really a collection of abstract ideas in the beginning of a project into tangible value and options in the minds and senses of end users as quickly as we can.

A Lesson in Project Management from Automatic Sprinkler Systems

I recently moved into a new home that has an automatic sprinkler system. I broke down one day and read the manual (well, most of the manual) to try to understand how to program the thing. After I felt confident I understood the various zones of the yard, how long the water would be on in each zone, and the sequence of which zones were watered in what order and for how long, I stood gazing out my front window at 8:59 PM to admire my handy work and watch the sprinklers in zone four (a portion of my front yard) come on at 9:00 PM. I waited...checked the time on my BlackBerry...9:02...nothing...hmm...9:10 and still nothing...

I went to the garage to check the settings and sure enough it was supposed to start with zone four at 9:00 PM sharp on this day of the week.

It wasn't until I unpacked my atomic wall clock a few days later and decided to mount it next to the sprinkler control box in the garage that I thought to check the internal clock of said control box with the atomic clock. I found the times were not synchronized--not even close. Then I remembered how I'd unplugged the power cord for the control box in order to use that wall socket for another tool while doing yard work. The internal clock lost power during this time and when I plugged it back in again it simply picked up where it left off--but now a good chunk of time off track.

Then I thought about how that's like project management in a way. Let's say you're the PM and you've given a directive for a particular task to a project resource. You feel like you've spent the time to understand the big picture, you've worked through task precedence and resource leveling issues, and now you're going to sit back and watch the project begin to unfold according to plan. But it doesn't. You scratch your head. You go to the resource and they're shocked you think something is wrong. In their mind they are doing exactly what you asked them to do. But you forgot you "unplugged" at some point--you failed to keep in sync for a period of time. The resource begins working precisely at 9:00 PM (by his watch). But in reality, it's 10:17 PM.

Frequent check-ins with team members and status updates/real-time dashboards for stakeholders make sure everyone's watches stay synchronized and we're not all doing the right things at the wrong time or visa versa.

Friday, May 04, 2007

30 Second Book Summary: How to Remember Names and Faces

We don't forgot people's names--we never really hear and remember them in the first place!

Five Rules When Being Introduced:

1. Be sure to clearly hear their name

2. Try to spell the name

3. Make some comment about the name, when appropriate (e.g., I had a friend in college with that name...)

4. Use their name during the initial conversation

5. Use their name when saying goodbye

Remembering Names

There Are Three Types of Names:

  1. Names that already have meaning (e.g., Carpenter, Rivers, Cook)
  2. Names that sound like something (e.g., Woodruff [think of rough wood])
  3. Names that just seem like a collection of sounds (e.g., Petrocelli, [visualize a pet rolling in jelly] Mangalaro, [visualize yourself mangling an arrow)

Create Standard Visualizations:

  • Smith = black smith (visualize a hammer or anvil)
  • Jones = picture yourself owning something (Jones/owns)
  • Gordon = Garden
  • Bill = Dollar bill
  • Carson = Picture a car with a little car (it's son) next to it
  • ...berg = Picture an iceberg
  • ...stein = Picture a beer stein
  • Mc... = Mack truck
  • ...witz = Brains (for wits)
  • ...auer = Clock (for hour)
  • ...ger = Lion (growling)


  • Macmillan = Picture a bunch of Mack trucks milling around
  • Capatenakis = Imagine giving the captain a kiss
  • Zackavich = Visualize putting a witch in a sack (sack a witch)
  • Carrothers = Think of a car with udders (like a cow)
  • Jeffries = A chef freezing

Remembering Faces

  1. Make eye contact (not the left chest area looking for a name badge) and look at their face
  2. Select one outstanding feature of the person's face (e.g., an unusually large nose, puffy eyebrows, etc.).
  3. Tie the visualization from above to the outstanding feature (e.g., if Mr. Petrocelli has a large nose, picture your dog rolling in jelly on his nose).

Suppose you meet two Mr. Smith's--one has large ears and one has large lips. You may picture taking your blacksmith hammer out to pound down the ears closer to the man's head for one, and giving the other a fat lip with the same hammer for the other.

Remembering comes down to paying attention; the above tips are just tools to pause, focus, and anchor.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

30 Second Book Summary: The Dip

In the beginning, starting something new is fun. Then it gets hard (what Seth calls "the dip"). Then eventually it gets better. Lots of people quit when they hit the dip. That makes it somewhat rare to find folks who've made it through to the other side. That scarcity creates value. We should "lean into the dip" and go for it when we have a chance at being the best. Otherwise, quit as fast as you can and move on to something where you can be number one because in today's micro-fractured markets, being less than the best is basically worthless. Quit all cul de sac's (dead ends) as well. They sometimes feel like dips but in the end they just waste resources that could be thrown at getting through a promising dip.

And being the best in the world is subjective and defined by the consumer. "The world" to them, can mean who has the best bakery within a three block radius of their home (the distance they are willing to walk to on a Saturday morning).

In Tom Peters' book Design, Seth puts it this way:
Think of the smallest conceivable market and describe a product that overwhelms it with its remarkability. Go from there.

Book Summary: How to Get Your Point Across in 30 Seconds or Less

Mr. Frank says there are three main elements to any good message:
  1. 1. Have one clearly defined objective.
  2. 2. Make sure you're talking to the right person who can help you accomplish your objective. Know all you can about them and what they want.
  3. 3. Use one clear approach.
He makes several other points that help to reinforce and make the above three elements more effective:

Start your message with a one sentence hook. This is a statement or question (he prefers questions) specifically designed to grab the attention of your audience.

The body of the message should answer the who, what, where, why, when and how questions. Use the following tools to make it more interesting:

  • Imagery
  • Clear, simple language
  • Personalized stories and anecdotes that help demonstrate your point
  • Emotional appeals
You should end with a strong close where you ask the audience to do something:
  • Ask them to take action
  • Ask them for a reaction
  • Use a "hidden close" if appropriate
  • A combination of the above.

Friday, April 27, 2007

From Piano Practice to Self Expression

My 11 year old has turned a corner on the piano. Instead of having to remind him multiple times a day to practice and setting up job charts as reminders with rewards for doing it, he stumbles downstairs first thing in the morning and begins playing before he's even spoken to anyone. He sits down and plays when he gets home from school. He plays a few times throughout the evening. The difference seems to be that he's finally hit a tipping point in his skill level where he can play a handful of songs well from memory and he's beginning to feel the release of self expression through his music (I can't think of many motivators more powerful than self expression).

The next time you notice resistance to some new business processes, instead of reiterating the "why we did this and why it's best for the company" speech, try helping the individuals in question gain more skill at using them. Help them to become more proficient.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Big Waves: Drown or Drop-In?

What goes through your mind when you look at this picture?

Are you thinking, "How insane must those people be to be out there?" or are you wishing you were one of them so you could drop in on the next one?

What would mean certain death for one looks like fun to another. It's a matter of perspective.

Trained professionals look for the big challenges to test their skills. Small shorebreak would be boring for these surfers.

So what do you think of when you hear of a really large project coming down the pipeline? Are you hoping secretly your boss doesn't tap you as the PM or are you dropping hints you'd love to take that one on?

A Remarkable Shoe Buying Experience?

The other day I decided to get a bit more serious about my running and felt it was time to get my first pair of real running shoes. To date, I'd just go to the local big box sporting goods store and buy a pair of general purpose name brand shoes and wear them for just about all sports.

I got a recommendation from a colleague who's an avid runner to visit the Falls Road Running Store. I was in for a treat.

I was greeted by what I later found out was a staff made up of decorated and dedicated runners. I was asked to stand, walk, and run on a treadmill barefoot while my advisor carefully knelt down and looked at my gait from all angles. Within minutes, I had an analysis of how my foot made contact with the ground and had three pair of shoes designed to correct a slight defect I have in my step. I then repeated the treadmill test with each pair of shoes--each time under the supervision of the same advisor. Throughout the whole process I'm asking fairly detailed questions about recent articles I'd read on various shoes and learned right away what little homework I'd thought I'd done was a drop in the bucket for what there was to know. I learned a little about running form theory, recent historical trends in essentially running barefoot vs. using specially designed supportive shoes, that when you run your feet swell so you need to buy them one size larger than you would other shoes, etc. As I checked out, I was greeted by the owner who asked about my satisfaction with the transaction and offered some additional training helps and tips.

For the few minutes I was there I felt like I was in the hands of experts and could have been a professional athlete being sized up for a wind tunnel test at Nike HQ or something. Needless to say, I'll not be going back to a big box retailer for my shoes.

Despite being hard to find and literally a hole-in-the-way store, they've transformed shoe buying into a remarkable experience. Can our customers (internal and external) say the same thing about what we do?

The Style Changes Every Day!

My son is at an age where he's beginning to get interested in hip hop, breakin, and dancing in general. I have all the classic breakin films from when I was growing up in the 80's but was intersted in learning about and seeing some of the newer forms of dancing such as clownin or krumpin, myself, so we rented the movie Rize. I found the documentary inspirational as you see kids opting to form dance crews rather than join gangs, members of a church congregation take in a child whose mother just went to jail, an older brother stepping in to protect his younger brother from getting involved in a local gang, and an ex-drug dealer clean up his life and start a birthday party business where he shows up as "Tommy the Clown" and is basically a hip hop pied piper for inner city youth.

At one point in the film a group of guys were being interviewed about their style of dancing: krumpin. They mentioned how they had begun under Tommy's tutelage but broken off from clownin to form their own "brand" of dancing (I must say my untrained eye couldn't really distinguish between the two), and gave some insight into the energy and frustration they vent through its expression. One young man commented that, "the style changes every day" and went on to elaborate that if someone took even one day off and was essentially disconnected from the crew, everyone would notice it in his style when he/she came back.

With the growing emphasis on value-added, creative, innovative solutions in today's business world, we could learn a thing or two from these young people. It's all about being different, unique, and executing with flair and confidence. It's about going head-to-head with your competition in a public forum and letting go to find self expression. It's about community and heart and doing it to avoid the alternatives. It's about being positive in the midst of adversity. It's knowing that what you did today will not cut it tomorrow and having the self reliance that you'll be able to constantly think up something new.

Maybe Tommy the Clown should expand his business from doing inner city birthday parties to corporate retreats on innovation.

The Final 1%

My wife and I recently sold our modest town home in Baltimore. We spent about three weeks preparing for the sale by doing all the things we'd wanted to do while we lived here (i.e., painting, putting carpet in the family room downstairs, etc.) as well as by throwing out and donating a ton of stuff we realized we no longer used or needed. It was impressive to see what a big difference these relatively small steps made in the home's appearance and livability. What's interesting is that the sales price was in the low $300K range and it only cost us about $3K to fix the place up.

Now maybe real estate is totally unique and the lessons learned from this sale can't be extrapolated to other environments. But it certainly should give one pause to think that putting in that last one percent of effort and attention to detail could perhaps make the difference between making the sale or not. Or, like in our case, making the sale in one day for a bit more than list price.

I think I'll take a look at my next project deliverable a bit differently now and go over it carefully one more time before turning it in to see if there's anything I can throw out or get rid of or "paint". Incidentally, I've got to thank a recent 37Signals blog post for pointing me to a recent Semeiotica blog post re: the "smallest effective difference" which addresses the above phenomenon from the perspective of molecular biology and psychology.

Anyway, when we were done with the above improvement my wife and I looked at each other and asked why we hadn't done it months before! I probably also need to take a look at other areas of my life where I might be able to make a very small investment in order to enjoy an improved quality of life.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Are you a Time Teller or a Clock Builder?

I was a boy scout as a kid (and yes I got my Eagle) and loved to camp and learn about outdoor and survival skills. I remember, once, hearing about how some explorers could tell time by looking at the position of the Sun. I used to try doing this while I was out mowing yards (which seemed to be pretty much all the time) and I was always way off.

In the book Built to Last the authors propose that it really would be impressive if someone could look up in the sky to gauge the position of the sun and tell you what time it is. It would be even more impressive if they could do it consistently and with great accuracy. The person may even build a traveling show around it where they perform this feat for audiences all around the globe. But eventually, the "time teller" is going to retire or pass away and the traveling show will take its tent down for the last time and all the support cast will be out of a job.

The authors continue by suggesting an approach with a longer-term view: build a company that builds clocks.

Now, to be fair, I'd hate to see Andrea Bocelli stop all public performances and set up a school for aspiring tenors. This metaphor has some obvious limitations. But it's useful for us to take a look at our own work and honestly see if we're trying to hoard the knowledge, the power, remain the one and only subject matter expert, or if we're sharing, documenting, and collaborating.

The authors point out that the first approach is self-centered while the latter is focused upon the customer/employee/enterprise and their collective well-being.

Quick test to compare brands

Two quick thoughts as I'm reading through the book Built to Last by James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras:

First, the authors ask the reader what comes to mind when you hear "Disney." For me it was Walt Disney, Mickey Mouse, Walt Disney World, and for some reason Michael Eisner. Then the authors ask the reader to do the same thing for Columbia.

Hmm...I've got nothing.

I don't think I've run across a better, quick test to determine the power of one's brand. This should give us all pause as we think about what image or associations our past and present supervisors, colleagues, vendors, etc. have when they hear our name. What brand image do we have? Is it, "Oh he's probably the most organized guy I've ever worked with..." or more like, " he the one that was in purchasing a while back?"

If you follow Tom Peters (and I think we all should), we should be just as concerned about building a brand in our own little world as Disney was and is about there's.

Another test the authors propose is how woven into the fabric of your culture are you? In other words, it's hard to imagine popular culture without a Disney. It's pretty easy for me to imagine life without Columbia. How hard is it to imagine your field, your industry without you?

Isolate and Duplicate

A large part of troubleshooting can be summarized by two words: isolate and duplicate.

Can we make it do whatever it did the last time when it didn't work right--again? And again? (duplicate.)

And under what conditions? What about when we're not doing the "happy path" or normal use case and are on this particular variance? In other words, does your engine light come on all the time or just when you're at a stop light? Or even better, when you're at a stop light in 95 degree heat, etc. (isolate.)

We could all save ourselves and the growing number of technical support staff we must appeal to on a regular basis to get through our day-to-day lives if we try to do these two things before we make our appeal.

Do I need all my keys?

I'm just about to head out for lunch and went to grab my key chain. I've got this really cool key chain from Brookstone that has quick release rings where I can pop off a given key ring very quickly (but I hardly ever use that feature). I thought about how I always take all my keys with me instead of just the one I know I need for the job at hand (e.g., I don't need the key to my storage garage to go to lunch--just my car key). Then I thought about why. For me, it comes down to two reasons:
  1. You never know when you might need the others
  2. (This one is by far the biggest reason for me) I want to keep them all in one place so I don't lose them.
This got me thinking about the differences between the FranklinCovey and GTD time management systems. FranklinCovey was about bringing your whole planner or key chain with you everywhere whereas it seems like the GTD approach is kind of like taking the key along that you need for right now (knowing, of course, that you'll have whatever key you need when you need it from your trusted system).

Imagine if your car door, house, office, PC, etc. were all biometric and you got into what you needed to get into just by being there--without having to carry a key chain for each eventuality (kind of like the world depicted in Minority Report). Now imagine sitting down to your work or home PC and all the tasks you need to do at that particular PC emerge (and only those tasks). Your phone tells you the calls you need to make. You can pick up a shopping list from a kiosk at the front of your local grocer that's connected to the list you keep on your refrigerator when you stop in to get some milk.

Are you comfortable with your system being distributed or do you need to have it on you?

Mopping the electrical room

On my way back from the water fountain down the hall in my office I noticed a maintenance man finishing up his mopping of what appeared to be an immaculate floor in the room that contains our electrical or telecom stuff (I'm frankly not sure exactly what's in there but I saw a lot of pipes and wires from my glimpse).

It made me think about what it means about a company that will ensure that even its rooms that very few ever see or use are spotless. Then it made me think about my garage or basement and how I'd kind of let that go because it wasn't really visible when guests come over. Then I thought that my email inbox could use a little Spring cleaning, and I may have some mail stuck in a drawer at home...

I suppose I've justified not bringing some things up to par with others from an opportunity cost stand point. But maybe I should re-think that if a large, multi-national company can take the time to mop a utility closet.

The mailbox was right there!

I live in a town home in Baltimore where the mail is delivered to your door but not picked up--you have to drop off your mail in one of the few official mail boxes scattered around the neighborhood.

For almost a year, now, I've been driving to the local post office (about two miles away from my office building) during lunch, as needed, to drop off my mail. I just noticed, today, on my way back from the lunchroom (I work in building three on a corporate campus where building four contains the lunchroom) a woman pulling her car up to the front entryway and dropping off her mail in the official USPS mail box I'd never noticed before.

How many time savers like this are there right in front of our eyes that we just don't see?

And isn't it true that sometimes we have to see someone else doing something before we notice it and determine it will have value for ourselves?

Friday, April 20, 2007

Apple: How to improve audiobooks on iPods

I've got a few beefs with how the iPod handles audiobooks:

  1. I want to be able to bookmark certain passages as I go through the book. I may be listening in the car and hear a great quote I'd like to go back to when I get home. I'd like to be able to reach over, press a button, and have that marked so I can jump back to it later.
  2. I want to be able to navigate through the book more easily. For instance, I'm re-reading Jack: Straight from the Gut with a particular interest in picking up any tidbits re: GE's Six Sigma initiative. I finally reach it at like seven hours into the book. I'd love to have a Table of Contents screen I could get to by pressing the center button that would allow me to scroll through chapters and jump right to a particular section--it would be much more useful than being able to push the center button to see a slightly larger picture of the book cover!
  3. I want sections to be meaningful. By pressing the forward or back buttons I can jump between sections of a book. Instead of these sections being equally divided chunks (e.g., a five hour book may have five one hour sections) the section markers should be at the beginning of each chapter. For instance, even if I couldn't get to a table of contents screen as suggested above, I still should be able to press the forward button enough times to jump right to the beginning of the Six Sigma chapter.
  4. I want to know where I'm at in the book. Some podcasts are enhanced--meaning they incorporate some additional tags and/or images in the input file that translates into additional text or images appearing on screen as the program progresses. It allows the podcast to be almost like a slide show instead of just an audio program. I'd love to see some kind of chapter name either float over the screen like the letters do when you're scrolling quickly through a list of artists in your music library or to have it appear on screen in a way similar to how enhanced podcasts display section headings.
I realize some of what I outline are enhancements that may not have surfaced until we had working audio book in our hands. However, some of this is a prime example of how the provider did what was easiest for them and not want was truly value-adding for the end consumer.

For example, I'm sure someone probably suggested sections markers in a planning or design meeting. A developer probably thought about it and said he or she could create an algorithm that would take the audio length, determine how many sections to create based upon certain length parameters, and then equally divide it. It's automated and done. He/she then got to mark off the feature as delivered on the project plan and marketing got to put "comes with section markers" on the marketing material. But it's not useful. It's not want I want.

It would take time to work with digital audio suppliers to get them to incorporate chapter markers in their audio stream that could then be incorporated into the internal design specs, or to create the abstraction of chapter markers in the digital audio provider industry, or to simply have an intern sit and listen to each book and write down the time stamp of each chapter.

Lean and Agile teaches to start from the perspective of the customer and find out what they want and consider valuable. Then you work from there to provide that and only that--really well. Everything else (like being able to see a picture of the book cover) is considered wasted time, effort, expense, and functionality (muda in Lean terms) from the consumer's perspective.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Two Quick Tips

I'm finding it much easier to work with "Page Breaks" in Word vs. "Section breaks > Next page." The latter seem to go away when I update my Table of Contents or Index references and/or turn on the paragraph marker viewer (I'm not exactly sure which). However, the Page Break seems solid.

Also, Highrise has yet to get the printing right. I tried to print a contact I knew I had to call and the "Tasks" section shows bullets but no text.

Highrise and GTD

Just a quick post to reinforce a great feature of Highrise--the new light weight CRM system from 37Signals. If you're into David Allen's Getting Things Done (GTD) approach to time and life management and are familiar with how he suggests you categorize your tasks by context, you'll love the Tasks feature in Highrise.

First off, you get a drop box of intuitive time frames to choose from that make it super quick to determine the "When it's due" part of the task. Then you get a second drop box of commonly used categories and the ability to create your own (I've added "After Work" and "During Lunch" among others in my list). These categories or context cues are then placed in small black boxes in front of each task making it easy to scan very quickly.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Six Sigma Net Promoter Metric and Tom Peters TGR/TGW

I was listening to episode six of the Six Sigma Pointers podcast by Thomas Pyzdek, this morning, (which I highly recommend, btw) and he was talking about the Net Promoter metric. Essentially, you ask a customer if they would recommend your product or service to a friend or colleague--asking them to respond on a scale from zero to 10. If the customer marks a nine or 10 they are considered "promoters." If they mark a seven or eight they are considered neutral. And if they mark a six or less they are considered "detractors." The metric is derived by subtracting the detractors from the promoters.

The podcast elaborates on how closely this metric correlates with business performance and on how many of the Fortune 500 have adopted it. But what I found most interesting was when Mr. Pyzdek mentioned how one goes about improving this metric. Obviously from a pure math perspective one can either increase the number of promoters or decrease the number of detractors. But each group seems to respond to a different driver. Detractors seem to respond to just getting the basics right and not doing things wrong. Promoters tend to respond to providing a "Wow!" level of service and doing things right.

I think Tom Peters has the clearest description of this distinction in chapter eight (Beyond TQM Toward Wow!) of his book The Tom Peters Seminar. He gives some great examples and insights which I won't attempt to recite here (it's really worth picking up the book!) but his thesis is basically that we need both sides of the equation and when Americans began really looking at quality as a competitive driver we were almost entirely focused on eliminating the "things gone wrong" (TGW) from our systems and processes. And that's important. He makes the point you shouldn't have crumbs on the floor and missing towels when you walk into the hotel room. But that's not enough. We also need to look at "things gone right" (TGR) and find ways to "delight and provide even the unexpressed needs of the customer" (e.g., such as Tom walking into a hotel room where he would be giving a speech the next morning to find a projector and screen set with cables carefully taped down so he could practice his presentation.)

Dr. Goldratt mentions a similar paradigm in Beyond the Goal when he says there are really only two things to worry about:

  1. Things that shouldn't have happened but did; and
  2. Things that should have happened but did not.
It's simple, but hard to pull off. And it becomes even harder when you consider that Tom will probably expect a projector the next time he stays at that hotel chain for a speaking engagement. So now today's "Wow!" is tomorrow's expectation.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Three Days: Product Overhaul or Just a Meeting?

I've been posting about the new CRM solution from 37Signals called Highrise and complained how the "Cases" feature was only available to premium accounts. Apparently a lot of others didn't like it either. So today, three days after launch, Signals sends out an email informing everyone they're giving cases to everyone, dramatically increased storage limits, even created a new user category and corresponding pricing structure. Their ability to take the pulse of the community and respond quickly and iterate is impressive. Imagine a "big" company doing that...naw, I can't conjure that up either. I'm willing to bet in most companies it would take three days just to find an open slot on everyone's calendar to have a meeting about if we should consider modifying the product.

It reminds me of Tom Peters' example of Paul Paliska's Professional Parking Service, Inc. in The Tom Peters Seminar (page 139). Essentially, Tom showed up to speak at a luncheon at a very busy Orange County Marriott and despite all the traffic and people he noticed everyone was parked in very short order. He complimented Marriott on it during his speech only to learn afterwards that Marriott hadn't parked the cars--Paul's subcontracted parking service had. Tom mused that since Paul and his crew were so focused on and good at event parking they probably got better insurance rates than "giant" Marriott. So he posed the question, "Who's really the big fish in this picture?"

Seth's saying about the same things these days. And I expect we'll get more of that with his new book The Dip coming out in May. Excellence comes from focus. The question is how big can one get before you're no longer nimble? Maybe when you can't pass the rework and relaunch your whole product in 36 hours test?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Follow-up on Highrise: Emailing Notes--Where Have You Been All My Life?

Highrise has this feature where every account is given a unique "drop box" email address. Simply include this address in the Cc or Bcc fields and the email text is sent to the appropriate contact as a new note. It then shows up as a mail icon in the contact's overview.

I mentioned in yesterday's post about Highrise that I'd had some exposure to evaluating enterprise CRM systems. When I was investigating various options and interviewed a number of existing users and their managers about the adoption rate of whatever system they had installed, one issue kept coming up over and over again: integration with Outlook.

"My people just live inside of Outlook. They already have to have one or two other windows up for silo systems that allow them to view or perform transactions, when we gave them another CRM window--they just didn't use it."

Even if you try to use Outlook Contacts to keep notes on and set flags for every significant contact you have with a person, it was always double entry: send the email, log that you sent it in their contact notes pane. Even if you use the MS CRM product you still have to toggle the "save this email" off and on. So once again, 37Signals has embraced constraints and found a simple solution where others wrap lots and lots of features and code around it. And I haven't even tried emailing tasks yet...

Now as a caveat I will say this feature is not "perfect." On my first attempt it missed the body of the email and only included text from my auto signature down. After consulting the Help screens I realized the feature was optimized for Plain Text emails (and I insist on using HTML). I switched the format to Plain Text, forwarded it to my drop box, and that did work perfectly.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

37Signals Launches Highrise, I experience "just right"

It's here! We can finally give Highrise a spin. After doing a fair amount of analysis on commercial CRM packages for past employers I was really anxious to see how 37Signals would approach this. I wasn't disappointed (except for the price [more on that in a second]).

I logged in and started pulling business and 3x5 cards out of various pockets where I'd been keeping notes and reminders about my upcoming move and had it all into Highrise in about five minutes. Then I looked around a bit and experienced something I rarely get to experience with software: I was done. There were no more pull-downs to explore, no features I'd yet to uncover, no stubborn formatting hacks I had to research on Google to learn how to work around, I came in, did precisely what I needed to do, and that was all there was to do. I was done. Beautiful.

Now, I really wish I didn't have to shell out fifty bucks a months to get access to Cases. But I've run the budgets on other systems and know this is literally pennies compared to most CRM systems. It's just that I'm using it to keep track of our family's move so it's not like I had to compare this with installing a Siebel system. Seems like they should want individuals to use all the functionality so they'll want it at work.

Also, I wish I had the same formatting options in notes that I have in Basecamp.

And finally, I'm going to be really interested to see if Highrise was necessary or if the new features could have been rolled into Basecamp as optional settings.

But overall, good job guys!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Using Basecamp for Requirements Analysis

I'm working on a project now where we're moving from System A to System B and 17 groups within the company will be affected. We naturally set up meetings with each group to explain the motivation for the changes, outline the proposed architecture, and more importantly analyze their current processes and requirements so we can foresee their needs in the new environment and the impact the intended system would have on their workflow and systems. Usually at each meeting we'd have representatives from the stakeholder as well as from the sponsoring business unit who are responsible for the new system--all taking notes.

I wanted the requirements to reflect all of our notes so I set up a Basecamp site for the project and created a Writeboard for each of the 17 groups. I then posted my notes as Version One of the Writeboard and invited the members of the business unit who attended to review/edit them by a deadline (which I posted as a Milestone). This worked remarkably well. Some went in and edited the text while others just added comments at the bottom, but it saved us from having 17 Word files with track changes turned on bouncing around several people's inboxes.

When the deadline came, I simply exported each Writeboard to a network drive and summarized the notes into a requirements document (which I posted in the Files section).

I used this same approach with the project charter.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Email Inbox Hack

I've found the GTD principle of keeping your email inbox clean does help me focus on the task at hand. I'm finding that when I have a pile of emails in my view I have the tendency to always be in what David calls the "emergency scan" mode or surfing back and forth over this list instead of just buckling down and getting one thing done.

I always try to use the two minute and touch it once rules but despite my best efforts, after a few days of cleaning my inbox down to empty I've got 15-20 just sitting there again. Usually I've looked at them and know what project they pertain to but they would have taken longer than two minutes to complete and so they sit.

What I've been doing lately is to set up a "1.0 Need to File" folder under each project folder. I then stick emails from my inbox into the appropriate need to file subfolder. I know when I block off time to work on Project A one of the Next Actions is to tackle that folder.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Free Conference Calls

Cool service I just found where you get a temporary (but renewable) phone number where up to 96 people can call into at once--for free.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Cool Online Collaboration Tool for Graphics

This looks like a really promising site dedicated what appears to be real-time, online collaboration around graphic files. Love the concept and the approach.

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Monday, January 29, 2007

Online Mind Mapping Tool

Mind mapping is super valuable tool for brainstorming or just capturing ideas and connections between concepts in an organic, free-flowing manner. I use a few client applications (one on my PC at work and a different one on my Mac at home) but I've been looking for a web-based solution. I've just come across and although it's still a bit clumsy in parts it's simple and shows promise.

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