Friday, September 30, 2011

Learning Bits via Kindle and Twitter From My Colleague

My friend and colleague @esdediego is a kindle ninja. He is our co-innovation lead and coaches us on what we need to stay focused on via small learning bits now and then. He reads, highlights, tweets and shares from his kindle all at once. Here is something he shared recently. The direct link to the page is

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Role Of A Co-Innovation Lead

@esdediego is the co-innovation lead for Career OnDemand. For those who watch him from outside, it might look as if he is like an account manager. He contacts customers, arranges co-innovation sessions and hosts them. But what they do not see is the direct contribution he makes to improve the probability of success of Career OnDemand.

In a study of 59 smart entrepreneurs with the same level of intelligence, researchers found that those who sought out feedback from customer early and often were more successful than those who did not. They also found that the more feedback the entrepreneurs got from customers, the more successful they were.

@esdediego watches the quality of product design closely and determines the frequency and quantity of feedback sessions we should have with customers. Some weeks he arranges more and some weeks he decides that we need to focus on building. Like a great coach, he keeps us on a steady pace of innovation without slacking or burning ourselves out. This is not easy. We have an edge over other companies who do not understand this. Our edge is Eduardo Salamanca de Diego.

With his unique touch, Eduardo has significantly increased the probability of the success of Career OnDemand.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

What If Competitors Copy The Concepts in Career OnDemand

One of our partners asked me if I am worried that competitors will copy the people-centric concepts and features that we spent years researching, co-innovating and building. I told him that I believe the concepts pioneered by Career OnDemand are so important that they should be available for all companies in the world, not just SAP customers. I have great respect for all our competitors. The software vendor that executes best and earns the trust of most customers will reap the most benefits. No matter who executes best, the world will be a better place when workers around the world are empowered with people-centric tools. The idea is to make the world run better....and may be make some money in the process.

By the way, my colleagues and I have been pretty open about the design principles that drove the design of Career OnDemand. I even have a post on the books that influenced our thinking. But how are competitors going to copy the trusted relationship we have with more than 12,000 HCM customers around the world. How are they going to repeat the more than 170 sessions we had with tens of customers over eighteen months to listen carefully and co-innovate. 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Why Should SAP Career OnDemand Customers Care About SAP HANA

One of the perks of my job is that I can walk to the cafeteria in my office and run into some of the world's best business software architects and business software executives. Today I ran into a colleague who is a solution manager for SAP HANA. He asked me what is going on with Career OnDemand and I asked him why should the customers of Career OnDemand care about HANA. This is what he said. Since this is just a informal conversation between friends, everything we spoke about is hypothetical. Nothing is official.

He and his colleagues may introduce HANA technology to the Business By Design platform sometime in the future. Career OnDemand uses the Business ByDesign platform. So customers using Career OnDemand will see significant performance improvements to start with. Because HANA significantly simplifies the technology, developers of Career OnDemand will be able to turn out innovation at a faster pace. Career OnDemand will be able to provide instant insight to managers, recruiters and employees about people, their goals, activities, career history, feedback and reputation. The right people with the right skills will be found by the right project at the right time. Talent will be put to its most efficient use because employees will be more connected than ever. He sold me on HANA. I suspect this might take a while. But it is worth the wait.

Here is a video explaining the value of HANA.

While Debating Via Email, Start With The Areas Of Agreement

While debating things over email, which happens a lot in distributed teams, it is always better to start by pointing out that we are all working to accomplish the same goal and we agree on several points. Then go to the point of debate and state your argument. If you cannot agree on one thing, don't let that stop the discussion. Agree to disagree on that one point and move over to the next point. You will be surprised how much such a small thing changes the outcome of the debate or discussion.

My friend and colleague @Chirag_Mehta added this comment.
I always follow this and it works. I do one more thing: after highlighting the agreements, I explicitly mention the disagreement to confirm my assumption. Many times, it turns out that what I thought was a disagreement wasn't really a disagreement. This also helps the other people to focus on the disagreement and not on the people who have the disagreement. It's a basic element of design - focus on the artifact and the behavior and not on the person.

Present Information In Multiple Courses...Like A French Meal

Sometimes when you design a screen there is too much information to be presented on one screen. You cannot avoid it. In times like these I suggest you serve such information in multiple courses like the french do with their food. Do not overwhelm users with all the information at the same time.

Present the first course, then make them work to reveal other pieces of information. This is will not only help them focus on the essential information first but also help you build in small surprises and delights in your screen. All this food talk makes me hungry. Why did I have to write this at 5.30 in the evening?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Co-Innovation Is Not Pre-Sales. It is Working With Customers and Listening To Make Things

Co-innovation is not about showing a product you already built to customers. Co-Innovation is presenting your hypothesis to customers and thought leaders, listening to their thoughts carefully, making something and then asking them to try it. This process is repeated until customers absolutely want to use the product or service you created.

Co-Innovation is the process of combining design thinking, agile product development and customer development. My colleagues in the Design Services Team at SAP, had these posters in their area. It sums up part of the process. I would add "Show it to someone" to the two phrases below.

How My In-Laws Use The iPad 2

My in laws bought an iPad a few months back. They visited us today and told me that they love their iPad. I asked them how they use it during the day and was intrigued by the way they defined the day. There is no dedicated iPad time. However, the iPad is part of pretty much everything they do. Here is how they described it to me. I will add more details when I find out more.

5.30 a.m.
Read headlines from 7 Indian News papers.

7.00 a.m.
Play music from the carnatic music album of Priya Sisters using YouTube to their grand daughter.

10.00 a.m
Follow live cricket scores from There is always some cricket match going on somewhere in the world.

11.00 a.m.
Play solitaire for a while

1.00 p.m
Read a book using the Kindle app on the iPad. Their daughters push books to their Kindle directly.

3.00 p.m
Look up information about blood pressure or other medical terms that the doctor explained to them and read more about the same. Or look up information about new things they heard that day.

4.00 p.m.
Play some more Priya sisters  music from YouTube.

7.00 p.m
Some more solitaire or continue with the book.

10.00 p.m.
Play some more music from the Priya Sisters Album.

If you are a product manager or a software product designer, it is time you started thinking mobile first.

Emotional Intelligence Is Not About Being Nice To Everyone All The Time

Emotional intelligence is very important in an agile development scenario, especially when teams are distributed and do not see each other face to face.  Sometimes emotional intelligence is understood as getting along with everyone and  respecting your team members. Emotional intelligence is not about being nice to everyone all the time. Emotional intelligence if also about speaking up when things are not right and pulling up those who are not contributing to the success of the project.

Use Video To Communicate Your Thoughts And Ideas To Colleagues

Since my colleagues work out of three countries, I rely on video as lot to convey my thoughts and ideas to others. It works much better than email and is very cheap. You can use you company's video hosting site, YouTube or other services.

The video does not have to be professionally done. It does not have to be slick. You don't have to edit the video or do any processing. Just shoot the video as if you are talking to your colleague and send it.

Couple of things to keep in mind.
  • The Tool: Use a physical video camera. Not a screen capture tool. 
  • Duration: Colleagues have told me that the limit for a video is 7 minutes or less. Anything more becomes a drag. 

I have created tens to videos during the past 2 years to capture and convey my thoughts to my colleagues. Since those videos contain proprietary content, I cannot share them here. However, the video below, which I made for my personal use, conveys how I use video. Ignore the content. It talks about creating a mobile app using a drag and drop tool called App Inventor.

Video conveys emotion much better than an email. You can use informal language. You can show screens and physical artifacts quickly and efficiently.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Talk About The Purpose Served Rather Than Talk About The Feature

My colleagues @enricgili and @esdediego watch me when I present a concept using a prototype to customers, analysts and partners. They give me valuable feedback sometimes. Once @enricgili mentioned that I should talk more about the purpose served by a feature rather than the feature itself. I found that input very valuable.

So instead of saying "The user clicked on the button to import data, I trained myself to say the person enriched her profile by importing information.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Walking An Audience Through A Prototype Is Like Peeling The Layers Of An Onion

I was showing a new concept prototype to twelve top American customers last week to get their thoughts. One of my customers, who has seen the demo several times walked up to me and shared something interesting with me. He said that when he sees my demo he feels like the layers of an onion are being peeled off one by one. With each layer he understands more of the concept.

I realize that the design of the prototype and the story that accompanies it should be carefully done to reveal all the concepts of a product one by one in the order you want to reveal them. It also helps a lot if the design principles are stated up front in under a minute and the concepts covered are recapped at the end of the demo.

For example when I start demonstrating Career OnDemand, I usually start by saying that the design principles that guided the team were 'people centricity', 'networking and collaboration at the core' and 'instant insight for all'.

When I am done demonstrating the Career OnDemand prototype, I always recap the demo by saying that we started with goals, talked about the activities that helped a person accomplish that goal, saw the feedback a person received in the context of a goal and then looked at how he relied on collective intelligence from his network of people to accomplish that goal.

I have said this more or less 170 times to customers, partners and colleagues over the past 18 months. With every iteration the product and the pitch gets better and better. I do goof up once in a while. Some times I get distracted by a customer question and fail to cover a concept. Sometimes, someone interrupts the sessions and I lose my focus.  But I never fail to learn in these sessions. It is amazing.

Transform Reality With Prototypes Rather Than PowerPoint Slides

In the book, Flow, the author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says that any activity that transforms the way we perceive reality is enjoyable. That is why some people seek reality transforming substances such as drugs, alcohol and other chemicals. This kind of transformation is addictive and destructive. The author says that there is a healthy way to transform reality. Artists and scientists transform reality by either creating something new or by discovering something new that transforms what we know as reality.

I see some parallels in the business world. One set of colleagues rely on a series of slide presentations to transform reality temporarily. Most of them are terrible at it. Even the ones that are good at it, end up getting a temporary high and get addicted to it until it ruins their thinking and reputation. Another set of colleagues transform reality by acknowledging problems, creating something new and painting a vision of how things can be to customers and colleagues.

I decided to join the latter group. It has served me well. Making things that solve customer problems and showing them to people has made my job very enjoyable. Over a period of time, my skills in this area have improved significantly that now-a-days I almost always never use slides with just text and images. It is usually a story accompanied by something I created.

I wrote about this approach that worked very well for me in the book Look and Flow

Thursday, September 22, 2011

TelePresence Workshops Are Effective

Some friends and colleagues ask me how we make the agile design and development of Career OnDemand work across three countries.  Among many things, we use telepresence technology to conduct workshops. With telepresence, it is possible to share screens, use physical whiteboards and have more engaging. meaningful conversations. It is not exactly cheap. But it is better than flying teams around all the time. It is essential to do good prep work for telepresence workshops. Telepresence is effective for synthesis workshops, where there is already enough content to review, discuss and elaborate on.  Telepresence may not work for open ended brain storming workshops.

I drew this line diagram to share how an SAP telepresence room looks like. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Put Common Sense Before Guidelines

In a User Experience review call today, the chief product owners of Career OnDemand made an important decision. They decided to put common sense before user experience guidelines. Our senior executives have empowered the product owners of Career OnDemand to take the right decisions to make the product successful. Kudos to them. When you trust your people to take the right decisions rather than aim for efficiency for the sake of it, good things happen.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The main ingredient in design thinking, customer development and agile programming is people

I enjoy cooking South Indian food at home. The secret of any cooking, I learnt from the cook books I read, is fresh and appropriate ingredients. Even the best of recipes is useless when the right ingredients are not in place. So I always have fresh ginger at home. Since it is hard to keep fresh curry leaves, I have a plant in my backyard, which I take a lot of pain to keep alive.

@enricgili and I were talking about similar things today afternoon. The main ingredient in design thinking, customer development and agile programming is people. No amount of process definition is going to ensure success unless the right talent is assembled. Yet, relatively less attention is paid to finding and assembling the right talent. A lot of energy is spent on defining the process. The process, like a recipe for cooking, is important. However, the right people, like right ingredients for a dish, is always the place to start.

Agile Development And Co-innovation Across Three Countries. Hits And Misses

The Career OnDemand team works out of  three countries. Germany, Hungary and USA. The development team does 4 week sprints. The user experience team does weekly updates to the entire team on their progress. Their work almost feels like a weekly sprint to me. Both the teams record the presentation and conversation using Adobe Connect and share it with those who could not make it. Since the teams works out of Germany, Hungary and California, the recordings are very important assets to share, review and discuss. All conversations, both intelligent and not so intelligent are recorded and preserved for everyone to listen to. It is sometimes shared with people outside the team.

Use experience teams create html prototypes in a tool called ForeUI to convey the detailed design and flow of the various product stories. The product owners who work with co-innovation customers build prototypes using a tool called Axure so that they can convey concepts as tangible experiences. They update the prototypes at least twice a month and share the concepts and flow of the story via video with other product owners, user experience designers and development architects.


Concepts are directly built into html prototypes and conveyed in person or via video. Very little is captured in PowerPoint. No market requirements document was written. The concepts are conveyed via story telling, in person, via web conferencing or via video. For example, the employee stories was repeated more than 175 times to customers over 12 months to refine the story and prototype.

Radical Transparency within the team and for customers
Almost every week, team members and customers get to see the current concept and latest screen designs. Every month everyone in the team gets to see an update of the functioning product. There are some use cases and spec documents. But mostly teams rely on what they see. Not what they read. There is one exception. There is a wiki page where decisions are captured.

The design specification is not a contract between product owners and developers
The good thing is that there is no design specification that is treated like a contract. A poor idea, even if it is written down, is not implemented if product owners are not convinced. Almost every feature can be tracked back to a customer conversation. No feature gets developed before a customer has a chance to review the screens and flow of the story. This is very different from how SAP traditionally develops software. There are some problems here and there. It sure requires a high level of trust and personal accountability. Sometimes it feels like no one is in control. But, so far so good.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Enterprise Software Tools For People Should Focus On Connections, Sharing and Conversations

When I attended Columbia Business School in New York, my strategy professor, Bruce Greenwald, gave a reading assignment that was more than 500 pages long. My classmates and I wondered how he expects us to read everything overnight. Reading our mind, he explained that the purpose of overloading us with the reading assignment is to make everyone realize that no matter how smart and productive one is, he cannot finish the assignment with out working together with others, exchanging ideas and combining insight. He said that beyond a point, intelligence and personal productivity does not matter. What matters is one's ability to work with others to share knowledge, exchange ideas, combine insight and deliver results. This was an important lesson for me. I see a lot of parallels in the business world today. Technology has enabled a great amount of process efficiency and personal productivity. The next stage of competitive advantage is going to come from the ability of an organization's workers to share ideas, exchange knowledge and build things together to accomplish their common goals.

While designing Career OnDemand, my colleagues and I debated several features suggested by our co-innovation customers. We concluded that the primary purpose of Career OnDemand is not process automation or personal productivity. The primary purpose is to connect people and enable them to have a conversation in the context of their work. This understanding provided us with a framework to debate the design and defend the priority of features. 

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Sometimes Efficiency Can Be Counterproductive

A few years back, I read about an Indian retail entrepreneur who wanted to bring western style shopping experience to the 350 million strong Indian middle class consumers. He put wide aisles in the store, arranged everything on shelves and labelled them clearly for people to shop efficiently and leave. His shop was a failure. People came for the novelty and left without buying much. So he invited a local retail expert and asked for help. The expert advised him to narrow the aisles, create artificial congestion in certain areas and, put items on the floor deliberately without labeling them. The entrepreneur followed the advise and his sales went up. His business thrived.

He was puzzled but learned an important lesson. Efficiency is not everything. Some times you have to slow things down, let people stumble into each other, create an opportunity for them to connect, have a conversation, exchange ideas and thoughts and enjoy being part of a community.

We followed some of these principles while designing Career OnDemand. Early on, @enricgili and I realized that we are not building a personal productivity tool for individuals. We were not automating a process that is inefficient. Instead we are building a tool to enable people connect with each other and have a conversation about the things that matter to them at work.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Lean Startup

Eric Ries defines a startup as "A human institution designed to create new products and services under conditions of extreme uncertainty." Earlier this year, I attended the lean startup conference and applied some of the startup lessons learned principles to the start-up inside SAP, Career OnDemand. The Career OnDemand team was advocating radical concepts to some of the most conservative companies in very traditional industries in the US and Europe. Instead of building a product and releasing it to customers after 18 months, we worked with customers from day one and showed them our work in the form of prototypes almost every other week. The result is a product that is designed and validated by tens of customers.
I received my complimentary copy of Eric Ries's book, The Lean Startup yesterday I recommend the book and the approach, even if you are not a startup. Did I mention SAP is the largest enterprise software company in the world. If it works for someone like us, I suspect it might work for you as well. I'll keep you posted about how it is going for us. Stay tuned.

A New Culture Of Learning

We applied the concepts from the book, A New Culture of Learning to the design of the informal learning framework in Career OnDemand.

  • The world is changing faster than ever and our skill sets have a shorter life
  • Understanding play is critical to understanding learning
  • The world is getting more connected that ever before – can that be a resource?
  • In this connected world, mentorship takes on new importance and meaning
  • Challenges we face are multi-faceted requiring systems thinking & socio-technical sensibilities
  • Skills are important but so are mind sets and dispositions
  • Innovation is more important than ever – but turns on our ability to cultivate imagination
  • A new culture of learning needs to leverage social & technical infrastructures in new ways
  • Play is the basis for cultivating imagination and innovation

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The best storage medium for knowledge is the human brain

For years, I have heard several knowledge management experts talk about harvesting knowledge from workers who are retiring and storing it somewhere so that others in the company can access that knowledge when needed. I always thought this was a bad idea. I believe that no amount of harvesting, storing, cataloging and retrieving is going to retain the knowledge one person had. I am yet to see such a knowledge management system succeed.

I always felt that harvesting knowledge is like cutting off red roses from a plant and storing them as a bouquet. It will look good for a while and then dry out. On the other hand, if we take an entire stem of a rose plant and plant it elsewhere in fertile soil, the roses in that stem will last longer and once they dry out, new red roses will bloom.

I wanted to apply this approach to managing knowledge. Instead of harvesting knowledge from a fertile mind and storing them in a static document, how about expanding that knowledge from one person's mind to another person's mind via an informal learning framework of conversations, idea borrowing, discussions and mentoring.

After a few months of working with tens of customers and experts, we today have a simple and powerful framework to expand and nourish knowledge rather than just harvest it and let it decay. My colleagues in the Career OnDemand team are implementing just that. There are some very interesting ideas being implemented. Stay tuned. You will like it.

Applying Game Mechanics to Functional Software

I am very skeptical about gamification in enterprise software and deeply suspicious about the hype around it in my company and outside. I have been searching for a while for a good introduction to behavioral mechanics that engage people. I found this talk by Amy Jo Kim very useful for the kind of work I do. She has worked in areas where social media and game mechanics intersect.

Game mechanics change people's behavior
Games engage us in flow, unfolding challenges over time to the player
The 5 foundational elements of game mechanics are

  • Collecting
    • The power of completing a set
  • Points
    • Game points are points given by system
    • Social points are given by other players. They drive collaboration.
    • Redeemable points drive loyalty in those who care
    • Leader boards drive player behavior such as competitive behavior
    • Levels are short hand of points earned.
  • Feedback
    • Feedback accelerates drive to mastery.
    • Feedback is fun
    • Social Feedback is more powerful than system feedback
  • Exchange
    • Structured social interaction
    • Explicit exchanges
      • Adding a friend in facebook
    • Implicit exchanges
      • Are more powerful than explicit exchange
    • Gift exchange
  • Customization
    • Character customization
    • Customization engaged players and makes them stick
Social media trends influencing game mechanics
  • Accessibility
    • Social media is making games more accessible to more people
  • Recombinant
  • Syndicated

Flow - The Psychology Of Optimal Experience

I have heard so many good things about the book Flow. My colleague Enric Gili explained many concepts covered in the book to me while we were designing Career OnDemand.

The chapter particularly interesting to me is "Flow at Work". The author talks about finding joy in anything a person does.

I borrowed the book from @enricgili today and plan to read the whole thing this week. 

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

The Last Days Of Summer At Lake Tahoe

My wife and I spent the last days of summer at Lake Tahoe. A much needed break from the enterprise software business. We went to Sand Harbor state park on the east side and my wife took some sunset pictures.

Let's keep Tahoe blue

Emerald Bay

Monday, September 05, 2011

Job Interviews Should Be Used To Sell The Job, Not Judge The Candidate

I am researching talent acquisition topics these days and read about the research of Dr. Allen Huffcutt via the book Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior. It turns out job interviews are quite useless. The best way to judge a candidate is to find out what they have done in the past and how they behaved in the past.

This makes a lot of sense. I never understood what vague questions such as "What is your greatest strength?" or "What is your big weakness?" revealed anything about a person. Every candidate has a canned answer for these questions which revealed close to nothing about him or her.

Also, most managers are not trained on how to interview a candidate.So why do we place such a big emphasis on such phony questions. Would it not be time well spent if we explore the past of a person and ask them to provide factual answers about their past experience and behavior.

An even better way to hire a person would be to rely on the opinion of someone who already knows the person and to examine the past work of the candidate. Huffcutt argues that job interviews should be used to sell the job to the chosen candidate, not to judge the candidate. It makes a lot of sense.

Touch Interfaces Are A Natural Way To Interact With Work Related Content

Yesterday I was watching waiters at the Old Post Office Cafe in Lake Tahoe interact with their Point Of Sale system. I watched multiple waiters walk up to the system and interact with it efficiently and quickly with one finger. I wondered why enterprise software can't be like that. Is it because enterprise software is designed for occasional users. That can't be an excuse. Air line self check-in systems, ATMs and grocery store self checkout systems are designed for occasional users and they work well. In fact such systems are very popular with users.

Touch Interfaces are an intuitive way to interact with content and even get routine things done. Touching something to grab it, move it or interact with it comes  naturally to human beings. That is one of the reasons why computing systems using the touch interface are very popular. Moreover, people today in most parts of the world are familiar with touch interfaces at the airport, bank ATMs, and supermarket. Store clerks have been using machines with touch interfaces to do their job for more than ten years now.

With the advent of tablet devices and smart phones with touch screens, product designers and user experience designers may have to think about touch interfaces first and point and click next.

Designers of enterprise software can learn a lot from the day to day touch interfaces that regular people use.

Friday, September 02, 2011

No PowerPoint Does Not Mean Never User PowerPoint

Although I almost always use prototypes for my sessions with customers, I do have PowerPoint slides to gather content. After the initial discussion, during the Q&A, I bring single slides that have relevant information, purely to respond to a question with rich content. I have noticed that the audience sees the slides carefully when a slide is presented in response to a question they posed.

Prototyping Is Not About Picking A Tool

Prototyping is about making something tangible that triggers the imagination of those who see it.

My colleagues and I  use different tools to create prototypes. I use Axure to convey the concepts we come up with to customers. I have seen CEOs, Heads of Human Resources and IT leaders get excited and participate enthusiastically when I show them a prototype to convey my ideas. Recently, I convinced the CEOs of two companies and the HR leadership of another company to pilot our product just by showing a prototype and painting the vision. It was fascinating to see senior executives connecting with the vision and building on it, just by looking at the prototype.

My user experience colleagues use ForeUI to create prototypes that convey the look and flow of our products to development colleagues. Some product design colleagues use PowerPoint to convey the look and flow of their features.

All the above tools work well, when the person making the prototype is clear about what they want to convey. It is not about the tool you use. It is the process of making to think and showing something to trigger imagination rather than just talking about it.

When You Design A Great Product That Customers Love, You Create Jobs

As a product designer or product manager you can make a great contribution to the economy. When you create a compelling product that customers love, you create jobs for people. Your partners will hire people to implement or extend your product. Your sales team will hire more people to sell or support your product. Your service team will hire more people to service your product. Even your customers may hire more people to build on your product. If your product is a run away hit, you might even create a few jobs on Wall Street.

As a product designer, you need to focus on expanding the pie, not just grabbing a bigger piece of the pie. You are a creator. You have the power to give. That is the greatest of all powers.

So when you design a product, think about how you can put people on the job. Not just how you can automate processes and eliminate jobs. Designers who focus on automation alone, like CEOs who focus on cost cutting alone, don't last long.
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