Tuesday, January 31, 2012

JAM from SuccessFactors

I have started using the informal learning and work collaboration tool JAM from SuccessFactors. I am using it to create work groups and share content with my colleagues. I am getting used to some of the features and I like them. The interesting part is that there is micro content creation and sharing. Anyone can create audio, video or screen grabs from the desktop or a mobile device and share it with others. Such crowd sourced content can be searched from the learning management system. So if you are searching for a topic in the formal learning catalog, user created content will also show up in the results. You will know who created the content and understand the credibility of the content.

When I was designing Career OnDemand many customers asked for private and public groups. JAM has private and public groups. Groups can even cut across organizations.

JAM is pretty good and very promising. It is possible to take this in some very interesting directions.


Sunday, January 29, 2012

Understanding The Basic Structure Of An iPhone Application

A few weeks back I wrote about how iPad users expect to get things done in three steps and how the basic structure of most iPad applications cater to that. With the iPhone most users expect to consume content in two steps and expect to act on the content with two more steps. Let me take the example of a simple iPhone app, Dropbox, to explain this.

When you launch Dropbox, you see the first and second layers of information.

A person will be able to open Dropbox with one tap and open any content in Dropbox with the second tap. So a person who uses Dropbox on the iPhone derives significant value within two steps. Once the content is open, a person will be able to derive additional value, say store the document into iBooks for example, with two more taps.

Launching the content with one tap

Acting on the content with two taps
Understanding this basic information organization and the expectation it has set for users will help product managers breakdown their products into simple parts.

Kindle Fire Brings Interesting Opportunities For Mobile Design

Kindle Fire is some where between a smart phone and an iPad. The designers of Kindle Fire seem to have identified clear activities for the device. I created these illustrations for use in my presentations and storyboards. I suspect you may need to too. So I decided to share the wealth. If you use it, link back to this post so that others can get it.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The HANA Difference

While in college, I wrote my first computer program in PASCAL on a punch card machine. I had to write the program, which is punched on cards. I then had to take the cards and leave it on a slot for the system administrator to compile my program. This normally took a day. The next day I got a list of bugs on a print out and then had to fix the bugs in the program and punch the program out on a new set of cards. This was a tedious and terrible way to program. I gave up programming until PCs arrived in college.

Today, I went to the Computer History Museum in Mountain View and met a colleague from HP. He said he is working with SAP HANA. I asked him what he thinks about HANA. He explained it in a very simple and effective way. He compared HANA to real time compiling and traditional business intelligence systems to punch card compiling.

In traditional business intelligence systems, you need to have your questions ready before you extract your data for analysis. In HANA you extract the data first then ask your questions.

In traditional business intelligence systems, the process of asking a question and getting an answer took several hours in some cases. Because of this delay, fewer questions were asked.

In HANA, the answers to your questions come back in a few seconds. In a few seconds you will know if you asked the right question. If your initial question was not precise enough, you can rephrase your question until you arrive at the right answer. Because of its speed, HANA encourages more people to ask more questions.

He explained that it is not about the raw speed. It is about the opportunities that speed opens up and the mindset change it enables.

By the way, this is a Burroughs calculator displayed in the computer history museum.

Calling The Cloud Just Another Delivery Model Is Like Saying Email Is Just Faster Delivery Of Mail

Some time back I was listening to an executive tell an audience that Software as a Service (SaaS) is just another delivery model. I came away thinking how wrong that person was. Cloud delivery of content and applications for multiple customers can provide incredible new value apart from cost savings.

For example, SaaS providers can provide deep bench marking insight to customers in real time, which no OnPremise software provider will be able to provide, at least not as efficiently and as quickly as a SaaS provider can. The technology to do this and the business need are already here. What we need is an open and creative mind from both software providers and customers.

The Next Generation Of Organizational Chart May Not Be A Chart

The next generation of organizational charts are not going to be charts at all. They are going to be people exploration tools. Organizational charts were useful when everyone worked within the confines of the define organizational structure and rarely ventured outside of their teams to get worked done. Org charts were invented before telephones were invented.

In today's world where people work with colleagues who are geographically and organizationally distributed, the org chart just is not that useful any more. So the designers of future organizational charts need to think outside the chart.

A person's formal and informal network can provide far more valuable insight about a person for expert seekers, recruiters, managers requesting feedback, people looking for mentors, project staffing teams etc.

Why does the org chart not have information about my past managers, past colleagues, people who interviewed me when I was hired, people who referred me, people who mentored me, people whom I mentored, people who borrowed my work, people who's work I borrowed and so on.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Use A Thick Marker To Sketch Your Product Ideas

While sketching your product ideas use a thick marker instead of a pencil or pen. It stops you from getting lost in the details and forces you to stay at an appropriate level. Here is my sketch to visualize the iPad prototype for the doctor patient collaboration story.

Many product designers, including Jason Fried of 37 Signals, talk about this.

Visualizing A Story As An iPad Application

A few days back, I shared a story of a mother collaborating with her son's pediatrician using an application called Doctor's place. This post is to talk a bit about how the doctor will collaborate with the patient's mother using his iPad. In our scenario, the doctor is looking at an X-Ray while he is away at a conference and recording a message for the mother to assure  her that her is son is okay. I'll use the three layer structure used by most iPad applications.

The first frame
Dr. Abernathy launches the iPad app and sees all the messages across all his patients. One of the messages is from Alice Chang, about an X-Ray that he needs to look at.

The second frame
Dr. Abernathy taps the message with his finger and opens it to see the X-Ray

The third frame
Dr. Abernathy taps the 'Message' button on the X-Ray and writes a message to Mary Smith, the patients mother. Sensing that Mary is anxious about her son's health, he also taps on the 'Record Video' button to record a personal message to Mary. I have not shown the video recording screen here. I skipped it.

The fourth frame
Dr. Abernathy sends the message and notices that an update has been added to Jason's page.

With a prototype that has about four to six iPad frames you can capture the core value your product brings and convey it to your customers, partners, investors and executives to get their input. The iPad provides some good constraints that will force you to simplify your story. It also gives you enough desktop real estate to convey the necessary details.

I used the prototyping tool Axure to create these iPad prototypes.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Sketching a Scenario As A Smartphone Application

While thinking about a scenario in your product story and wondering how it flows, it is easier, and now-a-days necessary, to think mobile first. A few days back, I shared a story of a mother collaborating with her son's pediatrician using an application called Doctor's place. This is how I visualized one scene in that story where the mother messages the nurse to check on the status of her son's X-Ray.

I normally sketch these by hand. You could also use Balsamiq, a prototyping tool.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Story Depicting Doctor Patient Collaboration

A few days back @enricgili and I were discussing how we could visualize a story that uses a healthcare scenario where a mother collaborates with her son's pediatrician using multiple personal devices. Here is the story. Let me know what you think.

No matter how complex your product or story, you can always convey it using the technique described below. Start with a description of the main characters. Explain the big picture with a trailer image. Then pick a scenario that conveys the main value the product brings to the table and use that scenario to explain the main value your product provides to users. Once you identify these things and validate this hypothesis with your users and customers, the rest becomes easy.

Doctor's Place
Let us say you are building a product called Doctor's Place. It is a collaboration tool that helps patients and doctors keep in touch with each other. How do you go about visualizing what the tool might do.

The Characters

The Trailer

The main scenario that conveys the essence of your product.

A storyboard is more than just pictures and text. You can convey a lot more that the basic process when you use a storyboard like the one above. For example, the above story conveys the fact that the application is accessed on the web, on a smartphone and on an iPad even without explicitly showing any screens. It also  suggests that voice recognition and video recording technologies are being used by the patient and doctor. The pictures convey the postures and situations in which the app is accessed. The working mom has only one of her hands available for use most of the time. The doctors is away from his office most of the time, walking from place to place, and uses an iPad to check updates.

Presenting your story

Chances are you will end up presenting your story in different kinds of sessions. Some may be an hour long. Some may be just ten minutes. If you have less than ten minutes, just show the trailer and convey the hypothesis. If you have about 45 minutes, then go into the scenario and explain the main concepts.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Compost Pail That Is A Piece Of Art

I always felt guilty about wasting huge plastic garbage bags, even though they were not full, just because food waste started decaying. My wife bought a compost pail a few months back. I love it. It is a beautiful product that serves its purpose. It has a carbon filter built into the lid to arrest odors. It is beautiful enough to be kept on the kitchen counter.

The compost we make is great for plants and vegetables. A surprise benefit for me is that I do not have to take the garbage out every day because there is nothing to decay in the regular garbage bin. This is a wonderful product built to last almost forever. I think this one deserves to be a design classic.

Follow Not Connect

I noticed a trend in enterprise collaboration applications where product teams have built the ability connect with each other, like we do in LinkedIn.  I think these teams are wasting their time building LinkedIn-Like 'Connect' functionality in their software.

'Following' a person, like we do in Twitter, in multiple applications to keep track of what that person is doing and what he or she is sharing is a useful feature. But I don't want to connect with my colleagues, who I already know very well, in one more collaboration software again. Even if I did make a forced connection, that is not a natural connection. The working relationship is not verifiable either.

Friday, January 20, 2012

It is time to simplify people management software

At work today, I wanted to look up information about a colleague. I wanted to find out where he worked, who he worked for and so on. Normally I look up such information in Microsoft Outlook or in the corporate portal where the organizational information is displayed as a chart powered by Nakisa.

Today I went to the portal and, as usual, could not find a link for what I was looking for. So I went to Streamwork and searched for this person by name. I found his information, information about his network, what he is working on and what his recent activities were.

This is an interesting turning point. Instead of going to an org charting tool such as Nakisa I went to a collaboration tool to look up information about a person and his team. Looking up a person in a place where people got together and got work done felt very natural.

I think that this is the beginning of a profound change in the way people management software is going to be designed in the near future. Every people management software application is going to center around a person's profile. The profile will be a living, breathing place which is populated by the person directly, by the actions of the person indirectly, and by the actions of the person's network. The profile will get enriched even if the person never ever actually visits the profile or edits it consciously. And by the way, majority of people will access this profile and act on it via a mobile device that they carry with them.

This is not an entirely new idea. Any one who has a Facebook, LinkedIn or Xing account knows how this works in the consumer space.

In my opinion, the user experience of any people management software should start with a person's photograph, his contact information, empirical information about his work, information about his career, information about the people he interacts with, information about the skills and services he offers and information about his recent activity. The viewer will then be able to act on that information depending upon her role in the company and relationship to that person. Almost every people management process and work management process can  fit into this framework.

I see it as a simple framework. There are people in a company. There are professional and personal goals that they need to accomplish. There are activities they need to do to accomplish the goals. There are appropriate resources and people who are able and willing to help them accomplish the goals. As part of this process, every person creates value that is sent back to the commons. The individual benefits and the company benefits.

We tested this concept in Career OnDemand with tens of customers and they all loved the approach. So I am very confident that this approach will work for all people management apps. 2012 is going to be an interesting year. Stay tuned. We can't predict the future. But we can sure try to invent it.

Friday, January 13, 2012

iPad Users Expect To Get Their Tasks Done in Three Steps

Most iPad users we spoke to said that no matter how complex the work they are doing, they want to get their tasks done in at most three steps. We then studied many popular consumer iPad applications and realized almost all of them arranged their information and interaction in a maximum of three layers. It was almost like shuffling three sheets of paper.

This is a look at the structure of Twitter for iPad.

When a user takes action on the content, some popup windows and menu items show up. But the basic information and interaction is arranged in three layers. There are some exceptions where the number of layers could go up. However, I believe that three layers is a good target to shoot for.

While Collecting Feedback The Number Of Loops Matters More Than The Duration Of Each Session

I have participated in two types of work sessions with customers. The first one is the traditional requirements gathering session where we gathered requirements in day long sessions with multiple customers within a week and went away for months to develop the product.

The second type is the sessions where we spoke to customers in shorter but multiple sessions over a period of months. In these types of sessions we had a conversation with customers, went and made something, showed it to them and had a conversation around what we made. They shared their thoughts with us and we then went back, changed things and went back for a conversation again.

I found out that the second approach produces products of much better quality. The number of feedback loops is directly to proportional to the quality of the innovation and the amount of value a product brings to a customer. Product managers can control and fine tune the number of conversations, duration of each conversation and the frequency of these conversations to suit the needs of the team. This is an art that @esdediego has mastered and will share with the world soon.

I highly recommend increasing the number of times you have customer conversations. It is the key to success for you and for your customer.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Designing For Emotion

Designing for Emotion is a very timely book by Aarron Walter. Aarron asks product designers to throw away the templates and design products from scratch. He asks designers to engage users emotionally. He asks designers to create products for people rather than the market. A good read. I'll share more later.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Improvising Rather Than Questioning To Build Trust

In the product definition and design phase of product management the technique of improvisation should take priority over finding flaws with an idea. While responding to a person’s idea, the first step should be to build on the idea and make it better. This is particularly important when the team is building a product for the first time. Comedians and creative artists, particularly in the field of animation, rely on this method to create compelling experiences for their audiences. As a person who is very interested in building the best possible product, I suggest that the product manager should take on the leadership role and suggest that the team follows this methodology. It goes without saying that the product manager should practice this technique.

I am not suggesting that you agree with everything that your team members say. But first improve upon the idea proposed by a person and build on it. If the initial idea is not good enough or inappropriate, the idea will gradually fade away when better ideas come along. It is not a good use of time to jump and point out a flaw, when the purpose of the session is to create new things and come up with ideas. A good book on this topic is 'The Improvisation Edge" by Karen Hough.

When a you must point out a flaw in an idea it is better to follow the ‘Six Thinking Hats’ methodology created by Dr. Edward de Bono. The methodology provides a means for groups to think together more effectively, and a means to plan thinking processes in a detailed and cohesive way. 

A simple way to use the “Six Thinking Hats” methodology is to clearly state that you are wearing a white hat while commenting on the positive aspects of an idea and clearly state that you are wearing a black hat before pointing out the flaws or gaps in the ideas proposed by others.

Sharing Is To A Personal Brand What Marketing Is To A Product Brand

When you share a thought or resource online with the group of people who have chosen to follow you, you are building your brand. You don't have to start with a huge following. You can start sharing thoughts and resources as part of your daily routine. The effort required to share something online is so little, that you will derive the value of sharing, the moment you share. Think of it as a highlighting a sentence while reading a  book. You are just making a note of things that caught your attention. The only difference is that you are doing it publicly.

You can start sharing even if you do not have a large number of followers. People will discover you based on what you have to say and what you share.

Even if you are not sure about your personal brand initially, start sharing. Once you start sharing, the people who follow you will help you recognize how you are perceived and what you stand for.

If you do not share, you are like a product that no one knows about. 

Sunday, January 08, 2012

It Is Time For Meaning Driven Design In Enterprise Software

According to Prof. Roberto Verganti, the author of the book Design Driven Innovation, product innovation has so far been driven by technology changes or incremental market demand. This changed several years ago in the consumer electronics market, when companies such as Sony and Apple brought meaning driven innovation to the market. They did not ask customers what they wanted. Instead they proposed products and solutions that improved the life of customers.

It is time for meaning driven innovation in enterprise software. Technology and innovation is moving so fast and becoming so cheap that it is not enough if product managers and product designers simply write market requirements documents and convert them into products. Instead they need to build products and test the waters pretty much like consumer product developers. They need to make many little bets. The technology infrastructure, the distribution infrastructure and the consumption infrastructure are in the place for such a change.

Many such products, developed based on meaning driven innovation, will fail. But some will succeed to cover the investment in all the failed products. 

When your hypothesis is wrong acknowledge it quickly

While developing a hypothesis about a new product or solution and validating the same with customers and users, you'll find out more often than not that your hypothesis is  wrong. When such a thing happens, admit that your hypothesis is wrong quickly and focus on accommodating the new found facts into the new hypothesis. There is no shame in that. No one expects you to be a know it all. Admitting that your assumptions were wrong and adopting a new hypothesis is a very powerful tool.

Just because your assumptions are wrong does not mean that your work is a failure. On the contrary, by quickly providing a hypothesis and enabling a conversation, you will arrive at the right solution quicker that others who toil away at developing the fool proof hypothesis.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Great By Choice by Jim Collins

I started reading the first chapter of the book Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck--Why Some Thrive Despite Them All by Jim Collins.

One of Jim's theories is 'Luck is nothing but preparation'. He compares the fate of two famous explorers, Roald Amundsen and Robert Scott in the context of their epic treks to the South Pole a century ago. Amundsen expected things to go wrong, prepared for it and succeeded. Scott expected everything to work as expected and paid the price with his life, all along blaming his failure on bad luck. The book Race To The End covers the south pole exploration.

Putting Collaboration At The Core of Every Business Action

Most enterprise social applications focus on the tools rather than the purpose of the collaboration. Their product and sales teams will tell you that they have a wiki, a blog, document collaboration, a micro blog, a discussion forum and so on. What they won't tell you is what you can do with them. Because, in most cases, they have little idea.

However, leading social applications such as Facebook, Google+ and Quora focus on the purpose of the collaboration. Facebook for example, does not have a separate blogging tool, micro blogging tool and a discussion tool. It combines all tools into a single elegant way to share, discuss and learn. Users can share a thought or a point to a link, discuss it and learn from the conversation. It is very hard to build simple things. Enterprise software designers do not have to re-invent the wheel. They can learn from tools such as Facebook, Google+ and Quora on how to put purpose first and how to put collaboration at the core of every business action.

Let customers and colleagues peek into your thought process

Some of the best restaurants in the world have open kitchens. Patrons can walk into the kitchen and see how their food is cooked and be part of the experience. The same applies to product conversations as well. You should let your customers peek into how you think as a team to design products, how your work together, how you turn concepts into ideas and how you take decisions.

There are some simple techniques that can help. Invite your customers to the collaboration space you use to share workshop minutes and whiteboard drawings. Share your whiteboard drawings with your team members and invite them to have a conversations around it. You colleagues will start asking clarifying questions and start providing their view point. Keep your product conversations as transparent to the customer as possible. Customers will watch what is being asked and said.  In many cases customers will directly answer questions and put a definitive end to a debate.  When customers can watch you collect, organize, synthesize and decide, their confidence in your goes up significantly.

While sharing and discussing product concepts, you will fail to capture ideas, misinterpret customer comments, and make mistakes. By keeping your work open within a trusted group of colleagues and customers, you have the opportunity to receive feedback from them and take corrective action.

Openness is one of the best ways to engage customers in your product conversation. It is important to notice that customers may not agree with everything you do. But at least they will know what you are doing and will appreciate the honesty.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Social software provided by talent management vendors is not widely used

@Josh_Bersin recently wrote a blog post about the year long talent management research he and his colleagues did. Among other things, Josh pointed out that social software provided by Talent Management vendors is not widely used.

I spoke to my friends and contacts in the industry and they confirmed what I had suspected for a while now. Customers are not happy with social software provided by talent management vendors. Such software is not widely used even when companies buy them. This is not surprising. Why would anyone use a standalone social software provided by a talent management vendor, if it is not provided in the context of talent management processes and scenarios. My suggestion to talent management vendors is to stop competing in the areas of standalone social software and focus on putting collaboration at the core of your products. If you are the product manager in a talent management software provider, ask yourself this question. Do you want to make talent management processes social or do you want to build something that competes with SharePoint, Jive, IBM Connections and potentially Salesforce Chatter.

The answer is simple. You job is to put collaboration at the core of your products. Do not get deceived by the revenue projections of your smart Excel formulas. Collaboration tools are worthless when they are not provided in context. You are competing in the talent management software market. Make your talent management software social.
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