Monday, March 29, 2010

From the Intrawebs - March 29

After punching in 70+ hours last week, I had little time to actually look around so this week's list is short. That said, the video posted on Spatially Relevant is worth its weight in electrons. I highly encourage you to watch it.

You can subscribe to the live feed of this list in your choice of feed readers. You can also follow @FromTheIntraWeb to get instant gratification.

If you find something that you think belongs on this list, send it to me via @SoftwareMaven on Twitter.

What's New

  • Augmented Reality Browser: Layar: This is a great idea and a great implementation. Layar has an opportunity to own the augmented reality space, which is going to be huge.

Worth Reading

  • Most users don’t even know what your product is: This is enlightening and a great example of why you need to get out of your building and talk to users. If you don't understand their world, you will never be able to communicate in a way that makes sense to them.

    As an aside, this is exactly why I think the iPad is going to be a success: it is targeted directly these people.
Disclaimer: Unless otherwise noted, I have no affiliation with linked properties other than being an interested reader, a happy user, or a potential customer: Nobody pays to receive a link. Any opinions of linked properties are theirs, not mine. I may or may not agree, but to be on this list I think their opinion is at least interesting.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Preventing Process Goo (or How to Keep Process in Check)

Everybody loves process. Approval forms, multi-level sign-offs, tools that make everything "easier", and people who find satisfaction is getting the process done, regardless of whether work gets done or not (you know, the process police).

If you've only ever worked in large companies, you may have never experienced a life without process. There is a place where, as a trusted employee, you make a decision and just do it. That flexibility is a small companies greatest strength, but it can also be its biggest weakness.

Different types of companies require different amounts of process. Life sciences, with the heavy regulation, needs a significant amount of process. The average consumer web company doesn't need much. Every company needs some process, though.

Good process ensures that good decisions are being made. It provides information and direction on how to do things better than you did last time. A good process will make sure you are gathering and taking into account all of the information you need to.

The problem with process is, left unchecked, it will self-replicate into grey goo. And, just like in nanotechnology, the way to keep prevent process goo is by adding "process limiting code."

How do you implement processes limiting code? You specify up front things that you want to get out of your process and what you are not willing to give up. What are you currently doing that is working really well? If you don't identify it what you want to keep, you can be sure that your process changes will eventually destroy it.

And that, in a nutshell, is what most people fail to realize when they go into process mode. In all of the ferver to find new and better ways to do things, they keep track of what they don't want changed.

So next time, you are changing your process, keep the following in mind:
  • You should have specific, measurable goals of what you are trying to accomplish with your process. If you can't measure it, it didn't happen.
  • You must include the set of anti-requirements: what you want to ensure you process is not changing. Again, try to make it measurable, but that can be hard for things like company culture.
  • Make small changes over time to better identify cause/effect relationships
  • Evaluate if you process changes are meeting your goals and not breaking your invariants.
  • If you are not seeing the results you want or your invariants have varied (bad thing for an invariant to do!), roll back those changes and try again a different way.
Here are some ideas:
Goals Invariants
Management should be able to predict the output of the team for the following two weeks within a 20% margin of error. A task should never take more time in process than in actually completing the process.

Photo Credit: Amit Patel

Monday, March 22, 2010

From the Intrawebs - March 22

Happy spring! March 21st is one of my favorite days of the year. It was a beautfiul day here in northern Utah yesterday as well.

You can subscribe to the live feed of this list in your choice of feed readers. You can also follow @FromTheIntraWeb to get instant gratification.

If you find something that you think belongs on this list, send it to me via @SoftwareMaven on Twitter.

What's New

  • Crowdspring: This is the first of two options I recently found for getting design work done. You post your project description, receive designs from multiple sources, and buy one or more of them.
  • 99 Designs: And the second option for getting design work done is 99 Designs. It works pretty much the same way: define a project (including the budget), get submissions, choose and buy. These services are great when you need some design work done quickly.

Worth Reading

  • User-Centered Innovation Is Not Sustainable: Many of the biggest product hits have eschewed User-centric design. The model is not "build it and they will come", rather, it is to understand your users well enough that you can predict their future wants and needs. A not-trivial task, to be sure, but critical if you want to move beyond incremental improvement.
  • BoomStartup Gives Utah Its Own Startup Incubator: This is exciting news for the Utah start up community. Utah has long had a strong start-up ecosystem, but it is nice to see it growing up.
Disclaimer: Unless otherwise noted, I have no affiliation with linked properties other than being an interested reader, a happy user, or a potential customer: Nobody pays to receive a link. Any opinions of linked properties are theirs, not mine. I may or may not agree, but to be on this list I think their opinion is at least interesting.

Monday, March 15, 2010

From the Intrawebs - March 15

Beware the Ides of March! Actually, I'm going to celebrate it. It is a beautiful day outside after a pretty gross weekend. The sunny morning almost made up for the lost sleep due to daylight savings. Almost.

I'm adding a new section to From the Intrawebs that points out any interesting new services or applications I find that may be of interest. If you have an interesting service or application, feel free to ping me to take a look.

You can subscribe to the live feed of this list in your choice of feed readers. You can also follow @FromTheIntraWeb to get instant gratification.

If you find something that you think belongs on this list, send it to me via @SoftwareMaven on Twitter.

What's New

  • Simler: A very intriguing site that attempts to address what is missing in many of the popular social networks: how do you make new contacts. Facebook and LinkedIn are very good at keeping track of who you already know; Simler attempts to help you meet new people.

    Disclosure: I have business dealings with a potential investor in Simler.

Worth Reading

  • My experiments in lean pricing: A great article on SaaS pricing, one of the best I've read.
  • Choices: an exercise: Are you trying to be McDonald's (around everywhere with an underwhelming experience), 21 Club (solid, consistent, a strong reputation, and expensive), or the noodle place on the corner (cheap and eclectic). Always a good idea to know what you are striving for.
  • Six Delusions of Google's Arrogant Leaders: Always dangerous to drink your own Kool Aid for too long. Regardless of whether these things are true or not, believing you are above caring about them is dangerous for any company.
  • The Origins of Product Management (part 2): This is looking to be an interesting series of articles on where product management came from. You probably want to read part one first (there is a link in the article).
  • Pricing: A look at how not to price your products with some humor thrown in for good measure.
  • Attaching your Startup Brand to a Movement: This is part of the effort to not blend into average. To succeed, you have to have customers who are as passionate about your company and your mission as your are. Aligning to a movement your customers can get behind helps with that.
Disclaimer: Unless otherwise noted, I have no affiliation with linked properties other than being an interested reader, a happy user, or a potential customer: Nobody pays to receive a link. Any opinions of linked properties are theirs, not mine. I may or may not agree, but to be on this list I think their opinion is at least interesting.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Why You Care About the Color of the Bike Shed (but Shouldn't!)

In 1999, Poul-Henning Kamp sent an email to an open source software developer mailing list. I came across it sometime around late 2001. To this day, I find the concepts he raised fascinating and have spent a lot of time thinking on them.

This email was in response to the reaction to a proposal to change the BSD sleep() system call to allow it to take fractional seconds. For such a minor change, the response was prodigious and often negative. The reaction was orders of magnitude greater than the change and its effects.

The Bike Shed

In the specific example involving the bike shed, the other vital component is an atomic power-plant, I guess that illustrates the age of the book.

Parkinson shows how you can go in to the board of directors and get approval for building a multi-million or even billion dollar atomic power plant, but if you want to build a bike shed you will be tangled up in endless discussions.

Parkinson explains that this is because an atomic plant is so vast, so expensive and so complicated that people cannot grasp it, and rather than try, they fall back on the assumption that somebody else checked all the details before it got this far. Richard P. Feynmann gives a couple of interesting, and very much to the point, examples relating to Los Alamos in his books.

A bike shed on the other hand. Anyone can build one of those over a weekend, and still have time to watch the game on TV. So no matter how well prepared, no matter how reasonable you are with your proposal, somebody will seize the chance to show that he is doing his job, that he is paying attention, that he is *here*.

In Denmark we call it "setting your fingerprint". It is about personal pride and prestige, it is about being able to point somewhere and say "There! *I* did that." It is a strong trait in politicians, but present in most people given the chance. Just think about footsteps in wet cement.

(You can read the entire email here, and it is worth the time to do so!)

Technology Religion Wars - Endless Bike Sheds


It is a never-ending story in the software world. Religious wars that have no clear "victor" yet battles continue unabated.
  • Emacs versus Vi (Emacs, duh!)
  • BSD verus Linux
  • Agile versus Waterfall
  • XP versus Scrum
  • Compiled versus Interpreted
  • LISP versus Every Other Programming Language Every Invented
  • User Stories versus Market Requirements
  • Python versus Ruby
  • SOAP verus REST
  • PC versus Mac
  • HTML 4 versus XHTML
  • Permission Marketing versus Pervasive Marketing
  • ...
I now refer to any behavior that focuses on meaningless details at the expense of the work to be done as bike shedding.

Bike shedding has gone on so long and in so many guises that, while I think Parkinson and Poul-Henning were correct about its symptoms, I think they were wrong about the cause.

Frustrated Artistic Geniuses


At their core, almost everybody in the software world is extremely intelligent and incredibly creative. To build software, to take nothing but an idea and use it to create an ethereal projection in a virtual space, absolutely REQUIRES intelligence and creativity. From the first point the idea is hatched to finally getting a customer to understand how the incorporeal substance will improve their very corporeal lives demands it, not just of developers (but, perhaps, especially of developers), but also of product managers, sales sales people, testers, and others involved with building software.

We have a huge number of people that are, at the core of their beings, creative geniuses, who are pent up in dingy, gray cubicle farms having their lives scheduled for months based on the roadmap, expected to behave essentially as factory workers.

Can you feel the tension already? But it gets worse!

Being Afraid of the Meaningful


In his latest book, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?, Seth Godin takes a deep look at the potent fears that make it so hard for us to get out of our comfort zones and the dynamics that have shaped our comfort zones.

As we grow up, we are taught to be afraid of our creativity in so many ways. We are taught that it is important to fit in, to toe the line and to not stick out. Finish school, get started on your career, hunker down and hope for a promotion or two before you head out to pasture. That is The American Dream.

The problem is, the more intelligent you are naturally, the more you recognize that the Dream isn't quite so rosey. You see the holes in the system, the duct tape holding the pipes together. You recognize that it could be so much better.

The more creative you are naturally, the more vision you have for crafting ways to make it so much better. You aren't just paralized with the knowledge that things could be better: you have the means to make it better.

I really do believe this to be true. The people in the software world are that smart and are that creative. I can honestly say that everybody I have worked with in my career has been oustanding and that I really do believe each and every one of them could change the world in meaningful ways. I don't believe that of everybody I have known or worked with!

But what an awesome responsibility. To know that you could change the world! Talk about stepping out of line! Nothing would expose you quite like stepping up and changing the world!

And so the fear Godin talks about pops up, ready to shut the whole thing down. "You couldn't really change the world, you'd probably screw up, lose your job, and get ostracized from the community", goes the inner dialog.

And so most of us don't and we look at those who do as special, different, a cut above us, when all they are doing, to put it in Godin's words, is shipping.

So the Color of the Shed Becomes All Important


A whole class of frustrated, scared geniuses. So much creative talent and passion with so little important work to get done. Is it any wonder that there is a 20X difference in software engineer productivity?

What's left to fill the gap? The color of the shed, of course. Not actually getting the shed built, that's too much like work. Instead, it's talking about building sheds.

It allows me the opportunity to show the world how smart I am but without exposing myself to any real risk (after all, you can't really critique an opinion). I can get lost in the technical minutia of the details without worrying about anything coming back to bite me.

The more I talk, the more comfortable I become with the concept that I'm doing something important without actually doing anything. It also uses up a staggering amount of time, time that doesn't leave me wondering how to make things better.

The irony about the bike shed is that, in appeasing the frustration and the fear, the very act exposes our own short-comings: either our own lack of real understanding or our lack of empathy with the other involved parties. But that doesn't matter, because the tension and the anxiety are eased, so I can handle the cubicle and the calendar another day.

The horror Dilbert talks about is very real!



Dilbert.com


Overcoming Our Own Bike Shedding


The only way to overcome bike shedding is to do. Any other course may stop the bike shedding, but will likely just lead to some other behavior that will sooth the tension and anxiety but lead to no meaningful change.

Getting meaningful work done will increase the anxiety for a while. You are fighting a lot of both nature and nurture; there will be resistance! But if you know the resistance is there, you can identify it and overcome it.

Find meaning work. Whether it is contributing something to an open source project, helping a friend flesh out an idea for his business (NOT critiquing the idea!), getting help from a friend for your idea, or helping others at work with your skills, the important thing is that you are doing. Not doing to receive something in return, just doing to do it.

The early challenge may be figuring out what to do. We have been conditioned to stay in line for so long that stepping out and doing something on our own may not come naturally. Fortunately, there is often a solution right in front of you. The more you bike shed, the more likely it is to be there.

At some time in the future, you will find yourself thinking, "That is a horrible idea. I better make sure she knows why it is!"

STOP

Instead of letting her know why it is such a horrible idea, ask her how you can help her.

It may very well be a horrible idea (unlikely), but by using your vast knowledge and creativity for helping instead of showing off, you force yourself out of the bike shed, into doing work, and, as a result, into a relationship.

As you continue to do this, you'll soon find that there are really very few ideas that are horrible, the bike sheds are getting along fine without you, and you are getting some amazing things done.

You'll also find that those people who once seemed to be a cut above you will become much more human, and you'll recognize how much you actually have in common with them. You may even bump into them along your way.
Photo credit: Paul Downey / CC BY 2.0

Monday, March 8, 2010

From the Intrawebs - March 8

Some weekends just fly by with Monday morning hitting abruptly. I hope you accomplish all your goals this week and have a little time left to snoop around here.

You can subscribe to the live feed of this list in your choice of feed readers. You can also follow @FromTheIntraWeb to get instant gratification.

If you find something that you think belongs on this list, send it to me via @SoftwareMaven on Twitter.
  • Trust and credibility: Product management requires leadership. Leadership requires trust. If the people you work with don't trust you, you will not be able to effectively lead a product.
  • Startup Visa update: I am a strong believer in the value of the Startup Visa. If we do not encourage people to come to the United States to start companies, they will start them elsewhere. Somebody coming here to start a company doesn't "steal a job" from somebody else, but rather has the potential to create many jobs. More important, we keep the doors open for the best and brightest of other countries to come innovate with us, which is critical for a knowledge worker economy.
  • The Emotional Power Of Frisbees: A good reminder of why product management and product marketing needs to think about the emotional response customers have to their brands, even in the business-to-business space.
Disclaimer: Unless otherwise noted, I have no affiliation with linked properties other than being an interested reader, a happy user, or a potential customer: Nobody pays to receive a link. Any opinions of linked properties are theirs, not mine. I may or may not agree, but to be on this list I think their opinion is at least interesting.

Monday, March 1, 2010

From the Intrawebs - March 1

Last week was a very productive week. Not only on the blog but in the "day jobs" as well. On top of that, March is finally here and starting to bring its longer, warmer days! I hope your week goes amazingly well this week!

You can subscribe to the live feed of this list in your choice of feed readers. You can also follow @FromTheIntraWeb to get instant gratification.

If you find something that you think belongs on this list, send it to me via @SoftwareMaven on Twitter.
Disclaimer: Unless otherwise noted, I have no affiliation with linked properties other than being an interested reader, a happy user, or a potential customer: Nobody pays to receive a link. Any opinions of linked properties are theirs, not mine. I may or may not agree, but to be on this list I think their opinion is at least interesting.