Archive for the 'Books, articles, sources' Category

Hey, why not let everyone help develop your products?

Friday, June 27th, 2008

Another way companies are breaking down the barriers between themselves and their customers or other folks outside is via “crowdsourcing.” That is a way to get people on the outside to provide value to the organization on their own time. It is essentially the open source model applied to more than just software.

STRIKING GOLD
The best example I know is the Goldcorp story. Their president put all their proprietary geologic data for a mine on the web and held a contest. The winners with the best ideas of where to drill would share half a million dollars. The diversity and originality of ideas they received was far beyond anything they anticipated. Years later they were still drilling sites suggested by contestants. They were mining so much gold they were the only gold mining company that was stockpiling for better prices in the future. Furthermore, their stock price went up thirty fold. (See Taylor’s book referenced below.)

ADVANTAGES
The internet and the decentralization of expertise has enabled crowd sourcing and it is typically used to develop solutions. That is at the back end of the product development process. Companies can gain key advantages via crowd sourcing.

LEVERAGE —
achieving goals not possible with a limited fixed staff

This is the advantage of scale. For example, large companies experience many more customer demands for new products than they can keep up with. Some have formed external networks to act in an advisory role or even do project work directly (as in the Goldcorp example) to develop more new products. NASA has used volunteers to process enormous amounts of data making images available months earlier and freeing up researchers to concentrate on higher end work. Google essentially uses crowdsourcing in the way it ranks pages for its search engine.

ORIGINALITY —
access to a larger number and far more diverse range of ideas than possible in-house

I think William Taylor says it best in this chapter title from his book Mavericks at Work: Ideas Unlimited: Why Nobody is as Smart as Everybody.

Inviting people from other boxes to work on your problem is a pretty easy way to get real “out of the box” thinking.

CROWDSOURCING AT THE FRONT END
I see parallels to the kind of work we do at the front end to understand the problems you should be working on in the first place. You can use crowdsourcing methods to find out what the most important problems are for you to solve, as well as to craft solutions. That is, from voice of the customer to voice of the collaborator. We have actually done both here.

For more,
“On the Edge,” by Tim Gilchrist, PMI Network, May 2007, p32.
Mavericks at Work, William C. Taylor and Polly LaBarre, Harper Collins, 2006. (See Chapter 4.)

Flexible Product Development

Friday, September 28th, 2007

This month a new book hit the market “Flexible Product Development, Building Agility for Changing Markets” by Preston Smith. Some of you might remember him from “Developing Products in Half the Time” which he co-authored with Donald Reinertsen in 1991. That was a seminal work in the time-to-market field. His new book could be another big step in thinking for product developers.

FULL DISCLOSURE
I probably should say at this point that I reviewed several chapters for Preston while he was writing the book. I am mentioned at the end of the book with the others that helped out. The small contributions I made show up mostly in the sections on customer needs and risk management. Even so, any bias you may detect here has more to do with how I see product development rather than any loyalty to the book.

IN A NUTSHELL
To oversimplify, Preston takes concepts from Agile software development, translates them, and where necessary adapts them, for people developing other things besides software. Hence, many of the concepts aren’t new, but will be new to much of the audience. At it’s core the material revolves around how to deal with change in a development project. It is that familiar struggle — setting the plan and requirements and working to them versus changing things late in the process. Scope creep and changes late in a project can blow costs and schedule off the planet. On the other hand, when the world takes a sharp turn on you, proceeding as planned can make the entire effort futile.

This book is about working so you can make changes later in a development project without disrupting the work or costs. It’s about knowing when to preserve flexibility, how to preserve it, and when you must make hard decisions. For me all this boils down to risk management, particularly trading off the risks on either side of these decisions. An interesting part of this book is that Preston goes beyond the typical risk analysis to discuss what to do about the unknown risks or the “unknown, unknowns.” (Now who made that phrase famous a couple of years ago? Never mind.)

WHY?
Preston thinks bringing flexibility to the product development process is increasingly important today. First, is due to an accelerating and increasingly chaotic world. Read that as shorter timelines, rapidly advancing technology, global competition and more knowledgeable customers (they use the internet). Second, is because current management processes reward rigidity, which then runs organizations into the buzz saw of his first reason.

COMMON SENSE
To me this exposes an open secret known to many who have labored under rigid development processes in the past or still do. That is, smart developers circumvent their company process when it becomes an obstacle rather than a support. These troublemakers know you can’t steam ahead when a sudden change in the marketplace or regulatory environment, or competition just pushed an iceberg in front of you. They know that salvation will come from reworking the plan, rather than working the plan.

If Flexible Product Development helps codify that common sense for more general use Preston will have helped product developers take another big step forward.

It is an easy read and I like that he ends each chapter with a summary list of the key takeaway points to remember.

Details

Strategy Paradox Meetup

Monday, April 2nd, 2007

I met Michael Raynor at a book launching event that was notable for two reasons — first, the thesis of his book and second, the nature of the event.

THE THESIS

The Strategy Paradox arose from Raynor’s observation that companies that dramatically succeed or fail have much more in common than mediocre companies that just get by. Spectacular success requires taking large risks and committing to your path. Unfortunately, if you commit to the wrong path you crash. The paradox is how can you ask people to commit and manage uncertainty at the same time? His solution is that you don’t. You separate these functions within the organization. The very top management should focus on managing uncertainty at the strategic level, leaving division heads to totally commit to their mission without fear of reprisal if they’ve been given a losing horse to ride. I’m probably not doing justice but to say more will spill out of the nutshell.

It was interesting to see the “revelation” of managing uncertainty to the executive business world when risk management has been a science in systems engineering since before I was born. Coming from a background in systems engineering I thought this was a place where some cross-fertilization would have been helpful to him. No matter, I agree with him that executives at the top should have more understanding of it and should take strategic responsibility. If his book helps that to happen it’s a contribution. I also think his observation about the tradeoff between the commitment to blast through barriers and the flexibility needed to lower risk is a keen insight.

Working for Deloitte, his experience has been with large enterprises and his book is directed at the leadership of the same. That’s great when you are large enough to have division heads below the corporate headquarters. His observation certainly applies no matter the size of the company. But, …how well does his solution translate to small companies? I asked him how small a company could be and still benefit from his prescription. He agreed that at some point you can’t separate those functions but didn’t know how far down you could go.

His take on startups was that they commit to their one big idea and then make it or crash, c’est la vie. Amusing but clearly a view from the enterprise world. We help startups dramatically improve their odds, most importantly by making sure they understand their customer and the problem they are solving before solving it, but also via standard risk management practices. Just because you are a startup doesn’t mean you can’t place more than one bet. Even with one big idea, you can have a “portfolio” of paths to do it, a “porfolio” of markets to try it on, etc. So though his prescription may only be suitable for large companies, his concept may very well translate into other presecriptions for startups. In fact, if someone were to study startups successes and failures they might see uncertainty management a vital part of the story already.

When I finish the book I’ll review it in more detail and there’s a good chance I’ll like it well enough to include on the resources page in our knowledge center. Knowledge Centerl

THE EVENT

The event itself was even more unusual than the book. It was best summarized by two words, “new media.” For example, it’s the first time I’ve ever signed myself up via a wiki. Strategy Paradox wiki It was a new twist for me but an interesting one. It let’s you get familiar with many of the strangers you’ll meet before you even get there. (Though some don’t show.)

Most surprising was that three quarters of the people there were not close to the target audience of Fortune 1000 executives or even business people that I expected. In fact, most of us present from the business side run or work in businesses too small to employ his suggestions. The Deloitte employee that organized this innovative event is deep in the “new media” community so most of the attendees were creatures of the blogosphere. That is, his e-friends and their network, or in other words, people whose lives revolve around digital communication about digital communication. So most of the people there were more excited about the new media way the book was being promoted than the book itself.

At Breakthrough NPD we are trying to come to grips with Web2.0 and you can see on the wiki sign up one attendee is already tired of Web2.0 and ready to move on to the next thing. One man I met publishes 4 blogs and 2 podcasts a week on his multiple websites. For these folks it was much more about the buzz, and creating buzz, in this case buzz about the book, than actually reading or using it. The book and event is something they can blog about (as I too am doing) and link up their posts to each other to drive more traffic, get a higher Technoratti rating, and so on. It seemed like it’s about handling more buzz than what one is actually buzzing about. As an outsider to this new media world I’m sure I’m painting with a little too much black and white. The people I met were quite nice and very entertaining. Without a doubt I got a taste of the future.

Other blog posts on this event.

Posts about it beforehand
(Notice these talk more about the book.)

Marksguide
Leadership Now

Posts afterward.
(If you look at any of these notice how much talk is about the event rather than the book or its concepts.)

Paul Gillin
Pardon the Disruption
Bryper

Up and accessible!

Friday, March 16th, 2007

Ok, the web site is finally up! It was a longer road than anticipated. Now for a first blog post. I guess I’ll start by talking about the site. One objective was to show that it is possible to make an attractive site that complies with the accessibility standards. That is, make a site that works well for the visually impaired as well as for everyone else. We weren’t purists about it but hope we came close. It wasn’t easy finding a good web designer who understood the accessibility and W3C requirements. Our thanks to David.

We focus on unmet needs because we care about people. Our mission is to create products and services that make lives better, that delight users. So an accessible website is one way for us to show our social responsibility. But, there is also a business side to this too. The more accessible our design, the wider browser compatibility we should have. We are in business so nothing should stand between our message and our clients, especially not any browser quirks. Hence, no dancing babies here. We are not in the media business so that stuff doesn’t help. If it messes up in someone’s browser then it hurts. The KISS principle is a good place to start.

Because of bugs in the browsers, particularly IE, some annoying tradeoffs had to be made to stay compliant. It turns out it is not possible to be perfect on all browsers without embedding many complicated browser-specific hacks. (For example, the IE 3-Pixel Float Bug.) That hurts robustness and maintainability. We went for the latter, so apologize for the minor quirks that will appear to some of you and hope those disappear with the newer browser versions. The benefit is that you should never have a problem getting the content.

If you want an accessible web site I can suggest the following links. We used them early in our research. Good luck with it.

~~ Alan

Introductory help on accessibility and browser compatibility:
http://www.anybrowser.org/campaign/abdesign.html
http://www1.shore.net/~straub/wprmultb.htm

Catalogs of resources:
http://www.washington.edu/doit/Resources/web-design.html
http://library.uwsp.edu/aschmetz/Accessible/pub_resources.htm

Helpful advice:
http://www.makoa.org/web-design.htm
http://trace.wisc.edu/world/web/index.html
http://www.mardiros.net/accessible-web-design.html

Standards:
Version_2.0 http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20/
Version_1.0 http://www.w3.org/TR/1999/WAI-WEBCONTENT-19990505/
V 1.0 Techniques http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG10-TECHS/
Core techniques http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG10-CORE-TECHS/
HTML techniques
http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG10-HTML-TECHS/
CSS techniques http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG10-CSS-TECHS/
Checklist http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG10/full-checklist.html

The view from England
http://www.rnib.org.uk/xpedio/groups/public/documents/…

A site for testing your pages:
http://webxact.watchfire.com/

Update (May 20th)
Wordpress has a very good article on accessibilty. Though oriented toward blogs and gets into more detail than I wanted to see it has good explanation of the basics and ways to be accessible.
http://codex.wordpress.org/Accessibility