Don’t design what the user wants

I’ve worked in different IT departments over some years now, and Mr. Sueoka @ The Mobile Majority hits the nail on the head with his short article: “Don’t design what the user wants.”

The user describes what he/she wants based on the context they’re in. For some users, an e-mail for every notification could sound like a good idea. As IT professionals, we should feel obligated to figure ut exactly what the user needs, and then show the possibilities.

Oh, and while it is true that you shouldn’t design what the user initially tell you they want, I believe you shouldn’t tell the user what they need either. Give them a couple of alternatives and let them decide what fits their use best. After all, they are the ones who are going to use it on a day to day base.

Abstract data warehousing and Rolls Royces

When should you use data abstraction in your data warehouse?
(Short answer: when it is profitable for your company)

Cisco has a nice introduction on the best practice of using data abstraction in your Enterprise Data Warehouse (EDW). They argue that the best practice is to transform your data from its original form, into what your business needs are.

From an IT perspective, we often jump on the “Rolls Royce” solution, rather then figuring out what the customer actually needs. We often make pretty and nice looking solutions in scenarios where we might do as well with a quick solution that does the job.

From a business perspective, it is crucial that your deliverables are cost effective and have a short time to market. In other words: the IT solution must make more money then it costs. All in all, do a profitability study / have a positive business case.

Why is this important? Because building a data warehouse is expensive. Building a «Rolls Royce» solution, might be more then you will get funding for. Keep in mind that between 70% and 80% of corporate BI projects fail, according to Gartner. Don’t be too ambitious.

I don’t believe EDW projects are much different. But, of course, there are more reasons a warehouse project fail.

Make sure your BI or EDW project is profitable for your business. Then figure out if you can afford the cost of having a best practice abstract / standardised data warehouse. Don’t implement an expensive solution just because everybody else does it. Look at how this affects time to market for your EDW. How will it affect the time it takes to integrate new data or a new source? (Also, be careful about running large IT projects).

This being said, at some point, most mature EDW initiatives will implement a data abstraction layer into their warehouse.

By the way: i believe the “Rolls Royce” solution is often chosen by IT because it is what most are taught at colleges and universities. Maybe we should introduce a topic «cost effective solutions»?

How to work in an open environment

The last 30 years or so have given a remarkable change in the frames around how we work in an office environments. From closed cell offices via cubicles into an open environment. From name tags on the doors into «free seating».

The response have been mixed. Some employees have sincere and well founded concerns about office noise and how this affects work. Most concerns are related to tasks where you need to be focused, without getting interrupted.

There is no doubt office noise will distract you from your work. The question is whether this is a good thing or not. According to Cisco and many other companies, this distraction leads to more collaboration, new and better ideas.

The thought is to move from a scenario where you are dependent on a few «gurus» who know everything, and all progress relies one these «gurus». In this scenario, tasks are waiting for the guru to get around to solve them. In the corporate culture with an open floor plan, more employees are able to pick a high priority task and solve it. If you are stuck on an issue, or know the solution to a challenge a coworker has, there are less barriers to work together.

The individual employee might work a bit slower, but the synergy effect of working together makes it a better working methodology then the «guru-knows-it-all». For the company – at least.

As usual, this is a trend led by the guys in Silicon Valley. Working agile, encouraging collaboration and informal work environments.

An open floor plan, “free seating“, clean desk, a paperless workflow and a agile work methodology are often interrelated. To gain the most benefit from the above, you need to embrace the new paradigm. You will need the proper utilities available. Software to assist and coordinate agile workflows. A framework for documentation, «how-to’s», and easy access to the information. Applications that lets you notes on all your devices. Take note on a phone, iPad, laptop, and it will be available on your workstation both at work and at the home office.

My 5 cents at least.

When big IT projects fail

Worth reading, before you blame the developers for failed IT projects. In many cases they are just trying to do their job, but are hindered by management. As a developer I try to understand why a certain functionality is needed. Is there a better way? May I join the brainstorming session with the business units to better understand the business need?

Link: And you blame the programmers… blog post is in norwegian, but google might help you.

Corporate meeting culture

Ever been to one of those meetings, where you don’t know the agenda, or even why you are invited? This TED talk brings up the issue in a entertaining speech, about how to avoid bad meetings.

Description from Ted.com:

An epidemic of bad, inefficient, overcrowded meetings is plaguing the world’s businesses — and making workers miserable. David Grady has some ideas on how to stop it.

I believe a lot of meetings could be heaps better, if we would have a clear & concise agenda. The participants should be well prepared, and know why they are invited. Oh, and please, do arrive in time.

Business Storytelling

I found an interesting and educational article, which describes how to do storytelling the right way. Storytelling is a means to market, or introduce yourself as a business to potential partners or customers. By telling stories the right way, you involve the listener in a dimension they can relate to. Combined with images and video to deliver your story, it may be a powerful combination.

Storytelling is widely used when crowdfunding a project, but are also widely used, when Apple, Microsoft and other large companies run ad-campains.

Observation

Back in the day, we had “protocols” for what you were about to send over the net. A lot went P2P, a lot went to BBS, a lot went to IRC.
Then came the web, with its own use area. Namely, web pages for distribution of information, «homepages» and the likes.
After the web took off, and we got web-apps, absolutely everything should be accessed from your browser. Web 2.0.

In a way, you could say that we’re heading back to distributed services again.
The number of apps on smartphones have increased exponentially. More and more of the communication is happening in dedicated channels.
More and more of our content is being consumed on pads and phones, and in a less degree on traditional PCs. With the introduction of smart watches, I wonder how we will use our watches in two years.

Unfortunately, we don’t have the same degree of standardisation as before.
It is interesting to follow the progress. I note that we can see an expanded degree of commersialization of services, most of wich is ad-funded.
In many cases, you end up being the product by using ad-funded services, even if that isn’t necessarily always the case.

Relevant: Snapchat embeds news-sources. They also try out mobile payments. Will apps challenge traditional lines of business?

High resolution desktop wallpapers

It has been a while since last upload of desktop wallpapers. In this upload, however, the resolution have been increased to 2880×1800. You know, laptops with a high screen resolution are more common nowadays. Click the images for full resolution.

IMG_3230 IMG_3293

The image below is one of my better wallpapers, in my opinion. It is actually three images layered on top of each other. It is called high dynamic range (HDR) photographing. See the wikipedia article for the facts, or my other attempts and some thoughts on the software needed.IMG_3700 - Version 2 IMG_3768

Another HDR image below. The sunset almost looked like a red northern lights.  There was northern lights the night before, but I forgot to bring my camera that night. Bad luck.IMG_3856 - Version 2I will definitely do more HDR images. I think they look stunning, once you get the hang of it.

Leave a comment if you like the images. All photos are taken by yours truly, in Hemsedal, Norway.

 

Should companies depreciate email?

Todays post is about electronic mail. It occurred to me, that I might be writing to the generation 40+. Everyone from 13-30s think they have it all figured out, especially in regards to computers.

Lots of companies depreciate the use of email. An argument I’ve heard often is: «But, the young generation today doesn’t use email, they use the hippest social media tool around!». Another argument is: «our employees spend too much time reading, sorting and answering mail».

Well, I like email. For me it is all about using the right tool for the job. I won’t use email for collaborating on a document, we have file repositories for that. I wouldn’t use it for marketing, as we have social media for this. On the other hand, email is a very versatile tool. It is widespread, and although it has its flaws, email is used by everyone and every company.

We do spend a lot of time organizing and answering e-mails. In my opinion it is because it has become a part of how we communicate at work. Email will not die for a very long time. The key is knowing when to send a mail, and when not to. Read through your email before you send it (link in norwegian). Lastly, use automated email sorting rules, and sort your inbox. In my opinion, the inbox should have less then 20 emails. The rest is sorted into folders.

I might be old and dull in the sense that I often prefer email communication. I do have my own blog, and I even use IRC from time to time. Yes, IRC, you know the old chat protocol one could use, which didn’t involve in sending all your personal information to third party advertisers.

Note, I do use social sites when I’m off work. Mostly, to keep up with companies I like. For example, I follow Tim Wendelboe (coffee roaster), and lots of artists, so I get the news on what’s up. By the way, Guy Kawasaki has written a book (excerpt in link) for reaching those hip-young-curling-generation, and not to seem clueless on social sites.

Visionary leading

So, you have some sort of responsibility. It may be work related, voluntary or maybe you plan on taking more responsibility in your own life.

How do you make sure that you have momentum, and a direction according to where you want to go?

Lets consider this: You lead a team of motivated people. You want to make sure the team is getting somewhere.

Get a vision
So what do you do? You need a vision, a higher goal. Point of having a vision, is to say “this is the direction we are heading».

Examples of vision for a team might be: «We are going to be the leading sales team for this company in this specific area». For a personal vision «I am going to become a distinguished doctor».

There is a whole lot to say about this point alone, and theres a lot of articles on the web about how to form a vision, my advise is thus, to start with a dream and build a vision.

Since a higher goal often is quite abstract, you want to break your vision into parts. I call them targets.

Set measurable targets
So, break your vision into measurable targets. You want to measure the momentum and direction of your team. Are we delivering accordingly to our vision?

If you would like to use a business term, it will be similar to a «Key Performance Indicator».

Some measurable targets for your sales team may be «the amount of sales this period versus last period» and «the increase in sales relative to the other top performing sales teams»

Set actions
Actions are where we lose the abstract ideas and get concrete. Specify what you need to do to be able to get to those targets. This is where you brainstorm and get input from other sources. Make sure to get input from people who have come further than you.

My point for today
If you fail at setting a vision or a course, you are probably heading for a mediocre result. It will be harder to know how to measure success. In my opinion this applies especially when you are leading a team, a department, or the likes, but these things are also of worth in what you want to achieve in your personal life.