Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Holidays

Wishing everyone a safe and happy holiday season. See you in 2009.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Style over Usability: A recipe for annoyance

Clearly the person who designed this website is an artist. Too bad. Sure it's stylistic, urbane, chic, or whatever the kids are saying these days, but it is hard to use.

I did an informal round of user testing, no one could find the information for the schedule without prompting. Though many (tech guys) went "oh neat" when they realized the trick. This is beautify visuals, but poor design. Ohhh shiny is not a replacement for usability.

I dare you to try and find the show listings.

Unite with Skype?

Over the last few days I have considering moving my IM over to Skype. It just seems to make sense to use one tool for both calls, video, and IM. I know other people have made this transition.

I of course, see some issues with this:
  • I have over 230 contacts on MSN, everything from friends to customers to co-workers to family
  • I don't want to teach my mother how to use Skype. MSN is hard enough for her
  • I have lots of history saved with MSN
Has anyone managed to cut MSN out of their daily use by using just Skype? How was the transition? Any tips or tricks? Or just keep running redundant applications just in case?

It's too bad that the MSN, Yahoo, Skype and all the rest can't get their act together and get some real interoperability.

Carriers are more then happy to let people roam on their networks, or send text messages between people with different carriers. Of course the key difference between carriers and IM providers is that carriers charge fees for text messaging and usually have extra charges for roaming whereas IM is perfectly free.

Would you pay extra for an IM client/service that offered interoperability between the various IM networks?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Addition by Subtraction

Quick, some math teasers for you:
  • 5 + 3 + 2 + 4 = ?
  • 5 + 2 + -2 + 4 = ?
What is the answer to the first question? 14.
What is the answer to the second question? 9.

Let's put some names by some numbers:
  • Alfie is a +5.
  • Arthur is a +3
  • Ben is a -2
  • Bert is a +4
Assuming these numbers map towards their actual productivity, what is the actual productivity of this Sodor based development team?

Alfie + Arthur + Ben + Bert = 10 productivity points. So assume you can accomplish 10 "productivity points" worth of effort any given day.

Now the rest of the team isn't too fond of Ben professionally, Ben tends to introduce many bugs into the code, takes longer to finish tasks, and generally asks a lot of questions that wouldn't normally be expected of someone with his seniority.

Dennis the project manager knows that Ben is struggling, he has been working with Ben to improve his technical skills and get him more productive on the team. But so far there hasn't been much improvement.

Now Dennis is in a bit of bind.

The Sodor team has a big release coming up in the next few weeks, and Dennis needs to ensure he gets all the requested content in by this time. The team was building a new version of their flagship application, and thousands of dollars were spent on pre-release advertising. The deadline simply cannot be missed. Dennis is looking at the schedule and doesn't think he can get all the work done, he wonders if he should get another developer on the team, but he is wary of the rampup and training time. Not to mention the increased management overhead.

What would you do?

Instead, Dennis decides to do something a little more radical, he removes Ben from the team. It was a hard decision, Dennis carpools with Ben almost everyday to work. And no one likes making someone feel bad, but Dennis decided to do this anyway.

The productivity equation now looks like this:
  • Alfie + Arthur + Bert = 12 productivity points

An instant case of addition by subtraction. Without Ben slowing everyone down with simple questions and build breakages, the team is now able to go faster and get more done. All with less actual time on the project.

Dennis meets the timelines and budget. A good day all around.

Macadamian has written about this way back in 2003, and the principle still holds true today. Negative team members drag your team down. It is the manager's job to identify the negative team members and work with them to improve their productivity, if their productivity isn't improving then you must remove them from the team, and perhaps with due course the company.

Sometimes drastic change is required for the success of the project. Drastic change is hard to undertake, but sometimes it has to be done.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

What if software reviews were like this?

Can your copy of Windows Vista assault the beach with the Royal Marines? Or would it just sink the landing craft?

I am also pretty sure that a license of Photoshop couldn't rip around any mall fleeing any baddies baddies :)

Monday, December 1, 2008

Reading between the lines: A Bird's Tale

My son is four years old, and he attends a French language school. We live an a bilingual house, French is often spoken at home. Did I mention I am an anglophone with only a two year old's grasp of French?

Funny but true story, my wife was out and it was just the boys and I at home. The kids are bathed, I have read my son his bedtime story (in French!), and I am about to turn of his light when he says

"I want some 'oiseau'"

I think hmmm, that's an interesting duality of French and English but I understand. He wants a bird. I look around, and I grab his purple bird "toutou" and give it to him. Yes, it's as ugly as you are imagining. My son raises his voice and says

"I want some 'oiseau'"

Son I say, it's right here. Here is your "oiseau". "Oiseau" is bird right? My son starts crying. I look around, sifting through all the "toutous" looking for another "oiseau toutou", I can't find one. My son is getting frantic, he is kicking his feet and starting to go into 4 year old tantrum overdrive.

"I want some 'oiseau'"
"I want some 'oiseau'"
"I want some 'oiseau'"

Son I say, it's right here. Here you go, I pick up the ugly purple 'toutou' and and start flying it around making bird sounds. My son cries louder and now goes into 4 year old tantrum overdrive. I head downstairs and call my wife's cell phone number, maybe she knows what he means. I call, the phone rings on the dining room table.


I head back upstairs, son I say it's right here handing him the ugly purple 'toutou' , my son says

"I want some 'oiseau'"
"I want some 'oiseau'"

Ah-ha, I get a bright idea, son I say, let's go looking for it. Is the 'oiseau' brown? Is the 'oiseau' downstairs? Is the 'oiseau' in the toy box? My son stands on top of the stairs looking confused and crying. Not knowing what to do, and the time ticking by, I give up, I tuck him in bed and let him cry himself to sleep feeling every bit a horrible father.

My wife get's home a few hours later, and I ask, what does he mean when he says "I want some 'oiseau'". My wife replies, oh, it's a song we sing.


What is the moral of this long and only slightly humourous story?

Communication is key, and understanding what the customer is saying doesn't mean you understand what the customer wants. Understanding what the customer really wants is what separates the experts from the chaff. Knowing what the customer really means allows us to be world-class in our choices of technology, and innovative in our design and approach. Understanding is key.

In case you were wondering what song my son wanted me to sing, it was "Si Dieu existe" by Claude Dubois. A famous Quebecois folk singer. "oiseau" is in the chorus.

(Chorus starts around 1:34)