Tag Archives: Productivity

The Cyclical Nature of the Hammer Industry

I love the hammer and nail analogy. Why? Because it’s so easy for people to understand what the purpose and role of a tool is. Sounds trivial, but I think it’s very hard for humans to separate the utility of the hammer, the carpenter and how these translate into the utility of the output of their work. It’s way too often we correlate the output of the tool simply with the features of the tool. The technology sector is rampart with this type of thinking. There are literrally millions billions of dollars spent every year on technology tools that we, as customers, believe are the sole reasons we either fail or achieve to “build our dream house”. Have we forgotten the importance and weight of the carpenter’s role?

Let’s say you decide one day you want to build a table. This table is going to be made using wood, nails and a hammer.  All things being equal, let’s say you build this table with hammer A that has a utility of 10. You build a second table with hammer B and it has a utility of 15. You, the carpenter, have now created two tables, table A and table B, respective to their hammers. The tables are identical, but the utility is different. Now let’s say your utility as a carpenter is 5 (we’ll call this carpenter ‘ME’). The value of the tables is now: Table A – 50 and Table B – 75. Now, my carpenter friend (we’ll call this carpenter ’FR’) has a utility of 4 and he builds the same tables using the same respective hammers. He now has two tables at the following values: Table A – 40 and Table B – 60. So we can build a simple comparative matrix now. Table B built by FR has a higher utility than Table A built by ME but it was built by a less skilled carpenter! We therefore logically assume the hammer is the key driver for the overall utility, not because it has a higher multiplier, but because we believe we have better ability over assessing what the utility of the hammer is. We then therefore place much more importance on it.

There is so much discussion about our tools being broken and I believe that statistically it’s the carpenter that is affecting the overall output. Unfortunately it’s much easier for us as humans to draw the simple conclusion – the tool is broken, update my tool.  Thus the hammer industry, or rather the technology tool industry, will continually go through cycles. New companies will be created year after year promising the dream house because you bought their shiny new hammer. I don’t doubt the necessity for these shiny new hammers, but I question how much weight we as humans put on them in order to create our dream house. Find a way for me to find a better carpenter, or fix the carpenter, and I’ll have my dream house…or maybe my dream table.

When Software becomes Bloatware

I recently took part in a BusinessObjects BI 4.0 implementation. The first thing you need to do after the server is up and running is to install the client facing tools. With on-premise, non web based (note – part of SBOP is web-based) technologies this means you need to go through the painful process of doing initial installs and patching. It took a solid 4 days just get one PC up to the latest patch spec. YES. 4. FRICKING. DAYS. To be fair, if you utilize some of the web-based features, it’s just a simple JRE install and you’re up and running. But that’s just for one piece of the whole solution set. So obviously my first reaction to this series of events is “Holy Bloatware Batman”!

So how does software become bloatware?

This happens all of the time in Enterprise technology and is no way limited to SAP products. How often do you hear “God Windows is so clunky” or “This thing keeps crashing”? Companies tend to buy on features that can help them do their business more effectively or more productively. Yet, you won’t ever hear an Enterprise CIO say “Well it doesn’t do XYZ but it is the fastest on the market so we’ll definitely use it”. And why not? Because the performance of the application is often overlooked as a major feature of the software. Read Jeff Atwood’s blog article about “Performance is a Feature” if you want to know more of what I’m talking about. I believe this overall concept is some form of Absence Blindess in that we don’t see performance as a feature of a solution unless it is of course missing to begin with.

What I find more interesting than anything is that most people tend to get more mentally frustrated when features are missing than when core features not performing well. A good example of this is Pixelmator versus Photoshop. Photoshop is super clunky. It takes a good minute or so to load up on my Mac. Pixelmator is very lightweight and generally takes 50% less time to load on my computer. I also rarely wait for the functionalities of the program to load. However I miss Photoshop’s Layer Style functionality. So much so that I tend to be willing to just switch over to Photoshop because of that one feature. Otherwise I sincerely hate waiting for Photoshop to load.

Letting your customers outgrow you

The guys over at 37 Signals, owners of the popular Basecamp project management tool, have a good preventative stance on this: Growing In vs Growing Out. They say:

We’d rather our customers grow out of our products eventually than never be able to grow into them in the first place.

Why is this important? Because they are actively promoting their software to preventing it to become bloatware. They realize that if they had more features it will eventually turn there customers away. One way other companies have circumvented this is to build add-ons or apps that are very modular. Meaning the user can add and remove as they go. This is important because the company can focus on the core technology while letting the user chose functionality over performance.

So to the Enterprise technology companies out there I must say to please re-consider your bloatware and stop the feature creep. Why? Because as soon as your products become clunky, you begin to represent what most visionary entrepreneurs see as a “market waiting to be disrupted”. Don’t believe me? Just ask Microsoft about Google apps and SAP about Workday. It may not happen tomorrow but it will happen eventually. My generation lives in a Google world, get used to it.

The 15 minute meeting

It’s been awhile since I blogged, but after a long 2 week vacation in Thailand I’m getting back in the saddle. Here it goes…

If you haven’t read about Google’s approach to meetings I would suggest reading this interview conducted between Businessweek and Google’s Marissa Mayer: How to Run a Meeting Like Google. It describes how Google has been able to run efficient meetings, even at a large scale.

I’ve worked in big tech for several years now and as anyone who is familiar with the business they’ll know meetings in big tech are (1) slow (2) inefficient (3) barely anything is achieved (4) can’t be less an hour and can even be more than 3 hours. I can’t tell you how many 1 to 2 hour meetings I’ve been that achieved what I felt was literally nothing. I mostly attribute this to bureaucracy, politics, and communication overhead.

Since I joined my recent job last year in September I’ve inadvertently forced myself to cut meetings down drastically. While working for a small company does help cut through some of the “BS”, it doesn’t eliminate politics and bureaucracy. I created a rule with my boss (and am now doing this with others) and it’s very simple: the meeting lasts only 15 minutes. So what is necessary to conduct a 15 minute meeting and when/how does it work?

  1. Preparation – I always go into a 15 minute meeting with bullet points of what is to be discussed. Having done this many times now I know how much can be discussed in 15 minutes and what can be left for another session or in a follow-up discussion.
  2. Strict Timings – 15 minutes. That’s it, don’t go over. No exceptions. I’ve literally stop meetings if they go over and say let’s prepare better for next time or plan another session.
  3. Follow-up – Pretty much every 15 minute meeting I’ve done has required some sort of follow-up. But this is the beauty of productivity in the 15 minute meeting. You can achieve a lot in 15 minutes, but as with even many 1-hour meetings the main focus of productivity is what happens in the follow-up actions or discussions later.
  4. Leave Politics at the door – 15 minute meetings aren’t designed to have any leeway for discussing how to build strategies for projects. They’re designed to make decisions. Often during 1-2 hour meetings I would estimate 75% of the time spent was trying to create a strategy that was needed to circumvent some sort of bureaucracy or political issue.
  5. People Need Time to Think – 1-2 hour meetings are inefficient because they don’t let people analytically think about problems. All they do is let people talk. This is bad. People make their best decisions when they can analyze data. Good business is done without emotions, 15 minutes doesn’t allow for any emotions. It’s either X or Y, YES or NO. That’s how decisions are made.

Why am I so productive at home?

Today I did the following:

  • Sent about 10 e-mails to potential leads
  • Tracked all of those leads in an excel spreadsheet
  • Showered
  • Wrote a proposal for potential business
  • Discussed idea generation for our innovation lab with my boss
  • Went to the Physio to check on my knee
  • Ate twice
  • Wrote two spec sheets for new hiring applications
  • Brainstormed ideas for a new business app
  • Setup multiple calls with partners and clients
  • Bought a flight to Stockholm

..and I worked from home. I liked to think I’m a fairly productive person regardless of the situation, but wow that felt great to get that all done. I think any job that is possible to do remotely should be allowed to work remotely. The monotony of going into a office everyday can be quite a drag. Also attending conferences, client meetings, etc also just drains you. Sometimes you just need to be in your room and just hack away at things.

Why can’t all businesses be like this? Are we forcing people down productivity paths that are, well, ummm.. non-productive? It leads me to think that regardless of what technologies promise “better productivity”, humans are still the limiting factor behind unproductive work.