Posts Tagged ‘strategy’

Taming the ‘Wicked’ Problem of Creative Design

October 2nd, 2010 No comments

I absolutely love the definition of a ‘wicked problem’

It describes the majority of research problems that I work on. There is an objective that appears just out of reach, a real client-need, and limited resources. Formally, it is defined as:

“Wicked problem” is a phrase originally used in social planning to describe a problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize. Moreover, because of complex interdependencies, the effort to solve one aspect of a wicked problem may reveal or create other problems.

Interestingly enough, much of the fog surrounding these problems can be dispelled by putting some effort into identifying the goals of the users, and creating task analysis models around the plans that are likely to be followed. Simple, non-development intensive efforts such as storyboarding and Wizard of Oz experiments.

Considering that most user experience is based on contextual issues, and their perceptions of their interactions with the GUI, it would be irresponsible to not put some extra effort into understanding how to support the user with your software (rather than building yet another expensive software project that is destined to not be used due to user rejection, and the subsequent price and time overruns).

The development of a user interface is an issue that needs a lot of attention. For example, Sutton and Sprague conducted a survey in IBM in 1978 [1], which revealed that 50% of the designer’s time was spent on designing the user interface of a system. The same result was also confirmed by a more recent survey by Myers and Rosson [2] in 1990s.

So before you spend that six months pouring your sweat, blood and tears into an effort that will not bear fruit, why not spend a week to work with the users to make sure that you’re building the right thing (and set up the validation criteria), and that you are building it right (and set up the verification criterian)?

Trust me, you’ll thank me if you do this. It saves grief, and keeps your professional reputation intact.

Read more…

Target Fixation and Effective Communication

September 29th, 2010 No comments

“Target fixation” is a very interesting phenomenon.

I found a very good post describing it far better than I could written by a lawyer. The relevant quote is:

In World War II, fighter pilots spoke of the danger of target fixation. During bombing runs, pilots could become so focused on their targets that they’d dive, drop a bomb on the target, and yet remain so intent on hitting the target that they’d fail to pull up in time. They’d end up hitting their target and killing themselves. Although they would have achieved their mission, they wouldn’t survive to fly the next one or even to celebrate their accomplishment.

As people working on software we sometimes suffer from this as well. You have a client that is waiting on you to deliver, and you disappear for a month to work on the software, and fail to keep the client informed of status updates.

This is a very common case of ‘target fixation’ with us software folk. From the client’s point of view, they are being kept in the dark and out of the loop. They have customers and other stakeholders they need to inform as well.

The worst possible scenario is when you deliver two days late, and at the last minute inform the client of the delay. Prepare to be attacked. The client now looks bad in front of their customers and stakeholders and you’ve lost credibility big-time as a professional.

In this case the software developer suffered from target fixations to the extent that they hurt their customer relationship.

Being adept at communication is a very important skill, and a competency that will determine your level of success. Indeed, this is what distinguished people such as D. Eisenhower who had to deal with very skittish and nervous allies, and keep interests aligned with the most unlikely of supporters, in a very challenging time. Most of us are not asked to win impossible wars, but we should make the effort to make sure that we do take care of our responsibilities, and effective communication makes this more likely.

August 12th, 2010 No comments

There is a very eye-opening interview with Peter Norvig, Research Director at Google. The interview is available here

I finally understood why Google is always funding these initiatives that are unlikely to translate to revenue. It’s about growing the customer base by making the Internet more useful. Brilliant, and very healthy, strategy.

Despite all the experiments Google has initiated since it began, the vast majority of your profits—I’ve heard between 97 percent and 99 percent—come from just one thing: advertisements related to search. Obviously, then, income generation is not the metric you’re using to decide if a product succeeds or fails. What is?

You’re right that most of the money comes in through ads. But you can think of everything else as bringing in customers so that they’ll click on the ads. We know the value of adding a new customer, and we can see what the usage is of individual sites. So we can say, “This feature is popular, our usage is going up, and because usage is going up, we’re making more money.” We do things to make Google better so people will come to Google and click on the ads.

What’s interesting, though, is that we’re now at the scale where we can also do things that just make the Web better. We do a lot of open-source projects, because if we release code and some other company makes something really cool that makes the Internet better, we benefit, too. About half of Internet users are using Google search, so if another company builds something and two people start using the Internet because of it, we’re going to get one of them.

The Collapse of Complex Business Models

April 2nd, 2010 No comments

Clark Shirky has an excellent post on how complex business models are collapsing in the face of modern technology. It’s a very well argued piece, with examples from media, telecom and ancient empires. Well worth reading.

This also dovetails well with the hypotheses behind the “blue ocean” strategy and “innovator’s dilemma” books, which both essentially state that disruptive technologies usually come from solutions that are resource-poor initially. It’s not always the superbowlesque ‘buy millions of users’ strategy that wins out. A viral strategy, based on an easy to understand value proposition, coupled with natural referencing can always beat out the most expensive of ads in terms of effectiveness.

Read the post here.

On ‘Finding your Brand Essence’

March 27th, 2010 No comments

Seth Godin is a very prolific blogger. There is a lot of wisdom in his writing, I’ve had quite a few ‘aha’ moments when I can snatch a bit of time from my busy schedule to dash through a few lines that catch my fancy (and his articles are usually not too long, which is nice).

Of course, as with all nuggets of wisdom, the real art is in knowing when that particular nugget applies to your situation. I just read his last article, and absolutely loved it. Read it on this blog at Finding Your Brand Essence.

If you go a bit deeper into what he is saying, you get the message that you should always have a strategy. This is important, because when you have strategy, it means not only that you have a doctrine, vision, and a set of values to guide you to success (or a glorious attempt trying at least), but that you also know where not to go, which battles not to fight, and which doors to close on your way.

Nicely done Seth.

Think fast! Catch!

March 14th, 2010 1 comment

When I contrast my experience at putting together Whyz Technologies, with the work I did as an employee at different firms, one thing stands out clearly. I had to make many many decisions with insufficient information; it feels at times like the ‘blind-fighting’ you saw in ninja movies in the 80s. You don’t where the enemy is (i.e. the goal is uncertain), you don’t really know where you really stand (in terms of the market’s existence and your location in it) and the sands of time are running out.

I’ve had to make major decisions about the firm’s name, the target customers, the business model, the architecture of the solution, the marketing strategy etc. Over a hundred decisions in a few months, any one of which could kill this fragile startup. May of these were around things that I knew next to nothing about (like corporation structures and tax strategies) or which could be potentially very costly and drawn out (like the three patents I am preparing to file for).

You don’t have the luxury of waiting for all the info, and like the Jedi knights, have to use the force and trust your instinct… and like the mythical Jedi, the decision you make will results in high-stakes outcomes that will be evident shortly :-)

Architectural changes in marketing

July 8th, 2009 No comments

This is a guest post by Glenn Schmelzle, who is contributing his analysis on the new opportunities in marketing that follow from the paradigm shifts sweeping the information technology landscape.

OK, so marketing isn’t known for its use of cutting-edge tools. But as someone who’s been handling the tools for 15 years, I have noticed big changes in the technology that supports the buying and selling of products. These technologies have made life easier for both sellers and buyers, but I’ve deliberately skewed them because the more they’re used, the more they end up benefitting one side more than the other.

Innovations benefiting the buyer’s side:
Probably the biggest boon for those who need to do their research before buying is the corporate website. Unlike the days of calling an 800 number and getting a brochure or catalogue in the mail (and several follow-up calls!), people can obtain rich detail on a product before identifying themselves. Thanks to XML, price-shopping sites allow them to compare competing products. Sellers aren’t fond of these developments, because they have to divulge a lot of information, but market forces give them no choice.

As email became the dominant communications mode for B2B interaction, it began to be accompanied by a terrific tool: the spam filter. This innovation, more than legislative restrictions, has put people in control of their inboxes. They are preferred by any principled marketer and very feared by any spam artist. Sure, there’s room for sellers to send a one-time-only inquiry as well as opt-in based emails, but in the end, you can choose who to maintain relations with on email.

Social media is on the rise as a buyers’ tool. Its chief use here is to connect with others to share information on products without even consulting the product’s makers. There were earlier iterations of this like TripAdvisor and Epinions, but the newer crop: Twitter, Facebook, Techcrunch and the blogosphere have put the web’s usefulness as a third-party opinion tool into overdrive.

Innovations benefiting the seller’s side:

I think CRMs have had the largest impact in recent years. Whether local or in the cloud, private or open-sourced like SugarCRM, they are great for letting everybody in a company toss what they know about the customer into one bucket. The resulting profile gives a picture of prospects that is much more accurate than ever before. Here’s one example of how CRMs and direct marketing techniques have helped: You used to receive new product promotions in proportion to the product’s revenue forecast. If you weren’t part of the audience it was meant for, tough! Now, you are (usually) receiving promos for items geared for you. The fact that you receive more of these messages is a direct result of the mushrooming number of products on the market; it’s not marketing’s fault.

The beta deserves mention. No, not the VCR format that duked it out with VHS in the ’80s. Few technologies today are launched ‘cold,’ most are pre-released to power-users. Everything about a product can be crowd-sourced today…and it’s a good thing. The vehicles for leaking info (and code) on new products have also exploded in use. WebEx, AppExchange, sourceforge and Amazon’s EC2  have all dramatically reduced the cost of sharing work-in-progress with potential buyers. This ultimately lowers risk for the seller; no one wants to have another ‘New Coke’ fiasco on their hands.

Creating documents in Adobe format has been a significant development in marketing. As the P in PDF indicates, it’s made print-quality collaterals extremely ‘Portable.’ This has not only eliminated printing and mailing costs, it has produced instant gratification and reaction from buyers on the content of those documents. If buyers don’t react well to the collaterals, marketers can re-write and re-publish them in no time.2016 balklänningar Line. Denna samling erbjuder ett brett utbud av vackra stilar, så du kommer att vara säker på att hitta din perfekta klänningen. Dessa hänförande balklänningar varierar i stil. Så du kan vara sexig, klassiker, sassy, våga, och så mycket i en av dessa fantastiska klänningar! Det är en klänning för alla, ser till att ge en smickrande stil för alla

Finally, I’ll mention the umbrella category of Business Intelligence tools, that includes web analytics, email measurements and social media monitoring. These are all means for marketers to understand what works – this data was nigh unto impossible to have in pre-Internet days. Marketing Automation tools like Silverpop, Marketo and Eloqua are now giving unprecedented visibility into the sales funnel. This holds the promise of tightening sales forecasts and informing executives specifically how well their tactics are working.

To conclude, these tools have been fantastic as they’ve forced buyers and sellers to rethink how they do business. Together, these have all helped buyers and sellers reach out to each other. I think they’ve supplanted old, crude, disruptive marketing methods. They provide a great indication of how far we can go in the future, although knowing exactly where innovation will happen next is anyone’s guess.

Glenn Schmelzle is a technology marketer and worked with Shahzad at an Ottawa-based startup. He can be reached at