From Knitting the Startup Story to Challenging your UX Designer

Every week I read thousands of blog posts. For your weekend enjoyment, here are some of those highlights.  What are you reading this weekend?

01_story

On Starting Up…

http://www.readwriteweb.com/start/2010/07/does-your-startup-have-a-good.php
Weaving the perfect startup story.

 
 

On Design & Product Experience…

http://www.inspireux.com/2010/07/05/challenging-conventional-assumptions-about-user-experience-design/
Challenge your UX designer today!

02_catirona
03_dokdok

On Modular Innovation…

http://mashable.com/2010/07/09/email-attachments-dokdok/
Taming file attachments with Modular Innovation, DokDok.

 

Have a great weekend!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

About these ads

World’s Best Programmer is… [w/ Challenge]

anotherstar …to be announced at the end of this series.

unkown-person I am often asked what is it that I do that results in the programmers with whom I interact being so productive; what is it I do to get them motivated and to keep them motivated; and where can I find / who is the World’s Best Programmer.

Motivation

My answer is many fold and I provide a framework towards greater understanding in part 1.

The path to the motivated programmer, the happy programmer, is unique to each individual. There are, however, some general, instructional guides towards better understanding for all involved parties, and especially regarding those conditions that make for that highly motivated programmer.

Today, let’s take a deeper look at Challenge.

Challenge

Challenge can be seen as a double-edged sword. Challenges surround programmers each and every day, both as motivators and demotivators. While not necessarily a driver of success in every programmer, some prefer to keep it simple and focus on the familiar and ‘what they are good at.’ Nonetheless, leveraging Challenges towards positive outcomes is very prevalent where good programmers are found, especially within the environment of the World’s Best Programmer.

Challenges that foster …

  • personal and career growth,
  • new learning, and
  • meaning

… represent the best drivers of excitement and reward.

Many programmers will always be able to find fun, productive, and new ways to Challenge themselves simultaneously benefiting those around them.

Other programmers may seek a challenge that provides that personal meaning, but require a little guidance. Work with programmers and assist them in finding or building upon Challenges that are new and exciting to them. Reinvigorating a common task or a persistently onerous effort through finding that Challenging, motivating spark will bring new life and engagement to both the work and the programmer.

Different programmers are motivated by finding different, personally appealing, Challenges in their daily work. These Challenges can be anything from …

  • Optimizing speed or memory,
  • Reducing the total number of source code lines,
  • Satisfying the needs of a client,
  • Maximizing modularity and reusability, and/or
  • Crafting that perfect algorithm.

Competition

One way to build an environment with positive challenges is to support the many seeds already present in the form of friendly competition. Such friendly competition, when appropriately encouraged and reinforced is great in the establishment of a self-sustaining, self-organizing system of motivational Challenges.

Friendly competitions can take on the form of total number of tasks completed, to fastest execution, to more broadly inclusive contests for ‘coolest’ app.

Leverage

Within an atmosphere of open Communication it becomes easier to learn how to transform problems that demotivate into those that Challenge in a rewarding way (for the programmer, as well as many more within the organization).

No Limits

A common mistake when thinking about what sort of ventures are best for Challenging programmers is to stereotype and only think technically. There are many ways a programmer may be seeking to grow in their job that can equally be great motivators of success, from tech, to business, to peer interaction. Keeping the Challenges varied and the communication flowing will help identify those tasks (perhaps not previously even realized by the programmer) that bestow new and meaningful experiences. These could be such activities as being a manager for a product or learning to be a better communicator or more socially engaged with the non-technical groups.

……………

From the good programmer to the World’s Best, Challenge them and provide new ways to give meaning and value to their work.

The Search Continues

In addition to…

Clarity, Organization & Focus
Communication & Inclusion
Challenge

… and before this individual, World’s Best Programmer, is announced, the characteristics…

Respect

… will be further explored and discussed in the subsequent articles of this multi-part series.

Subscribe now (click here) to make sure you don’t miss any part of this series highlighting many of the key driver’s of your team’s motivated programmers, nor the denouement of World’s Best Programmer, as well as other insightful posts from The Product Guy.

Enjoy!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

Add to Social Bookmarks: Stumbleupon Del.ico.us Furl Reddit Magnolia Google Add to Mixx!

World’s Best Programmer is…

anotherstar …to be announced at the end of this series.

unkown-personI am often asked what is it that I do that results in the programmers with whom I interact being so productive; what is it I do to get them motivated and to keep them motivated; and where can I find / who is the World’s Best Programmer.

My answer is many fold…

Create an environment that values empowerment, self-worth and meaning. These are the pillars on which motivation and self-satisfaction in the workplace rest. Through an understanding of these pillars, and how they relate to, in this instance, programmers, one can then foster the conditions necessary in this search, as well as instrumental in providing an environment where programmers / developers can thrive.

A good programmer, just like anyone else within your organization, seeks these things. The challenge for many a manager (especially for the technically challenged) is relating to the individuals that make up their team, and understanding the underlying motivational drivers, from the programmer’s perspective.

Motivation

The path to the motivated programmer, the happy programmer, is unique to each individual. There are, however, some general, instructional guides towards better understanding for all involved parties, and especially regarding those conditions that make for that highly motivated programmer…

From Clarity to Focus

Clarity. Providing clear project requirements and goals.
Organization. Balancing the art and science, of programming, through structure.
Focus. Removing distractions and hurdles.

From Communication to Inclusion

Communication. Promoting openness, free flow of ideas and information, and teamwork.
Inclusion. Empowering throughout all aspects, from idea origination to release and support, from business facing to backend, of the product processes.

From Challenge to Respect

Challenge. Fostering growth, new learning, and meaning.
Respect. Establishing and fostering mutual credibility and understanding.

And More…

These all present a sound foundation to build and reflect upon, in search for the World’s Best Programmer! But, before this individual, World’s Best Programmer, is announced, the characteristics…

Clarity, Organization & Focus
Communication & Inclusion
Challenge & Resphttp://tpgblog.com/2009/04/14/worlds-best-programmer-respect/ect

… will be further explored and discussed in the subsequent articles of this multi-part series.

Subscribe now (click here) to make sure you don’t miss any part of this series highlighting many of the key driver’s of your team’s motivated programmers, nor the denouement of World’s Best Programmer, as well as other insightful posts from The Product Guy.

Enjoy!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

Add to Social Bookmarks: Stumbleupon Del.ico.us Furl Reddit Magnolia Google Add to Mixx!

I made it out of clay…

painter Is every online product starting to look alike? Running low on product experience creativity?

Some Simple Advice

Break the mold of the average user experience. Think about the problem you are trying to solve from alternative design perspectives by introducing new methods of interacting with the product.

<YAWN>

Most people will design their web application, interface, user experience, in the same old way, every single time. Pencil, paper, Photoshop, pen, storyboard, wire diagram, etc. So boring!

Make it out of clay!

A super-simple way to get yourself started on a new thought path is to change how you interact with the product during the design process. For example, change the medium (water color, paper mache…clay) with which you are designing and / or approach the online product from the paradigm of common, handy real-world products, remote control, oven, umbrella, etc. Imagine those products imbued with some or all of the features of the online product you are trying to create. How would those features be manifested in these different forms? How would the different forms the features and interaction with them?

Come on…Touch it

Shifting the interaction of you (the product or experience designer) with the product, changing from a computer monitor oriented paradigm, will, by its very nature, cause you to think differently about the problem and, maybe, find some new metaphors that can be applied to the design or interaction of the final product itself.

To tackle interaction design challenges I have used post-it collages, clay, created 3d working models, charcoal, etc. It helps to keep the creativity flowing when different mediums (other than Photoshop and your browser) are employed to see and truly interact with your interface as well as the user experience you are trying to create.

Enter the Real World

Take an existing product, in the “real world”, a CD player, a remote control, and shift the paradigm of your interface to those models. Yes, the end result may not be what you are seeking, but the journey that entails facing the different limitations and constraints imposed by the objects you are using as a guide are an excellent way to keep your mind fresh while you approach the problem from a variety of angles. And, once in a while, such a shift will present a really cool way to present that user experience that you hadn’t thought of before.

A (Paper) Widget

On an interaction design challenge I tackled previously, I found myself having to design a very small widget that required a great deal of information conveyance and required an enjoyable consumer experience. The 2 paradigm shifts I introduced that eventually lead to solving the interaction design challenge were…

Shift 1: I wondered what the tiny module would look like if it popped open like a CD player

…then I decided that, instead of mocking it up in Photoshop or other digital design tools, I would further introduce a different way of interacting with this widget, by…

Shift 2: creating a working 3D model… out of paper. (see photo of the model I built to the right)

Shaping it, crafting it, interacting with it, playing with it, viewing it from different angles and perspectives, having other people poke at it, all of which, in the end, led to a very cool consumer experience that also presented the user with the needed information.

For Example … Exercise

Goal:

  • Re-design the opening and closing of a desktop window.

Consider:

  • What if that window opened and closed like a clamshell phone.
  • What interface elements are on the top, outside of the phone.
  • What elements are presented on the inside of the phone?
  • What similar elements would make sense in the realm of my desktop window that could be made to fit the model?
  • What real-world elements exist that open and close that are very different from a desktop window?

Solution: Dive in and give it a try. I would love to hear and see what ideas people come up with.

Keep Exercising

Now, pick a completely different object that you interact with in the world. Try it out on one of your older (more boring) interfaces. If anyone comes up with anything interesting that they would like to share I would love to see them and post them on the blog.

Simply Put

As some parts of the holiday season wind down and others are just beginning, why not make it a New Year’s resolution, the next time you feel like you are stuck in a rut or need to inject new ideas, to break the mold and try making it out of clay!

Enjoy!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

Real Virtual Office Challenges

netconnect Today, I want to inject some increased reality and a clearer picture of the challenges of creating and managing a successful Virtual Office before I paint too rosy a picture of the great gains that can result in the areas of cost and time, especially since it is more typical that a Virtual Office at the core of a company is the exception. It is equally important to understand the positive aspects of a Virtual Office, as well as its challenges.

…And take careful measure of the downsides.

Most notably, the undesirable component that company management compatibility needs to be critically assessed against and typically leads to the failed Virtual Office exercise involves the additional overhead that impacts every one of the Virtual Office processes. If the individual or management team is not honestly up to the challenge or unwilling or incapable of addressing the issues of overhead then DO NOT PROCEDE — this is the primary reason for incompatibility and failure of either or both the Virtual Office experiment and the company, itself.

Over-communicate and plan.

With many companies, and especially start-ups, workflow is often highly fluid and dynamic; there is often, at best, an idea of what is wanted, no plan, but a process of iterate, iterate, iterate. This is not a very compatible approach within a Virtual Office environment where there is extra time required per iteration, sending-waiting, also resulting in more difficult course corrections due to the distances and time between the parties. Yes, there are many tools and other aides to assist in minimizing this shortcoming, but they will only minimize it; nothing beats face-to-face, in-person, working together, pointing, cycling, doing.

To be successful the management and employees of a Virtual Office must actually go beyond the normal same-office expectation of communications – they must over-communicate. Solid communication and information flow have to be there to minimize the misunderstanding or assumption that, in a real office situation, could have been noticed typically by walking by or in casual chatter around the water cooler. In this area, there are great tools to help from IM, to video, to phone, to chatroom (a personal favorite of mine being campfire) and more to minimize communication breakdowns and keep the processes moving smoothly. But, again, when used perfectly they are only asymptotic to some productivity level near, and short of, that of a non-Virtual Office.

Part of the over-communication picture is the need for clear and concise planning. Again, as just mentioned, it is the goal to minimize the chance for misunderstanding or other communication breakdowns that could send a project on a misdirected spiral. When people are heads down for any duration of time you want to maximize their chance of success by providing the best planning and direction that the time available will allow. If the communications and information flow between the same individuals working side-by-side is strained, or just on par with the non-Virtual Office needs, then, those individuals, that company, does not have the right people and management in place for a successful Virtual Office at the core of their operations.

As part of the planning process additional steps, additional overhead, can be put in place to further minimize the negative impact a misunderstood project or directive can have on the business. For example, after a project has been reviewed and assigned, have the individuals responsible for the project create a work plan, timeline, etc., sufficient to the point where you are certain they are on the right path.

Cutting corners on communication, or just not having the communication skills required for a highly distributed office environment, leads to mistakes, misunderstandings, and more time and resource investment to correct the resultant business / project problems. The organized process of planning and communication and creating a well lubricated machine that keeps everything running like clockwork requires a unique skill-set belonging to the individual creating and managing the Virtual Office, as well as a company compatible with the additional time overhead required to allow the machine to function smoothly.

To do. To hear. To see.

In the same line of understanding as the need for over-communication, there is also a part of the communication that is handicapped over the normal course of activities, namely the visual aspects of communication. Most importantly, when communicating with the employees of the Virtual Office, it is much easier to understand their perspectives, level of understanding, comfort with the discussions, emerging HR problems, and much, much more by seeing and reading their body language when communicating. But, it is a Virtual Office, and seeing everyone all of the time is a rarity, even if you do use some video conferencing software. When managing in this situation the manager needs to be extra sensitive to voice tones and further pursue the over-communication in both a working and friendship building manner, just like a real office, to know and understand and keep as open a comfortable channel of dialog as can be possible. If something is not right with the employee, they are losing motivation, they are having a problem with a person or the work, there is something at home that will impact the work, you don’t typically see that person, you don’t have the luxury of easily noticing they are avoiding people or other visual changes of manner or dress — you need to over-communicate, maintain a healthy work and non-work dialog, ask questions, and stay engaged and interested in the well-being of the team — a much greater challenge all around in a Virtual Office, but that much more important with the other senses of sight and sound greatly restricted.

Just because you have a Virtual Office doesn’t mean that you don’t have a “normal” employee training and acclamation process and routine. By “normal,” I am referring to the over-communicative, extra-trained, learning and setup involved within a Virtual Office setting, more intense and thorough than the other “normal” that would be normal for a non-Virtual Office. In a Virtual Office, training on procedures and clear establishment of processes are all that much more important than in a non-Virtual Office. There is no opportunity for looking over someone’s shoulder and identifying and fixing mistakes. Everything will take much longer if procedures are not clear and the skills of the manager and the employee are not up to the challenge.

Speedy is as speedy does.

Clearly, with all of the overhead involved in running a Virtual Office there is a significant hit to the overall productivity of the company. If the Virtual Office is the right fit for the company and the management is up to and willing to take on the challenge, then all the overhead can be optimally reduced. Typically I have observed the time impact on work, of course depending on the work, can add anywhere from 5%-30% overhead — attributed to a well run Virtual Office machine.

Sounds like a lot of work. Why do it?

Virtual Offices work where both sets of expectations, the positive as well as the inherent challenges, are perfectly aligned.

Virtual Offices are not for everyone. The positives need to be weighed against the challenges. The team needs to clearly understand what can be achieved from a Virtual Office as well as have the right person in place to successfully tackle its primary challenges.

Virtual Offices are just not as prevalent as many _other_ experts think they could or even should be, and, hopefully, you now have a better understanding of ‘why.’

To make sure you don’t miss future posts about the Virtual Office, and other cool and informative topics, you can subscribe to The Product Guy by following this link: http://feeds.feedburner.com/tpgblog

Enjoy!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

Start-up Stumbling Points

Building Blocks (avoid stumbling)I help out start-ups all of the time. One of those common, albeit, abstract questions I frequently receive is…

“What are some common stumbling points that web startups come across early in their development?”

Yep, that is a loaded question. In response to those that ask the various flavors of this question, my response and guidance…

One of the biggest things in starting a start-up is recognizing little will go perfectly and that you will definately make tons of mistakes (both small and large). That said, your final success, goes very much beyond your initial idea, but also directly derives from how well (and quickly) you identify and correct mistakes and make other business adjustments and corrections. On day one your plan will look perfect. In the morning of day one, start making corrections. ;-)

So, yes, there are many mistakes, and many common mistakes that are made by all types of start-ups. For this reason it is also important to have good, and experienced, advisors that you can truely trust.

In an early stage start-up, it is very easy to…

  1. lose focus, and try to solve all problems,
  2. let emotions kick logic out of the room, and
  3. not be prepared.

On losing focus…
You have identified a need, you think you can address that need and sell it to people to meet their needs. As you build out your product/service, you will more than likely see 100′s of other things that you could “easily” fix with just a “little” more work or side projects that you could do (a supplemental product, an offshoot company, etc.) Don’t do it! Stay focused on your path to market, with your product or service. Set your clear milestones – hit them – layer in improvements and additional things you can do and fix inline with those goals and milestones. If you don’t have the focus that first milestone you set might just keep moving away from you more and more every day — stay focused on the prize and you will get there. Focus does not contradict with the need to make critical business course corrections. As I started out by saying, you are not perfect, you will need to make corrections, you may even need to change the overall goals and purposes of the company — think it through, and if you need to make those changes, DO IT, and the set NEW MILESTONES and goals and STAY FOCUSED!

On (destructive) emotions…
Emotions are both constructive and destructive forces within all aspects of life, and can spell the success or failure of a start-up if not propperly controlled. It is more than likely that your emotions, your passion, has gotten you to the point where you want to create your new venture, your new start-up. Is is also those emotions that are going to excite your partners, your co-workers, and investors; keep them, harness them, use them to motivate, excite and innovate.

However, other emotions can lead to irreparable decisions and the early demise of your company. Panic, overreaction, paranoia (extreme), will lead you to illogical, erronesous, just BAD decisions. When the unexpected happens, when problems occur, stay calm, think logically, make corrections adjust the company focus (if you have to) — don’t let those emotions throw you off track. By the way, a good, solid board of advisors (whether they are official or unofficial) can be a great way to help you stay logical. Let you advisors speak openly and honestly and HEAR THEM and you will benefit.

On preparedness…
Be prepared for good times and bad times; for great success, and phenomenal failure; for riches and cash flow problems. All types of curve balls may come your way; organize your plan, plan for contigencies, expect the worst, and be pleased when the best works out. Keep all lines of communication open, internally and externally, so that you can easily adapt and to also allow for others to help you be as prepared as possible and as successful as your new venture can possibly be.

Enjoy!

Have questions, other topics, or products you would like me to speak about, email me at jhorn -=at=- tpgblog -=dot=- com.

Jeremy Horn