From Product Focus to the Enticements of Color

Every week I read thousands of blog posts. Here, for your weekend enjoyment, are some highlights from my recent reading, for you.  Have a great weekend!

01_product-focus

On Starting Up…

http://visitmix.com/Opinions/Bass-ackwards
Forget about the technology. Focus on the product.

 
 

On Design & Product Experience…

http://sixrevisions.com/web_design/a-look-into-color-theory-in-web-design/
Influencing your visitors through color.

02_color
03_virtual-states

On Modular Innovation…

http://highscalability.com/blog/2010/3/9/applications-as-virtual-states.html
Virtual States from Modular Innovation. Inevitable?

 

What are you reading this weekend?

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

The Product Group, Cycles and Waves: Thanks for Coming!

theproductgroup_logo_200909
balsamiq_logo2

A big thank you to everyone who made it to the inaugural meet-up of The Product Group, as well as to our sponsor, Balsamiq Studios! We all had a blast discussing Product People-oriented topics and enjoying Wonderful food.

Group_Pic_1_20091001

Over the 2 hours we discussed…

Product Development Cycle: tips, challenges, advice

Google Wave: the strategy behind it, Google, and online collaboration

Product Focus & Organization: tips for keeping your product on track and how to avoid the problems of the ‘heads down’ dilemma

The Product Group meet-ups are an opportunity for Product People (managers, strategies, marketers, etc.) to come together to meet, interact, and network in a roundtable setting. It’s awesome to meet fellow Product People in a laid-back, conversational gathering like this one and I am looking forward to seeing everyone, new and familiar, at our next meet-up …

Thursday, November 5th @ 7PM
@ Wonderful @ 172 8th Avenue (bet. 18th and 19th St)
NYC

If you would like to attend our next meet-up, RSVP today or visit our group webpage at…

http://meetup.com/TheProductGroup

Enjoy!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

P.S. If you or an organization you represent would be interested in sponsoring an upcoming gathering of The Product Group please contact me.

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

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 Focus.

Focus

Many very good programmers will frequently feel the pull of new technologies, newer more exciting projects, tangential and/or ‘very cool’ innovations. It is very important to allow for the artistic, curious, knowledge seeking side of every programmer to be able to explore exciting alternatives, from new hardware and languages to discussions on new technologies, new vendor tools and other programmer-y things.

However, it is also very important to facilitate the needed Focus that will empower the programmer to stay on track and on schedule, to be able to point to front-line accomplishments while also allowing for the time for growth. ‘Exploration time,’ as can also be seen in the case of the World’s Best Programmer, announced at the end of this series, can result in …

  • Fresh ways of thinking,
  • New and exciting group discussions,
  • Constructive and illuminating debates, and
  • Company-applicable ideas and solutions.

Facilitating Focus

Helping a programmer with Focus can be as simple as implementing some of the Organizational tips already discussed, or limiting general business-side Q&A to specific times of the day/week. Further examples on delivering oft sought after Focus are …

Process. In offices where the programmers share the dual-responsibility of creating and maintaining, or overseeing, production support to keep the organization running smoothly and rapidly addressing bugs and the common real-time production issues, the introduction of processes for the minimization of work-stopping, deadline-killing, frustration-inducing, time-and-money-wasting, Focus-sapping distractions are truly useful.

For example, instead of everyone sharing simultaneous oversight of production, have a rotating schedule where one individual (or a subset of the team) is on-call for a specific day. And, while this individual, with all production issues diverted their way, is focused on the short-term handling of ‘putting out fires,’ the remaining team is 100% removed from the fray and 100% Focused, shielded from the issues of production, empowered to Focus, on their current projects, deadlines, strategic long-term planning, design, etc.

Scheduling. As I briefly touched on above, ‘exploration time’ is an important part of any programmer’s growth in their job, spent on anything from reinforcing the basic to exploring the latest, coolest framework. However, as most can relate, when you are working on that cool thing, or deeply focused on learning a concept, other action items can quickly fall by the wayside.

Every programmer should have time for exploration. Simply allot that (sacred) time in the programmer’s schedule, appropriately take into account this time in project scheduling, and provide clear business deliverables. To bring more structure to this ‘exploration time,’ provide a recurring venue (e.g. monthly lunch) for people to share their own goals, findings, and accomplishments with one another; in turn, this results in ‘exploration time’ being a valuable experience for all, existing within a focused environment, not distracting nor detracting from the business milestones or long-term strategic goals of the company.

Prioritization. A fundamental characteristic present in the environment of the World’s Best Programmer is Prioritization and the added boost in productivity over the loosely prioritized or non-prioritized list they receive. Such Focus supporting prioritization can be achieved through the maintenance and presentation of a personalized short-list of to-do items to each individual programmer within the organization. The list should consist of clear priorities, with no overlapping / identical priorities, so the programmer can work on each item, one at a time. As a society, we often make claims of being able to juggle multiple, simultaneous projects and priorities – more recent studies …

… have proven this to be false, misguided, and harmful to productivity and correctness. As a very wise programmer once told me, as I tell you here today, “while we like computers to multi-process as much as possible, having humans do that usually comes with a price of context switch and mistakes from lack of focus.”

For Focus

A good programmer, as does the World’s Best Programmer, will value the freedom to explore and learn, but equally value, and be motivated through, the successful efforts you take to help remove unnecessary distractions and provide for an environment that permits Focus on their short-and long-term goals.

The Search Continues

In addition to…

Clarity, Organization & Focus

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

Communication & Inclusion
Challenge & 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

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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

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Facebook shows Focus

facebooklogo_thumb2(Part 2 of 2) The new Facebook is coming. Facebook, the product that brought a whole new meaning to information and application overload, is about to release their new Facebook vision, one with focus.

After adjusting to (and it took a few days of frequent interaction) the re-worked and refined Facebook experience, 2 themes stood out above all others, namely…

  • Encouraging greater communications and sharing
  • Discouraging “excessive” application installation and usage

Last week we explored the Focus on Communication. This week we…

Focus on Applications

Right away you can see the first signs of de-emphasis of the applications on the Home page, by way of the movement of the application bookmarks from the left-most column to the right-most column.

1 and 2

On the Profile page, the typical primary residence of the Facebook apps, the applications have been moved to the periphery of the page. Some applications can be placed in the narrow left column (similar to the narrow column in today’s default implementation).

3 and 4

And, more installed applications are accessible via the introduction of the tabbed interface on the new Profile page.

05 tabs

A user’s applications can be installed, renamed and removed from the Tab bar directly from the tab interface. By clicking on the ‘plus,’ the applications that are available for inclusion within the Tab section are listed.

06 tabs plus open

For those that don’t want to lose all of the clutter, wishing to maintain a “backroom” of disorder, and for those applications that can neither go in a Tab or Sidebar there is the Boxes tab (forth from the left).

07 boxes tab

All of the remaining applications are available via the bookmarks section of the contextual Applications drop-down. If you are within an application, the tab allows for the editing of all of the current application’s settings within an inline pop-up.

08 contextual application dropdown from within 

09 inline popup app settings

The rest of the time the following is accessible…

10 app dropdown from homepage

From here you can also access the application configuration section, where you can customize…

  • The Applications, themselves,
  • Bookmarks,
  • Privacy Settings,
  • News Feed and Wall Interaction,
  • Miscellaneous Access (e.g. publish, email, offline capabilities), and
  • 3rd Party Interaction with Facebook.

11 all app settings

The new Facebook experience has put a good deal of effort into aggregating the different Facebook application concepts and corralling them into distinct sections. As a result, the direct and visual aspects of Application interaction are streamlined, with chaos reduced. Where, in the old Facebook, users used 20, 30, or more installed Applications, these refinements are clearly intended to discourage such behaviors, and instead encourage the user to focus on an order of magnitude fewer applications, in the hopes of fostering better (smarter?) Application selections and achieving richer experiences with those selected Applications.

Those few lucky apps that get selected for inclusion within the Tab bar should also expect longer and more frequent interaction resulting from the newly enabled and present focus. The tabbed interface allows individuals to focus on each app, one at a time, isolated from the many other-app distractions. Furthermore, all of the other apps will not just fade, but remain in the background, out of view; muted will be the viral effects felt by those apps that don’t provide true value. Everyone should expect more apps to fade away, and the people of Facebook to congregate around a select few.

12 app open - causes

The new experience increases the difficulty involved in simply browsing one’s installed Applications. Today, all one’s installed Applications can be seen (e.g. current state, latest information) on the Profile page. Now, in the new Facebook, this is one or more degrees removed.

Also, as the chaos of primary interaction with the Applications has been reduced, the opposite can be said for the ability to configure the layout and settings of the apps. Where previously, all of the apps settings and the bookmarks could be configured from a single page, with layout being customizable directly from the Profile page, the pending new Facebook experience has broken all of these touchpoints into multiple and separate pages of configuration. In today’s Facebook, one can configure 90% of the applications, along with their look, feel, and accessibility, from a single web page; in the new Facebook, users have to search for and navigate through many, many more pages.

Focus on Facebook

The new experience, currently in beta testing, but soon to become the default Facebook experience, is cleaner and moves towards a more organized and social vision.

The purpose relating to the increased blurriness of layout and settings customization, becoming much more complex and difficult to manage, escapes me. However, it may, hopefully, be a mere side-effect of the other chaos reducing, refinements. If that is the case, I am certain many will welcome, when, in the near future, Facebook adjusts attention on and brings into focus this important area of user control and empowerment.

The changes, expectantly, have incited groups and petitions both in favor of, and against, the new Facebook. With these and many other changes everyone’s focus will be on Facebook, watching to see if these admirable goals prove successful or merely educational.

Enjoy!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

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Facebook says Focus

facebook logo (Part 1 of 2) The new Facebook is coming. Facebook, the product that brought a whole new meaning to information and application overload, is about to release their new Facebook vision, one with focus.

After adjusting to (and it took a few days of frequent interaction) the re-worked and refined Facebook experience, 2 themes stood out above all others, namely..

  • Encouraging greater communications and sharing
  • Discouraging “excessive” application installation and usage

In Part 1 let’s…

Focus on Communicating

The new user experience is evident from the very moment of logging-in. Perhaps the very first thing that all users will now notice, and are driven to notice, is the new action area on their homepage.

1-home-primary-actions

Whenever a user returns to Facebook, they are brought to the homepage and, immediately presented with quick actions for communicating and sharing. This is a concept that is altogether absent from today’s currently available experience.

2-absent

Clicking on any of the options within this new action region jumps the user directly to their Profile page, with the prompt for the desired content automatically displayed. This is direct, quick & easy.

3-update-status

The Profile page, like the Home page, has also been revamped to encourage and facilitate communications and sharing of user generated content (UGC) – from status to links and photos, and more.

4-comment-too

The user’s attention is focused on the main component of the page, the Wall; which has been improved with rapidly applicable filters (all posts, my posts, other people’s posts) and easy to use settings.

5-wall-filter

6-settings

Facebook‘s next generation presents a revived and clear focus on communications. Much of this new functionality reverberates considerably with the capabilities inherent to newer services, most apparently, Twitter and Friendfeed. The new communications emphases will assuredly drive more people to the micro-exchanges of status and the like.

Interestingly, if this implementation had been Facebook‘s original implementation, maybe there would be no Twitter or Friendfeed. But this is not the case. This newer implementation, not yet the default for Facebook, did not come first. Twitter and Facebook (and other similar online products) fulfilled the need, filling the micro-communication and micro-sharing void that was present.

While the improvement in Facebook represents a very positive step forward, a very nice addition, Facebook is now following some well established alternatives. For these improved communications to maximize along the path of user experience, they will need to employ Modular Innovation. It will be a mistake if they choose to take the path of challenging the Twitters and Friendfeeds, instead of embracing them. Everyone will benefit from improved integration and 3rd-party data exchange capabilities. For example, allowing users and products 2-way integration and interaction, permitting the use of either Twitter (or Friendfeed) or Facebook to not just be able to import data, but also export and share data between the products, would provide a seamless online experience for the user, allowing the user to check for updates and post updates from either platform — benefiting both the fans and companies of Facebook and Twitter (and other products) while simultaneously strengthening the product-product and product-user relationships.

In Focus

More and more people, every day, are trying out the new Facebook, especially the new communications experience. Will the new product, the new Facebook, succeed in increasing user communication and interaction or will the result prove to be a blurry jumble of ideas?

Check back next week as we look further into the new Facebook, in the second part of this 2 part series about the new Facebook experience, and explore what these changes mean for the users, as well as everyone else, who use, experience and benefit from Facebook.

Enjoy!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

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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