I’m Scroogled no sir you’re Scroogled and you’re scroogled.

There are days when I arrive at work, drink my hot cup of coffee brew goodness and read what’s new “On the Line”. Most days they are often filled with moments of what I call “Microsoft LOL’s”. These moments are typically what I often use in my comedy routine with friends in the Microsoft business community whenever we get together to unpick “what just happened” – they are often filled with laughter + “..so..then…they not only did….but they decided to go back for more…” moments.

This morning I scanned my intertubes and saw Microsoft’s attempt at what I can only assume is humour. That is the Internet Explorer vs Google Chrome fight got a bit more bitter due to the company deciding it was a brilliant idea to make T-shirts and hat’s trashing their competitor’s efforts to make an alternative product to their own – Internet Explorer.

Some would say “Well this is how competitors work, its fair game” true, except I should point out that the very people who work on Google chrome used to also work at Microsoft so it’s not like Red vs Blue clones duking it out, it’s in many ways two parents fighting in front of their kids.

If you are in the role of “Evangelist” right now in Microsoft and you’ve been given metrics around Internet Explorer or HTML5 (which is nearly all of them) its moments like these that you really do need to think about updating your LinkedIn Profile to make sure its current. It’s also a good time to brush up on your way to make fun of the company you work for’s stupidity in the face of probably some very angry or agitated community groups who just don’t agree with this kind of tactics.

My goto line would be “You think the Scroogle thing was bad, imagine me right now and how Scroogled I am to be standing here…” or something to that affect. The best you can do from a reach standpoint is absorb the blow, pivot it to being a case of “Yeah you’re pissed, imagine how I feel” and hope to hell your community peer’s look at you with sympathy and not aggravation.

As I write this Frank Shaw the infamous fist waving anti-Google VP of Communications for Microsoft has gone quiet on the PR front. My only question for Microsoft is at what meeting and how much coke was snorted before this idea to put this on your store seemed like a “Funny idea” and should the company update its competitive obsession policies?

Broken ideas

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UX: Patterns, rhythm and melody.

I stumbled upon this YouTube clip of Avicii giving the camera (folks at home) an insight into his creative process.

I have a theory that humans and software aren’t as incompatible as a lot of people in the role of “user experience” preach. All to often I hear the word “usability” that is commonly used as a beating stick for why people should recreate software to suite the authors bias. They will often throw down a lot of fragmented behaviour science / principles of design that leaves the intended audience bedazzled  as if to say out loud “ok you win, yo clearly can articulate design in ways that go beyond my simpleton vocabulary”.

My theory? we think and act in patterns, we look at software as a series of patterns that we catalogue. Our job as UX practitioners is to give the audience a series of patterns they can lock onto, memorize and work there way around to achieve tasks.

In the case of FL Studio and Avicii, here’s a guy using a piece of software to create music that you will no doubt hear on your local radio station at some point. The way he approaches the software in the video is something to see, given how fast and fluid he is with the information being presented. Observing his approach to the tool is simple, he’s working with patterns and even more so he’s working with audio to underpin these patterns.

It’s also nice to know that successful artists like Avicii approach the creative process in a way that’s normal 😉

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My Kickstarter NSA Project

I’m going to create a company that will slowly own all inbound/outbound traffic. I’m then going to control the entire advertising channel that goes along with this. I’m also going to monitor all of your behaviour online and i’m also going to make it so i own as much of your mobile device(s) as well to ensure I have not just home/work covered but where you go as well. I’m also going to do everything I can to ensure all software programmers don’t abandon the web for improved / innovative solutions that transcend by re-writing mediocrity over and over (AJAX was a great ride, but have you seen this new HTML5 …. mwhahahaha).

I’m sorry you were talking about NSA, please continue while I Google some more.

My end point is this – There’s a lot of trust online and for anyone to think that trends like HTML5 are for the greater good really need to step back and understand the status quo today and sure you’re offended by the NSA’s behavior …which is comical at best compared to the level of data we entrust into corporations daily – because they have a “Do no Evil” policy :)

 

 

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The Apple-Microsoft Energizer Bunny.

 

In 1989 Energizer hijacked the Duracell Bunny thus for most parts of the world hijacking the iconic toy from Duracell.

Today I saw a Microsoft`ee still praise the company for its efforts in Metro design style in the Windows Phone. Asserting that basically Apple has copied them and they (Microsoft) will soon be rewarded for such greatness.

The cautionary tale here for me is this. Apple are great …no…they are surgically brilliant at design, not just in their own marketing but it embodies everything they do and beyond.

Microsoft….well…don’t. They have moments but often you can automatically sense the hesitation in executing their design (as if to say they have design sugar rushes). Point in case is Windows 8, start screen is interesting, parts of the way in which you design applications are different but then …nothing… AppStore was a sad existence to stare at and the whole strategy around cultivating, nurturing, evangelising and so much more the design itself simply fell silent.

My point today is simple, Apple copying or not copying Microsoft – who cares – isn’t a point for the company to celebrate. It’s a pretty loud warning shot across the design bow, that simply says – step up and lead, or step aside but make  a choice.

 

 

 

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Surface 2 – The shotgun approach to marketing

Most people by now would have seen all the announcements surrounding the new Microsoft Surface 2. These announcements pretty much outline the new refined measures taken to make the tablet/laptops more compelling in the eyes of its targeted consumers.

That is essentially what I want to talk about today, the targeted consumers.

If you look at Microsoft Surface on its own in isolation outside the competing influences the product itself is reasonably well designed. It has the benefits of a laptop and tablet in one whilst at the same time runs all your Windows specific applications natively (assuming your not subscribed to ARM constraints).

The reality however it’s not looked at in this light from a consumer and retail mindset. The product today is positioned as a Tablet, meaning its job is to compete against products that iPad and Android occupy quite heavily which means the category itself is quite saturated and has consumers conditioned to approach a tablet as a middle ground between Mobile and Laptop (i.e. the spectrum between Mobile Device and Laptops were defined, tablets would probably sit neatly in the middle).

Furthermore, the Surface Pro also is often not associated as being different within retail stores from these competing tablet products and is often found on the same shelf space as their counterparts. The only real distinguishable difference between a Surface and other products on the shelf is the Windows 8 tile screen and maybe the blue/pink keyboard(s).

Once you acknowledge that the Surface Pro is now in a heated battle around gaining attention of consumers with other tablets they are also equally in a fierce competitive battle over price (which is slowly in many ways becoming a race to the price bottom given tablets are losing their social currency – i.e. nothing *really* new is happening in terms of points of difference).

Occupying the Tablet category is not easy challenge for any company but with Surface Pro it doesn’t end there. No, they also now have to compete equally in the Laptop category and given most retail channels like BestBuy prefer to position the products in the Tablet Category they also have to find ways to claw out of that and reposition the product also in the Laptop marketing category.

That’s where it also gets slightly difficult because those distinguishing signatures that I mentioned earlier around Windows 8 tile screen no longer are unique, as all competing hardware makers use that as well. So now you’re competing on brand loyalty, price and hardware specifications.

Competing on those fronts isn’t easy as not only do you as Microsoft now have skin in the hardware game you also have a smaller shelf space to occupy – much like Coke vs Pepsi in Super Market(s). Dell, Samsung, HP etc. all have maybe 3-4 products at any given point sitting on the shelf as well and can afford to keep pumping out different iterations faster given this is  their core business.

Hopefully I’ve painted a picture that will give you a moment of pause to think beyond the actual product itself and moreover how do you gain the attention of the potential consumer. As it’s not about “I have the best quality product of all” because in reality nobody can accurately say for sure that’s true. It’s the 2nd generation attempt at entering a market that the 1st generation has failed on. Moreover the pricing for the product(s) isn’t exactly a bliss point entry because should they become successful the competitors will find ways to undercut or fight more aggressively to retain relevance.

 Can all this be done though?

I think it could be done if the right ingredients were in place, first of all you’d need to find a way to frame the proposition you’re putting forward to your consumers in terms they understand – that is, you have to convince every user out there that having a tablet/laptop in one is what they need & want.

Secondly, you will need to find a way to separate your product from the herd in the retail channel because right now although the brand Microsoft and Windows are attached to the said product(s) it’s also attached to the competing brands as well (ie its over-used and saturated). Microsoft have to work their product line like Apple does, by having a separate table / shelf for their products to occupy and be distinguished from the rest.

Thirdly you have to find a way to become the circuit breaker for the taxonomy of online retail, by opening up a new category “both” as if you’re going to say the product on one hand is a tablet and a laptop then you need to find a way to position the products in that light. If you position in the tablet category (like today) then your $2,000 AUD Surface top of the range model will stand out as being insanely expensive for a tablet?

If you in turn occupy the Laptop then you’re $899 AUD tablet with low specs looks cheap but fails on hardware specifications – moreover you also run the risk of positioning the brand as a “cheap” solution thus potentially poisoning your own well (ie “Surface = Cheap crap” perception could easily run unmanaged).

The reality is Microsoft really haven’t got a structured story here with Surface Pro, it’s what I’d call a “shotgun” approach to competing with Apple/Google. In that it appears they are just collapsing the products for the sake of compete rather than actually trying to disrupt the behaviour we humans have around mobility.

The product itself isn’t a measured response, its just reactive and filled with a lot of panic around how to solve this problem. The entire thing could be handled much carefully and strategically by simply easing into the above categories with momentum behind them vs just trying to force their way into the mindset of consumers that all-in-one is the best strategy.

Lastly assuming they abandon these silly ads with people jumping around clicking keyboards and actually focus on “why” someone needs to buy the product they also face a very long entrenched campaign ahead.

If they are onto a winning formula and assuming that they sort their marketing talent out, then they also have to wait out the consumers who currently have laptop and tablet out which could be 1-2 years minimum.

Normally this wouldn’t be an issue but keep in mind Microsoft is about to get a brand new CEO with his/her own ideas about Surface Pro and if anything Microsoft’s marketing machine has shown that they can’t handle a controlled message beyond the life of a single campaign.

My prediction:

  •  Surface as a brand will undergo a split, they will likely retreat back to forking the tablet and laptop offerings.  There will likely be no technical difference between the two and price and category matching will likely influence it.
  • Surface will have poor sales for the next 1-2 years and the industry will remind them off this without mercy. There is to much aggravation in the hardware space for Microsoft to occupy and they not only have to compete on Consumer sales but also Enterprise pie will decay over time as a result of losing focus.  The failure in success over the 1-2 years will simply be the easy punch to the company’s kidneys.
  • Surface RT will evaporate as a laptop solution. If you’re a developer today targeting ARM and you’re thinking to yourself “this is fun” then you’re currently in a small cluster. Today to target Windows 8 ARM would mean you are happy to migrate your code-base over to the new Windows SDK and it isn’t a clean migration at the best of times. Moreover you have to also ignore the lack luster ubiquity metrics that will come out alongside any and all developer relation(s) resets that have occurred in the last 5 years. If you can absorb all of that and still think ARM is the vehicle of choice – then yeah, I just don’t see any upside here.

 

 

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I suspect Windows Phone team are chasing the wrong metrics.

I’ve had an interesting and insightful conversation with Steve Sinofsky the past 24hrs that has got me thinking about the concept of how we measure success. Firstly, I know its freaking me out how much I am learning from the one person that I honestly thought was the single point of failure at Microsoft – but – I was wrong! as I suspect he had more to offer than Microsoft was willing to absorb that or he was too busy trying to steer whatever ship(s) he was steering to discuss.

To the subject at hand.

When I think about Mobility and how we measure the success and failures, I automatically break open my OneNote file on where the numbers are currently at when it comes to Windows Phone 8, iPhone, Android etc. The first thing I often do is review what the market share looks like and then probably grow agitated at how slowly Windows Phone is moving (yay 50% growth, but they need 300% to break into the 3rd place category).

The problem with just tracking market share is the data has no soul, which leads me into the points I’ve been having with Sinofsky around how data is just a signal of behavior but it doesn’t tell you the entire picture accurately.

How do I mean accurately?

If you look at iPhone today you will no doubt see, it has a huge amount of the market share pie, but in all honesty, that doesn’t tell you much in the way of actual usage or replenishment rates. All it tells us is right now on planet earth there is just a very large amount of iPhones floating about the place and typically, many new customers are switching on iPhones for the first time each day we breathe oxygen.

If you however look to your left or right and ask your peers how often do they buy iPhones they may typically come back with an answer that resembles “one to two years” In that they aren’t the ones likely to retain parity with Apple’s release cycles anymore?

What happens to their existing phones when they fade it out? Is it relegated to the grandparents? Given to the kids as a gaming device? Sold on ebay?

That for me is the metric I want to know the most about, how many new phones are people adopting and lastly how long does it take between phone adoptions. Then if you can layer in operating system, form factor (sizes) and latency between adoptions that would probably give early signs of where movement between adoptions is happening.

Having that data set will also tell us all an open transparent story around how each mobile phone corporation in the race for success is able to sustain their adoption & life cycle. It also would give teams like the Windows Phone team a smarter metric to go after as if a typical iPhone customer today is taking 1-2 years before they migrate to a new phone or upgrade that in itself is the period in which you would need to strike aggressively.

How to navigate these waters with the right data is the key and focusing in on who has the biggest slice of the pie tells us an end total of who was smart enough to figure out the overall collective metrics. It doesn’t tell us a story around who’s strategy was successful and where?

For instance, which phone size right now is the bliss point in size? Which phone color is the best? Which phone feature seems to excite the most? And so on.

These are data points and many more like them that are quite hard to mine for given most companies will hide that as much as possible to save embarrassment or alert competitors of success. Which is fine it just sadly feeds the beast around “% marketshare = success” rhetoric.

You can boost your percentage if you just give phones away for free in China/India as sure, it will hurt your revenue model(s) but it would boost your confidence in the market level(s) and probably lighten the burden on your marketing budget as well. Clearly though that is a terrible strategy given it is going after the % and can’t sustain itself long term.

I guess my end point and the lesson of the week is basically, what the definition of success here is in our industry? Is it to have 40%+ market share for a particular brand which in turn influences our decision(s) to buy or are we being shaped / groomed into buying these devices because suppliers are assuming that having market share means an easier sale? Downside is we are probably buying a form factor or device because of noisy influence vs. the right fit.

Point and case – I bought the Nokia 920 because everyone I knew said it was the best of breed at the time for Windows Phone 8. I automatically forgave its size because I wanted to hear that story around it being the best. It took me a day before I developed buyer’s remorse solely on the size of the device as sure it had qualities that I liked about the phone but I really didn’t need to go above my iphone size?

I went into that purchase with two sets of bias and I allowed the bogus data to shape an outcome that I ultimately did not want. Stupid but interesting how I was influenced.

 

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Lost: One Microsoft PR Genie, last seen in the bottle.

It turns out yet again Microsoft and Waggener Edstrom (the folks they outsource their PR to) seem to have this ongoing disconnect between reality and the Redmond Zip code. In that when a journalist on sites like “The Verge” or other(s) taps you on the shoulder for comment(s) in around what the *ACTUAL* strategy is going to be for Windows Phone 8 and future upgrades / updates.

Take the freaking call.  😳

In ignoring this, they in turn let the message around what this all actually means fall into the hands of the horde, which in turn means a lot of assumptions, assertions and most importantly anti-Windows Phone fuel for the rumor mill fire(s).

First reading you will take a pass at this being a case of Microsoft looking to rub their greedy hands together and go for the ye olde replenishment model. If you shift all your energy & focus onto a new release for new phones, only you can replenish your profit margins with the existing user base – as that is exactly what Apple does. After careful consideration however and you continue to read on in this saga you may stumble upon a link or two that points you to the real story in around the upgrade future(s) here, in that Microsoft will promise to give you a 8.x update.

“..Distribution of the updates may be controlled by the mobile operator or the phone manufacturer from which you purchased your phone. Update availability will also vary by country, region, and hardware capabilities…”

I could sit here and go all Troll/FUD on that last comment but in reality its like kicking that sick puppy again. I will simply say this; the messaging for this got lost yet again and now Microsoft have to spend cycles trying to put this genie back in the bottle. The only real way they can do this is by giving concrete assurances & specifics in around what 8.x vs 9.x will look like, specifically what does this whole Windows “Blue” strategy likely to become?

They will not do that, as that would be as if again someone in Microsoft + Wagged were actually taking a proactive stance on Public Relation(s) – Probably reading their PRIME scores upside down still.

To quote Tom on my facebook thread:

“..Microsoft used to control the messaging of updates a lot better, putting the blame on carriers. Carriers didn’t like this, so Microsoft removed the tables they used to supply. Some phones in the US don’t even have Tango right now, let alone 7.8. Have Microsoft committed to supplying 7.8 for every existing device? No. They’ve remained silent consistently about 7.8 and even pushed versions with buggy live tiles without a PR strategy. This support document with life cycle information has never been published before, and yet Microsoft has not managed the message well once again. It leaves people waiting for Tango or 7.8 concerned they will be left in the dark once again. Don’t defend it, ask for change…”

Simply put, this isn’t a story about Windows Phone upgrade good vs bad its more about how the hell does a company like Microsoft constantly forget to sit down and write a PR Strategy that actually makes sense. If you know you are about to launch a phone, then start campaigning now and furthermore do something about the release in a more visible / visual way that covers off your talking points of concern.

The fact Microsoft are constantly trying to figure out a way to pander to the carriers in order to push more units is probably a strong indicator as to why Surface Pro has failed to go outside handful of zip codes as they still haven’t figured out what “logistics” and “partnerships” really look like.

Apple is also being constantly used as baseline for success/failures for Microsoft in that all too often I see “but Apple do…” stop right there, Apple firstly have a strong history of success not simply because they had first move advantage on a touch-enabled phone but they have a very tightly controlled release strategy. When Apple sit down and release a product post, its actual design/development they focus in on the important areas such as:

  • “How do I get this phone to some kid in outback Australia and New York at the same time?”
  • “How do I control the entire PR noise around this launch so everyone takes queues from me not bloggers”
  • “How do I convince consumers to move to the next phone without them realizing I’m replenishing my market”.

PhoneHyper

Tim Cook from Apple probably got the succession from Steve Jobs probably (no idea) because he was brilliant at logistics & retail, in that he can get the job done around what it takes to release (even when Apples at its worst it still hits a better stride than Microsoft lately).

Before one compares Microsoft to Apple, take stock in the fact that Microsoft’s failures are not technical or by its design faults. It’s actual failures always constantly orbit in its ability to broadcast its message and make good on delivery. In reality its comparing Apples to Lemons (hah!)

This is whole upgrade fiasco is yet again filed under “How not to do Product Management & Release”.

 

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Microsoft officially supports Flash’s future over Silverlights past.

In late 2008, I remember being in a strategy meeting to discuss how the ubiquity problem for Silverlight could be energized more. In that meeting we were throwing ideas around how to get Silverlight into various “forced” updates in order to combat Adobe Flash’s “98%” metric which at the time was the biggest threat to Microsoft’s web-app future(s). It was during this meeting we discussed the banning of Adobe Flash on all Microsoft owned websites (which would later take into effect via an executive order to ban Adobe Flash on all sites hosted on Microsoft.com)

Today, Microsoft is shipping Adobe Flash as part of the IE10 browser to help close the loop on the Microsoft Surface “it just works” principle (i.e. play video online etc.). However, they have not shipped Microsoft Silverlight as well, as that would probably send a mixed signal to the market.

Mixed signals like today where each developer is sitting at their cubicle wondering what exactly is Silverlight used for still and is there a future in developing application(s) for it? Despite the 20yr time support pledge from Microsoft whilst alongside the reality that the ratio of adoption from WinForms,WPF and Silverlight still outnumber Windows 8 development.

The reality is the moment Silverlight is put into IE10 and on Surface Pro; automatically developers will likely ignore / bypass the new set of Windows 8 start screen (appstore) and instead continue to develop their applications in a way that works as it would whether you had Windows 8 or Windows 7. By not adding Silverlight to the IE10 install simply places a layer of friction to this workflow and in turn probably encourages these developers to either bite down hard on the Windows 8 *ONLY* application developer workflow and/or retreat back to WPF/WinForms for the same level of development.

Failing that, they will obviously then decide to go for the “it works on all” pipedream known as HTML5/JS and use that as their development platform of choice. In doing this not only did they just cut Microsoft out of the Microsoft UX Platform adoption cycle but they may even instead opt for an alternative to their server-side delivery (doubtful but more and more folks are trying out server-side solutions like node.js).

In all directions you look at this, bottom line is the mixed signal they may refer to is filled with just utter chaos that orbits around which framework you wish to choose and how you wish to navigate all the prickly parts to the Microsoft current “broken promise” strategies on display.

In my opinion, Microsoft should continue to support Silverlight but in a way that goes beyond their comfort levels + limited imagination. Having Silverlight act as a plugin for the “old” would enable developers to bridge the gap between Windows XP, 7 and Windows8 as there is absolutely no reason why you couldn’t push out Silverlight 6 as being the XAML Runtime you find today s Windows 8.

Yes it would mean Silverlight 5 apps won’t work in Silverlight 6 but also allowing the two runtimes to be co-installed isn’t a hard thing to achieve (we even talked & spec’d this out in the early days to help with parity in runtime changes for future versions, that and removing the need to restart the browser after you installed given we used 2x process GUID instead of 1x).

By keeping Silverlight runtime in this fashion you allow developers to continue to build muscle where needed in the XAML/C# domain therefore ensuring you have continuation in the ranks around development on Microsoft platform(s).

The pipedream of simply saying to all “stop doing managed code and go for broke on HTML5/JS via our custom built solution” is just that. If you were saying to developers to opt out of the C#/XAML development story and into the HTML/JS then why would I continue to take your beatings Microsoft? Instead, if I do decide to go down this path I will look to keep it 100% neutral.

That is to say to any Microsoft staffer – YOUR AUDIENCE WILL ADOPT MAC/LINUX AND WEAR “I HATE M$ T-SHIRTS

If you’ve ever spent any time inside Microsoft you will come to know one simple thing, Microsoft internally are fierce competitors and you will constantly hear about Apple, Google & Oracle’s movements. Specifically what is being done to combat them and how “unfair” these companies are playing the game (hell look at the Twitter feed of most staffers and its obvious thing to see)?

Never go full retard.

Bottom line is that out of all the bone head tactics I have witness Microsoft perform in the last two years this by far is the biggest and stupidest tactics by far.

Good news is your XAML/C# skills are transferrable right?…anyone?….its just a namespace change guys…come back..guys….

 

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Microsoft Surface Retail strategy in Australia is broken.

If you walk into a retail store such as Harvey Norman, Dick Smith or JB HIFI in Australia with the sole intent on buying a Microsoft Surface then you will be probably shocked to learn that it is likely to be buried amongst the “laptop meets tablet” mutations.

Photo 7-03-13 12 58 18 PM

The Surface Tablet is hidden amongst an array of competing brands that are usually higher in price whilst being presented as a “laptop” in its initial resting “display” setting. Is there an attempt to highlight its form factor? No and more to the point there is absolutely no attempt to profile the branding of “Microsoft Surface” other than a strange font, which is 10%, compared to the price tag that is clearly the most important focal point.

To me the entire Microsoft Surface marketing campaign in Australia seems to be a broken situation whereby it appears Microsoft Australia are clearly metric / goaled around “impressions” and less about “conversions”. I say that as if the two metrics were linked then getting people into the “stores” would be 30% of the battle as once they are in, soliciting the potential consumers into a purchase would be where the real energy needed to be spent.

Photo 7-03-13 12 58 24 PM

Today, in these same stores if you were to walk in and buy an Apple product you would immediately notice that they are separated from the horde of random brands but all accessories that are officially owned by Apple’s brand machine are also within reach. That is to say they are clearly spending a small sum of their retail channel delivery budget(s) on ensuring that resellers such as these brands are retaining the brand(s) needs (Meyer’s in Australia also acts as a conduit to Apple’s branding).

However, why should Microsoft spend on securing the Microsoft Surface segregation?

Microsoft should and needs to put pressure on retail chains like this to have Microsoft Surface separated from the horde for the following reasons.

  • Price pressure. Clearly, the other brands are opting for the Microsoft Surface Pro approach to tablet & Windows 8 bundling with a high “laptop-centric” price tag attached. That’s fine but in reality if Microsoft wants to invoke change in the OEM channels around price and industrial design then having the beacon of example (Surface) separated ensures that these guys have to compete harder to win hearts/minds more. If Microsoft can put pressure on price models with a “lead by example” model, they can in turn regain some much lost control over this entire cluster f***k of tablet/laptop sales pipeline.
  • Differentiation. Right now, the whole Surface RT in Australia is all you can buy so there is minimal confusion around what the brand “Microsoft Surface” represents. It is only after you introduce Microsoft Surface Pro into the mix that the confusion will start to fester, especially when retail chains like the one mentioned seemed to be preoccupied with price. Having a clear definitive marquee / in-store controlled visualizations of the matrix would help clear up potential buyer’s remorse going forward.Furthermore it would again encourage put pressure on other OEM providers to consider the RT route but I highly doubt that will occur given the current failings of RT today (perception and execution wise).

In Summary, the question in the room still remains unanswered, why did Microsoft enter the tablet space as a hardware provider & not just software. I have read and heard multiple accounts as to why, to which me distills down into simply the “lead by example” formula.

If Microsoft wishes to lead by example then they need to in my opinion work harder to continue to put pressure on hardware brands like Dell, HP, ASUS, and Samsung etc. in a way that forces the consumer to start to consider an actual comparison between the brands and Microsoft’s “best of breed”.

In doing this they would also start to build some muscle & discipline in helping hardware companies focus more on the industrial design of the said device(s) as opposed to just re-using patterns they have formed whilst making Laptops (i.e. look at Android’s screen resolution issues to date and avoid that from spilling over into Windows).

Simply put, I think the overall marketing / delivery service that’s in play today puts strong indicators around the fact that not only is Microsoft lacking hardware leadership they are really living and likely to die by their previous Zune strategies (Good idea, just badly executed).

 

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Inserting the UX into an existing Agile Project.

It is a Wednesday afternoon in Sydney North Ryde, humidity is quite hot and I am walking up a fairly steep hill panting and cursing to myself about getting to the gym sooner rather than later. I glance over to my left and I see this person riding a unicycle up a hill whilst listening to music and moving at a pace that is faster than my walking (yes that is how unfit I am).

I simply stopped in my tracks and first chuckled at how amazingly insightful that was to witness as I immediately thought “that basically was the visual for my role as a UX Architect” – which was to say, “Poor me, how hard is my job as only an idiot would ride a unicycle up a hill”.

Sometimes life is like riding a unicycle up a hill.

Sometimes life is like riding a unicycle up a hill.

As I continued to walk, I started to think about how much effort that person is putting into attacking the hill before him. Firstly he has to balance whilst at the same time maintain a steady forward momentum (too fast he falls, too slow he falls). Secondly, he is listening to music while he attacks the hill that I can only assumes helps him focus on the mission ahead by blocking out distraction(s).

That encounter inspired me, it gave me a renewed sense of energy at facing down the biggest problem I have today – “how do you integrate UX into existing Agile projects cleanly”. I mean to say the task before me is not easy, it is filled with many uphill battles such as balancing between function and form, whilst at the same time not spooking stakeholders into cost blow out panic attacks. I also am required to have a concentration level that simply at times feels inhuman given the unchartered territory ahead.

The difference between that role and the actual guy on the unicycle is well at least he gets to see what’s ahead of him whereas a UX in Agile world is typically doing the same thing blind folded.

Discovery vs Delivery.

I spent over three years travelling around Australia in every capital city visiting “developer” teams for all types of companies (enterprise, startups, government etc.). I have seen the same thing happen over and over, whereby each company swears by their agile manifesto and how important it is to maintain “agile” discipline. I also notice they cherry pick agile each time to make sure it fits in with their culture and more importantly to not take it as an absolute but more a relative approach to designing software.

The part that often sticks in my craw is not the sprint cycle(s) or the sprint backlog creation. Nope, the part that I immediately notice as being the fatal flaw to why User Experience is often the sacrificial lamb in the development process is well the discovery of the said feature(s).

For instance, a team will often sit down in a room with a whiteboard and then begin coming up with some stories around what they are hoping to achieve with the software. They then will likely document these stories with the usual “As a User I want the ability to do X so that I can do Y” style sentences. After that process they, would likely then unpack these at a later time into developer task(s) along with success/fail criteria (tests, definition of done blah blah)?

I would guestimate that 90% of the hundreds of developer teams I have visited do pretty much the above. Furthermore, I would often be invited into some of these teams at around the last few sprints to help “make it look UXy” as if there was some way I could just “Integrate” into the team(s) development process, fix the UX problems, low impact to the code and do the aforementioned in a timely manner (Usually I say: “You don’t need a UX Architect, you need a priest as this thing is dead and all you’re after is a lot of prayers to reanimate the corpse”).

Let me simply say this, as a contractor I would love nothing more than to have you do the above, especially if I am charging you per hour. I could simply tread water and extract large amount of free useless work hours knowing either outcome still does not result in a successful delivery.

Ethics 101 aside, today, I am not that contractor, I am a UX Architect and I have a queue of other products waiting in line for my same attention. I do not have time to drag the timelines out so I have to instead get the above optimized.

The flaw in this aforementioned process of white boarding features is the part that you first make your biggest and ultimately largest mistakes when it comes to making a software product (which is a general argument to make, but hear me out). As when you sat down to the feature, you did not document whom you are making the product for. In addition, how much time did you spend on refining the process other than the first bunch of fragmented ideas? Lastly, how do various stories influence one another?

Agile is not an excuse to just deliver a project without planning and planning doesn’t mean you have to spend the bulk of your time in “waterfall” delivery purgatory either.

Great quote from Jeff

It is probably a good point to say that if you are focused on delivery and you spent little time on discovery, well you are basically in for a lot of turbulence and “UX Tetris” in the coming sprint cycles.

Unpacking the Discovery phase.

Take an existing project you are on today, now look at the User Stories you have (ignore your tasks). Now grab these stories whilst grabbing some pens & notepads. Now take some of these stories (does not matter where you start) and begin drawing a comic book of your product, that is “how would you draw an activity from the moment the user clicks on an icon to the splash screen and then to what they see first”.

Example – If I was building Outlook I’d say scene(1) is user clicks on icon, scene(2) splash screen loads, scene(3) outlook opens in default folder view, scene(4) user creates new email etc.

uxblur

The objective behind this in the first part of the discovery phase is to illustrate that your story whilst at first sounds perfectly fine is not really “done”.  How many UX Personas did you draw in the comic? I would wager maybe one? Moreover, how many times did you redraw this process before you exhausted the steps into what you would consider “simplicity”.

  • How much influence did iPhone, iPad, Microsoft Office, Outlook, Windows 8, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Visual Studio etc. all play in the mental model you had for the software(s) design?
  • How many DataGrids and Tree controls did you “assume” existing in the UI as you drew the comic story?
  • Did you draw the UI as a wireframe or just abstract shapes? (If you did wireframe, stop, rub it out and keep it abstract).

A Definition of a Story is “An account of imaginary or real people and events told for entertainment” – the key words from that definition are “An account”. That is to say, it is your own personal bias coming through on how you foresee the event taking place based on existing ideas or experiences from the past.

Now, to bake your noodle, grab three or four of your colleagues and get them to do the same process on the said story but be very careful not to lead them on the same path you just took (e.g.: “draw a comic book for how our customer can create a new email. STOP. No more information”).

I have done this a few times and usually what happens if done correctly (i.e. everyone is in isolation) is the story typically has similar patterns but the ordering and approach taken often has mixed result(s) (especially if its domain specific to your companies problems and not generic like email checking).

First lesson learnt here is that we all approach the design with a bias in mind and yes, we feel that if we all share the same pattern in design it will in turn invoke less agitation on the end user(s). Agitation such as this is still good and most of the time the behavior of the said end-users will likely follow the approach defined.

Problem is you are not in the business of “good enough” anymore. Software today is expected to rise above mediocrity and everyone is under pressure to deliver products as “simpler” and less “dense” in terms of feature(s) and/or layout design(s).

With that, it is your job to put this entire story design on a very strict diet that should take more time than you probably anticipated. Typically you will want to time box this process as it can drag out and I highly recommend you grab a healthy mix of developers, customers (trusted), sales, marketing and if possible receptionists (i.e. people who aren’t your target user) in the creation process. The more diverse the background the more likely you can feed of each other’s ideas of “simplicity” without having blinders on. Lastly make sure it’s in a room where everyone can draw their ideas and do not break these sessions into hourly mini meetings – make them days, in that spend five days in a room fighting, crying, swearing, hugging and so on (as you will take two days to get everyone in a relaxed mode whereby failure won’t be seen as embarrassing – humans are funny like that).

ProTip: Simplicity can be measured.

A Comic style slice of all your user stories can feel like a complete time waste, especially if you have pressure to deliver. In order to do this you have to justify how this can improve cost of delivery whilst at the same time it looks dangerously close to “Waterfall”.

Truth be told, in under a week or maybe two you could potentially visualize your entire current story catalog in a way that would likely reduce countless hours of communication issue(s) around design which in turn would without a doubt reduce communication costs. That being said, that is a very loose “return on investment” pitch to make.

  1. For giggles, take the existing slice you have designed and then unpack that into tasks with forecasts attached. Record that number and cost it out in terms of effort.
  2. Now, for giggles again, take your team and tell them “make it simpler” that is refine the story further, squeeze it to the point where you automatically feel it is not as “Powerful” in terms of feature design.
  3. Once that occurs, run your costs against that.

If done in a way that I am assuming you should see a fluctuation between the two cost(s) and it can be either higher or lower in terms of cost.

You have the first measurement to add to the “simpler” cost center, in that if it’s lesser in terms of cost – awesome, see we just reduced a lot of excess coding time!.

If it is higher then well how badly do you want a better user experience for the product you are making? (Sneaking this past people usually ends badly, so be honest and if executives do not subscribe then you have an answer on how they feel regarding “experience matters”).

Often when I do it, the cost initially increases (i.e. short term loss, long term repeatable win) because as I am refining the stories I am looking to make the behavior of the user less effort for them. That is to say I am thinking how the software’s job is to make their life easier and that it should do 90% of the work for them and that means at times decluttering the task from the usual user interface design and being context specific (i.e. isolate the user to carry out a task that’s reduced of distractions).

An example.

If you mapped out Outlook comic story you would probably have imagined outlook as it is today, whereby you have the tree of folders, you click “new” and prompted the same way it does today. 

I think of it differently, I think that whatever behavior I invoke that triggers “new” is initiated, the entire user interface goes into “new mail mode” that is the existing chrome/HUD is screened back and all the specific requirements I have for “new email” is in front of me. To my left there is a smart way to access my contacts, especially given I’m in a large enterprise and often have issues between first/lastnames and aliases”. To my right I have a different way to create an email in that am I creating just a text email or am I creating something that I want to insert media into for all to visualize my point?.

My point here is I could easily increase the development cost in order to assemble the user interface in a way that for me puts all the necessary pieces the end user will need in order to carry out the said task. Simpler doesn’t mean minimal (as that can often be misleading) it means how does one make the life of the persona simple in carrying out the task – given software is made to make our lives easier right?

UX Personas are not what you may think they are.

Having redesigned the new email some may declare “..hang on, you didn’t specify the feature criteria fairly..” which is true, I did not. The next thing one needs to learn is my idea of a user and your ideas of a user are highly likely two different types.

Example of Useless "UX Persona"

Example of Useless “UX Persona”

A UX Persona discovery will fix the assumption failure(s), whereby if you sit down and you unpack the word “user” to the point you exhaust your collective knowledge of that means. A UX Persona is not a story about “Jim who is 22, likes fishing and blah blah” as bottom line who gives a shit who he is or what he likes. A Persona designed like that is used for marketing purposes to help sales teams position the messaging & roles the said product will likely excite.

A UX Persona typically needs to focus on two simple areas, that is what behaviors they are currently exhibiting (AS-IS) and what behaviors they should be exhibiting (TO-BE). The word “User” needs to absorb the fact that sure, a user is doing xyz today but you are in the business of innovation so you in turn need to move them to a new set of behaviors!

Eg: When Apple sat down to design the iPod touch they were not pandering to existing behaviors user(s) were exhibiting on mp3 players. They moved us all over to the touch interface and it was initially confusing but today I see five year olds queuing music & playing games.

Defining a UX Persona for me is mainly about breaking their behaviors into four categories

uxagile-fld-geo

  • Influence (low to very high). Take training, mentoring, buying power, optimization etc. as categories you can help shape the low to very high score. Basically how much influence does this persona have over the adoption of your new product, the training burden required in order to use your new product and lastly the output of the product (i.e. are they the end customer for your customers customer).
  • Usage  (low to high). Similar to influence but now how much of the actual product are they going to be using? Specifically which modes of the product are they using (e.g. Visual Studio – Build time, Debug & Runtime). If you are writing software for both an executive assistant and their boss, then basically it is likely the assistant is going to have a higher rating then the boss depending on the scenario (vice versa).
  • Form Factor. What are they using to access the product? Given tablets, smartphones, laptops etc. are all evolving technology what is the likely input of choice. Do not just isolate this to device/platforms but also are they using stylus pens, are they using modified keyboards etc.
  • Environment. What is type of environment are they using the product in? Is it inside a coal mine where it is dark (i.e. white vs. black colors are a safety issue), is there many hazardous issues nearby? Is it noisy (distraction and cannot hear sounds), is it inside an office? Is it inside an operator building where your product is one of sixteen screens? 

    Environment is really an important amount of information that gets lost in the “Story” creation. As we really need to pay attention to how much duress, the user is under in order to make their life simpler.

Notice I never discussed usability issues such as their age, sight quality, gloves vs no gloves, color blind vs non color blind and so on? Well, if you did not now you have. Usability is a completely new chapter on its own, suffice to say I typically design for extreme in mind that is I assume the worst and hope for the best, make the process accessible and it in theory should put you in a position to refine for specific usability & accessibility scenarios (ie design garden sheers for people with arthritous and in theory you will design for both people with and without in mind).

Keep breaking the UX Personas you design down until you simply cannot come up with new ones. Then go grab some customers you have today or want to have tomorrow and play a game of “Guess Who” with the existing ones you have defined. If you cannot line them up with what you have or you end up with orphan UX Persona(s) then consider how to merge or separate until you reach a “best guess” group of personas to attack with your new product.

The trick here is also to focus more on “TO-BE” not “AS-IS” as the moment you release your product to market you are changing the rules of usage. You are invoking change in an area where existing mental models are either hard wired into the users or have no concept of said feature(s) even existing.

Once you have the list of Persona(s) grouped in a way you feel make sense (make tribes if it helps with the grouping) then I want you to divide into two piles – first being 80% and second being 20%.  Dividing these personas into the 80% and 20% piles gives you two options going forward.

The 20% pile could be the first target users, these are the ones you want to launch version (1) of your new product with. It means you have a much simpler feature set to attack but it also means you can iron out the kinks in this new process whilst illustrating the value of “simplicity”.

The 80% pile could be the same as the 20% or it can be the persona(s) that are distracting you from simplicity, which is they aren’t as important for the first round of delivery? Either way you choose to approach this just settle on one of these piles as your “target” user base.

The truth is you will never hit 100% of your persona(s) needs in your ongoing deliveries, and once you make peace with that, the pressure of being everything to everyone will be reduced. It means that over time, you will have to work harder to regain the lost personas back but that is fine, provided you stick to that mission and remain calm.

Example – When Silverlight was being built, the first version pretty much took the 20% path with a focus on video persona(s). As more and more versions of the product where released it then would take the missing 80% pile and subdivide that into 80/20 and again, take that 20% and chip away at those personas that wanted more than video.

ProTip: Consider putting these personas into a deck of “Cards” and hand them out to all members in your team. As when you are discussing problems in your day to day development get into the habbit of keeping them in view when you say the words “Customer” or “Users”.

You are in the patterns business.

Do not fool yourself into thinking the software you are working on is unique and never been done. There are elements to the software you are making that is fresh in terms of features here and there but ultimately you are highly likely re-using existing UI patterns found in software today.

The question is what UI patterns are you using and why have you changed them? That is to say which Color Modal are you going to use and why don’t you like existing patterns out there should it be different?

uxpattern

It’s at this micro level you isolate your users actual behavior and can be majority of the time field tested with customer(s) to establish what is “usable” and which isn’t. It is also at this point you can attach “who” the UI pattern is designed for.

If  you catalog these UI patterns you can also begin the “visual” treatment process before any code is even written (in parallel) as its really about which assets are missing, which you already own and when they can be queued for delivery.

Lastly and the most important point of all is that you can identify which Patterns are “Fresh” and begin your patent application(s) for retaining your intellectual property rights whilst at the same time ensuring that you’re not infringing on other existing patents out there.

 (i.e. have you read the terms & conditions of Office Ribbon, Adobe vs. Microsoft legal case around panel snapping etc.?)

Discovery integrates with delivery.

To recap, you have taken the simple “user stories” and you have mapped them into visual stories that help illustrate the “before” and “after” in terms of refining them down into “simplicity”. You have also identified whom the actors or “user” actually are finite detail that even talks to what, where and how.

So, discovery phase is done right?

No. This is the easy part as now you have information and you have a sense of possibilities. What comes next is the part where you often will lose the executive owners of your team. It’s the prototyping phase of discovery, that is take your ideas and come up with some wireframes or small time boxed interactive prototypes of how the comic stories can be achieved.

I say you lose them as if you do not handle this carefully you will position this phase as being “wasteful” or “not as important – function vs. form”. The trick is to factor this phase as being part of your “delivery” but knowing it is actually more to do with “discovery”, (it is as if you Jedi mind tricked the project management & executive fears).

Prototypes, Wireframes and Comic Stories are deliverable that works the same as actually writing the code itself in a normal agile scenario (i.e. they too can follow sprint cycles). You can do it parallel (if you are in v2 of this process) or you can do it sequential but the key is to deliver something that shows the investment is not wasted. You also iron out the unknown and can often deliver drops to candidates for the software(s) release to get a sense of what success/fail will look like had you spent months coding it for real.

Remember Windows Longhorn? Yeah most of that was Macromedia Director. Remember Silverlight on the Nokia N9 back in MIX keynotes? Yeah that was kind of a mini PowerPoint style animation! Point is when you demo something, nobody 99% of the time asks to see how many lines of code it took to make.

This approach builds confidence that your development has balanced the feature(s) required with market readiness/attractiveness whilst at the same time maintains a disciplined delivery schedule. It also allows  you to really validate your UX personas against the features that they are attached to, as then you can start to formulate a fairly accurate understanding of what feature(s) are going to make the release and who they are being targeted for. Having just this alone can improve your “feature” cutting when the time for reducing scope occurs; again, you know more about the impact than a general “user” statement.

It also helps to know this when forecasting costs for a new products development, which is how much this will cost to produce and who the first, second, third round of releases will likely excite. It also helps training / documentation teams begin preparing their work streams on how to manage change management issues. This also helps testing teams understand how to attack their tests to ensure the said quality gates are kept intact and aren’t being approached from “generic” scenarios (i.e. play the role of the UX persona not the roles like “let’s see how much of this I can break”).

Finally, it helps Marketing/Sales teams get actually ready for the “launch” in a way that hits your target market squarely in the places it should.  I.e. they know who to avoid making eye contact with during launch time should that UX Persona group not make the cut).

Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

Before I close out this poorly written tomb, let me say that no matter what choices you decide to make, ensure you keep it all open and transparent. There is nothing worse than having all the discovery and delivery processes being locked up in the hands of a select few or worse making it available but displayed in such an abstract format that it simply holds no clarity around what just happened.

The combination of UX and Code delivery needs to happen clearly, there needs to be KPI’s set and lastly you need to ensure everyone in the room has a visual simple display as to what is being worked on.

uxkpi

An executive does not care about your “Done” board in agile and they do not care about how many stories you have to write code against either. They also do not care you have unpacked a generic User persona into five sub personas and lastly they do not care about how you have improved the “AS-IS” comic style user stories into the “TO-BE”. The assume you do this normally, so don’t expect an “Adda boy/girl” pat on the back as well it’s like being asked for a high five for knowing how to check email?

The mostly care about progress reports – where is their money being spent and why. They will care at times when visiting peers or their power brokers come by for a visit, in which case bring all the above out for a full show & tell (factory visits is what I call them).

If you can justify the costs in a meaningful way that does not involve reading text then you are miles ahead of other teams who assume that just because a Story is written down that everyone “gets” where they are heading. Visualization of your products early often gives everyone in the room clear communication around what the vision will end up looking like. There is less pressure for demos to be at a fairly high standard given comic stories, prototypes & wireframes will paint that end point in a much more cleanly digestible way (which ultimately will mean memory recall – which is what you all want).

Lastly, before I close out, can I just say aloud – everybody relax. The agile movement is simply about taking a lot of big lumpy problems and breaking them down into really small bite sized pieces that are easier to manage. This is a strategy that is not unique and exclusive to software development; other industries do this daily and without as many issues as we often create.

An Example of this process is grab 3-4 unique small “beads” and drop them into a bucket of sand. Mix the sand up, then using just a small scoop, plastic bags and a scale come up with a strategy on how you can sample the said mix evenly.

Solve that problem and you can have a future in geology but at the same time, you will also be in a better position to understand how Agile + Forecasting actually work.

 

 

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