Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Trailer For Your Story

While telling a long story to your investors, executives, peers or team members during a short presentation, you may have to show a trailer of your story rather than the whole story. Here is a template I use to compress a long story, of a user accomplishing something, in one screen. I am going to make the assumption that you are convinced about the value of story telling instead of using bullet points to get your point across. In this post, I only explain the mechanics of conveying the story using a trailer.

Composition of the trailer
Put a big picture of the main persona in the middle. Convey the emotion of the person using speech bubbles. For example, it could be old lady exclaiming that she is not able to move around freely or a working mother talking about the lack of time to do everything. Put a supporting persona on the left. Make one supporting persona the narrator of the trailer.

I have tried this out in presentations to executives, customers and analysts. You can print this out and put it on the wall to generate interest during workshops. You can use this as the opening picture before you show a demo of the prototype, you will build later. This can be the slide where you capture the value propositions for each user. You get the idea. It is useful to build a trailer for your story.

You can use your favorite presentation tool to compose the trailer. I use PowerPoint to compose the trailer because of its ubiquity. I create the illustrations myself using a Toshiba Tablet PC because I like to do so. You can pick images from the stock photo library of your company or from a public royalty free photo website. You can also make a simple sketch, take a picture of it using your phone and use it here.

I use such trailers to understand the essence of my story, enhance the conversation around the story, explore new ideas and convey my thoughts clearly. Go ahead. Give it a try. Let me know if I can be of any help.

Some hurdles you may face
Most people know that drawings convey the message instantly. Even a stick figure with a speech bubble conveys more information that a page full of text. And yet, most people prefer to write. The interesting thing is that many of us underestimate our ability to draw and overestimate our ability to write. 

My First Thoughts On Salesforce Chatter

I just signed up for Chatter, the collaboration tool from It looks simple and neat.

Sign Up Process
I like the simplicity of the signup process. Like Yammer, Chatter requires you to signup with your work email address. There is hardly any hurdle for anyone to create an account with Chatter.

Building The Network
Inviting colleagues to join is easy. Click on the "Invite Coworkers" button and type the email of the person you want to invite. The network is everyone in your company. That might not be true. Everyone in my company is not my network. My network is the people I work with and trust. I wonder how that will be addressed.

Groups Feature
I can create a group. I wonder how this might work on a day-to-day basis. Will I end up creating groups for each and everything I do or will I just create a few groups. Time will tell.

Main Features
The main areas of Chatter are Updates, Profile, People, Groups and Files.

Updates: All the updates from things and people you follow.
Profile: Just my name and email for now.
People: everyone one who shares the same company email.
Groups: I have to start a group
Files: All my files

I noticed that Chatter is giving documents the same level of importance as people. I wonder why. These are my first observations. I plan to expand this post as and when I explore more.

On-Boarding Tips I Found Useful

There was a significant re-organization in my company and I saw several colleagues moving to new teams. I also saw several new colleagues come on board. I noticed that many of them are stressed about the changes. I found the thoughts of @onboardingcoach in the website very useful.

1. Take the time to listen
2. Develop relationships
3. Ask for help
4. Be yourself
5. Look after yourself.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Do Managers Consider The Development Of Employees More Important Than Business Results

In the past several weeks I spoke to many managers about managing the performance of their employees. The managers ranged from junior managers managing a small team to people who managed other managers and teams. I was intrigued by how each and everyone of them consistently talked about the need to understand the values of their employees. They also talked about the need to monitor, measure and develop the competencies of their team members. Not a single one of them talked about the need to measure business performance or business results.

I came away wondering if I just happened to talk to the nicest managers in town who put the development of their team members before business results. Do managers take performance on business results for granted now-a-days? Is there a underlying trend here? 

Monday, January 24, 2011

A Word Cloud Of My Recent Posts

This is a word cloud of my recent posts. I used to create it. There are some really cool designs and it is a lot of fun. I have some fun projects for you. Take the text from a corporate communications email and create a word cloud. Better yet, take the email from your CEO or HR department and create a word cloud. I am sure you will be very amused to see the words they use over and over again.

My Personal Learning Network

The people who I follow on Twitter is the closest I have been to a personal learning network. When I follow people on twitter, I get news updates from people I know, I get knowledge about my domain from thought leaders I trust, I get suggestions from colleagues I admire, i get nudges from advisors who care and I get wisdom from wise men and women I respect. It has never been a better time for life long learning.

On-Boarding Training Works Even For Experienced Hires

A few days back I formally interviewed a friend, as part of my research, along with another colleague. Since my colleague did not know the friend, my friend introduced himself and gave his elevator pitch about what he does. I was impressed by the crisp introduction of his new role and asked him how he created that pitch.

My friend, who works for Accenture, told me that creating an elevator pitch for himself was one of that training programs that Accenture put him through, as part of his on-boarding program. The program, he said, was aimed at experienced hires. More importantly the training was a workshop where he was required to create the pitch as part of the program. It was learning by doing. He also mentioned the he watched others pitch themselves and fine-tuned his pitch based on the techniques of others. It is evident that learning by doing works, even for those with decades of experience behind them.

I also, believe it is easier to unlearn old habits when you learn by doing. 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Drawing And telling Stories During a Compressed Workshop

This week, several colleagues and I had a three day workshop to start the design process for a new product. Nothing new. We do that all the time. However, this time we were on a compressed time schedule where we had limited time to capture our ideas and turn them into stories.

On day three of the workshop we split into multiple teams to create a high level story within 45 minutes. Normally we take the time to draw detailed stories to communicate the story, the principles and the ideas. Such detailed stories may look like the image below.

Since we had no time to draw stories in the comic strip format using tools in an electronic document, we just started drawing the comic strips on the white board. It helped us formulated the story of a person who needed to get something done.

We had a challenge. How do we take this story, in the form of a comic strip drawn on the white board, quickly to the workshop room? We decided to take a picture of the white board and email the picture to a colleague. We then showed then projected the picture on the wall to explain the story. It was received well by  all participants.

Later we could print the photos and add them to PowerPoint slides for presentation and storage purposes. It took a bit of image processing to ensure that the prints were clear.

It does not matter even if you have limited drawing skills. Drawing liberates the thinking of the team creating the drawing and the opens up the minds of people who see the drawing. Give it a try. It works well even for heavily compressed workshops.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Quiet Time

Built a small app today, using Google App Inventor for Android, as a gift of Quiet Time for a friend. When he receives a text, this app replies with a standard or custom message. Go ahead. Give it a try. The entire code  and UI is posted here.

Friday, January 14, 2011

A Dice Rolling App Using The Accelerometer Sensor Component of App Inventor

I wrote a dice rolling app using the Accelerometer Sensor component of Google App Inventor, the UI based mobile app creation tool from Google.

This is what the app does. When you shake the phone, the phone vibrates and starts rolling a die. When the vibration stops, the die stops rolling and you get a result from 1 to 6. The result depends on a random number generator and the duration of the shake. So you get an unpredictable result as you would in the real world. Here is the code for the app.

This is a simple app to understand the basic functionality of the Accelerometer component in a phone.

The User Interface
What I like about this app is that it has no buttons on screen. The only way to interact with the app is by shaking the phone. I can imaging a two year old child shaking the phone, feeling the phone vibrate, seeing the dice roll and having a lot of fun with the app. Of course, the Android phone will be a $150 toy.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Coin Toss App Using Google App Inventor

I built a is a simple Android mobile app, using Google App Inventor. Using the app you can flip a coin, when you dont have a coin handy and need to make random decision.

App Inventor is a UI based tool to create mobile apps for the Android phone. It is a good tool for product managers and product designers to build functioning mobile app  prototypes.

I have posted the code below. As you can see, the logic of this app is easy to follow and is clear to people who do not program for a living. Give it a try. It is a lot of fun.

Using similar logic you can write a "Roll The Dice" app. A great way to teach probability to kids. I wish I had apps like these when I was learning probability and statistics in school. Would have been a lot more interesting.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Tell a Story Rather Than Write Minutes Of A User Interview

I have spoken to tens of end users in the past few months about their workplace aspirations, challenges and problems. Some times I speak to them in person and some times over the phone. I always do this along with another colleague. One of us takes the lead on asking the questions and the other one writes down what he hears.

Rather than write my notes in a note book, I learned from @MChewD to write my notes with a thick pen, such as a Sharpie, on rectangular Post It notes while I am interviewing the person. When ever I identify a topic under which I can group the notes, I write the topic down on a Post It note with a thick Whiteboard marker.

If I am meeting the person face to face, I invite the person to walk over and see my Post Its and check If I captured their thoughts correctly.

After the interview, I collect the Post Its and go to our project room or my desk and paste the Post Its on the wall while sharing the story of the person we interviewed with my colleagues. If another colleague has taken down their notes on a Post It, they will post their notes on the wall as well.

This process almost always induces a conversation, about the person we interviewed, the main themes that emerged and the big takeaways from the interview. The beauty is that all this happens right after the interview without a formal meeting set up. In fact, we do this sometimes within a few minutes, in the time it takes to set up a meeting on Outlook.

Give it a try. Keep your note book and fine point pens away and use Post Its and Sharpies to capture your interview notes.

I follow different research principles, when I visit customers and talk to a group of people.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

SAP Streamwork Enterprise Edition Team

My employer SAP, rolled out SAP Streamwork Enterprise Edition internally. We are the first customers of our own product. I am writing this post, not to talk about the features of the product but to tell everyone about the team that builds the product.

The Streamwork team is one of the most agile teams I have seen in my career. I have admired what they do from a distance for many months now. Last week I got to experience their skill and customer orientation first hand.

I liked Streamwork so much that I purchased Streamwork last year as an individual by paying my own money before the enterprise roll out. When the enterprise edition was rolled out, I faced some issues with the conversion and David Brockington and Ingrid Duquenoy-Bernaudin, from the product team helped me resolve it efficiently, even though it was a sticky problem that only one user faced.

The Streamwork team is also releasing mobile versions for the iPhone, Blackberry and Android. They asked me for my feedback and I have shared my thoughts about thinking-mobile-first with them.

Analysts and current users may have their own thoughts about the product and its adoption. Since I am an SAP employee, I am not going to comment on that.

But the most important thing is that you will be in good hands when you use Streamwork. Since it is an OnDemand product built by a very capable, knowledgeable, customer-oriented and agile team, I am confident that the product will evolve quickly in response to customer feedback and become integral to your collaboration infrastructure.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Understanding Gaming By Catching Fruits

I created a simple game today using Google App Inventor to understand the basics of game design and game programming. A demo of the app I built and the code are below.

If you would like to see the step by step process of building the original tutorial, please go to

Apple With A Hint Of Blackberry

I created this one for my dear wife. I am sure all the bloggers, mobile enthusiasts, social media zealots, and unitedairlines premier executives can identify with this.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

A Barcode Scanner Android Mobile Application Using Google App Inventor

I wrote an application today called Book Barcode Scanner. Using the app you can scan the barcode of a book, get the ISBN number and search for the book details such as price on the web. Here is the video and the complete code for the app.

Over the past few months I got many emails asking me for the source code.
You can buy the source code now.

The video and the code above will show you how to build the prototype. But if you want the source file, click here to buy it for $0.99. I spend a few hours exploring it and building it. It might save you an hour or so.

You will get a zip file. Go to your appinventor instance and upload the zip file to create a new project.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

A Camera App Using Google App Inventor

I built a Camera app using Google App Inventor today. In the video below I demo the app and explain how it was built step by step. I have also posted the entire App Inventor code required to build this camera app below.

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