Thursday, June 30, 2011

Not Everyone Is A Visual Designer

While designing the profile pages of Career OnDemand my colleague @enricgili brought up an important point. Not everyone is a visual designer. Not everyone wants to be a visual designer. Not everyone has the skills to be a visual designer. So we decided to request users to provide and content and prescribe a look and feel for them rather than give them greater control over the branding of their page.

At the same time we decided to let them provide access to websites that help them promote their brand and expertise from their profile page. This product design guideline helped simplify many of our conversations and decisions.

Mat Honan
If you are an fan you might like the approach we are taking.

Twitter Tools I Use and My Pattern of Usage

A colleague who follows me on twitter asked me about the tools I use and my pattern of usage. So instead of sending him an email, I decided to share it with everyone. @Chirag_Mehta introduced me to most of these tools.

1. Tweetdeck
I use this tool when I am at my desk. I watch events specific tweets on columns and favorite the tweets for later reading or retweet them for others.

TweetDeck for Desktop

2. Chome PlugIn
I use this while I am reading something on the web. The beauty is that I can quote articles and tweet the link with relative ease. All I have to do is choose the text I want to tweet and click on the icon on the tool bar.

3. FlipBoard on the iPad.
After hearing me talk non-stop about the iPad, my wife got it for me as a gift just to shut me up. I use the Flipboard app for the iPad to read all my favorite magazines. While reading I share the ones, I think my followers might care about. This is normally after dinner while sitting on the couch.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Sales OnDemand User Experience Was Built By UX Designers And Product Owners

The role of a user experience designer and product owner are changing drastically now-a-days. Design has become very important and yet companies do not hire sufficient number of designers to cover the work. I was curious how the Sales OnDemand team handled this situation. I posed this question to Prerna, one of the UX design colleagues. She said that User Experience designers provided the basic screens to the product owners and explained the broad framework within which product owners needs to operate. Product Owners did a significant portion of the user experience design themselves.

This makes a lot of sense. Design is how things work. It is not just how things look. So the product owners who have a deep understanding of the needs of customers should be able to think through how the product will work and represent the flow in some form.

Such product owners will be successful in the future. Those who don't run the risk of failure.

User Attrition: Another Reason Why Collaboration Should Be At The Core Of Business Software

A few months back I argued that collaboration should be at the core of enterprise software, not at the periphery.

Today I had dinner with a friend who runs a enterprise software consulting company. He mentioned that, less than 40% of people who are required to use the Supply Chain Management software actually use it. The remaining 60% simple make up their won processes using various collaboration tools such as excel and email conversations.

He mentioned that if only the software were a bit flexible and allowed people to have a short conversation or share a document in the context of their current task, the usage will be significantly high. This is another reason why collaboration should be at the core of every business application.

The Kind Of Mail That Makes It All Worthwhile

My former DigitalThink colleague, Shiva Kumar Naspuri joined Nokia as a product manager this week. He wrote this email to me and Erik Sowa yesterday. I am so proud of him.

Hi Prashanth,
I wanted to thank you for all the support at DigitalThink. Your trust and encouragement at DigitalThink has really boosted my confidence in all respects and always helped me plan and achieve something better in my career. In fact, this is how I secured my current role at Nokia as a Product Manager and even my previous roles. There isn't a better place than DigitalThink when it comes to learning for me. It has helped shape a new direction for my career and I am glad you saw it in me even before I did.

Hope all is well. Thank you so much for supporting Prashanth in passing on the responsibility to me in India. It meant a lot to me and my career :). I am excited about this new opportunity. I am confident that I have developed the right skills to perform well in this role.

[fingers crossed]

Dip and India Unbound

I had dinner at a friend's place today. He, an entrepreneur, he gave me the following books to read.
Dip by Seth Godin and India Unbound by Gurcharan Das.

Dip talks about knowing when to quit. In India Unbound Das, an Indian venture capitalist and columnist for the Times of India (and former CEO of Procter & Gamble India), uses his experiences as a businessman as the context in which to comment on India's postcolonial economic policies. 

Friday, June 17, 2011

Do You Require A Mobile Enterprise Application Platform To Build Enterprise Mobile Apps

When I talk about mobile applications for OnDemand solutions, customers ask me if they need to buy a mobile enterprise application platform such as the one Sybase, an SAP Company, provides. So when I ran into Gertrud Beisel, my colleague who manages the HCM mobile apps, I asked her the question. She explained it to me.

The short answer is that there is no technical requirement. You do not need a Mobile Platform to build a mobile app for an SAP HCM solution. Some partners of SAP have already demonstrated this. This approach works when
  • You only build a few apps for a specific device for a small number of employees
  • You don't care about remotely managing data in the devices your employees carry
  • Your employees are very careful and will never misplace their devices, so security is not a concern
When you deploy multiple mobile apps to a large number of devices, it is necessary to have a mobile enterprise application platform that enables you to build faster, deploy efficiently, and, if necessary, wipe out applications and data from the devices. You may also need a mobile enterprise application platform, when you want to build once and deploy to multiple types of devices.

In other words, when you get serious about mobile deployment, you should plan to have a platform such as the one provided by Sybase. I hope this explanation helps. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose

Started reading the book Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose
Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose
by Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos. Interesting book by an interesting entrepreneur. I did not know his first job was in Quality Engineering at Oracle. Why would a Harvard computer science graduate join Oracle as a Quality Engineer. Beats me.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Learning by Conversation and Doing

I had some on-the-job learning last weekend.

I had to install shades in our kitchen. So, a couple of weeks back, I went to our local hardware store to find out what I can buy and how I can install. I had little idea about shades and had postponed this task for years. Couple of visits to HomeDepot earlier had not helped in any way to get the job done.

When I spoke to the designer at the local hardware store, sensing that I was clueless, she taught me how to measure a window. I learned that it not enough to get one measurement. It is necessary to measure the top, the middle, and the bottom of the window because no window is perfect and your measurements need to be accurate to the 1/8th of an inch. This lesson was learnt through a simple conversation.

She also told me how manufacturers cut the window shades and how much clearance they provide based on your dimensions. I learned the fact that you need to provide actual dimensions of your window and manufacturers will make the necessary reduction in width to fit the window. HunterDouglas, from whom I bought the shades, provides 1/8th of an inch clearance based on the dimensions you provide.

Since I had to do the job myself, I paid attention and listened carefully to what she said. Since she was an expert with years of experience, she spoke in simple sentences with no jargon. Our conversations lasted only a few minutes.

The shades arrived last week and I installed them. My knowledge of shades and confidence in installing them went up tremendously. It got me thinking. Why don't we do more learning by conversation with experts at work. Why don't we have more learning by doing something. Is that not the most efficient way to learn? Why do we place so much emphasis on hour long online learning programs where someone, who has no clue about the subject matter, bores you to death with hundreds of slides.

Image above is from the HunterDouglas web site. The product I bought  is Brilliance Pleated Shades.

Comparing Perks : Share Purchase Plan and A Free Bus Pass

SAP has several perks for its employees.  Share purchase plans and free bus passes are among them.

The share purchase plan is quite attractive. We get to buy shares at a 40 percent discount, should we agree to hold them for three years. A person making $100,000 a year in base pay might make about $ 1600 after taxes in three years if he or she buy the shares and if the shares hold the current price.

This program is handled by Deutsche Bank AG. There is a lot of buzz about this. There are numerous emails to employees about this. There were one hour information sessions to explain the risks, tax implications, rules and procedures to do this. Conservatively, I estimate that at least 25 people are involved in managing this process within SAP. Assuming, based on last years statistics, that sixty percent of people in the company spent a hour doing this, employees spent 30,000 hours preparing and signing up for this program.

The free bus pass program 
There is another program that SAP Palo Alto provides to its employees. It is a simple program called the free bus pass. Every employee can apply for a bus pass that they can use to take any Silicon Valley Transit Authority bus or rail any time, any number of times, through out the year. This program could save a person, who normally spends $15 on gas every day about $10,000 in 3 years. There are, may be, 2 people involved in administering this program. All it takes is an email to a nice lady in Building 1 with your details in a form.

There is no risk. No investment required from the employee and you will avoid pumping tons of carbon into the air. And yet, there is no buzz about this program. Strange world.

If you are wondering, I signed up for both programs.

Friday, June 03, 2011

The Book That Inspires And Motivates Me To Pay Attention To Experiences

A while back I was collaborating with my colleagues to design the home page of Career OnDemand. Since the home page is an entry point for the application, I decided to go and look up the book, Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander. I am big fan of this book and the way it describes experiences of everything from entering a home from your car to meeting friends in your neighborhood.

My colleagues and I are putting people first and paying close attention to the experience of a person at every stage of his or her interaction with Career OnDemand. We are prototyping the user experience and testing the same with people even before we write code. We are working hard to ensure that the application works the way people normally do their work.

Here is the experience of walking from your car to the house and kitchen described in the book, Pattern Language".

The snap shot above is copyrighted material. I have shared it to promote the book. If you like it, please buy the book. This is a bible for anyone who cares about design, patterns and building meaningful experiences.

Never Eat Alone

I am reading a book called "Never Eat Alone" by Keith Ferrazzi. The one word I take away from the book is generosity. Generosity is the key to successful relationships.

Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time

Thursday, June 02, 2011

The Holy Grail Of The Expert Finder

We all have heard this several times. "If only our sales people and consultants can find the expert who can give them the right answer, we could close deals much faster and be a more successful company". CEOs and heads of sales have fallen for this pitch and have invested a lot of money in these tools. I have seen at least three projects, in the companies I worked for, which promised a lot but failed to deliver. The reason for failure is not technology. The reason for failure is sociology.

The proponents of this holy grail of the the expert finder miss the point. The expert does not care about your problem. The expert cares about his or her problems and solving the problems of people he cares about. Does that mean that there is no hope for people who want to reach out to experts who will help them solve their problems? Yes. There is a solution. The solution is to build a relationship with people who might be of help to you and engage with them way before you actually encounter a situation where you need help.

This is a not an alien concept. We know that friends, teachers and colleagues with whom you have a prior relationship can get you a job much faster compared to strangers. This is because friends care about you. Strangers don't. So rather than wait for a tool that will find you the expert, build relationships with people so that they care enough about you to help you. You may say that this is hard. Yes it is. I did not say building relationships is easy.
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