Archive — Business
A reflection on the Agile Manifesto, 18 years on, “making it old enough to drink in pubs”.
The point about the “subtle use of language” in the original Agile Manifesto particularly resonated with me.
When you read it, its simplicity is striking, and it’s actually difficult to disagree with any of it.
The problem is, simple doesn’t sell textbooks, training or consultancy. So over time, agile has been bastardised to become this monstrosity (courtesy of Deloitte).
Photo — 2019-10-17
If you can bear another article about whether non-designers should get involved in design work, this isn’t a bad one.
Designers — if you think strategic design is a realm reserved just for you, I’m afraid not.
Other professionals — if you think you can just pick up strategic design like any other general skill, then I’m afraid not.
…the best and most effective use and impact for many people, is actually just to incorporate design thinking techniques into their day jobs.
I have long held the view that user experience is best thought of not as a role, but as a mindset. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for professional designers and user researchers — there absolutely is. But anyone can adopt the techniques and set off on the journey to become more user-centred.
We should encourage more people to do so.
The most notable thing about this article is the sorry list of weak excuses offered up by businesses who can’t be bothered to make their websites accessible.
- “…a blind person can always ring Domino’s toll-free number and order that way…”
- Why should they have to?
- “…there is no clear objective guidance on what constitutes an ‘accessible’ website.”
- O rly?
- “The online environment was never intended to be covered by the ADA…”
- Says who?
How about just doing the basics that will help include your customers, and your fellow human beings?
This piece builds on the idea that there is no such thing as neutral data, and combines it with the fact that humans are naturally drawn towards stories.
The problem is, data isn’t simple or neutral or even factual. The best data needs explanatory stories. The human mind is a story processor, and to understand something is to know a good story about it.
How design can be used instead of traditional change management methods.
In the same way that design-led change isn’t just about hiring designers, it also shouldn’t be thought of as a specialist or localised resource (like a design team). Creativity and thinking about design as a state of mind is more a competence that should be part of the fabric of every 21st-century organisation.
My thinking on this has changed a lot over the years. In the past I might have thought that having a strong design team was the way forward. But that’s just creating another silo.
Now I see the real job as finding ways to empower the entire organisation to think like a designer, and help them make the right decisions for the right reasons.
Business design can be very different to service design if it’s focused on the wrong things. But Ben Holliday notes:
Service design is business design when we focus on and care about designing for both internal staff and external user experience together as front and back stage of how a service works.
All too often business design is narrowly self-serving. If it’s not focused on ultimately improving things for your users or customers, it will do damage in the long run.
I especially like the points this article makes about why design needs to go beyond digital.
Even though I have worked primarily in digital teams, I have always believed in making things better not just digital. In health especially, we need to remember that people are complex human beings in a whole variety of circumstances and not simply a collection of user needs.
More food for thought as I begin thinking more about how we need to move beyond individual user needs and design for something that goes beyond that.
On the incredible story about Hertz suing Accenture for a failed “digital transformation project”.
Alarm bells ring at the best of times when website redesigns are described as “digital transformation”. But to then completely outsource the product owner role — to the same management consultancy firm that was carrying out the redesign — underlines just how much the top brass seemingly didn’t get it.
Particularly important is this:
The private sector is NOT intrinsically better at these things than the public sector. Occasions like this and the TSB meltdown should never be celebrated but should surely be greeted by a wry smile by those of us who have been hearing about the incompetence of public service digital for years from some corners — and particularly why there was never any need to bring things in-house because all the expertise was with the big suppliers.
I would argue that this isn’t even just about digital. The idea that public sector organisations are inherently worse at anything than the private sector has long been spurious. Large organisations perhaps do find certain things more difficult — but in both the public and private sector.
How the Guardian finally started making a profit, in three steps.
With a functionally infinite supply of free news available, the relationship your reader has to you has to be a lot more like the one public radio listeners have with their favorite station. They’re not buying access; they’re supporting a cause.
I’d also add that the Guardian has one major advantage over almost every other publisher in the world. They uniquely decided not to go down the rabbit hole of autoplaying videos, pop-up adverts, and other infuriating ways of getting in the way of what the readers actually came for.
This week I visited the Scotsman website, and one of the ads inserted a nasty redirect that my browser told me was taking me to an untrustworthy site. There are lots of news sites that I simply can’t trust for this reason. The Guardian is one I can still trust.
If you think the way they measure radio audiences is primitive now (and, by the way, it is), then wait until you read about the Audimeter. A great look at the history of radio ratings, and the early days of trying to measure the impact of advertising.
Required reading, whether you are pro- or anti-EU, from a Brexiter who is seriously considering that he may have been wrong.
I don’t agree with all of it. But it is a crystal clear analysis.
Amid the increasingly hysterical attitude from significant elements of both sides of the debate, this is a highly valuable contribution. This is the standard of debate we should be aspiring to.
Why it’s wrong and perhaps even dangerous to expect “raw data” to be neutral and strictly factual.
How data are construed, recorded, and collected is the result of human decisions — decisions about what exactly to measure, when and where to do so, and by what methods. Inevitably, what gets measured and recorded has an impact on the conclusions that are drawn.
Why big companies squander brilliant ideas — Tim Harford
How inflexible organisational structure could be one of the main inhibitors of innovation. This article is full of fascinating examples, but I found the Sony example the most striking.
…the silo that produced the PlayStation had almost nothing to do with the silo that produced portable CD players. The Memory Stick Walkman was like the tank: it didn’t fit neatly into any category. To be a success, the silos that had been designed to work separately would have to work together. That required an architectural change that Sony tried but failed to achieve.
Seemingly, there’s no straightforward answer to this:
Kodak’s position may well have been impossible, no matter what managers had done. If so, the most profitable response would have been to vanish gracefully.
A very useful contribution to the debate surrounding the usefulness/harmfulness of net promoter score. Jeff Sauro transcends the often polemical nature of the debate, by analysing actual research on the effectiveness of net promoter score.
The news still isn’t all that great for proponents of net promoter score. But at the same time, it’s not quite as bad as its detractors make out.
Kudos to Jeff Sauro for doing some actual research on this.
Note — 2019-01-06
It’s 10 years since Woolworths closed down. I worked there at the time. To this day, the whole experience is among the most surreal of my life.
At the time, I wrote a lengthy series of blog posts detailing my own story of the goings-on around the failure of one of Britain’s most iconic businesses.
Being on the shop floor while a British institution collapsed around me taught me a bit about business. But it taught me a lot about people. Enjoy this look back.
(These used to be linked to each other using a WordPress plugin, but these were lost during a migration — so here they all are.)
- Woolworths: The curiously British US-based company
- Woolworths as it was known and loved, and neglected
- Woolworths: Childhood memories and adult gripes
- It wasn’t just the credit crunch
- The blunder of Woolworths
- Identity crisis
- The beginning of the end
- The nasty side of human nature
- Woolworths: Final thoughts and wrapping up
For more on Woolworths 10 years on from its collapse, check out Graham Soult’s excellent report.
Another perspective on the troubles faced by HMV. Lis Ferla echoes my thoughts on why bricks-and-mortar record stores of all sorts are a vital part of the music ecosystem.
But for me, it’s about the ceremony. The owning of a tangible product. It’s the reason behind the hall cupboard stacked high with CDs I lack the immediate capacity to play, and the records that take pride of place in the living room. It’s why I’ve never gotten on board with streaming, preferring the relative “ownership” of a digital download when it’s the cheapest, easiest way to get my fix.
A fascinating article about the various dirty tricks and scams that independent retailers are playing on each other on Amazon Marketplace.
For sellers, Amazon is a quasi-state. They rely on its infrastructure — its warehouses, shipping network, financial systems, and portal to millions of customers — and pay taxes in the form of fees. They also live in terror of its rules, which often change and are harshly enforced…
Sellers are more worried about a case being opened on Amazon than in actual court…
Thoughts on vulnerability
This is a really enlightening and enjoyable article about how vulnerability can sometimes be a strength.
What I’ve realized is that sometimes being vulnerable is a really powerful feeling, like being bilingual: being present and making clear decisions in a meeting while rocking a baby, or confidently stopping someone mid-presentation to ask what an acronym means. Or having my waters break and calmly finishing a meeting. Like, that’s bad-ass, right?
But what struck me most about this article was the point about how a thoughtless office space design in a less-than-diverse workplace created an unforeseen problem for a woman who needed a little privacy.
An enjoyable and informative history of user experience. Some familiar themes, but not entirely your standard take. A reminder that people have been doing something like user-centred design for longer than we sometimes think.
…UX is not really a new thing. It might seem new to your organisation and its design process, but in fact it’s been emerging since before the dawn of the internet, back in the 80s, and people have been looking to solve similar problems for almost 140 years.
What the Sydney Opera House teaches us about Brexit
It’s well known that large projects often fail. Daniel Kahneman calls it the planning fallacy.
Academics have identified six indicators of a successful large project. But they spell very bad news for Brexit.
A reminder why finding the right problem is often more important than finding the right ideas.
[M]ost of our organisations don’t suffer from a lack of ideas, they suffer from a lack of process that identifies the ideas worth having…
Creativity is not innovation. Creativity is a prerequisite for sure. Innovation, however, is the practical application of creativity.
Making work meaningful: A leader’s guide
McKinsey report on how to engage employees.
People who find meaning at work are happier, more productive, and more engaged. Four practical interventions can help make the search more likely to succeed.
I am struck by how two of the four interventions listed are fundamentally about understanding your users better.
Talk with employees about who their customers are, and encourage each employee to connect with one.
Build regular, face-to-face interactions with customers into existing processes, stimulating employees to learn who is most affected by their work.
Help people grasp the impact of their work
Invite customers who have had the best—and worst—experiences with your products to talk with employees in person so your team can see how their work affects customers.
Another reason why user experience is worth it.
How to regain the lost art of reflection
[A] focus on information processing, reaction, and execution — while it may feel productive — causes the quality of our thoughts to suffer. We believe that corporate leaders in today’s complex world urgently need to recultivate the art of reflection.
In an increasingly busy and complex world, how do we make sure we have the space to think reflectively? It’s the classic notion of having your best ideas in the shower.
I think this is part of the reason why I feel a benefit from walking so much — about two hours most days. This gives me the unstructured thinking space this article argues for.
On a recent cycle, I found my thoughts subconsciously drifting towards a knotty work problem. For a few seconds, everything seemed crystal clear. “I’ll remember that later,” I thought, and on I went with my cycle. When it came to it, it took some time and effort to recall what seemed so obvious when I was cycling with my wandering thoughts.
6 mistakes that prevent UX teams from having boardroom influence
A good list of don’ts when you’re trying to set up an effective user experience function.
In particular, the pitfalls of “cargo cult usability” could do with being more widely understood. But I also enjoyed this point about being too insular.
Newly formed UX teams have a tendency to quickly turn inwards and focus heavily on their own practices, tools and methods: heads down, working in a vacuum, doing great work that doesn’t actually influence anything. As a result, we hear frustrated stakeholders say things like: “I don’t involve the UX team because they always seem too busy”. We’ve even heard UX team members themselves complain that, “We’re so busy and so mired in the day-to-day that we don’t have time to work alongside the development team.”
This reminds me of the (hilarious but true) story of the Staffordshire UK bus company. In 1976 it was reported that the buses on the Hanley to Bagnall route were not stopping to pick up passengers. People complained that buses would drive right by long lines of waiting passengers. The complaints prompted Councillor Arthur Cholerton to make transport history by stating that if the buses stopped to pick up passengers it would disrupt the timetable!
Does benchmarking really save companies from failure?
Why comparing yourself against your competitors often leads to mediocrity.
Best practice and benchmarking are often just a race to be first at being average. The chances of someone else’s best practice working in a different environment is unlikely.
Not only is it unlikely but the very act of best practice and benchmarking can drive standards down. It encourages all organisations to think alike. At sector level it creates groupthink, and we all know groupthink is the avowed enemy of innovation.
Open office plans have a surprising effect on communication at work
More on the seemingly negative effects of open plan offices.
When forced to share space, humans behave much like swarms of insects. This has appeared to be true in a range of contexts, the authors note, citing studies involving the US Congress, college dormitories, co-working spaces, and corporate buildings.
However, as far as we’re aware, hornets and wasps are not as psychologically and socially complex as people. For instance, they do not regularly switch between their front-stage self and back-stage self, managing the impression they’re making, per a longstanding theory about humans.
Smart voice assistants and smart homes — from the past
A really enjoyable piece on the history of smart home devices, and how Google Home and Alexa aren’t such new ideas. The video is well worth a watch, particularly because it demonstrates 1970s technology from Pico Electronics in Glenrothes! It’s amazing to see it work so well.
The point of Thomas Baekdal’s piece here is to demonstrate how trends aren’t new, but they emerge over a long period of time. It reminds me a bit of Gartner’s hype cycle, and a recent Nile webinar about how to employ foresight to understand emerging trends. Not to forget the Nielsen Norman Group research demonstrating that intelligent assistants still have horrible usability problems.
Thinking in triplicate
This is a very strong piece by Erika Hall, raising some seriously good points and questions about where user experience design is, and where it needs to go. It is well worth reading the full piece, and me pulling out a quote cannot do this justice. But here are some selections I particularly liked:
If good design entailed good business, women’s clothes would come in a wide range of sizes with usable pockets and our social media feeds would unfurl in reverse chronological order with an unremarkable absence of Nazis.
While most of the designers I know are far from objectivists, design as it is currently practiced is tantamount to Ayn Rand’s radical selfishness. We design for the experience of a single user at a time and expect that the collective experience, and the collective impact, will take care of itself.
It’s much more pleasant for designers to talk about empathy in one room and MBAs to talk about profits in the other and have marketers in the middle like an injectable filler.
This is exactly the sort of article we need to be seeing more of.
Keeping digital teams happy versus keeping customers happy
Gerry McGovern tells the story of trying to persuade a digital team of what they needed to fix.
“It would be nice to fix these problems,” one person said. “But the team needs also to be able to do exciting things. We need to be able to innovate.”
Unfortunately, people at work often place too much emphasis on their own enjoyment. But our work only has meaning if it is providing value to someone.
Work shouldn’t be exciting. There’s a job to do.
Proactive UX design: A big leap requiring baby steps
An excellent article from Jared Spool on the difference between proactive design and reactive design — and the importance of making your work more proactive.
Reactive UX design is just what it sounds like: reacting to a problem in the moment. “Oh, can you fix this?” “Help! Users are complaining this is too hard! What can we do?”
Without also having proactive UX design efforts, the design team is only fixing problems caused by decisions the product team has already made.
Interestingly, he also makes the point that it is easy for design teams to get sucked into doing reactive design, because it becomes comfortable for teams to do:
They like the wireframes and usability tests.
They believe this is what design work looks like. They believe design work always happens at the end of the process.
The danger of listening to people who talk a lot
Those who talk well and talk lots can command attention in meetings – and they get an unprecedented amount of airtime in modern organisations.
Whilst extroverts put it all out there for the world to see, introverts often keep their best ideas inside. If you’re ignoring them, you’re at risk of missing the problem and the solution.
As Paul Taylor says here, it is more important to widen and deepen connections with everyone. We need to prioritise ways of doing this, and preventing hippos and loud voices getting their way each time.
It’s official: Open plan offices are now the dumbest management fad of all time
New research suggests that open plan offices hinder collaboration rather than help it.
Previous studies of open plan offices have shown that they make people less productive, but most of those studies gave lip service to the notion that open plan offices would increase collaboration, thereby offsetting the damage.
The Harvard study, by contrast, undercuts the entire premise that justifies the fad. And that leaves companies with only one justification for moving to an open plan office: less floor space, and therefore a lower rent.
My current office is my first open plan one. I am still ambivalent about the benefits or otherwise of open plan. The shift may have contributed to my feeling that I had lost my mojo.
I definitely make heavy use of chat and messaging to communicate with people a couple of desks away. That might not necessarily be a bad thing. But I do miss the gently assertive act of simply walking into someone’s office to get their attention. It all seems a bit more difficult to do that in an open plan office.