The industrial revolution 2.0 – where Jane & John Doe programs make sense

If you ever saw pictures from the original industrial revolution (1790 – 1870) you would have seen machines producing goods that also required humans to keep them supplied with materials. In some cases it was dangerous work as the humans darted under the mechanism of the machine to keep it supplied. One wrong step and the human resource was injured or killed.

These machine in their own way were original pieces of programming. Basically the Steam Punk of code where the internal workings are completely visible. Humans basically made up the shortfall in what could not be replaced easily or affordably by machine.

Step forward into today and while the brass and iron has vanished we still have humans fulfilling the roles where machines have not caught up.

Amazon pickers is an example of the humans still meeting the need.

When do you ask does it make sense to replace the human programs (lets call them Jane & John Doe)?

NOTE: This article is a somewhat tongue in cheek consideration of the removal of humans from the workforce and is not meant to offend anyone who is worried about AI takeover.

Let’s first look at the benefit of our human Jane and John Doe programs:

1 – Easily programmed if task is not too complicated.

2 – Can be programmed by other existing programs.

3 – Adaptable interface – Buttons, levers, switches etc.. are not an issue.

4 – Can be replaced if failing.

5 – Low short term investment costs.

6 – Can be easily reprogrammed as tasks change.

7 – Multiple interface methods for programming – auditory, touch, visual.

 

The cons of Jane and John Doe:

1 – Program can leave of own accord requiring another program to be obtained.

2 – Program can be injured requiring maintenance costs to be paid even if another program replaces it.

3 – Not all programs are of equal ability which can cause quality issues.

4 – Limited amount of transactions per hour can be handled and there is risk of memory leakage if the task is too frequent or repetitive.

 

Now let us consider the attributes of the equation to determine when to replace the Jane and John Doe programs with actual computerized machines :

1 – Cost of your current Jane and John Does + cost to remove them from the role versus the cost of the computerized machine.

2 – Frequency of the transaction – more frequent or increasing frequency raises the number of Jane and John Does programs you require making a computerized alternative more attractive.

3 – Availability of Jane and John Does – if they are getting harder to find, their cost goes up.

4 – Complexity of the task – like point 3, if the complexity of the task is getting higher, the number of Jane and John Does that can do it get less, increasing their cost.

5 – Long term need for Jane and John Doe – if the task is not changing and going to be around a long time, programming a computerized alternative makes sense as the long term return can be seen.

6 – Reliability of the computerized alternatives or level of risk a single failure point can create. When you have a large human set of programs, there is a lot of redundancy built in if one fails. With a computerized machine, when it fails, there is no backup until it is repaired.

There are probably a multitude of other reasons to keep or replace Jane and John Doe. This article is just to make you think about it from a ROI point of view and how history repeats itself 200 years later.

To quote what the head of an IT operations once said to me back in the 1989 “As soon as the cost of the tape system comes down to being cheaper than the staff I will get rid of the operations staff.” By 1992 the operations staff were out of a job as a machine had replaced them – the cost had come down enough. Machines eventually get cheaper than their human counterparts.

 

Testers working for nothing – why you should not go into testing as a career

Often Business Analysts will see in their job description the act of testing. True heavy testing requires special skills that do not tie in well with good Business Analysts skills.

Business Analysts often need to get out and communicate with a variety of people and dig beneath the surface of conversations to find the true requirements / processes.

Testing however relies on the information presented from the Business Analyst along with other documents and  industry standards to validate the work done. Testers effectively thrive in an atmosphere where communicating with a variety of people is not required.

While small amounts of testing such as a minor enhancement can be covered by a BA, care must be taken if the BA role requires more than that as it will weaken your BA skills over time.

Maybe the above is not enough to dissuade you from heading down a testing career path from your BA role but two trends should discourage you from heading into testing as a career:

1 – Outsourcing

Recently I saw a corporation completely outsource their Testing Department. Part of the reason behind this is the theory that the size of a testing department varies according to the work being done. A vendor was considered a better solution to handling the waves of work as opposed to having staff on hand.

2 – Testing for nothing in hope of potential rewards

This is the most worrying concern for anybody involved in testing. It looks like a Silicon Valley startup has ditched paying testers a wage. Testers have to compete to win cash by being the first to identifying bugs / issues that nobody else has identified. If they are not the first then they get nothing for their efforts. The prizes are also so small that only someone living in a country overseas could justify the risk of time and effort for little to no reward.

PM versus BA – the dead discussion and why being a PM may be better than being a BA

It can be interesting to read articles on the Ideal Way that things should happen. These articles are somewhat like the ones about why all people should be debt free and happy. If you are not debt free and happy, then you personally are doing something wrong.

Focus of this website is in the reality of the workplace which is usually far from Ideal. Politics, Oligarchies, Budgets etc. can all get in the way of achieving the Ideal or “World Peace”.

If you want to read up on the debate around the fact that there is no difference between PMs and BAs but it is all about what you bring to the table (“Ideal Approach”) then check out this link – PM vs BA.

Honestly however, the whole conversation is dead one which is what the author of the article states. The author basically questions why PM versus BA is even a discussion point to which I have to agree (having had a foot in both camps (PM / BA) I see no reason why the right BA cannot do PM work and vice versa). Business Analyst term has become so watered down anyway it means many different things to people in the industry. There is no one definition (outside of the textbooks) for what a BA is. Effectively as the author of the article states, project success is based on collaboration and not on title. However in the real world, project teams (especially in larger companies) are formed based on titles / roles / budgets / deliverable dates and that is where the Ideal is left behind. The company that you are at will dictate your role to you based on their process / procedures / politics etc.. Some companies will be Ideal while others will miss the mark.

From a current trend perspective over the past 20 years, I have seen the companies go from using BAs to manage small projects as they gather requirements to the other scenario of having PMs gather requirements as they manage projects. Talk about territory wars. As the trend continues, the BA starting out might be better off to go into Project Management first since they will get better experience than trying to come up through the BA ranks where they run the risk of being no better off in experience than a secretary.

From a historical perspective (ignoring the above about collaboration approach), let us talk about the facts around the PM being different from a BA.

1 – Project Managers are brought on before Business Analyst so why bother with the BA.

– Pure Business Analysts are seen as an unnecessary expense in a lot of companies – last hire in your small companies. More and more the Project Manager is being looked at to deliver the Business Case / Requirements as part of their role to avoid the expense of having a Business Analyst. Personally I have seen two recent larger clients push to have the PM do most of the work since the rational is that they need to have a PM anyway so they might as well leverage them to do everything with the theory that the project is saving money. In these companies, the BA is getting downgraded to little more than a secretary required to document whatever the PM states and store it in the appropriate software.

2 – Project Managers can always do BA tasks or vice versa

– A project that is on a tight deadline cannot afford to have the resource distracted from requirements gathering with PM paperwork / issues. Try to gather requirements while putting together multiple project status / dashboards (and they all have the same deliverable date) and you will see what I mean. Sure this is not a problem when deadlines are not important.

– Not all BAs can do financial reporting / resource management as they have not been trained nor do they have the experience. After you have sat through a few cost center allocation discussions with Finance, you will enjoy getting back to requirements gathering

– Paperwork / Software used by PMs may be unfamiliar to BAs. MS Project and the latest tools all require some form of training / experience. Dashboards have to be designed / populated for projects which takes time away from requirements. It is the same for PMs trying to capture requirements as they may not be familiar with the software where the requirements are stored.

– Some PMs have no clue about proper requirement writing (ambiguity), business case development (what does the business really want and how to justify it) and it shows when the project moves through the phases. It is kind of like expecting a BA to be able to design databases. Some have it and some don’t.

3 – PM is the natural career progression for a BA

– NO it is not! Pure Project Management is different to Business Analysis. Even the IIBA acknowledges this when they ask you to describe the role you had in the projects you worked on. If you answer too many questions from a PM perspective they will not acknowledge that experience as being BA relevant.

 

Hopefully I got the point across that the BA versus PM debate is dead. To argue it anymore would be to ignore the trend in the industry which is downgrading / killing the Business Analyst job title making this whole discussion pointless.

As Business Analysts, we should be more concerned with making sure the role we are in ties into our skills. Remember, the BA title by itself is pretty much worthless these days as it means so many different things to different companies. Your focus should be on getting the skills / experience to be in the role you desire and not on the job title.

For a list of Business Analyst job titles, see links below:

Job Titles Job Titles

 

14 tips for surviving Senior Level meetings.

At some point in your Business Analyst career you may be asked to meet with Board level staff. This should not frighten you if you follow some logical tips.

1 – Don’t go it alone.
Find someone to help you setup, run and share results/minutes of meeting.

2 – Make sure someone in the room can vouch for you.
Someone in the room of a senior enough level has to be able to support you when things get tough. If you don’t know anyone, reach out to at least one individual prior to the meeting to introduce yourself and get them on your side. Failure to do this could leave you in front of a firing squad.

3 – Know who the most senior people are in the room and respect their authority.
If you don’t know who a person is that has the power to end your job, better to find out before you challenge their meeting behavior or statements.

4 – Define the rules and objective of the meeting.
Always good to define the rules and objectives. Please note however, the higher the level of meeting the less the participants are willing to listen to the rules, in those cases you have to go with the flow.

5 – Dress to match the meeting participants.
If the meeting is a suit and tie affair, wear them.

6 – When things go astray.
Ask the participants if they are open to taking a break.

7 – Be Bold but not Reckless.
Be careful of how you control the meeting. Being respectful to participants is key and don’t get sucked into arguing with them. Note and accept their objections then move on.

8 – Meet one on one post meeting to resolve issues.
Since you avoided the argument, afterwards is when you meet with the individual or subordinate and work to resolve their issues.

9 – For long meetings, meetings at lunch or dinner make sure the food and drinks match the level of staff.
Quite often you can reach out to the personal admin of the highest of the participants and work with them to schedule the right food and drinks.

10 – Be flexible.
Senior level staff availability changes at the last minute. You may find your meeting getting shrunk or bumped. Often these people are used to meeting in the evenings post the regular work day.

11 – Learn the individual personalities before hand.
Knowing what to expect from the individuals involved in the meeting keeps the surprises to a minimum.

12 – Know the terminology / acronyms
Either learn the stuff before the meeting or have someone with you who can whisper / Instant Message you what is being said.

13 – Use IM to get live meeting feedback
If you or your companion is not presenting, have your senior friend in the room (point 2) let you know if you are going off track by Instant Messaging you feedback to the computer that is not presenting – don’t want the IM to appear on screen.

14 – Prepare psychologically.
Follow whatever routine you use to relax and stay relaxed during the meeting.
http://www.bbc.com/capital/story/20140904-jitters-act-like-a-starfish

3 ways to kill your Mobile Game Success – bad UX/UI

December 7, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Business Analyst Skills, General News, ROI, UX / UI 

With the opportunity to make money in Mobile Games there are some basics failings that should be avoided if you want the game to be a success.

1 – Reset Time
How long does it take your player to reset the game level if they fail? As players learn to play the game they will fail levels as they play. The length of acceptable reset time is dependent on how long the player got to play the level before they failed. There is no one size fits all but a short play time followed by a long reset will lose players. The length of the reset time can be offset by advising the player how they did, suggestions for improvement etc.. eventually however that will not be enough to keep a player engaged and they will drop the game. Some companies have even taken the reset time as a money making opportunity by putting in ways to purchase a quicker reset and making the game reset artificially slow.

2 – Forcing a large download (+1 gig) on a regular basis
It may have been a few days since the player played the game and if you want to make that time even longer force them to download 1+ gig of data before they can play. There is no rational behind making a game a forced download of such size on a regular basis. Better to state that a new version is available and give the user the option to download the new version while still being able to play the old.

3 – Not being able to play without an internet connection
I have seen games self destruct because they were opened without an internet connection and others have refused to play. From a money making sense, it would seem wise to limit play to only times when the internet is available however this just makes your game less played. For sure there need to be regular updates of advertising (for in game sales) but better that there is some countdown to removal of game access than a sudden abrupt implosion. Of course best of all is the ability to play the game while internet is not available, you can always prompt during the game to remind the user to share their scores or buy new products any of which will motivate the user to find a connection next time they play.

etrailer.com personal touch in E-Commerce email communication

Purpose of this post is to share how the use of a name in customer contact can bring a more human touch to ecommerce and raise your company above others in terms of perceived quality.

Too often companies can treat E-Commerce transactions like the purchase of a product at a cheap store where the check out assistants have no personality.

etrailer.com pleasantly surprised me with my recent orders through them and the email communication I received.

Instead of the bland email advising me of the status of my order along with a generic support number, etrailer.com provided me at points in their communications with an email to a specific person.

This gave their E-Commerce operation a more human touch and thus a shopping experience a step above the generic response.

However, it should be noted that in the 5 emails I received from them in regards to my purchase, the communication did vary on the personal touch and the communication details. This is something that etrailer.com may want to consider from a standards point of view.

As I did not use their customer support team, I cannot vouch for how effective they are or if even the people that contacted me do exist (could be that it is computer generated names).

Listed below in the order they were received are the methods of response back to etrailer.com that I was advised that I could use – (note: I ** out part of the email addresses to limit spam to etrailer):

1 – Receipt of order – with a link to their customer contact information page.

1507 East Highway A
Wentzville, MO 63385
636 887 9300
Contact Us

2 – Order Status on same day as receipt of order advising of possible delay (note lack of extension number in phone compared with communication #3).

If you have any questions, you can reach me at 1-800-298-8924

Thanks,

George J
geor***@etrailer.com

3 – Order Status 7 days later (note this time an extension number is provided)

Please email or call 1-800-298-8924 ext. 333 if you have any other questions.

Thank you,

Cole S.
col**@etrailer.com
1-800-298-8924 ext 333
636-887-9333

Online at http://www.etrailer.com

4 – Notification that order has shipped (note that email now refers to generic customer service but name still provided – which makes me think it is computer generated)

If you have any questions you can reach me directly at  or (800) 298-8924
extension  or by email at cs@etrailer.com

Thanks,

George J
cs@etrailer.com

5 – Post shipment follow up (note that everything is generic now and no email provided)

As always, feel free to call us at 1-800-298-8924 if you have any questions or
if there is something we can help with.

Thanks,

Patrick B

Adobe Photoshop at $9.99 per month- improve Development and UX reviews

August 3, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: General News, ROI, UX / UI 

Are your developers or UX people wanting more details from the rich mockups produced by the graphics department but you have been unwilling to spend the money on a license for them to use Photoshop?

Now Adobe has a $9.99 a month option for access to this usefultool.

https://creative.adobe.com/plans/photography

Other departments will be able to access the details behind mockups without having to continually go back to the graphics department to get an explanation.

This of course should not be a substitute for a guidelines document that explains look and feel of your product. However it can speed things up in the near term when the guidelines documents is still under development.

3 ways to stay employed in times of large Tech layoffs

With Microsoft announcing 18k being let go because of merger with Nokia, it makes people wonder how to stay employed in the Tech industry.

The sad fact is that with the power of the internet, employees no longer need to be local to the employer which has lead to price competition for work. Mergers also cause duplication of work leading to downsizing. Finally there is also changing technology which leads to skill sets being outdated for the current role.

To stay employable you have to be monitoring your current skill set and be flexible:

1 – Ability to change geographical location

Sometimes the work dries up in your current location leaving no option but to move. To stay would either mean a salary cut or even a change in career.

2 – Willing to accept a salary cut

This is a very bitter pill to swallow. To be paid less to do the same work is like a punch in the gut (on a daily basis). If you do not truly enjoy what you do, you will probably be miserable in a year or less.

3 – New certifications

IT employees are like NFL stars at the pay of regular Joes, meaning that we have a short career in the lime light. In reality, the days of getting a good 20 years out of your skills is long gone. I would say 5 years is about it. After 5 years you are considered old and worthless. Once upon a time employers did value experience over specific skills in that they were willing to train you on the missing parts but now if you are missing a component from your resume, you become like a square peg trying to fit in a round hole. Keep an eye on what is in demand by checking the job boards and make sure that you are getting the certifications / training to pad out your resume. Remember that you are competing against every college kid that just got the new skills while at college and are willing to start for less than you are currently paid.

 

Should you buy or rent your house when working as a Business Analyst?

I saw an article about the fact that millennials are still living at home with parents or renting. There is an expectation that eventually they will move into the home ownership market. Given this expectation, I wanted to give my 2 cents of advice.

Pre off shoring of white collar work, I would have not worried about buying a home and staying in it for my working life. However, times have changed and employers will consider not only local resources but also resources off shore.

Given that local resources are no longer a premium this also means there is less of a guarantee that you will be able to find work continually in the place where you live. Additionally the days of employers paying the cost of low level employee moving expenses more or less went away with the 90’s.

So what should you consider if thinking of buying a home?

1 – If you have to sell and use a relator it will cost you 6% of the sale price of the home.

2 – The first 10+ years of a mortgage, you are primarily paying interest on the loan. Unless you are in a fast appreciating market (which also carries the risk of a bubble) you basically are just paying the equivalent of rent. Can you expect today to be able to stay working in the same area 10 years later.

3 – If the job market dies where you have your home, then it will be very hard to sell.

4 – How hard is it to find a rental? If it is relatively easy to find a rental then that may be the way to go.

Benefits of renting.

1 – No sale costs when moving. Best also if the move is done near the end of the lease so that no lease breakage fee encountered.

2 – No issue with trying to find a buyer for your property.

3 – If your family grows, you can upsize your rental.

4 – When your work moves, you can as well.

In conclusion, think carefully before purchasing a property in the area where you are currently working as it may end up costing you money or limit your ability to find work.

 

Are you UX designers documenting the UX rules for your product?

If you think it is great to have wonderful graphics or industrial designers that claim to know UX and will help you build your wonderful whatever, think about how they will maintain consistency.

Time and time again, I run into situations where there is no documented rules followed by the UX folks. They do as they please with different designers adding in their own flavor. Products comes out in different blends of colors because one designer preferred a color over another.

It is like reading a book with chapters written by different authors.

Without a foundation of the rules being captured and documented it can be hard weeks, if not months later to work out what something should look like from a UX perspective. Time is wasted revisiting design decisions that were made in the past.

Make sure that whatever shop you use for your UX design actually knows how to do the job professionally.

Ask up front for the UX guidelines to be documented as they are defined. Don’t ever assume that just because everybody who works on your product comes from the same design shop that they will somehow know what is expected.

 

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