Negotiation benefits of defining Risks.

Negotiation is an important part of the work I do and sometimes the clients I work with are stuck in the mud when it comes to accepting progress.

When a client refuses to move on after the benefits of the new product / solution are explained, then I move at them with the risks.

Simply put, I document the risks of staying with the existing option and get them to accept that they are willing to live with those risks.

Purpose of the exercise is to make the client think about their current approach from their point of view, not with me trying to sell them on it. If the client has managers further up the food chain, and they are advised of risks being present they also help to put pressure on the hold outs to think carefully about their approach.

Usually after a few days of discussion on the client’s side around the risks, the client is willing to adopt some part if not all of the new product / solution. Even if they do not adopt, I have not wasted my time negotiating against a brick wall.

UX, UI and Usability – 3 Components that affect Product Greatness

Today I am going to discuss the Hot Topic of User Interaction since it seems to cause many companies problems.

Looking at the main components of User Interaction, we have:

3-Parts-Of-Usability

UX, UI and Usability. The 3 components of good interaction design.

UX (User Experience) – This is the catch all for the user experience with your product that has not been covered by your personal User Interface definition (UI). It is all encompassing. Things like color, texture, speed, efficiency, reliability, words, fonts etc. can fall into this bucket. Depending on what your product does, the list could be vast.

UI (User Interface) – This is interface between the user of your product (may not always be human – think dog door) and the product itself. Depending on how well you understand the users, the interface may be great or a complete miss. UI can be built without any consideration for UX since at the end of the day by definition, UI enables a user to interact with a product. To explain the previous sentence, think of a Light Switch. Your office may have light switches that are all the color red. If I give you a white light switch to replace a red one, it is still a valid UI solution since it can be used to turn lights on and off but from an overall UX perspective I have just changed the color to not match any of the other light switches.

Usability – Different users will have different usability needs. A cat door will not work with a large dog but may work with a small dog. Understanding the needs of your users will influence the User Interface. A misunderstanding here could lead to a UI that is only partly successful. In the perfect world, the UI should be a perfect match for the needs of the users.

 

UX-Good-Design-Components

Good Interaction Design means that the UI (User Interface) and the users that will use it are a great match and overall the interface creates a great UX (User Experience).

When we look at a well designed product be it software, web site or a physical product like a Dog Door certain things are evident:

  1. The User Interface ties in perfectly with the User of the product requirements.
  2. The Product looks and feels great to the user and the UI dovetails nicely into the UX.

 

UX-Bad-Design-Components

Bad UX means that the User Interface does not match the requirements of the Users and the overall UX is not great.

If we look at bad interface design it has missed the needs of the users and the overall user experience beyond the user interface is not great.

Why do we end up with bad interface design?

  1. Expectation that the person designing the User Interface (UI) understands the current needs of the users that will be using the product. Just because someone is able to build a UI that does not mean they understand the users that will be using the end product. Think of the light switch example given previously.
  2. Not building a new UI when it is not working or significantly changing the UI to meet the needs of the current users or new users without research.
  3. Usability requirements incomplete or the users of the product not understood. You could come up with a great touch screen application for use in food factories only to find out that they cannot have the glass of the touch screen on the factory floor because of contamination risks to the food product if the glass was to break in an accident!
  4. No research done with users to get their feedback on UI / UX / Usability before or after the product is created.
  5. Cost cutting done at the expense of Usability / UX i.e. the focus being on getting the UI released at all costs.

How to create good interfaces?

  1. Understand your users in detail.
  2. Work with experts that know how to establish the important interface requirements to meet the user needs.
  3. Track the user experience before and after the product is released to pinpoint problems.
  4. Don’t rely on the UI person to do the UX and Usability or to even have the skills to do this analysis.
  5. Leverage interfaces that have already established good Usability / UX and modify them to meet your product’s needs – Don’t reinvent the wheel unless your product further enhances Usability / UX and you have proven that with research.

 

When selling changing products, filters have to be continually reviewed – BestBuy.com example

The other day I was looking for a new laptop computer on BestBuy.com and I have to say with all the features on a laptop computer, this is one of those tougher filter opportunities for companies to present the choices.

If you look at the basic purpose of the filter, it is to allow a user to filter the results displayed on screen to be exactly or as close to what they desire to see. In terms of ecommerce web store fronts, this ability to give the customer what they are looking for, can make or break a sale.

Now if you look at the complexities of computer purchase, this can get into a very difficult situation. There is a reason why people can get a degree in being a librarian. Content Taxonomy is dedicated to providing content in a way that users can find what they are looking for. In this case, the Content Taxonomists have to consider the filter terms for each possible variation in a computer, the Tech guys have to build a system that can cope with all the filters applied and the UX guys have to find room on the screen to display the choices.

Overall I think BestBuy.com does a great job with a Laptop search however there are some opportunities for improvement.

I am going to use an example of what I found when looking on BestBuy.com for a Laptop and what additional filters could be added:

1 – Ability to select SSD instead of standard disks since Solid State Drives are becoming more common.

2 – Battery life expectancy – since some laptops will put in 8+ hours but others will not even be close

3 – Weight for ultraportable is set to one value (around 5.4 lbs) even though laptops can be almost 1/2 this weight today

4 – Graphic Card MB is important but not an option to filter by

The above is just some samples of how product changes can render an existing filter list short of choices. BestBuy.com has done a good job at staying with the trends “Touch Screen”; “Blu-ray player” to name just a few filters they have added as products change.

A company that is selling changing technology has to continually review their products to see if new filters will need to be created and old filters removed to maintain a strong ecommerce shopping experience.

 

Wagile – Pronounced “Waa Gee Lee” – Blended Agile and Waterfall

We all hear a lot about Agile being the new and Waterfall being the old approach to software development.

So tongue firmly in cheek I am going to talk about those Agile projects that don’t quite cut off the ties with the old Waterfall.

What is known in the industry as Wagile.

Looking at Agile, we should have user stories for all the functionality required by the business. However sometimes it is just ends up with focus on one part of the functionality being done in  Agile mode while run of the mill ancillary items are handled in a more waterfall model.

I am not going to try and guess all the possible items that could somehow fall out of Agile into Waterfall but I am sure that you can think of a few. Most likely low risk candidates for Wagile is reporting – assuming that someone somewhere has identified all the fields that need to be captured and made available to the reports as part of the initial Agile development portion of the project.

So why does Wagile come about? Not everything can make it in the sprints so to keep the client happy, items are basically snuck in outside of the sprints using the Waterfall approach sometime under the support budget rather than the development budget.

Is this the wrong approach? No approach is wrong if it keeps the customer happy but don’t try to pass off your shop as 100% Agile if your are doing Wagile.

 

Reminding Business to focus on the business need and not on the solution

A few years ago I was asked by a client to get on a plane to Florida to meet with some business partners and do a final business review of a requirements document that someone had put together.

When I arrived, the business partners present thought that in a few hours we would all be done reviewing the requirements document and then we could then spend time over the next 2.5 days discussing other items. After all they had spent several other sessions over the past few years developing the document so as far as they were concerned it was in a final state. That was until I came along.

The requirements document I had been asked to review had been written in the format of making business work around perceived constraints of IT. It had a good explanation of what the business were trying to do but not the actual business rules behind them. Instead the business had adjusted their rules to meet what they thought the IT department would require.

Two days after I arrived, we finally had a good working document that focused on the business rules and left it up to the IT experts to work out how to implement. Dozens of perceived technology constraints were removed from the document and the business eyes were opened up as to how an IT solution can help rather than hinder their business.

I see this time and time again, where less experienced Business Analysts allow focus of a requirements gathering session to end up bogged down into making Business Rules that tie in with supposed constraints on IT solutions. In turn this leads business to expect little out of IT because they don’t expect them to deliver a great solution. Worse still, the self imposed constraints mean that items that are not delivered from the bad requirements are considered of higher failure because the business compromised so much in writing the requirements.

As Business Analysts there are times when the focus of the solution should be constrained by IT up front but those situations should be clearly defined in the scope statement. When it comes to large Business opportunities, IT constraints should be limited, as the whole purpose is to enable the business to move forward and not hold them back by using out of date solutions.

Checking job postings important for Project ROI.

This past week I was hired by a client to research a product idea that they had.

The client had done their own research and found out that the product did not exist today in the form they presented. They had even found a similar product targeted towards a different set of customers. Given that, they felt strongly there was an opening in the market for their product targeted against the customers they had identified.

Once I was hired, I gained an understanding of what the benefits of their new product was and who the likely customers were. I asked them to establish why they felt the opportunity was there – what made them unique.

Taking the knowledge provided by the client I then did research of my own.

1 – I confirmed that indeed there was potential for their product.

2 – I identified that indeed the product did not exist in the current form that the client was wanting to create.

3 – I crunched the numbers of the expected product cost against potential.

4 – I researched other companies that provided the same proposed solution but in a different market.

All looked strong for my client’s desire however I found a fly in the ointment.

Taking the list of companies in the different market who dealt with the same potential clients as my customer but without the product that my customer was planning to create, I did a job vacancy search.

Luckily for my client, the competition did not consider it a strategic risk to post their employment needs along with their company name. In fact with the strongest possible competitor, that company was advertising exactly for the skill set that my client would need to create their proposed product. In the company’s job advert, they went to great length to explain the direction the company was moving in and how it was a great opportunity to come on board and build the product.

A little bit of research saved my client from putting money into a product that another stronger competitor was getting ready to build.

I cannot say this will work every time because if the job openings had been filled at the competitor I would not have stumbled across the  job vacancies that described the direction of the company. As a back up solution, you can check the patent registry to see if any competitors have filed patents closely related to the product you plan to build.

When is the UI too simple? A study of www.mojomotors.com

Today I will tackle the subject of when the User Interface is simplified to improved the user experience at the expense of other users.

I was reading an article about car buying that suggested that existing sites like www.AutoTrader.com and www.Cars.com were cluttered sites and that people considering buying a used or new car should try www.MojoMotors.com. Since I buy used cars on a fairly regular basis, I was intrigued and decided to give it a look.

Unfortunately I found the site a disappointment after reading the hyped up article but I do not think it all bad, just that I was not one of the “Personas” of users that was considered.

In User Interface and User Experience, we have to consider who are the people that are likely to be using our product. We then group people with like attributes together to create various personas. To go further, we would tie the personas into market research to see which group is likely to make our product the most successful by identifying some agreed upon measure that could be applied across the different personas – could be number of users, amount of income created by the product etc… This would then be used to justify the strategic investment in the development of the solution. Unfortunately it is cost prohibitive to develop a solution for all personas identified.

As I landed on the site I was not greeted by some open white space as I expected from reading the article – think early Google – but instead by a top navigation bar, data entry line, lots of stuff about the company, links to how wonderful it is and of course a picture that has nothing to do with cars but rather a person – at least Cars.com has a car in their picture. So strike one. However please note that it is lighter in look than AutoTrader.com  – as it has the large banner advert at the top – but Cars.com looks a lot more inviting to use.

The icons in the top navigation bar, I could guess at what they mean but I could not see a help option to walk me through them above the fold. In today’s world, I would expect a video welcome to walk me through the benefits of this web site – above the fold or at the very least some help icon. By the way if you click on “Reviews” in the bottom navigation – you lose the icons at the top and no matter how often you click on the top “Mojo” icon it does not bring them back – Strike 2.

Now that I have the site at 2 strikes, let me explain why I strike out completely for my use. I buy used cars regularly every couple of years but at the time of my purchase I do not know what make or model of car I am going to buy because car availability varies by time of year, geographic location, fuel costs etc.. I have a budget and I look for cars that have features – such as 4 doors, pick up, convertible etc.  With the results of my search I narrow my search down to specific models that come within my price range for the location I live in. MojoMotors does not seem to allow me to do the initial search. www.cars.com, www.autotrader.com and even somewhat www.craigslist.org all allow me to get in there and do a generic or advanced search. www.mojomotors.com is therefore by itself useless for my user persona. Strike 3.

What is the saving grace for www.mojomotors.com? For people that know exactly what model/s they are looking for (but you can’t specify year – another issue) , I think it is possibly a good site because they can let the site keep an eye on the market for them and let them know when a car price drops. I presume it also allows the dealers to track what cars are being watched/purchased the most so that they can steer their inventory in that direction and be aware of what price they are selling for.

Looking back at the original article I read on MojoMotors.com, it made me visit the site but the site failed to come close to my expectations. In its current form I would be very unlikely to use it to purchase my next used car. Simplicity of site that was inferred by the article did not fit my user persona at all. I do however wish them luck as they grow and develop. If you come back to that site in a year, I am sure it will have some of the changes that make it not work for me in its current form.

If I have missed or misrepresented something on the web sites mentioned by writing this article, I will gladly correct it once it is brought to my attention. My purpose is not to harm the owners of the web sites represented but to explain why a particular web site does not always work for everyone.

 

 

 

Business Analysts are a waste of money

Today I wanted to rock the boat a bit and state that Business Analysts are a waste of money and how employers should avoid the waste.

Why you may ask am I saying this?

I am saying this because too often a Business Analyst is seen as the solution to any problem with a project.

Short a project manager or tester, hire a Business Analyst to do the job.

Last release was a mess, hire a Business Analyst to fix it.

Need some documentation done, hire a Business Analyst to write it.

Business strategy not getting implemented quickly enough, hire a Business Analyst to implement.

For centuries, the world existed without the Business Analyst job title. Now the market is flooded with people claiming to be a Business Analyst of some sort along with managers thinking they know what a Business Analyst is.

This has led to employers hiring someone to fill a job because they meet the requirement of the Business Analyst title. In the best case the Business Analyst will adapt to the role. In the worst, they will fail miserably because the role is not a fit for their experience. In other cases the employer keeps the Business Analyst in their position long after the role has changed to something else just because they have a good working relationship.

So how should employers fix it?

Employers have to think about:

  1. What their perceived skills of a Business Analyst are and how does that relate to what the industry thinks a Business Analyst does? For example, Business Analysts can write but they do more than Technical Writing so if the role is purely for writing, hire a writer.
  2. What skills they need in the role?
  3. When do they need the skills and for how long? Take a development project for example, at some point the requirements will be 99% complete and then it is off to testing. So at some point the employer goes from a shortage of Business Analyst skills to QA skills.
  4. How structured and large is the environment? No point in hiring a fortune 500 Business Analyst if you are a mom and pop shop that is looking for someone to maintain your web site.

The above is not an exhaustive list but just rather something to make employers think.

Personally I will be one of the first to tell a client if I feel they don’t need my skill set at the time of hiring or later in a project due to role change and make suggestions as to who they should look for. It is always in my interest to make sure that the relationship between client and consultant is a win win for both parties. I know this is contrary to large consulting practice and has cost me work. I however feel much happier for it and so do my clients.

 

Last minute changes – documentation approach Waterfall project

You are not working in an Agile environment but instead the old waterfall when someone realizes an approach is no longer going to work making parts of what you have documented no longer valid.

Before you rush off and change the documentation, you have to consider the 3 elements of a project:

1 – Quality

2 – Cost

3 – Time

Always remember that if you try to satisfy all 3 elements, you will fail. Below are the approaches to take based on the top element of the project:

Quality Project:

  • Documentation should be changed to match the detail of change. Even though everybody understands it at the time and some people may suggest a note of the change would be enough, in a few months people will complain about the confusion in the document and the note approach runs the risk that the wrong item is implemented.

Cost

  • Cost is a difficult one in that it affects quality and time. Usually however the cost of the change in negotiated at the time it is realized, meaning that more money is found or something is removed from the project to save costs. In this case it may be possible to pass on the work to a more junior person (cheaper) – I have even seen High School kids hired to do the work if the rules of the change are simple enough. Of course at the end of the day, the Time approach may be the solution,

Time

  • What is the absolute minimum way to document the change that everybody agrees on. Agreement must be reached by all parties that read the document.

So the next time you have a change, think about the approach if one has not already been established.

Business Analysts are catalysts to success

People outside of IT often wonder what a Business Analyst does and that includes our business partners who we work with. Their is great concern that we do not provide “Value Add” services.

 in the BA times recently wrote an article about BA’s thinking of themselves as bridges and how that is wrong.

I have seen the bridge thinking BA’s in action, and they are no more than note takers and usually midway through a project nobody is happy with the results.

As Business Analysts, we are there to act as one of the catalysts that make the project successful. However that does not mean a BA that does well in one project will do well in another if they do not have the skills.

If you look at the job search engines you will see that BA skills required for roles can vary from company to company and department to department.

Examples:

  • Data Warehousing BA’s are expected to understand database structures and know SQL.
  • Business intelligence BA’s can need some of the skills of the Data Warehousing BA along with reporting tools and statistics.
  • Front end BA’s are expected to understand UI/UX, use cases.
  • BA’s that specialize in Business Process are expected to understand the business they are working with.

What we can see from the desired experience is that companies want a BA that can mentor and guide. Having the ability to just gather requirements is not enough. There is an expectation that a BA will bring knowledge and experience to the table along with other soft skills such as negotiation.

It should be noted though, that some companies are not prepared to let the BA mentor them because of their thought of the BA being just a bridge between IT and Business. It is up to the Business Analyst to break down this stereotype to make them realize the “Value Add” that a BA can bring to the table.

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