VW a lesson in marketing versus regulations

By now you will be very aware of the VW diesel scandal where the software on the car detected when the car was being tested and controlled exhaust emissions to past the test.

Anyone that works in gathering requirements can easily see the problem here. There were two competing requirements Marketing and Regulatory and in the end the marketing side won out.

Big business is a game of cat and mouse. Laws are in place for a lot of things but for business the viewpoint of laws is the risk / cost of being caught and the benefit of not following the law. If the law is not enforced 100%, business will start to think of it as an optional law. There are numerous cases of settlements between car companies and the US government or consumers. The Titanic is a classic example of the law being met but the intent of the law being missed which was to have enough life rafts to save lives – the law had not been written in such a way as to force the life rafts to be enough to meet the number of passengers.

When gathering requirements for a solution, care must be taken to understand the implications of giving one set of requirements higher priority over another. Risk analysis is supposed to be done to ensure the VW, Titanic situation never occurs today. However profit is a powerful master and it will make people blind to that which is obvious.

Double check those requirements that fly in the face of morals to make sure you are not ignoring something that will later make you a headline.

 

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.

 

When software kills due to incomplete requirements

If you are lucky, your software has not been responsible for the death of anyone to date. If you are unlucky then you know it.

When a analyst gathers requirements for a piece of software there is a tendency to focus on the happy path and ignore the surrounding paths that can lead to disaster. Unfortunately events can lead up to the identification of the missing requirements and sometimes death is a result.

To be fair, we humans can still kill ourselves without software such as with the mechanical loaded gun or the speeding car taking a bend too fast. However software seems to give people in some cases a false sense of security that does not exist. In other cases it can give them power to do something that should not have been possible if they were directly engaged with the physical which leads to disaster.

The article below refers to two cases where software enabled a pilot to do something they should not have been allowed to do with death being the end result.

Lessons from spaceship two’s crash

In the above article, the situation was different from my previous article about lack of tactile feedback. In both cases the pilots knew what they were doing, they just did it at the wrong time or too frequently for the specific vehicle to survive.

As an analyst, be it a system’s analyst or business analyst, it is not enough to think of just the happy path. Whenever you are gathering requirements you need to also think of what will keep us on the happy path. Whenever there is an interaction or a key data point, ask yourself if the event that causes this can be triggered at the wrong time or occur too many times.

Look for the ways that one can step off of the path and see if you can build either a metaphorical wall to keep us on the path or ways to get us back on the path before any damage is done.

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.

Data handling – know when to bring the experts on board.

We all know about the Y2K incident with the 2 digit year however there are still examples of data storage length being inappropriate for the data to be stored.

If you are a Business Analyst that deals with data then it is important to always be questioning the data requirements to ensure that they meet the need of the business / application now and especially in the future.

Industries where data is critical to their function will probably leverage Data Modelers / Engineers / Scientists to manage data definition. As a BA we should not be afraid to state when the  data knowledge is beyond us and ask for the project to employ one of these specialists. Do not try and wing it because the end result can be expensive to the company.

To read up on some of the impacts of data, see this article below from the BBC:

Data Handling that led to disasters

Responsive Design – the past repeats itself and when you should not bother about it

Google has been sending out emails to websites advising that the web site position in Google search results will be negatively impacted if the website fails to implement responsive design.

Google’s argument is that they want to serve their customers the content that is most viewable on the device being used by the customer. Responsive design being that the website adjusts itself to the screen size of the device being used.

All of the above is the past repeating itself. The print industry has been dealing with this for years.

If you traveled through airports back before e readers, there were lots of small bookstores selling books. Most of the books for sale were of a certain size – the small paperback. Book size was dictated by limited shelf space in the store and what travelers were willing to carry with them on the plane.

Like Google, the bookstore would not stock your book (as in appear in Google search results) if it did not meet their size criteria unless you were some incredible author (book guaranteed to be wanted by travelers no matter the size). Readers were less likely to buy your book if it was larger as it was more hassle to carry around.

However if you were the author of a coffee table size book, you did not care about the getting into the airport bookstores as that was not your market.

Big companies like to be everywhere on the web since they need to maintain brand recognition / market share / income. They also have a large budget to handle the design challenges responsive design creates. For some reason, however, big company still are not able to implement smooth Responsive Design.

Looking at the facts –  BBC.com recently changed their website and introduced moving click points and lengthier navigation (top menu items now moved to sub menu). ABCnews.go.com prevents the user from being able to pinch zoom on their pages. These are just some of the many examples out there of issues with responsive design implemented by large companies.

With large companies failing to implement responsive design well where does that leave the little guy who has the much smaller budget and the less brand recognition?

To answer the above question we first have to consider some others:

1 – Are the people visiting your website likely to be on mobile devices now or in the future?

If you answered yes, then you have to weigh up the % of mobile visitors against the cost of supporting them. Basically, can you afford to lose the mobile visitors if google no longer promotes you?

2 – Does your brand need to increase market share?

Can you afford for your website not to be listed in the mobile search as it will reduce the amount of instances that your brand is visible? If you are trying to build up your brand, the loss of presence in mobile search could negatively impact you especially if a competitor’s brand is present while yours is not. But then again, maybe you are the coffee table size book author and it does not matter. Or you are leveraging other channels such as YouTube / Facebook so losing on mobile search is no big deal.

3 – Will I lose significant revenue if my web site is not found in mobile search?

Does the effort justify the cost. For e-commerce sites, being mobile friendly is almost a requirement but for content sites this is debatable. Do people really want to read the news / advice on the screen of a small telephone.

If you have to go down the responsive path on a limited budget, probably the best bet is to find a vendor that has already developed the web site software to support your web site. For content, Word Press now has themes that are responsive.

Don’t expect a magic wand solution to responsive design as even with off the shelf packages there will probably be something not quite right.

In the long term, screen size will become stable as consumers decide what works and what does not and will chose to purchase the most useful mobile devices. When that happens, the software solutions will be robust and the whole Google conversation on penalizing those that do not implement responsive design will be part of history.

No Product or Service reviews leads to lost income.

February 2, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Business Analyst Skills, ecommerce, ROI 

Previously I have talked about the handling of Negative Reviews online but what about if you have no reviews?

If you are releasing a product or service be it new or updated, it is unacceptable after a week to not have any online reviews be they good or bad in the major channels of distribution for product or in the lead review sites for businesses such as “Yelp” or “Foursquare”. Having no reviews can be worse than having bad reviews as it means nobody has considered there to be a need to either compliment or complain. If your competitors have lots of reviews, it makes your Product or Service drop down into the also ran category.

When planning to bring your Product or Service to market there should always be a task included to get reviews published as quickly as possible. Even ongoing the reviews should be maintained for freshness.

Not that I am suggesting that you personally populate the reviews but there should be a grassroots effort to have people provide reviews by reaching out to those that have used or purchased the product/service and getting the press involved via press releases.

If nothing else, reviews can give you valuable feedback on Product or Service issues you are not aware of allowing you to improve and thus make more sales.

Think about it this way. When a new restaurant or club comes into being, the press and VIPs are invited to come to the opening to generate buzz. The next day the press will hopefully publish glowing reviews and in today’s twitter / Facebook world the VIPs will also talk about their experience. Your Product or Service needs a similar public relations treatment.

Four components to measuring success of your product / release.

Whatever you are working on will eventually end up with a new or updated product being released. Prior to that release date, consideration should be given to how to measure success.

There are four components to measuring success:
1 – Determine what is to be measured.
What is the new or improved product supposed to achieve? Hopefully you already know the answer to this prior to even starting development.
A business should have clearly defined goals as to what is expected via the release of the new or improved product. These goals should be quantifiable in a mathematical way even if you have to hire a PHD mathematician to determine the formula that quantifies it.

Examples:
a – Game averages 1000 downloads per day over a 3 month period.
b – LED Lightbulb increases market share for our brand over others.
c – New website design increases revenue from marketing and attracts more visitors.

2 – Identify Channels to supply the measurement information.
Now that you know what you plan to measure for success, the next question is where to get this information from?
Channels of information can come in many different ways:
a – Data could be collected from social media site such as Facebook to see how many positive comments a new product gets.
b – Sales information could be tracked from online and physical stores.
c – Surveys could be performed on potential and actual customers.
d – Certain key words/phrases could be searched on in the Search Engines.

3 – Integrate and absorb the data from the Channels.
Once the source of the measurements has been identified, the next step is the actual integration of this data into your reporting system so that it can be sliced and diced to provide the measurement of success reports. Your PHD mathematician may also be needed here to weight the data accordingly so that no one channel skews the results unrealistically.

4 – Present the success data to the consumers.
Finally with all the data, reports can be designed / generated or data outputted for consumption by those who will make the determination that the goals have been achieved. At this point knowing who the consumers of the information is becomes critical as you need to present the data in a format that the consumers can understand and consume. You may need to engage UI/UX experts at this point if the presentation is using new technology so that they can help design the presentation.

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.

2 failings in ecommerce that cause lost sales!

November 17, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Business Analyst Skills, ecommerce, ROI, UX / UI, Web Sites 

How well is your company managing it’s ecommerce?

The following two examples show areas where sales can be lost.

Today I came across 2 failures in ecommerce that should not happen but companies allow to happen.

1 – Online sales feature that is not available.
2 – Failure to respond to negative comments about your products.

Online sales feature not available
Today I tried to change my cell phone plan online with the company I currently have. This morning and afternoon, I was told that “We’re sorry. Change plan is not available online at this time.” How many more times will I try before I start to look at other companies to provide my cell phone service. This failure to provide a feature online at best might cause dissatisfaction with the company but at worst it gives me time to start looking at the competitors offerings which may tempt me to switch to another company! Companies cannot afford to have software that is part of the sales pipeline not functioning. It is truly like the sales pipeline has a hole in it that is leaking sales.

Negative reviews on products
Online I see two kinds of product management.

  • People behind the products respond appropriately to reviews
  • Negative reviews are left with no response
  • As a buyer online, there is no salesperson to offset the negative reviews left online nor to complement the nice reviewers. This means sales can be lost if buyers are presented with negative feedback on the review. Sales is about overcoming objections to the purchase, unfortunately with ecommerce reviews I can end up with more objections to buying an item than when I started the purchase process. It is important that your company has someone responding to reviews so that you do not loose valuable sales.

    Next Page »