Do your client’s business protocols match the current physical environment?

October 27, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Business Analyst Skills, Project Management, ROI 

Businesses can spend a lot of time documenting protocols for how certain events are to be handled when they occur. However, these protocols can be left to gather dust until the next event happens.

From a business point of view, the business needs to consider all protocols it currently has defined and weigh them up against priority of use – meaning that just because an event has not happened for a while does not meant that a slow response will work as gaps in protocol are uncovered due to changes in the environment. Protocols that require immediate response will be considered higher priority for review of relevancy versus those that can have a delayed response.

Examples of protocols:
1 – What to do when the stock market crashes?
2 – How to handle regulated products?
3 – Backup locations for offices if the current ones can no longer be used?
4 – Bad weather grounds plane throughout the country, how to get the planes back on schedule?

What usually gets businesses is an event that does not happen very often that has a high priority resolution required. As there is lack of practice some protocol steps may no longer be valid when the event occurs, people may not be trained in their use and the right licensing may not be in place to perform the task. Failure to respond quickly and correctly to the event can lead to significant income loss for the business involved.

Ebola case in Dallas 2014 highlighted several failures of protocol:
Lack of training / proper equipment lead to further infections.
Inability for toxic waste to be carried off site immediately because of transportation license restrictions placed on the waste which the transportation company did not have.
Limited ability for Hospitals to deal with their own sterilization as this has been outsourced in a lot of cases requiring the receiving location to be licensed to transport / handle the waste at a level they may not be used to.

As business analysts, we need to mentor our business clients through the risks of these often ignored protocols and ensure that they get the review they deserve. At the same time we need to limit the effort spent on protocols that do not have high priority resolution associated with them so that we can be good advocates of our business client’s expenses.

Project behind schedule it must be because of the Business Analyst

Often I hear a fellow Business Analyst say that the sponsors of his project and the project manager are complaining that they, the Business Analyst are taking too long.

Assuming that the Business Analyst is competent then why does this project delay occur?
1 – Business did not really know what they wanted or needed from the project but they thought they did.
2 – New Technology or unproven technology is involved.
3 – Project schedule was unrealistic to begin with.
4 – People that need to answer questions are not making themselves available or are not available.

Business Analysts need to determine the above issues as quickly as possible and bring them to management attention. Delay in recognizing these problems will lead the blame on project delay to be directed towards the Business Analyst instead of people working to find solutions to the obstacles.

Note: Not all managers are created equal! Business Analysts have to be aware of how a project runs and be willing to bring issues to management attention hopefully with recommendations on resolving them.

Products replacing humans do not always need to be faster than the humans replaced

September 7, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Business Analyst Skills, ROI 

If your product is going to replace a human in a work role, it does not need to do the work faster than the human it replaces if there is currently a wait time or reliability issue involved with the human role it replaces.

Examples of where you can see this today in current society:

1 – Elevators – most standard tall buildings have somewhat dumb elevator control systems that take no account of the number of people in the elevator or where they are going. Contrast this with the days of when elevators were controlled by humans and they were much more efficient in getting to their destination.

  • Elevator was full, the operator did not stop at floors to pick up new people but instead emptied the elevator out first.
  • When letting people off on a floor, they would ask anyone waiting for an elevator where they were going to see if it made sense to jump on their elevator or wait for the next one.

However, if for any reason there was a shortage of human elevator operators, then effectively the elevator had to be taken out of service. By removing the human element, there is now less of a chance of the elevator being taken out of service thus reducing the potential wait.

2 – Self check out – have been springing up in stores all over the place. One employee can now monitor dozens of check outs that the customer uses. There is no way I can check out as fast as a seasoned cashier but I am now less likely to have to wait for a cashier and this reduction in wait is the benefit.

There is one caution to this story however. As time passes, people are going to remember less the benefit of the slower solution which leaves the market open for a company to invent a new product that works faster than your product. Bit by bit, elevator systems are becoming more sophisticated which means as companies look to replace their aging systems, the old benchmark of performance may no longer be good enough. I can see in a few years where the mere fact of me scanning a product at a self checkout will be replaced by RFID tags inside my cart that automatically scan. Eventually it may even get to the point that I do not even go in a store but instead pick my items up at a terminal outside.

Looking at the grocery store today, I can see in the near future where the human shelf stackers could easily be replaced by a warehouse robot that did the job. That way the company would no longer be dependent on humans to do the work.

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.

 

Moving to Agile tougher in big IT shops with Offshoring

August 14, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Business Analyst Skills, Project Management, ROI 

This desire or thought that Agile is quicker can put blinders on the people who suggest it.

In a small IT shop of very structured environment it may bring benefit quickly but in larger IT shops it can be a different story.

When implementing Agile as a method of delivery you need to consider:

  1. Does my department need to interface with other departments for either development or testing?
  2. Will systems be available when my offshore resources need them.

 

Point 1 – the other departments.

You may have gone Agile but that does not mean your other departments have. Imagine if they are in the process of implementing a change or you find a bug in their systems. How long will it take them to respond is a question you should ask. Otherwise the expensive Agile team will be sitting around doing nothing while you wait for the other department to resolve the issue.

Point 2 – system availability for offshore resources.

It is not such a big deal when you are waterfalling a project that every now and again a system may be down for a day or two. In the Agile world, down time is measured in hours. Every hour that a system is not available to a resource means lost time in the Sprint window. It will not be long before the whole sprint is impacted.

Remember then the impacts of Agile when working with other departments and offshore resources as it may not bring you the benefits you desire.

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.

Are you losing money by not monitoring how your customers are using your product?

July 13, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Business Analyst Skills, ROI, Web Sites 

If you have a product that customers use to reach other customers have you considered the ramifications should customers start to use it in unexpected if not undesirable ways.

The outcome here can be both positive and negative.

Think Craigslist.org – they came under the spotlight at one time because people started to use their software to sell sex and in some cases it involved trafficking of people. I am sure that the founders of Craigslist did not foresee this unfortunate outcome of their useful product. Gun manufacturers fall into the same issue with people using their weapons to commit crime.

Alternatively if you monitor how your customers are using your product you may find opportunities to expand beyond your original mission statement. Anecdotal story was that at one point, students at a university were taking the milk / bread crates from grocery stores to make dorm furniture at a university in Ohio. It got so bad that stores had to start arresting the crate thieves. Now some smart person at the company that made the crates realized they could sell them to the students and make some money. The rest is history.

It is important to keep track of how your product is being used by customers:

  • It can prevent damage to your brand.
  • It can provide a possible new revenue stream.

How detailed should your presentations be.

July 13, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Business Analyst Skills, ROI 

Recently I have begun to put together a Power Point presentation on what I do for a specific client.

My initial draft was light and written from a speaker’s point of view however the client came back and advised that they would like for the presentation to stand on its own after I am gone.

When putting together a presentation, it is worthwhile considering what the client plans to do with it post your departure. Obviously the more detail that goes into the more it costs to create.

If a client see value in having you spend more time in detail, then by all means provide it. However before you go down the detail path, establish that this is what your client wants to pay for.

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.

 

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