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Not Quite As Funny

I was reading an older office humor book and found several threads in all the jokes, which made them collectively less funny.

  • Complaints about constant, needless change
  • Complaints about not being given correct information as a matter of practice
  • Abusive, bullying management practices
  • Complaints about overwork
  • Complaints about inefficiency of peers
  • Last minute changes that others fail to realize take a long time to implement correctly
  • Unrealistic schedules

As an industrial engineer, I realized though the comic book was nearly as old as me, the same issues remain in the workplace today. The same themes are found in Dilbert. But what are the solutions to these age old problems?

  • Have a clear, understandable reason for every change from procedure to hierarchy.
  • Communicate the changes to everyone involved and properly train them.
  • Training that is not directly related to specific, planned changes or legally required shouldn’t be given. It takes people away from productive uses of their time.
  • If you take everyone away from work for training, plan for the delays or making up the slack otherwise.
  • Recognize when the new fad is really a new name for an old concept, and don’t jump into seminars or rewrite your documentation to reflect the new names for what you already do.
  • Engage in clear communication and avoid the vague slogans even Deming and Drucker warned against, and don’t apply censorship to critical feedback based on fear of causing offense. Companies rise and fall on the ability to point out unproductive workers, managers making bad decisions, suspicion of fraud.
  • Ensure that employees can access the data they need to do their jobs in as few steps as possible, and don’t require data entry or collection unless necessary – and you know why that data is necessary.
  • Don’t let managers engage in bullying behaviors as a standard management technique, no matter their motivations.
  • Track workloads not just for the department but individuals. The top 5% of the department is doing 50% of the work. And too many people respond to new tasks by giving it to the people who are considered the most effective – contributing to overwork.
  • Seek feedback on the least productive members of your team. Then ask why they are not as productive as possible. Then fix the root cause – and  honestly, motivation and team building seminars are almost never the real solution.
  • Plan your changes before you start making them. And control your change process so that untested or minimally valuable changes get dropped in at the last minute, impacting the whole project.
  • Review workloads for each people and their schedules. Don’t assume you can simply give it to them today and it will be done today.
  • Don’t predicate raises and promotions on billed overtime regardless of actual need for it. You’ll end up with slower work rates, more meetings and less value added during 8-5 to move more work into the overtime category – or encourage overwork by the  ambitious who now put themselves at risk of burnout
  • Without constant analysis and application of lean principles to management, you get the growth of “Administration”. This is a constant in human nature unless one is constantly keeping it in check.
  • The tendency to use bloviated, abstract descriptions has long been done to minimize the negative emotional connotations tied to them, make them sound new or better.  “Dynamic processing environment” instead of kill zone comes to mind. Don’t torture the language to make the concepts seem less severe or better. It undermines communication and wastes time whether writing, reading or speaking. And then there’s the waste of updating all the documents per the new terminology …. I could write multiple blogs on that.
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The Value of Focus in Business

Businesses are only efficient when they have a singular focus. This could have several facets, such as providing the highest quality service while hiring local people or providing employment for a specific population. A more common variation is providing high service at a low cost or the best service as quickly as possible.

What are some mistakes businesses make when they lose their focus?

  • Trying to serve a broader market while losing focus on their core market, often with lower ROI
  • Trying to dominate broad key search terms that come at a higher price instead of narrower search terms that cost less and are easier to dominate
  • Attempting to implement local SEO based on a large geographic area, such as referencing all cities around you, instead of keeping the local search as focused as possible
  • Adding more tools, features and reports to your product instead of focusing on the most valuable feature improvements to your user base or more thorough product testing
  • Seeking to earn industry certifications like sustainable or ISO standards that have little value to the customer base, because they are the “in” certifications to have, and then investing time and effort to then maintain certification instead of value added activities
  • Adding and subtracting features based on what rival products have regardless of what your customers want or the quality of the product after these features are added
  • Trying to expand your customer base while neglecting those who buy most of your products, often ignoring the niche uses you could market to without hurting the main market or changing the product; a classic failure is dumping a profitable customer market because they aren’t the young adults many companies think they have to cater to
  • Trying to increase sales through the addition of new products regardless of their suitability to your customer base, instead of entering complimentary marketing agreements
  • Collecting as much data as possible in the hope of it being useful instead of determining what information is needed to make good decisions and collecting only what is necessary
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Why Slow and Steady Wins the Innovation Race Almost Every Time

Everyone seems to want radical innovation. We see minor improvements and re-branding of existing products as the next big thing, because it is seen as so desirable. Let’s look at the reasons why slow and steady or incremental innovations are almost always the better business plan.

 

  • Most radical innovations fail. Companies may compound the risk by putting all their resources into the new big idea and fail themselves if the product doesn’t succeed.
  • Even if the radical innovation succeeds financially, they may take decades to be accepted and become highly profitable.
  • Incremental innovations are common and you may have a wealth of such ideas already in your organization but ignored because managers were looking for a “big” idea. And in waiting, you fail to improve in any area.
  • A series of incremental innovations can lead to dramatic savings in cycle time, quality, manufacturability and every area of a product’s manufacture. Lowering ongoing costs for existing bread and butter projects increases profits now.
  • By seeking the ready opportunities for incremental improvements, you see savings or improvements in any area quickly for often a low cost and high return on investment. In contrast, the big new thing may be expensive to make and may not pay off.
  • Incrementalism allows for A/B testing of ideas for acceptance whether complimentary products or new features. Offering a new combined product in addition to the current one lets you see if the new one is actually better for the market without a major expenditure.
  • There is a bad tendency to look at radical innovation as “one and done”. The designers often rest on their wilting laurels as others come out with a similar product or service with incremental improvements and take over the market.
  • When a company succeeds with a radical idea, they tend to focus on finding the next big innovation instead of improving their current “big” idea or incremental improvements to other products. And that lightning may not strike a second time.

Signs of Good Design in UX

What are the signs you have a good design in terms of user experience or UX?

 

  • Your suggestions are requests to add new features that aren’t part of your primary purpose. In short, you do what you need to do and all the suggestions are nice adds but not essential.
  • Your complaints are regarding factors unrelated to user experience on the interface like speed, price or interoperability. You may still need to adopt streamlined code or reducing the number of images and integrating caching, but it isn’t essential to deliver to most clients.
  • The suggestions you receive affect a small percentage of the user base, such as complaining about an app’s function on Blackberries or Microsoft phones. The ideal UX is nearly universal across all devices.
  • The complaints are literally cosmetic like issues with the color palette – unless the problem is the 10-15% of the male population that is color blind not being able to figure out key functions.
  • Your user interface relies on patterns of behavior your users already know, even as you change the functions and code behind the interface.
  • Your user interface doesn’t require constant attention by the user or perfect knowledge of the current state of the status of the app in order to have it work right. In short, your app doesn’t expect people to abandon their human failings to work correctly.
  • People who aren’t fluent in your language can use your app, and they never have to learn special lingo or niche technical terms to use your software user interface.
  • You don’t put up hindrances or barriers to someone’s use of a function unless they’d want to stop and think about it, like deleting their saved files or cached passwords.
  • The user interface will be as easy to use and interpret in ten years as it is today. Whether new or five years old, it can be seen as classic and eternal.