Buyer Beware

I’ve been spoiled. Spoiled in that I’ve had the privilege to work with some pretty amazing software developers in my day. The kind that are always looking to be better at what they do.

pawn shop photo
Photo by Osman Rana on Unsplash

During the last couple of years, I’ve been reminded that solid software craftsmanship is a rare thing. In fact, there are just a great number of companies that make a good living off of poor workmanship. They do some hand waving in the design workshops, print really colorful journey maps on large sheets of paper and make nice license origination bonuses from software vendors. They don’t develop a shared vision with their customer and they certainly don’t stand by their work.

I had worked with companies like this in the past, but then was lucky enough to avoid them for several years. I guess I tricked myself into believing they didn’t exist anymore, but I was wrong. They’re still out there.

It’s up to you as a technology buyer to own your solution. This means understanding the requirements, the technology and the talent. It also means that the only one to blame for picking a bad partner is you. You need to know when you’re partner is not going to stand by you every step of the way, and when that happens, find a new one.

Bad technology partners are like ungrateful houseguests that overstay their welcome. They take advantage of your good nature when they repeatedly cut and paste their way to your first release. They unpack their 7 different javascript frameworks into your codebase without having an opinion why. They fail to install the software licenses they were rewarded for selling to you so that your website crashes.

Great technology partners are like good friends. They’ll be with you through good times, and likely lots of bad times, but they’ll stick with you every step of the way. They clean up after your bad partners after they’ve left the party. They ask for things that make it easier for them to help you. They educate you on better ways to do things and they consistently exceed your expectations of value.

What kind of partner do you want? What kind of partner do you want to be?

Growth Hacks Gone Too Far

Advice for software companies looking to delight users

 
During my career, I’ve been a major fan of enterprise collaboration tools. I was always quite excited about trying new applications and recommending some of them to colleagues.  
 
Later, as I made my way into marketing I became very interested in the place where the disciplines of marketing and product intersect.  The “growth hacking” industry has become  quite popular and as it turns out somewhat ruthless in terms of what it will do to get new users to target.

Case in point, is a very popular design prototyping and collaboration product, InVision.  One of our partners introduced me to the software years ago. It is a very convenient way to showcase designs in progress to stakeholders.  Unfortunately, being on the receiving end of a share link to a project and choosing to comment on a design puts you in the crosshairs of their sales team.
 
I understand that the application currently requires you to create an account to comment on a design. It is a bridge too far to assume that everyone commenting is considering purchasing a tool for prototyping designs.
 
I’m all for ingenuity and creativity in trying to gain new users. I also think there is a balance to achieve between an individual’s privacy and right to work and not be prospected. There is an opportunity for InVision to pop a simple message to a user who has logged in to comment. Something like: 
 
“Hey there, We hope you’re enjoying the experience of working with our product to review a design with your team. Do you know anyone who might be interested in this product for their work? Please tell them about your experience!”
 
I’m not naive, but I am getting a bit jaded after seeing these tactics explode during the last decade. Let’s start a new trend of making sure people have a delightful experience and then making them feel special rather than jumping to what they can do for us.  

 

What examples have you seen from other organizations in this vein?  Please share in the comments.

Alternate Worlds of Innovation

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When you work in software, you come to realize that you can pretty much create anything you set your mind to. Your biggest problems tend to be: coming up with a common vision for what you want to build and setting short term goals.  Software folk love new methodologies. Agile and design thinking help us visualize new products and processes.  Is it so easy for us to move fast because there is no legacy to deal with? 
 
Dubai by Roman Logov
Photo by Roman Logov http://unsplash.com/@prostoroman
 
I wonder how easily innovation comes to those with more rigid constraints. When your materials are expensive and products take physical labor to produce.  When your employees have labor unions or not well incentivized. When hard sciences or engineering ground your business, departure from traditional process is discouraged.  These are different worlds than that of pure software.
 
It’s not to say that new ideas are easier to come by in one world over another. But I think they might need more courage to bring to life.  
 
Constraints provide focus. They allow organizations to identify opportunities for innovation quicker. Even still they have less mobility to seize them.  Software based businesses have greater mobility, but the challenge of charting a course in an ocean of endless possibilities.
 
Both perspectives can inform each other. Modern innovation will benefit from the cross pollination of alternate worlds.
 

Slackers and Blabbers

slackers

Yesterday was one of those days where you get a sense for how fast our technology moves these days.  Since returning from sabbatical, I have become a member of four different Slack teams – three through my organization, and one that is a marketing interest group (Online Geniuses).  For those that are unfamiliar with Slack, it’s a messaging app for teams that allows you to set up your own team (think server or instance) which can then have different conversation topics within them.

Online Geniuses has started to riff on the popular “Ask Me Anything” (aka #AMA) model that was popularized on Reddit. Every day they are having one or more #AMA events with great guests from the world of online marketing. Yesterday featured Jonathan Hunt from Vox Media in some great discussion about how they run marketing inside a modern media house.  Today featured Stella Garber, the head of marketing at Trello.  The discussion basically happens inside the Slack “chat room” format, as a live feed (see below).

ama-online-geniuses

On the back of that session, I flipped over to blab.im where I had been invited to a short roundtable on Influencer Marketing. The discussion was real time, in live video and audio feeds.  If you’ve used Google Hangouts for your marketing or thought leadership events, you will immediately fall in love with this format.  I think my favorite aspects of it are:

  • Integration with Twitter for sign-in, contacts, and promotion during an event
  • When you complete a Blab, as the host you get sent the Audio file, Video file and embed codes for putting the event on your website.
  • A really compact interface for so much functionality
  • A great live schedule of scheduled and in-progress Blabs, so you can always find something to watch. Just now I popped in and found another Blab on the topic I was interested in (see below).

Blab_Beta_-_Warren_Whitlock__Influencer_Marketing_Revealed

While I still love Google Hangouts, I think Blab is going to be serious competition given how slick the interface is.  That will be a topic for another post though.

 

How do Slack and Blab compare when it comes to running events?

Both are fantastic for a fast moving live event. Slack is entirely text-based, so you need to consider that people need to be typing and actively monitoring the stream to watch for responses to their questions. That said, the interface of slack has been tailored to support Q&A events like AskMeAnything quite well.  It has the added benefit of making your audience work a little to participate, which I think can be a plus in this day and age.

Blab has the added benefit of being video and so it’s a bit easier to hang back and watch/listen, and if you’re so inclined you can join the ongoing tweet stream alongside the event.  Again, another really well done interface that allows a pretty seamless transition between the two.

All of that said, one thing is very clear to me: Slack and Blab provide new feature rich alternatives for marketers to the classic webinar.

Looking forward to trying both out for my own events soon. Eager to hear experiences that any of you have had.

 

Brave New World: The Future of Search on ThoughtWorks.com

Over the last few weeks I have crafted a narrative of what the future of search looks like. Inspired by several of the great minds in search marketing today, Brave New World: The Future of Search provides an overview of where search technology came from, how it evolved and where its going.

Please, grab your cup of coffee or tea on Sunday and curl up with this piece, as I think it will make you think deeply about how we find information online.  I would love to field questions or hear any feedback you have about the article.

brave-new-world-header

 

 

An Open Web or a Collection of Native Walled Gardens

open-web-walled-gardens

This week I am looking forward to publishing a new piece on the future of search in the ThoughtWorks Insights blog. It’s been informed by some great presentations I’ve seen over the last few months, and if I ever speak to you about online marketing, chances are I’ve picked your brain on the topic. That said, the following is really a train of thought that sort of spiraled out of that article, but did not really have a home.

Several recent developments in the tech space are starting to suggest that we are transitioning heavily towards an app-oriented world. Among them:

  • Flipkart’s decision to take down its website to become an app-only company
  • The introduction of deep linking for bringing local mobile content into search indexes by Google and Apple.
  • The introduction of new native publishing platforms from Facebook (Instant Articles) and Apple (News)

The reasoning for these moves is based in the want to optimize (control) the user experience on the device. This might be for performance reasons, for better usage analytics, for advertising reasons or all the above.

I fear that without serious conversation about search interoperability, we run the risk of having a collection of walled gardens.

Sound far-fetched? This would be like the pre-world-wide-web internet that was dominated by the likes of CompuServe and Prodigy. In fact, Phil Windley has put together an incredible article that explores this possibly called The CompuServe of Things.

It’s not all bad though…
One promising development was the recent announcement from Google and Twitter on a collaborative, open-source solution for publishers to deliver high-speed news on the internet.

Another incredibly exciting development for me is a technology ecosystem called Sandstorm.io. This amazing community has begun to develop a set of open source technologies for hobbyist developers to spin up personal servers. Just browse their free ‘App Market’, and you will begin to envision a world where you can not be held hostage to the services provided by the big-box web companies.

What is really beautiful about it is that they are incredibly passionate about keeping alive an internet where people can develop “indie apps” that are easy to share and run. I immediately thought of Dave Winer and his quest to encourage ecosystems where developers can create small, fit for purpose apps based on API’s with other web services. I sincerely hope he spends some time with Sandstorm and develops versions of his River4 and Podcatcher apps for the platform.

While this battle will need to play out, it is clear that the war for an open Internet is still going to continue to be fought for some time. I’m hoping to see more innovations like Sandstorm to keep the web free and open.

Mobile Messaging: Platform, paradigm or both

Mobile messaging applications have become more than a paradigm for commercial success but a platform for new systems of innovation.

I can remember instant messaging as always being a core part of my internet experience. From the early chat rooms of Prodigy and Compuserve I learned to find connection and build friendships with remote strangers based on our affinity for comic books, Beatles albums and movies. As the web evolved, messaging was always still there in the background, as an important part of life, yet considered to be separate from the “web”. That reality has changed quickly.

 

messaging
Photo credit: Alone by Laura Finkel, https://www.flickr.com/photos/-followthemusic-/8128132886

 

Life in SLoMo (Social, Local, Mobile, that is)

In the 8 years of hyperspace that we’ve traveled since the smartphones hit the market its become increasingly more clear.  The traditional text message (SMS) fused with instant messaging technology to create a wave of social computing yet unheard of.  When you stop to think about the layers of functionality that have been introduced and integrated on the mobile platforms, it is really astounding:  photo, video, voice, live-streaming.

Applications that offer a personal experience using one or more of these capabilities are the new normal; they are the most popular and growing by the day.

 

internet-trends-mobile-applications
Slide 47 of KCPB Internet Trends 2015 by Mary Meeker

 

 

Further, some of these apps, including Whatsapp, Wechat, Slack and Voxer are bridging mediums and arguably becoming platforms for new types of innovation.  What’s the distinction of a platform, you might ask.

Platforms allow ecosystems to develop

If you work in a team environment, especially software, you’ve probably experienced Slack. Inspired by a 45 year-old technology but using 21st century tools, Slack provides a grass-roots platform for collaboration and informal communication within enterprises of all sizes.  But the thing that really has made it a smashing success is the ecosystem that surrounds it; there is a plug-in for just about developer tool on the market. These plug-ins allow developers to create their own best-of-breed project management system – something greater than any of the component parts.
The Slack ecosystem is pale in comparison to what’s happened in China with Wechat. This messaging based application leverages QRCodes and chat to provide a smartphone based platform of search, reviews, peer-to-peer payments and various other tools.  New businesses are spinning-up daily on the Wechat platform, and operating at a scale that gives Facebook’s mega-messaging applications, Messenger and Whatsapp, a run for their money.
Slide 53 of KCPB Internet Trends 2015 by Mary Meeker
Slide 53 of KCPB Internet Trends 2015 by Mary Meeker
These applications are not alone. It seems daily there are new entrants.  One of my personal favorites is Voxer, which provides ‘walkie-talkie’ style voice communication for groups and individuals (think Nextel phones in app form).  I became intrigued by this after watching my wife and her network marketing colleagues use it as an entire business platform for conference calls, offline training and 1:1 catch-ups with colleagues.  It breaks the mold that assumes messaging had to be typed on a keyboard.

The next frontier

I think that Benedict Evans had it right when he said we probably can’t predict where this will go.  I find some of the scenarios he describes regarding Facebook Messenger to be intriguing, especially when you think about technologies like Twilio and Intercom, which have revolutionized enterprise communication by providing a messaging and telephony backbone for web-applications.  Could they too be disrupted once Facebook wants to be the intermediary for web-apps, cars and couriers?  Time will tell.

Update, 30-Aug-2015:  

A couple of interesting stories in the news during the last week or two which should interest those following the messaging space:
  • Facebook released a new guide for businesses that wish to provide a ‘live chat’ capability to their audiences via their Facebook page. The catch is that FB gets to put up a ‘responsiveness rating’ for your page!  Read more…
  • Slack has followed in Facebook’s footsteps by creating an “add to Slack” button for website owners.  Read more…

On-demand is the new subscription

This week I encountered a web based service and took note of their ‘cancel anytime’ feature.  It occurred to me that this had for a few years become a novelty feature in software.  Now I tend to expect it.  So much that I almost overlooked this product’s claim of stopping anytime.
Subscriptions became the default business model for many of the popular software services of the last 10 years. There has been a marked shift though, to a different model, subtlety, but different none the less. That is the on-demand model which allows you to cancel and restart the service at any time.
Take for example services such as Netflix where you can stop, restart, scale up or down on demand. This model works because it mirrors the reality of so many services we use every day: dry cleaners, house cleaning, etc.
This got me thinking: What subscription services do not have an on-demand option?  I asked this question to my circle of friends on Facebook and received back several familiar brands.  Comcast. Dish Network. DirectTV. Verizon. Cable television and cellular.
To some extent, this is not surprising. We have all watched the big providers try to acquire companies up and down the stack of content and service.  We’ve seen them throw everything at crushing net neutrality laws to be able to increase their lock-in power.  Cable and wireless seem to be the holdouts in the consumer space, although there is no shortage of competitors trying to disrupt their rule.
So, I got to thinking a bit more about the B2B software services we use. Platform-oriented software, from cloud providers, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), is already on-demand.
There are many vendors that are not, though. These are products that fall under the classification of ‘enterprise software applications’.  Most of these are still based on annual contracts.  As a product person, I understand why this is good for the product companies. I struggle to see scenarios where its logical to constrain the customer with lock-in given this evolving standard.  The early days of SAAS saw the ‘perpetual license’ start to give way to the ‘annual subscription’.  I dare say that the  these plans can’t exist much longer.
What enterprise software applications have you seen transition to a  pure on-demand model? That is one with consumption or monthly service fees, but no prohibitive set-up/activation fees, cancellation fees, etc.  Please share in the comments.

Enter the Scrum: From Development Chaos to Agility and Control

Recently I was interviewed by Mathew Schwartz at Dice.com for I/T workers looking to learn more about Agile development. The article, Enter The Scrum, was published today and I received a couple of nice quotes.

Note: Unfortunately the link to the original article is now dead, so I’ve reprinted it as it originally appeared at http://career-resources.dice.com/articles/content/entry/enter_the_scrum_from_development

Enter the Scrum: From Development Chaos to Agility and Control
By Mathew Schwartz

Software developers, behold the Scrum.

Not a rugby aficionado? The term means the mass of interlocked players – tough lads, fearless lasses – facing off against their opponents when play restarts, each trying to kick the ball back to their side for possession. Think order out of chaos. Some bleeding may result.
Minus the cuts and bruises, the Scrum development methodology is similar. Scrum calls for a single, cross-functional group, ideally with 10 people – including business stakeholders, multitalented tech folks and a ScrumMaster playing project coordinator – all located in close physical proximity. Together they focus not on tools or technologies, per se, but business results.
To do that, Scrum employs sprints – originally four weeks long, now typically two weeks in duration. Each sprint is a plan to deliver fully working, tested and implemented code. For every sprint, the team together decides which capability has top priority, creates a plan, delivers, then reviews what it’s done.

Time to Sprint

Benefits to this “controlled burst” approach include delivering more relevant software, lowering business risk and creating more satisfied coders. “Every two weeks we get the chance to improve what we’re doing, and we can do it with the customer,” says Alan Atlas, a certified ScrumMaster trainer and agile development coach with Rally Software in Boulder, Colo. “No longer do we have to spend two years to see if something we build will work.”

Hierarchy? Stuff it. Scrum teams self-organize. Waterfall approach? Don’t bother. What if the customer requests change? Of course they will, so build in a mechanism for change requests and reassessing priorities.
What if the business request doesn’t work? “We’re very quickly able to tell the business whether it’s viable or not, or whether it’s something they need to rethink,” says Adam Monago, VP of client service for ThoughtWorks Studios in Chicago. In other words, the two-week Scrum sprint was still time well spent.

The Scrum Rush

Scrum isn’t news to many businesses. Indeed, according to a 2009 survey conducted by Tom Grant, senior analyst at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass., roughly one in three software development teams used at least some kind of agile development – an umbrella term that includes Scrum, Crystal Clear and Extreme Programming (XP), Crystal Clear, lean and now kanban.
“Though Scrum is clearly, by far, the most commonly adopted,” says Grant, “it’s important to stress that what teams are doing is a mixing and matching exercise.”
Why mix and match? One reason is to augment Scrum with software engineering best practices. For that, Monago at ThoughtWorks Studios says many organizations also embrace XP, which emphasizes test-driven development (“only write the code you need”), continuous integration (build and link code regularly to prevent costly errors) and refactoring (“constantly tweak the code and make it prettier”).

Developers Play Ball

If you build Scrum teams, will developers sign on? “Done well, Scrum seems to speak to a large portion of the high-tech development community,” says Rally’s Atlas. Points in its favor include empowering teams, letting people see their direct impact on a project, keeping people cross-skilled and thus marketable, and reducing paperwork to a minimum.

But Scrum does have pitfalls. “Lots of organizations leave a lot of money on the table by not going all the way,” says Atlas. “There’s a great deal of difficulty and discipline involved to get past 50 years of organizational memory about how we’re supposed to do projects.” Indeed, everything from management and support to HR systems and compensation require rethinking.

Get Scrum Savvy

When it comes to mastering Scrum, either as individuals or organizations, experts recommend studying the fundamentals, but also bringing a coach onsite for the first few months to help put Scrum theory into practice, starting with one team. Pick an important – but not the most important – project. Do it well, start to turn heads, then expand the Scrum rollout.

Remember that Scrum isn’t dogma, but a lightweight, flexible mindset and framework focused not on tools and technologies, but business results and short project phases planned and executed in two-week bursts. In other words, practice Scrum well, and what looked at first like chaos turns out to imbue software development speed, flexibility and control.