The Lean Agile Executive Blog

How do we get to the customer?? A startup with a great idea, an identified need, a prototype and…

I was recently cleaning out a storage area and came across one of the prototypes from a startup I co-founded in 1993. It is a prototype battery powered portable digital audio sound processor for the hearing impaired.

Background
High quality audio processor prototype for hearing impaired
At the time my partner and I were working on a joint venture project to pioneer the first generation of all digital hearing aids. The hearing aid project was tough because the enormous constraints of a very small device that will run on very low power continuously for days. In learning about hearing aids we realized that they are not good for listening to music. Hearing aids have a very limited frequency range, so low and high frequencies are not amplified. Listening through hearing aids is sort of like listening to an AM radio, but worse. The limitations of analog technology caused a technical barrier to better quality. The other main limitation was that hearing aid users wore them for long periods so they demanded convenience and small discrete size above all else.

The big idea

We realized that the hearing impaired could hear much more music and have a great listening experience if they had a device that would treat the full spectrum of sound available to their impaired ears. Headphone, Walkmans, and portable CD players were common, so people were willing to carry music devices. We envisioned a portable device that you could take to the concert or use in your home.

Testing our idea
inside the prototype
To be able to test our idea we ran some quick tests using a PC with an audio card. We processed some music with hearing loss algorithms and did A/B testing with a few hearing impaired to see if they notice a difference. We got mildly positive results. However testing in a Lab is quite different than a user using this processing in their own home or wherever they needed it. We also wanted to be able to test different settings and algorithms for compensating hearing loss for music. This meant we had to build a portable prototype that would allow us to program different processing ideas quickly, yet would run for a few hours on a battery. We also needed to do it for the lowest cost in the shortest amount of time, since this was money from our own pockets and time from our evenings and weekends.

Building the prototype

Motorola 56002 Digital Signal Processor Motorola 56002 DSP Evaluation board
PC JTAG interface audio inputs and outputs User interface
We built the prototype using a combination of off the shelf components and custom circuits. The first consideration was could we power the device circuitry using a battery? We discovered we could use a large rechargeable cell phone battery and a switching power supply component to get the power we needed. Around that time Motorola released an evaluation board for their 56002 Digital Signal Processor (DSP). I had been programming this DSP off an on for 4 years and it was excellent for audio processing, so we had our main logic board and processor. Most evaluation systems need some adjusting to your application, and this was the case for us. In additions to adding battery driven power supply, we needed to increase the system’s memory and add flash memory to store the settings and programs. We also needed to add buttons and LEDs for users to control the settings and volume. We also added a high quality digital audio interface to connect headphones, a microphone and line audio inputs for sources such as a CD player.

Testing with users

A number of hearing impaired users volunteered to test the system for us. We set them up with 4 different programs that they could select and a volume control they could adjust. We then sent them off with the device in a waist pack with the goal of using the device whenever they listened to music or went to a show. We also asked them to compare the quality of music and audio to their hearing aids. In the device we could track what programs and volume levels they were using. After a number of field tests, users reported mild improvements in listening to music, and a preference for certain settings in the device. The algorithms I had developed were working, however I knew we could continue to greatly improve the effectiveness of the hearing compensation processing.

The missing link – distribution

We proceeded with marketing and sales discussions with Audiologists. Audiologists are the Medical clinicians who test people’s hearing and prescribe hearing aids. This was the natural channel for our device, since it would need to be customized for the hearing impairment of the user. In learning about Audiologists’ business we discovered hearing aid manufacturers were heavily incentivizing them to sell hearing aids with high margins, discounts and free trips. A good quality hearing aid cost on the order of $800 to $1000 per device. Because Audiologists were focused on selling hearing aids to improve speech perception, there was little interest in offering our product to the hearing impaired. In doing our market research we found a simple device that offered some of our features for amplifying audio without the ability to do custom hearing compensation. Sales for this device were struggling and Audiologists were lukewarm to the device. Hearing aids were so expensive that most customers would only pay for them. The high margins hearing aids provided Audiologists meant they’d rather sell and fit hearing aids then a specialized device for music and audio.

After more conversations and demonstrations we put the business idea and this prototype on the shelf. We saw that while there was a need in the market and the technical solution to meet that need, the realities of the distribution channel meant the device would likely not succeed in reaching the customers. Trying to build an independent marketing and distribution channel through pro-audio retail channels such as stores was explored, but looked overwhelming and risky. The devices required hearing testing for baseline data, hearing compensation and user validation, a process far too complicated for a retail setting.

Our expensive lesson: If you are doing a Startup and using Lean Startup methods, identifying a need in the market and the solution is not enough. We found a need and a solution, we tested it and proved our solution worked. We discovered that you also need to prove you can get your solution into your customer’s hands. Perhaps now, 20 years later, we could do something similar with a smart phone. The challenge of getting the product properly configured for a user’s specific hearing loss remains.

I am ever grateful to my fellow investors/learners in this experiment:
Dr. Abram Gamer and Don LaFont.
– Robin Dymond.

Doing a startup but not in Silicon Valley? Here are 8 things to consider.

I returned to Calgary Alberta Canada after 8 years living in Virginia and working with tech companies in the US and Europe. I still work with companies in US and Europe. I was quite involved with Calgary’s nascent startup community from 1996-2004, either with my own ventures or working with others. During that time I founded the TBL Napkin, a tech entrepreneur’s networking group that met for 3 years until the tech crash killed interest in it. At those events we hatched the idea that we eventually turned into the Banff Venture Forum, an investment forum for tech and energy startups in western Canada and it is still going strong.

Starting a company in Calgary has its own pros and cons, and while it is neither the best nor worst place in the world, Calgarians tend to have some blind spots, so here are some key points to keep in mind. I think these lessons apply to any startup that is not located in a technology hub.

1. Too much and too little money.
While Calgary has a huge and very wealthy oil and gas sector, that wealth and the expertise that comes with it doesn’t translate to technology companies. The mindset in oil and gas is completely different, how you start companies is different, and how you grow is different. So after many losses investing in tech, most O&G money stays in O&G where they understand the business. This means chasing investment from O&G people is valuable time wasted. The problem for startups is that all that wealth drives up people costs, and while sweat equity and shares work in the Valley, they simply don’t have the same value here.

2. Cashflow is king
The vast majority successful Calgary startups that grew to successful businesses focused on real cash-flow from real customers (not advertising). Cashflow early has two positive effects, it forces you to really listen to customers, and it provides immediate market based feedback on your idea/plans. Since Calgary sucks for raising tech startup money, real customer cash in the door really reduces the startup pain of debt, credit cards, family loans, stress, etc. This also means that capital intensive or infrastructure type companies (i.e. networking tech, hardware, nano tech etc.) that require lots of capital and/or long sales cycles should be avoided, or take your idea and move to where the customers and the financing are located. Same goes for advertising based companies.

3. Nobody knows your name
Calgary or most other Canadian and European cities are just not in the map in the US. In 8 of years living on the US east coast, it was rare that I would meet someone who had heard of Calgary, let alone know where it is. When I said Calgary, I could have been saying Riga Latvia. When I said Calgary was like Denver, it didn’t help, since they didn’t know where Denver was either. While you can say they are ignorant, consider that in a 6 hour drive you can go from Richmond Virginia through Washington DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New Jersey and New York city, not to mention all the smaller cities and suburbs. Drive 6 hours from Calgary and… well one more hour and we’ll get to Saskatoon! From Northern Virginia to Boston, over 50 million people occupy just 2% of the US land mass. People build very large successful businesses that in only exist in that small East coast corridor. Chances are you could be competing with a startup from that area, and they can drive to the customers. So you need to think about how you will differentiate your company while minimizing the potential disadvantage your location.

4. Do other stuff to pay bills
Calgary’s Smart technologies started out distributing and selling conference room equipment, projectors, etc, and did that for many years before and during the development of their smart board technology. Numerous companies have used consulting to pay the bills while they worked on the product or paid others to work on it. The best deal is if you can find a customer to fund your development because they really want what you can provide. Just make sure you retain ownership/marketing rights.

5. Go park yourself
The founder of Calgary’s critical mass parked himself in New York for long periods of time, and went up and down Madison avenue trying to sell Golf instruction CDROMs. That led him to landing a web site design contract for Mercedes Benz. At the time, critical mass didn’t know much about the web. A Calgary based company that built chat services for commerce web sites moved to LA to be physically close to their customers. Two years later Ask Jeeves bought them for XXX hundred million. If you need to sell to companies in Boston, hire a local sales person and go sell there with them until you know the roads and lobbies/offices of those companies by heart. You will then learn if your product is really needed (Golf CDROM? No thanks) or if you should be doing something else.

6. Stay small and manage the burn closely
You need people to make progress, but you also need feedback, answers and real information about the market, which means lots of learning for the founders. Learning is actually more important then building product. Learning progress is understanding what the market really needs and how to deliver it with the least amount of work and (borrowed) money. Find cheap ways of getting noticed, and be relentless about talking with potential customers and experts in your market. Give yourself a point every time you ask a question and subtract two points for every statement you make. The second mouse gets the cheese. All successful businesses have a simple economic equation at their core (even yours!). Know your equation forwards, backwards, and know all the factors that influence it.

7. If you don’t succeed, welcome to the club
Tech startups fail 90% of the time. So treat doing a startup as a learning experience and a chance to do something you have dreamed about doing. If your startup doesn’t succeed, well chances are you learned much more then you thought you would, and you have some scars to show for it. People who know about startups respect the attempt, and will be interested in hearing your stories and sharing theirs.

8. Press replay
A group of Calgary based entrepreneurs have been working the business model of direct media and font sales since the early 90s with Image Club Graphics, (sold to Aldus/Adobe Studios) to Eyewire (sold to Getty) to Veer (sold to Corbis) to iStockphoto (sold to Getty) to Stocksy and Dissolve. While this is neither original or particularly creative, it is effective since entrepreneurs can reuse business assets like contacts and refine the specific knowledge of that business. A similar thing has occurred in security software, where some Calgarians built an expertise in security software products and have continued to start, build and sell companies in that business domain.

Doing a startup takes guts. Doing it in Calgary increases the difficulty, but hey if my friends at Target Process can bootstrap development of an Agile Project Management tool from the very poor dictatorship of Minsk Belarus, why can’t you build your startup here? By the way, Target Process has sold 200+ seat licenses to Calgary’s Smart Technologies.

Cheers,
Robin Dymond.

Robin Dymond, CST is an international trainer and consultant in Scrum, Agile, and Lean methods. He offers certified Scrum Master, Product Owner, Lean and Kanban training, and has trained over 3000 people in Canada, USA and Europe. A speaker and author, he’s presented keynote talks and sessions at conferences including Agile Eastern Europe, Agile 20XX and others. He is President of Innovel International Inc. Dymond has 24 years experience in software and a BScEE from University of Calgary.

How Healthcare.gov could have saved billions of dollars and been delivered in 1/2 the time.

By September 2014 spending on the 15 state health insurance exchanges and healthcare.gov will climb to over $8 Billion dollars*. This huge expenditure for health insurance shopping sites could have been avoided if the federal and state governments had mandated and followed modern software development practices.

onebillionincash

$1 Billon USD. We’ll need eight for healthcare shopping sites.

How did the governments, on something as high profile as healthcare reform, decide to use a risky 40 year old process to manage the delivery of the health insurance exchanges?

Comparisons were made between healthcare.gov and amazon.com, yet the way in which these two websites are developed could not be more different. Healthcare.gov used the phased or waterfall approach with 55 different contractors responsible for different aspects, and no one responsible for delivering finished product. Amazon.com uses Scrum, an Agile approach that emphasizes small cross functional teams who deliver working tested features every 2 weeks.

To understand how a website like healthcare.gov could have been delivered using the Amazon.com approach, I created a short illustrated video. This video demonstrates, in a simple way, how to deliver a site like a health insurance exchange using a fraction of the budget in about half the time. These techniques are very similar to how companies like Spotify, Google, Square, Valve, Salesforce, Amazon and many others manage getting software development done.

Got a few minutes to save billions of dollars on software development?

I hope you like this talk, please subscribe on youtube if you are interested in future videos. If you are looking for in person training for yourself or help for your organization, please contact me:

http://www.innovel.net or http://www.scrumtraining.com

Cheers
Robin Dymond, CST

*Health and Human Services data

*Report by Jay Angoff on Health Exchange enrollment costs per state

How Spotify Works. Agility with 1 product and 1200 people

Scaling Agile at Spotify. What True Organizational Agility Can Look Like.


Henrik Kniberg and Spotify released an illustrated video on how Spotify is Scaling Scrum and Agile from a 1 team startup to a 1200 person powerhouse of the online music industry. Spotify is a disruptive force in the music industry, forcing record companies, radio stations, and artists to rethink their business models. Spotify is also an Agile company from the ground up. Spotify got its start using Scrum with one team, so there has been no “Agile Transformation” for the company. Instead the company faced the problem of how to maintain the Agility they had with one team while growing quickly.

The video describes their team structure, the organizational structures that span multiple teams, and the key principles that guide their decision making. I think it is fantastic that Spotify was willing to open the Kimono and show the world how they work, and that Henrik, as their Organizational Coach was able to present it is such a compelling visual way.

This is the cutting edge of organizational agility. For most companies, this kind of organizational model is a fantasy, it is so far removed from their current organization’s structure. If I were a music company executive, I would be scared as hell. Instead, I look forward to continuing to help companies achieve their own improvements for Agility in their own business context.

Part 1 of How Spotify’s Engineering Culture Works

Expert Reviews of the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) Training

Reviews of SAFe Program Consultant (SPC) training on the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe), from Agile and Scrum experts


I have been following with interest the Scaled Agile Framework and its increasing popularity. There have been a number of reviews of the training to become an SPC or SAFe Process Consultant. I am also interested because SAFe came out of work done by Dean Leffingwell and other consultants at NAVTEQ in the US in 2010-2011. At the time I was providing Certified Scrum training to NAVTEQ subsidiaries in Germany who were implementing Scrum. I did not work with the US groups, however I am familiar with what was happening at NAVTEQ at the time. So I think any review of SAFe should include how it helped or did not help NAVTEQ be more successful as an organization. In the last few years since implementing SAFe, NAVTEQ has gone through a major downsizing, been acquired by Nokia, and then shrank some more. Speaking with a former Director from NAVTEQ now at another GIS client of mine, the automotive division is doing OK, but the rest of the company struggling and shrinking in the face of competition from Google and others. There are many reasons why companies fail, and we cannot blame SAFe for the shortcomings of NAVTEQ’s organizational culture and business model. However we can and should ask: how did SAFe help NAVTEQ?

In reviews the Scaled Agile Framework and SPC training, a number of experts Agile and Scrum have commented on their experience in the training, the training style, and the substance of the ideas in SAFe. Below are links to expert reviews of SAFe and SPC training.

Agile experts Ron Jeffries and Chet Hendrickson who are authors on extreme programming and Scrum, consultants and trainers recently took the SPC training in Washington DC. Ron’s review takes the stance that SAFe has some good things that Scrum or XP do not address, and he goes through those points in detail. Ron is an excellent writer and thinker, and I enjoyed his analysis of SAFe and the training. I think this is the best review so far.
Scaled Agile Framework. SAFe: Good but not good enough.

Peter Saddington, a fellow Scrum trainer and consultant based in the DC area recently took the SPC course in Washington DC. Peter gives a balanced review of what he sees as the pros and cons of SAFe. While he likes Lean aspects SAFe has borrowed, he thinks the recommended “one week” roll out period carries significant risk. Peter strives to be open to the ideas that are contrary to some of the core principles and values of Agile. His highest praise is for SAFe’s marketing.
Review of the Scaled Agile Framework SAFe SPC training and ideas

Scrum trainer Daniel Gullo recently took the Scaled Agile Framework and SPC training and reflected on the ideas and how they compared to his experiences working on Agile adoptions in large organizations. Daniel was also a agile consultant at NAVTEQ helping them adopt Scrum while the Scaled Agile Framework was first being implemented at NAVTEQ. “As long as I am able to work with a client implementing “SAFe” and we are allowed to tailor it to include the helpful parts and throw out the harmful parts, I don’t see anything really evil or wrong with SAFe here. What we are left with is doing precisely what I have already been doing for the last 8 years: looking for how to instill the values and principles Agile and Lean in the culture of an organization so that a paradigm shift happens.”
Review of the Scaled Agile Framework SAFe SPC training and reflection on SAFe compared to Agile Coaching experiences

David Snowden, creator of the Cynefin (pronounced Kan av in) framework, a practical application of complexity theory to management science, recently weighed in on SAFe. In Dave’s post he weighs in on SAFe’s linear model and one size fits all approach. Snowden’s background is in complexity theory, and he knows that simple linear approaches fail to solve complex problems. Dave’s evaluation of SAFe is that it is not Agile.
SAFe: the infantilism of management

Enjoy the reviews of the Scaled Agile Framework and SPC training. I will post more reviews from experienced Agilists on SAFe and the SPC training.

The Agile Hardware Design Mindset.

Moving to Agile development in hardware is more about mindset than it is about technological limitations. Let’s consider some of the limitations that are often used to resist Agile hardware development, and show how these limitations are more to do with thinking then with technology.

PCB board design and layout.

We can’t do Agile because we need to complete the full board design before sending the design for PCB fabrication and population of parts. Manufacturing is costly and takes a lot of time, so we want to minimize these costs.

Let’s examine each of these points:

Myth: Manufacturing a PCB takes a lot of time.

Facts: The last 30 years of continuous high speed innovation in PC motherboards and mobile phones has driven the PCB manufacturing business to be very quick and responsive. A five minute search for fast turnaround PCB manufacturers revealed many companies that can turn an 8 layer PCB in 24 hours. With overnight shipping, you can have your PCB in 2 days. If you plan ahead with the manufacturer to get parts ordered so it can be populated, this can be done at the same time.

Myth: Manufacturing a PCB is costly.

Facts: The costs for quick turn around PCBs are trivial when compared to the cost of an engineer waiting for hardware. You can calculate costs from a variety of quick turn manufacturers at http://www.ladyada.net/library/pcb/costcalc.html For a 3″x5″ PCB the highest cost for a 2 day turn around was $215, shipping included. For comparison, that average loaded cost of an engineer to their employer is (salary, benefits, office, etc.) is $80-200 per hour. An engineer who spends one day waiting for hardware is far more expensive then the fastest most expensive quick turn PCB manufacturer.

Myth: We need to complete the full design.

Facts: A well designed PCB is modular, with modules for CPU, memory, I/O, RF, etc. Each module is designed as a unit, with interfaces to other modules, just like software. Therefore we can design a module, or part of a module, and that completed design can be treated as a testable deliverable. For example, the CPU and the memory could be designed and shipped as a populated PCB ready for developers to start using. The developers can start to use that platform for coding while the hardware designers work on the next module. The hardware designers will need to implement some features, like a JTAG or USB port and terminate some pins so developers can use the PCB, but that is a small price to pay in exchange for getting hardware into the hands of the software developers.

Deploying iterative and Incremental hardware development.

If we change how we think of hardware from being a single physical device that has to be designed, to a set of functional modules that are deployed as hardware, then we can map the manufacturing process of PCBs to the deployment of code into production. If we can deploy functional modules into a physical device (PCB+parts) in a few days, then we can deliver hardware functionality using an iterative and incremental approach. For example we could deploy a PCB with a basic input output (I/O) circuit that meets our simplest design criteria. This circuit would be deployed into hardware and then could be used by developers for coding and testers. If it is determined from programming and testing that the simple I/O design needs changes, a revision of the I/O could be completed to make the desired improvements. This ensures that the designers are delivering a design that meets the needs of the developers and testers. Once the developers and testers were satisfied, the I/O could be evaluated by the customer to gain their feedback and ensure it meets their needs.

Iterative and Incremental firmware with the hardware.

If hardware is thought of as deployed functional modules, then firmware is the glue that enables these modules to provide customer value. Firmware engineers have numerous well understood options for software development when there is no hardware. Software simulators, emulators, evaluation boards, and FPGAs all provide different options. With every design there are business priorities and technical risks. Based on these risks and priorities the developers need to figure out how to slice the design into components of firmware and hardware that will deliver the most business value and risk reduction with each iteration. For example if I/O is risky then the hardware and firmware developers should figure out how to build, code and test the I/O module before the CPU module. For example this could be accomplished using an I/O PCB that interfaces to a CPU evaluation board.

Using business value to drive product design.

We are faced with the continual expansion of software into the hardware space. Shrinking device sizes, massive gate arrays, generic open source platforms like Arduino, and smart phones all are changing the hardware development game. However software will always need something to run on, and as more devices connect to the internet, the importance of real world interfaces will continue to expand. Great hardware developers like Hewlett and Packard always emphasized getting out of the lab and meeting your customers. As hardware is increasingly used to wire up the connected world, it is more important than ever that hardware designers find ways to quickly respond to the changing needs of their customers. Agile principles and values provide good ideas to help you get there… just replace the word software with firmware or hardware :).

PCB Art by Artist Steven Rodrig
Artwork “Post Apocalyptic Data Hunter: RONIX” by Steven Rodig at PCBCreations.com

After 12 billion pound healthcare IT failure, U.K. shows that governments must adopt Agile and have their own delivery organization.

With the massive failure of the healthcare.gov launch in the US, people are talking about why such an important software development initiative turned into such a failure. The US however is not alone in these kinds of failures. The UK government spent 10 years and 12 billion pounds on the failed NHS-IT electronic patient records program. Now 12 billion pounds is about 16 billion Euros or 20 billion US dollars. Ouch! I picture the Queen in earlier times shouting “off with their heads!” Instead the UK government started listening to people who knew about Agile and technology development. The UK Government has created the Government Digital Services, GDS, a 300 person department with the skills to deliver digital services online. In a recent interview with NPR, Mike Bracken, head of the UK Government’s GDS discussed the successes the GDS initiative has had in the two years since it was formed. Bracken mentions many Agile principles GDS are using to deliver a government that is digital at its core. Some of the highlights are:


  • Optimizing for business value: GDS is only going after the processes and services most used by citizens, such as passports, tax filing, benefits, etc. Within these areas they further optimize, so GDS is delivering digital versions of the highest value services first. Some processes and services may never be automated because the business value is not there, and that is OK.
  • Incremental delivery: GDS is delivering services in an iterative and incremental fashion. They are not trying to get it all right the first time. Instead they are getting the most important parts right, and then learning what works and what needs improvement.
  • Cross functional teams: GDS teams are cross functional, with developers, process and policy experts, UI designers, testers, etc.
  • Collaboration over contract negotiation: GDS has thrown out all of the traditional procurement processes and procedures. Instead of building contracts based on some wild ass guess wrapped in 300 pages of documentation, GDS admits they have no idea of where or what they need to do in 3, 5, or 10 years. Instead they focus on working collaboratively with users and stakeholders, quickly (1-3 weeks) delivering small amounts of working tested software to their users and getting their feedback.

Bracken was visiting Washington D.C. to talk to government officials and influencers to help them understand how the UK government is bringing digital services in a fast and cost effective manner to its Citizens. For everyone’s sake, I hope the bureaucrats in DC are listening. The $600 million spent could be a more cost effective lesson than the UK, or it could be a failure that is repeated over and over, just like in the movie Groundhog Day.

Read or listen to Bracken’s interview on NPR here.


Article on the UK Government’s failed NHS-IT program

US healthcare costs in the are rising disproportionately compared to quality of care, what are the options to solve the problem? For Profit or Single Payer?
US healthcare costs in the are rising disproportionately compared to quality of care, what are the options to solve the problem? For Profit or Single Payer?

App Store’s Little Shop of User Interface Horrors

I am trying to find a specific kind of iOS application. I am using the App Store in iTunes, on a Macbook Pro with a 27″ external monitor, extended keyboard, and wireless mouse. But it doesn’t really matter. I could be on my ipad, and the experience would be just as frustrating. Apple says that they have 500,000 apps available for iOS. This is a big point of pride for Apple. Well let’s look at all the tools Apple gives iOS users to navigate 500,000 Apps to find what they want.

I would like to find a keyboard utility the can replace the iPad software keyboard with one that has arrow keys for editing and is more accurate. I don’t know if such a utility exists, however the keyboard and text editing capabilities of the iPad are a regular user complaint. I open iTunes and click on iTunes Store and then the app store. See the screen shot below. I am confronted with a giant rotating advertising banner that often features Apple products like ibooks 2 and iTunes U. Scanning the rest of the page I see headings New and Noteworthy, and Quicklinks, this section includes additional lists featuring Apps chosen by Apple.

Apple App Store Front

The Apple App Store Front

On the right there is a “Top Charts” list featuring more Apps that are the top of some metric, also controlled by Apple. Other Navigation headings include the enlightening “What’s Hot” section, featuring another Apple controlled list of Apps. Scrolling down the page are 7 more lists defined by Apple staff.

Futile Browsing
What if you know generally what kind of App you want? Well out of the whole first page of the App Store, there is only one small button that might take you to where you want to go. Under Quicklinks is a dropdown list with broad categories. How long do you think it would take for most users to find this single button with its hidden categories? Well, they probably wouldn’t. I did, because I am writing this article and went over the App Store’s front page very carefully. Clicking on the drop down I am confronted with a long list in very small font, of all the categories. After a couple tries I click on the category Utilities.

Utils

iPad Utilities Landing page. No further categories, more Apple controlled lists. Click image to see UI detail.

The Utilities page loads more Apple lists, with New and What’s Hot again listing Apps that Apple has chosen to feature. This is the end of the category navigation. Only after scrolling down do we find the All Utilities iPad Apps section. The section has 3960 applications, of which we can see the first 24 with listed with “most recently released” at the top.

App Store Ipad Utilities landing page screenshot

App Store Ipad Utilities page, 3960 Apps

To find a keyboard I re-order the list and click on “K-O” since I am looking for a keyboard utility. iTunes returns 180 applications from App iXML to LogVu. I find 2 Apps with the first word Keyboard. After viewing an App I click the Back button, however the list is different and I am disoriented. The 3960 Apps are reordered by release date again and I am back on the first page. After multiple tries I give up on browsing. However there are likely other keyboard utilities that use different names, so I will try another approach.

Searching for Something?
ITunes has a global search feature in the top right of the application. searching “keyboard” in this search utility returns results from movies, music and every other section of the iTunes store. Filtering by Apps, and then again by iPad Apps returns all iPad Apps for “keyboard” a whopping 581 entries, all conveniently sorted by well, actually I cannot determine how they are sorted, and I can’t change the sort. My search for a keyboard utility has returned Apps from almost every category, including Utilities. More specific search terms, such as “keyboard utility” or “keypad” or “arrow keys” returned more specific results, including everything from emoticon Apps to remote controls for PC and Mac applications. Apparently it is easier to turn the iPad into a keyboard for a PC application then it is to create a different keyboard for the iPad itself.

Searching returns long unordered lists with no descriptions


Power Search: Did you Miss it? I did.

In doing the search I stumbled upon the Power Search feature. Power Search allows you to select a more detailed search criteria. Where do you find it? Well that’s a good question as power search appears and disappears from the App Store UI, even while you use it. It also doesn’t seem work, missing some Apps, or returning Apps not in the category selected.

Too little information
As can been seen in the figure above, search results include a picture, the title of the application, the date it was updated and the price. There is literally no way to judge whether an App is worth your time unless you click on it and view the application’s page. Even on this page critical information about the App is hidden from view on the App’s own page, Users are forced to click again to read more than the first 2 lines of the App’s description.

Useful information is hidden from users on the App's own page

Your App is lost in the App Store
App developers should be very concerned about How Apple is controlling access to their applications. By not building in effective browsing and search features, Apple is preventing customers finding your application. This means all the time, effort, and money spent on your App is wasted, since unless the marketers running the App Store choose to promote your App in the Apple controlled lists, potential customers can’t find your product.

A lesson from Amazon and Musician’s Friend
Apple customers and iOS Developers both lose with Apple’s App Store User Interface. Navigating the App Store is painful, slow, and ineffective. It is clear that the App Store in iTunes was never designed to handle an inventory of 500,000 Apps. The App Store and the other storefronts in iTunes need a major investment to bring them up to the ecommerce standards of today. Instead of providing effective tools that allow users to find the Apps they need, Apple is pushing dozens of lists, in the hope that Apple taste makers know what Apps their customers want. This is bad for the App market, bad for App developers, and very bad for App Store customers. Apple needs to take a lesson from ecommerce sites such as Musician’s Friend and Amazon. Those sites handle as many or more products then the App Store and they provide the tools users need to find the products they want. App store users, whether on the PC, iPad or iPhone need to be able to browse and search effectively to find the Apps they need. Today the App Store is a little shop of horrors to use, devouring both customer’s and developer’s time and money. I still have not found that keyboard utility to replace Apple’s iPad keyboard, so I will continue to reach for the laptop and leave the emails for the Android powered Motorola Droid Pro World phone with its real keyboard.

Video: Booting Up Customers to Build Great Products

This is a video of a talk I gave at Agile Tour 2011 in Vilnius Lithuania in October 2011.

Your New Customer has no clue what Agile is, however they have lots of assumptions about how they will “get the product done.” Do they know how to work effectively with you? Do they know all of the business and user issues that the product will need to solve and how to solve them? Have they built a product like this one before? Are the 100% committed to being the product owner or do they have other jobs too?

We’ll discuss how turn a customer into a Product Owner, from the first meeting to creating the first backlog, through to one year into development. We’ll go through key learning points that your new Product Owners and teams will have to transition through, and techniques you can use to make your life and theirs easier. Come prepared to learn tested hands on techniques you can apply in working with your customers.

Amazing or outsourced? Not likely, not soon.

Recently I read a blog post on outsourcing, and I thought I’d respond here.

I just taught a course and participated in a software conference in Vilnius Lithuania. Over the last 3 years I have taught Scrum to over 800 software development staff in the Ukraine, and hundreds more in the US and Brazil. The situation is much more complicated then you portray, and not as negative as the article implies for US/EU workers. The huge missing piece in this article is VALUE. The perspective presented is only focused on cost. It is about the same as saying if only there were lower taxes the US job market would improve. This is false thinking, and surprising from an investor. Why do we invest? Because of the potential opportunity. For example take the team of A players tweaking the Linux kernel yet again, and compare them to the B players who develop a hugely popular web site like gamespot. Which team generates more value? Another missed point is the huge demand for software. Unemployment in the US IT sector is 3.2%, compared to over 10% in other sectors. A more recent phenomena is companies who outsourced all development now rehiring developers because of communication, speed and quality problems. Capital One and Wells Fargo are examples.

By far the largest problem in software development is management. Managers who learn how to build and nuture lean and agile organizations will create organizations able to respond much more quickly to the market while growing the strength of their teams. This is where many companies fail miserably, and generate huge amounts of waste in failed projects, burned out staff and unmet expectations. There are no lean and agile organizations in our industry today.

Toyota became the largest and most profitable car company with staff from all over the world. They did it because the Toyota Production System is unmatched in terms of creating successful results. This is a management system and a way of viewing the world of work. Whether the cars are built in Manila or Kentucky, the driving force for success is not the cost of labor.