Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Something for the Weekend - Grin and Bear It

Innovation is quickly becoming another Holy Grail of business, something that everyone wants to tap into, but few can reach. I strongly believe that creativity lies in everyone and that simple environmental changes can really help to make creativity a daily event rather than the specialist realm of the few. Geoff Butler kindly shared a story with me last week, it goes a little like this…

In the wilds of Canada during heavy winters or ice storms, thick ice builds up on power lines to the extent that the lines snap under the weight - costing the power companies dearly every winter. Clearing the ice manually is expensive and dangerous. A brainstorming group was formed. The first engineer, having had a few run ins with bears, suggested that getting them to climb the telegraph poles would create enough vibration to shake the ice loose. Another engineer suggested that to get the bears to perform such a feat would require some meat or honey to be placed at the top of the poles. And to get the bear food to the top they proposed using helicopters to drop it from above.

And that’s when the solution was born, they realised that the helicopter at low altitude would create enough down draft to break the ice off the lines and that both the bears and the food would be redundant.

I can't trace the validity of the story (although there are some references out there connecting the story to Pacific Power & Light) but I understand that is actually the solution employed today saving huge repair costs each year and keeping employees (and bears!) safe.

There are lots of lessons about creativity in the story but the one that particularly stands out is about creating an environment were 'non-linear' thinking is encouraged. Trusting that a tangent can be explored as part of a group to get to a fully formed idea. A true belief that there are no bad ideas, rather than assessing feasibility in the same breath as generating an idea.

A fun idea to play with if nothing else…

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Something for the Weekend - Legally Pointless

The link below contains a great article from the Economist that explains that email disclaimers are 'legally pointless'. 'They are assumed to be a wise precaution'. However, 'Lawyers and experts on internet policy say no court case has ever turned on the presence or absence of such an automatic e-mail footer in America, the most litigious of rich countries.'

A good reminder that not everything requested add value, and could even detract (huge amounts of wasted paper in this example). It shows that it is as important to understand the value of requirements as it is to understand the requirement itself. In fact, something we've started doing recently is adding a 'benefits' column next to each requirement captured to allow those details to be noted and shared with others, creating meaning to requirements, and therefore stronger collaboration on solutions.

Sources and Credits -
Thanks to Cherky for sharing the article with me

Something for the Weekend - You don't have to be mad…

Just a quick quote this week...

"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results"

- Albert Einstein

Thankfully, that makes a lot of sense(!)… As much as industries are calling for (in fact need) innovation to take competitive advantage, there appears to be a reluctance to accept it's inherently risky alter ego...disruption. Surely, asking for innovation without disruption will just lead to doing the same thing as before… only on iPads.

If we need to innovate, we need to accept disruption.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Something for the Weekend - handshakes over handovers

I've started to notice a common weak point in many processes that I wanted to highlight, and perhaps you've spotted it too? It comes when tasks are passed over from team to team (or actor to actor is you prefer). Often, it's not that something is inherently wrong with the handover, all the information's there, the tasks flow, people know what they are supposed to do... it's something else. That something appears to be a combination of lack of ownership around the customer and sole focus on task.

With so many contractual or pseudo-contractual arrangements (SLAs, quality targets, incentives, etc) it's easy to forget that it’s a customer and not just a task that's being dealt with.

The symptoms are likely familiar. People performing steps in a process where they don't know what happens next, high levels of repair or worse lost requests, complaints and rework.

Obviously there are huge frameworks on getting processes correct and efficient but one very small step is to encourage the handovers to be considered as 'handshakes'. There's something very different about how you'd introduce two people than how we pass tasks. A clearer duty of care perhaps? A moral obligation? Certainly more ownership. Whenever there's a handover in a processes between 'actors' consider how we might make it feel less mechanical and more human?

Friday, 18 March 2011

Something for the Weekend - Gorillas in our Midst

You've probably seen this... It's one of the best known experiments in psychology and really illustrates how little of what goes on around us we actually notice. The invisible gorilla is an experiment created by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons to highlight 'selective attention'. It’s a short video in which 6 people (3 in white shirts, 3 in black shirts) pass a basket ball between themselves. The audience is asked to silently count how many times the people in white shirts pass the ball. Halfway through the video someone in a gorilla suit walks across the screen. You'd assume that nearly everyone would notice this however when the experiment was originally conducted at Harvard University only about half of the audience noticed the gorilla!

It really goes to show how when you're focused on the task you can miss the most obvious signals. The challenge is how do we overcome this? One of the easiest ways has to be peer review. Having one or more professional peer's provide their review of analysis, documentation, concepts & ideas. On the whole, people agree with the principle, but unlike the academic arena, they rarely happen in the business environment. A likely reason is time - there's rarely enough time to allow for someone else to critique your work and some might be nervous of receiving comments.

Here's a few tips:

  • Plan in the time, agree the reviewers, the scope and the duration. It's really obvious but lack of time will always be one our biggest inhibitors.
  • If asked to peer review, there are few things you might like to consider, check out this advice from the University of Wisconsin
  • Peer reviews don't need to be offline or static - try planning them as walk-through removing the effort in providing comments.
  • Participation should be positive for all concerned - make your reviews feel valued and accept any comments in the spirit of improvement.

A small step to ensure we see the gorilla, close the loop and improve quality in our work.

Sources and Credits
Find out more about the invisible gorilla at
Watch the video on YouTube by clicking here

Friday, 18 February 2011

Something for the Weekend - Why do planes crash?

I had the great pleasure of attending a lecture by Martin Kalungu-Banda on Wednesday and I wanted to share one of the stories from his talk which I thought was fascinating. Malcolm Gladwell conducted some research into why planes crash and the findings were astonishing. The obvious causes that we all think of are things like bad weather, engine failure, pilot error, etc but they found something different when they listened to the black boxes. 90% of plane crashes happened due to what he refers to as 'High Distance Power' - quite simply, peoples inability to challenge the expert (in this case the pilot) - especially in cultures where hierarchy plays a bigger part than here in the West.

One of the examples Martin shared related to a flight with a faulty altimeter. The co-pilot informed the captain of the fault and the captain responded that it was nothing to worry about as the co-pilot was used to this familiar route. The co-pilot acknowledged this but then explained that in his experience around about this time they should be approaching a high mountain range. Before any action could be taken the plane struck a hillside. The co-pilot didn't feel he had the right to instruct the captain that they must climb and quickly. A very brutal story but it really illustrates a deep rooted reluctance to step outside official roles even in the most desperate and critical cases.

I suspect this plays out in much lower risk scenarios too and in cultures with 'Low Distance Power' like ours in the West.
  • There are cases when we must all break with protocol and inform superiors not just what we 'know' but we 'know the answer to be' before it's too late to recover the position. (the captain didn't want to fly into the hillside).
  • It's vital that we always remain open to others being able to set direction when needed.
  • When working with different cultures (esp. those with stronger social hierarchies) around the globe we should be more sensitive and open to information veiled as a course of action.

Sources and Credits
Thanks to
Martin Kalungu-Banda
Malcolm Gladwell- best selling author of The Tipping Point, Blink and Outliers

Friday, 11 February 2011

Something for the Weekend - Whilst the Bonnet's Up

Our use of clichés in general language and specifically business is fascinating. The source of the word cliché comes from the days of the manual printing press when words were formed from individually carved letter blocks 'clicked' (hence cliché) together to form words, the typesetters found that certain words and phrases were used so frequently that they retained them in blocks rather than individual letters to form stock words/phrases.

The thing that particularly strikes me is how strings of words can often go unquestioned because they're generally understood to have good or bad connotations. Let's take an example, when someone says "you'd be putting all your eggs in one basket" you automatically assume it to be a bad thing… it normally is… but is that always true?

One particular well used phrase that often falls into this category is 'Whilst the bonnet's up' - and the assumption that it makes anything else in that area inherently easier. It's true, there are often synergies and efficiencies that can be gained by colliding similar initiatives but it is important that we never assume that's always the case. In fact if we play with the car analogy a little further we'd all agree that the only thing we'd save by getting other things done on our cars 'whilst the bonnets up' is the second trip to the garage. The cost always changes and the time always changes.

Whenever that phrase is employed I'd urge that we all step back and consider if it applies in this case, remembering that all things are not equal. Do the additional initiatives really justify the cost, resource implications and complexity risk? We risk de-LEANing our delivery cycles by loading lower-priority development and adding more potential failure points.

Of course, if the value stacks up against the cost, time and risk, congratulate yourself on some synergies realised!

Friday, 4 February 2011

Something for the Weekend - Trim Tabs (Bucky Fuller)

About this time last year I had the good fortune of spending a few days in Montreal. Whilst I was there I visited the Biosphere designed by Buckminster (Bucky) Fuller for the '67 World Fair Expo. A truly impressive structure even today, located on the Île Sainte-Hélène.

Fuller was ahead of his time in many ways not least on environmental issues - much of his work focused on using technology to do more with less. Self supporting Geodesic structures are just one example of his widely inspirational work.

Trim tabs, which if you’ve never heard of them are found on large ships, are also a great example of technological efficiency. Using something small to move something much bigger through another force. Basically they are smaller flaps (at the rear of the main rudder) that through the drag of the water and the ship’s own population make the steering much more efficient. They're manoeuvred via a small 'push' force in the opposite direction to that you're trying to move in causing a much larger 'pull' force in the direction in which you want to go. You can see an example here. Next time you see a large ship in dry dock look out for them!

Trim Tabs are a great analogy for driving cultural change, so much so that Buckminster Fuller actually has 'call me trim tab' engraved on his headstone. I guess partly a reflection of both his efficiency based design outlook and partly the change his thinking helped to impress on the world.

I think that analogy scales into our world too, in order to influence thinking and bring about cultural change we may not always need to do something big to effect a change in direction. A series of smaller actions to create a 'pull' may be much more efficient than 'pushing' all the way.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Something for the Weekend - Pizza Teams

My uncle was visiting from the states over Christmas (seems like such a long time ago already!) and he mentioned that a friend of his used to work at Amazon where they had whiteboards in the lifts for colleagues to share ideas or suggestions on their way between floors.

I love stories like that as they really act as a symbol of different organisational cultures, same people different rules. So I googled their CEO, Jeff Bezos, and found a great sound bite that summarised his thinking on effective teams:

"If you cannot feed a team on two pizzas it's too large"

Fundamentally he's saying that an effective, high performing, team should be no larger than around 5-10 people and I wondered if they ever really are? I've worked in project teams of upwards of 50 - 60 people but thinking back there's always a nucleus that are the glue holding the project together. A group who've got each others backs, work well together, make decisions and are pulling towards a single outcome. They're normally the people that the outcome matters to most personally (and I mean neck on the line, rather than 'allocated resources' or vested interests) and they are always the people that you can count on to get the job done. The 'pizza team' ARE the project... highest risk if something goes wrong, but most importantly, the highest sense of achievement when it all goes right.

These teams aren't the ones that organisational charts or contractual arrangements define but the ones that form organically. Obviously we don't always need to be part of the 'Pizza Team' for everything we work on but it's useful to recognise that, on the whole, we choose ourselves whether we are or aren't.

Sources and Credits

Friday, 21 January 2011

Something for the Weekend - Citizen Collaboration

Happy Birthday to Wikipedia which celebrated it's tenth birthday last Saturday! Accessible to anyone with an internet connection, Wikipedia is probably one the biggest global collaboration projects ever conducted. It also contains an inconceivable amount of common interest and specialist knowledge topics, in total it has 3.5m articles, received 400m hits a month and has been edited 438bn times!

The idea of crowd sourcing fascinates me. I recently read that Ohmy News, a South Korean news agency, uses 55,000 'citizen journalists' along side it's pay-rolled journalists to provide local perspectives on the countries events.

It seems to me that certain industries are very much embracing the idea of social collaboration. And the pattern / format is largely the same, a core group who provide structure and a large network of contributors.

I wonder how much this way of working will come into play in traditional industries over time? Perhaps setting up so groups of employees (or even end customers / public) would help positively shape services that they are offered by commercial organisation.

Great BAs always look to gain insights from colleagues or customers and therefore our roles are likely to be closer to this type of work than many others. The biggest challenges today are no doubt how wide you can cast the net and how much effort needs to be invested. How do we ensure that we can gain a representative sample of opinion? How do you get to the one superb idea? I wonder if online collaboration and perhaps a clear reward structure could facilitate a whole new era of insight, innovation and idea sharing.

Sources and Credits

Friday, 7 January 2011

Something for the Weekend - Hans Monderman

I've been researching traffic engineer Hans Monderman, there's an article below which gives an overview of his work and concepts. What's particularly interesting is that his concepts initially seem counter intuitive but have been hugely successful inspiring similar projects the world over. Removing safety barriers, curbs, signs, lights, etc doesn't feel like it would make roads safer but it works.

Click Here

I guess the thing that went through my mind was; what happens if we move some of these concepts from traffic systems to computer systems (or even operational processes)? Do we restrict and clutter our systems with pop ups, control limits, etc to the extent that they actually become more confusing? Do we make our systems so fool-proof that users stop thinking (i.e. if I'm not supposed to do this the system won't let me, and if it does the systems wrong and not me)?

It also made me think about whether faster is really faster? We push to make processes as slick as possible and remove the thinking time but do we introduce errors inherently with that approach?

Something for the Weekend - Customer Experience Resolutions

If you haven't already made your New Years resolution (or you've given up already!) this article comes at just the right time. It’s a list of 10 Customer Experience Resolutions published by Bruce Temkin for companies wanting to take their Customer Experience to the next level;

Click Here

There isn't a word of it that I could argue with, as there's always more that can be done. I'm sure if we each adopted just one of these for ourselves it will make a significant difference to our projects over the next 12 months.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Something for the Weekend - Off Your Trolley?

Many of you will have seen that one of our projects from last year (CDD Online) won a Financial World Innovation Award last week. It's a great achievement by all those involved and adds recognition to the relentless quality focus and sheer effort of the team.

I've been thinking about the recipe for that success (too long to share here) and about innovation and creativity generally. David Owens shared a video with me* which I really think sums up some of the key processes of creative teams in just 8 minutes. It's a few years old (note the hair!) but follows IDEO tackle a project to reinvent the shopping trolley in just 5 days. Check it out here

Here are the key things I observed:
  • They started with a clear problem statement covering what's wrong today and clarity on constraints (e.g. if it's not stackable it's not viable)
  • The brief was kept as open as possible 'how might we improve a shopping trolley' not 'we need a shopping trolley with a scanner' - leaving room for creativity.
  • Cross functional teams of experts working together with equal voices, as opposed to a room of engineers or designers in common agreement, or worse, everyone looking to a single person (probably the most senior) for the answers.
  • Time spent with experts (some unexpected) and observing usage to gain insights.
  • Not narrowing in on a single solution immediately - you'll notice in the example they divided the group into four and each focused on a particular problem and then brought together the best of each towards the end. Creating divergence before converging on a single solution.
  • The leader takes a facilitation role - carefully balancing creativity with productivity without imposing themselves.

It seems to me that going forwards creativity will be major factor in setting competitors apart, those who can understand their customers and offer something new and refreshing... a great space for BAs to work in and a terrific aim for all projects.

Sources and Credits
* David Owens - via IIBA Group on LinkedIN
Financial World Awards

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Something for the Weekend - "we don't need any more fart apps"

I was kindly sent an article from the BBC on the use of language (link below). In it the journalist cited a recent excerpt from the development guidelines for Apple's app store. "We have over 250,000 apps in the App Store, we don't need any more fart apps. If your app doesn't do something useful or provide some form of lasting entertainment, it may not be accepted." as the writer points out 'the tone is direct, comic and elegantly threatening.'

The article gives some good comparisons of the communication styles of other companies (so do give it a read) but the point I reflected on was our use of language in our every day roles. Do we follow Microsoft's example ("Architected to run HTML 5, the beta enables developers to utilise standardised mark-up language across multiple browsers") or do we communicate clearly and concisely all of the time? I'd guess the majority of us could admit to both at some stage. Our landscape is littered with acronyms, technical, industry and business terms and it's hard for them not to migrate to our vernacular.

In her conclusion Lucy Kellaway points out that the language used by companies doesn't directly impact their success which may well be correct but I'd argue the opposite is true for us as Business Analysts. Our brand constantly needs to be focused on the creation of clarity. Being able to absorb terminology and jargon, understand it and then.. the hardest bit of all... communicate without it!

Sources and Credits
Thanks to Vince Marrows for the BBC article
Lucy Kellaway
Image from the telegraph

Friday, 3 December 2010

Something for the Weekend - IIBA Barclays 14th October

For those who couldn't make it to the IIBA event we held at Barclays on the 14th October all is not lost! We recorded the lot and thanks to Simon Ward they're now on YouTube.

Due to the time limits on YouTube they're broken into parts;

Building BA Communities - David Avis with opening comments from Gill Reed.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Agile in a Nutshell - Portia Tung - Emergn

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Closing messages - James Archer

Click Here

Friday, 26 November 2010

Something for the Weekend - Don't be Evil

As we know, Google are one of the worlds computing superpowers, constantly delivering world-class user centred tools and services. But did you know that the unofficial company motto is 'Don't be Evil'? One simple rule which underpins their whole proposition. They mean that they want top be transparent, make it just as easy to opt out of services as it is to opt in, top notch UX, building both reputation and credibility. Something which not all of their competitors can say. It’s a recognition that you can only damage a customer relationship by undermining it for a short term gains once.

Three little word of inspiration I think we all aught to adopt with the products and service we're involved with too.

Sources and Credits't_be_evil

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Something for the Weekend - Documentary Makers

It surprises me how often the Enterprise Analysis phase is missed from BA activity - probably because of project pressures or just because it’s a phase that doesn't produce standardised deliverables. Enterprise Analysis is a phase of finding out about the organisation or business areas that your forthcoming project will impact. Understanding the structure, what the culture is like, what they do, how and why they do it. It’s a chance to build up some valuable domain knowledge to shape thinking before the detailed work starts.

Every time I look for definitions of what Enterprise Analysis entails I only find dry lists of 'artefacts' that could be collected… But there's a really simple and engaging way to think about this phase... become a 'documentary maker'. Think of the process as being more about the relaying of the information you learn to others. Develop the narrative of the story with the raw information you've gathered and overlay it with insights gained to really bring the information to life (it obviously doesn't have to be a film!!).

How will this help?

  • Going through the process of communicating the information makes you (and others) ask deeper questions and improves your own knowledge.
  • In the same way that good Enterprise Analysis acts as a solid foundation for good quality requirements and designs for BAs, sharing the information with the project team has to ripple out into other activities and deliverables too.
  • Creating this shared 'team memory' will aid in decision making when the project is in full swing.

Credits & Sources

Thanks to Sean Blezard for the Documentary Maker analogy

Friday, 5 November 2010

Something for the Weekend - Data is the New Oil

Just a very quick one this week... I came across a fantastic TED talk last week by David McCandless called 'the beauty of data visualization'.

McCandless shares some great examples (such as the 'billion-dollar-a-gram') of how to bring large and meaningless data to life visually. Data is rapidly increasing in value across organisations, gathering more data and working with it smarter nods at trend. Volumes and complexity of data won't be decreasing any time soon and those who can demystify and tap into it stand to carve a niche.

Click here to watch the talk

I'm not sure that data visualisation is generally thought of to be a typical BA skill - but we all know how hard it can be to communicate the complex to the uninitiated. Some great thoughts and ideas here to make your messages more impactful.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Something for the Weekend - Something Special

I was having a conversation earlier this week about Montblanc pens. The conversation reminded my of Robert D. Austin's fantastic keynote speech at BA2010 - 'Competing on Differences'.

It's becoming harder for companies to compete on price points alone, there's only so far you can LEAN a process, so far you can cheapen a product or service until it hits rock bottom (both cost and quality). And perhaps most importantly once a company and all it's competitors hit rock bottom where is their left to go? The world would feel a very grey place if everything was homogenised, generic and predictable.

Much better to focus on the creation of Value. Key points in an experience or interaction where the customer feels their expectations have been exceeded or perhaps just something that no one else can offer. One things for certain, companies who focus on value are most likely to have a strong and loyal following / advocacy.

Let's look at the Montblanc example… it's not just about buying a pen. It's not even about the writing. As a customer you're opting into the belief of quality, craftsmanship, history, a good purchase experience and an even better after sales process. There's also a large degree of exclusivity and perhaps on some level it's about what Montblanc communicates about you...

Personally I'm agnostic in the LEAN vs. System Thinking debates (a fan of both for the right contexts) but I am starting to see industry generally take a turn back towards value creation. The language I've encountered in the past month alone around 'Moments of Truth' and a respect for 'running in' and the creation of 'experiences' is a very promising signal. For those of us who think business design is about more than just ruthless efficiency and who are prepared to deal in the non-quantifiable with confidence there's a horizon of opportunity… a chance to create something special.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Something for the Weekend - BA Communities

This week I wanted to share the opening thoughts from my presentation last night to the IIBA on 'Building BA Communities'.

Leaving the European BA Conference a fortnight ago I was really exited by the breadth and depth that the BA role is talking on and the pace at which it's changing. It's amazing how far the industry has come along in the last 12 months.

Hard skills such as Business Process Management, Agile, Business Rules, LEAN and Six Sigma are really coming to the fore in the BA world now. And that's being supplemented with a plethora of soft skills such as facilitation, creativity, innovation and even ethnography.

To me the wideing of the skills spectrum is a really exiting time for us as it should allow Business Analysts to fulfil the full value and potential that the role has to offer. I particularly enjoyed Joseph Da Silva's presentation at BA2010 entitled 'Nobody Knows Your Business Like Your Own Business Analysts' - Over the past two years at Skandia they've been using a subset of BAs to act as an internal consultancy organisation for the identification and resolution of business problems. - Just one of many functions BAs could perform.

Leaving the conference I've been asking myself two questions;

1) Why are all these skills moving into mainstream Business Analysis now? At first I thought it was just environmental. The economic position over the past few years has meant that organisations have been challenged to do more with less. The rapid pace of consumer end tech is raising exceptions of the tools we're delivering. Increased regulation over many sectors is providing it's challenges.

And then I thought again... that may be prompting change but it's not what is promoting these skills, that is actually our communities. As BAs face new challenges in their practices they're finding new ways to overcome them and sharing their learning for others to build upon.

2) What will happen to the role over the next 18 months? It's easy to speculate about a fragmentation and specialism of the role or perhaps pen portraits of some form of 'uber analyst' who can do everything! It's very difficult to predict accurately but one thing is for sure , it is our communities that are going to be crucial to that evolution. Key in terms of shaping but also in making sure that we develop and learn together as a global community.

Powerful stuff that the people working in the profession are directly shaping it's future. Having strong, effective Business Analysis Communities is more important than ever...

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Something for the Weekend - The Back of the Napkin

The European Business Analysis Conference was great. Lots of inspirational material, which I'll no doubt share over the next few months.

But I thought that I would start with the most fun thing! Penny Pullan gave a fantastic presentation on the role of the BA in Creativity, Engagement and Clarity - one of the many aspects covered was techniques for drawing.

Those of you who've worked with me closely will know two things about me; firstly that I'm a visual thinker - I simply can't resist filling an empty whiteboard. And secondly, that both my handwriting and drawing could do with some work - a sometimes messy combination!

The old cliche that a picture paints a thousand words is very true and I think it's an important tool for our roles in group facilitation to be able to bring concepts to life as clearly as possible. Two things that might help;

  • Penny recommend a book (which I've ordered today), it's called The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures (Dan Roam).
  • She's also collaborated with artist Venessa Randle and offering some free material at

Simple tips to make your white boarding easier, clearer and more impressive.

Sources and Credit
Penny of course -
Penny and Vanessa's work at
European Business Analysis Conference

Friday, 24 September 2010

Something for the Weekend - Applied Imagination

In 1953 Alex Faickney Osborn published a book called 'Applied Imagination'. In it he suggested a technique that proposes that groups could double their creative output through a process called brainstorming… a technique still commonly used (and misused) nearly 60 years later.

It's suggested that a Brainstorming session should generate between 50 - 100 ideas and that made me think about whether I'd actually ever been to a brainstorming session(!)… whether we actually allowed sufficient divergence in our thought processes to get all the good stuff out.

It sometimes feels like people aren’t prepared to share ideas (or even just thoughts) that aren't fully thought though and that a has to be a huge constraint to creativity. It also means that we lose the collaborative edge, and therefore the effectiveness of, brainstorming sessions.

I suppose the other question is whether we just stop at the first suitable idea (the quickest, cheapest, easiest) or whether we're prepared to spend another 20 minutes to carry on? Would that 20 minutes deliver the idea that's truly the best… perhaps the game changer?

In my mind, creativity is always enhanced through teams. And brainstorming, when conducted as intended, is a great first step in harnessing the power of collective ideas. So I thought it might be a good time to share the 5 golden rules which help in creating the best possible environment Click Here

I hope you can put them to use.

Sources and Credits

Friday, 17 September 2010

Something for the Weekend - Million Dollar Chair

As promised last week, I really want to spend some time digging into creativity over the next few weeks. The first example is a guy who's work I've admired for a few years now. Marc Newson is an industrial designer who this year was voted UK GQ Magazines 77th most influential person*. He's also in the record books, in 2006 his Lockheed Lounge chair sold at Sotherby's New York for a whopping $968,000 - the highest price ever paid for furniture by a living designer!

Newson designs across a vast spectrum (from door handles to space ships!) - incredibly diverse but much of his work follows certain themes; cellular structures, space age, organic shapes. Whilst watching the film Objectified** there was one aspect that particularly struck me about his creative process, he surrounds himself with objects and materials that he likes and engages with. These are not necessarily things he needs for his current projects but things he'd like to use some day or that act as sources of inspiration for him.

To me it seems like a deep rooted obsession with the materials he needs to work with, and possibly to take it one step further, actually being 'in tune' with them.

It's doubtful we'll find much useful inspiration in materials for what we do (but you never know), the main thing is having an eye to the outside world...

  • Actively recognising experiences that you have with other companies that are particularly strong (or just as importantly, are weak) - try to deconstruct them and think about how they might have gone about creating them? For instance, I love that Apple offer to email you receipts when you buy something in store.
  • Study User Interfaces (or components) that are world class or that simply do something complex elegantly. As an example, do a great job at displaying ticket types, prices and times on a single matrix.
  • Keep abreast of technology breakthroughs - especially consumer end tech.

This isn't about copying and doesn't need to be obsession - it's about creating a world class frame of reference to build upon.

Sources & Credits
* GQ Magazine - 2010 GQ UK's list of 100 most influential people
Check out
Marc Newson's work here

Friday, 10 September 2010

Something for the Weekend - Plantable Packaging

I stumbled across a really cool concept early this week - packaging from Pangea Organics with a virtually zero (less production) footprint.

The packaging is made from recycled newspaper (giving a unique shelf impact), impregnated with seeds from medicinal herbs. When you've finished with it you soak it in water for a minute, plant it, and then wait. All the packaging biodegrades and you get some lovely herbs to replace it. I don't know the thought process that went in but I assume it was driven from the fact that any other packaging would have jarred with such a planet friendly, organic product... and then taking it just that one step further!

Creative I'd say. I've been asking myself more and more where creativity comes from and how we harness the same thinking that creates something like plantable packing in our roles.

Faced with the same challenge would we...
  • ...recognise that a box is needed? Certainly.
  • ...take it further, understand the dimensions, colour, manufacturing efficiency? Very likely.
  • ...think about material sources, sustainability, etc? I'd like to think so.
  • ...make it plantable?! I don't know about you but I certainly wouldn't.
Whilst creativity may seem to come easier to some than others and I hear people say they are 'not creative', actually I think it's more about how to tap in to it. There are other factors at play and I'd like to spend the next few SFTW's exploring these.

Drop me your thoughts if you like? They'd be most welcome-

Sources & Credits
Buy the products
read more on the packaging

Friday, 3 September 2010

Something for the Weekend - Learning

“We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” - Albert Einstein

A great quote and a reminder that we must constantly try new approaches and learn new skills and techniques to be best prepared to face the challenges of tomorrow.

So where can we obtain this learning?

  • The best source has to be each other - as we, individually, try out new techniques and learn from them we should take the time to share those successes for others to build upon.
  • Take the time to seek out the opinions of others. Events held by the IIBA (including September's European Business Analysis Conference) are great opportunities to hear industry experts speak about new developments.
  • Simply take a chance on a good idea - if it works great, if not you've learnt something... perhaps a chance to adapt it and try again?
  • Don't forget the soft stuff! - I'd say the role of the BA is a three way split been technique, knowledge and soft skills. Spending the time to hone questioning techniques, rapport building, presentation skills and communication will serve us just as well as the more technical disciplines.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Something for the Weekend - Regulation Cucumbers

A few weeks back I saw that the European Commission had ruled that all mobile phones issued in Europe from 2011 will have to have the same charger compatibility. Initially I had mixed feelings about the news... Flashbacks to regulation cucumbers, peaches with circumference restrictions and aubergines with colour specifications - all introduced by the EU in the past few decades!

On the down side, standardising is an enforced design constraint limiting innovation or the adoption of new, improved technologies - this is especially important now that the power socket and synchronisation socket are common. Should a faster synchronisation connection be made available in the short term phones will once again require multiple sockets to allow adoption.

But there's an overriding voice at play - the one of the consumer - the pain of buying new chargers every time you get a new phone & trying to find someone with a compatible charger when you don't have one with you. For now, these annoyances outweigh the need for faster synchronisation.

The commercial and environmental factors work out here too - In reality you won't need to dispose of old chargers every time you switch phones meaning that ultimately mobile manufacturers won't need to include chargers in the box - cheaper to produce, easier to package and distribute, less waste.

It's a great example to reflect on when considering how the things (inputs / outputs) on the periphery of your product (not just physical either) are going to interact with it and what type of issues these may cause your customers.

Sources and Credits
Cucumber regulation!

Friday, 20 August 2010

Something for the Weekend - Anti-Theft Lunch Bag

A light hearted (though not very attractive!) one this week.

If you've ever had your sandwich stolen from the fridge at work you'll be familiar with the long standing issue of lunch pilfering! Anti-theft lunch bags are a new product to help combat that. By simulating mould on the bag, it deters would be thieves, and keeps your food safe!

Of course there are flaws - for instance, someone might throw your 'mouldy' sandwich out or you might actually be put off eating it yourself! However, the level of simplicity and creativity are impressive - a useful reminder that the best solutions are often the simplest and least expected.

PS. Sorry if you're having your lunch whilst reading!

Sources & Credits

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Something for the Weekend - It's hardly nasal surgery!

I read an interesting story early this week that really brings to life the value of prototyping.

In 2001 designers at IDEO were tasked with working with teams of surgeons to create new improved tools for nasal surgery. During the design session one of the surgeons was trying to explain how the ideal mechanism would be a trigger grip only he struggled to put in to words what he meant. One of the designers picked up a marker pen and a 35m film canister and taped them together. They then picked up a plastic peg and fastened that to the front creating a basic version of what the surgeon was attempting to describe. This might sound like Blue Peter but it saved a huge amount of follow up meetings, through the ability to physically demonstrate what was actually needed.

I love the story as I see similar comparisons day to day in our roles. Where written requirements fail to adequately express the need; quite simply fail to bring it to life or allow for different interpretations. I am, without doubt, an advocate of using diagrams and screen mock ups to validate and elicit requirements so I thought I'd share some thoughts on the topic.

Tips for Prototyping
  • We're using BalsamIQ - It’s a great tool - do check it out at Click Here
  • Recognise that that creating mock-ups won't slow things down, it generates results faster and gets people on the same page.
  • Be clear as to why you're mocking up screens - it's not for the purpose of a final design but to elicit comment and validate written requirements and assumptions.
  • Keep it rough - to have something too polished suggests it’s a final design, enough to get to the answers as quickly as possible is all that is needed - Lo-Fi is the way to go. (just think of nasal surgery!)
Sources & Credits

Friday, 6 August 2010

Something for the Weekend - Frank Lloyd Wright

I've written previously (Emotional Connections, Fail Whale, Anthora Coffee Cup) about the importance of creating deeper connections with our products. So when I spotted this quote by Frank Lloyd Wright I just had to share it;

"Form follows function - that has been misunderstood. Form and function should be one. Joined in a spiritual union."

Frank Lloyd Wright, recognised by the American Institute of Architects as the 'greatest American architect of all time', was a master at balancing aesthetics and practicality - making his spaces and objects desirable, aspirational and usable.

I often feel that, as BAs, our natural tendency is to focus on the functional first and the form second. Indeed we even refer to our products as "functionality"! And that's understandable, it makes good business sense to focus on building products that do what they need to do without ceremony but does it feel like we should offer more to our end customers?

In order to achieve this it won't be through just in adopting some of the tools and techniques (shared previously) but in changing our individual mind sets.
  • Pursuing User Experience shortcomings with the same passion as functional ones
  • Using the whole team to contribute ideas for the best possible UX
  • Understanding and deeply empathising with the end customer

Sources and Credits
Quote found via Design Milk
More info on Frank Lloyd Wright

Saturday, 31 July 2010

Something for the Weekend - Social Networks

Only last week the 500th Million user joined Facebook - with 85% of the UK population now online, what opportunities does that present to us as Business Analysts? 

Earlier in the week I watched three fascinating presentations from Clay Shirky on TED (links below). Without a doubt Social Networks via the web are revolutionary - for the first time in history communication can occur both ways via the same medium (One to One & Many to Many). Today communication is becoming more about convening likeminded supporters rather than creating and controlling content centrally.

Social media and networking is growing extremely fast in the UK. Eighty-five percent of the population are now online; they spend more than six hours on social media sites every month, nearly 60% of them read blogs and 64% have their own profile on a social network.

Through his three presentations Shirky shares examples of both profound (like social tracking of violence in Africa) and frivolous (!) cases of groups of unconnected people coordinating themselves to create 'cooperative value'.
It's interesting to think about what's motivating people to take part. What is that drives people to stop just consuming media and start publishing content? Shirky attributes it to 'cognitive surplus' - it's an important part of intrinsic motivations for people to be able to share and help others so two way media is our natural preference. It no longer becomes the defacto position to spend spare time watching TV.

So how can we use Social Media to support ourselves as professionals and create 'cooperative value' for others;

  • Register for - a business networking site with some great discussion groups on there (recommend IIBA, IIBA UK, ModernAnalyst) that issue a weekly email digest of what discussions are trending.
  • Register for - a useful source of news and discussion.

Sources & Credits 

Clay Shirky at TED
Mashable shares Simply Zesty research

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Something for the Weekend - Waterproof Power Strip

I thought I'd follow up on last weeks SFTW on vision and fit with the real world with a great example of the opposite! offers waterproof power strips! A great safety increment on the standard power strip but as explains 'Your TV isn’t going to be any safer when perched on the end of your bathtub'!

A great physical example of not considering the things that interact with your design (in this case the socket and the devices you might plug in!!).

So whilst we're at it, what are the factors that change data based thinking (waterproof power strip) into creative thinking (safer power)? I was reading a book by Tim Brown this week and he recommends a simple but effective model developed at IDEO. His book (Change by Design) is fantastic and I could never do it justice but here's a summary of the model:
  • Inspiration - actively seek out sources of inspiration...That might be other industries who do something similar or even analogous situations. Comparisons are drawn in the book about F1 pit stops and A&E units. Be open to less obvious inspirations too.
  • Observation - watch your customers in the real world without agenda. Observe the way they naturally adapt ways of working to overcome small niggles (keeping log books, labelling things, ordering items together to quicker serve customers, etc) and understand why they do these behaviours - they're rarely an accident!
  • Empathy - take a different mind set, rather than considering what your customers need, imagine you are your customer, how you would feel and what you would need. Perhaps interview some of your customers to ensure you've got the right picture.

Small activities that lead to more creative solutions. If you want the book there's a link below, ditto if you want the power strip!

Sources and Credits
Tim Brown IDEO

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Something for the Weekend - Henry Ford

Henry Ford was without doubt a revolutionary and left an indelible mark on the world. He changed the face of the both transportation and attributed quotations but I'd like share one in particular:

"If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse" - Henry Ford

That quote was taken just after the launch of the Model-T in 1908. The Model T was simple to drive, easy to repair and cheap to buy. A huge commercial success by 1920 the majority of Americans had learned to drive in a Model-T!

I've written previously on the difference between 'Listening Vs Understanding', and this acts as another great example of that, but I wanted to take a slightly different slant. What causes the need for revolution rather evolution? What makes the case for throwing it all away and starting from scratch?

There are obvious 'signals' that trigger innovation or more fundamental overhauls of something existing but when you look at true revolutionaries there seems one obvious commonality and that’s a clear sense of vision. An understanding not only of the product, the company or the customer but how the product fits in the world as a whole. In the case of Ford there are plenty of examples of this, one of his principles was about higher wages for his workers. It meant that he got the best workers but it also meant that they could afford to buy Ford products and act as advocates - something that would typically have been out of reach.

So what can we do as analysts?

  • Root cause analysis - really understand the problem or opportunity and think widely about how the solution fits within that.
  • Consider what might be required on the periphery to make your solution a true successes.
  • Start operational designs early even if its just rough notes to help you discover the right questions to be asking - I'm a firm believer that you can't define the function until you've understand how something fits operationally and organisationally.
  • Design visibly and iteratively - allowing you both to 'fail fast' and use the collective brain power of your SME's before you're too far progressed.
  • Have the confidence to challenge the solution even if you designed it.


Thursday, 8 July 2010

Something for the Weekend - the Fail Whale

Apologies for writing two SFTWs in a row on the topic of failure but this week I wanted to share a story of UX that I love... and hope you will too!

I'll start by explaining what the Fail Whale is... When Twitter gets overloaded and goes out of service, instead of giving a techie failure message you get the friendly picture of the 'Fail Whale' (below), a polite apology and instruction on next steps.

The interesting thing is that it seems to absorb a lot of frustrations and, in fact, the fail whale now actually now has a cult following! Check out the fan club where you can buy the t-shirt! Or if you're really excited why not go ahead and get the tattoo Click here

Now, I'm not saying we need pictures of whales but here are a few thoughts to tie this back into our roles as BAs:
  • It shows the value of spending time on actively designing the User eXperience for when things don't quite go to plan... giving the appropriate consideration to the 'unhappy path' as well as the happy one.
  • Its a rare event that error messages make people happy and we can't stop all exceptions but we can be sure to handle them as well as possible.
  • When things do go wrong use a style that's meaningful and explains to the user what's going on and, perhaps most importantly, what they need to do.
  • Ensure that error messages can be communicated back to IT support teams in a meaningful way when required and that there are unambiguous (e.g. unique numbering) for as many outcomes as possible.
  • It's important to consider this with process failure as well as IT failure. Can we automate the feedback of something going wrong in an operational process? (LEAN visual management techniques spring to mind)
Sources and Credits
Check out the designers page

Enjoy and have a great weekend-


Friday, 25 June 2010

Something for the Weekend - Fail Fast

In a recent interview with Wired magazine, Lee Unkrich (director of Toy Story 3) said something that reflects an important part of any truly successful team. It's also a principle that's deeply embedded into Agile Development teams.

Here's the quote:

"It’s important that nobody gets mad at you for screwing up. We know screwups are an essential part of making something good. That’s why our goal is to screw up as fast as possible."

Without doubt that's contrary to popular belief... People focus on getting everything to 95% before they're prepared to share it... but don't you find that often the 95% position still has flaws? And that often it's too late to really react to them? (Therefore is that really 95%?)

A few thoughts that underpin this:

* In true 'no blame' cultures having the freedom to take calculated risks means that some will pay off and some won't. The key to unlocking innovation and creativity lie in having a 'safe' environment in order to explore ideas.
* No one person should have a monopoly on ideas. The wrong environment can suppress ideas from all but the most confident.
* The trick is to seeing the outcome of any venture as positive, if it's paid off you've increased the quality of what you're doing, if you've failed you've learned from it.

What I'm not suggesting is that it's ok to fail overall... in fact, far from it! The key word in Unkrich's quote is "fast" - The very idea of failing fast is to guarantee success! So how do we do this?

Experiment openly and visibly (through documentation, prototypes, conversations, presentations) - ensuring that all failures become minor setbacks.
* Create a culture where small failures in the delivery cycle become successes in learning, consider them R&D! It's the only positive thing to do if they happen.
* Actively encourage the sharing of ideas - everyone has them.


Interview with Lee Unkrich in Wired
Spotted via the 37Signals

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Something for the Weekend - New in at #1

A slightly more businessy than the usual 'Something for the Weekend' this week, but I wanted to share some exiting research that gives recognition to the how important the role of the Business Analyst is in today's IT environment.

Research conducted by Forester and published in CIO Insight places Business Analysis at the number one slot in terms of the 'Most Important IT Roles'. I'll let you read the report yourself but I'm sure you'll agree it’s a staggering development.

Click Here

To further reinforce those messages I wanted to share two further recent research findings with you:
  • 71% of failed software projects are traced to poor requirements*
  • 40% of the effort in an average software project is fixing errors, and requirements defects account for 56% of re-work**

I'm feeling a distinct groundswell both internally (to my organisation) and externally in that recognition - A high note to finish the week on!!

Main Article - CIO Insight
*CIO Magazine
**Butler Group 2005

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Something for the Weekend - Simon Sinek's Golden Circle

This week, a simple technique to gain more effective and powerful communication.

Simon Sinek is the marketing consultant who developed the 'Golden Circle' - a model based on changing our natural communication style from talking about 'what' we do to talking about 'why' we do it. As he explains in his recent presentation at TED, this technique is a common trait across great leaders and organisations.

Understanding and explaining the 'why' is a really important aspect of our roles if we're to get the best possible support for the initiatives we progress. As Simon states a few times in his presentation "people don't buy what you do, people buy why you do it".

Two reasons I think this is useful to us:

  • I've mentioned previously (SFTW - Solution Addicts - 4th May '10) that I believe it's an important part of our roles to help people who have pre-defined solutions (rather than problems) to articulate and back up why they want them. Not to provide unnecessary challenge but to aid a common understanding and perhaps find better, more effective options.
  • As analysts our processes & techniques can seem a little abstract to the uninitiated - we know why we do them (I hope!) - Should we on occasion be clearer with our stakeholders in order to gain greater contribution / commitment?

Here's the link, it's 18 minutes long. If you can't spare that just watch the 5 minute segment between 2:00min - 7:20min.

Enjoy and have a great weekend-


Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Something for the Weekend… Solution Addicts

    Recently I've noticed an increasing amount of people coming to my desk with predefined solutions, whist to a large degree this is admirable, on further probing there's often a lack of definition about the problem is that needs to be addressed or perhaps more specifically the root cause of that problem.

    It's logical that people do this… traditional business teaches that we shouldn't dwell on the problems but instead be taking action to resolve/improve them, and after a while it becomes a habit, and ultimately an addiction. - We start to think about answers faster, faster and stop taking the step back to really look at what we're trying to achieve. A really clear symptom of this is when new information (inevitably) emerges or challenges arise and U-turns are required on solutions as a result (or worse). Framing problems and root-causes up front help with this enormously… if your solution is addressing the root-causes of a problem, new information can only help to build and evolve a better solution.

    It's our role as analysts to do this, so how do we go about it? The first is step helping people to admit they have problem (i.e. not that they have solution). I've attached an 8 min video to a presentation by lady called Mary Poppendieck - she's a prominent voice in Lean based software development techniques and in this video she does a fantastic recap of pareto charts & fishbone diagrams and the importance of testing your analysis by completing what she terms "Many Rapid Experiments"

    These techniques will no doubt be familiar but digging them out of your toolbox and dusting them off is always a valuable thing to do.

    If you've got any questions on the techniques Mary talks through do let me know.

    Enjoy and have a great weekend-

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Something for the Weekend - Emotional Connections (iPod)

As promised, I wanted to follow up on the last SFTW with some validation as to why creating an 'emotional connection' in what we deliver is equally as important as creating a functional one… an argument that the iPod can make without too much justification from me!

The iPod is often held aloft as a great design example… It's practical, intuitive, functional but also has the ability to engage with people in a way that's very hard to put your finger on… good physical design, creativity, brand, tactility, universal / consistent navigation, simplicity? - what is that x-factor? I don't know the answer but I know it's important!

Creating an emotional connection is not at all frivolous, it has huge commercial advantages. Apple have sold 260,000,000 iPod units worldwide and hold around a 70% market share of the global portable media player market (I want to say 'iPod market' which is a sign in itself!). Just imagine getting a tube or plane and not seeing the ubiquitous white headphones! To remain streets ahead of your competitors despite a higher unit cost is impressive.

In our world it's equally important to remember the importance of these connections… we need 'our customers' to feel a sense of satisfaction when using a system or process not just acceptance. I'm not sure there's a fixed recipe for creating this (or I'm sure I'd be a lot richer!) but I think a strong starting point is the recognition that 'functional' is not enough... Understand every detail, understand your customer and pursue perfection.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Something for the Weekend - Anthora Coffee Cup

Lesley Buck passed away a fortnight ago aged 87 - In the 60's Buck was Head of Marketing for the Sherri Cups company, an established disposable cup business. As a man with no design experience; he calculated that slathering a paper cup in Greek motifs and the colours of the Greek flag would help him crack into the ethnically-Greek dominated New York diner market. The gambit worked.

The sheer ubiquity of the cup (total figures are hard to come by, but Sherri Cup sold half a million of them in 1994 alone) has propelled the design into museums, T-shirts, and countless television show prop masters seeking a visual shorthand for hard-boiled detective, hard-working hack or Gothamite-on-the-go.

Reflecting on his success is relevant to our roles too. Buck had a real understanding of his customer base, not just what they needed (or asked for) but also what they valued beneath the suffice, perhaps even sub-consciously. Looking at other companies, Apple act as a great pioneers of this, fan's often quip that "you don't know what you need until Apple have invented it".

It's a concept that's I'm increasing embracing... we're great at delivering highly 'functional' things, and that's a good foundation, but to take things further we need to add that much needed 'emotional' connection to our work... more on that next time!!

Finally, I can't end this with out covering the issues with packaging waste! With 58 billion paper cups being thrown away each year, the challenge for today's paper cup designers is how to design a functional AND sustainable solution. People like Tom Farriday think they've got an answer with a cup made from 100% recycled, recyclable plastic! Read more…


Friday, 23 April 2010

Something for the Weekend - Visual Onomatopoeia

I thought I'd share something related that I spotted on SVN. Keith Lang gave a talk called 'The Science of Aesthetics' at UXAustralia last year and in it he talks about (synaesthesia) what I suppose are deep-rooted, even instinctive, human behaviors and how an understanding of that can benefit application design. The images below give a great example of what he's talking about...

... when the shapes of objects all look the same (worst of all friendly and rounded) it's hard to understand at first glance that they have different consequences. Make the big decisions look significant (in this case, like clicking it too fast might cut your finger!) and it breaks the autopilot behavior. It's almost like a visual version of onomatopoeia, objects can look like what they are. It’s similar to using ‘red’ for cancel buttons or ‘x’ to close windows, just a bit more dramatic!

As the tools we develop increasingly get deployed globally the challenge of understanding a users common 'frame of references' increases dramatically. The considerations we apply today only touch the surface when you consider your user to be just about everyone. Hooking UI into deep-rooted human instinct means we anchor on at least a small part of everyone's frame of reference.

If you'd like to watch the full video
here's the link. Also check out the Kiki & Bouba effect if you're not familiar with it.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Something for the Weekend - Mystery Flavour

I spotted a great example of LEAN practices this week that I really wanted to share. You may remember before Christmas I wrote about the importance of establishing flow in processes with the article of the Empire State Building, this isn't quite as impressive as building the world's tallest building in a year but its good thinking all the same!

Dum Dums are a US lollipop and they started creating a 'Mystery Flavour' in 2001. Basically Mystery Flavour is a by product that the manufacturing process creates as it switched from one 'actual' flavour to another. So you might get a mix of Cherry Cola and Banana split… quite good fun but also a really good example thinking differently.

Two things are noteworthy with this example:

  • The downtime of shutting down production, cleaning and restarting would obviously cost more than the waste - so they've got the LEAN flow principles down correctly by leaving the machines running and increasing production.
  • Creating value from waste that can’t be removed is an interesting thought. Do we have unavoidable waste that could used to better effect?

Sources & Credits
Thanks to
Dum Dums and the Signal Vs Noise Blog reflections on programming by products

Friday, 9 April 2010

Something for the Weekend....Andrew Kim's Eco Friendly Coke Bottles

There's not much in the packaging world that you can point to as inspirational. That is except for Andrew Kim's concept design for Eco Friendly Coke Bottles.

3 million bottles of Coke are sold worldwide each day - so savings, environmental or otherwise certainly add up. Whilst the current design keeps (albeit quite loosely) the iconic Coke Bottle design, it is cylindrical which means that lots of air is shipped in each box. Andrew's square, stackable and collapsible design means that an additional 3949 bottles could be squeezed in per shipping container (321,856,830 bottles of Coke shipped per year with a zero carbon footprint!). And when you've finished with it, you can squash it down, so you can make fewer trips to the recycling centre.

Even if you don't design packaging I think there are lessons here for us all the same. Probably more on the operational design side than technical but the crux is the acceptance that the decisions we take with process design can have long term operational cost and environmental impacts.

  • When improving processes removing as many physical items as possible (most likely paper / stationery in our world) will create savings - each item has a cost and a need for creation, processing, storage, transport & destruction.
  • Follow the 'life' of any physical items and remove 'waste' wherever possible.
  • Just because something is valuable (like the brand aspect of the Coke bottle shape) doesn't mean it’s the only way to do things - it's always worth the challenge!
  • Perhaps the most simple of all, remember that 'waste' is multiplied by volume. Even small improvements can make huge differences in our high volume processes.

You can read a little more on the coke bottle here. Lets see if Coke adopt it!!

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Something for the Weekend - Technical Debt

Technical Debt is a metaphor developed by Ward Cunningham to raise awareness of some of the long term impacts of the decisions that we take to get project or technical change live. 
 Ward's metaphor refers more to 'debt' taken with ugly coding or patched together architecture but I think this concept expands well to design too.

We all take shortcuts in order to meet deadlines, restrict cost or work within other constraints. More often than not it’s the right commercial decision but the metaphor really helps to ground the decisions you need to take. 
So what is Technical Debt… imagine it as a bank account, if you take a shortcut with your project/design you go into debt and will, one day, need to repay that debt (correct your shortcut).

Also, just like an overdraft you incur interest... perhaps operational pain, perhaps defects in the code & most likely rework. The longer you live with the debt the more you pay. 
No ones saying you can't go into Technical Debt but there are rule…
  • Make decisions that are deliberate - inadvertent decisions are just bad design (or worse)!
  • Take the debt if its prudent to do so, if the commercial advantages outweigh the debt you're in the right place.
  • Have a plan to repay the debt - a follow up release, back out, etc. Compounding the problem will just make it un-repayable.

This virtual bank account isn't really measurable in £ - it's unquantifiable productivity cost and therefore needs subjective judgment but I really like the concept to articulate some of the decisions we take and live with. 
This cover the basics but if you want to read more check out the links below.

Sources and Credits