Agile Development, Behavior Modeling & Design, Business Analysis, Information Technology, Innovation, Product Development, Requirements Development, User Analysis, User Experience, User-centered Design

It is beyond doubt that the current times of digital, mobile and social age demand professionals who are versatile, agile, sociable and dynamic. Business Analysts and product specialists are no exception to this. Whether its due to the industry demands, peer pressure, market needs or pure evolutionary tactics, BAs today are far more leading-edge, competitive, assertive and visionary contributors to the products, processes and businesses, at large. From an also-ran team player role, new-age analysts have come a long way as the multi-disciplinary, multi-skilled and multi-dimensional professionals. In this post, I will touch upon the many facets of the new-age Business Analyst and how they are adapting to the continual changes happening in the spheres of business, technology, professional and personal lives.

Emergence of the new-age BA/PO

As we discussed in the previous posts, there have been several factors that led to the emergence and evolution of the Business Analyst. The BA today moved on from just a requirements owner and a document expert and is now addressing several facets around products, processes, business and technology. Their focus still remains pretty much around the problem space, compared to the facilitation role in the solution space. The analysts identify problems, dependencies, needs and opportunities. However,  products, processes and business domains. The BAs today have been involved in scoping, release management, continuous engagement with customers and users, strategising, laying out roadmap, and working with multiple teams.  In a nutshell, the Business Analyst of the modern age is much like a leader, architect, soldier, team player…all rolled into one.

NBA_Leader.Architect.Soldier.Team Player_Texavi

Leader, architect, soldier, team player & more – the new-age BA

From being an analyst, the BA needs to transform into a leader, architect, soldier, team player and perhaps many more such roles, all rolled into one. Of course, they need not be all of these roles at the same time. The analyst today has to don one, few or all of these various roles based on the context, time, stage of implementation as befits the occasion. During the initial stages, the emphasis could be on being an architect, while during the scoping it could be that of a soldier. However, throughout the project, or initiative analysts have to keep their hat of leader and team player, no matter what stage the work is in. I touch upon the four primary facets of the new-age Business Analyst in the following paragraphs.

1. Sensible leader, not just an also-ran

You can’t talk enough about the all-imperative skill and art of analysts to work with people. They must have their hands firmly on the pulse of the different categories of people. These include the various stakeholders – direct and indirectly responsible for the product and process, from senior management all the way through to people working on the factory floor. As an able leader, the analysts must not only lead the way, but also set an example by following and working along with the team members. They should  listen actively, take steps pro-actively and be able to put in their efforts with sustainable passion, drive and commitment to achieve this shared vision and common goals.

2. Architect and a builder, not just another player

New-age business analysts must be able to look beyond the near term goals and benefits. They must have a really good and long term vision to not only lead themselves but also the team members and the organisation, at large. They must think far and beyond, using their rich experience, in-depth and specialised domain expertise. The added advantage is that these help the analysts with a “peripheral vision” around the markets, business domains, products, processes and technologies.  Besides, the new-age analyst adds great value by laying a robust roadmap that is flexible, scalable, high-performing.

3. A soldier, well-equipped and prepared

Like a soldier, who is well-equipped and well-prepared to face any kind of challenges, the new-age analyst must be prepared with all the right tools, methods and a positive attitude. The very nature and aptitude of business analysts help them to stay on the top of their game, be it at home or outside their turf. Their ability to adapt easily and quickly depending on the situation helps build on to the agility of the new-age analysts.  Analysts’ skills of being sensitive, scrupulous and open-minded, help them usable insights from ideas and actionable intelligence from information. In addition to these, the BAs try to keep ahead by addressing all possible scenarios, potential challenges and constraints, internal and external dependencies and assumptions – stated and implicit.

4. Team player, not just a one-person show

Business analysts over the ages had been looked at more as specialised consultants who come in, do their work and get out. The contribution of analysts is considered from the prism of a “support” role who comes in early in the project, find problems, specify scope and requirements and exits the scenario. However, with the advent of agile practices such as Scrum, user stories, XP, BDD and TDD being put in place, organisations are increasingly looking for analysts to be well-integrated into the development teams. The analysts today are very much an integral part of the teams and by being  participative, they contribute to the collective value delivered by the team. So, new-age analysts are equally adept at being followers and team members themselves as much as they excel at leading the teams.

I hope this post helped you understand the many dimensions, skills and demands of the new-age business analyst. We will cover more specific details on the tools, and methods for the business analyst/product owner in the upcoming posts, until then, ciao!

Agile Development, Business Analysis, Conference, Events, Information Technology, Innovation, Mobile, Social business, Social Technologies, User Experience, User-centered Design

I have this question constantly coming back to me and kept playing in my mind time and again. What makes a great product? What is it that creates successful brand, organisation or an individual? After thinking about it from all possible experiences and view points, I finally came to a conclusion. The answer came to my mind when I applied myself to various scenarios, situations,industries and domains. Yes, I found the answer!!! It is balance. I would like to use this connotation of balance to bring forth the importance of IMAGINEERING in our professional and personal lives. In this post, I wish to bring to you the meaning and potential of IMAGINEERING, as a run-up to Texavi’s upcoming conference IMAGINEERING – INDIA, 2013 in August this year.

Imagination is a natural instinct

They say that “Imagination takes you everywhere!”, how true! Yes, with the very mind that we have we can create and weave bundles of thoughts. These indeed can take us places and sitting in London, we can go to Miami or Mumbai. Of course, this same imagination makes us travel across time as well, from the present to the past and lets us dream peep into the  future too, in the form of dreams. This greatest power especially found in abundance in young children, is responsible to make us curious, enthusiastic, inquisitive and exciting. This adds the much-needed zing to our lives, which otherwise gets mundane and monotonous. Though not entirely related, imagination could be mapped to the emotional part of the human instincts.

Logic is critical for growth

But then the next question could be “is imagination everything that you  need?”. Well, the answer to this question is a resounding “NO”. It is important to have imagination, but its not just enough. We need logic to back up the emotional appeal, analysis should be the engine that should drive the vehicle forward. Intellect powers the development of human beings and it is the constant churning of WHY and HOW that leads us in the right path to reach the right goal quickly. Its logic that lends support to the otherwise fragile and weak facade of imagination. I would even say that logic and analytical bent of mind provides the string and controls the high-flying kite of imagination.

Imagineering – the true meaning

Having looked at both imagination and logic, by now you would agree with me that we need to make the best of both worlds. To get it right with anything in the world, from building a product to a creating a powerful brand, and from taking an individual from good to great, we need to strike the right balance between balance between imagination and engineering. In the context of developing successful products and services, imagineering, as I refer to it, could be the powerful combination of technology and business.  Whereas in the case of building a brand, balance should be between identity and image of that brand. And in the case of an individual’s personality development, what helps the most is the right balance between left and right brains, or rather harmony between heart and mind.

Why is Imagineering powerful

Simply put, if we take a case of a problem and solution, we need to balance imagination with engineering and that’s what I would refer to as Imagineering, a powerful combination of creativity and logic. I didn’t coin this term though, but found out that this terms was copyrighted by Disney. What one needs today in the world of me-too products is the clear differentiation whose value-add can be clearly seen by your customers and users. While both are equally important to create any product or solution, sometimes Imagination precedes Engineering while in other times vice-versa. What is more important and more prioritised between the two of these, depends on the factors like…

  • Stage in the life cycle
  • Availability of resources
  • Personality and/or mental makeup of the people concerned
  • Business drivers

Digital. Mobile.Agile.Social times

There have been umpteen instances in our careers and personal lives, where the digital, mobile, agile and social aspects have been influencing us either directly or indirectly. These are playing a significant role in the way we live, work, interact, connect and communicate with our customers, family members, friends and followers. I penned my thoughts, views and ideas about the web of influence these 4 themes have on our lives. The diagram below depicts in a sense the various meanings, influences, challenges and opportunities posed by the quartet of Digital, Mobile,Agile and Social.

Texavi's IMAGINEERING conf theme

 

Texavi’s IMAGINEERING – INDIA, 2013 Conference

I take this opportunity to announce Texavi’s conference IMAGINEERING – INDIA, 2013. The theme for this year’s conference is “Technology trends, challenges and opportunities in the times of Digital. Mobile. Agile. Social”. We have good 3 months for the conference, but Team Texavi have started the planning and preparations are in full swing. We have a fantastic lineup of speakers for the conference, and the agenda has been shaping up  pretty nice. I will share more details on the IMAGINEERING – INDIA, 2013 conference in the coming days. As a teaser, I present to you the logo of the IMAGINEERING – INDIA,2013 conference. This logo is the result of the hard work by the team, putting their mind, heart, and soul into creating something splendid and I must say the outcome has been a pleasing experience.

Texavi IMAGINEERING-INDIA, 2013 Conference Logo

 

As a run up to the Texavi’s IMAGINEERING – INDIA,2013 conference, I will be writing more posts in the next few weeks. Watch out for more details not just on the conference, but also around the related themes and perhaps some guest posts too. As always, keep writing and share your feedback. Till next time, ciao!

Information Technology, Product Development, Social business, Social Technologies

Are you still relying only on the static web site that was updated 5 years ago, a few printed marketing materials like flyers, and an external agency that handles your email marketing? These alone may not work anymore for the benefit of your business. No matter how large or small, old or new your organisation is, social business has proved to be the order of the day. The good old ways of marketing using the traditional media planning and advertising in conventional channels and the emerging newer ways of using social media are not the same. In the same way, optimising your content and applications for the customary search engines is not enough, as increasingly they need to be optimised for social media as well. However, being a social business does not refer to tweeting a few times per week and collecting Likes on your Facebook page, though these are good starting points. In this post, we will look at what it takes for a business to become a successful social business.

1. Go beyond a single web presence

Having a web presence with a web site, which rarely gets updated  is not a great step towards becoming a social business. You must increase your channels and distribute the effort, time and cost. Large organisations today have dedicated departments catering to social media and managing the campaigns around these networks. Increasingly these companies have people with the titles such as ‘Community Manager’, and ‘Social Scientist’. However, it might be an overkill for some smaller organisations to spend their resources on the social media marketing, at the cost of their core business. Bear in mind that there is no one-size-fits-all solution that works the same way for all businesses in the same way. To decide what you should have in your arsenal, you need to think about the following:

  • What is your core business?
  • What is the size of your organisation?
  • Who are your target customers?
  • Where do you operate?
  • What resources do you have?
UXF_Social Business Focus_Texavi

2. Conversations could be positive or negative

The focal point of the social and professional networks is enabling people to connect  and indulge in conversations. Often these conversations could be negative as well, which is quite expected considering that people do have different experiences with brands. Although, the motive behind these interactions could be not just the  brands, but also people’s encounters with products, services, solutions or most importantly other people representing any of these . Don’t expect people to always talk positively about you or your brand. Often they are influenced by their previous experiences with the which were not-so positive. Natural Language Programming and Sentiment analysis are a few of the tools that you can use to unravel the moods from among numerous conversations.

3. Conversion is the holy grail

Make no mistake, all that matters to a business in any industry of any size large or small, local or global, is conversion. Businesses since ages have been focusing on converting a prorspect to a customer and a customer to a loyal customer and then to a lifetime customer. The web came in and  along with helping businesses achieve the above aspiration, also added another dimension. That of converting visitors to registered users and then to the customers. With the advent of Social media, the fundamentals and business models did not change. These social networks enabled visitors who follow your organisation or brand, to become friends and fans. The conversion from visitors to friends and then to customers has become an easier and quicker process, though the numbers are low.

Conversion_Social Business Enablement_Texavi

4. Cut out your noise, care for people’s voice

Companies have been promoting their products and services vociferously as a ‘push mechanism’, using advertisements and branding campaigns. For these, they were using the traditional media such as Newspapers, Television, Radio and other print media. However, increasingly people are getting frustrated with the  noise generated by these brands. The trust on these companies and brands and customers’ belief in what they say is dwindling. One of the key factors why social media have become popular is this decreasing trust in brands and increased confidence in what other people say and do. This is what I call the ‘Pull mechanism’. In order to make your social initiative a success, the pull has to be given an equal, if not more, importance than the push channels. Focus on listening to the voices of the customers and those people who matter to your business. Observe, respond and resolve the complaints, problems and service requests from the people on these social media. large organisations like British Gas, AT & T and Apple already are actively using social media like Twitter and Facebook to listen, respond and resolve customer complaints and issues.

 

5. Deliver congruent “experiences” consistently

The key to success for any business is to deliver delightful experiences to their customers. Whether you have products or services, instead of focusing too much on features and functionality, focus on the experience offered by them to your customers and users. These experiences too have to be consistent and unified across different channels, media, platforms and devices that you use to reach your customers.  Inconsistent experiences lead to customers feeling dissonance and they are left confused with too may messages in too many forms. To offer this unified experience to your customers, you must balance the various channels such as traditional, digital,online, mobile and social media. Read this post on how you could achieve this integrated, congruent experience across multiple channels and platforms.

Hope you find this post helpful. As always, do drop in with your feedback, suggestions and critiques to help improve the quality of our blogposts. Until next post, Ciao!

 

Business Analysis, Business Case, Information Technology, Innovation, Product Development, User Analysis, User Experience

As you all know, during the recently held “Lets talk iPhone” event, Apple officially announced the launch of  iPhone4S, iOS5 and iCloud. While it was a disappointment to some people who were expecting the big upgrade to iPhone4, that’s beside the point I want to make in this post. Rewind to April2010, when Apple first launched iPad, as the first ever consumer Tablet in the market. There was a knee-jerk reaction from lot of people, who rejected Apple’s new Tablet concept. There were more naysayers who expressed that they didn’t find any use for it and that the iPad was just a “glorified and bigger iPhone which can’t be used for calls”.  Its everybody’s knowledge how that perception and reactions changed drastically over a period of time. Apple created the undisputed benchmark and a leader in the Tablets market, with many more companies bucking the trend and releasing their me-too versions. In this post, let us look at what it takes to create great products by managing users’ reactions and how you can better define the product.

Great products vs. good products

Some times, you would have come across products that not only have features and functionality to help you do the mundane tasks, but also fit in very well into your life and work. Discerning readers like you are very well aware that there is a difference between great products and good products. Great products differ in that they offer rich context, enable users to realize their goals and enchant them satisfying their implicit and unmet needs. These often go beyond the briefing and provide more than just nice features. Its true that not all products are created with this intent and that they gain users’ acceptance slowly over time.

iPhone and iPad

How users relate and adopt to new products

I have seen an almost pattern-like behavior from users on how they react to products launched as groundbreaking new concepts which go on to become a huge success. I call this the 5A model of User reactions to new products. It starts with an almost hatred like feeling towards the new product. This is because users develop habits with the existing products and are happy using them the way they are. They perceive the new product as a change and a potential threat to their comfort. This could be because of the innate behavior of aversion to change and anything new. Then over time, due to various factors, both external and internal, customers tend to develop an acquired taste for the product.

The 5A model for product adoption

The perceptions and reactions of users to new products almost always follows a gradual progression of steps leading to great adoration for the products. I am not sure if anybody has patented this model already, but these terms came to my mind 3 months ago, when I was working on a new concept product for one of my clients.

  1. Aversion
  2. Acceptance
  3. Admiration
  4. Aspiration
  5. Adoration

I observed this model applicable to many successful products, tracing back to the times of their launch, how they changed with marketing, alignment to business and better product definition.  One of the most successful product companies, Apple and its successful creation, the iPad are not an exception to this model, as we discussed above.

Ask what you are creating

The trickiest thing in developing new products is in understanding, defining and communicating what your product is and what it can do. Most products fail, not because they are designed badly or implemented in a technically incorrect way. They fail because the product vendors could not communicate the purpose and benefits of the product clearly to the customers and users. Or worse still, products are hit the hardest, when the product owners themselves are not clear about the vision and definition of their product.

How to define your new product

Innovation and thinking differently often help you in defining your product, which is a first step in paving the way for its success. The standing example for a successful application of innovation with thinking big is Metamorphosi which changed the way lamps and lighting are created.

Lighting Solution, not just a lamp  Metamorfosi_lighting_solution

While every other player in this market thinks of creating better and attractive table lamps, Artemide realized that they are not merely creating lamps, but helping keep people in better mood through their lighting. So, they decided their product definition as not just as a lamp, but a ‘lighting solution’! Small wonder that Artemide and Metamorfosi are equated to innovation in the home decor segment that triggered many admirers, followers and copy cats too, all around the world.

New product development checklist

The critical success factor in the product development is having a clear vision, direction and purpose for the product or application, that you are creating. You need to define the scope, intent and content of your product, which help in translating the vision into the product design, development and delivery. It is often necessary to go beyond the immediate form and name of the product under description. Do not get attached to, nor be limited by the physical aspects of your product. I always do a check with the following parameters to decide how well we are doing and whether we are on the right path. I use these as a definitive check list to assess the potential success of your product or concept.

  • Business viability
  • Technical feasibility
  • Product usability
  • Resource availability
  • Consistent Quality

The above factors play a decisive and definitive role in the assessment of your product’s potential and performance. Do not underestimate the potential of validating your product against this check list. This would give you a very good measure of how your product is faring and in what direction it is heading to. You can then take necessary course correction and take preventive steps to steer your product back on track. We can talk in detail about applying each of these in the context of your new product, in a separate blog post.

Hope you found this post informative and usable. Happy Diwali to all my Indian friends and followers. Until next post, ciao!

 

Information Technology, Innovation, Interaction Design, Product Development, User Analysis, User Experience

After all these years of my experience in engineering software products and applications, I realized that there is one phrase that I tend to hate the most. No, its not “Give me a ballpark estimate” or “I need this delivered by e.o.d. today”, though these come close enough to be 1st and 2nd  runners-up :). The one I am referring to is “Let users figure it out”. It is a nemesis to developing successful products, often resulting in a shoddy product.  The “Figure-it-out” syndrome as what I call it,  could be an evil for product development which can be as bad as, if not worse than Featuritis. The plausible cure for this syndrome is when the product is made easy to use for those people who are using it for the first time. In this post, I touch upon the ease of learning and use and give some tips about making your products a breeze for your users.

Easy to learn and use

Let us be honest, how many of us got trained on using the ATM card to withdraw money from a cash machine? At the least, how many went through the user manual, supplied? Popularly known as Any Time Money, the Automatic Teller Machine was conceptualized and designed so that users from different segments can get to use it with little or no effort. This is a classic case of designing a product which is not just easy to use, but also easy to learn for new users as well. Easy to learn and use a product is a critical yardstick to measure its success and is often ignored to a large extent for various reasons. Lacking this, a product might become a nightmare and the product or feature puts off not only novice users but also some experienced users, some times.

New user scared of technology product :)

But then it has the ‘user manual’

Training, setup guides, user manuals, glossary, help docs and other such documents are meant to support the new users in coming to grips with the product. Like a site map which provides a clear guide on how a web site is structured, most of the above artifacts are meant to make it really easy for the users. But then, there is a view prevalent among the Design community that site map comes handy only when a web site is not usable by itself. In other words, only when users are confused, puzzled and left with no option, that they would look at a site map. So is the case with the supporting documents and help guides that I mentioned above. No matter how effective and efficient your technical writing team is, your documentation goes often into the dust bin. The golden rule is ‘Customers and users don’t read user manuals!‘. Bear in mind that these are good supporting aids but they can never replace a well-designed product.

The ‘Figure it out’ syndrome

Whether its the apathy towards customers and users, or the need for speed in delivering the product to market, the figure-it-out tendency gains ground with the product development team. You don’t suddenly wake up one fine morning with the syndrome. It gets built up over time and plagues your product and users to no end. Here are the factors that can potentially contribute to it…lack of empathy and concern for users, a frog-in-a-well approach. Also, an unwritten but strictly-followed preference attached to functionality and technology over user experience tilts the scales against making the product intuitive.

Don’t undermine the impact of this syndrome, it could be long term, deep cut and manifold. It affects not just the product creators – the stakeholders and the development team but also the product consumers. For the creators, due to the relatively short-sighted  aspects of their planning and execution, there will be heavy overheads of customer-reported defects leading almost to a total rejection of the product by the users.  Some of the products tend to be so overly complicated for new users that they instantly give up and return them or pass on to others. There are umpteen examples of products which flopped not for their technological maneuvers, nor for their functional richness but merely because they are rather too complicated for users to start using it.

Steps for ease of learning and use

The first step in making your products easy to learn and use, is to know your users. There is an oft quoted saying in the User Experience industry that tells it all – “Know thy user and you are not your user”.  The next step is to design and develop the product in such a way that it is intuitive and clear for users. Cluttered and dense interfaces, confusing controls, unclear messages, lack of help when needed- all of these make it hard for your new users.  As Steve Krug puts it in his book, ‘Don’t make me think’, the moment you let your users start thinking about how to use any feature or functionality, you start to lose the user ‘s interest.  Also, there should be a flow that lets users feel immersed when doing a task. This would make them not only feel that they accomplished the task but also delighted. I would equate this to the concept of flow as explained by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his classic book on psychology – “Flow: the psychology of optimal experience”.

yes, don't make them think   Let there be a flow with the tasks in your product

Who are you creating the product for

To be able to design your product better for ease of learning and use, you need to clearly identify who you are creating the product for. Going back to the ATM card example which we discussed above, the product was intended to be used by the larger number of users with little or no literacy, who would have never seen, leave alone using a computer before in their life. It was designed and developed knowing fully well that it needs to work with all the users with different backgrounds and literacy levels.

Atm machine in use   Monk using ATM machine

The beauty of the ATM product lies in that they cleverly disguised a computer into the machine. Without users’ knowledge, they are actually using a computer and its all made so much of a breeze to use it. No wonder, the concept and product caught up and it has changed the very definition of  ‘banking’ on a global scale.  Another case in point is Intuit’s QuickBooks. While every other accounting product in the market was geared towards the accountants and qualified book keeping professionals, Intuit understood that there is a huge demand for a simplified accounting product for the non-accountants and novices. They launched QuickBooks with the sole focus on this segment of users and today it is the most successful product in that segment, popular for its ease of use among new and expert users, as well.    

QuickBooks - Accounting made simple for non-accountants

Expertise and experience make a big difference

I would suggest that you classify your existing and/or potential users, based on the following:

  • Demographics
  • Education and computer literacy
  • Professional
  • Psycho-graphic (attitudes, likes and behaviors)
  • Tasks and scenarios

More importantly, to make your product easy to use, you must first profile your users based on the product usage experience. The following is a typical way of classifying the user groups, but you can adapt this and modify it to suit your needs.

  • Novice /beginners
  • Intermediate
  • Advance
  • Expert/experience

Specify your target

Now that you had a considerable start in the path of creating a great product, you now need to ensure that you have the right pick. The list below will help you in approaching the product definition in a structured way.
  • Identify the composition and distribution of your existing and proposed user base
  • Have a clear markup of the proportion of new users vis-a-vis advanced or expert users
  • Specify which of the above user types you will target with the product
  • This is applicable equally to the features and functionality and not only to the entire product

Here is how you can make IT easy

Beside the above suggestions from my experience, I offer a few other tips below to do a quick check on how effective your product or feature in the scale of ease of learning and use. You might use these as guidelines during the design and development of the product or as checkpoints to validate the features and functionality in your product. I am classifying them into the typical buckets of user experience, so that its easy to assess them individually.

Functionality

  • What can I do with this product?
  • What do I need to do, so that I can achieve my goals?

Navigation

  • Where am I now?
  • Where can I go from here?

Interaction

  • What should I do to make this work?
  • How responsive is it to my inputs?

Presentation

  • Does this look pleasing to my eyes?
  • Am I distorting anything to make it appear what it is not?

Help

  • Can I get help when I need?
  • Is help provided when I require it?

As always, hope you find this post informative and useful. Please do give me your feedback. Until next post, ciao!

ZFTD32WWJGMW

Business Analysis, Business Case, Product Development, User Analysis, User-centered Design

Whenever we start working on a new product or project, we are often rushed into creating ‘the  solution’. Pressure builds up from all directions and we are but forced to start delivering the solution from the day one.  This is where my problem lies…not being able to work on and understand the problem itself, but still trying to solve it.  For instance, whenever you go to a doctor with an ailment or complaint,  he does not give you treatment straight away. The physician asks you a set of questions, listens to your responses, understands what your problems are and then starts giving you the correct treatment. They call it ‘diagnosis’ and we all are happy to be diagnosed without asking any question to anybody, including ourselves. Then why is the resistance to adopt the same approach in other spheres of our work and life?  Taking specifically the case of you, me and all of us, IT professionals and experts, I write this post to highlight the approach we should adopt to understand, define and communicate the problems before resorting to solutions.

Problems, needs, challenges & opportunities

Most of us use the terms problems and needs interchangeably in varying contexts. I am not too tied down to using any one terminology over the other.  Bottom line is that we have to make an effort to identify them, define correctly, and strive to solve the problems or fulfill the needs. Some people also use opportunities in the same vein to convey that these have to be understood, pursued and addressed. You might have also come across the suggestion to replace the negative connotation of problems with its more positive and pragmatic counterpart, challenges. As I said, I am flexible on this and you can choose whatever you might like among the four terms problems, needs, challenges and opportunities. However, from a product manager’s perspective, my personal preference is to use the terms problems or needs, because they convey some sense of urgency and cry for addressing them and solving them at the earliest :)

Texavi’s Model for Problems and Solutions

I would like to touch upon briefly the model I evolved at Texavi to have a better handle at problems and solutions. The image below provides a clear distinction between problem space and solution space. As you can see, focus on the problem domain first helps us understand the WHAT and WHY which enable us to get to define the TO-BE WHAT and HOW to reach there.  Also, this platform independent model lets you apply the methods and rules to any platform, technology. I shall discuss more on this in a separate blog post.

 

Problems drive solutions

Yes, problems do drive solutions and not vice versa. It is imperative to specify the problems first and then accordingly, direct our attention to the solutions. I would like to take the analogy of train and engine to put forward my point about problems and solutions. My fascination for trains and being a son of a Railways employee, I couldn’t but think of a better example.  A train is driven by the engine and not by the bogies attached to it.  No matter whether the engine is placed in the front or back of the train, it still powers the train and makes it move. Similarly, understanding the problems always helps us to find the correct solutions to tackle those problems.

   

How do you get to the problems

Well, by now you might have been convinced that problems are as important as, if not more important than solutions. The next obvious question that might come to your mind is how we can identify the problems, in the first place. From experience, I realized that problem solving is best when it is solved where it has come from. To be able to spot the problems in the correct way, we need to really have an open mind, with an inquisitive  approach leading to exploration and discovery. This is quite different when you approach the solutions, which might need a one-pointed focus,  with deep dive approach leading to generation of ideas and implementation of solution.

I follow a set of unwritten rules when trying to work in the problem space. These facilitate me by providing the right directions for the flow of my thinking. You can find the following pointers helpful in structuring your thoughts and approach to problem identification:

  • What are the problems?
  • Whose problems am I trying to solve?
  • Why are these problems existing in the first place?
  • Where can I start with my solution? Which problems need my attention, first?
  • When can these problems said to be solved?
  • How can I solve these problems?

My mantra for problems and solutions

Based on my experience as an analyst over the years, trying to find problems and solve them, I created a small mantra to help myself.  This helps me focus and leverage the powerful relationship between problems and solutions. It is applicable to most situations, and helps all of us in any sphere of work and life. In fact, this entire post is based on this one and I would urge you, especially the product managers and business analysts among you to note it well and try and put into practice.

Know problems…know solutions

No problems…no solutions!

I hope that you find this post helpful to set the direction and help change your views about the problems and solutions. I will cover more details on the proven methodologies that we evolved at Texavi Innovative Solutions. As always, your feedback is welcome. Until next post, Ciao!

 

Business Case, Information Technology, Innovation, Product Development, User Analysis, User Experience, User Studies

Caller:             “Hello, is this Tech Support?”

Tech Rep:      “Yes. it is. How may I help you?”

Caller:             “The cup holder on my PC is broken and I am within my warranty period. How do I go about getting that fixed?”

Tech Rep:      “I am sorry, but did you say a cup holder?”

Caller:             “Yes, it’s attached to the front of my computer

Tech Rep:      “Please excuse me if I seem a bit stumped, it’s because I am. Did you receive this as part of a promotional, at a trade show? How did you get this cup holder? Does it have any trademark on it? ”

Caller:             “It came with my computer, I don’t know anything about a promotional. It just has ‘8x‘  on it.”

The caller had been using the load drawer of the CD-ROM drive as a cup holder and snapped it off the drive.

[This story was attributed to George Wagner,  Greenberg,1971]

You might have read this earlier and laughed it off. I started this post with this very naive-sounding, but true conversation that happened between a PC user and a customer service representative.  Today, I wish to touch upon  the widening gap that prevails between the management and stakeholders of product companies and the needs and conceptual models of end-users. As a product manager, its all the more important to understand the existence of this divide between the creators & consumers and try to plug this ever widening distance!

First, identify the people involved

First things first, define the roles of the people involved in the process of product creation and consumption. To keep it simple, we can classify them into three different categories – stakeholders, customers and users. These can be people, groups of people, entities or even organizations. They can be separated physically and logically into different classes, but sometimes there could be an overlap or common areas amongst a few of them. For instance, in a product company such as an automotive manufacturing, sometimes the stakeholders and customers could be the same as the company might be manufacturing the components which are consumed by the same company in building a car.

What do you want to be and want to do

Stakeholders are those people who have a direct or indirect influence on and who get benefited from the product, solution or service  under development. One might argue that customers and users are very much part of the stakeholders. Yes, they are, but since they hold bigger stake of your product, you can classify them under a separate category. For simplicity’s sake, include in this category of stakeholders…management, product development team, client, vendors, partners, venture capitalists, and all those involved in the process of product creation.

You need to identify the key stakeholders in the form of individual persons from within the groups. Have one-to-one interactions with each of the identified stakeholders. During these interactions, extract the various perspectives depending on their roles and profiles. For example, from a CEO, get a business perspective, whereas from a CTO understand the technical perspective and from a Business Development Director, get the views on customers and competing companies.

Define the ‘Identity’ –  Inner view

The sum total of the vision, challenges, constraints, expectations, views about competitions, products, business, technology etc. from each of the key stakeholders provides the composite identity of the organization or the product under discussion. You might notice that within the same organization, and on the same area or point, there might be conflicting views and expectations from different stakeholders. However, this should not be a stumbling block, but instead try and understand why these differences are cropping up and resolve them with the involvement of stakeholders.

I am reminded of the marketing assignment which I did during my MBA summer-project. It was with a company which is into biscuits,cookies and dairy products. They just re-positioned their brand and brought out a whole range of products aligned to their new identity. The company’s stakeholders thought that the brand and the products they create not only support the health and well-being of the consumers but also enhance their thinking and intellectual capabilities. So, they started massive campaigns all around the country brandishing those perceived values, strengths and greatness of the brand and product. Read through the next few paragraphs to know the outcome of my studies.

Customers and users may not be the same

In the case of services, mostly customers and users could be the same, but in the context of products and that too for enterprise and B2B products and services, these two groups invariably differ, to a large extent. In fact, even within the same group say customers, you have different variations such as decision makers who hold the purse strings, and purchasers who execute the deal.

No ‘Average Joe’ in users

The ‘law of averages’ might work in almost all the places but not in product innovation and user experience management. Bear in mind that there is no average user or stereotypical user, for whom if you design and develop your product, it works across all the potential users.  Similarly within the users, there may be many different sub-groups based on tasks, work profile, experience, education, and other demographics. You just cannot assume that all the users are same and have the same needs, wants and challenges.

Understand the ‘Image’ – External view

Another critical component is to understand the external perspective, that of the customers and users about your product. This is what I refer to as image of the organization or the product. Often times, this image is formed in the minds of the users through various ways. Some of these could be the interactions that users have with  your company or product, experiences formed through usage of this or similar products earlier, advertising and promotions, interactions with friends, peers and family about the product etc.

Sometimes the image formed about the product need not be real at all and instead was formed from incorrect perceptions and misconceptions. Again this could be due to various reasons such as users themselves( demographics such as education and experience), your product (promotion, design of the product, and its promotions) or both.

Referring to the biscuit company case of my assignment, I did a lot of user research talking to users, understanding their mental models, conducting some market research to know their perceptions, preferences etc. All these studies led me to a very strange set of results. The consumers of this specific brand and products, don’t really see anything healthy in the products, nor do they associate it with their thinking well or intelligence. They had a completely different sense of what these products stand for and do

Gap = Identity ~ image

You defined the identity for your product from stakeholders’ view and also understood its image among your customers and users. By now, you would have realized that they are not exactly matching and that there is a difference between the identify and the image. Often times the success or failure of the product is decided by the extent of this gap. The focus now shifts to measure the extent of this gap, both qualitatively and quantitatively. Then the next steps are to understand the root causes for the gap and taking corrective and preventive actions.

Going back to my project work on the biscuits company, I analyzed the results and found that there was a huge gap between the company’s vision and consumers’ view of the products. After further analysis, I could get to the bottom of the case and understood the real reasons to be lack of customer awareness, increasing focus on competition, new management oblivious to the ground realities of the industry and the market needs etc.

Here is how to plug the gap

To ensure that your product works well for the key primary users, follow the guidelines I give below. These are based on industry standard best practices and also from my experience from the past success stories. Note that each of the steps can be explained and expanded into a separate blog post or even a separate chapter in a book. I am just giving them in a list so that we can focus on the specific topic of this post.

  • Create user profiles
  • Select no more than 3 user profiles as your primary target user groups
  • Create personas
  • Understand the conceptual models of users
  • Identify the key needs, challenges, pain areas of the users
  • Understand the key tasks that they do
  • Define the breakdown scenarios, and workarounds used in doing these tasks
  • Use the personas extensively throughout your product development
  • Scope the features and functionality of your product, around the personas
  • Design and develop your product around the needs
  • Keep stakeholders, customers and users involved throughout product development
  • Go back to these people on a continual basis with whatever you have developed
  • Try and identify the gaps, problems, and areas of improvement

I hope this post would help you form a vision for your product, reach out to your users, understand and bridge the gap between the two. And by doing all of these, you are increasing the chances of developing a successful product. Till next post, ciao!

 

Business Analysis, User Experience

I came across this interesting piece of work yesterday. You may want to call it art,promotional material, or reference material. For the business analysts in you, you might want to view this as a contemporary issue, well presented or also an efficient use of a popular tool, i.e., flow chart.

 

You can check out the usage of the company name (who would have put this up) in a rather ubiquitous manner, almost urging the people to get in contact with them. This was evidenced in the strong usage of their repetition, association and ‘call for action’.

Agile Development, Business Analysis, Information Technology, Requirements Development, User Analysis, User Experience

People all over the world celebrated the onset of new year 2011 with fun, aspirations and resolutions. This cheer and  high-spirited enthusiasm continued well into the first week of the new year.  However for some people, the early days of the new year proved not all that fun. They got up later than usual, reported late, missed their appointments and meetings. You might want to blame all this mayhem caused due to the hangover and the high-spirited celebrations :). Well, that was not the true reason. The real culprit was the mobile phone they were using. Yes, it was Apple iPhone4 that these people have been using that created the problem.  The Alarm app of the iPhone4 failed and did not set off (or is it ‘set on’ ? ) the alarm.

Small problem, big pain

You might say that this is just one small problem for a few users which happened, one day. After all alarm is just one small app in iPhone and it did not work on one day and so, its really not a big deal. I agree, but then think about the consequences of this small bug and the inconvenience it caused to the users. Even a small defect in the product could become pricking one to users. I remember my good-old Hero Honda CBZ,  first version which I bought in 2001. It was a brilliant motor bike with a fantastic performance and great looks. I was really happy with it except one small itchy glitch. Look at the images below and you can guess what the problem with this motor bike could be.

Its not all about look and feel

Yes, you got it right. The problem was with the placement of  kick-rod and footrest in this model of CBZ. Footrest was placed right below and would stop the kick rod from going down. Since there was no electronic auto-ignition, starting the motor cycle requires three steps…

  1. Take the footrest up, so that it doesn’t come in the way of kick-rod
  2. Kick the rod down so that mo-bike gets started
  3. Immediately get the footrest down, for applying breaks

Phew…so much pain just to start a mo-bike. Just imagine your plight when in the midst of heavy traffic on a busy road, the CBZ stops and you need to start it in a split-second, else you might incur the wrath of a 100 horns blazing all at once. The curses and prayers of many a user like me, would have reached the people who matter at the motor cycle company. In the newer version of the CBZ, Hero Honda introduced is an electronic-ignition. So, the moral of the story is ‘all looks and no work makes your product a flop and users irate’.

Go beyond the briefing, but first get the basics right

The above problems have nothing to do with lack of user experience, or delight factors. They refer to the breakdown of a simple and basic functionality of the product. Nowadays in a bid to get quicker and closer to customers, product companies have been getting on to the bandwagon of offering delight to their users. They have been treading past the drawn lines, going beyond the briefing. I fully support their intent and actions and also believe in the end results of their efforts, which is better products and happy users. However, this is not completely hunky dory and in a few cases, companies do not realize that they are committing some basic errors. To attract their users, the product companies are forgetting that their products must first work well and satisfy the immediate needs of their users.  There is an imminent need to realize that ignoring this might lead to frustrated users who will shun using their products and services.

It does not really matter if your product offers great bells andwhistles, while at the same time it cannot provide the core  functions. Often, in the name of user experience, product owners do tend to overly focus on the presentation losing sight of the other important factors such as functionality, navigation and interaction. As Steve Jobs rightly puts it, “Design is not what it looks like and feels like, Design is how it works”. A case in point is the call dropping functionality of iPhone4. Not too long back, you might recollect the problems reported with the dropping of calls in iPhone4. This issue was more noticed when users holding their iPhone in left hand at a particular angle.  Apple accepted the that there was indeed a defect with the phone’s antenna placement and offered a bumper cover free to the users.


In case you are wondering why I am riling Apple only all along, well it is not alone in getting the bad campaign.  Hotmail recently joined the shame game when most of its users, one fine morning, found their mail boxes empty, all of a sudden. Some other users found a few mails missing. A few others were annoyed to note that some emails were lost. I guess you would agree that the basic purpose of an email product is to receive and send mails. If this very primary functionality is not in place, don’t you think it raises alarm with the users? Of course, not only do they stop using the  product, but they spread the bad word pretty quick. So, address the  important things first in your products, services or processes…functionality, those that matter the most to your users and you too.

Form follows Function

There has  been an eternal debate in the design circles about the seemingly conflicting approaches of ‘Function follows form‘ and ‘form follows function‘.  My ‘Business Systems Analyst’ background gets the better of me and I support the latter option, i.e., ‘Form follows function’ theory. Of course, I don’t apply this to all and sundry. Leave alone some specific products like art works, paintings, craft and decorative items etc.,  which definitely have a dire need to look prettier first, as that is their core objective. However, for the rest of the other products which we use in our everyday life and work, functionality should be the first goal followed by the looks. Often times, the way a product has been designed, especially the aesthetic appeal  accentuate the function and make it better.

FURPS and You

Functionality scores over pure-play user interface and mere looks. So much so that the good old model, FURPS which classifies the software quality attributes, function places Functionality on the top much before other factors. For starters, FURPS refers to Functionality, Usability, Reliability, Performance and Supportability. There had been additions to this list, what is being referred to as FURPS+.  The + or extra attributes are interface, implementation, operations, packaging, legal etc. Irrespective of whatever gets added to this list, one thing is pretty clear… that functionality always precedes everything else. So, in case you ever doubted what the Business/Systems Analyst in your team does, you have an answer now.

Focus on the WHAT

I doubt how many times you would have lifted the bonnet of your car to see what’s inside. Compare this with driving your car using the steering wheel, gears, clutch and other parts in the car nearby to  the Driver’s seat.  Not many users (barring a few, such as technicians and mechanics ) would wonder how your product is working. What matters to most of them (the normal users, barring advanced and expert users) is that the product should work and do the things it is supposed to do, in the first place. From a Software Development Life cycle (SDLC) perspective, Requirements always come first before Design and Development. Even in this age of Agile development with SCRUM, Extreme Programming and User Stories, you still need to understand the ‘WHAT is to be done’ before you proceed with ‘HOW it is to be implemented’ . First, focus in understanding WHAT is required of the stakeholders, and users from the product or application that you are developing.

Make the functionality clear

Its not only important that you focus on getting the functionality right, but more importantly you need to make it clear to the user what are the things they can do with your product.

Design and develop your products and services in a way that users should understand what they can do with the products or services.  If it is not clear to your users as to what your product offers to them they will eventually dump it. For instance, Google Wave failed big time because it was not clear to the users what they could do with it and how it would help them  any better than the existing lot of the social networking and collaborative platforms. Also, iPad had a few takers initially in the first few days, as some people had questions about what exactly it offers. They could not see the real difference between iPhone and iPad, sans the ability to call. Some even called the iPad a glorified and bigger format of iPhone.


To conclude this post, all I have to say is that, as developer of products or services,  you need to set your eyes and mind first on the functionality. If it does not work, they will not use it!