Thursday, 29 July 2004

Only Pigs Can Talk

I’m reviewing an excellent presentation [pdf] on the agile software development landscape when two bullet points on Scrum’s daily meetings stopped me:

  • Chickens and Pigs are invited.
  • Only Pigs can talk.

It took Googling to decipher the metaphor.

Though it goes against my earlier stifling team work post, identifying who’s involved and who’s committed is an excellent way to focus energies and keep the project on task.

Take a look at your projects – are you involved or committed? Where can you be more committed and less involved?

Further in the presentation:

“The error [is] typically 100 times more expensive to correct in the maintenance phase than in the requirements phase.”- Software Engineering Economics.

Reminds me of a story in the automotive design world. Traditionally, automotive designs were modeled in clay. Clay hardens as time passes. So, the longer a decision was put off, the harder – literally – a change is. Just because software doesn’t have a physical manifestation, doesn’t mean it’s not as time-sensitive as clay.

Two final bits of insight from the Extreme Programming camp:

  • If the future is uncertain, don’t code for it today.

  • Do the simplest thing that can possibly work

In other words: Do as Little as Possible.

Thursday, 22 July 2004

A French Hour Sprint

Your new project is scary – though isolated and contained, the timeline ridiculous, the deadline immediate. The team is understandably nervous. What’s the easiest way to success?

Institute French Hours – or what we’ve (until now) called a Sprint.

Here are the 4 rules of French Hours:

  1. You can’t do it all the time.
  2. Every person must want to do it, and there must be an alternative job if anyone chooses not to.
  3. Everyone on the team has to be reminded of the uniqueness of the situation (and the team) on a regular basis.
  4. You have to stop.  All at once.

These rules are carved in stone. If you’ve been through one – you know that. If you haven’t, I’d highly recommend it – the speed, the straight-forward deadline – they’re refreshing projects. Just keep the 4 rules in mind.

Go pick up the August 2004 Fast Company and get the full story.

Tuesday, 20 July 2004

Ten Ways to Rearrange Deck Chairs

American, Delta, United, and US Airway have either flirted with for filed for bankruptcy in the past 18 months. To provide some guidance in these tough times, Forbes suggests 10 Ways to Fix the Airline Mess.

Of the 10 suggestions, 8 are Repeating the Same Action, Expecting a New Result, – have the US government bail them out.

First off, this strategy have been attempted to varying degrees by the steel industry, the auto industry, the citrus industry (“There are a lot of people in Iraq who have never had orange juice”), oh, and yes the airline industry.

Secondly, a bail out by the US government is not a sustainable response to poor management or shifting market conditions. An effective solution is to listen to frequent fliers and return the mystique to jet travel. Wait, NetJets and Citation Shares have the luxury market and are doing well.

The two remaing suggestions from Forbes: streamlining security and de-Hub-ing are valuable solutions. These are clear, visible , changes that add value and convenience to travelers.

The Point-to-Point (vs. Hub) model seems to be working real well for at least two airlines not flying in red ink.

Monday, 19 July 2004

Pushing the Envelope of Business Requires a Strong Identity

“Hardball involves playing the edges, probing that narrow strip of territory—so rich in possibilities—between the places where society clearly says you can play the game of business and those where society clearly says you can’t.”

An exerpt from the Harvard Business School’s The Hardball Manifesto.

The article’s examples of Hardball companies – Wal-Mart, Southwest Airlines, Toyota – are examples of companies that have clearly defined their identity and by-proxy their reputation. Once a compelling and engaging identity is defined, it provides a framework for making decisions. Without that framework, you can’t stand firm in a decision and can’t play ‘hardball’.

Thanks to Rob at Business Pundit

Do As Little As Possible – Part 2

He bought a strong industrial electric fan and pointed it at the assembly line. He switched the fan on, and as each soap box passed the fan, it simply blew the empty boxes out of the line.

This exerpt from The Case of the Empty Soap Box at Jon Strandes’ Storyblog is an excellent example of the Do As Little As Possible pattern I metioned earlier.

Some equally engaging stories of simple solutions can be found in the highly recommended Are Your Lights On?: How to Figure Out What the Problem Really Is and Ideas are Free: How the Idea Revolution is Liberating People and Transforming Organizations.

Working Pathways Defined

An architect once designed a cluster of buildings. When asked by the landscape crew where to pave the sidewalks, he told them to plant grass between all the buildings, wait a year, then, after the occupants had worn the most useful paths, the architect told the landscape crew to pave the pathways that the occupants had created.*

The architect could have commanded the landscapers to pave a network of arbitrary paths promptly ignored by the occupants. Each of us goes the way that makes the most sense to go. The wear we leave walking through grass, shows others the path that worked for us. If that path works for enough people, it becomes the primary throughfare – and will be paved.

Working Pathways, LLC is focused on exposing the working pathways throughout our daily lives – from how we shop to how we work. By exposing the knowledge and experience gained by a single individual’s journey, everyone (companies, clients, customers) can benefit. That’s what we do. Sound interesting? drop us a line.

* Thanks to Storyblog for this tale.

Sunday, 18 July 2004

Faster Big Macs Through Outsourcing

2 minutes 36 seconds is the industry average for a McDonald’s drive-thru transaction. How does Steven Bigari keep his 12 franchises under half that?


All the drive-thru orders at his Missouri resturants are taken by a call center in Colorado Springs – increasing his capacity 15%.


Original Article: New York Times, 18 July 2004.

Thanks to Brand Autopsy.

Saturday, 17 July 2004

Anticipate Customer Needs

That was the mantra uncovered with each of the hotel concierge interviews we conducted a couple years back. Anticipating need is an excellent model for the customer relationship. It inherently means that the service provider – account manager, waiter, concierge, project manager – has a deep understanding of their service. Deep enough to know what clients need when by instinct or the subtlest clues.

I remember the story of a concierge-in-training responding to a guest’s request for coffee. He delivered the coffee and a single cup to the room – containing 2 guests. In this case, the lack of a second cup is more irritating than its inclusion.

Kevin Salwen from Worthwhile relays an interesting, unintrusive model for signalling need. Though it feels like training wheels for waiters, it supports a far better experience than multiple staff members continually interupting conversation.

Tuesday, 13 July 2004

Try Before You Buy

Even today, with all the Internet offers, shopping is often purchasing a product without first-hand experience with it. Our customer research has proven time and time again that if the product can be handled – it’s more likely to be sold.

Until now, it was nearly impossible for customers to actually try out a product without purchasing it and returning it.

The Washington Post recently published In-Store Testing, an article about Maytag, Best Buy, Whirlpool

As part of a new program, the company is encouraging consumers to test-drive appliances before buying them. Shoppers can throw in a load of laundry, wash dirty dishes and bake their favorite dinners. There’s even a package of cookie dough on hand in case people forget to bring their own

And [Raymond R.] Burke, the Indiana professor [University’s Kelley School of Business] , warns that mock rooms take up valuable retail space in a store. “There are serious costs associated with it,” he said.

Yes, formatting stores and products to support use requires a shift from an inventory-focused mentality to a customer-focused mentality. Products that can’t be seen, touched, and experienced cannot be sold. If you use your products as a way to facilitate a conversation with your customers, they’ll be more committed to you.

…estimates sales in the larger, interactive store are twice those of the older one. The biggest difference, he said, is how many appliances consumers buy. “Instead of buying one range, they buy the range and the refrigerator, and maybe the dishwasher, because they see how it works together,” he said.

Monday, 12 July 2004

Changing the Government

Government agencies are some of the most notorious change resistors. In 1999, the Mint started to change that reputation – receiving a customer satisfaction rating second only to Mercedes Benz.

“In the old days, we shipped fewer than 50% of our orders within eight weeks. Today, if it takes two weeks for customers to receive an order, they complain. When you change expectations, it’s very hard for an organization to relax and slip back into old patterns of behavior.”– Philip N. Diehl, Director of the United States Mint

If the Mint couldn’t survey its customers officially, Diehl himself would do so unofficially. A few weeks after joining the Mint, he embarked on his own personal fact-finding mission. He went to coin conventions, talked with the hobby press, found situations in which he could interact with collectors. He shunned the ceremonial role that the director of the Mint usually played at these functions (collectors would line up to ask for Diehl’s autograph), and did what any smart politician (and change agent) would do: He worked the room.

Continued in Mint Condition from Fast Company

Thanks to Frank Patrick for the tip.