10.28.2011

No, I am not satisfied

Every time I make a restaurant reservation online, I am sent an email survey after the meal. Every time I get my car serviced, I’m asked about my satisfaction. After I buy something from an increasing number of online merchants, I’m asked to rate the transaction. Stay at a hotel. Watch a movie. Send an e-card to a friend for his birthday.

“Give us your 2 cents, we’ll give you $5,” offers Caf├ęPress.

“Thank you for booking your recent reservation through OpenTable. We would appreciate your feedback about your experience at Ruth's Chris Steak House?” asks OpenTable.

“As a valued HHonors member, your feedback is important to us. We invite you to take a few minutes to complete a survey about your stay at Hilton Anaheim,” requests Dave Horton, Global Head of Hilton Hotels.

“Thank you for staying at Millennium Knickerbocker Hotel Chicago. We would appreciate it if you would spare a minute of your time to share your opinion of the hotel with us. Your evaluation of our people, facilities and services will provide us the opportunity to work toward serving you better on your future visits,” writes David Cockburn, Senior Vice President of Operations for the U.S. Region of Millennium & Copithorne Hotels.

“We understand you recently had work completed at your Acura dealership and wanted to be sure we're meeting your service expectations. Your experience is unique and we'd appreciate hearing about it,” says an unsigned Acura email.

Even my dentist sends out post-visit electronic surveys.

If you don’t fill out surveys, you are reminded and reminded. Acura sent out three reminders to fill out the post-service questionnaire, on Oct. 13, Oct. 14 and Oct. 17.

At least Caf├ęPress is offering some compensation for my time. But no, I don’t want to fill out a survey every time I stay in a hotel, eat in a restaurant, get my oil changed or buy a t-shirt.

Post-transaction surveys make sense. One reason is metrics – they truly want to see their scores rise. This is true both of the local Acura dealer and also of the Acura nationwide organization, which needs to learn about both exceptional and troubled dealers.

Another reason is to deflect customer complaints, especially public ones that can harm the merchant's reputation. Cranky consumers love flaming online and bricks-and-mortar vendors on Yelp or Twitter.. The theory is that if Hilton gets me a survey fast, perhaps I’ll be less motivated to go onto Yelp. Plus, of course, Hilton has an opportunity to intervene and get me to retract my diatribe.

The downside is that I’m drowning in a sea of post-transactional surveys. My family had three cars serviced in October. To date we have received 10 - 10! - survey requests about those service visits.

Let’s look at this from the software development perspective. It is easy to set up the online surveys with Web landing pages, automatic emails, and reminder tracking for non-responders.

In fact, it is too easy to set up those surveys. Because the incremental cost of each survey is approximately US$0, we have no reason to hold back from surveying every transaction, no matter how small. We have no reason to hold back from sending reminder after reminder after reminder.

We are not serving our customers. We are harassing them by burying them in requests for customer feedback.

Next time a line-of-business manager asks you to set up an automated post-transaction survey with lots of emailed reminders, please bring up this possibility…. Or at the least, add it to the survey.

10.21.2011

Occupy Babylon 5

10.20.2011

Measure twice, scoop once

If you don’t measure, you don’t know how you’re doing. You don’t know what works and what doesn’t. You can’t figure out what to fix. And you can’t determine if your fixes actually work.

Or, as the well-known but oft-ignored saying goes, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.”

Do you make coffee? Every morning I make a pot at home. For many years, I’ve scooped out the coffee until it looks about right. Most mornings the coffee tastes good. Some mornings it’s incredibly delicious. Some days it’s too strong. Some days it’s too watery.

That changed in September, after I read an article in the New York Times, “Tipping the Balance for Kitchen Scales.” The author, Farhad Manjoo, uses making consistently delicious coffee as one of his anecdotes. He explained that if you use volumetric measures (like a scoop) you’re not getting a consistent amount, due both to variations in the density of the substance as well as in the accuracy of eyeballing the quantity.

Following Mr. Manjoo’s advice, we purchased an inexpensive Oxo digital kitchen scale. I tried scooping out coffee the old way, and then measured the results. The average was around 120 grams, which made pretty good coffee — but there could be a 20-30 gram swing. Even so, 120 grams wasn't bad.

Then we started experimenting. 120 grams. 110 grams. 100 grams. 80 grams. 70 grams.

It turns out that my family loves the coffee when we use 75 grams of ground beans per pot. That's significantly less than what we had been making. Each day our morning coffee is consistently perfect. (A pound of beans goes a lot farther too, yielding 6.0 pots instead of 3.7 pots.)

Put down the coffee scoop and open your development dashboard. How efficient are your architects, developers, designs, testers, managers? Do you know? Have you measured source lines of code created per day? Analyzed function points? Looked at defects or security flaws per KSLOC? Counted the requirements added or changed per iteration? Elapsed time per defect remediation? Variation from time or cost estimates per feature? Time spent on non-refactoring rework? Developer time spent on non-development activities?

There are a gazillion metrics specified by ISO and CMMI, as well as other best practices widely known in our industry. Do you use them?

You can’t manage what you don’t measure.

If you don’t measure, you don’t know what is working well, and where you need to improve. If you don’t measure, you don’t know if your fixes are making things better or are making things worse. If you don’t measure, you can’t drive toward consistent performance and consistent delivery.

Best of all, as my caffeine experience showed, measuring not only makes the coffee more consistently delicious, but less expensive as well.

10.14.2011

What, exactly, is Android?

My mind is filled with little green robots… who are they, and where are they going?

Earlier this week I attended O’Reilly Media’s debut Android Open conference, a “big tent” gathering that brought together a wide swath of the open-source ecosystem – from game developers to marketers, from chip manufactures to venture capitalists. It was an interesting and enjoyable conference – a good place to think about launching an Android-centric business.

Coming up soon, of course, is our own AnDevCon II, which is a larger but more tightly focused technical conference dedicated to technical classes and workshops on Android development. (Gratuitous plug: It’s Nov. 6-9, in the Bay Area. See www.andevcon.com.)

But back to Android Open. Talking to speakers and attendees, there was a universal concern about exactly what Android is, and what it’s becoming under Google’s direction.

On one hand, it’s pretty clear: Android is an open-source operating system for phones and tablets. Handset makers get a consistent firmware and user experience, while giving them room to innovate and differentiate. Carriers get predictability, and a smart phone that they can sell, customize and monetize. Developers get a big enough platform to sell their wares, and more flexibility than they get from Apple.

Google benefits from its investment in several ways, including:

• Commissions on apps in the Android Market.

• Opportunities to bring customers into its cloud ecosystem, such as with Gmail and Google Apps.

• And lots and lots and lots of places for advertising.

Android, however, is seen as a whole lot more than a phone and tablet platform, and as more than an app and ad delivery vehicle. For example, it is viewed as a promising embedded platform, and offers tremendous promise there. However, because Google can’t benefit directly from embedded development (no apps, no Gmail, no advertising), the company’s position and support are ambiguous at best.

Even within the handset and tablet spaces, the Android user experience and app-store experiences are fragmenting fast. I have two Android handsets, an HTC Evo and a Motorola Atrix. The user experiences are quite different – and in fact, on some handsets even vary from carrier to carrier. Don’t expect an Amazon Kindle Fire to work like a Barnes & Noble Nook Color, and don’t expect either to be like a Samsung Galaxy Tab or a Motorola Xoom.

The fragmentation in app stores is even worse. I can’t buy apps from the Amazon Appstore for Android on my AT&T-hosted Atrix. My understanding is that the Kindle Fire will only run apps that Amazon approves and offers. What's more, app stores are proliferating like crazy. This doesn't serve the market!

If Apple is has locked the iOS walled garden down too tight, then Google is too loosey-goosey. Device makers (and carriers) have so much room to differentiate that we’re fast losing cohesion.

Remember the days of Windows 95 and Windows NT 4.0, when Microsoft insisted upon a uniform experience and a consistent desktop? While Compaq, Dell, HP and others wanted freedom to differentiate, Microsoft understood that a Windows PC had to be a Windows PC – and enforced that rule with an iron first and a strong logo program. Of course, once the consumer or enterprise purchased the Windows PC, they could do whatever they wanted – but at least out of the box, Windows was Windows.

So what exactly is Android? Officially, it's an operating system for handsets and tablets, yes. It’s a set of APIs. But it’s not a defined or consistent user experience for your handset or tablet. It’s not a well-defined embedded platform. It’s not a way to find, purchase and install apps for your device. It’s not a uniform way to sell or distribute apps to your customers or end users.

Android devices are selling like hotcakes – more than a million units activated per month. But without a clear identity, I’m not sure that this is enough.

10.06.2011

The passing of Steve Jobs

A moment of silence, please, for Steve Jobs.

I’m sure that many of you are – to be blunt – tired of reading about him already. The number of obituaries, tweets, Facebook posts, columns and remembrances treats Steve Jobs like he was a head of state, a major movie star, a world leader.

He was, indeed, a world leader, and he touched your life.

Even if you don’t own a single Apple product, even if you’ve never seen a Pixar movie, you have been affected by Steve’s drive, determination and vision. Steve wasn’t always right, but he never stopped innovating, never stopped trying to improve the world (and sell products).

There is no doubt that the early days of the personal computer revolution were massively influenced by the Jobs/Woz Apple ][. And that was only the beginning.

The Lisa and Macintosh brought the WIMP (Windows, Icons, Menus, Pointing Device) out of the laboratory and out to consumers. NeXT truly was a next-generation vision that influenced today’s Macs. There’s the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad, Toy Story, Finding Nemo and so much more.

Of course, the influence of Jobs’ vision went far beyond Apple, NeXT and Pixar products. As a tastemaker, nearly every competitor tried to emulate Jobs’ products while simultaneously differentiating from those same products. Most competitors failed.

On a personal note, my interactions with Steve Jobs were very few, and limited to a few short conversations at press events and trade shows. I can’t say that I truly knew the man. I’m not sure that I would have wanted to work for Steve. But I have incredible respect for him.

Let me share two messages. The first is from the Apple board of directors, which wrote,

We are deeply saddened to announce that Steve Jobs passed away today. Steve’s brilliance, passion and energy were the source of countless innovations that enrich and improve all of our lives. The world is immeasurably better because of Steve. His greatest love was for his wife, Laurene, and his family. Our hearts go out to them and to all who were touched by his extraordinary gifts.

Finally, please read the personal comments by the Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg, who knew Steve fairly well.

May Steve Jobs’ memory be a blessing to his friends, family and all of us.

About Me

My Photo
Co-founder and editorial director of BZ Media, which publishes SD Times, the leading magazine for the software development industry. Founder of SPTechCon: The SharePoint Technology Conference, AnDevCon: The Android Developer Conference, and Big Data TechCon. Also president and principal analyst of Camden Associates, an IT consulting and analyst firm.