Sunday, 24 June 2007

The Medical Model of User Feedback

From a Business Week interview with Clayton Christensen, author of The Innovator's Dilemma:
In The Innovator's Dilemma you warn that the maxim "staying close to your customers" can lead you astray. Wouldn't a cursory reading of the book say "don't listen to your customers?"

You're exactly right. The cursory reading is "don't listen." The deep reading is you have to be careful which customers you listen to, and then you need to watch what they do, not listen to what they say.
The last part of this -- watch what they do / don't listen to what they say -- while perhaps superficially disrespectful is a key part of what I call the Medical Model of User Feedback.

Symptoms and Signs
When a (medical) doctor examines a patient she will usually ask for symptoms -- what is the patient's experience? -- and look for signs -- her own observations.

Generally signs are regarded as the more significant, since the patient is typically neither particularly well-trained at interpretation nor unbiased. This is why watching people is invaluable when tuning software features.

By all means listen to User Feedback and requests, but consider it an early step towards revision and improvement, not the last word.

Thursday, 14 June 2007

Pareto and The Wedding Reception Principle

Lately I have been thinking about points of diminishing returns, and perfectionism.

The Pareto Principle or 80-20 Rule says -- among other things -- that roughly 80% of benefit is derived from 20% of the work. Another statement is, "the first 90% of a task takes 90% of the time, and the last 10% takes the other 90% of the time".

Now, for maximum productivity, one should always pull-up short when the first 80% or -- thereabouts -- is covered, and move on to other tasks. But in practice there will be times when you need to go that last 20%. For example, if you are competing on quality, that last 20% is going to be important at least some of the time.

I have my own principle, The Wedding Reception Principle, which is even more useful than the Pareto Principle. It states that in any broad endeavour, if all aspects are up to a good-standard then people will be struck by the excellence of one-or-two outstanding aspects. On the other hand, if any one thing is sub-standard, that is what people will remember, regardless of whether everything else is exceptionally good.

For example, at a wedding reception, if the food is bad, that will be what everyone talks about, not how great the speeches were or how much fun the dancing was. But if the food was merely ok, and the speeches outstanding, it will be the speeches that everyone remembers and talks about, and their general impression will be positive.

In other words: Make everything good, nothing bad, and a few things extraordinary. And pick those things that you intend to be extraordinary carefully, because you will be fighting Pareto and spending lots of time on them. It would be a shame if they turned out to be relatively unimportant.

Monday, 11 June 2007

Kids and Language

At time of writing my son is almost three-and-a-half, and my daughter is one-and-a-half.

Jake's English is exceptional, but he was slow to get started. Jake learned English vocabulary, structure, and some accent according to the Thomas the Tank Engine method.

He is now inventing words. My favorite so far is ignoying, as in "Daddy, stop ignoying me", to which I sometimes respond: "Jake you're ignoying me, too". I think it's a keeper. I must start using it around work :-)

Ella, on the other hand is more precocious, already saying many words and even a few two word sentences: "Herro Daddy". I have started trying to speak -- and latterly learn -- Hebrew in an effort to get Andrea to talk to the kids in her fluent Hebrew. It works this way: I speak in broken Hebrew and Andrea corrects me, and is reminded to use it a bit more, and apparently feels less self-conscious about her (perceived) lack of vocabulary.

[I am now trying to learn conversational Hebrew, and am enjoying making some progress, although I seem unable to reproduce the guttural "r" for love or money.]

Ella is already saying "Toh-dah!" (thank-you) with aplomb. Jake is more cool, sometimes imitating, but sans enthusiasm, and sometimes saying, "Don't speak to me like that!"

I think that if I keep talking Andrea will keep speaking and Ella will learn for sure. As for Jake, on this issue at least, I intend to continue ignoying him.