Managing change, responsibly

You probably live in a professional world where there’s still a huge gap between “how things are done” and “how things should be done”, and your role seems to be somewhat stuck in the middle grounds. Many battles are fought in the name of changing the way things are done, some of these battles will be lost, some of them won. Winning the war would mean to have changed everything there was to change — but that’s probably never gonna happen.

How do you prepare yourself for this constant state of tension, where you know you can’t change everything and you know that in order to change things you’ll have to adopt different techniques each and every time you are confronted with a change management problem?

The problem with organisational frameworks and methods is that they’re theoretical abstraction: in the real world, you will never find a client or a team of colleagues that will be excited to jump aboard into SCRUM or Agile, or whatever technique is your weapon of choice. In the real world, adjusting to change is first and foremost a matter on how you approach change itself.

Chances are that you’re not the CEO of the company, nor someone in a position to force a substantial change in a top-down, radical fashion — you would argue that bottom-up change management can happen, but in my experience that turns out in micro-managing change in a way that the final effect for the entire organisation in counter-productive, e.g. some small groups inside a larger company may be working in entirely new ways, but the global inertia is so strong that these groups, and change itself, remain an exception to the rule.

If you can’t force change (not that forcing it is a guarantee that it will happen) you have to handle a plethora of subtle ways on how to build change day after day.

I found a quite interesting reading, Process Bricolage: Theft, Mashups, and Digital Products, which is a brilliant and pragmatical explanation of how you should beware of the dangers of excessive fundamentalism in adopting this or that technique, while being able to cherry-pick the right approaches to the right problems.

Bear in mind that you always have an array of choices, even if it’s fashionable to say that you’re an expert in some well-known but fundamentalist approach.

process-bricolage-1

Personal mobile ecosystems

While everyone is speaking about the benefits of remote work 1 I made the unfashionable choice of shifting from a job that was about 5 minutes bike ride from my home to a daily commuting route via train and underground that is sucking 3 hours out of each of my working days.

I’ve been relying on public transportation for my main commute routes since I was 14, so I have almost 15 years of observation about what people do while they’re on the move. Incredibly, I discovered that I lost track of the miscellaneous personal ecosystems.

Some people have and iPhone and an Android tablet — sometimes a very cheap one, but that does one job well enough, just as a video player, for example.

People with Windows phones exist. People still read bulky books and yet they have a super-thin smartphone in their pockets. Some people have Kindles but no smartphones. Some people use netbooks as portable media players. Some people still use big-sized, 10″ tablets despite bearing two messenger bags at once.

The man in the picture on the left holds two magazines, a book, and an iPhone. It’s not one of those days where you end up holding more things you can possibly handle: he holds these magazines, a book, and an iPhone each day, I know because I see him at the railroad station each morning. And the has a messenger bag too.

Despite a seemingly clumsy setup, he’s not alone: hundreds, thousands, millions of people each day use technology way outside the “silos narrative” that people are willing to stick to just one environment or technology platform — yes, people using Apple products are more likely to be locked-in within Apple’s ecosystem, as much as people using Android-based are, but there’s no rule of thumb, there’s no real technological barrier for preventing cross-platform usage 2.

And the non-existent silos regard form factors and overall devices choices too: the other man shown in the picture above didn’t seem troubled to use his 15″ laptop as an mp3 player, even in a crowded place as the underground at rush hour.

People still read bulky books, holding them with both hands, while trying not to fall off balance on the underground: wouldn’t be wiser to get a Kindle? 3

Looked through the eyes of someone who can observe how people use technologies on the move each and every day, I’d say that a future where we wear those technologies is quite distant4  — if not entirely unlikely.

My daily commuting observations show that people are willing to compromise and to sacrifice the optimal performance when the perceived experience of their personal mobile ecosystem is “good enough”.

  1.  I couldn’t agree more that avoiding commuting is a healthy choice, but remote work isn’t for everyone, even if someone is a knowledge worker (I’ll write something about that someday).
  2. In fact, I’m happily using both iOS and Android since last November, I still haven’t found a reason to switch back to the full Apple experience I was use to — nor to abandon it completely in favour of Android
  3. I still don’t own a Kindle. I made the vow of finishing all of my paper books before getting one
  4. Especially until someone won’t find anything better than the (smart)watch form-factor. I played with a Samsung Gear, and the user experience is as horrible as it gets.

Hired (or not)

A couple of weeks ago I signed up to a platform called Hired.

As someone interested in finding a job abroad, I eagerly sign-up to any kind of job search platform “with a twist”. On paper – or, from their homepage – they looked pretty nifty.

On the website’s main menu there was a specific and highlighted button for “International applicants”. I told  myself “of course they need to discriminate international applicants from local, US-based ones” – or, to put it simply “visas are bitches”.

The login system integrated with LinkedIn is a life saver for all those information that you’re usually require to re-write every time you apply for a job.

Anyway, my registration process stumbled when they asked me my “expected US salary”.

If you ever tried to look for a job abroad you are well aware of the painstaking process of understanding the salary level for your job in this or that country. Even in the same country (especially in the US!) salary level can be quite different between different regions and cities.

Moreover, the economic situation of your country of origin (in my case, Italy) can be profoundly different from the country where you should end up, making comparisons almost impossibile.

So I expected a tailored experience as an international applicant, one where I could be guided though information regarding salary level and costs of living in the US.

When you ask someone willing to relocate “How much money do you want to earn?” – and this is a piece of advice for head hunters and recruiters too – you should be able to give that someone a frame of reference. Or don’t make the question at all, because, most of the times, the answer is possibly inaccurate.

So I quit filling in my details. “Whatever”.

Today I received an email from Hired: they where aware that my registration process wasn’t complete,  they where asking for a follow-up.

So I went to the website, put a somewhat random amount of money in the “Expected salary” box, completed my profile, and I was ready to be astonished by a decent amount of job offers.

Shortly after, this is what Hired told me:

The International Auction has received an overwhelming number of applications, and we regret that we are unable to work with many impressive applicants due to legal and logistical constraints.

So, Hired, why bother with an international applicant form in the first place, if you don’t have the knowledge and the skills required to handle such requests?

It’s not nice offering such a horrible user experience for something critical as finding a job abroad. Very badly played, Hired.

Minimum viable everything

So, I failed badly at my attempt of getting back to writing on a blog. 14 posts in almost a year isn’t bad in terms of my desired volume, but the quality of my writing isn’t getting better just because I decide to write less.

It may be the case that writing more will lead to better writing – nope, “less is more” won’t work here.

It turns out I didn’t really know what I was talking about when I was considering this a “minimum viable blog”.

Now that I actually know what MVP means, because I finally found the time to read The Lean Startup 1, I know where, why, how I failed.

Just as I avoided to read that book because I was sick about the startup frenzy 2, I avoided taking the time to write more because I was self-convincing myself that simply not writing was going to give me the inspiration to think more about what to writ.

Technically speaking, I failed because I didn’t shipped, I didn’t learn, I didn’t measure,  so I’m looking forward to fix that.

 

  1. I also read the excellent Lean UX. And I’ll be reading Lean Analytics soon. 
  2. I missed the great opportunity to understand sooner that, with the scientific approach described by Eric Ries, almost everything can be a startup

First week of iOS and Android mixed use

I’m an iPod user since the early 2000s. I’m a Mac user since 2006. I’m an iOS user since 2009 (iPhone 3GS). I’m involved in iOS design and development since 2010. I’ve been using every iPad that came out from the original one onwards.

As of today I’ve been stuck with the Apple ecosystem for almost 10 years.
Seen from the outside, I would probably be marked and labeled as a “fanboy”.

I truly believe there are personal ecosystems of computing devices that go beyond the fanboy or fangirl narratives.

I’ve been a Windows user for quite a while (let’s say from the mid ‘90s to the mid ‘00s), using Linux in parallel for a couple of users. I started using mp3 players quite early, had a few of them from different brands (I landed on the iPod quite late before switching to the iPhone as my iPod replacement).

Juggling between different devices, software and platforms is something that a lot of us have been used to do for quite a long time before being hooked up in some sort of single-brand ecosystem: surely, the overall user experience of being immersed in one unique platform is reassuring, comforting.

For Apple users, this comforting situation usually it translates into feeling dumb because you don’t have to worry about the multiple problems you have to solve in order to make Windows or Linux run properly – in other words, technology making you dumber. On the other hand, for Windows or Linux users switching to OS X or iOS it usually means a quite discomforting feeling of coming to terms with a shiny, polished black box (been there, done that).

I had the chance to use a Nexus 7 (2012 model) as my everyday tablet. It has been sitting on the bottom of a drawer for a while so my very first impact was with OTA updates of Android, first from 4.2 to 4.3, and right after from 4.3 to 4.4. Everything went smoothly.

The first thing I did was to look up my two iPhone screens (and several apps’ groupings) and find the Android equivalent of each app.

Productivity

  • Simplenote
  • Evernote
  • Skitch
  • Trello
  • Fantastical*
  • Dropbox
  • Wunderlist*

So far, I’m still exploring alternatives for a synchronised calendar between my Mac, my iPhone and Nexus 7. No Fantastical for Android right now. For reminders and to-do list, after trying a lot of alternatives, I’ve been using Apple’s Reminders: I’m using Wunderlist as a crossplatform alternative, but I’m not sold yet.

Reading

  • Pocket
  • Feedly
  • Kindle

Social

  • Facebook
  • Facebook Messenger
  • Twitter
  • Tumblr
  • Buffer
  • Google+

Music
Music, and leaving the never-really-loved iTunes, were my biggest concerns about this mixed iOS-Android experience.
Google Play Music is great.
I uploaded my iTunes library with no problems whatsoever (actually there were problems but on Apple’s side).

Since I subscribed to iTunes Match, I can see myself dropping it for the All-Access plan of Google Play Music.

The Android app works great, as well as the web version.

The iOS app has a significant design flaw: it doesn’t allow you to filter between your entire library and music you downloaded on the device, making the process of finding out what is on the cloud and what is actually on the device quite cumbersome.

I still don’t get if this is a technical limitation due to Apple’s restriction or a really clumsy design flaw.

Bottomline
I’m quite pleased with the overall mixed experience of using the iPhone and the Nexus 7 as my personal ecosystem runs upon “mainstream” apps that are available on both platforms with no noticeable design flaws: surprisingly I found myself blaming Apple for its “closed box” approach over file system usage just two days after using Android.

Not so fanboy, after all.

Typography in iOS 7

“We want the chrome to get out of the way” Jason Beaver

How do you do this? By giving more relevance to the content.

Improving typography is the best and first way to improve content display. The fact that typography was the firs topic of the “Building User Interfaces for iOS” WWDC session – dedicated on the basics iOS redesign – speaks for itself.

Whether you’re sold on the thinness of Helvetica Neue on iOS 7 or not, Apple introduced a great deal of improvements in how you can handle typesetting into you new iOS 7 apps.

 

Entering dynamic type: this will seem dumb to people working on web typography, but setting type inside an iOS app has been a pain in the ass up until now – no semantics tags for. Dynamic type allows you to set text styles in a semantic way.

This is a huge step forward because introduces a concept of responsiveness also for native application design, forcing interface designers to think in terms of content first, abandoning rigid chrome conventions.

Entering support to kerning, ligatures, ornaments, etchings and engravings.

201-SD 18

Text Kit, built on top of the not-so-friendly-not-so-useful Core Text framework, allows a better and easier management of textual objects and layouts: despite the criticism on iOS 7 system-wise typography, it seems to me that typesetting has been approached in a very focused and careful way by Apple.

 

Subtracting iOS

Foam brick minus

“Even the new pull-to-refresh sucks, it’s just a spinning wheel” — Yours truly

Maybe a spinning wheel is all that you need. And tomorrow it will be just a blinking, one-pixel line. And the day after tomorrow, pull-to-refresh will be so universally accepted that it won’t need any kind of feedback at all.

My first, very un-professional reaction to the new iOS 7 Home screen was: it sucks. Frank Chimero wrote a lot better why it sucks.

Every work that involves subtraction upsets the status quo.
For me, not a long-time Apple user, it’s been the moment in which I realized I’ve become one of those “the more, the better, less sucks” people.

iOS 7 is far from being perfect – as any kind of shift proposed (or, better, imposed) by Apple, there’s an initial, raw breakout point followed by constant improvements.

iOS 7 is less.

And if the overall tendency of user interfaces is toward simplicity it can only be for the better.

Expectations’ funnel

Photo Apr 11, 10 48 07
The reality of a shipped product is the result of the expectations’ funnel: making constraints understandable for all the people involved in a project should be your main mission as a product manager.

Assessing initial expectations is the first step that leads to a broad variety of constraints: ill-formed expectation about an app potential lead to unrealistic goals, thus these wrong assumptions could lead and influence the entire life-cycle of the project.

Reshaping initial expectations may be the hardest part of making constraints understandable because you have to step out you comfort zone: these kind of constraints have nothing to do with design constraints, technical constraints or project management constraints – your domain knowledge won’t help you here.

Design and technical opportunities (“Of course we can do that!”) should not cloud the initial assessment: you have to step in your client’s shoes and think in terms of contents and strategy before taking goals and features for granted.

You are not your skills

“Making things is the easy part. The hard part is determining what to make and how to make it, then convincing someone else that your suggestions are right. That’s design.”Mike Monteiro

I came across this excerpt from one of Monteiro’s speeches. It’s not the first time I read something like this, and I’ve been worried about the Cambrian explosion of design-related job titles that’s going on. It’s confusing for a lot of people, especially clients, and it could even become toxic.

Confusion is not good when your job is perceived as exotic, as every job in the tech industry is: adding a touch of mystery won’t help.

I actually decided to drop the “designer” part of my job title, replacing it with “manager”, as both a sign of protest and respect.

Managing product development requires a great deal of design skills, but the word “design” has lost the ability to define someone’s skills – let alone defining meaningful job titles and roles.

In a very Fight Club-ish fashion, you should be aware that are you are not your skills.

You’re not your skills because what your clients want you to do is to get the job done.

You’re not your skills, because skills can be learned, unlearned, improved, forgotten, borrowed at any time and at a very high frequency.

You are what you had to do, you are what you had to be to get the job done. And that happened way before you wrote your first line of code or did your first wireframe.

Yes, it may be more difficult to explain than a fancy, exotic job title. Or not?

“Most clients are trying to do the right thing. We need to help them and not complain about the things they don’t understand. Stop trying to read minds and communicate.”

Coordination

“And I realized that what it really takes to ship product is coordination. Somebody has to actually pull the people together, and get all the different roles to connect with each other. Whenever you build some product you’ve got to have design, you need to have programming, support has to know about it, it has to get QA, it has to be reviewed by people who can say no to things. All these different pieces have to come together.”

via An interview with Ryan Singer | Inside Intercom.