Monday, January 26, 2015

Why do we treat customers like users

It was a big week in technology.  Microsoft had a massive press conference to promote its new operating system.  E3 had a big technological breakthrough which will lead to new products which I will share more about in a later blog.  Finally, there was the state of the Union address which almost devolved into playground insults.  It was not a bad week.   What struck me most about the week was a tweet from Yahoo technology critic David Pogue he said the following,

The over-caffeinated pundit from Yahoo is right there is something wrong with software engineers because we refer to our customers and consumers as if they are drug addicts instead of full partners in the software experience.  This week I want to talk about that.

The term “user” has been around as long as I have been working as a software developer.  My suspicion is that I can trace its origins back to the early days of corporate computing.  Large Mainframe and AS/400 systems housed tremendous amounts of data centrally and the “operators” of these systems the network administrators and programmers allowed “users” to run programs to gather data.  Ever since the 1960’s, the term has stuck and I feel it poisons the relationship between those who make software and those who use it.

Since the first moon landings, the powerful computers which took us to another world can now conveniently fit into a contemporary smart phone.  Instead of mainframe systems, we have the internet and cloud based computing.  In addition, an entire generation has grown up swimming in technology.  Sadly the habits and attitudes have struggled to catch up.  Daily, I see developers use the term “users” to refer to the people who depend on the software we create.  Users are stupid, selfish, clueless, and careless in equal degrees and they are the bane of the life of a software engineer because they are constantly breaking their creations.

I understand this feeling.  I spend hours working on software trying to get it to work correctly and then someone comes along and breaks it with little or no effort.  It is part of the sense of pride and skill developers have which allow us too figure out how to bend technology to our will. When someone dismissively breaks that technology, it creates a spiral of rage inside me which is difficult for me to explain.  That software is my “baby” and for someone else to call it defective or ugly is a serious insult.

What we do not talk about is that the “users” are really not trying to break our creations or insult our intelligence.  They just want things which work.  They do not plug in a lamp worrying about amperage or voltage.  They just want to plug in a lamp and have it light the room.  Software is supposed to solve problems and help make the day go easier and faster.  They should not have to worry about out of memory exceptions or properly filling out forms.  They just need to use the software on their computer, mobile device and tablet.

They are not users of software; they are consumers and customers.  Those of us in the software profession need to remember that and treat these people accordingly.

Until next time.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Sincerity is greater than charm.

I had the good fortune to get out of the house and go to the movies.  My date insisted on “Into the Woods” and like all good natured boyfriends I went along for the ride.  What struck me about the movie is how it took a Tony Award winning musical from Stephen Sondheim and made it work for the big screen.  It also gave me a bit of dialog which is going to stick with me and that is what I want to talk about on this week’s blog.

Toward the end of the movie, it becomes obvious that the prince charming is NOT a respectful or loyal husband.  He confesses to his wife which he cheated on, “I was raised to be charming not sincere,” and then rides off into the distance.  Being charming was more important that making sincere commitments to our prince.  This is direct contradiction to what one of my mentors out of college told me when I first joined management.

He said, “I have known people who get by on charm and cuteness their whole lives.  I have no use for them.  Sooner or later you are going to have to quit being charming and cute.  Someday you are going to have to suck it up and know what the hell you are doing.  Then we can work together.”

No matter what job you do, you are going to have to prove some competence in that field.  In other words you have to be sincere about your skills and what you can do with them.  Twenty years since that message it has still stuck with me.  It is a message which sticks with me for the management of my business and it sticks with me for the way I lead my scrum team.  I need to be honest and sincere with people in order to be successful.  This is good because I can’t imagine working any other way.

Until next time.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Sorry Erik, Agile is not a cancer or clownish

Agile professionals are not clowns or a cancer.
I spend much of my time leading software developers and in my spare time working as a software developer for my home business.  It is my vocation of over fifteen years.  I know a few things about writing software.  Then a fellow by the name of Erik Meijer gets in front of an audience and talks about an alternative to agile software development.  In the discussion, which is very confrontational and funny he argues that Agile is not effective because we talk about code instead of writing it.

I am not going to be disrespectful to someone who helped author Microsoft’s C# and LINQ technologies but I am going to take issue with the dismissive nature of how he treats agile professionals.  He says that “Agile is a cancer that we have to eliminate from the industry.”  Being called a cancer is certainly a not good way to win friends and influence others particularly if you are proposing alternative method.

I would like to refute a few of his statements.

Agile is a Pyramid scheme – 

The Scrum Alliance became a professional way to track the skills of people who lead agile teams and practice agile development.  Microsoft has a similar program known as the MSDN program and when I was a junior developer I dreamed of becoming a Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer.  I had been practicing as a developer and scrum master for three years but it was not until I spent the money and became a Certified Scrum Master did I get attention from recruiters and companies wanting me to help their organizations.  I am currently a Certified Scrum Professional proving I have plenty of experience in the field and that I have taken continuing education to improve my skills.

So my master’s degree in management and my professional certification from the Scrum Alliance are part of a pyramid scheme.  No they are signposts for HR professionals, technologists, and other agile professionals to see that I know what I am talking about.  Just like other certifications in networking and development.  Anyone can practice medicine, however I would like to know the doctor setting my broken bone has gone to school and had a long internship learning how to do it properly.  That is not a pyramid scheme; it is licensing and having it ensures consistency of performance.

Agile is abusive –

Meijer also says the self-organization is a lie.  What he says it is abusive relationship between the management of the team.  Instead of giving orders, managers exert more control through encouraging co-dependent behavior between management and developers.  This is refuted by the eighth principle of agile which says, “Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.” So if you are practicing agile you should have a sustainable pace and the team, management, customers, and the business should all be working together for a common goal.  That is not abuse; it is teamwork and collaboration.

Agile is not measurable – 

Meijer also mocks the notion of Agile having metrics and not using empirical evidence to prove its claims.  He holds up Facebook and its “hacker way.”  In short, “Code wins arguments.”  Funny, the seventh principle of agile says, “Working software is the primary measure of progress,” which seems very similar to code winning arguments.

I am also learning that more members of the agile community are learning how to better put together metrics to track progress.  In particular, Michael Norton gave a great presentation to the Chicago ALM conference about how Groupon is using metrics to improve its performance.  Measurement matters and it is empirical measurement.  This trend is also arising from agile practitioners to address this criticism.

Erik Meijer, gave a funny presentation and said plenty of things that I agree.  I also happen to be a fan of the ZBGURESHPXRE movement he promotes.  Agile is not a joke.  Agile professionals are not clowns and we are serious about making business and software a little better.  Treating those of us doing the work in the agile community like charlatans and clowns when we could be useful partners with developers is counter-productive and to use Meijer’s words cannibalistic.

Until next time.

Monday, January 5, 2015

2015 Predictions

Happy New Year
The New Year has come and gone and I am glad to say that I made it out the other side with no major damage.  When you go through a mile stone like the New Year it always makes you reflect on the past and look forward to the future.  This week on the blog I would like to discuss some trends you should watch out for 2015.

Competition kind of works in 2015

Trends we saw at the end of 2014 are going to accelerate in 2015.  Particularly price wars between the major providers of cell phone service.  I went to the store complaining about my service and I got rapid help and extra data on my plan for no additional cost.  The reason why, a major competitor is was stealing customers away.  So now I am being treated like a valued customer instead of an obedient revenue stream by my wireless company.

You are also seeing this trend in gasoline prices.  According to the Economist, prices are down because OPEC nations are trying to discount the price of oil because the United States using technology to undercut their market share.  This has kicked off a price war with OPEC hoping to make it too expensive for America to pump oil.  It is a geopolitical and economic game but for consumers in America it is a welcome change.

So while many academics and members of the political left complain about the failures of capitalism, we can point to the last three months and the upcoming year and say that capitalism works from time to time in a consumers favor.  We should savor this moment.

The Internet of things takes a pivot

The internet of things or IoT was supposed to big deal in 2014.  What happened is that it was exposed as wind and sails. In the meantime, firms are working along the edges to create smart devices which will fulfill some of the promise of the IoT.

I noticed this at the Chicago Auto Show in 2014 when all the new cars had at minimum blue tooth connectivity with mobile devices. Then later in the year GM was offering cars with 4G LTE service.  This means that the morning car pool or play date will allow people to stream movies or play games across the web.

I am also looking forward to home security and energy consumption being managed over the cloud with Google’s purchase of Nest.  Now with a smart phone or web connection you can set the temperature in the house or make sure the smoke detectors are working.  I hope they have a feature to tell me which ones I have to swap the batteries for instead of guessing based on how they chirp.

The biggest IoT moment is the sale of smart televisions.  Now people can treat their televisions like their mobile devices.  This has been huge for Netflix.  Google has also gotten into this bandwagon by making it possible for devices running the Lollipop operating system to show programs on the screen so now the difference between a television and mobile device is a question of size.

Agile Grows 

When I was first exposed to Agile, I was greeted with a lot of skepticism and contempt for many of my employers.  Today, I am part of a movement where I am making a difference in organizations showing them how to make better software faster.  What a difference a few years makes.

What I am seeing is that Agile is facing some serious problems in the business community which are not engineering problems but are organizational and behavioral.  This means project managers such as myself are going to have to continue to rise in organizations and in order to help them realize that uncertainty and agility are not threats but rather chances to succeed.  It is not going to be easy considering that many executives have no idea how the operations of their business work.

So those are my predictions for 2015.  I am able to survive another year thanks to some consulting business and people paying invoices so I look forward to another year of sharing my experiences of growing my business.

Until next time.