Blog Post: Connected Cars Could Save Lives

Great release about an MIT study on how WiFi-connected cars could not only save lives, but ease traffic in future car models. The better this technology gets, the more excited I get.

Imagine the possibilities because your vehicle could sense something was going to happen around it?

This satisfies drivers that still want control. It reduces the financial burden on insurance companies. It certainly takes driving as one of the leading killers.

Change like this will be hard, but I think car manufacturers will embrace this. Doesn’t impact the oil industry like electric cars, and everyone wants safer cars.

Being connected helps propel innovation forward. The Internet of Things coming to automobiles will do just that.

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Blog Post: More RWD Stats Mean More Questions

This is a fantastic read by a company that decided to take a responsive redesign project and throw some tracking numbers with it (more companies should be doing this by the way). The results were an e-commerce site made significant gains in conversions and sales transactions after converting the site to a mobile-friendly design.

Seems like a case to be made for all sites to make this change, right? How can you argue when the return on investment is so high?

The simple answer is: maybe.

Electric Pulp’s customer for sure made a significant return on their decision to become more mobile friendly. According to this blog post, there was a relatively small amount of work done:

“The [mobile updates] were typical mobile patterns. We made the site fluid. We collapsed the primary navigation menu, allowing visitors to expand it by tapping a Menu link. We increased the size of the font, the tap areas and detail photos. We reduced the number of columns.”

That’s not to say the changes were significant. Making the site more fluid is some serious UX work. The rest of the items were not too bad by themselves. Regardless, even if the effort is considered minuscule compared to all the work possible, this probably took a few months by the team.

Which brings me to the results. Testing the site after adding responsive elements brought increases to not only mobile usage, but desktop as well. It could mean people enjoyed the mobile UI so much they wanted to check it out on their desktop machines. It could also mean, however, that the numbers would have gone up regardless. The writer admits it’s hard to tell for sure.

Re-branding efforts by consulting companies are big business, regardless of the media and industry. Sometimes, a fresh coat of paint and new landscaping is all you needed to help your house. One could argue that these numbers were the result of that. 

Improving the user’s experience could also be a contributing factor. I know I tend to buy from companies that make shopping easier. One look at Amazon’s mobile site is support that a well designed site is better than a beautifully designed site. Oh, great prices help too.

Changing how conversion information is collected helps, and better navigation for sure helps. Bigger pictures and faster checkout are part of the picture too.

I think that’s why I have more questions than answers from this post. Being a huge fan of the responsive site movement, I want nothing more than these stats to be the real deal. Unfortunately  I have to make this argument internally and externally every day. These questions are the same I field.

While it is almost impossible to compare apples to apples for every aspect of this redesign, I think we must continue to try in every way or we won’t quantify a new industry standard of web design.

Blog Post: More RWD Stats Mean More Questions

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Blog Post: We Are All #UX Designers

Whether that headline refers to your chosen profession or not, there is something about what we do that is affected by your product’s user experience. Whether the product refers to your job, your hobby, even your family, the interactions others have means everything.

The beauty of this piece from Smashing Magazine detailing 13 tenets of UX is the theme that we can’t work in a vacuum. We must involve others in the process.

Sometimes that means gathering large amounts of data. With the advent of big data, it brought along with it many means of collecting it. At my company, we can measure every click, hover and eye movement on a website. People measure steps, calories and heart rate with their mobile device. Data is everywhere.

Other times we must involve people. Every user will not experience your product the same. You may not be able to incorporate every opinion into your design, but enough feedback can be gathered to help most of them.

While gathering all of that can seem like a large task, it is part of a strategic plan. It does require bravery and a bold vision to execute. If you view any interaction with your product as all part of the same plan, you think about design differently.

That does require attention to detail, but that should not be a deterrent. Great UX is iterated upon cycle after cycle. Take each detail on one at a time, and before you know it a full experience is mastered.

Blog Post: We Are All #UX Designers

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Blog Post: Lazy Users Are Actually Efficient

Having orchestrated many user testing exercises, I have lots of experience with user laziness. It is a term in the product world that refers to users skipping all of the precious copy and walk-throughs engineered with love. With such well-written copy and care given to every interaction users have with our products it’s understandable to get upset watching someone skip over all of that and just get to the meat of a design.

I can’t tell you how valuable that kind of information is.

Often, we get so concerned with designing a product “right” that we overlook the obvious. This blog post from UX consultant Harry Brignull perfectly illustrates just how unnecessary some product decisions are:

If you tell it to work out 200 factorial minus 200 factorial, it will do a lot of unnecessary computation, and perhaps produce an overflow error. The intelligent solution is a far more lazy one.

That means the many screens describing what your app does may be a waste of time to users. They can figure it out on their own. Instead of utilizing an account creation module with four or five screens, just add a Facebook login button. The data you get will be the same and users will be happy they didn’t waste a few minutes for an app they might not like in a few weeks.

Examples span every industry and product alike. Instead of seeing users as lazy, we must take the data they give us and streamline the experience of our products. When we have an efficient method of giving users what they want, they appreciate it and come back for more.

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Blog Post: All Feedback Is Important

Make no mistake, when you are a serial entrepreneur trying to find the next billion dollar idea to be purchased by a large corporation, there’s a lot of knowledge in this blog post from Brett Berson of First Round Capital. You must be the true essence of agile to take an idea and slowly craft it into seed money.

For the rest of us, please feel free to take this article with a grain of salt.

Granted, I do not spend extended periods of time trying to find the next big thing. I am committed to providing value to the customers of Dealertrack Interactive and deliver well written guidelines of that value to my development teams.

That means getting feedback.

Some of the feedback comes from Google. Other aspects are from the business end of our company, as well as customers. In the end, the best feedback comes from a combination of all three.

I do not mean to degrade the value of this work. While the next big thing could be on the tip of my tongue, I have made quite a career of taking the ideas and thoughts of others and crafting them into a reality. Good product managers can also find hidden gems within their field with research and lots of time interviewing every single stakeholder.

Cherish the feedback you have the opportunity to receive. While not every idea has the same value, it is all on the road we travel. Sometimes, it takes a little work to reach the end.

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Blog Post: Work Estimates Stink…Sometimes

I love reading articles that question old business processes and point out the fallacy that at one point in time were shoved down our throats as “the way things are.” This article by Michael Dubakov at Target Process is one of my favorite because it involves one of the most cherished tenets of software design: work estimates.

Make no mistake, you have at one point in your career wasted a ton of time trying to figure out how long work you needed to do was going to take.

This applies to a ton of industries, not just IT. My father, who is an electrical contractor, uses estimates to know how much to charge for his services. He needs to accurately know how much his time is worth so that he can appropriately charge for it on an hourly basis when he hands a bill to customers. 

Same for developers, although in many medium-to-large-sized companies it is difficult for a developer to know this information. In reality, the financial worth of his or her time may not be valid because there are sales and accounting reps for that. What they do need, is an effective way to take a sprint and cut it into chunks so that work can properly be slotted into it.

In a sense, that is what your time is worth.

Now, as a product owner, it is my job to push the development team just enough to reach for a little more work than they would originally assign themselves. That is the tough challenge of a PO or Scrum Master. We must know when to push and when to lay off. 

This is where points comes into play.

With the advent of Agile methodologies, “pointing” a story became the new way to measure the work a team would try to accomplish in a sprint. Over time, this measurement is averaged to calculate the team’s velocity. Just how is this point measurement reached?

Scrum experts such as Mike Cohn recommends taking a list of tasks and assign numbers of the Fibonacci sequence (1…2…3…5…8…13…20…and so on) to come up with your own version of the scale. That way, tasks or stories can be measured for future work. That begs the question of how you know if you are making an informed decision or not.

Is that even possible?

Too informed of a decision means that we are falling back into the waterfall method. Too little of information involved with that decision — what’s the point of having process to begin with?

Measurement must happen in some form, because there’s no way to inspect and adapt if you don’t. The trick to this scenario is deciding as a team (and department if your company has several scrum teams doing work) what is important to making informed decisions.

I’m fortunate enough to work at a company that requires just enough. There are times when the heads of product and project management require more paperwork for work from me, but that’s what I’m paid for. The team shouldn’t have to worry about it, they have great work to put out for our customers.

To be successful, I need software that works. The product line is vast and the requests from our clients are even bigger. We have to get work done effectively, which means spending just enough of our time estimating. Then we can funnel our attention to the tasks at hand, then transparently measure our performance internally and improve.

So work estimates stink, but only when you have to spend more time estimating than necessary. To generate 100% accurate estimates, work become less important than the process. Agile means to use just enough of a framework to be successful and then get out of our own way. 

Working software, over excessive documentation.

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Blog Post: Why iTunes Radio Might Rule Streaming Music Soon

Today’s link brings some very interesting points in regards to how valuable iTunes Radio might be when iOS7 hits devices this fall. The Guardian’s Charles Arthur argues that the rate Apple is going to pay could potentially make the service very attractive to record labels.

It’s no secret record labels love and hate the team in Cupertino because of how iTunes affected music sales, but the viability of free streaming music gets harder to make money off of every year. That’s where the cash Apple has on hand comes in handy:

What the other streaming services have discovered repeatedly is that it’s hard to make such a service profitable, because the music costs don’t fall as they grow – in web terms, it doesn’t “scale”. Thus Spotify has put a 10-hours-per-month ceiling on free listening, and Pandora blocks people outside the US from listening.

So, while labels have been publicly supporting Spotify for some time, it will be difficult for labels to not throw their good stuff to Apple when they pay 10 times more.

Add to it the easy integration with iTunes to purchase what you are buying, and this looks to be an easy win for iOS. It’s crazy to think that the announcement was merely a footnote in the WWDC keynote presentation.

Blog Post: Why iTunes Radio Might Rule Streaming Music Soon

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Blog Post: @ev Is Bringing #Holacracy Mainstream

Ev Williams has made quite a name for himself. Not just with the software products he has helped create, but also in the way he runs a company. This post on Medium describes one of the principles of a social technology called holacracy.

Simply put, holacracy is a system for running an organization based upon ideas such as empowering employees, limiting office politics and boosting meeting efficacy.

I really liked the concept in this article, which involves ending meetings with a “closing round” by all attendees. It can be used for summary, takeaways, confirmation, affirmation, etc. Even with 30 seconds of concise dialogue, a ton of information could be communicated to team members going forward.

“Great meeting today. It highlighted that I need to follow up with marketing on their projections for the new product hitting production next month. It will allow sales to start generating buzz with customers beforehand.”

Try this out in your next planning session or retrospective. It allow confidence to be built, remind others of roadblocks and issues, or tasks to be confirmed before starting them.

Blog Post: @ev Is Bringing #Holacracy Mainstream

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Blog Post: Now Is The Time To Buy #Mobile Ads

This report from Business Insider says it all. The share of US advertising dollars has mobile accounting for only 3%. I saw that number and nearly spit out coffee, but that’s not the only telling number.

Compare that to actual consumption of media, of which mobile has a 12% share, and there is quite a disparity.

What does that mean for your advertising dollars? Three words: buy, buy, buy.

Granted, the same people selling mobile ads can see the same report that you can, but old media mindsets are still prevalent. When there is plenty of space available for advertising, prices will be lower and the ROI will be higher. 

Every report I have seen shows this ratio of ad revenue to consumption will change. More media is being created for devices every day. In addition advertisers will put more and more of their dollars in the devices we use. That means you should get the best return for your marketing dollars while you can.

Blog Post: Now Is The Time To Buy #Mobile Ads

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Blog Post: Determining #Product Value

One of the most fulfilling aspects of my job is the exchange of ideas. There are practical exchanges with my team, colleagues and customers that impact the work we do on a daily basis. Then there are the theoretical exchanges that happen online with other product people that either enforce or correct current mindsets I have about being the best that I can.

I think it’s important for anyone, regardless of your profession (including stay-at-home parents), to have those kinds of conversations. You can improve performance, discover new developments, and be encouraged to stay the course.

All of those reasons are why I enjoyed this read from Ken Norton, who is a former product manager at Google.

Reading the post reminded me that value is determined in a number of ways. Being so close to our product, it is easy to be blinded by the glaringly obvious. The feature or fix you thought previously so important could actually be of little value to the end user.

“Our wish list approach also created false equivalence. There was a huge chasm between what #1 meant to us and what it meant to our users. For us, it was first amongst equals. To them it was a painful tumor overdue for removal.”

What chasm am I missing in my road map between two features? Do I have something ranked inappropriately?

Often, I am presented with “quick win” ideas by business. In the development team room, this notion is sometimes scoffed at because it can seem like we are placating to the customer instead of telling them what is really important. What I think Mr. Norton posits is that in reality, regardless of however “quick” the “win” is, the request holds real value to the customer.

Sure, the possibility exists that the customer is asking for unnecessary items. Opinions can always be shaped. The important thing to remember is to weigh all of the opinions and make the best decision with the data you have.

Only then can you posit that your product has the highest value to most of the users.

Blog Post: Determining #Product Value

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