Archive for April, 2010

Don’t Define Specs During Brainstorming


The table next to me at the cafe sits 2 developers planning to develop a software for a restaurant POS system. They are currently designing specification by think of what store would need & what user would do.

This is definitely not the first time I have overheard someone defining specification like that … Heck, I have done similar meeting with a friend of mine to figure out some kind of application. While overhearing, I was thinking … where is the user? Why assume when you can ask?

With specification decided the developer without the user:

• The user might already have a efficient/easy solution. (non-issue for the user)
• End-user will not use it, if your systems is not much more easier to learn & use …
• Solving the wrong problem, it creates more work & new problems for users to fix
• Unsatisfied customer, since the system doesn’t do what they need
• …
Remember the users have to deal with it at the end, so go ask the user/client

As a recovering-developer, I know the seductiveness of look for solution first. If you don’t have a defined list of the problem, you are going cause a different set of problems that the customer has to deal with at the end.

By defining the specification first, you are:

• Making uninformed decisions that causes the end users numerous problems
• Unnecessarily limiting possible functionality & design
• Making bad assumption about the resources & users
• Mistaken with what the real problem the customers are having

The point is: By setting specs first, you are making decisions/requirements for the client/user.


Sorry for going on the soapbox, maybe because I spent a year planning with a friend for a web business that didn’t go anywhere. Also I seen too many failing startup site that seems to design by imagining the user rather than asking user’s feedback.

Honestly, I don’t know the detail & I wish them success.

Project Management as a Soft Skill?

From my last post on IT Soft Skills, someone asked:
 Why list project management as part of soft skills?

Like all soft skills, project management can’t just be learnt on an manual. It must be nurtured through experience to gain the skill sets.

The goal of project management is to balance between scope, time & cost.
In layman’s terms, project management is to complete a specified result on the time you set before the money runs out.

To do this, an project manager will need to:

• Communicate effectively
• Organize & coordinate activities
• Track & the progress of the plan & financials
• Negotiate with other about resource
• Analyze & manage risk
• Prioritization
• Lead & manage the team

Most of these would be classified as communication, interpersonal or leadership skills … all of which are classic soft skills.

Essentially a project manager needs a good set of soft skills for accomplish a successful project. That’s why even though the project manager don’t physically work on the project, they play a critical role in projects (Especially in IT).

It a good reminder that project management derived from a set of soft skill and the importance of gainings such skill.

Soft Skills to Help Information Technology Field

Even though IT is more technical than most departments, we still need to work well with others. There are a lot of soft skills required to be the best person for the job. Here are some that I found useful:


Educating/Guiding:
When meeting with business/users, IT many times need to tell how things work … you are more less educating the user

Learning/Adapting:
There is always something new added into the system that you don’t of; you will need to learn & adapt the changes & then code along with it.

Drawing Diagrams:
Drawing how data flows is much easier than saying if … then … except … else …

Separating Problems & Solutions:
Knowing the difference between the issue/problem your internal customer or clients
    – Problems lead to Requirement
    – Solutions lead to Specifications
If the user is providing the how the tables should manipulated … you’ve got a problem. (Pun)

Project Management:
A lot works in IT are project-esque, including adding a functionality, modifying reports(2 day project). IT can show business/management that plans & processes in place.

Task/Time Estimating:
Time estimation shouldn’t just be pure coding/configuring … remember you take time to check e-mail, bugs that comes out, look-up functions/data structure, SQLing, question that you are waiting for confirmation …. All of this is the time you need to complete the task. It might take 2 hours to do the code only if we exclude …, but that’s still time used that delays your work.

Patience:
Patience is need when explaining a few times … others need time to understand, because they are not the expert, you are.

Follow-up:
Tons of work rely on other tasks, you will need to follow-up; because something with higher priority always comes-up … if you just wait, you might be waiting forever.


These few items are just the tip of the iceberg, soft skills is way more than just talking & organizing; a lot of it is being considerate to the people in front of you.

What are some other non-technical skills needed to be better in IT?

Content Strategy FTW: New Focus – Soft Skills & IT

The “Content Strategy FTW” session really got me to really look at what’s missing for my blog. In essence, I want to show the the good, the bad & the ugly soft skills can impact IT & how to learn from it.

New Mission:
    “Soft Side of IT: Bettering Soft Skills in Information Technology

Honestly I’m not changing my content, instead by looking at the what, with what,
by whom, to whom, what next; I now know that what’s the intention for this blog.

I’m really looking forward to this focus & I hope you will too!



“Content is King”, Right?
How much time do you spend on it?
Is it just all about selling?

Content Strategy is important, Shouldn’t this be obvious for any website? why is it still bad? That’s what Kristina Halvorson spoke about at the Content Strategy FTW session.

Content Strategy, so what?

Who owns the Content?: Marketing? Corporate Communication? IT? Sales? … Who?
– Projects are focusing on wireframes & functionalities … content can be filled in later by a fresh-grad copywriter in a week. There is a huge gap in the industry where Content is an After-Thought … currently, it just web content is a mess.
Problem: Copywriting != Content strategy
– Content is not just about the What … but it’s also about the
What, Why, How, When, Where, Whom, By whom, how often, What next.
– Content-side needs to be involved from the start (at least, much early than now)
Example of Focusing manage content:

HRBlock.com: (Sell, Sell, SELL – Session used former Quicktax.com)
– Just list prices & just pushing to sell, sell, sell? (Obviously done by sales)
– The content would then link to a list of prices & packages … It’s just a digital salesman … that’s not really content that help
Mint.com: (How can we help)
– Shows readers why are they there? Showing rather than listing benefits?
– Audience matters
Developing content strategically:

Audit: Figure out what your corporate site/personal blog/tweets are about & know why people are looking at it
Ask: What, Why, How, For whom, By whom, With what, When, Where, How often & What next
Analyze: Review values & quality of content & how your audience absorb content?
Align: The strategy & process in content creation … create, deliver, govern (repeat…)
Assume Responsibility: As you put content online, you are publisher … so take care of your content

Content is why they are coming to the site, not because you design is cool …


I will add a link to the podcast when the session is added on SXSW.com
In the meantime, here is the ustream session from the audience:
http://predicate-llc.com/link-blog/video/content-strategy-ftw-webcast/

Here is an 40 minute interview (Start 13 minutes in) by Kristina Halvorson
http://www.creativexpert.com/podcast/kristina-halvorson-43-content-strategy.html

Oh yeah, if you want more details …. she has a book called “Content Strategy for the Web


NOTE: I still have lots of learnings from SXSW, so I will continue to bring some of those notes on to the blog (if applicable)