Monday, April 14, 2008

Easy To Use

My parents Windows machine was on its last legs. I suggested that they get a Mac for their next machine "because it's easier", and I believed it. They purchased an iMac and I set it up for them. They were very impressed with the all-in-one design, and some initial "oooo ahhh" moments with the integrated camera, microphone, speakers and slot loading optical drive.

That was about it.

Then it came time for them to do what they were used to doing on the Windows machine. Even though it took fewer clicks and let them do things in a more seamless fashion, the Mac UI was not the same as the Windows UI and they were easily confused.

Being able to make changes and then just close a window instead of having to click "Apply" and then confirm that you did in fact want the changes was not seen as easier. It was seen as unsettling.

Being able to just pop in a CD and have it ripped by iTunes was seen as inferior to inserting a CD and then playing it with Microsoft Media Player.

The list went on.

I got them all set up for e-mail, browsing, pictures, music, etc. and have left them copious notes on how to do each task they want, and their home office looks much neater than it did previously with no more cord insanity, and the monitor is much nicer than their old one, but I am still nervous about them simply amusing me by taking up my suggestion.

My hope is that over time I have helped them with a good decision, but I thought it ironic that I did not take my own advice about being techgnostic about their technology setup. I am buying off my conscience by telling myself that the iMac will over the long run be much easier to use and less prone to viruses and such.

Hopefully I'm right.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


Process is kind of a loose word, where different people mean different things by it. When a process is broken, though, just stating that it is broken is useless. You have to describe WHAT about the process is broken, and why. Usually it is not very difficult to discover, but the piece that is broken is often there in order to make something easier for someone. It was not seen as a breakage, but just a short cut. Sometimes you can get away with one of these in a process, particularly when the process is long-running.

This is deceptive as people think "Well, that one little deviation did not hurt, one more won't hurt either." Soon the original deviation is one of many and the process breaks. Often there is a finger pointing exercise wherein everybody trots out their favorite theory of what went wrong, but the process remains broken. The deviations often have become the practice in the organization and people are invested in it.

Often an outsider is brought in to help "fix" the process.

Being an outsider, this person usually immediately sees where the problem is and tells everyone exactly what it is. Either the person is thanked and process is put back to a working state, or it is decided that the outsider does not "get it" and cannot understand the intricacies of how the organization works. Regardless of which result comes out of it, we can rest assured that the process will drift away from the ideal at some point. So, what can one do about it? Usually you have to have someone dedicated to a concept like "quality" where the process that is followed is periodically reviewed, and someone is held accountable for the worthiness of the process.

Many times this sort of function is seen as pure busywork of the worst kind, and a waste of effort. The time wasted every time the process breaks and profits or customers are lost more than make up for any investment in quality, but people will still make the short term decisions to save a few dollars.

In technology ventures, this whole "process" dance is even more vital as the processes are often automated and can occur thousands or millions of times before it becomes apparent that it is broken. Ironically, because of the fluid nature of software, process is given even shorter shrift than in real physical processes because you can often kludge something together to get to a short term goal. Inevitably you will pay for it later, with interest.

If you are involved in a technology project, regardless of vendor, platform, etc. be sure that you can describe your process for solving your problem in language that anybody could understand, and then be sure that you stick to it. I'm not saying never change the process, as they will evolve to meet changes, but if you cannot explain what you do, or how you accomplish your goals you are doomed to waste a lot of time and effort that could be used to help create more value from your technology investment.