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Flat Out Tired

Tire_Pressure_AmberAfter a long weekend with my daughter at a soccer tournament in Minnesota (she was the one playing, in case there is any confusion on the matter), I was ready to have a relatively easy week of catching up. So you can imagine my irritation when I noticed my tire indicator light was on yesterday on my car dashboard. Not wanting to drive around on a potentially flat tire, I called the dealership immediately to get my car in. The receptionist (who normally just schedules me without question), asked me "Well, have you checked the spare?"

"The spare?"

"Yes, the indicator light can also go on if the spare is flat; there's a sensor in your spare."

After checking the spare, I determined the pressure was indeed low and filled the tire. But to no avail as the light was still on. So, I called again, and they told me to come right into the dealership. My favorite service advisor noticed me and came right over to see what the trouble was. I told him, and he asked me if the indicator button under the glove compartment had been pushed?"

"The huh-what?" (I can sound really intelligent... unless I'm talking about cars or sports.)

He reached under my glove compartment and showed me there was a small button, that when depressed, would make the tire indicator light come on.

Chart001Here's where my imagination kicked in, and I envisioned two design engineers having a discussion.

"Hey, Bob..." (Engineers never have exciting names in my imagination)

"Yeah, Gary?" (See what I mean?)

"Why don't we put a button under the glove compartment that nobody can see, but that can be easily bumped by somebody's knee?"

"What would it do?"

"I dunno... maybe make it trigger the tire indicator light...."

"For no reason at all?"

"We need a reason?"

"I like how you think, Gary!"

Small_dataAnd so it happened. Okay, maybe not quite like that, but somewhere along the way, someone approved an irrelevant button on my car that cost me time and energy this week.

I started thinking about the old Standish Group statistic that I share with my students about how frequently features and functions are actually used. Depending on which of their research studies you cite, it can range from half to almost 2/3 of features and functions designed are rarely, if ever, used. Just look at our tire indicator light. Triggered by the spare... REALLY? Triggered by a button pushed by a rogue knee under the glove compartment... What the Fan-Belt were they thinking?

What is the biggest combatant of this? Well, as I discussed last week, empathy for the end user goes a long way to preventing unnecessary features and functions. Spend time with them. Live with them. Talk to them. Engage them. Observe them. And learn from them.

Which brings me to another book recommendation from recent reading: Small Data by Martin Lindstrom. It's a refreshing, engaging, and entertaining indictment of big data, which sometimes removes the human element from our decisions about features and functions. Certainly worth a read.

Bottom Line: Don't add any unnecessary indicators to your solution's dashboard. Your end users will thank you.

This Blows

Creative_Confidence_BookI've been getting back into a reading kick of late... lots of great books released in the past 3-4 years, and I'm just now getting around to my long-ignored stack. One of the first up has been Creative Confidence by Tom and David Kelley, which is a Stanford/Ideo love-fest with a lot of great ideas around design thinking. One of the big themes I've seen emerge over and over again (which is nothing new from my other reading, but still great to see reinforced) is empathy for the end user. 

I bring this up for good reason. If you've been reading this blog since the beginning, you'll remember I suffer from sleep apnea. Last summer, I had grown tired (pun intended) of sub-par performance of my then-current CPAP machine, so my doctor arranged another sleep study (I hadn't had one since my original study eleven years prior). For those not familiar with how this works, one of the potential treatments for apnea is a machine that blows pressurized air into the nose and/or mouth to keep the passages clear and allow the patient to breathe (we humans love this breathing thing... it sort of keeps us alive). The sleep study revealed that I needed almost double the pressure I was getting previously, and so a new machine was authorized by the insurance company. (In an ironic twist of fate on this pre-existing condition, my neurologist's name was Dr. Trump... but I digress.)

Resmed_airsense_10Now at this point, I was VERY excited for a new machine and the potential for better sleep... until the first couple of nights of use. One feature of most CPAP, BiPAP, and AutoPAP machines is a humidifier tank to keep the air moist. It seems that sending pressurized air into a person MIGHT dry them out. Well guess what, with the increased pressure, I drained the tank pretty quickly. Hence, the past year has been a long case study of "how can we keep Tim asleep without the machine drying him out?" Being a systems thinker, I've played with EVERY possible variable setting on my machine to no avail; after about 4-5 hours, I'm awakened with a painful dry mouth. In talking to professionals at the doctor's office, the medical equipment supply place, and the sleep lab, it sounds like I'm stuck (How many times I've heard, "You're not the first person to complain about this, but there's really nothing we can do"). ResMed has created the "New Coke" of AutoPAP machines: it works according to specifications but it does not make the end user happy. The humidifier tank is just too small.

Here's where my earlier reading comes into play. I wonder if anybody at ResMed actually tested their machine to prototype the boundaries of the humidifier. Did they attempt to achieve empathy with the end user, or did they just expect us to buy stock in Biotene products (which, for me, work as well as the AutoPAP's humidifier)? To my curious mind, I wonder if ResMed's competitors (Philips, HDM, Fisher-Paykel, deVilbiss, and the like) are also experiencing this pitfall in customer satisfaction? Unfortunately, brand shopping isn't an option in the world of insurance-driven treatments (unless one has a few grand to slap down on multiple CPAPs and AutoPAPs).

My point is simple: what are you doing to anticipate opportunities to delight the customer and accomplish a new plateau in the relationship? Are you designing to simply work or to delight? Are you listening only to your customers' praise, or are you paying attention to their complaints as well?

As for me and my ongoing battle with sleep apnea? Maybe the Stanford d.school students can tackle this issue. 

Volvo is on FYRE

"So whatever happened with your Volvo incident from a few years ago?"

The question from an acquaintance who followed my blog struck me as rather out-of-the-blue, so I responded with the prolific and insightful response, "Huh?"

"The engine trouble you had on vacation. Did you ever get reimbursed for the rental and the auto parts? Did they ever follow up with the dealer?"

The incident in question was documented on my blog in the summer of 2013, but I never did blog about the follow-through (or lack thereof). The truth is Volvo did reach out to me and my wife via phone call right after the blog post was published. When I explained what had happened, they promised me they would reimburse me for the $180-190 in unexpected expenses and follow up with the dealer about what had occurred. Even though I sent them the receipts, I never received a check. And in talking with the Volvo service manager a few weeks later, he had never received a call from them. I had written the whole ordeal off as a learning experience, and we are now a Volvo-free family.

I was actually thinking about the Volvo incident again this past week as I watched the news unfold about the disastrous Fyre Festival, the music event in the Bahamas targeting money-plagued millennials. Seems Billy McFarland could use some classes in project management, especially those in setting and communicating expectations. My guess is that his clientele have as much chance of getting their money back from McFarland as I have of getting my reimbursement from Volvo.

Follow-through is such a simple concept, yet one that is so hard for professionals these days. As a project manager, I live or die on that hill with every email sent and every meeting held. For me, it's ALL about follow-through. And I've learned to practice the Tom Peters/Disney mantra of "under promise, over deliver." Some other things that have helped me over the years with my own follow-through:

  1. Be very clear about what "done" looks like. I had the pleasure of hearing magician Andrew Bennett speak a few years ago, and he shared that the word "Abracadabra" is Aramaic for "What I speak is what I create." If you're going to create magic for your clients, you'd better be prepared to create what you speak. Set parameters around the deliverable, but be clear about what they will get (and not get). 
  2. Be very clear about dates and times. "I'll get to this as soon as possible" is fraught with danger. "You will have the first draft in your in-box by 5 PM CDT on Friday, May 5, 2017" leaves very little ambiguity.
  3. Document any assumptions. One of my early mentors used to drill into my head that "assumptions not documented now become excuses later." If there are things out of your control, then say so as well as what the impact of those things are, should they go south quickly.
  4. Don't be afraid of a well-timed "NO!" In my interactions with students and clients alike, I impress on them that "Why" and "No" are the best friends of their vocabulary. In the case of the Fyre Festival, it sounds like there was way too much "yes" that could never ever be delivered.
  5. Acknowledge and apologize when you can't deliver as promised, and reset expectations about what can be delivered and when. When it's your credibility on the line, this one simple act can be huge.

In Semi-Total Somewhat Moderate Disagreement

A series of recent events on my own Facebook experience has forced me out of blogospheric semi-retirement. I want to talk about how social media etiquette, specifically in this day and age of political and ideological posturing.

First and foremost, when you are on somebody else's wall, act as you would if you were on their front lawn or in their living room. Your Facebook page/wall is yours; their Facebook wall is theirs. Period. Do not pick fights or misbehave on another person's wall. There are, however, ways to express your views on another's wall. To do so, we need to differentiate between agreement/disagreement and respect/disrespect. These are not the same, and they should be treated as two different axes on the graph:

Agree_Respect

You'll notice by the tone of each statement or question on this graph, you're showing how you feel about the person's ideas as well as the person.

Another thing to consider is the audience on their wall. When you engage a person on their wall, all of their friends can see it. While that person may agree with you, their friends may not, so you need to be aware of a much broader audience. I recently had to unfriend and block a person from my Facebook wall (I'd like to think of him as a friend due to our shared history, but after seeing his true colors, I realized quickly that he was not the type of person I wanted to subject my other friends to, let alone myself) because he attacked one of my other friends over a rather trivial topic (not even related to politics) that I'd posted on my wall. What he didn't realize is how many people saw that, and what that did to his overall brand and reputation. I deleted his thread just to save him from himself.

Also, consider your assumptions BEFORE you comment. We all have personal filters that cloud how we see things. Do an assumption check on YOURSELF to see if you have your perceptions in the right place. This can best be done through messenger out of the public eye.

Finally, just play nice. Here are some basic rules of engagement. You don't have to compromise your own core beliefs to recognize that somebody may have different from your own.

You Can't Outmaneuver Heimlich

9a979fc9f1ebf37a3bac2c4d3d27b8d8In church last week, my pastor shared the story of Henry Heimlich, now 96, who for the first time ever in an emergency situation, last week had to use on a fellow nursing home resident the very maneuver he invented. He had demonstrated the technique thousands of times throughout his life, but in his twilight years, he was able to put it to the use for which it was intended. He was no longer just a teacher; he was a practitioner. 

This story made me think of a lot of people I've met on the speaker circuit over the years. They talk a good game about project management, leadership, social media, or other business principles, but it's been years since they were in the trenches doing this kind of work. All they do now is go around and talk about it. I wonder if some of them would ever survive in a real corporation having to do the actual work they talk about.

Some people have asked me why I haven't moved into full-time teaching or speaking. I guess there are still things for me to learn about the craft of accomplishment. I always want to be the speaker/teacher who has the best stories because I've continually lived out my passion. I still sit in cubicles. I still make project plans. I still attend meetings. I still deal with difficult people. I still review requirements. I still have to ask the tough questions.

What about you? What's YOUR "maneuver"? Are you using it every day and actually accomplishing tasks around your passion, or are you simply talking about it?

Fast Pass Plus

Open-uri20150422-12561-1l7bijo_995042b1Last month, my family took a spring break trip to Orlando. We wanted to capture the Disney magic one more time before our kids were out of the house and off living lives of their own. With a high school sophomore in the house, that day is coming faster than we thought. I've always had a Love-Hate relationship with Disney. One of my favorite jokes is that EPCOT really stands for "Every Pocket Cleaned Out Thoroughly." To be fair, Disney is a money-making machine. Their mission statement (2013) says "The Walt Disney Company's objective is to be one of the world's leading producers and providers of entertainment and information, using its portfolio of brands to differentiate its content, services and consumer products." No where in there does it promise people will have a good time, or that its customers will enjoy what they consume. They just say they'll produce it.

Our experience this time at Disney was different primarily because of one thing. We've stayed on Disney property before, so that wasn't it. We enjoyed the transportation included in our package, so that wasn't it either. We purchased a park-hopper so we could move around if we wished, and that still worked equally well. So what was different? The Fast Pass. For those not indoctrinated to the Disney experience, the Fast Pass was this amazing trick to avoid long lines. It used to work that you got a Fast Pass to a popular ride when you got into the park. After a certain period of time (generally once you had used your previous Fast Pass), you could get another and another, and another throughout the entire day. A savvy customer could actually plan out their day pretty well and get to ride a lot with this technique. Great idea, right? So let's make it even better with the (drum roll, please) FAST PASS PLUS.

The Fast Pass Plus allows guests to schedule their Fast Passes several weeks in advance. However, once the rides are filled up, they're filled up, and no more Fast Passes are issued. Also, Disney advertises that you can get more Fast Passes when you get to the park. The part they don't tell you is that you can't reserve any more until you've used all the pre-scheduled Fast Passes. It seems everything about Disney - rides, food, activities - has become increasingly over-scheduled. And to be honest, a bit chaotic and stressful (especially if you're a project manager looking to get a vacation from scheduling tasks weeks in advance). At least with the old way, everybody walking into the part started on equal footing at the start of the day.

Believe it or not, this post isn't a dog-pile on Disney. My family still had an enjoyable enough time. We ended up waiting in line a bit more than we would have liked, but we bonded and more or less got to do the things we wanted.  The Disney app is a great tool to tell you wait times on lines, and we leveraged it quite a bit. The purpose of this post is to talk about efficiency vs. effectiveness. As Peter Drucker described it, "Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things." One could argue Disney is both efficient and effective. When you look at doing things right (i.e., using the fewest resources to produce a result), Disney is a master of efficiency. They pack people into their parks and keep them moving and going and riding and eating and watching and buying from park's open to close. And to Disney's credit, they are much more efficient than Universal (we also spent a day doing the Harry Potter thing). The effectiveness part is where I question Disney. Certainly they are meeting their mission, but how happy are the consumers with their experience? Really happy? How many moms and dads and grandparents left their Disney vacation thinking, "Wow, I can't wait to come back!" vs "Wow, I can't wait to get out of here!"? (Based on the number of child meltdowns observed, I'm guessing more of the latter. When my teenager pulled me aside to thank me for great parenting that prevented her from acting like THAT, I knew it was getting it her as well.) Ironically, some of the longest and crankiest lines were those at the very few Fast Pass kiosks around the park, as customers frustratedly tried to make changes.

Will Disney change? Doubtful. Tale as old as time, there will always be parents willing to fork out major dinero to create some magical experiences for their children. But what about your business? In the pursuit of efficiency, what effectiveness are you sacrificing? Have you become the Fast Pass Plus of getting customers through as quickly as possible, only to have those customers have no desire to return? Are you meeting all your project milestones, but churning your project team in the process and making them never want to work with you?

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