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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.

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