A Process and a Plan

raja-gopuram
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What does it mean to have a process and sticking to it? A repeatable business process or a process that works for what you are working on is like finding gold. I have been talking with startups that want to automate the hardware product development process. The scenarios run the gambit from automating the idea submission process, to just automating the PCB/PCBa, and then there is the ones that try to automate the process from idea to production.

The sentiment is very clear, people want to get rid of the human element or at least lessen the human effects. Such as; some people are hard to deal with or they don’t understand me or the best one yet – you don’t understand my business. All of these shouts in the crowd makes us seem antisocial. I believe that it is a collaboration between willing parties that produce the best work. The machines do not have the capabilities to act totally autonomously (for now) and with creativity. So when it comes to hardware product development you need both. There are just too many variables to automate.

The process approach works. It works like a well oiled machine and best yet it can be adjusted with feedback. Take this example I ran into all the time. The misunderstanding game. You schedule a meeting, but at the last minute the meeting changes from an in-person meeting to a conference call. Not a video call. Once the call starts you can hear on the other end the person click with the mouse and the keyboard. What are they doing over there? They are distracted. The call covers the topics discussed, but the key elements of the call. I will call this the understandings fall to the waist side. What has happened? Unknowingly without you paying attention the parties on the call don’t get it and the call was a waste of time. How often does this happen? Well in my time more times than none. So what I do is make sure you can see the person, at least at first. And this can be done easily now with the Google Hangouts or Skype. The face-time is essential for building trust and the relationship. After the sense of trust is there then the non-face-time tools will work much better and the understandings will not fall to the waist side. A personable approach just works.

Why is this part of the process and not assumed to be operational? That is because too many people are rush rush rush and too busy to know how to make a relationship. The relationship building is essential to the process. Once a sense of trust is there, even a little bit the rest will be simpler. Mistakes will not be the blame game, but a game of how do we fix it and come up with a creative way to solve the problem. Interwoven in the process is trust.

How could you then automate this in a computer? People have thought of various was to build trust or cred online. There is klout, linkedin, etc. However, we know that social media can be faked and the posts can be BS. Nothing new there. Before all of this people would BS on their resume and the only way to find out was to be a good interviewer or try the candidate out. Been there done that. Could you automate this? What would be a software solution for trust building? There is the recomendation engine solutions, but what happens if you are new to the site and you have none listed and you have many years with experience. What would be the online solution for trust?

Let’s experiment with a particular scenario – I am a hardware startup, I have a great idea, and I want to get my product idea to market. I have a limited number of skills. So let’s say that you are not very technical (You don’t know manufacturing) and you have made a software startup before. What is the process to use? Every step of the way you can get people to help. The things to watch out for is money, time and quality. Do you have the money to pay people, can you get people to help you for free or can you learn what you need to know yourself? How fast do you need to get this product out? If you say I need to sell this within a few weeks, you are crazy – That will never happen. The best thing to do is to research other products that are similar as yours. Research the business portions of your product idea for viability. That is right – Is it a viable product? There are methodologies out there to help you such as Lean Startup. Viability also means that you need to dive in and see who out there is doing what you want to do, what markets they and you want to be in and get a sense of the cost. The cost is not in the details yet but is important to know what the market would pay for your product.

Feasibility is the next step. Can this product idea be built? I have heard some crazy comments about this. Oh yes, everything can be done. However most people read that up to that point and then don’t read about the cost and time elements. Sure you can develop a new method of communication (for example), but what about the technology and what about the market acceptance? Is it too soon? Does the technology need more time to cook? By cook, I mean does it need more research and development. Did you pick a technology that no one is using or the only ones using it are the big players? For you to enter you need to be a big player. Startups that have reached this step tend to look at the future technologies and don’t put into account this. An example of this is that you want to use a screen technology that would make your product look gorgeous. You find a technology that is great, but very few people are using it and the players are big companies. What do you do here? You start out and create a version 1 of your product. The product does not use the new technology, but you can get a product out there that can be used and feedback gained. Or you can wait till the technology matures. If you are a large company with limited access to the technology then you can wait. You have the time and the money. For a startup, you need to get something out there so you can tell if the product is the right one for that market. It is best to know now before you spend a lot of time and money on the product. Look at it another way. You need to gauge the market and get data so you can understand the acceptance. Through the lifecycle of the product, you will have other versions of the product. This should not be your first and only one – how will you have a business with repeatable rents? So come up with version one. Call it the MVP or call it the beta product. Get the data and repeat.

Hardware product development takes time. You can tell from the latest crowdfunding campaigns that people have underestimated the duration and skills needed to deliver. Get someone that has done this before and ask their advice. Find out how similar products were made. What were their hiccups – Then put together your plan. Having a process and a plan will make you successful.

In future blog post, I will get more specific about how all this works. I have thought about creating a multipart post, but I have not thought that far yet. I need to get my writing process together and then create a plan.

Photo credit: Prabhu B Doss / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

AnthroTech, Anthropology in Technology March 2014 Event About User Experience Research & Design

Museum of Anthropology, Vancouver
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I went to the AnthroTech: Anthropology in Technology last night at the NYU Washington Square Campus. It was my first time going to this meetup. I thought it would be interesting so I went. As a user and builder of technology products (and a human) I thought it would be interesting to see how people at this meetup use anthropological methodologies to study the use of products. It is clear that studying humans is necessary for product development. How else are we find out how people use software or hardware products? Anthropology looks like it would mesh well with the other techniques we use today to do this. At this meeting the topic was “User Experience Research & Design”. The organizers took a great approach by including two aspects of UI/UX in two presentations. The talk was first about UI/UX in the context of software and then hardware. The hardware presentation was the one that I wanted to see. That is what I am doing now. Hardware product development.

Adam Nyhan one of the organizers of the AnthroTech Meetup

Adam Nyhan one of the organizers of the AnthroTech Meetup

The introductions of the presenters was done by Adam Nyhan one of the organizers of the event. He mentioned there would be wine after…I love wine. On with the show…

Jenifer Vandagriff Director of User Experience at F#

Jenifer Vandagriff Director of User Experience at F#

The first up was Jenifer Vandagriff Director of User Experience at F#. F# is a company that specializes in online advertising for music. They merge music, technology and advertising to help brands reach consumers. It is a great idea to combine the love of music and products. I have some friends that tell me they have their own theme songs. Jenifer walked us through their method. It is difficult for them to iterate on product when the ads (their product) have a short life span. I like the way they use measurement. The data feeds into their product development process. It provides them a way to react fast to the reactions people have to their adds. From what I see they use tools like Google Analytics, Facebook Stats and their own home-made tools. The process they use is pretty much standard for any software development shop today. I did not see much new here that I have not seen before.

Jessica Bates is Consumer Insights Analyst at Sony Electronics

Jessica Bates is Consumer Insights Analyst at Sony Electronics

The second and last presenter was Jessica Bates Consumer Insights Analyst at Sony Electronics. Before working at Sony she was a former Lecturer in Anthropology at San Diego State University. I was hoping to hear some insights into Anthropology and the product development process. Does it help or does it hurt the process? From her presentation it was clear that she was looking from the outside into the organization. I have been there before, as a consultant, many many times before. It has more pluses than minuses. The plus is that since you are looking from the outside in you see what people don’t see. Very valuable. The downside is that people may not know why you are there and you have to constantly remind people who you and what you do. Her presentation went through the product development life cycle in Sony. Most of which you can check out in the pictures below. Much to say that there were many avenues the processes could go through depending on management approval, budget and whatnot.  Sony is definitely not as agile as a startup and they do move slowly. I wonder is that an excuse anymore with all the information out there on how not to be slow and how to use innovation techniques to create new products and services. I remember Sony very lovingly from when I was a teenager use my water proof yellow Walkman (remember those?).  It is sad to me that it seems that they have fallen behind and are playing it safe. I am glad she walked us through the different ways they go through the process. It showed very clearly what gets in their way.

After the presentation I talked with her about the methodologies we teach in the NYU School of Engineering Management of Technology and Innovation. One of the techniques we teach is Outcome-Driven Innovation. (I should  do a word count on how many times I have used the word innovation. Ugh I bet it is way too many.) Outcome-Driven Innovation developed by Tony Ulwick and it studies the jobs-to-be-done. The method works and gives quantitative data that management can understand and use to make decisions about the value of developing a product (or adding/updating features to a product).

Check it out. I have more pictures of the event below. Enjoy.

Feature Image Photo credit: EarthOwned / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA The rest of the photos I took.

The 2014 Disney Accelerator Info Session in New York Powered By Techstars @ WeWork Soho West

Disney Accelerator Info Session - New York Techstars WeWork
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Yesterday I attended the info session for the new Disney Accelerator powered by Techstars. The place was packed with people interested in the accelerator program. From what I hear the Techstars programs are very intense. A very good intense. The knowledge you get and the people (mentors) you meet in the program meets the gold standard.

David Min, Vice President of Strategic Business Innovation at Disney, and Cody Simms, Managing Director at Techstars presented. They talked about the program. They presented the program well and answered everyone’s questions. I will not give details of the program because you can read that in their website.

To the folks that apply to the accelerator I wish you much luck.

Check it out. I have more pictures of the event below. Enjoy.

Can The Old School & New School Get Along And Work Together

Old School New School
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Recently I saw a great article in the New York Times Online titled “Silicon Valley’s Youth Problem”. It got me thinking about the age groups in my surroundings. I am heavily involved in the hardware startup scene in New York and when I look around I see mostly people in their twenties. Maybe thirties. I have become the old one in the bunch. I was the young one not that long ago. I remember those days in the 90’s and early 2000’s. So tech is cool now. I remember those uncool days.

I can see how the guard has changed. Older people have worked in corporate life 20-30 years doing mostly the same thing or moving up in the same organization. It has become hard for them to see the value in the new and latest app. Sounds like being stuck. The young look upon those years at the some company as stagnation. The same old same old.

Then there is the hip factor or coolness factor. Companies that use were consider cool are no longer. Take Microsoft, when I talk to people Microsoft is not the first place to work on their list, if at all. The young have not grown up with workplace security. Do you older people remember when you could be working at one company for a long time and expect to retire from that company? Well that has changed, a while ago. So now the young graduates don’t have that security so they try to find something for now. It is like the job market has appealed to people with ADD. So looking for something sexy fits in well.

The easiest explanations are mismatched skill sets or cultural friction. Older engineers are not smart in the way that start-ups want them to be — or, if they are, they have reservations about the start-up lifestyle. Both these reasons are symptomatic of how far apart the two sides have drifted. If there are whole swaths of engineering talent whose skills or styles cannot be integrated into a company, then maybe that operation has been limiting itself.

The article makes a good point in that some older engineers are stuck knowing what they know and not able to move into other areas of knowledge. Where is the flexibility? Or is it the way of tolerating the openness when placed in a challenging situation. I think the stuckidness( I made that up) comes from, as you get older, having more things and people to take care of. A house, children and maybe a car. With payments for each thing. When you are young those things will happen later. According to  PewResearch only 26 percent of 18-to-33-year-olds are married. While, 36 percent of Generation X, 48 percent of Baby Boomers and 65 percent of the members of the Silent Generation were married during that same age range.

At MakeSimply I am the oldest in the bunch. That has not stopped me thinking of creative ways of working and help out our customers.

Photo credit: andyi / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Apple iOS 7.1 Launches Major iBeacon Improvement | BEEKn

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After opening an iBeacon app we hard closed it: not just putting it into the background tray but swiping it closed entirely. The phone still detected beacons and sent a message through the lock screen, something which in the past was reserved for apps that were at minimum running in the background tray.

This is a great release. I own the Trackr product and it looses connection to the iPhone all the time. If this gives some needed improvement in use I am a happy customer. I like the product a lot. When it works it really does work. BlueTooth LE is still flakey.

iBeacons is a interesting technology that would give us in doors location services, plus context awareness. These things will be used to send relevant information to us.

via Apple iOS 7.1 Launches Major iBeacon Improvement | BEEKn.

Look ma no optics. Bending light with a tiny chip | Solid State Technology

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Imagine that you are in a meeting with coworkers or at a gathering of friends. You pull out your cell phone to show a presentation or a video on YouTube. But you don’t use the tiny screen; your phone projects a bright, clear image onto a wall or a big screen. Such a technology may be on its way, thanks to a new light-bending silicon chip developed by researchers at Caltech.

Look ma no optics. This technology looks very promising. Thin devices could project images without lenses making our Scifi dreams come true.

via Bending light with a tiny chip | Solid State Technology.