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Archive for the ‘Information Systems’ Category

How a rest stop on the side of the road inspired a web page design

Introducing the YesAQars ago I was driving back to Chicago from Wisconsin. On the Illinois side there are a couple of rest stops over the tollway. It’s a great place to get some gas, grab some caffeine, and stretch your legs a little before the final 50 miles home.

The rest stop usually has a booth where you can buy a iPass so you don’t need to stop and pay tolls all the time. During the day there’s a person in the booth to help answer any questions you have.

It appears that a lot of the same questions are asked over and over. Enough, in fact, that the person who answers them is sick of giving the same answer. That answer is “Yes”.

So they jumped on a computer somewhere and put together what I can only describe as one of the smartest formats for an FAQ I’ve ever seen. A single answer on top, and all the questions below. The answer is always YES!! YES, YES. YES!! Then they taped it to the outside of the booth. You can’t miss it.

Yes Page

I thought this was brilliant. I just love it. Yeah, it’s full of passive aggression and spelling errors and formatting problems, but the idea in itself is so refreshing. It’s folk information art.

Inspired by this, we whipped up our own version of a YES! page for Basecamp 3. It was a fun exercise in messaging and design. We call it the YesAQ.

Yes Page 2

Check it out.

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Source: From here.

 

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Finally a product no one would sniff at:

image004 (1)

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you getting monkeys is not just with hires. Goes for vendors, contractors, third parties…

This is for the managers and executives priding on their ability to squeeze every freebie, concession and discount out of their beleaguered vendors.

Here we go:

The  headman from the painting cum landscaping company  was speaking with the hard-driving customer about the job awarded to them.

Laying-Turf  jokesoftheday.net

In the first room, she said she would like a pale blue. The contractor wrote this down and went to the window, opened it, and yelled out “GREEN SIDE UP!”

In the second room, she told the painter she would like it painted in a soft yellow. He wrote this on his pad, walked to the window, opened it, and yelled “GREEN SIDE UP!”

The lady was somewhat curious but she said nothing. In the third room, she said she would like it painted a warm rose color. The painter wrote this down, walked to the window, opened it and yelled “GREEN SIDE UP!”

The perplexed lady then asked him, “Here I’m telling you what to do and you keep yelling ‘green side up’?”

“I’m sorry,” came the reply. “them…are laying sod in the front and around.”

End

 

 

Source: Adapted from jokesoftheday.net

 

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Ant Many projects in the corporate sector too suffer a similar fate of bloated specifications.

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Source: Internet, Wiki

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This must be the briefest example.

362,436 is data.

Nosql-database-dedicated-server www.gtcomm.net

Information is: 36-24-36.

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Credits: nidikidos.com and image from  http://www.gtcomm.net

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Project-Management premium.wpmudev.org

There was a news item recently in the press about Tata Consultancy Organization (TCS) planning to lay off 30,000 professionals accompanied by words on the ‘big corporate for-profit exploiter’ from some of those impacted or to-be guys for the human element in the story. The guys, it seems, are largely managers with 8 to 10 plus years of experience.

The company has denied it saying the annual weeding out exercise would be only to the extent of 2% to 3% of total strength as it has done in preceding years.

Let us assume for a moment the company is true to its word and there are no compelling reasons of business downturn warranting a bigger-than-usual axing.

While the development is certainly unfortunate especially for the affected, it is hardly surprising. And I’m sure it is neither sudden.

Why does this happen?

When it comes to weeding out, the organization looks at the value an employee brings to the operations in a series of assessments. This is even more significant at senior levels as these guys are pricier and hence most vulnerable.

The avenues available to a senior (a project lead or a manager) to enhance his contribution are essentially in two directions: a) He contributes to the project he is managing/involved or b) He contributes to some corporate objectives not linked to his project. In many organizations seniors are mandated to wear both the hats to get more out of their strengths and maturity.

As far as direct contribution to the project goes, opportunities are many:

1. Of direct and high impact for the organization of curse is to mine the project/account to increase the billing incrementally/strategically. Or, to wow the customer on scope,cost, time, performance or quality parameters of the project.

There are a number of other ways to step up the value (not in any order):

2. Reduce income leakage by handling the lost hours.

3. Increase productivity by using tools, cutting waste, streamlining processes, etc.

4. Flatten the cost pyramid by substituting more junior resources in place of seniors

5. Get the customer to sponsor an incentive plan and other recognition schemes for the team. While the costs incurred in these schemes are low the returns are manifold.

6. Develop it as a reference account/project by putting together, solution stories, application/technical notes, and other marketing/sales assets.

7. Get the customer to agree to site visits by prospects.

8. Get the customer to speak in the organization’s promotional events.

9. Generate newer views of the project by formulating imaginatively metrics to address his pain areas. For example, mapping the change-requests to physical pieces of code would be useful in pointing out which modules are hit by poor articulation of requirements, lack of coding skills or sheer business volatility.

10. Reduce the hassles of dealing with the team in some perceptible manner. For example, cut back on the communication load.

11. Alter some service parameter to customer’s advantage like coverage/turnaround times.

12. Engage the customer to gain a business perspective and his plans, to support mining efforts.

13. Harvest reusable/training assets.

14. Validate and refine quality assurance/productivity/staffing/estimation/methodology models/norms.

15. Groom junior resources in technical and soft skills. In one project, juniors took turns to be present when the lead reviews with the customer to improve their reviewing, communicating and objection handling skills.

16. Stand by him by going beyond the letter during his crisis time.

I’m sure you have a few other ideas too. The opportunities are many limited only by imagination.

So what is holding you back, friend?

If the project is a dead-end kind offering no scope for any initiative at all over an extended period of time, it’s time to move on to another project or even organization.

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Scene II:

Anon Presentation

The main accomplishment in Scene I was to wean the End User (EU) away from ‘reports and formats’ and get him to talk about the performance defining parameters and have the application compute them for him.

So when they assembled again a few days later, the Business Analyst (BA) and the End User (EU) had a ‘cheshire’ grin.

The report designed this time had all the right columns and filters for selection. Additionally Fuel Efficiency was computed and reported at the bottom.

The Consultant (C) checked if they agreed on how Fuel Efficiency was computed. While the definition was simple – the ratio of kilometers run upon fuel consumed –in reality the method for computing it was a little tricky and at best approximate. It was important to ensure this was understood clearly and unambiguously. The kilometers run had to be marked from one tank-fill to another and the efficiency computed over so many tank-fills. The period of computation was not delimited by a day or a week or any other time period. Over many tank-fills, the computation would have made little difference if it was delimited by tank-fills or by time-period, but not when the tank-fills were only a few in a week.  Also it was not always a full tank-fill. Sometimes they went in for a fill on sighting a filling station though the tank was not empty yet. This meant the amount of fuel filled had to be additionally captured and it could not be assumed always to be the capacity of the tank.

To their credit, this was clearly set out by the EU and well understood by the BA. No issues there.

‘Now, what do you do with this magic number on Fuel Efficiency?’ C asked the EU.

‘Well, I now I know if I have a problem or not.’

‘know’ was the proverbial red-rag to the C.

‘How do you know? Let me put it differently – how do you defend this number to your boss?’

‘I look at this number and look at the type of roads covered.And I know if it’s right or not.’

‘How does it work?’

‘It all depends – if the kilometers were run on highways, I expect a higher efficiency than if it were within a city. Similarly, if the vehicle is on a productive run, it is usually at a lower speed and hence at lower efficiency than in transit.’

‘So you look at the number and look at the composition of the run kilometers and take a call?’

‘Yes, that’s right.’

‘Everybody – your boss and the supervisors in the field – they buy your call?’

‘Well…’

‘How about getting the system to apply the ‘judgment’ you presently make?’

‘If it can be done…’

‘All you need to do is to capture the daily break-up of kilometers run under those four heads: Intracity (Production and Transit) and Intercity (Production and Transit).’

‘That’s possible, though it may not be accurate. We can get the vehicle crew to log the daily kilometers in that manner. That’s not too much additional effort for them.’

‘Now, let us get the break-up in and compute the Fuel Efficiency for each of those four categories separately. You’ll then see clearly the performance and the problem if there’s one.’

End of Scene II

Clearly this was more helpful in getting nearer to the problem area. The trick was to ask the question ‘What would you do with the output?’ repeatedly and get as close as possible to the real performance or the problem. And not stop half-way and get the EU to cover the rest in his head.

In many instances the EU is shortchanged in a manner he is not even aware of.  He is required to further process the data given to him. Essentially the output is not directly usable.

It would be interesting to do this simple check on any system – how many of the outputs are directly usable, immediately supporting decisions made? It may reveal pockets of IT inefficiencies, besides throwing up redundancies and inconsistencies in the output.

For reasons of clarity a minor detail was missed out in the above scene: the EU pointed out while a break-up of daily kilometers run is a simple matter, the fuel consumption in the day could not be broken up under those heads. And, hence, Fuel Efficiency could not be computed under the different categories.  For a moment C’s efforts to push for greater proximity to the performance appeared stymied. He suggested: start with reasonable targets for Fuel Efficiency for each of the four heads. For the actual kilometers run over several tank-fills, compute the weighted Fuel Efficiency, applying the targets to these kilometers. Now the weighted target Fuel Efficiency is available for comparison to the actual Fuel Efficiency realized.

End

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Credit: openclipart.com (Anonymous)

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