Tag Archives: quality

UX is not just UI

7 Apr

Reading a recent blog from Oleg Shilovitsky, I couldn’t help but think about the difference between User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX).  The marketplace is always looking for more ‘UI programmers’ to improve the look and feel of software company’s offerings.  Companies that I have worked for/with have toiled over how to make the product ‘look’ up-to-date, futuristic, google-like, etc.  Round those edges!  shadow  those buttons!

Here’s the problem.  After the first couple of mouse clicks (or swipes, drags, drops, etc.),  THAT’S when UX kicks in.  If all you have done is create a new Armani suit for that pig, your UI work has been nothing more than an exercise in futility.  If you have not made the experience better for the user, you’ve really done nothing.  Case(s) in point:

Microsoft Windows 8.1 Update (from theverge.com ) –

After months of leaks, some by Microsoft itself, Windows 8.1 Update will finally be available next week. Microsoft plans to distribute its latest Windows 8.1 update to existing machines through Windows Update on April 8th, although MSDN and TechNet customers can download it today. The software maker has been accused of going too far with its Windows 8 vision and forgetting the huge amount of people that still use desktop PCs and laptops. Windows 8.1 Update is the latest effort to address those concerns. “I think we did a little too much too quickly, and we didn’t do enough for the mouse,” admits Microsoft’s Chaitanya Sareen. Windows 8.1 Update is aimed squarely at mouse and keyboard users.

LESSON:  Don’t abandon your installed base when you update your look and feel.

‘Educational Software Vendor’ –

I have been assisting my wife while she creates course-ware for her employer.  The system they use (recently upgraded with a new look and feel), is EXTREMELY frustrating to use.  Desktop publishing tasks that are commonplace for most software products are difficult, possibly non-existent, for this vendor.  When I had to resort to copying and pasting raw html between documents, it became obvious that the new UI had not even remotely improved UX, in fact, quite the opposite.

LESSON:  It may be pretty, but make sure it’s usable.

‘Manufacturing Software Vendor’

This vendor developed an exception program managing manufacturing data.  The majority of the design cycles in development were spent in database schema design.  The classic simplicity and adaptability of this schema was a thing to behold.  The application that was layered on top was design to get the most out of the database schema.

The product manager then set to build a demonstration system to be used in sales demos.  Three hours later, he walked out of his office and was heard to say, “This application is TEDIOUS to use!”

LESSON:  Don’t spend all of your cycles on the architecture.

Why does this happen?  Three reasons:

   1) Software developers rarely understand the end use of their product and will opt for implementation choices that are technology centric, not user centric, 

     2) In the competitive software business, new features trump updates/fixes almost every time, and

     3) The end user community is rarely part of the development process.

The best example of end user involvement that I’ve heard goes back a number of years, when Intuit had only one product; Quicken.   I read (I believe in INC Magazine), that the testing protocol for Quicken was for a developer to visit an end user at their home, hand them the 3.5 in floppy (like I said, back a number of years), then shut up and watch.  If the user could not install and use Quicken on their own, then the product wasn’t ready.  I suspect as Intuit has grown and added products and complexity, this process is likely not followed anymore.

Does all this really matter?

You bet!  The last three companies I worked for were in the business of providing niche products and services that could have been provided by the end customer’s ERP/PLM vendor(s), if those vendors had really taken the time to understand and implement what their end customers were looking for!


Lately, my iPhone 4s has been acting up.  It routinely loses internet connectivity around my house, showing a strong signal, but not reaching the internet.  Apple recommends turning wi-fi off, then on.  That usually works, but is quite frustrating.  Yesterday, I was trying to open one particular email on my phone, but every time I scrolled down, the app would crash.

What was I thinking when these things happened?

“I wonder if Samsung phones have the same issues?”



Same As It Ever Was

23 Mar

A few thoughts on the promise and peril of the next generation ERP/PLM/MES alphabet soup.

There is cause for optimism, for sure, when we look at the cloud and mobile technologies being developed and deployed.  Working as the head of client services for a SaaS eProcurement vendor with 98% cloud-based implementations, I could sit at my desk (or in my home office), and diagnose (and fix) client issues, sometimes before the client was aware of them.  The only clients that actually had to do any of their own maintenance were the handful of clients that hosted the solution behind their firewall.

Not to minimize the impact of these technologies in eProcurement, but complex manufacturing is a totally different animal.  In much of the reading I’ve been doing lately on ERP/PLM/MES, I am seeing the same issues discussed that were the hot topics in the 1990’s

  • eBOM and mBOM synchronization (not to mention ‘as-planned’, ‘as-maintained’)
  • Streamlining of quote generation
  • Supplier quality management
  • Intelligent data exchange from MRO/Manufacturing back to the engineering department

Have we really advanced all that far?  I believe there are three issues that stand in the way of actually solving these problems, and none of these issues are new:

1 – Legacy systems never die.  Major manufacturers still have ties to systems developed in the ‘dark ages’, and the ERP/PLM/MES vendors wind up having to either integrate, replicate or mimic these systems in order to keep products moving out the door.  At one aerospace & defense firm I worked with, the IT staff had completely turned over since the ‘legacy’ BOM system had been developed, so any time there were changes to be made that impacted this system, it was trial and error.  Run a series of test transactions and see what comes out the other end.  The complexity of the code combined with the lack of knowledge of the rules governing that application’s behavior made it virtually impossible to replace AND virtually impossible to maintain.

I know of companies that were buying Digital VAX parts on eBay to keep some of their legacy environments running!

2 – Many firms implement new systems by looking in the rear-view mirror. In a previous company, we had the opportunity to replace a legacy process planning system with our newest offering.  When the project was done, we were asked to expand the application into other areas of the business.   One of our new ‘prospects’ asked their internal project manager if there was anything they would have done differently when they put in our system.  She said:

“Our biggest mistake was looking at this application as a replacement for the legacy application.  By doing that we restricted our scope to what the old product did, and did not take advantage of some of the features of the new product.”

Other well-known examples of ‘backward facing’:

  • Systems with field size limitations that can be traced back to the 80 column restriction in punch cards.
  • The ‘floppy’ icon that is still used as the ‘save’ icon, years after the death of floppy drives.
  • The use of ‘Files’ and ‘Folders’ in computing environments.

There is some comfort from adopting familiar symbols and approaches, but this makes the paradigm shift even more difficult.

3 –  We’re only human. (OK, quoting TWO songs from the 80’s).  Regardless of technology, be it mainframe, client-server, PC, tablet, smartphone, cloud, the person actually “cuttin’ chips” has to be engaged in the process.  We’ve all heard stories of carefully designed and documented engineering changes, approved, planned, released to the shop, and summarily ignored by the machinist who has been making this part the same way for years.  There is an aerospace supplier in central Connecticut that had a titanium ring as a planter in the landscape in front of his shop.  The engineer had specified 100 holes equally spaced around the ring, where the mating part had 101 holes equally spaced.

We do make mistakes, and while technology can alleviate some of these issues, it can also amplify them.

I’m not here to throw cold water on IoT, SaaS, mobile, social, etc.  This is truly an exciting time for manufacturing technology.  We just need to remember people and process as we charge forward.



Customer Service – Unintended Consequences Part Deux

25 Jul

My wife loves to shop….  However, she does not like ‘returns’.  That’s my job.  It works quite well, actually.  When the clerk at the service counter asks what the reason was for the return, I just shrug my shoulders and say “I’m just doing what I’m told”…

Before my wife left to spend some time with her sisters, she left me with three returns, Target, Payless Shoes and some little boutique place called “White House/Black Market”.

In all three cases, these were recent purchases and I had the receipt….

Here were my experiences:


White House/Black Market :

WH/BM:  “Do you have the credit card that was used for this purchase”

RTR: “I’m sorry, no.  It was my wife’s card”

WH/BM: “Well, we can’t do a refund without that exact card.”

RTR: “What are my choices?”

WH/BM: “We can give you store credit, or you can come back with the card”

Not knowing whether or not my wife wanted store credit, I left.


Payless Shoes:

PS:  “Do you have the credit card that was used for this purchase”

RTR: “I’m sorry, no.  It was my wife’s card”

PS: “Well, do you have another card that you and your wife both use?”

RTR: “Yes” (handed her the card)

Not ‘optimal’, but the clerk was thinking on her feet and I was able to complete the return.



T:  “Thank you, sir.  The refund was processed to your wife’s card”

Done and done.  Took maybe 5 seconds.


Question for you, loyal readers.  Which store will I continue to frequent, and to which store will I NEVER RETURN!


Final note.  Adjacent to the Service Counter at Target, there are trash cans, and a recycling bin for the shopping bag that I used to bring in the return.

It’s the little things that make or break customer service…




It’s The Product, Stupid – Unintended Consequences

4 Mar

So I’m in the shower at the Rec Center this morning, using yet another brand of body wash.  Why, you ask?  Well, it’s not that I don’t have a favorite; I do.  I am a fan of Axe, even though their ad campaigns and product graphics are, well, juvenile.  I think they have a great body wash and I would use it every day, but I don’t.

Why not?  No, it’s not because young women were starting to pester me, it’s much more mundane than that.

It has to do with the bottle design.  The bottle ‘opens’ by pushing down on the back of the lid, which works like a rocker switch to open the front of the lid.  Clever design until the day when, jostled around in my travel bag, the lid opens, spilling Axe all over the inside of the bag.  It only had to happen a couple of times to make me realize that Axe was not for travel, only for home.   So now, I switch from brand to brand looking for an alternative.  The initial criteria is, the bottle can’t be opened accidentally, after that, I consider the actual contents of the bottle.

The moral of the story?  the ‘product’ is not just what’s inside the container, it is the entire experience.  Axe failed to provide the ‘product’ that I could safely bring to the rec center every morning, and now they are relegated to twice a week use.

Do you know if this is happening with your product?  Are there ‘un-intended consequences’ to your design?  You better find out!


All Business Is The Same, It Just Looks Different

22 Mar

Chairman of La Rosa’s Pizza, T. D. Hughes, is fond of saying, “All Business Is The Same, It Just Looks Different”.  Well, I’m here to tell you as I begin day 4 at Vinimaya, when you talk about small, entrepreneurial software companies, it doesn’t look different either!


Next man in:

This phrase is typically heard in a sports context (or military, I suppose).  When someone ‘goes down’, the next man (woman) in picks up the task and runs with it.  No one needs to ask, no one waits for permission.  It just gets done.  With one Client Service Manager stuck in business travel purgatory, another stepped in to solve a pressing customer issue.   The new guy (yours truly)  didn’t have to do anything, in fact, I didn’t even know it happened until after the problem was solved.

We’re overworked AND driven:

In my initial interviews with my team, there were comments that I more or less expected, walking into a role that had been largely vacant for 3-4 months.  People needed to vent, but even through the turmoil and frustration, nothing gets in the way of doing the right thing for the customer.  There is no one RIP here (‘Retired In Place”).


There is always a delicate balance between doing what’s right for the customer, and doing the customer’s job for them, especially with a product that is such a key element of the customer’s procurement infrastructure.  The level of diplomacy required is significant.  Seeing this diplomacy at work is great, I’ve seen some examples already that would make Dale Carnegie smile.

Not Enough Time for Quandrant II:

The self help ‘bible’ of the 1990’s “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” talks to the value of ‘Quadrant II activities‘, the activities that are important, but not urgent.  The speed and urgency of everything that goes on in the small entrepreneurial software company environment tends to drive quadrant II activities back into the shadows.  I believe my job is to help facilitate a proper balance.

Well, that’s enough for now, nearly a week in and still lovin’ it.


Is Being Unique Unique? Is Being Unique Enough?

27 Feb

Is anything sustainable and unique?

Yogi Berra once said, “This is like Déjà vu all over again”

John Franzosa once said, “There’s a difference between 20 years experience and 1 year experience 20 times” (actually, my Dad said this a lot more than once).

There is an excitement, a freshness when a child first discovers the things that soon become commonplace.  I especially enjoyed hearing all of those awful corny jokes from my kids when they first discovered ‘humor’ in the 2nd or 3rd grade.

From the reverse perspective, when they become young adults and you, as a parent, begin to look for their perspective? That is also very cool.

At a certain level, we are all unique.  At a certain level we are all the same (I think I learned this watching ‘Sesame Street’ with my kids)…

The point of my topic?

In the world of business, uniqueness can be a red flag.  What we disparagingly call ‘bleeding edge’ technology…

There will always be a subset of companies that are drawn to the ‘bleeding edge’, the “early adopters”.  It is not particularly difficult to attract early adopters.

Many new technology firms start fast out of the chute, only to lose momentum in trying to get to the ‘mainstream’.   Does uniqueness work for or against a company when they hit that lull, when they move from early adopter to mainstream?

Ultimately, I think that companies that just rely on being ‘unique’ will stumble.  What matters in business (and in life, I suppose), is being dependable and adding value.  Don’t get hung up on unique.  We can’t all be Steve Jobs, but we can all be dependable and we can all add value.


Why Didn’t I Think of That? Intellectual Diversity

9 Feb

Bronwyn Fryer wrote an interesting article in the Harvard Business Review blog titled “Wanted: Idea Fusers”.  She uses examples such as Steve Jobs (everyone’s favorite example) and his fusion of calligraphy and technology in creating the Macintosh user interface.

In the closing paragraph, Fryer issues a challenge:

Now, take a good look at the people your company hires. Do they come from all kinds of different backgrounds and experiences? My guess is that there may be a diversity policy on the books, and that there are people of different genders and races. But we need more diversity than that. We need much more intellectual diversity, and we need to find ways to put unlike ideas together in new ways.

Connecting the dots here, I thought of my own family.  One of the things I always admired about my wife is how she encouraged our children to be self-sufficient and find their own way at a very early age.  They learned to make their own meals, do their own chores MUCH earlier in life than I would have expected.  I remember our youngest filling a pot of water and putting it on the stove to make tortellini when he couldn’t even see the top of the stove!

When the kids were frustrated, she would say “Use your words”.  When they were punished for some disgression, they would not be allowed out of “time-out” until they could present a ‘plan’ for how they would act in the future when faced with a similar situation.

I was more old school, resorting to “… because I SAID SO!” as a reason way too often.

Our children became independent thinkers, unafraid to present what we now call ‘out-of-the-box’ solutions.  All three of our children turned out to be great adults.

Ms. Fryer is really on to something with her comments.  Most organization do NOT gravitate toward people who think differently.

Our children took different educational paths when we moved to Cincinnati from Boston.  Our middle child started 1st grade in the local public elementary school, and followed the public school path through high school, the youngest was in Catholic school from Kindergarten on.   Regardless of the school choice, the boys (not as socially adept as their big sister) were sometimes a ‘challenge’ to the elementary school environment, due to their out-of-the-box independent thinking.  In both cases there were teachers along the way that saw their potential and nurtured it, but I sometimes wonder, what if my wife and I were BOTH “because I said so” parents?  What if our children’s educational experience had not included those teachers that saw their true value?

I think the same applies to business organizations.  We naturally gravitate towards people who think and act like us.  Free thinkers can be a burden.  They can be disruptive.  They’re not like us…

I believe that it’s a rare organization that can foster free thinking and idea fusing and survive over time.  Eventually the success of the free thinking culture is challenged by market forces, and management brings in a ‘proven leader’ to whip the organization into shape.  Think Apple during Steve Jobs ‘hiatus’.   The non-conformists desert, the company becomes another nameless, faceless organization and another ‘idea fusing’ start up kicks them out of the limelight.  What would Apple look like today if Steve Jobs had not returned?

It’s not enough to find idea fusers, you need to be able to foster their growth and understand that not all fused ideas will be winners.  It will be a wild ride, but definitely worth the journey!



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