June 16, 2013

Uncommon lessons in marketing

One of the largest media and entertainment industries globally is Bollywood, a helm of modern classic and drama depiction of the Indian subcontinent, this industry has been in existence for over a century now! In the recent past, some of the best movies which have fetched a good RoI have not been the best grocers in the industry, neither have they been the most expensive of the lot as far as costs are concerned – they have been intelligent small projects which made it large. Two examples from the world around us of how successful marketing with lower budget investments give larger corporates a run for their money and there is much to learn here for all of us here who strive to make sure we reach out to our customers with better competitive propositions each day.

The NY Food trucks – a street culture

Each day most collared beelines are formed at two locations in the NY mainland – the subway and the food trucks! Parked across specific streets are these metal food servers cater to thousands of NYers each day and give them a taste of the very best of global servings on the streets of NY. Don’t be surprised to see everything from middle easters to south east asian amongst the grills and steak tenders here each day, not to miss a mention of the yogurt and dessert ones to help cleanse your pallete. “They just came up one day and have been here ever since” is what the locals say. What makes them successful is focus on a particular cuisine, (mostly) family run operations – lower cost and a way of attracting customers each day – live music, loud rap for some and metal for some.

Food Truck
Adaptations of ecosystems of billing, entertainment mushroom close to these to make a more seemingly complete experience each day for the customers. These include iPhone based paperless billing systems which help accept everything from a Visa to an AMEX. Coupons and even GroupOn cater to these mobile hunger trucks. Lately channels have been featuring specials around these Food Truck races, competitions, start-up shows have been some of the most popular in NY in the last few years.
My favorite one? YoGo – a Greek yogurt + fruit showcase which spreads aroma on the 47th street each afternoon.
Signal (mini) salesmen – A 70 second sale
Signal intersections which usually last 90 seconds worth of traffic halt help manage traffic globally. These are also business transaction opportunities for alms seekers, utility electronic, toys and book sellers in India. I describe here an examples of one such day at an intersection.
40 Degrees+ Celsius (scorching kind of summers as we qualify these in Delhi, India). I am in a cab commuting to a client site for a meeting, a brand new Nissan wagon pulls by (yes the economies of tomorrow have pulled brands like these and bigger lately) – a middle class family (annual household income of approx. $25,000) is trying to find shield in the left of the car from the sun lords fierce perspectives.
A boy barely dressed in clothes and with no shoes in his feet comes running by the car, taps on the rear glass where the mother of the two kids is in conversation with her elder daughter. He plunges the vacum plug of a sun shield (also know as a chick) from the outside glass of the window (clearly blocking most of the harsh sun-rays) to have a millisecond demonstration of his product. Clearly effective!
The glass is lowered to a brimming smile of his and he starts by a 5 second price pitch and also compares this to the showroom price of similar products. He claims everything he has and the bigger shops sell is all made in China – pretty logical I must say!
Sales half done – we are 30 seconds down now. Now the price negotiations begin, the initial price of 200 Rupees for a set of 4 shields is soon discounted by 25%. The color choice is simple between the red and back.  He pulls the “fresh stock” wrapped in a a noisy transparent (cheap quality) plastic and hands it over to the new rightful owners!
He makes sure to retain the plastic sheet to ensure he can re-use it, in turn he gives a smile back as a sign of gratitude and gives a 3 second training on how to stick this on to the window panes, pull it off and clean it!
Salim a 12 year old is a common sight on the same red signal where millions cross each day, but hardly notice his skills. He might be an abuse to the child labour laws of the land, but in my view he is a seasoned marketing  and sales person who proudly makes a living each day on the streets of this country.
Lessons learned: 
A/ Identification of your customers is super important – if a new car with a potential spending potential is not identified at each halt, the 90 second business opportunity is purely lost.
B/ A demo of what your product can do beats any theoretical story which you propose in documents or presenations
C/ Making the rightful first pitch which is impactful and clearly establishes your value propositions and connect helps create interest for further conversation
D/ If you establish a connect by a follow-up gratitude – it is always highly appreciated
E/ Always bear a smile – as brimming as your product is, religiously helps!
An open mind to learn gives us endless opportunities to lookout and see the world around with a glass of learning.
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June 16, 2013

NY Diaries – 1

A recent (and my first trip to NY) reinforced principles of good design. This is a city which thrives on art, multifaceted culture and design amongst all chaos. Little nuggets of design in every corner make this city more interesting than other bust business concentrates of the world. One of the oldest inhabitants being a port on the east coast, this city boasts of being one of the largest and probably the most organized of all rest.

Where did the statue of liberty come from?
See someone hailing a cab in Ny and you will probably guess where this came from <smiles> This is a city with so many unique gestures which are community driven and are evident in daily road interactions. It has a unique flavor to how people will interact and this language per say has developed over a period of time. Unique but welcoming this is and obvious one. People are precise, crisp and direct in their communication in this city, so helps to reduce learning for anyone new jumping in!

Keep it moving
This city totally never sleeps and yes I mean NEVER. You can go to Times Square and will never find a dull moment. Speaking of this, intersections are guided by walk or stop signals depending on the flow of traffic in the given direction. Pedestrian pleasure is immense, there is much to see, observe and absorb in this city. With so much cab movement (the famous yellows) rarely do people drive and stay within cabbabale distances of commute. The subway as well is probably one of the most simplified and user friendly systems I have seen in recent times (not to overlook the Delhi metro as such – which comes pretty close). The island ferry which connects the partially disconnected ferry ride is a class apart, people just ride it along for the expereince and not for commute alone.

The Times Square
This deserves a mention of it’s own, the immense interactive displays to a beautiful light show put up by each retail screaming back for attention is impeccable. Even the cops happily stay back and pose for Facebook profile pictures! A custom experience in each store from Modells to the ToysRus demands customers to experience NY uniquely. It reaches us to look at life bigger and more real than anywhere else in the world, larger than life Mickey and Mini mouse characters deserve a special mention as well.

The perseverence
Of what I heard the High Line came as not a surprise to many, it is a pleasant showcase of some of the most life sized art forms that we can build. Even in the ever busy streets, we still see art alive, thriving and growing purely cause the city wanted it to. We often find reasons in busy commercial capitals not to hold back on the art and give way to development as such. NY sets an example on how determination towards preserving what we love and endure the most – Art.

The Specializations
The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) itself and the chain of it’s stores promotes art like no one else has ever, some of the most tasteful presentations of expression are for feel and sale. This is one place which gives you a dimension to merge modern thinking with classic forms which induce practicality in each individual item – the best part for a (reasonable) price you can buy everything.
Chelsea market is a foodies paradise from cheese to stakes you will find it all here – a monument of food is what we call it. The two floors buzz with energy and smells which curb the divine as well. Paved on cemented road path, this gives a way to celebrate everyday food to exquisite cuisines for the belly. Today ranked as one of the most visited food spaces globally this aggregates global food offerings which make you coming back for more.

The Spectrum
Brooklyn flea market changed perspectives from the busy mid Manhattan to lanes which are less skyscraper donned, a culture which is again artistic but in int’s own way – custom pained bicycles and rooflets are easy spots, the flea market each weekend offers a cultural extravaganza of food, religion and antiques come together amidst good music at prices which you can only dream of. Compare this to the hustle bustle of up-market Soho where the Prada’s of the world rule and you will see how just a few miles worth of subway can transition you into much peaceful and country feel in the heart of NY.
Brooklyn Flea Market

Will I be here next?
So what makes NY a great tourist destination even for people who have been there for years – it is not the parks alone, it is not the art, it is not the shopping extravaganzas, it is not the numerous ways of speeding money, it is not just the people, it is all the experience put together and well packaged in a fast paced environment. Something which will surely pull me back. I tag this post as “1” of the series as I have much more to pen than this.

I barely slept over 4-5 hours each day, no it was not the noise of the busy street I was on, not the rain, it was the joy of being there taking a stroll at 3a and realizing how life can be so alive!

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October 24, 2012

The UX Product Owner

Since I took up a new stride with a management consulting organization as a Product Owner, I have been thinking more on lines of what more can be done apart from conventional business as usual Agile practices such as managing backlogs, stakeholder expectations, ensuring user acceptance of the end product. How do I scale this role ahead give my experience and training in UX?

Well, I started looking at overlaps and found three key aspects which could translate the process to have more synergy with User Centered Design and also preserve the flavors of Agile:

A/ Collaborative product design nurturing on the aspects of participatory design which encourages stakeholder participation in an active format all through the development cycle. The joint process of incubating new product features with the sponsors/ stakeholders helps the team be in synch at all given times with – the business vision agreed upon, the end user personas of the end the benefit of release.

B/ Design and release early which very well resonates with the Agile sprints resulting in a working and releaseable slice of functionality at the end of defined periods of time. If we look at extending the rapid prototyping ahead by inclusion of “code” in it to help make a deployable product with each release and not just stop at having design validation prototypes in place.

C/ Exposing increments to users is a tendency of UCD, in Agile thought this helps in early validation of product functionality with pilot actual users each time before we go-to-market. This process should break the norms of conventional (waterfall methods) development to ensure users get to see, feel, voice feedback before the next layer of functionality is weaved to the product. This needs to be parallel thread process running with the development at all times.

These simple principles of overlap can help ensure UCD principles are tightly coupled into the Agile process stream to have more user friendly products at the end of the day. This is helpful in several respects as both a UX & PO role stay domain agnostic for most part of the development, this way they can focus more on getting the right product out to the market on time with each incremental sprint.

June 17, 2012

Managing creative talent – 3

Almost an year after I wrote the last post around this topic, I sit back and observer where the industry has moved on from there. We are increasingly becoming more CIO friendly by the day, Fortune thinkers are emphasizing (and luckily budgeting) on better design as a progressive pawn and not the least but clients are getting moneywise. Hot-desking (a popular development trend) is increasingly being introduced in the design world as well, the downside as I see is that production oriented work which by the way is mostly labor intensive gets pushed back to offshore “factory houses” such as India. The rift between the strategy and the final product makers increases by pounds by each deliverable.

The bigger question, how do we keep creative folks at both ends engaged, as well provide a career value worth appetite by good design work at hand. Most players in the ITES world understand this the hard way, the product proposition bears the heat in the entire circle. Companies should take advantage of virtual resources available and make the most of these to bridge communication and work variance gaps. I have recently seen Skype, TeamViewer and several other collaborative environments pick up in the global delivery cycle worlds. BaseCamp and other “delegation only” solutions to manage resources probably work better in the overall project delivery world, but not so cool in the design world.

What matters more in the design cycles to the creative folks (in my observation only) are to co-create right from ideas thru inception thru to realization. This is the adrenaline, if not, a disengaged team will produce a disengaged experience to the end users. This is something which requires more face and talk time between global teams, this is something which needs to push a mindset shift of team augmentation (or extension, or as in older times known as staff aug.) to be the trend, this too with an equal parity within flat organization and with parallel structures in pyramidical ones.

Three Fortune clients when recently opted for this model have reaped the following benefits in a period of 2 fiscal engagement quarters.

  1. A 3 fold increase in idea generation
  2. Near zero iteration in client as well serving organization teams
  3. Co-innovation and paper presentations (3 WIP)
  4. Increased CSAT and ESAT by 25%!

Now what we did was simple, we:

  1. Mirrored the team physical spaces at our offshore team space
  2. Ensured buddy-one programs for tag teams
  3. Reversed roles after each work product to ensure skill proliferation
  4. Piloted the working model with client & internal stakeholders successfully in 2 weeks

Achieving an equal-functional team from an initial cross-functional team is very much possible with equally interested and investing parties at both ends.

Faith in people brings out a trustworthy product in place.

June 14, 2012

The training phenomenon

Was away giving time to family for a while, well glad to say I am a father now. Interesting are nature’s ways of teaching us life, how a little one learns to suckle on a mothers breast for milk, how he adapts to a cycle of day and night, how wonderfully he gestures for your attention and signals for bed calamities. Well, even I am learning through all this.

In this new phase of life as well was hard for me to put down my analysis hat off, be it the hospital or the nursery or the little things which come as packs of utilities, everything has a little more usability and little less training for all of us around. Let me start with a pack of wipes, something as simple as ABC, but good ethnography must have improvised on a design which allows a parent/ caregiver to hold an infant with one hand and clean his lower body with another, someone put in a lot of brains into noticing this over and over again and concluded on a design of wipe bags which required a simple pull action with just one hand!

Surprised was I to well see the other extreme of life saving equipment, which required “specialized personnel” who have had hours of training to master the “complex art” of operating machines which are bare necessities in the medical world. Not hours but days or even months worth of effort is invested (or should I say expended) into classroom and on-the-job training for (already highly qualified) nurses and doctors. The question is why we cannot afford to provide affordance to machines of such use? Why do we need to make things so complex that they require such investments?

The answer probably lies in a paradox, years ago when I tried to simplify a detailed bill of a client, a vital financial artifact, which was circulated to all business customers on a weekly basis. I was summoned by the board to let me know to keep back to my core projects only. My weekend experiment, which I though would bring smiles, brought along a lot of brick bats; lesson learnt the hard way and divulged over a few gallons of beer by a client co-worker, the bills if simplified would diminish the value that complexity brought to the brand, for the customers, sophisticated is a derivative of complexity only! Surprised was I.

Similar was the scenario when a close relative moved on to venturing into a support outsourcing 100 seater facility in early 2000’s from his core business of IT outsourcing. It was money the easy way, it was to provide (paid) support to customers on complex products of a company which used to develop them. I did question it at first but was soon made to realize that this was the next big bet of the outsourcing world, it still is..

The best help is no help at all.

April 1, 2012

Productized Services [Capturing the next BIG market place]

 

On a photography expedition (of amateurs of course!) recently I visited the old Delhi by-lanes. Slim gullys (lanes in Hindi as we call it) with fat loads of money exchanging hands. You get almost everything from good food to wholesalers of clothing accessories and specialty packaging industry giants. A good mix of traders and manufacturers this is one of the busiest places on this planet for money to move around. What catches the eye though is the least of sophistication in the masses for inventory to sales management cycles – believe me most of this is still manual! Welcome to the SMB (Small and Medium Business) gold mine, an area which was least explored until recently; but then today organizations such as TCS and HCL deemed it fit to be separate business unit all together.

These are users with potential, with brains and with the money, t hen why were they left unexplored so far. The variances in the intellect was one factor while the other eye was blinded by the charm of PGS (Platinum, Gold and Silver) class biggies. With the sector now showcasing double digit growth since the last few years, heads have tuned from organizations such as IBM as well to provide both custom infrastructure as well solutions catering specifically to these audience. The aim is however shared as SMB’s today are competing globally to gain competitive excellence in the global markets.

The strategy however is getting simpler by the day, let me try to articulate how. The movement is a strong current towards “Productized Services” (PS) which are affordable, approachable and simple for the masses. Productized in simpler terms means (mostly) domain agnostic and generic services such as inventory management, POS (Point Of Sales), Order capture, CRM (Customer Relationship Management), WPM (Web Presence Management) and many more “common business” package services being sold as plug-n-play to consumers. In my view today modern day architecture thought leaders such as SalesForce might be soon approaching this as well by adding Do and Rypple in their portfolio – this is a clear trend which is aiming at clear product package success which is emerging from changing market needs of the hour. In the SI (System Integrator) play however, local ISV (Independent Software Vendor) partnerships help package OTS (Off The Shelf) services rapidly serve the PS clientele of today.

In my view, I will leave you with thoughts of the future saying that mobility service providers of today can potentially be the game changers of tomorrow SMB entrepreneurs, after-all, when did I say we need computers for all this? <smiles>

March 30, 2012

Changing user behavior [and design principles]

Today the Smartphone (e.g. Android based handhelds and iPhones) capture over 50% of the world market (extrapolated based on data from Neilsen for US markets), what further pushes this is the increased availability of high speed internet (3G, 4G LTE) at affordable plans globally. What more millions of iPads, Samsung Galaxy’s, PlayBooks and other low cost tablet devices are being used today as augmented devices by students, researches and even grand parents!

Smartphone Penetration - Neilsen Case Study

 

By training and practice I had always believed in the theory “Form follows function”. Let me elaborate, it meant that design for the user and not force the user into usage patterns of products. The advent of new age devices such as tablets has brought a revolution to user behavior, simple touch has replaced the conventional click-and-go interaction patterns; haptic interactions have paved way for newer dimensions of usage patterns to come along.

If we look back a few years and talk of a page design for B2C consumers, below the fold advertisement space was sold for 1/4th of what a first fold ad would fetch in. Ask why? Because users were not used to scrolling beyond the first page fold and a “virtual flooring” impact of content/ images fixated everything relevant and important into the 1024×768 window. Now let us look at how this has changed, with Responsive Web Design being the focus span today HTML5 and CSS has equipped us to design layouts and content specific to the device pages gets rendered to. Everything from graphics to text take shape of the screen size, orientation of the target device; said this scrolling ain’t bad any more. I see more and more web applications and sites moving to multiple scrolls for delivering content, and believe me it works just fine. What does this change? Well almost everything, a few changed paradigms are:

A. Consistent top (tap based) navigation is working well

B. Jump links become more evident in new age sites

C. Graphics are more vivid and lighter to aid loading

D. There is a push back to having AppStore and MarketPlace investments (unless necessary)

E. Dual action placements on top and below has given way to in-line contextual actions

One form has hence changed the way we interact, no longer probably does form follows function, they both pretty much go hand-in-hand.

 

 

March 28, 2012

Winning a deal – 01 [The backstage act]

It becomes important for us as business practitioners to understand the “need behind the need” – even before the need is clear <smiles> well complex but true and possible. Often observed clients do not actually know why they want solutions or even why they want to outsource at most instances. It becomes important for us as consultants to act as advisors to clients to help them understand the “why” before the “what”.

The bigger question how we do this? How do we go beyond the one line brief provided by the client to help clearly articulate the requirements before we jump into design or development?

As a precursor the following activities help lay foundations of solutioning:

Understand competitive landscape – Who are you competing against? Is it a creative agency or a full service outsourcing organization? Knowing domain specific industry benchmarks helps understand why the client is starting a project/ building a product or a service at this stage of the market.

Who is the sponsor – Often this is the most difficult one to get, IT and business dynamics in most organizations do not work in tandem. An observed trend: While IT is more often aiming towards getting products out at the lowest cost, business is on the other hand more quality cautious.

Precedence in execution – Knowing as an organization we have something to showcase as a case study is not desirable anymore, clients expect precedence as much with evidence in today’s world. If we have one good, else it will take a multiplier worth of efforts to partner network or to drive efforts on capability showcase further to prove credentials.

“Discover the need behind the need, ‘cause that is what we need to address”

March 28, 2012

Project to Product – the baby steps

In the last 6 years of my portfolios with IT outsourcing organizations, I have seen several projects turning into products; in recent times co-innovation avenues with our clients has sprinted that further with agreed investments going into creation of industry specific solutions which are then owned and managed jointly. This has been a growing trend in the media industry for solutions around rights management, with the public services to have coherent policing systems in place and for medico legal organizations to address standard compliances.

The impetus: What has pushed probability for success across these “transitions” is that it takes a “common vision” between the customer and the provider, this vision is always driven by a pressing unaddressed market need which has been voiced by end-customers frequently. The impetus of these “projects” is to hear the opportunity directly from the end-customers and build a solution not on functionalities but on domain business problems.

The requirements: “differentiate, prioritize and implement”. Generic applicability of the product framework often poses a challenge when we are piloting this with “a” specific client with “a” set of preliminary live format requirements in place. Often bias gets introduced early on in the process for business models and sometimes even culture specifics. We hence end up with a generic v/s a specific requirements prioritization, other scales include: source (user voice takes priority, so does market analytics), re-use (in case we are building on existing and established platforms), feasibility (primarily driven by timelines of launch) and lastly the construction cost.

The design: “Re-use, re-use and re-use”. Component (or better known) pattern based design and development frameworks help reduce costs and create, iterate and mature prototypes and designs. Use of prototyping tools such as Axure help approach user validation in shorter sprints and move with more validated requirement models across the development lifecycles. These also help validate and iterate features across releases planned.

The launch: “Launch often, to specific groups and improvise”. Pilot user groups across geographical and business parameter variances help factor and validate less known requirements and usage patterns. We should learn from formative approaches of early user validation of features (as pointed in the design phase) and track, implement improvements/ features in select user segments. Summative alpha and beta launches can test user behavior real-time. Start-up’s today often use social media vial aspects like LaunchRock today to disseminate and gather feedback from users. In the corporate and productivity application space it is more of a “forced use” culture still.

“The key objective is to reduce risk of failure while addressing key business problems”

November 21, 2011

UX as a discipline

In this post I try to answer, why and where UX as a discipline stands (or sits). Well I know it might be late for a post such as this ; But each day as I come across reasons to give away reasoning for such displacements, I felt might as well take opportunity to give it a thought once again while I pen my blog.

Often I hear clients ask for user experience consultants with a detailed experience in XYZ domain to help make the best-in-class applications. Mostly I have heard these echoes from the banking and financial services (not sure for what reason)!..

Does the domain really matter in practice is the golden question? If we look at it from a 30 degree bend well it is worthy enough to have a domain expert cum a usability consultant who knows the nitty-gritty’s of the application, expectation of the users and also well fits in the usability “stuff”. But is it always a feasible and optimal choice – well surely not. Why are we overlapping disciplines here is my question, why does a plumber need to also do the electricians job. It is equally ridiculous when I receive a job alert once every other week for a “usability designer” (not sure what that translates to) which requires “in-depth knowledge of user research and requirements (where did these pop-up from) and should be “an Ace in JavaScript and other front end development methodologies”.

The solution however needs to be traced back into project management and planning for business analyst tracks as closely as possible with those of user experience consultants. Where one balances the domain, the latter injects the experience bits into the interface. Seems like a deal, right? Well not so easy, when I started applying for my PR for OZ, I was tagged under the category of “ICT Business Analyst” well, I thought usability does have a long long way to go..

If I ask my clients how many of you have had BA’s on board for a new product, they will go yay yay me me!, If I ask how many of those products did have experience consultants on board, rarely do I hear back the gags! If we all know the solution so well, then where lies the difference? Let me dig in an ounce deeper into this next.

Where we have clear ownerships of any new product/ project in a client domain between business and IT for requirements and implementation respectively, the user experience layer seems to get missed out, in all true senses this is the most active fulcrum between the business and IT in the real world. Come to think of it, it is this layer which helps drive quality of requirements, get user perspective and still stay agnostic of the domain, and last but not the least have feasible solutions in design plated with the delivery teams – all in all the common thread across Business (+BA), IT (+Developers, QA) and Users . I would soon publish my version of the SDLC mapping with UX disciplines to elaborate more on this, but for now I would leave this topic here to peace, probably this adds one more to the debacle on this everlasting front.

“Oh yes! you need a cXo – the sooner, the better”