Connecting the dots: Three big reasons businesses are thinking about IoT

During a recent happy hour gathering of Fathom Consulting colleagues, a few of us realized a common thread running through several otherwise unrelated projects. It seemed that, all of a sudden, many of our clients had been bitten by the “connectivity” bug.  Though diverse across industries, products, and services, many of our clients were actively exploring ways and reasons to allow their standalone products to communicate—to each other, to the cloud or data hub, and, in some cases, directly to users.

An active discussion ensued: What had we learned across these projects that we could share with product and program owners who might be considering connectivity solutions in the near future? Thus, a blog series was born.  (Watch for two more posts in the near future!)

But first, a few definitions

Internet of Things (IoT) refers to the networking of physical things (often referred to as “smart devices”) in order to collect and exchange data. Some products we’ve worked with include medical devices, inventory control tags, and consumer goods.

A simpler, but related, concept is that of “connected devices.” Connected devices send or receive data to at least one other device. They might use Internet protocols to make the exchange (making them part of the IoT), or they might just be connected directly to one other device (for example, a monitor on a patient that communicates via Bluetooth to a monitor across the room).

These days the terms are used almost interchangeably. For these blog posts, we’re sticking with the broader label of “connected devices”—since most of the points we want to make are relevant whether or not the device is truly part of the IoT.

“Connectivity is the tool, not the target”

Let’s start off with the obvious way that this latest technological capability is identical to all the others that came before it.  Just like getting on the web in the late ‘90s and getting on social media 10  years ago was unwise unless you had a valid reason to do so, pursuing a connectivity solution just for the sake of it is just as likely to leave product owners feeling disappointed, foolish, and poor. Like all successful innovations, a move into a connected landscape must be underpinned by solid business and user objectives. We’ll explore three good business reasons to get connected in this post and user benefits in the next post.

1. Provide efficient service and effective support

Traditionally, products that have shipped and are in the hands of users can be hard to maintain. The user has to do their own maintenance, and troubleshooting often involves frustrating phone calls to 1-800 numbers.

But products that have shipped and are connected can more easily be maintained and repaired by a remote update. Rather than a service technician being deployed when things break down, fixes or version updates can be pushed to a user’s device via the Internet. The company saves time and money, and the user is back up and running much faster.

Combine the ability to service products remotely with increased visibility into how the product is operating, and it may be possible to proactively solve a problem before the user is even aware there is one. Connectivity can not only prevent things from going wrong, but also make sure things go right. As an example, Tesla Motors recently pushed an update to its cars allowing drivers in Florida to drive more miles between battery charges as they evacuated prior to the arrival of Hurricane Irma.

Even in cases in which a physical product must be fixed in person, the benefits of a company communicating with its products can still be realized. Data received from the device ahead of time could be used to diagnose the problem and ensure the dispatched technician has the correct tools, parts, and expertise to complete the job.

2. Gather data on product usage

When sitting down to discuss how a product could be improved or what features should make the cut-off for the next launch, we consistently counsel our clients to consider how their users use the product today. It makes more sense to spend design and development capital on important experiences that a re frequently used or difficult rather than upgrading features that no one knows exist. Yet often our clients have to make educated guesses or spend time on baseline research just to understand what, exactly, their customers are doing with their products.

But when products in the field are connected and communicating usage data, suddenly insights about problem areas or underutilized features are readily available. These insights can inform product design and feature lists in a way analogous to web analytics. When combined with additional information the device might collect on the location, time, and the user’s identity, this data can even serve as the foundation of a robust persona or inform an audience-specific design process.

In addition, usage information could empower others at the company who interface with the user. Perhaps a certain user needs additional training on advanced features or is operating the product in an unethical or inefficient way that should be addressed. If the inventory of consumable products can be captured and transmitted, then sales calls or promotions could be expertly timed.

3. Define new service and revenue models

The ability to provide more options for serving and charging your customers increases exponentially once a physical product is connecting in real time. Rather than a monthly service fee, customers could pay for each time or day they use the product. These options could be attractive to customers who otherwise would not have purchased the product, believing that they wouldn’t use it enough to justify the subscription fees (similar to the pay-as-you-go mobile phones).

Leasing models on connected products could now include low, medium, or high-usage plans, or advanced features could be immediately enabled after payment of an upgrade cost—akin to web apps like Google Drive or SurveyMonkey. This gives the makers of physical products new ways to get their foot in the door with customers at a lower price point. Costly medical monitoring equipment or seldom-used safety equipment could follow the path of tiered pricing models set out by digital-only companies like Hulu, or sell packages of concurrent users like Adobe.

Instead of connecting with customers a few times a year via in-person visits or phone calls, you could have literally hundreds of small touchpoints with them each month as they interact with you via the product. This could drastically change the closeness of the service relationship, while saving the business money on a costly field sales and service team.

Need more reasons?

These benefits to the business may be reason enough for many organizations to see the value in getting connected. Basic back-of-the-napkin math on increased sales or savings from more efficient service is often enough to justify the investment in getting connected. But remember—we’ve only covered the internal benefits here! Next time we’ll explore how to create connected solutions users will love, too.

How to Prevent Hold-outs Amidst Change

You have communicated the change at every opportunity—and heads were nodding at every meeting. You start the implementation, and then suddenly progress stalls. Deadlines are not met. The excitement for the change starts to wane. “What did I do wrong?” you ask yourself. You read the right books, you followed all of the steps; this should be working!

In order to implement change, the forces for change must be greater than the resistance to it.   Resistance to change takes many forms, but we at Fathom Consulting see our clients struggle over and over again when people simply will not adopt the new processes or tools. “Why am I doing all this new work?” they might ask. Or, they might dismiss all the reasons the change is needed because they question your credibility.

These people are the hold-outs. They see “your” changes as a waste of “their” time.

As a leader, you might think you can pull rank and just “make” them do it. But even when these individuals are in your chain of command (which is not a given), competing organizational priorities, their strong relationships with internal or external customers, and their specialized knowledge could mean your ability to exert formal authority over the hold-outs is not guaranteed. What do you do? How do you bring these people along? Or, even better, how do you head off this problem in the first place?

We at Fathom Consulting have found that clients that follow three basic steps are most likely to succeed:

  1. Identify the hold-outs—early!
  2. Identify tactics
  3. Persevere

 

Identify the hold-outs—early!

Our successful clients identify hold-outs early on, and can almost always name them when asked.  As consultants, we usually have our own ideas about holdouts within the early days of our engagement. Your own intuition is likely the best guide to identify these people, but we have noticed they often:

  • Perceive they have seen change efforts fail before
  • Possess important expertise
  • Were part of a group that your business acquired or your department took over
  • Do not share information well
  • Fear that they may lose control and authority

 

Identify tactics

Once you have identified the group of potential hold-outs, identify your approach to working with them to meet project goals. What does persuading your potential hold-outs entail? There are numerous books on the subject, but I often find myself relying on techniques that—surprisingly—I learned in acting school.

Two concepts I learned that I still apply are objectives and actions.

  • Objectives. Characters in plays, like organizational leaders, have objectives. Romeo’s objective is to marry Juliet. Your objective is to implement a new organization, set of tools, or processes.
  • Actions. Actions are the series of tactics a character uses to reach their objective. Actions, which are expressed as verbs, give actors something to do with their lines beyond just saying them. In the Harry Potter movies, the great British actor Ralph Fiennes plays Lord Voldemort, the evil lord bent on conquering the wizarding world. Voldemort is so compelling because Fiennes employs so many interesting tactics in pursuit of his goal. In the hands of a lesser actor, Voldemort’s actions would simply be: “scare (people)”; “scare (people)”; “scare (people)”; “attack (Harry Potter).” Instead, Fiennes uses a variety of actions. He praises, soothes, welcomes, commands, wonders, calculates, tempts, crushes, treasures, menaces, honors, and so on. And then he attacks Harry Potter!

 

As you approach your potential hold-outs, take a page from Ralph Fiennes’s book. No, this does not mean acting like Lord Voldemort to force people to adapt to change (although that may be tempting!). But it does mean expanding your array of actions. Too often change leaders try just a few tactics, like “set expectations” or “push.” But what happens when these two obvious steps do not work? Use some new actions! Here is just a short list of actions you can use with your hold-outs:

  • Listen: What are their concerns, fears, and frustrations?
  • Explain: Do they understand the business reasons for the change, and how it benefits them?
  • Empathize: Do they just need an opportunity to be heard?
  • Collaborate: If they help develop the solution, will they align with the project’s goals?
  • Problem-solve: Their resistance may be rooted in having to do new and additional work. Are there ways to reduce their workload or solve other problems they might have?
  • Amuse: Can you build a better relationship with the hold-outs through humor, lessening resistance?
  • Challenge: If someone is holding out, but others are adapting to the change, how does your hold-out explain that? What is their core issue?
  • Hand hold: Check in frequently. Is their resistance softening? If not, repeat the above steps!

 

Notice that the verb escalate is not on the list, although that is often the first thing we think of. “If Joe isn’t going to get on board, I am going to go to his boss to make him!” Escalation is necessary at times, but try to work out differences as best you can without escalating. When you are successful at working through resistance without escalation, you will build stronger relationships—not weaken the ones you have.

Persevere

The final step is to persevere. The importance of perseverance and follow-through cannot be overstated. If you stop trying, you will likely move backward—not forward.  Based on years of experience at Fathom Consulting, we are confident you will need to spend more time with potential hold outs than you expect. You cannot count on the normal chain of command to communicate change to prevent hold-outs. Our experience is that companies underestimate this work and may not stick with it. Your change is likely to be less successful if you fall into this trap.

Conclusion

Change is hard, and leading change is harder. But change is inevitable. Nearly every client with whom we partner is undertaking transformational work driven by the need to expand markets, respond to new regulations, leverage new technology, adjust to new demographics, or address new competitive threats. Executing a well-designed change management plan is critical to achieve these transformations, but the plan has to take into account potential hold-outs. Bringing these people along is going to take more than a direction, more than a meeting, more than training. It is going to take action.

Stop Visualizing Data!

You work in a small company that has a program to help consumers manage their health. Your basic product involves a mobile app for tracking daily events and a personalized dashboard. For a monthly subscription users can also get access to coaching and other resources.

There’s a meeting with a potential investor on the calendar and you want to use data to support your story that things are going well. So, you open up Excel and start digging through the data you have.

Finding the Story

You got some nice local news coverage back in March and you signed your first partnership in June, both of which resulted in a spike of app downloads. So, you look at that.

1-downloads

Well, that’s something, but it doesn’t really communicate the excitement of the last few months. You remember that a lot of those downloads in the spring never turned into even free accounts. So, you decide to look at new accounts instead of downloads.

2-accounts

That looks more like what you were expecting. Whereas the app downloads spiked in March, the new accounts hit a peak in July. Comparing the two graphs, you become curious as to how many new accounts were linked to the news coverage and the partnership, so you draw another graph.

3-new-accounts-source

This view makes it clear that by the time the July peak hit, the effect of the news story had died. The big spike in July was just the partnership. You kind of knew this, but it’s the first time you’ve seen a picture of it, which is pretty cool.

You remember that your company has a 20% download-to-account conversion target, and you want to see how many of these months hit that. This seems like a good situation for a scatter plot:

4-scatter

Wow. Comparing against the diagonal line that represents the 20% target, you can see July and August blew it away, while March and April didn’t even come close.

You note another promising detail on the spreadsheet. Not only are accounts up, but the percentage of accounts that are paid subscriptions is rising as well. This is good for revenue, which investors obviously care about.

5-percentage-paid

You wonder how many of the paid accounts come from the new partnership, so you look at that.

6-number-paid-by-source

Clearly, the partnership has been a great thing for your company. Armed with these insights you put together a nice summary in dashboard form for your investor. You add a few other interesting tidbits (you know from your market researcher that about two-thirds of your paid account holders are women) to make it visually interesting.

7-dashboard

When you walk a few of your colleagues through it you get some nice comments—this is the first time some of them have seen all this information together like this—but when you present it the following day, your potential investor squints at the wall and tries to figure out what’s going on

Visualize Situations, Not Data

When you start by looking at the data you have and concentrate on how to draw a picture of it, it’s easy to lose track of the message. Overwhelming your audience with data is an easy trap to fall into. The person crafting a dashboard (or an article, or a presentation, or a web page) knows the content backwards and forwards and can unconsciously assume that the audience is on the same page.

A graph is a picture of a situation. The trick to creating a good one is to start by identifying a situation that your audience cares about. In some cases, you may know. Your investors probably care more about revenue (and projected growth) than they do about specific conversion rates.

8-revenue

This graph describes a situation that investors will understand: Revenue is going up due to a partnership, and more partnerships and more revenue are on the way.

Often you won’t know what situations your audience cares about, even when you think you do. A clinician who is monitoring a heart failure population may not need to know about her patient’s every movement but does care if he has become less active over the past few days. A credit card customer looks at a breakdown of his purchases out of idle curiosity, but what he really wants to know is how he can maximize the frequent flyer miles he earns by using his card. A patient doesn’t understand what her deductible is, but she does want to know which insurance plan is going to cost her less over the coming year.

It’s not fair to throw data at people and expect them to decode it. Just as with any design, effective data visualization requires you to understand the situations that are significant to your audience. By starting there, you can use data to describe something they will care about.

Practicing Divergent and Convergent Thinking: Destination Imagination

For the past five years I’ve been coaching my kids and several of their classmates as they compete in the Destination Imagination (DI) challenge program. The program offers seven different open-ended challenges that allow kids to learn about creativity and innovation by experiencing the design process firsthand. This year’s program culminated last week at the global tournament in Nashville.

One of the key tasks facing any DI coach each year is helping the team understand what type of thinking is called for at different parts during the challenge season. At the beginning of the season, the team needs to brainstorm as many different potential solutions as possible. Then, once they have a rough outline of what they want to accomplish, participants need to focus on executing their solution efficiently and creatively. By following the design process through divergent and convergent thinking they arrive at the tournament prepared to win.

Work with our clients at Evantage also allows us to practice divergent and convergent thinking on a regular basis. Our clients often approach us with a need to design products, processes, or services that meet certain user needs or solve challenges facing a particular type of customer.

Traditionally, design thinking relies on two separate rounds of divergent and convergent thinking. The first round begins by thinking about all the possible drivers of a problem and ends by defining a discrete problem on which to focus. The second round begins with ideating as many potential solutions as possible and ends with focusing on finding the best solution through testing and iteration. (Unlike most work with our clients, however—where the first round often takes a great deal of time to research and complete—the DI challenge program gives us the problem, defined in great detail, so we skip to ideation.)

Design Thinking Cycle

 

Encouraging Divergent Thinking

Divergent thinking—where we try to understand all possible drivers of the problem and imagine all possible solutions— is the place where creative types thrive. Yet many of us are deeply uncomfortable with this type of thinking. In school we are taught to come up with “correct” answers and may have few opportunities to exercise our innovation muscles. But anyone can be a good divergent thinker with practice and the right setting. Here are some techniques that encourage divergent thinking:

1) Warm up properly. To get folks comfortable with shouting out any idea that pops in their head, I often start with an “alphabet brainstorm.” In this exercise I hand a common household item—like a lightbulb, a pillowcase, or a birthday candle—to small teams of two or three people. I then give them three minutes to come up with 26 uses for the item, one for each letter of the alphabet. Once one person has shouted out something as silly as, “You could yodel into it!”, they’ll be ready to stop censoring all of their ideas before they make it out into the open.

2) Keep things moving. When facilitating an idea generation session, make sure each idea is brief. When one brainstormer starts elaborating and explaining her idea, it’s common for others in the room to converge around that solution and abandon their own divergent thinking efforts. For example, at a DI team meeting this fall, each member’s “pitch” for a mystery play the team would write and perform could only contain a two-word description of the time period, the names and professions of the three main characters, and a concise description of the crime that was committed. (It was like our own version of Professor Plum in the Library with the Lead Pipe!).

3) Level the playing field. Similarly, if one idea seems more “baked” than others, team members may focus on that idea at the exclusion of others too early in the process. Using design studio techniques or having team members sketch storyboards works well to force people to communicate their ideas at the same level of fidelity.

4) Quality is still king. Often, too much focus is placed on the sheer number of ideas generated during a brainstorm. Instead, look for a small number of truly novel ideas, or ways that traditional ideas could be combined in new and interesting ways. To encourage this, I lead the team in “pile on” brainstorming in which someone begins an idea and each person thereafter stretches it just a little bit further. For example, one person might say, “What if our vehicle had a rudder to steer?”; the next person might add, “Yes, and the rudder could be connected to a pair of handlebars”; and a third person might add, “We could mount a walkie talkie to the handlebars so the driver can easily talk to the navigator.” And so on.

Effectively Practicing Convergent Thinking

As the project progresses, convergent thinking takes over and the team focuses on efficiently executing their chosen ideas. Unlike the lateral jumps and unexpected connections of divergent thinking, convergent thinking is relatively linear (e.g., first we sand the rudder and then we attach it to the vehicle) and often there is one best answer. Here are some tips for narrowing in on the best solution:

1) Try it out. In many cases, hands-on experimentation and iteration are required to find the best solution (e.g., the walkie talkie won’t stay attached and if we just tape it on, we can no longer change the batteries, but we could build a holster from duct tape and cradle the walkie talkie in it). Have extra materials on hand so you can prototype ideas to see if they work, rather than just talking about them. Each time a production method doesn’t work, teammates must come together to think up new solutions to move forward (some of the same methods listed above may help).

2) Fail fast. Failing fast means doing the least amount of work you can do to find out if an idea is feasible or not. Don’t build an entire product when testing a prototype will tell you if meets the users’ needs, and don’t ever spend more than a week of working without testing something out.

3) Avoid backsliding. At this stage, having teammates who continue to practice divergent thinking can be troublesome. With the tournament (or, in real life, perhaps a code freeze) a few weeks away, it becomes disruptive to say, “Wait, maybe we should build a hovercraft instead!”

4) Embrace project management. The basic tools for managing convergent thinking are well-known to most of us. Create a timeline with milestones, call out dependencies, and plan what materials and tools you will need along the way. This will ensure smooth progress from idea to solution.

 

Celebrating Your Solution

On launch day, or tournament day, it’s time to put it all out on the table and execute flawlessly. A team that has spent dedicated time in the first divergent and convergent thinking cycle can feel confident that they are solving a well-understood problem. If they’ve also practiced convergent and divergent thinking in the second cycle they will arrive with the absolute best solution possible. It’s time to celebrate by raising a cupcake or a pint of beer, as appropriate to your team’s age!

The Five Cs of Consulting

5cs-wordcloudConsulting can be an extremely rewarding, yet challenging, career choice. When I think about the characteristics of the consultants I’m fortunate enough to work with, five Cs become clear:

  1. Candor. We’re incredibly honest with each other and our clients. One of our consultants summed it up when she recently said she’d rather work where people are candid rather than where everyone is simply nice. And a client once introduced us to his new boss by saying we’re “in the business of having difficult conversations.” We constantly question our approach, findings, and recommendations, asking “Is there a better way?” We review each other’s deliverables and expect to get them back marked up with lots of edits. We do dry runs of twenty minute presentations and then get an hour of feedback. Most importantly, we do all this with the utmost respect. It’s never about putting anyone down — it’s about constantly pushing all of us up.

 

  1. Continuous improvement. We’re constantly looking for new ideas and ways to solve problems. We strive to consistently demonstrate curiosity, listen, learn, and think holistically and proactively share our knowledge and insights with each other and our clients. Through our work with clients of all sizes from start-up to Fortune 50 and across many industries, we glean insights that can be applied in new and unique ways.

 

  1. Collaboration. We know we are stronger when we work together. We have very diverse educational and professional backgrounds, but very similar analytical minds. This makes for some really robust conversations and revealing get-to-know-you icebreaker-question answers. This level of interaction produces results none of us could on our own.

 

  1. Competition. We have a bunch of type-A personalities. When something can turn into a contest or a race, it will. While this is easy to witness during our internal events (scavenger hunts, Amazing Race, Cutthroat Kitchen, curling, lawn bowling, basketball pools …), I think this contributes to the quality of our work too. We see one of our coworkers create a great findings and recommendations report or final presentation and immediately start asking how we can do it even better next time. It’s not about making the other person lose — it’s about making all of us win.

 

  1. Comradery. We actually like each other (it’s true). We work hard and play hard together and have fun doing it. Knowing we’re all in this together and working toward the same goal makes it easier to work hard and to give and receive feedback, even when the work itself or the message is difficult.

 

Every firm has its own culture and keys to success, but it always comes down to the consultants themselves. They make the firm climb, chug along, or crawl. Here’s to a continuous climb. Cheers!

The Importance of New

Last year, my friend Bill proposed we run the Pikes Peak Ascent, a half marathon up, you guessed it, Pikes Peak. The race description itself was daunting: Elevation gain of 7,815′, starting at 6,300′ and finishing at 14,115’ with an average grade of 11%; the trail is narrow and winding with gravel, rocks and dirt and includes sharp turns and abrupt changes in elevation and direction. After a few seconds of consideration, I said I was in.

We’ve both run marathons (Bill many more than me) along with 50k and 50 mile ultras, so we have some experience, but we knew this was going to be completely different, especially since we live at 900’ in Minnesota.

Pikes Peak Marathon Course

Google Earth view of the Ascent and Marathon course.

 

We did as much as we could to prepare (Bill much more than me), but really went into it pretty blind. We both made it to the top (Bill far ahead of me) and as we conbret-bill-pikes-peakgratulated each other on the achievement I was tremendously thankful to have such a good friend, pardon the pun, push me to such new heights.

Once my endorphins settled down and I had time to reflect, it was clear something truly special had just happened. I concluded the reason this was such a big deal was because it was a completely new experience and it’s been quite a while since I’ve done something this new. Running at altitude, the 11% grade, the terrain, the smell of the Bristlecone Pine trees — it was all different than anything I’d come across in the past. And it was exhilarating.

Obviously it’s not realistic to experience something this dramatic throughout the year, but I do think it’s important to consistently encounter and tackle new challenges. The opportunity to do this is what draws many of us to consulting, especially the work we do at Evantage.

New problems force us to come up with new solutions.

A canned or cookie-cutter approach won’t be enough. We have to explore new ways of thinking and constantly ask if there is a better way.

New environments sometimes put us in uncomfortable situations.

We have to be flexible and willing to take risks, and trust our colleagues to do the same. I believe the quote goes something like, “You have to get comfortable with discomfort.”

New relationships cause us to look at ourselves.

What can I learn from this person? Does she possess qualities I admire and can try to emulate? Does he possess qualities I dislike and want to avoid myself?

Conquering something new inspires us to ask, “What’s next?”

Once we’ve solved the puzzle and know we’ve delivered exactly what our client needs, we’re ready to continue on to the next challenge — often for the same client.

New keeps us on our toes. We’re never sure what’s around the corner, but we know we can handle it.

The Importance of Being Impressed

You become like the 5 people you spend the most time with. Choose Carefully

Much has been written about how your friends influence you and how you become the people with whom you choose to associate. It’s easy to find great quotes about this and I believe them wholeheartedly. I also believe they apply to your work colleagues, especially when they’re also your friends. Choosing to surround yourself with people who can teach you more than you can teach them simply makes you better at whatever you do.

I consistently find myself in meetings and presentations, whether they’re with clients or internal, where my colleagues are speaking and I’m thinking, “Man, this is so impressive.” I don’t mean they just had a great one-liner or a pretty slide. I mean the quality and depth of thinking, the detailed analysis, findings and recommendations, the command they have of the room, and yes, sometimes the pretty slides — it’s all truly impressive.

There are tremendous advantages to this:

people-surround

It makes us excited to come to work.

We’re constantly looking for new ideas and ways to solve problems and we want to see what our coworkers come up with. It might be a completely new approach to a project or a new way to organize and present the data, but they continue to push for the best way to do it. We’ve been doing this kind of work for a long time and it’s fun to still see something new so often.

It makes us trust everyone we work with.

We know they’ll do great work every time. We can collaborate on the big picture and then know everyone is focused on the details until they come together into a clear, cohesive deliverable. This level of trust allows us to be incredibly honest each other. When we review each other’s work and get it back marked up with lots of edits, we know it’s about high-quality service delivery, not about putting each other down.

It makes us want to continuously improve.

With all this great work going on, everyone is raising the bar and we want to keep up. We see one of our coworkers create a great findings and recommendations report or final presentation and immediately start asking how we can do it even better next time.

Unfortunately, it’s all too common to hear stories from people about their experience with the opposite reactions:

eagles-soar

I’m not excited to come to work.

“Nothing new ever happens.”

“I’ll just put my time in, nothing more.”

I don’t trust my coworkers.

“If I want something done right, or done at all, I have to do it myself.”

“I don’t want to share my work with anyone else because they’ll say they did it or they’ll just tell me it’s all wrong.”

I have no incentive to improve.

“When I first started I had all these fantastic ideas about how we can do things better, but my boss dismissed them all so fast and so often I just stopped even thinking about it.”

“We do it this way because we’ve always done it this way.”

It’s easy to see which scenario provides a better overall experience for employees and clients. I can’t wait to be impressed again tomorrow.

Design for the Caring Professions: New White Paper and Slideshare

Yesterday I had the opportunity to present to 45 UX professionals at TC UX Meetup. I chose to speak on a topic that has become close to my heart over the past few years:  what it’s like to work on the front lines of healthcare and social services as a caring professional. We explored methods for doing in-depth user research and guidelines for designing effective solutions once you understand the user needs.

This topic is also covered in a white paper I recently wrote. Analyzing data from nearly 200 individual interviews, the paper explores how the unique needs of caring professionals are shaped by how they think about their work, the environments in which they perform it, and their interactions with other people. In addition, it provides concrete guidelines to help those who are designing for this specialized user group to maximize the effectiveness of their solutions.

Download the paper for a deep dive into:

  • The mindset of those who have chosen to work caring for people,
  • Constraints imposed by the environment in which they work, and
  • Expectations placed on them by others.

 Design_for_Caring_Professions_Icons

Gaining a deep understanding of how care professionals approach their work, spend their days, and adapt to their organization’s expectations enables the creation of systems and procedures that work for this unique user group.

The same techniques used for this research and analysis could be applied to most other user groups with similar success. With meaningful and directed curiosity, a user experience partner can uncover the authentic needs of your users and create designs that exceed their expectations.

Download Whitepaper  View SlideShare Presentation

 

How Might We… make a better world in just one weekend?

“It’s amazing what can happen in just three Earth rotations…”

This past weekend I was lucky enough to participate in the Twin Cities gathering of the Global Service Jam 2016, both as a coach and observer. A “service jam” brings together small, local groups to use design thinking techniques to brainstorm, research, and prototype completely new services inspired by a shared theme.

Friday kicked off with revealing the secret theme for this year’s Global Service Jam. “Jammers” were surprised to hear an audio clip of what sounded like someone (or something!) splashing into a pool of water. They then took out their Post-It notes and pens and started brainstorming things that the splash reminded them of; first individually and then as groups. Ideas were sorted into related themes and groups of two to four “Jammers” used the themes to create their preliminary “How Might We” questions.

Haven’t heard of a How Might We question? The term is used frequently in design thinking activities to describe a question that acts as a foundation for research and design inquiries. It describes the problem you are trying to solve, and is stated optimistically to reinforce the feeling that a good solution is possible. A How Might We (HMW) question is usually brief, allows for a variety of answers, and inspires ideation and creative thinking.

Here are three ways you can form great How Might We Questions:

  1. Refine the scope. It’s important to have a statement that sets helpful boundaries. Avoid questions that are so narrow that they shut down creativity (“How Might We build more community spaces for relaxation?”) or too broad (“How Might We redefine how people spend their free time?”). A right-size question leaves room to be surprised by your research findings and iterate solutions, but doesn’t feel overwhelming or unfocused. One team eventually settled on “How Might We remove barriers that keep people from finding peace and relaxation?” and after interviewing several users, decided to focus on one persona that seems to have the most barriers to relaxation: Millennials.
  2. Remove embedded biases and assumptions. By Saturday morning, another team had coalesced around the question, “How Might We raise awareness of individual water consumption so that people reduce their global footprint?” By writing down as many assumptions as they could think of, the team realized that they had started wading in to “solutioning” before even beginning their research. In order to identify the most effective ways to get people to reduce their global footprint, the team needed to be open to any number of solutions, not just the solution of “raising awareness.”  Another way to avoid type of assumption is to focus on the ultimate benefit or change you want to bring about. While it is natural to imagine the best way to get there, those perspectives should come later and be based on user research.
  3. Let the facts speak for themselves. On the other hand, do rely on available facts to inform the background of your user research. This same team also wondered if they had gone too far by assuming that individual water consumption has a negative environmental impact. They questioned whether they should do user research to determine causality. While asking users if they think their individual water consumption has an impact on the environment could be an interesting area to research, it’s not necessary to support this particular How Might We—this information has been proven through scientific research and is easily found online. The team decided to move forward, and their final prototype of the weekend outlined a campaign that began with awareness of consumption and then grew into a competition engaging communities, large corporations, and even governments.

I could not have been more impressed by Sunday’s team presentations. In just 48 hours the “Jammers” had become very comfortable with terms like “insights,” “personas,” and “failing fast.” Their prototypes were solidly based in research and they were able to articulate the needs they had uncovered and how they had iterated their solutions as they got more and more feedback. Not a bad way to spend a weekend. You can view all of the projects from the Twin Cities Service Jam and others around the world here.

Prototype from Global Service Jam

Prototype of a community to address the question “How Might We help millennials find more opportunities to relax?”

GSJ2016_1

Prototype of a five-part campaign to address the question “How Might We increase community members’ capacity to positively affect water consumption?”

 

Visualize Nothingness

By Jeff Harrison

It’s an exciting time to be me! If this email I got from LinkedIn is any guide, my career is about to really take off.

linkedin

Also, this email from my bank shows my rewards balance on this credit card remains at an all-time high. (I don’t know what “Earn More Mall Earnings” means but as someone who lives within a hypothetical short drive of the Mall of America I’m pretty stoked.)

rewards

To top it off, according to this visualization in ClassDojo, my kid is rocking Spanish class. The chart helps me see that all of the feedback from his teacher is positive.

class dojo

All these displays have one thing in common: underwhelming data. I do not actively promote my profile on LinkedIn [edited to add link to LinkedIn profile], and my son’s Spanish teacher never got into the habit of using ClassDojo to communicate with parents. I never signed up for the rewards program for which I receive the monthly grid of zeroes above; they just started showing up in my email a year or two ago. (The program is attached to an overdraft protection feature that Wells Fargo couldn’t figure out how to implement without issuing me a second debit card, which I routinely cut in half each time I get a new one.)

It’s easy to imagine the design reviews for these interfaces. Colorful charts! Insights! Engagement! When there’s a match between the data in these displays and what customers care about optimizing, magic happens: think of all the Fitbit users who consult their apps to monitor their steps and optimize their day for physical activity. The data contributes to a feedback loop, and more people take the stairs. However, when there’s a mismatch the displays aren’t motivating. They just feel kind of lame.

Do your user research. Get it right. And stop sending me notifications that suggest my life is somehow disappointing. Because LinkedIn and my mom would both tell you different:

allstar

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