Article: Taking To Dos and Moving Up The Y Axis

Interesting piece from Fred Wilson:

If you think about what you are trying to accomplish in a meeting with someone you are managing and you plot the following:

    • On the x axis - whether you clearly communicated the issue to the person
    • On the y axis - whether they walk out of the meeting happy or mad at you

Dick's point is you want to optimize for the x axis, clear and crisp communication, and not worry too much about the y axis.

This is definitely something I've been struggling with as a manager and still need to improve on. It's more important to care (and communicate) about what's right for the organization than to try and make people happy. In the end, employees will derive more happiness from working at a well-run company than by well-intended (but misguided) managers.

Added to my list of good resolutions for 2014!

Article: The meaning of really cheap Android

Some interesting bits of analysis by Benedict Evans:

The important dynamic here is that a combination of very cheap off-the-shelf chips and free off-the-shelf software means that Android/ARM has become a new de facto platform for any piece of smart connected electronics. It might have a screen and it might connect to the internet, but it’s really a little computer doing something useful and specialised, and it probably has nothing to do with Google.

And also:

Now, stop thinking about it as a phone. How do the economics of product design and consumer electronics change when you can deliver a real computer running a real Unix operating system with an internet connection and a colour touch screen for $35? How about when that price falls further? Today, anyone who can make a pocket calculator can make something like this, and for not far off the same cost. The cost of putting a real computer with an internet connection into a product is collapsing. What does that set of economics enable? 


Back in 2010, I ordered an iPad the day they first became available on the French Apple store because I believed the tablet form factor offered us a glimpse of the future of computing. Current market trends tend to validate with that initial assessment.

Cheap Android pushes the boundary even more. What was once a costly, available-to-few technology is quickly becoming wide-ranging and far-reaching. The vision of the internet of things, with every device being connected, might become a reality sooner rather than later. The future is exciting.

Article: and the Gulf Between Planning and Reality

Great article by Clay Shirky (as usual):

One of the great descriptions of what real testing looks like comes from Valve software, in a piece detailing the making of its game Half-Life. After designing a game that was only sort of good, the team at Valve revamped its process, including constant testing:

This [testing] was also a sure way to settle any design arguments. It became obvious that any personal opinion you had given really didn’t mean anything, at least not until the next test. Just because you were sure something was going to be fun didn’t make it so; the testers could still show up and demonstrate just how wrong you really were.

“Any personal opinion you had given really didn’t mean anything.” So it is in the government; an insistence that something must work is worthless if it actually doesn’t.

An effective test is an exercise in humility; it’s only useful in a culture where desirability is not confused with likelihood. For a test to change things, everyone has to understand that their opinion, and their boss’s opinion, matters less than what actually works and what doesn’t. (An organization that isn’t learning from its users decided it doesn’t want to learn from its users.)


This is true in all of software development. I see it on a regular basis on the dev lists: heated arguments about such or such features between committers and stakeholders, without much actual data to base our opinions on - and I'm as guilty of this as anyone else.

Given that this can be an issue even when all participants are of good faith, it's easy to understand why in the political / government realm things have the potential to go a lot wronger.

Article: Realities of Performance Appraisal

Great article on performance reviews by Steven Sinofsky:

Among any set of groups, almost all the groups think their group is delivering more and other groups are delivering less. In a company with many groups, managers generally believe their group as a whole is performing better by relevant measures and thus should not be held to the same distribution or should have a larger budget. Groups tend to believe their work is harder, more strategic, or just more valuable while underestimating those contributions from other groups.


A must-read for anyone who'll have to tweak or implement a performance review system in the context of their work.

Article: Understanding Critical Path

Interesting article from Seth Godin:

The longest string of dependent, non-compressible tasks is the critical path.
Critical path analysis works backward, looking at the calendar and success and at each step from the end to the start, determining what you'll be waiting on.
Yet most organizations focus on shiny objectives or contentious discussions or get sidetracked by emergencies instead of honoring the critical path.

It applies very well to any given project, however it's tough to apply as clearly / literally in the context of an organization that runs many projects at once, each of which having its own critical path. What's the meta critical path? Is there one?

Article: How to Nail a Group Presentation

Nice article from Mark Suster, full of relevant advice:

Most people suck at presenting to big groups. It’s a shame because the ability to nail these presentations at key conferences can be once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to influence journalists, business partners, potential employees, customers and VCs.

So I thought I’d write a piece on how not to suck when you give a presentation.


Article: How to Avoid a Common Product Mistake Many Teams Make

Great article by Mark Suster, still on the topic of mastering simplicity in your product (a recurring theme on this blog of late):

Think about your experience at a restaurant with too many options. The owner thinks they are giving you the ability to have anything you want and you are thinking, “oy, vey, can’t you just give me a few well curated options?  The less you frequent the restaurant the more this is true. You’re not a master of what’s on the menu and you don’t want to invest the time to parse through all of its complexities. So you turn to the waiter and say, “What do you recommend?” or your order from the specials.

Yet the restaurant owners, chefs and waiters know every item on the menu by heart and wonder, “What’s the big deal? Just choose what you like!”

I've seen this numerous times. You build something. To you, who spent the last days/weeks/months working on the intricacies of your product, everything's easy. To your users - not so much:

"- How can I get an XLS report for this data?"
"-It' simple really, just go to the administration, select the reports tab, search for the Excel export widget, click on the button to get the export options, tick the columns you want to export and you're done!"
"- Yeah, right... Can you say it again?"

Mark's advice is both sound and simple: "Design for the Novice, Configure for the Pro". Go read the article to see what exactly he means by this - it's worth it.

On the experience of writing and publishing with Medium

Medium is one of the two writing services I've been trying out lately, the other one being Quora. Both services aspire to encourage good writing and insightful contributions, although they don't go about it the same way.

The first thing I'd like to note is that Medium's rich text editor is the best I've seen in a browser so far. I've been involved in the discussions about how to make a rich text editor when we rebuilt XWiki's WYSIWYG editor from scratch, and a lot of difficult decisions had to be made. In the end, we went for a somewhat classic choice, with toolbars and such. Medium offers a clean break from this somewhat dated model.

One of the things I had pushed for at the time but that did not come to fruition were using an inline window to provide editing features, such as for links. Instead, we went for modal dialog boxes. While providing way less features (at least for now), Medium embraces full on this vision of offering the tools you need where you need them.

Highlight some text and you're offered to make it a heading or a link:

This is much better than the clumsy way Gmail now lets you deal with text editing in emails (oh, the back and forth with that dreaded bottom toolbar that keeps hiding all its features).

Hover over the side of the content and you're asked whether you'd like to insert an image:

Simple, clean, efficient and out of the way when you don't need it.

Want to add an article for further reading? The button is available at the bottom of the post:

Also of note is the way the background and application chrome disappear when you're typing, letting you focus on your text. I had only seen this in desktop applications so far.

Other than that, I had a bit of a tough time figuring out how to setup a collection. I initially published in "On startups", a pretty crowded collection, before figuring out that I could also create a collection more focused on the topic at hand:

I'm not quite sure how well Medium will fare in terms of promoting distribution of my content compared to Quora. Quora benefits from a large built-in audience and recommendation system ("related questions") which is less developed at Medium. However, Medium currently puts a limit on the number of authors it allows on the system and limits the onboarding of new writers.

While Quora let you see how many readers each question / answer has, Medium provides a simple dashboard to tell you how many views and how many times your articles have been read.
Neither service allow you to use tools such as Google analytics though.

Is Medium for you? Maybe, if you feel that the collection system will allow you to add interesting articles next to other writers. Probably not if you prefer posting on your own home on the web. Whatever your choice, Medium is fun to try for the strength of its rich text editor alone.

You need to really master complexity in order to build simple things

Great insight from the BusinessWeek interview with Jonathan Ive and Craig Federighi:

You have to master complexity to make things uncomplicated.

Federighi: I think that’s a unique talent among folks here. If you think about it, so many of the people here are so capable of dealing with complexity, so capable of operating complex tools that something could be simple, or at least workable in their eyes because of their capabilities, but that wouldn’t be very appropriate for the average person. And yet our best people, despite their own facility for navigating complexity, also have a natural gravitational pull toward simplicity and understanding what’s intuitive and continually returning to those solutions.

Ive: It’s also good that we have team members who are also not good at dealing with complexity. [LAUGHTER] I’m just saying.

This, right there, is probably the most underrated skill in the whole field of software development (and probably in the product development profession at large).

It is just so easy for people who need to master the intricacies of software development to see something as simple enough to use, when in truth it's just not up to par with the expectations of most users. In order to build a great product, you have to be a domain expert. There are so many assumptions that you'll be making that it's easy to forget about the wider picture. 

When you build a product you make a lot of assumptions about the state of the art of technology, the best business practices, and potential customer usage/behavior.  Any new product that is even little bit revolutionary makes these choices at an instinctual level–no matter what news stories you read about research or surveys or whatever, I think we all know that there’s a certain gut feeling that comes into play.

The mistake many people make is that they don't realize that they're holding all those assumptions for granted. They over-trust their gut feeling without fact-checking it with real world users. I've done it myself when working in product development. There's an easy tip-off: using the word "obvious". Once you hear yourself saying, "It's obvious that clicking on this button will trigger this action!", you know you're guilty. That's when you should rewind and ask yourself: is it really that simple?

Article: Disruption and woulda, coulda, shoulda

Great article by Steven Sinofsky, talking about the rise and fall of the Blackberry:

The point is really the breadth of changes the iPhone introduced to the Blackberry offering and roadmap. Some of these are assumptions about the technology, some about the business model, some about the ecosystem, some about physics even!

Imagine you’ve just changed the world and everything you did to change the world–your entire world view–has been changed by a new product. Now imagine that the new product is not universally applauded and many folks not only say your product is better and more useful, but that the new product is simply inferior.

Put yourself in those shoes…

This is especially interesting coming from one of the guys who were in charge of building an answer to Apple's new offering at Microsoft. I'd love to see the same article, but with inside info about what took place in the minds of Redmonders when the iPhone came around.