June 16, 2007

Pruning keeps the plant Healthy

Posted in CEO, Product Development at 3:46 pm by scottmaxwell

I wrote a post on how to get things Undone. Matt just undid something with WordPress and I like the metaphor that he used relating to pruning:

“Pruning is an important and necessary step in growing roses. Pruning keeps the plant healthy. It promotes new growth, removes dead, broken or diseased canes and trains roses to a desired shape. Pruning encourages flowering, either more blooms or larger blooms, and is essential to keep modern rose varieties blooming repeatedly all summer long.”

I also thought the comments were pretty interesting, as anything that you do or undo will have mixed reactions. Keep pruning Matt and I look forward to the next blooms!

March 2, 2007

Is your UI intuitive enough?

Posted in Product Development at 3:42 pm by scottmaxwell

This Video is a pretty funny reminder of the difficult time that users have as they try to learn how to use your product! It brings up some very good questions:

  • Is your UI intuitive enough?
  • Do you have “help” built into the product to reduce the need for manual support?
  • Do you have easy approaches for helping users get back to the “state” of the system that they understand how to use?

Thanks to Brian Styles for e-mailing it to me!

February 17, 2007

Managing XAAS systems- Disk Failure

Posted in Data Center, management, Product Development at 10:18 am by scottmaxwell

If you have a XAAS datacenter (or any other type!), then this post by Werner Vogels is probably of interest….good data on the failure experience with hard drives. He also points to his S3 storage service…I am starting to hear some feedback from entrepreneurs that suggests that the service has a lot of merit.

Pretty important topic, as the last thing you want to be telling your customers is “sorry, a hard disk failure caused a loss of your data.” The second worst thing is “sorry the system is down do to a hard disk failure, but we hope to have some of your data restored in a few days.”

Clearly not as sexy an issue as UIs and feature/function, but equally (more?) important!

April 26, 2006

Ajax UI on Comet…also using soap interface

Posted in Innovation, Product Development at 8:14 am by scottmaxwell

Early last month, I developed and posted what I think is the coolest Ajax UI ever. Dan Cornish pointed out that Comet is another related technology taking root.

I needed some “warm up” material for my introductory remarks for our technology day at our xAAS forum today, so I expanded the Ajax UI so that it now sits on Comet (and a stove 🙂 making it a pretty hot Ajax on Comet UI. Take a look here.

I also inserted a soap interface here. It was a little unstable at first, given the soap container was a little too flexible 🙂

April 25, 2006

How about xAAS? (x as a service)

Posted in Global Investing, Innovation, management, marketing, Product Development at 7:16 am by scottmaxwell

ASP, ISP, MSP, xSP, SAAS, Web 2.0, On-Demand, service bureau, business service, Internet service, service utility, data service, web service, service oriented, video on-demand, "salesforce.com for (fill in the blank)", mash-ups, composite applications, technology-enabled outsources service, blah blah blah…

We recently had to sort through all of these terms to try and decide how to title a forum. Since we settled on a B2B focus, we decided to call it a On-Demand/SAAS Forum, which seem to be the most appropriate "tags" in use today.

The process pointed out a real flaw in the current vocabulary for describing newer approaches for offering valuable products to consumers and businesses with as little installation/configuration/integration/maintenance/use headaches as possible (that's what it is all about, isn't it?).

The forum led to my rethinking the tag for the introductory presentation at the forum. Perhaps a better tag for the service is xAAS (pronounced zass).

Here is the 2 minute presentation posted as a YouTube Video…let me know your thoughts…

Update: Tien Tzuo, SVP of Strategy at Salesforce.com, pointed out that the presentation style I used was of the Lawrence Lessig style.  I didn't realize it had a name, but I had seen and loved Dick Hardt's Identity 2.0 presentation using the style.  I have also met Dick a couple of times and have a lot of time for both him and his ideas…

March 22, 2006

The New New Microsoft

Posted in Innovation, management, Product Development at 12:32 pm by scottmaxwell

I spent the last couple of days at the Microsoft Mix Conference. In a nutshell, they get it and are coming on strong.

What is new (besides the new healthier snacks and lack of Microsoft Backpacks) is that the competition and market results from companies like Google and Salesforce.com has unlocked the latent innovation potential from Microsoft and they are currently going through an extreme cycle of innovation (they have always had a very large group of very talented people, but, like all other companies, need the outside competition to drive the innovation).

Yes, there is still lots of vapor, but that doesn’t bother me at all. The fact that the entire platform (operating system, browser, Windows Presentation Foundation [guys, please get a better name, Avalon was a lot better!!], new design/development tools, Office etc.) is going through the innovation cycle all at once gives Microsoft a huge opportunity to string together a set of products that, together, will offer their customers a significant, new new platform. I was at the Microsoft PDC when they started pushing .NET, and my sense is that this new new push is going to be even better…

Vista is late (already predicted) and the rest of the products will probably be late as well…it doesn’t matter. When they do come out, they are going to be awesome, low cost, work together, and offer ISVs and continue to offer innovators a platform with great tools to increase development productivity while offering end-users a user experience that is an order of magnitude better than the current experience. (My view is that Microsoft should delay the products as long as possible and make sure that they meet the bar that they have set for themselves…nothing but upside in taking this approach).

What to look for:

New operating systemVista is now delayed until January ’07, but it is an awesome operating system. While I will continue to work primarily off of my Apple laptop (I like the entire product including its operating system), I will also buy a new Vista machine and will continue to run Microsoft in the office.

Flash-times-100 presentation platformWindows Presentation Foundation (formerly Avalon) is a bad name, but great product. Essentially, Microsoft is building a platform that will work on Microsoft products AND on other products (at least this is the vision). Assuming it works (I think it will), this presentation foundation is going to change the user experience by an order of magnitude (possibly 2 orders of magnitude). It will take a while to get user adoption (and it will probably strain the bandwidth of internet connections), but they demonstrated the product working using Firefox (my preferred browser), Safari (not sure why, as this product shouldn’t exist), the new IE7, and native Microsoft executables on the Vista operating system. Everything blew my hair back.

New BrowserIE7 has some great new ideas built into it. Since they no longer support Apple, I won’t be using it, but I do like to see the competition between Microsoft and Mozilla, as it keeps both of them innovating!

New “Development” toolsExpressions is actually three products that brings design aspects of the development process into the Visual Studio development platform (note: others would say that these are designer productivity tools, but my view is that Expressions is the missing link that FINALLY fixes the interface gap between the user experience and the back end development…this should be a HUGE advantage for development productivity).

Have I been drinking too much cool-aid? Possibly, but the fact is that I think the New New Microsoft offers a huge advantage to people who make software, whether it is installed on the user’ machines or offered on-demand. I will continue to push to have my portfolio companies actively consider it and I think the new products will make the benefits that much better over the next few years.

End-note: In case it is not clear, I am also a huge fan of point solutions, open source, and other platforms (I particularly like Apple for my platform and use an Apple laptop exclusively at this point (with a built-in Verizon card)…I am looking forward to a product that will allow me to run Vista and OSX on an Apple/Intel laptop and my sources tell me at least one product will be coming out this year. My strong belief is that these other products and services have helped Microsoft get its creative juices going again AND Microsoft helps get the rest of the ecosystem’s creative juices going.

March 9, 2006

Keep it simple!

Posted in Product Development at 6:45 pm by scottmaxwell

I spend a significant amount of my time with portfolio companies ranting about simplicity of product, particularly with respect to the user interface. I touched on the issue in my David vs. Goliath series, this one in particular.

Firas Raouf forwarded me a link to a YouTube video that brings the point home (at Microsoft’s expense). It highlights packaging rather than user interface, but the general point is the same. Check it out here. Pretty hilarious…

March 5, 2006

Coolest AJAX UI ever built!

Posted in innovate this!, Innovation, Product Development at 12:13 pm by scottmaxwell

With the recent snow in Boston (some of which is still around) I found the time to build the coolest AJAX UI that I have ever seen. Some of the characteristics of it:

  • Built 100% with off-the shelf AJAX components (7 in total)
  • Each component is fully encapsulated with an off-the-shelf wrapper
  • The interfaces between the components were so simple, I only needed to literally place each component (they were designed to be stackable).
  • The total cost of the components was $8.41 (U.S.) and I had a few components, included in that price, that turned out not to be necessary to use.
  • The only real trick to the entire exercise was getting the foundation stable enough to stack the components on top. I found that the initial foundation caused the components to crash, but with a few minutes of configuration adjustments the foundation was completely stable.
  • I tweaked the alignment of the stack to try to get to optimal alignment. I could probably have spent a little more time perfecting the alignment, but the UI still looks very good.

Take a look at the UI here. It is extremely intuitive and you do not have to be familiar with AJAX to get an appreciation for the construction technique.

I think that you will agree that this is the coolest AJAX UI ever!

January 27, 2006

Development Methodology

Posted in Product Development at 9:41 am by scottmaxwell

Ryan Martens, CTO of Rally Software Development sent me this a link to Alisair Cockburn’s article The Methodology Space. If you are into development methodology frameworks, this paper has a pretty well thought out and interesting set of thoughts on development methodology and how it needs to change to suit your situation. (warning: not light reading)…

You really need to focus!

Posted in CEO, management, Product Development at 9:14 am by scottmaxwell

I posted several times on the issue of focus, including the opportunity to develop a scope advantage against the large company, the issue of time horizon of CEO focus vs. company size, the the issue of CEO time horizon focus by day of the year.

I am just completing a week of meetings with emerging growth technology companies in Germany and Russia, and the meetings reminded me again that everyone talks about focus, but very few companies actually do focus (this is true of emerging growth companies in all countries, not just the companies that triggered this post).

There are two major opportunities for most (all?) emerging growth companies:

  1. Narrow your focus– Reduce the number of products and the number of new features that you are trying to add to the products. Use the extra time to make the product and features that you are developing that much better (and simpler).
  2. Improve the target of your focus– Listen to your customers to help you narrow down to the right product and the right features. (some ideas on how to do this are in my post on gaining an information advantage).

Ok. I know…obvious points. But if the points are so obvious, why is it that so many companies feel that they understand their customers so well without spending much time with the customers? Why is it that they are thinking up grand new products when their current products have a long way to go before they are fully intuitive and extremely easy to use?

I think the issue is that most companies are not critical enough of themselves…they go through their day thinking that they know their customer (using logic and a lot of assumptions) and they are focusing when EVERY company has significant opportunity to improve on both! (one senior manager on this trip went so far as to explain to me that talking to the customers will mislead the company into believing the feedback, which would only be relevant for that particular customer. While he is right to point out that you need to be careful about your approach and conclusions that you reach, this is a very bad excuse for not taking the time to understand your customers’ point of view!!)

An approach that will help most (all?) companies is to appoint a person responsible for both formalizing and capturing the customers’ feedback AND be responsible for minimizing scope creep (this needs to be a highly disciplined person that feels comfortable keeping everyone focused and on target). The role could be called (or be part of) product marketing or product management. If you do not have this role in your organization, consider creating it and assigning the right type of person to it.

You have a huge opportunity to make better products while growing faster with fewer managment headaches.  At a minimum, walk around your company for the rest of the day saying to everyone that you meet “You really need to focus!”  I am 100% certain that everyone will agree…

Next page