Posts tagged “consulting”

You Say You Want a Revolution . . .

Alan Cooper spoke earlier this week at a meeting of the San Francisco Interaction Design Association chapter. Cooper talked about programming as a craft, and Interaction Designers as potential facilitators of that craft within the business world.

Cooper is advocating what he calls an “insurgency of quality,” which he describes as being about how software design and production processes can and should be evolving-specifically, increasing the time spent refining products before they’re released as “finished.”

It’s an old carpenters’ adage to “measure twice, cut once.” The current software production model Cooper is speaking out against might be described as: measure once, cut once, ship once, repeat all steps for version 2.

Based on the insurgency Cooper is advocating, in which Interaction Designers and Programmers would take more time to get it right before a product goes to market, the development model would become: measure twice, cut twice (e.g. validate and iterate), ship once. The idea being that what gets shipped would be of higher quality then what generally gets produced in the current way, which prioritizes time-to-market.

We work with a lot of clients who are operating within very tight timelines. I’d be curious to know what kinds of successes and failures Cooper and his firm’s consultants have been having with their clients in trying to implement this new development model on actual projects. Are the Cooper folks finding that client organizations are ready, willing and able to add more development time to the front end? If not, what kinds of strategies are working and not working in trying to encourage that kind of change?

A lot of theoretical revolutions break down or dissolve when they meet real world complexities and constraints. It would be great to have some stories detailing how the ideas Cooper is advocating are getting played out in real project engagements.

Raise a glass to the hardworking people

Unsurprisingly to anyone who knows of the early Louis Cheskin work, a recent Stanford study established that the more wine costs, the more people enjoy it, regardless of how it tastes.

Expectations of quality trigger activity in the medial orbitofrontal cortex, the part of the brain that registers pleasure. This happens even though the part of our brain that interprets taste is not affected. While many studies have looked at how marketing affects behavior, this is the first to show that it has a direct effect on the brain.

“We have known for a long time that people’s perceptions are affected by marketing, but now we know that the brain itself is modulated by price,” said Baba Shiv, an associate professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

When we worked with a wine brand recently, we sought to understand the complete wine “usage” process, from planning, through shopping, to storage, to opening, to serving and drinking. We looked specifically at people who were interested in lower-priced wines and most of them were limited in their knowledge and/or experience.

In other categories when the customer is new and is presented with enormous product choice (the amount of wine choice dwarfs most other categories I can think of) we might feel sympathetic for the learning/selection/usage learning curve they would face; with wine people spoke very enthusiastically about the journey. Each trial experience involved drinking wine…something they liked to do! A social, tasty, and rewarding experience. Even a wine they “didn’t care for” (the typical critique) wasn’t a failure, because it still carried all the symbolic meaning.

The marketers were hampered by a limiting view of their customers; the market had been sliced into ridiculously narrow price points and this inevtiably drove discussions of people characterized exclusively within those $3 slots (as in, “I’m a $7.99 to $10.99 drinker”). While our client no doubt had cash register data to support their segmentation, it was completely at odds with how people saw themselves. They purchased across a much broader price range, and their primary concern was their own knowledge and accumulated experience. We were given a great opportunity to offer this different view and illustrate some of the unmet opportunities this presented.

Small Stories About Small Creative Consulting Firms

Given what we’re trying to figure out and plan for here at Portigal Consulting (essentially growth in all the ways one might define that), I enjoyed listening to two brief podcasts about starting and growing (design) consulting firms, one with Chris Fahey and another with Myk Lum. Both are in the category of here’s what I did which is very different than here’s what you should do. That’s not a criticism, of course. Anyone who is has been in similar situations will hear a number of head-nodding-in-recognition moments, and maybe find a few ideas for things to try.

Iteration is Innovation

One of our recent clients, MediaMaster just launched their product, that “lets you store all your music on the internet and play it from any internet-connected device.”

Their path from idea to launch has been a fascinating one (and I don’t know most of it, I’m sure). They came to this with a hand-coded technology to rip (via a CD jukebox) many albums in sequence, sort of a mass-scanning technology for CD ripping. But if you are going to rip the same albums over and over again, it’s time- and cost-effective to simply already have a copy of them already ripped and rather than rip, why not just check liner bar codes for proof of ownership and download the songs already on hand? And since the songs are already online, why not tie it to purchase of a new CD, and why not keep the music online permanently?

They dealt with a crazy mess of technological afforandances, changes of behaviors, retail and other partnership challenges and on and on. We did an online survey with some concepts, and then took concept boards out into homes to talk to different types of hypothesized target customers.

The product development process deals with a lot of moving targets, but startup folks deal with an excess of that challenge, collating input and constraints from so many quarters, it must make them crazy.

I’m excited to see the product launch, and to see where they’ve ended up with it, given where we were at during those rounds of research. I don’t know their business model, since the service is free right now. It’ll be fun to watch what happens with it and see if they make it succeed.

Consulting Co-Creation

One of the interesting things about having a small business is the flexibility in how we can work. Our business model is based around a certain type of engagement: typically 6 to 8 weeks of half to 3/4 time, working directly with medium to large number-sized client team. But many other things come up (i.e., two of our last few projects involved direct collaboration with another agency, who had the original client relationship). Sometimes these different ways of working don’t work out, sometimes they are non-starters (like the call I returned a few weeks ago in which my guy had to wrap up the call to claim his court time; had an idea for a new company “but we’re not doing it for money”, and despite my clarity that this wasn’t a fit, was told I would be hearing from the partner, who of course didn’t follow through), but overall, I like the possibility that others can construct (or suggest) scenarios beyond what I may have thought of.

Recently I had a fun and simple gig; spend a day with a team, helping them to synthesize some data; pulling out some key themes and putting some text to it. There was no proposal, no deliverable, it was just a day of thinking, talking, synthesizing, organizing, writing.

Of course, we’re all hoping that it turns into more, either more like that, or more bigger, but as a first step, it was pretty fun. Variety is one of the key benefits of working in a consultancy, and varying the structure of the engagement is one source that I am always learning more about.

Laugh of the day

Here’s my laugh of the day, from Maslow and Branding

Remember back in your Psych 101 class when you learned about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? Bet you never expected to see it again in the business world

WHAT? Maslow is an overwhelmingly cliched and over-used structure in the business world. I wish I had a nickel for every variation and reapplication of Maslow that I’ve seen. I don’t take issue with Jennifer’s points specific to branding (frankly it was hard to really get to them, with that intro), but to claim some sort of clever uniqueness for bringing this into branding (or anything) is really silly.

Cliche aside, I did present a basic version of the hierarchy to my Design Research students this week, showing them that they can (and should) design for all sorts of needs, and as they do research, they’ll see interesting ways that the needs are related. One group is looking at nutrition, and obviously food is an amazing category for physical, emotional, and other types of needs all occurring at once. I’ll note that I went through a whole thing about how it is indeed cliched and once I had shown it to them they were guaranteed to see it a dozen other times in short order, and that it was absolutely over-used in business.

Funny, then, to see it presented this way so soon after.

And the pundits cry “Lo, let there be a time of No Flip Charts”

Johnnie Moore calls for No Flipcharts

I would like to propose an International No Flip Chart Week. During this period, no one will leap up in the middle of meetings and attempt to capture what’s being discussed on a flip chart

I apologize for ripping on Johnnie specifically (as he is just my own personal tipping point of annoyance), but I’m getting sick of the rhetoric of New Thinking that the blogosphere (and the world of consultants) is bloated with. The formula is simple: take an widely held belief or established behavior and lead off with a screeching pronouncement about how it is untrue, dangerous or wasn’t ever true, or shouldn’t be true or used any more.

Flip Charts are BAD!

They are? I think the frustration is misplaced when directed at a tool. Meeting that are poorly facilitated, with unclear agendas, bad content, different unarticulated motivations for participation, and underskilled attendees – those are the problems we need to focus on. Not by forcing people to use or not use a tool because that tool automatically equates to bad behavior? I’ve been in my share of meetings, and I can’t really think of how the flip chart was ever to blame, or provided a temptation for a behavior that we wanted to avoid.

I mean, sure, you’ve got the dickhead who uses the marker and flip chart to control the meeting. But shouldn’t we get the dickhead out of the meeting (or, better yet, get me out of having to meet with the dickhead) rather than get rid of the flip chart?

So here’s my new proposal. Let’s get rid of the floors in meeting rooms. Haven’t you ever been in a painful meeting where there are no creative ideas or innovative discussion taking place? What else is there to do but tap your toes on the floor! I say, let’s get rid of the floors. Now when the meeting is going south you will have no other choice but step up (carefully) and use your own facilitation skills to get the group headed in the right direction.

You won’t ever be called on the carpet in front of the team, because there will be no carpet! There will be no floor! No floors! No floors! NO FLOORS! I urge you to join me in the new business movement, no floors, don’t settle for the bottom, move to the top, the floors have got to go back to the basement where they belong. And tell ’em who sent you – Steve Portigal with the Steve Portigal NO FLOORS movement. I am a genius. Please hire me. No floors!

No Privacy in Your Cubicle? Try an Electronic Silencer

This article will no doubt be heavily blogged because it describes some innovative electronic acoustic privacy technology, but I thought the latter half of the piece, dealing with the relationship between innovative consultant and innovative manufacturer was extremely provocative.

Herman Miller has a long history of exploring the leading edges of office furniture and computer technology. The company worked with the computer scientist Douglas C. Engelbart during the 1960’s to design furniture and office systems that would help workers collaborate more effectively.

In fact, a walk through Applied Minds’ warehouses reveals many projects that seem to adopt the Engelbart approach of looking for ways to harness machines to augment human intelligence. With Northrop Grumman, the design firm is experimenting with teleconferencing, looking for ways to build systems that are useful for colleagues who work far apart from one another.

Mr. Ferren is particularly interested in finding novel solutions to design problems. All the bookshelves in the company’s offices, for example, are tilted 15 degrees to one side as a way to keep books neatly stacked.

In forming an alliance with Herman Miller, Mr. Hillis proposed a yearlong experiment period, which would allow the two companies to work together on broad ideas. After that, they could either commit to a product development project or go separate ways.

Big Blue Consults 4 U

IBM Design Consulting Services offers strategic design, product design and customer experience design. Read the press release

IBM said today it will launch a new service that allows companies to tap into IBM’s award-winning product design and usability expertise, creating breakthrough products for other companies that offer more impact and user satisfaction in everything from consumer electronics to medical devices, like those that transmit data from pulse rate, heart rate and glucose level monitors over cellular networks.
With this new service, IBM design experts will consult directly with clients who want deep insight into how their consumers or business customers might interact with future products or services. IBM experts will also assist companies with the building blocks needed to move from design concepts to actual offerings.

Karl Long points out that this is competing directly with IDEO.

The Name Game

Here’s a story from the SF Chronicle about a naming consultant.

In working with his clients, Cecil adopts the persona of ‘Ranger Steve’ and takes turns with various hats while giving his in-person presentations. The 6-foot-4, 270-pound master of neology (a newly invented word or phrase) said that his work is akin to being a docent in leading corporate clients to a better understanding of words and meaning.

‘I wear different hats, like the Nike hat, and tell great fable-like stories,’ Cecil said. ‘We explore where good names come from. There are one, or two, of 40 different ways to name things. There are alphanumeric names and products that are named after people. Starbucks came from the book ‘Moby Dick. ‘ Listerine was named after (founder) Joseph Lister. You couldn’t name a product with your own names these days.’

Cecil said that companies often come to him with a narrow idea, and they want him to be more descriptive.

‘The namer is a verbal chemist,’ Cecil said. ‘We combine and recombine words — looking for just the right nuance, or glancing blow. I do this in real time — and sometimes I talk the group into a cul-de-sac.’

I find the idea of a goofy-ass guy as namer to stand in marked contrast to the larger naming firms who are often positioned on language-as-science (a la the “chemist” spin here) but with more rigor than creativity. This entry on a Snark Hunting, a naming blog illustrates some of the other companies (we all know Landor, right?) and what they’ve done.
(See all naming process posts on Snark Hunting here including a NYT article about big clients and boutique (naming) agencies

So here’s a category of service that is not design or innovation but is right next door in the branding and marketing world, and here’s at least one example where making the choice between a small provider and a larger provider is presumably going to offer a very different type of relationship, service, and presumably result. Maybe that’s not true and maybe I’m just recycling the biases against small businesses that don’t seem “professional” along more traditional terms.

What do you think? Is this a goofy, cheaper alternative, or am I biased based on some semiotics of competency that I haven’t articulated yet?

Magazines Find Ways to Include Unconventional Elements in Deals With Marketers

The New York Times reports on the results of a project I was involved in last year.

And Rodale has signed a deal with the Westin lodging chain with a lengthy list of unconventional elements.

For example, editors of a Rodale magazine, Runner’s World, are training employees of Westin hotels to be ‘running concierges,’ helping guests navigate local streets or parks with customized maps bearing the Westin and Runner’s World brands.

Westin will become the sponsor of Runner’s World races around the world.

Also, Westin guests will find in their rooms free copies of Rodale magazines and copies of Rodale books available for purchase like bathrobes.

Also in the rooms will be offers for discounts on Rodale books like ‘Lance Armstrong: Images of a Champion’ and ‘Eat Smart, Play Hard,’ as well as discount offers for subscriptions to Rodale magazines like Best Life, Bicycling, Men’s Health and Women’s Health along with Runner’s World. (Rodale employees are also being offered discounts on rooms at Westin hotels.)

Interestingly, the client was neither of these companies; the client was an technology firm looking to help Starwood (the parent of Westin) improve the gym experience for their guests. As part of their offering to Starwood, this IT company brought in a user-centered/innovation/design-y/ethnographic (etc.) methodology that led to a number of recomendations, not all of which would make use of the IT that the client wanted to develop/sell. The focus was on the overall experience.

As so often happens, since my consulting work takes place in the very early stages, it’s hard to find out what happened with a project, and here I happened to stumble upon this story in the newspaper.


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