Short run vs long run

Lisbon is quite a beautiful city, with a beautiful past.

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It seems that Marques’ pastry shop was thought, many years ago, as a business in the long run. So long that, at least, one other store has taken over.

Very few business, if someone at all, will today be built on stone. Flexibility and fastness have overcome stability and steadiness.

You will need many work hours, and a municipal permit, to erase Marques’ name from the main entrance. But you can replace the Stradivarius nameplate in a matter of minutes.

Sometimes you just can’t chose betting on robustness, and have to work on speed and readiness for change instead.

But I can’t help thinking how nice it must have been working with Mister Marques.

 

Design vs UX when lives are on stake

My old Nissan Primera dated back to 1997. It’s air-conditioner control panel looked like this…

aa_primera

You can think it’s kind of ugly. In fact is kind of ninetish and was quite common in every brand, with some tiny differences. You have three controls.

  • Where do you want the air to come from (left).
  • How cold do you want it (center).
  • How strong do you want it (right).

Nowadays the cars have changed. They usually incorporate a screen that works as standard output for whatever you’re setting in the car, from the time and date to your favorite radio channels.

And, unlucky of me, its the output to the air-conditioning system too.

Let’s check how this systems perform in two basic scenarios.

  • Use case #1: Finding out the current setting.
    • 90’s design: You just give a quick glance to the operation panel. With some experience, you even don’t need to do it visually. You can check the current settings by touch. From one to three steps.
    • 21st century’s design: You need to push the ‘temperature’ button. Then you look at the screen to see the current value. Then you push the ‘speed’ button and look again at the screen to see the current value. Finally you push the ‘direction’ button and check the value on the screen. Six steps. And as the buttons are seamlessly integrated in the dashboard, and the feedback is visual only, there’s no way you can tel how the system is operating without looking at it.
  • Use case #2: Modifying some current setting.
    • 90’s design: You know what roulette you need to modify just looking at the labels around the roulette. You locate the value you’re aiming for and move the roulette to this position. Two steps.
    • 21st century’s design: You need to locate the button you need to push to set the roulette on the proper operation mode, e.g. ‘temperature’. Then you push the button. Then you grab the roulette and move it while looking at the screen so you can see the feedback for your action. Four steps.

So to change one setting you needed four to eight steps with my old car, depending if you didn’t want to take your sight out of the road, while you must perform sixteen steps with my new car.

The advantages of the brave old system are:

  • You can use it without looking at it.The controls shape, size and position allow easy location and manipulation, by touch.
  • You can see the current settings, every time, at a glance. Since the control is a roulette that maps with the available settings. With some practice, you can even find the current setting out by touch, while looking to the road.

The beautiful design is always the one who is thought to be operated, not to be seen. The beautiful design is the one that offers the best user experience, specially if the most important thing to do is staying focused at the road.

Quote on accepting blame

Rita Hayworth playing Gilda (via wikicommons)When they had the earthquake in San Francisco
Back in nineteen-six
They said that Mother Nature
Was up to her old tricks
That’s the story that went around
But here’s the real low-down
Put the blame on Mame, boys
Put the blame on Mame

Gilda Mundson (singing on 1946 film Gilda)

A leader is eager to let team members make their own bets.

A leader is willing to accept the blame when some of the bets go wrong.

If you want the team to grow, you need both sides of the equation.

So be always ready to sing the song.

 


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Ride the quality roller-coaster

You’re absolutely eager to keep the quality level of your product. If you aren’t, all the things I’m going to say don’t really matter, because in a few years your product will become a failure or you will have left your current employer.

So if you continue reading, I will suppose you’re absolutely determined to keep the quality above standards. Period.

Ok. You’re not going to play with quality. But there are three other variables around you need to deal with:

  1. Cost
  2. Functionality
  3. Time to market

Imagine this three variables as the base of a pyramid. Quality is the top of this pyramid. And we’ve just said you’re going to keep this pyramid as high as needed.

So every time you are told to reduce costs (e.g. less people in the team), to increase scope (e.g. you need to add some new thing your product needs to do) or to speed up (e.g. it needs to be done for the next fair), the shape of your product´s pyramid changes.

But remember. Quality is the top. And you’re riding on it. Each time you adjust one of the three (cost, functionality, scope) you will need to adjust at least another one (probably the two of them), because if you don’t, the fourth (quality) would be the one that suffers.

Every time some sort of manager, client representative, sales guy, whatsoever, asks you to change cost, functionality or time… don’t ever say yes, until you’ve decided which one of the other variables is going to compensate for the impact of the changes.

 


 

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Quote on learning from experience

After the first few minutes of Die Hard 2, in a self-referential joke, the character played by Bruce Willis realizes his current problems are the very same as in the previous movie.

Oh man, I can’t fucking believe this. Another basement, another elevator. How can the same shit happen to the same guy twice? (John McClane, Die Hard 2)

Every problem you deal with will resemble any problem you faced in the past, at least in some ways.

So every problem you tackle, is a chance for learning. Every awkward situation you solved means you are readier to face the next one.

You don’t need to learn from failure, nor need to learn from success either. You are well enough just learning from experience.


 

Related

Quote: when everything is on fire, you’d better calm down

Men in Black. Jay, the rookie, have found out the problem and is doing everything he can, to solve it. Kay, the veteran, tells Jay off because Jay’s lost his temper.

Kay: We do not discharge our weapons in view of the public!
Jay: Man, we ain’t got time for this cover-up bullshit! I don’t know whether or not you’ve forgotten, but there’s an Arquillian Battle Cruiser that’s about to…
Kay: There’s always an Arquillian Battle Cruiser, or a Corillian Death Ray, or an intergalactic plague that is about to wipe out all life on this miserable little planet, and the only way these people can get on with their happy lives is that they DO NOT KNOW ABOUT IT!

Every workday you’ll need to put out some sort of fire. If you don’t calm down and think, you’ll be lost among the flames.
Things like planning or risk management were invented for these kind of emergencies. They’re not things you should get rid off when you are in ‘panic mode’. You can’t afford arriving late because of a shortcut you take.

When there is trouble ahead, think first, then act.
And if your job matters enough, there will always be trouble.

Beppo Roadsweeper and the state of flow

You see, Momo,’ he [Beppo Roadsweeper] told her one day, ‘it’s like this. Sometimes, when you’ve a very long street ahead of you, you think how terribly long it is and feel sure you’ll never get it swept.’
He gazed silently into space before continuing. ‘And then you start to hurry,’ he went on. ‘You work faster and faster, and every time you look up there seems to be just as much left to sweep as before, and you try even harder, and you panic, and in the end you’re out of breath and have to stop – and still the street stretches away in front of you. That’s not the way to do it.’

When there is too much work to be done, you don’t need to hurry up. You need to slow down. You don’t want to arrive late because of the shortcut you tried.

[…]’You must never think of the whole street at once, understand? You must only concentrate on the next step, the next breath, the next stroke of the broom, and the next, and the next. Nothing else.’
Again he paused for thought before adding, ‘That way you enjoy your work, which is important, because then you make a good job of it. And that’s how it ought to be.’

A focused work is enjoyable.

[…]’And all at once, before you know it, you find you’ve swept the whole street clean, bit by bit. What’s more, you aren’t out of breath.’ He nodded to himself. ‘That’s important, too,’ he concluded.”

Finally, a focus work is productive in the short run and even more productive in the long run.

When you are trapped by tons of work to be done, divide the task, prioritize, let you fall into the state of flow, and do and celebrate on each step. And then repeat.

 

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