How to get people to adopt new software: Help them make sense of it.

I had an expansive coffee earlier this week with Kai Riemer, who is a senior lecturer at the University of Sydney. Kai is a super-smart guy, who has done a lot of research into why people use Yammer and other various forms of social media in their work and lives.

Kai has just recently published a new report, titled Oh SNEP! The paper outlines a new model which helps explain how and why people begin using social media in their organisation. Check out Kai’s great post on the topic for the full story.

One key thing Kai outlined to me over the coffee we shared is that people chose how they use a tool and they do this by making sense of it for themselves. Here are a few gems I’ve taken away from our conversation.

Archeologists can never fully know what something was used for

Imagine an archeologist working on a site and discovering a tool of some sort. The archeologist can assess the tool, describe it’s various features and understand what it’s made of. It might, for example, be wooden with metal spikes and have all the features of a modern day hair-comb. But we can never actually know what people used the tool for. We can guess, but we can never know. All we do know, is that this tool probably made a lot of sense to the people that once used it. New technologies are very similar.

Why people use new technologies

It’s no different today. People will use a new tool because it’s interesting to them. Perhaps a friend or a colleague shared it with them and they’ve decided to take a look at it. Once they take a look at it, they’re confronted by a new thing to understand. The first thing that people do when faced with this is try to make sense of what it is they’re seeing. They will work to understand how this tool can help them. What can I use it for? What utility will I get from this?

Everybody is the same. Everybody. Whether you’re a social media guru or a self-proclaimed luddite. People might have a lower threshold for new technology or change, but they still must fundamentally make sense of said change before becoming productive. And here inlies the key point.

You can’t make sense of a new thing for anybody. Only they are able to make sense of it for themselves. You can help them on that journey, certainly. But unless they can make sense of it, they will not continue to adopt the new technology beyond that initial sense-making stage. And so they will not become productive using it.

Why twitter doesn’t make sense to many people

This makes intuitive sense. Think about the last time you showed someone how to use Twitter. Twitter is very hard to make sense of for the general punter. What is a follower? How come I don’t see anything when I log in for the first time? WHO do I follow? How do I send something to them? What is a mention? Why is everybody’s name spelt with an ‘@’?

Making sense of Twitter

It’s a very foreign experience for many people. If you’ve forgotten what that’s like, try explaining Twitter and how to use it to your Dad, Mum or someone else. You’ll see what I mean.

Why email does make sense

Now think about email. You have an inbox, just like your snail mail letterbox. You receive letters (electronically). You can send letters (electronically). Everybody has an address. You just need to get their address, and you can send them a letter. That’s pretty much it. It mimics real life mail and so is very easy to understand. It is easy to make sense of.

I’m going to keep exploring this idea myself. It makes sense to do so! Thanks Kai for your time the other day. I’m looking forward to the next installment.

How to write documentation for product management

I’ve been engaging with the question “how do I document the different products that I’m working on” at the moment – mainly from a governance and communication perspective. Product management is not a discipline that is necessarily well recognised here in Australia, although everybody does it. Think about the last time your company, or yourself, decided to start a new product line or tweak an existing product to match a customer’s new or changing requirements…that’s product management.

So I’ve been asking questions of myself like:

  • How do you create a strong product management process, that suits the way our culture works?
  • How do you document the various developments as you go, to make these changes transparent?
  • What kind of sign-offs and decision points are used in agile product organisations? And what documentation is required around this for good governance?
  • How do you ensure that what you develop will actually be used by customers? And how do you (again) ensure this is the focus of our work (rather than the focus being the ‘building’ of that product).
  • How can we do this in a lean, and agile, way? I still believe in the agile manifesto of working software over heavy documentation…but I’m also aware that we’ve had some problems were software has ceased to work and the documentation was too light on to allow our teams to re-configure it easily.

I wanted to share a few of the links and resources I’ve found, that I’ve been leaning on fairly heavily as I think about this. You can also check these out on my profile, under the (growing tag) productdocumentation.

On that, I’d really recommend reading/following the work of Marty Cagan from SVPG (Silicon Valley Product Group). All of his stuff I’ve read so far has really helped inform my thinking. Thanks Marty.

What are your favourite links/articles on documenting product management? Please share in the comments section below!

Co-Preneur on Tuesday mornings

What are you doing on Tuesday mornings, between 9am and 12pm? Are you in Richmond around that time? Fancy doing some Co-Preneuring?I’ve recently been working on starting a business, called Indy Socks. You can see some Mission Reports that we’re posted on Ross’s site talking all about the concept. I won’t go into detail here (for the moment). I’m pretty excited about launching this little business and can’t wait to be ‘live.’

Indy Socks Mission Status from Ross Hill on Vimeo.

However, one of the things I have struggled with is how to find the consistent time required to make progress on the business. I’m pretty bad at scheduling in ‘work time’ when it’s my own to schedule and I had small epiphany recently.  I realised that, in my calendar, the things which are prioritized most are meetings with people. (duh). But why is this the case? Shouldn’t I be more committed to blocking out time to myself to just get stuff done? Easier said than done!

So, to counter this I’m going to borrow from some of the ideas that circulate in the programming/IT world. Particularly, the concept of pair-programming. I think there are a heap of organisation/productive tools programmers use today which we will see as standards in the business world in a few years time. Agile DevelopmentTest Driven DevelopmentMVCand REST methodologies.

But for the moment, I’m going to see if pairing up with someone, between the hours of 9am and 12pm every Tuesday at Inspire9 will help me get more traction towards getting the business launched. I’m going to call this Co-Preneuring. It’s not about finding a business partner, or sharing equity or any of the other messy things that come with sharing a business with someone. I’m asking that, if you have a few spare hours and would like to sit together and work towards launching a business, then swing by and we can crank it out together. Of course, I’d only be to happy to repay the favor and sit with you whilst you ‘got it done’ in the afternoons or at other times.

You don’t need any special skills, just the ability to ride shotgun and work together getting whatever needs to happen, done.So, if you’re keen to come along and co-preneur with me, then leave a comment below about the date you can come along and i’ll see you there!

Changing direction when it's the hardest thing

Today in Samoa, for the first time in about 30 years, a country changed the side of the road they drive on. From the Associated Press article:

“As the 6 a.m. deadline approached, Police Minister Toleafoa Faafisi went on national radio to tell drivers everywhere to stop their vehicles. Minutes later, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi broadcast the formal instructions for drivers to switch sides.”

 Samoan change direction

(AP Photo/Cherelle Jackson) 

I was fascinated to hear this over the Australian radio earlier today.  

By the sounds of it, everything went according to planand there were no serious injuries or road deaths (yet). It sounds like it would have been a very interesting day to have lived in Samoa. The part I love most is that moment when everyone was instructed to stop there cars, before waiting to hear from the Prime Minister that it was ok to turn around and keep on driving!

But the thing I love about this little instance of change that took place in the world today, is what it represents in terms of innovation and business.How many times, when you’re at work or in your own start-up, have you thought “it’s easier to leave it the way it is than to change it.” I know I come to this conclusion almost everyday in the various projects I work on. As much as we hear the rhetoric about making small change and leading change initiatives within organisations through “Continuous Improvement” the truth is that all change in an organisation takes time to happen.  Sometimes, it’s easier to leave some things as they are than to push and rock the boat too much. If the boat is ever going to sail anywhere, it’s best to not take on too much water worrying about what the chef is cooking.

The Samoans though, had hit this point. The reason they changed the side of the road they drive on is so it’s cheaper for them to source cars from their neighbouring countries New Zealand and Australia. It currently costs them more to import cars from the US or Europe, with the left hand drive, than from Australia or New Zealand.

Now, the Prime Minister of Samoa could have wrung his hands together, twiddled his thumbs and proclaimed that it was all to hard to change. Sure, people would need to pay more for their cars – but the truth is, changing the side of the road people drive on is a huge national change. It would be expensive for government to change road signs. There will likely be a number of lives lost as citizens forget the new rules and crash. There will be trouble making slow changes to the fleets of cars on the country’s roads. But, it’s a great example of a country standing up and saying “we’re not doing this as well as we could” and making the required change to make it better.

Sometimes it’s much easier to maintain the momentum of doing things wrong, than to grind to a halt to do things right. Let the Samoans teach us a lesson and consider what you are letting slip today which might not be so right and think about making it better.

How to Prototype: The Awesome Guide

This is a guest post from Lindsay Gordon, prototyping genious from South East Water. Lindsay attended Olin College in Massachusetts, got a degree in engineering and most importantly, got taught by IDEO. She now works here at South East Water’s Recycled Water program and helps me be inspired through her ideas about how to Prototype. If you want to get in touch with Lindsay, she will be answering comments on this post or email:

At its simplest, a prototype is a representative model used to test a design concept. Prototypes can be built out of paper and tape or machined using advanced materials and techniques. Regardless of the level of detail, prototyping is a very valuable exercise during the design phase of any project. This quick overview provides an explanation of why prototyping is important, how to do it and why engaging users is vital.

Why is prototyping useful?

1. ‘Proof of Principle’/Exploration
o Making a physical model can be a source of creativity to get the juices flowing before you have all the answers
o Gives you an opportunity to test the ‘proof of principle’ of your most basic idea and find unexpected problems
o Allows you to explore design alternatives, improve the design and allow your team to appreciate the experience of the end user

2. Communication of your idea
o Internal: Words leave room for misinterpretation, simple 3-D models can communicate ideas to team members and convince them of your design concepts
o External: A slightly more sophisticated model can be very useful in pitching/selling your idea to stakeholders. Shows a good understanding of the product/service and facilitates visualisation of your idea

3. User Involvement
o Giving your user something tactile requires user involvement in the design process (easier to understand users and their experiences, behaviours, perceptions and needs with a physical object)
o User feedback is delivered in real time while they’re experimenting with the prototype


Quick-and-Dirty Prototyping

Rough prototyping involves using any materials available to make a quick, simple and cheap 3-D model of your product or service.

The scale will depend on what product/service you’re modelling: actual size may make sense for some items (telephone) but others may require larger (medical devices) or smaller (buildings) scale. Use any materials you can find: straws, cardboard, fabric, wood, foam core, hot glue, rubber bands, post it notes, polystyrene, toothpicks etc. It also may be useful to take apart existing products to find materials.

1. When involving users don’t worry about creating a professional looking model but make it refined enough that it won’t distract them. You want them to take you seriously but if the prototype has too much detail users may focus on the wrong things (e.g. a button is too big)
2. Early models should invite improvement! Inspire your audience to assess the service through the eyes of a customer and imagine the concept evolving into something they would enjoy using

How to model a service

Vending Machine opperators and service patterns

Modelling a service is a bit trickier than modelling a product. A service model needs to focus on the interaction between the user and the service and highlight all the key players involved in the duration of the service.

o Visual: Storyboards, vignettes, cartoons and amateur videos are all good tools to model your service. Focus on service scenarios: physical elements, interactions and action sequences with various key players
o Where applicable, create 3-D models of any interfaces between customers and service components
o Find an initial group of a few key customers that are willing to help with the prototyping, will brainstorm possible service scenarios, look over storyboards, interfaces, etc.
Above info taken from this interesting article about service prototypes

Why human focused design?

Designing WITH the user and not FOR the user takes the guesswork out of whether your final product will be useful. Products and services should be designed to fit in with a user’s current behaviours and values rather than force them to change to accommodate your new design.

“User Oriented Design = Subway (now I’m doing the cheese, which kind would you like) instead of “I made you a sandwich, hope you like what I put in it”

Working closely with users provides opportunities for feedback at each step of the design process. Spend time with people in your intended user group and try to witness them in their natural habitat; you can learn a lot from observing specific activities and putting yourself in your user’s shoes.

Another way to test your model is to engage individuals who are completely unfamiliar with the product or service and ask them to evaluate their experience with your prototype. This can provide valuable feedback about whether your design is intuitive and easy to use. Jan Chipchase runs an amazing blog where he researches people’s habits with mobile phones accross cutlures for this purpose.

Next Steps

If you’ve had success with rough prototyping and are looking for a more sophisticated prototyping method you may want to check out 3-D modelling software (such as Google’s SketchUp which is free, has great video tutorials and is quite intuitive). There may also be opportunities to create a working prototype or more advanced models using rapid prototyping companies.

Leave me a comment or flick me an email if you have any other questions about prototyping!