Montag, 14. Januar 2013

Please, don't replace your dashboard!

On HackerNews there was an article talking about analytics dashboards and how they should be streams instead of charts: All Dashboards Should be Feeds by Anil Dash. And even if I can see how a stream can be appealing when you look at it, I strongly disagree that streams will solve any problem at all.

The article states that every dashboard should be transformed into a stream, which shows text messages with recent and upcoming "events" (like hitting a certain number of followers on twitter). Instead of showing a chart, the feed will extrapolate your followers and tell you that you hit X followers in a week.

First of all, I highly doubt there is a problem with dashboards as they are. If somebody cannot get data out of the dashboard, it's simply configured wrong (or isn't configurable, in which case I wouldn't call it dashboard) or he doesn't know what he's looking for. If I open my Google Analytics, my dashboard shows me the visitors per day, from where the traffic is coming and which countries the traffic is from. That's all I need, and the charts are exactly the format I need it. If I have special questions I need to answer, I can dig into this using the the other, more detailed views. If I just want a quick update, I can look at my dashboard and in a second see whats going on. I hardly see how a stream could tell me all this at a glance.

I imagine logging into Google Analytics and seeing my stream with messages like "A new referer brought you 250 visits", "You will hit 10.000 pageviews tomorrow" and "Mobile visitors are down 10% this week" while all I wanted to know is how many page views I had daily the last 30 days. If I need any of the information from that stream, I can configure my dashboard to show it to me or dive into analytics and figure them out myself.

Thinkup, the startup Anil is involved, has a demo on how a stream like this could look like for a twitter account. This is interesting, but it's neither a comprehensive overview nor something actionable. I see someone retweeted a post and this someone had 50 times more followers than the account in questions. Now what? And if I came to see on how many retweets I got the last 30 days or which tweet was retweeted the most, I would have to dive into analytics (I don't know if this is possible or will be possible) to find out. A nice little table showing the top retweeted posts would be better!

Another thing in the article is the mention of "suggestions" inside the stream. I don't see any advantages to a dedicated section where suggestions are shown as part of a dashboard. Buried inside a stream they are hard to find. You would have to write down each suggestion somewhere if you are not ready to act on it right now because else it's lost. It also clutters your stream with information you don't want or need right now.

Overall, I don't think streams are a replacement for dashboards. Maybe it works if Users don't need a real analytics tool but woudl like more of an information tool where they can have a look while I relax a bit and see how my followers are doing. It certainly doesn't work for the use cases dashboards where made for! So please, don't replace the dashboards. But maybe add a stream as another option, so people can choose

Donnerstag, 10. Januar 2013

Screw productivity

Their, I said it! Measuring productivity, even thinking about how productive something orr someone is, is a waste of time. At least in my opinion.

First, let me dive into the reason I started thinking about productivity. I somehow discovered RescueTime, a productivity measurement tool which analyzes the programs you are using on your PC and making reports outt of it. You can then see how productive you are, at which times you are more productive or how you compare to yourself last week or to all the other users.

I tried it, spent some time configuring it and then waited to get the first meaningfull results. I ended up being 70% productive, which is nice considering I'm using my laptop for both business and private means almost every day.

But I soon realized that the measurements where somehow not relating to my feeling of how productive I was. The reason is very simple: There is no way to tell if I'm productive if I use software X or browse website Y. Let's say I'm on facebook: I could do random stuff and be 0 % productive or write someone a message which is related to work and being 100% productive. It's even hard for me to put a number on my productivity in many cases. Consider me installing some tool to play around a bit. It could be just for fun but the knowledge could be useful for me 1 week later. Or it could turn out useless because the software is crap. But even then, if I never try new software, I'll never find the usefull ones either.

My last point is the real problem with productivity for many jobs. You will always do stuff which will not be productive in a direct way but an indirect one. Let's pick a real-world example: I knew a very good hair stylist. What does it meant for her to be productive? Wash the hair, cut it, dry it? Well, of course, but also to create a nice atmosphere for the client. The output is not a haircut, but a happy customer with a haircut that looks well! And if she takes 15 minutes "off" to help a co-worker get in a better mood and this co-worker happens to make the customers more happy partly because of this, wasn't her "break" productive as well?

As a member of a start-up team, my job is not to write code. Yeah, ok, it's part of my job, but not the most important one. I also have to do system administration, project-management, human resources, administration. And on all of this I don't have one specific role, but all roles possible. I don't only have to write our apps, I also have to research new technology, think about system architecture, testing, quality, deployment. I not only maintain our servers, I research IT topics, improve our current servers or check them for security or stability. I'm not only responsible for finding new talent, but also to make the team happy. Of course all the other members are responsible for all this too, but that doesn't mean I don't have to know about all this stuff.

Thinking about this, if I read an article about a new Ruby framework, am I productive? We are not using Ruby now, but maybe we want to in the future. Maybe someone applied to use who has a ruby background? And even if all this is not true, is it not part of my job to know about the frameworks out there to be able to make proper decisions? It happens very often that I use things I create in my free time at work and the other way round. I play with a framework, some tool or simply create something, and later I come up with a solution for a problem which just popped up because of this knowledge.

I guess it all comes down to what is the expected output. And for the most (if not all) jobs you cannot really define the output and all the different things it gets influenced by. I mean hell, even if I play a game of Sudoku for 15 minutes but get back to work refreshed and faster it has made me more productive overall. So, for me it's not about productivity anymore.

Donnerstag, 3. Januar 2013

Opportunities hide everywhere!

I deeply believe that almost every situation can be used to "get better" (by either learning something, getting you one step nearer to your goal or making you feel better). A day at work? If you don't get better, you missed the opportunity! Invited to a party? Talk to someone, maybe this person turns out valuable one way or another! Need to clean the kitchen? Think about turning on music and thinking about something nice and it might cheer you up.

The reason I am writing this is because of an event which happend during the holidays. Me and my spouse where visiting her parents and I got invited by her father and brother to join them visiting a Porsche exhibition. Not really into cars I was not sure if I should go mainly because I have enough stuff to fill free time but in the end agreed to the short trip.

I ended up spending the most interesting hours of the whole month at the exhibition. Cars aside there where so much information about the entrepreneurship Porsche and Piech put into their company that I spent almost all the time reading while all the other people looked at the cars.

I didn't knew about Porsches always looking for a company which would support his inventive talent and leaving the company when they got to restrictive (or would refuse to give him more money for his inventions). This is something not very common in Germany where employees tend to stick to a job for a very long time.

I also didn't know that the Porsche company started as a small consulting firm. It's inspiring how a few guys got into a marked with all those big players. How they created a car company out of nothing but some bright heads.

I was also very impressed by the approach about quality they chose back then. I think they did what today would be called "lean". They created prototypes, tested their assumptions and iterated very fast. In the beginning they also build one car for rally and as normal street car, meaning they could not skip on quality.

There where also some texts about how Porsche build a relationship with their fans (not customers), not simply selling a car but the "membership in a club of likeminded people". Isn't that what many companies dream of? Not having to deal with customers who complain and argue and rant but with fans who love you for what you are?

It's been a week since the visit and I still think about all this and it amazes me. It inspires me, not to build cars but to build something. To think about what I want to do, the way I want to work and how I can achieve this. And it reminded me to be open about every opportunity to learn something.

Opportunities hide everywhere!