It’s a bit sad to see this end. I haven’t installed SETI for some time, but back in the day, I had it running as a screensaver on my old Gateway tower. It ran for 20 years, which is quite an achievement.
In this weeks episode of the Rework podcast, DHH discusses how difficult it was to cancel his SiriusXM radio subscription. They deep dive into newspapers as an example of this problem (which crosses industries in my experience, Cable TV comes to mind).
Newspapers make it easy to start a subscription but challenging to cancel. As is clearly outlined in this episode, the difficulty is artificial; there is no reason the newspapers have to make it difficult to cancel, they choose to do so as a tactic to retain subscribers. Papers are in a pickle because of their actions. True, the landscape has changed, technology disrupted the market, but ultimately it’s the newspaper’s actions that have caused their problem.
I’m a good example. I don’t subscribe to any newspaper. I do however spend $10 per month for Stratechery.com. I do pay around $200 per month on books. I’ve been through situations where I saw first hand the poor quality and biased reporting of journalists enough to know to be suspect of anything written by them. So I look elsewhere for my information. That is their fault.
If you are in a business that relies on these dishonest tactics to hold customers hostage you should think long and hard about what, if any, value your company provides. If your business is dominated by marketing, sales or finance and doesn’t have a reasonable balance of power to ensure the customer’s needs have priority then rethink your structure and organizational design.
No business has a right to exists. No company has a right to be dishonest in its marketing or advertising. No business has a right to customers.
Fortunately, it’s not a complicated recipe to be customer first.
- Talk to your customers. Understand the friction or frustration you introduce into their lives and eliminate it ruthlessly
- Observe your customers. Look for things they’ve worked around that you can improve and improve those things mercilessly.
- Ensure that the builders in your organization have a direct line to customers. Don’t have a bunch of intermediaries. Eliminate anything that puts distance between those who build the experience and the customer. If anyone in your organization says the builders (be they programmers, designers or engineers) can’t deal with customers, question if that person should be in your organization.
- Use your product as a customer. Don’t have “VIP” service offering for internal executives. If you are a leader, then use your product just as a customer would. If your customers suffer, you should suffer.
I’ll occasionally listen to Vasco Duarte’s podcast, Scrum Master Toolbox. The most recent episode had Bas Vodde, co-founder fo the Large Scale Scrum framework (organizational design!). It’s a great introduction to the opinions and assumptions that underly any large organizational transformation attempt. Listen to the podcast online, well worth the time.
Have you hired people whom you think will not do the right thing unless you give them a bonus?
When the subject of bonus payments based on some measure comes up, and I push back against the concept I often hear the refrain that if we don’t bonus people to achieve a specific metric, they won’t push to achieve it.
Let’s flip this on its head and see how it sounds. Do we have people who will refuse to do a good job, refuse to do the right thing, unless it’s tied to some extra payment? If this is true are these the types of people we want? Mercenaries who will only fight for our customers, the company and their team when there is a stack of cash attached? A transactional relationship?
This type of employee isn’t what most people think of when they think of a well-performing employee or a great teammate is it?
I often hear objections when introducing new organizational concepts such as Agile to a management group. Things like a lack of “accountability” or “strategic thinking” on the part of the employees. The employees, they say, cannot work in a self-managed way. Chaos will ensue or something to that effect.
One question I’m fond of asking is “who exactly hired these people?” Isn’t management admitting its failure? They’ve failed by making poor hiring decisions. They’ve failed by not mentoring and growing the skill of their people. The bottom line is that even if everything these managers say comes to pass the first place I’m looking for a cause is the managers.
True, the structure is also a major driver of the problem and managers, especially mid-level managers are often operating in the environment created by those higher up the ladder. I also know that too often mid-level managers use that as an excuse for lack of leadership. They may have much room for maneuver within there groups. The high ups can’t watch everything after all.
Managers, even those in a toxic environment, assuming they choose to stay in that environment, should start asking what they can do to improve the situation rather than using the structure as an excuse.
This short video interview of Andy Hertzfeld is interesting from a purely historical context but it also gives a glimpse into how hardware and software engineers worked at the dawn of the personal computer revolution. It will sound familiar to anyone doing development today in an iterative fashion – no matter the specific framework.
One of the most exciting stories in the piece is about mouse acceleration. This feature is something so fundamental to the experience of using a GUI but not evident at the start. Putting work out in the world and seeing how it feels is the only way to detect these things.