Great ideas – conference rooms

I’m going to add blog post every now and then with good ideas about a forced topic, and today it’s conference rooms.

First I’ve noticed is making sure that the projector screen is sufficiently dark. Maybe lights could be closer to people in terms of where there heads are so light doesn’t spill out and affect the projector.

I think when something is projected onto a screen, the area of attention is minor, and a lot on the screen is just wasted real estate on context. So if we focus on just the interesting part of the screen and zoom in on that, then people with poor eyesight can see what’s happening.

I think presentations that go over an hour should be broken up. No one can concentrate for that long. Maybe 25 minutes and then a five minute break, enforced by a health and safety policy. I wonder whether it would be more productive.

A surefire way to let business drive IT projects

I’ve been thinking a bit about good methods to help the business (referred to as anyone that’s not IT) drive IT projects.

So far the method I’ve observed goes along the lines of:

1. Define the problem. Sounds like an obvious step, but in IT we’re all too keen to jump to solutions. A problem isn’t that we need an ERP or a CRM system, any more than not having a hamburger is a problem. The real problem is you’re hungry. Or for the first two examples, you want to manage the resources of an organisation efficiently, or you want to track all your interactions with your customers across multiple communication channels and plan marketing campaigns.

With the problem defined we can move on to…

2. Goals. Goals are visionary statements that frame any potential solution. Think of them as solution boundaries, where the solution must sit inside. A solution scope I guess. One could be more concise information for managers. These goals are intangible and immeasurable in the sense that it’s difficult to know if you’ve achieved them, but without them your solution might not fit into the strategic direction of the enterprise. No point coming up with a mobile solution if there’s no need for it.

3. Business objectives. These are finite measurable objectives that sum up how we know the problem has been solved in concrete terms. 100% of senior management reports come from the data warehouse. Customers will be able to purchase items from mobile devices. All absolutely measurable. No ambiguity, not for the business who can say that these objectives if met will meet the current needs of the business, nor for IT and the vendors who have no wriggle room in terms of what they’re delivering at the other side. As you can see, scope at this point if already defined, and while things could change within the boundary, if work doesn’t directly support the solving of the objective then it shouldn’t be in the project.

4. Functional use cases. The creation of these further tighten your scope and clarify exactly how people, process, and technology will change to meet the business objectives. Simple use case diagrams are great for communicating with the business the functions and processes within the solution, and we haven’t even talked any technology yet. After all, the solution could be solved by just a process change. Once all the functional use cases required to meet the business objective have been agreed to by the business, the scope is effectively defined. Then these use cases in the diagram can each be turned into fully dressed use cases with the standard process, exceptions, inputs and outputs, and all information a good use case should have. An example could be Load Information or Create Campaign.

5. Business requirements. With our functionality defined and processes sorted, we can think about what technological requirements are required to achieve the use cases. Creating a campaign will require software that has the ability to create a campaign. But we’re not focusing on a specific technology, and so the business requirements must be technology agnostic, and not just written as a laundry list of features of a particular software suite you have in mind. Because that would still be jumping to a solution ahead of time.

6. Solutions architecture. This really defines the non functional requirements of the solution, and is likely to start formulating a solution to meet the objectives. This would include aspects of solution analysis and design, and takes in the input of business requirements and comes up with a solution design. Sure some of the implementation gaps may not be filed, but by this point in time a solution had now been defined and can be traced all the way back to the problem.

From here there’s the normal software implementation life cycle, including change and release management procedures. By following this process we can ensure that we’re solving business problems in a clearly defined traceable manner that the business can understand and accept.

Understanding the Japanese Lucky Dip Bag

If you’ve ever been to Japan around New Years you’ll see what appears to be a whole bunch of Lucky Dip Bags. The difference between the New Zealand and Japanese versions is mainly to do with price and quality – in New Zealand Lucky Dip bags contain crappy gifts and cost about $5. In Japan, Lucky Bags, or Fukubukuro (福袋, lucky bag, mystery bag) are serious business, with the most expensive bags costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

So what do you get? Well, it’s a mystery of course! And yet, it’s not really. I went to an electronics store in Hiroshima once and saw Digital SLR camera Lucky Bags. The bags specified the minimum specifications of the camera, but you didn’t get to choose the brand or model. Rest assured you were more than likely going to get something great and at a heavy discount.

I ended up paying 10,000 yen (roughly $160 NZD) for a Lucky Dip of Japanese clothing worth $600 NZD. Awesome bargains, I ended up getting a puffy jacket, puffy vest, hoodie, beanie, long sleeve shirt and t-shirt. Not a bad haul, though bear in mind that fashion taste in New Zealand is often different from Japanese fashion – while puffy shiny jackets are in vogue in Japan, they certainly are not in New Zealand.

Interested in seeing some examples of lucky dip bags? Check out a collection of lucky bags at Rakuten, Japan’s largest online shopping mall.