Monday, September 21, 2009

Pair Programming: An Interesting Model

Working Together Teamwork Puzzle ConceptImage by lumaxart via Flickr
I read an article by the NY Times Online this past weekend and it really resonated with me. It's all about "pair programming" where two software developers work side-by-side, one as the "driver" and the other as the "navigator". Here's how the author defined it:
One person does the actual writing, or coding, and the other person checks it, corrects it and offers suggestions as it's being written. Programmers, or software developers, refer to these roles as driver and navigator.
At first, as the author points out, it would seem that this is two people doing the job of one person - and thereby an inefficient use of human resources. But as it turns out the end product is of such a higher quality that less resources are spent later in fixing bugs and such.

And it got me thinking that there are a lot of disciplines within business that could benefit from this concept. Quite often we work on our own to "develop" business plans, sales strategies, marketing objectives, or product roadmaps.  So, pair programming is just the implementation of the collective intelligence (a.k.a., "two heads are better than one") making these end products better.

But this shouldn't be taken to the extreme, otherwise you end up with "death by committee".  That would be taking collaboration too far because too many voices restrict the flow of innovation unless strict discipline is enforced. I think creative juices flow better when there are just a few people involved at a time and they recognize that it's an evolving discourse; you don't need to have all the answers going into it.

You also don't look so foolish when you're thinking out loud if there's someone else in the room with you.  :-p

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

How I Use Twitter

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...Image via CrunchBase
I follow interesting people and not so interesting people (some of my friends :-p ) on Twitter.  I won't get into a whole explanation of what Twitter is over here. If you don't know, get a quick education on their site and at oh, about a million other places on the web.

People use a lot of different third-party applications, on their desktops and on their handheld devices to participate in Twitter.  I've tried a bunch, and this isn't intended to be a review of any of them, but more so a peek into how I use Twitter.

Shocking as it may be to some of my geeky friends, I actually use SMS on my BlackBerry to follow the most interesting Twitter conversationalists and friends. It's just a handful of people and brands that I follow in this manner. However SMS is probably by far the most common way that I post tweets to Twitter.

I have TwitterBerry and TweetCaster on my BlackBerry, and use them mostly to pick up @messages. Still not sure which one I like better. The later is more feature rich, but the former is more responsive as an app.

I've stayed away from the third-party apps on the desktop because I know they would immediately consume more of my time than I'd like. So I check in once in a while, taking a sip from the hose, on the Twitter website itself.

Now, that's mostly the mechanics of how I use Twitter. I actually use it to hear about interesting news from the people that I follow and click-through to the interesting things they've written and discovered on the web.

I use it to discover interesting articles linked to by the people I follow.  And as a way to easily communicate with friends and colleagues.

To me, the most powerful aspect of Twitter is the professional implications - and maybe that's why their recent valuation was at $1B - money in them thar hills.  I use it to find professionals that I need to reach for my job. LinkedIn is a powerful tool for finding WHO the people are at a particular company, but you can't easily communicate with them on LinkedIn (unless you pony up the cash for their premium account). On Twitter, you can communicate with them - albeit in public - but it's just a conversation opener.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Chasing Your Competiton = Suicide

Copy CatImage by Got Jenna via Flickr
It's widely accepted that you should never say that you have no competitors when giving a presentation to investors or business professionals. The theory goes that if you're the only one who has thought of this idea, or similar ideas, then it's probably not a good idea. Some form of competition validates what you're doing.

But that doesn't mean that you should spend too much time focused on what these competitors are doing. I think you should be aware of what they're doing, but never let their actions and features inappropriately drive your strategy. If you do, you're just a copycat - a follower instead of a leader.

And chances are you're not doing or planning the same exact product or feature-set as these "competitors". You must be doing something unique and innovative, otherwise where's the value in what you offer? So, you'll want to do it differently than your competitors IF you want to do it better.  Reminds me of this quote (attribution unknown):
"Different isn't always better, but better is always different."
And if you're doing is differently (and hopefully better), then you should not be copying your competitor. That's just lazy and closed-minded.
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Saturday, September 12, 2009

Irritate, Innovate, and Iterate

MAGNIFYING GLASSImage by andercismo via Flickr
I recently said this to someone in regard to product design, and I'm not sure if it's original or not. But it hit the spot:
You don't have to pay attention to the details, just don't be surprised when your competitor does.
I think it's really important to nit pick - to find things that could be improved upon, even if only marginally. Doesn't every little bit count?  Focusing on little things may sound trivial, but little changes (especially in the copy text and UI of software used by thousands or millions of users) can make a big difference.

And what does it say about your company if your product clearly shows a lack of focus on the details? Don't get me wrong, sometimes we only have the resources available to address the "big issues" and focusing on the little one's is irritating. But innovation doesn't always involve big ideas and big plans.

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