Slingboards Lab

Achieve a sense of fulfillment

Getting a sense of fulfillment

I just finished Windows 8.1 UX Design Jump Start online training on the Microsoft Virtual Academy. One of the major learning from this training is to focus on the "less is more" approach. This approach was adopted by the architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe as a precept for minimalist design.

In the "less is more" approach, it is essential to establish the "Great at" statement.  This involves defining in one sentence what truly differentiates your software from the competition. Your product should focus on the scenarios and features that deliver on that greatness. Nothing more, and nothing less.

Hooked-How-to-Build-Habit-Forming-Products-220x222For several years, I thought that limiting scenarios and features to support the "Great at" statement was the main justification for creating this statement. A book that I read last spring has totally changed my understanding of what is a "Great at" statement. This book is Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products.

This book provides a fascinating process for creating products and technologies based on human psychology, persuasion, habits, needs, etc. It describes the techniques you can use to keep the users of your software coming back to it frequently. This book covers the psychological side of business, but does so for the modern tech entrepreneur and business owner, not for the modern psychologist.

When building a habit-forming product, start with the source of emotion then build the product around one habit that fulfill this emotion. Hooked is not only about making things into a habit, but it’s also about where to make things seamless, where to give a variable reward, and how to pull people back to your product through action triggers. I've never read a book that covers all of these subjects so well.

Cognitive psychologists define habits as, “automatic behaviors triggered by situational cues.” In this book, you will learn that building a habit consists of four parts: the trigger (make the user realize they must take action), the action (should be easy to achieve), a variable reward (keeps them coming back), and investment (leading people to engage and create value, which keeps them coming back).

After reading this book, I changed my approach to defining the "Great at" statement. Now, I start with the source of the emotion (eg, pain, joy, fear, etc.) - then I build the product around it (and not the other way around). I write the "Great at" statement from the point of view of the users, what they feel, and how the product will fill the emotional need they have.

In a previous post, I explained that the concrete measures and tasks presented in this book had greatly helped us during our last pivot. At the end of the pivoting process, after deciding to build a personal task planner, we developed the following "Great at" statement:

  • Our product is great at getting a sense of fulfillment.

Our goal is to reproduce the positive emotion that makes you happy when you get an achievement. Our personal task planner provides a sense of fulfillment when a user acknowledges, commits and achieves a task. The scenarios and features must support this emotion. This is the narrative frame of our product.

In closing, I highly recommend reading Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products. It’s a fascinating book, well-written read, and honestly – if you have a startup it’s a requirement on your reading list.

Customer Pivot

In this post, I explain in more detail the realignment (pivot) of our startup. How did we learn that we should build software for empowering people to reach achievement?

In my last blog entry, I explained that through many business-hypothesis-driven experimentations, we discovered over the last twelve months that co-creation is not an intrinsic need for teammates. Creativity is mainly an individual journey.

pivotAs lean entrepreneur, this was the signal that we had to pivot our business model. As defined by Eric Ries in his book Lean Startup, a pivot is a “structured course correction designed to test a new fundamental hypothesis about the product, strategy, and engine of growth”. Startups are supposed to pivot 2,5 times average in their live time.

We first decided to apply a customer segment pivot by offering our product to individuals instead of teams. Secondly, we started exploring how we could simplify work decomposition while allowing to easily track tasks assignments using sticky notes.

What was interesting in our approach, now that we target individuals, is that my business partner Erik and me, we were the first customers that we wanted to satisfy. Being the designer and the customer, the pace of experiments was greatly accelerated. Rapidly, by repositioning the product to better meet our personal needs we also applied a customer need pivot .

A reading that helped a lot to our experiments is the book Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products. This is book that every entrepreneur should read. In a future blog entry, I will cover in more detail why reading this book was central to our decision to pivoting.

The final result is the following. We repositioned the product to meet five new requirements:

  1. Collect and gather future work in a backlog.
  2. Decompose future work in subtasks
  3. Assign or share future works
  4. Schedule and confirm “daily” commitments
  5. Celebrate the achievements of the day


So far, these five requirements  correspond to what we foresee. The journey is far from over. Stay tuned.

Slingboards Lab - Twelve months later, where are we?

Nearly a year ago, I introduced on this blog my new business project. Heavily influenced by our experiences with kanban and task boards, with my business partner Erik Renaud, we founded Slingboards Lab, a software publisher aimed at marketing these collaboration boards to business teams. Through the provision of slingboards, our startup brings sticky notes to smartphones, tablets and the web for empowering teams to better collaborate.

Being familiar with Lean Startup, a method for developing businesses and products first proposed in 2011 by Eric Ries, it was obvious that we wanted to apply this approach. A lean startup invest its time into iteratively building products to meet the needs of early customers in order to reduce the market risks and sidestep the need for large amounts of initial project funding and expensive product launches and failures. Startups begin their journey not by making money but by learning how to build a sustainable business. This learning can be validated by running experiments to test each element of the entrepreneur‘s vision.

In the last twelve months, we have done a wide range of business-hypothesis-driven experimentations. Here is what we have learned about the target customer:

  • Programming platform: Our customer is not the programmers who build the collaboration boards. Programmers want to stick with their existing programing platform.
  • Teammate: Our customer is not the teammates who use the collaboration boards. Peoples hardly describe themselves as teammate. Nobody gets a promotion or a salary increase because they are "teammate". Teammate is not an appealing identity.
The more we tried to better define our target customer, the more we realized that our mission targeted a very fuzzy customer - teams. In addition, we were approaching teams on the theme of collaboration. Unfortunately, improving collaboration is not an attractive need for teammates. What we have learned is that collaboration is not a leitmotiv. People want things done, and in order to get things done, they focus on individual contribution, avoiding collaboration with shared accountability. This learning took us back to square one. Our mission did not hold water. We were wrong when we thought there was a need to improve collaboration among teammates with a visual tool.

direction-choices-arrows For several months we thought about this dilemma. We challenged our original mission. Again, we have done another range of business-hypothesis-driven experimentation. This time focusing around collaboration. By collaboration, we mean the one that’s intended to create “something” in support of a shared vision. It is goal-oriented, is not an individual effort and has a defined team that is responsible for delivering that “something”.

Here is what we have learned about collaboration:

  • Collaboration among teammates boils down to the assignment and delegation of tasks.
    • Tasks get done by a single teammate. Co-creation by several teammates is not part of work habits.
    • If a single teammate gets accountable to complete a task, it usually gets done. A common practice is to always assign a task to a single teammate at a time.
    • To ensure tasks are done by a single teammate, tasks are splatted in smaller entities.
  • Collaboration is almost synonymous with work decomposition and individual contribution.
    • Organizing and splitting tasks in small entities is an intellectual challenge. It is difficult to break-down large tasks by splitting it recursively into smaller ones until all of the remaining tasks are trivial. A common practice is have only one teammate taking ownership for this duty.
    • Splitting tasks is difficult because the knowledge necessary to do the job is acquired progressively, often shortly before task need to be completed. In many teams, upfront planning is challenging and almost impossible.

This learning teach us that teammates co-produce unit of value as individual contributor but hardly co-create or co-design as a team. Contrary to our hypothesis, it seems that co-creation is not an intrinsic need. Organizing work and splitting tasks takes all the space. This is where there is a need, a real opportunity. In addition, it should be noted that this opportunity is not a team requirement but rather an individual requirement express loudly by the teammate responsible for work decomposition and assignment.

What should we conclude from all this? Obviously, we should redefine our entrepreneur mission and align with what we have learned. Can we? Should we? Is it possible to offer a task board that will speak to individuals (not a team) and will simplify work decomposition while allowing to easily track tasks assignments? This is a stimulating challenge. It is time to make new product-hypothesis-driven experimentations. Stay tuned.

Building software to ensure cooperating teammates

In this post, I explain how a presentation from Simon Sinek has inspired us, my partner and I, to rethink why we create Slingboard. Discover what motivates us to start this new endeavor?

I recently discovered a very interesting presentation on TED by Simon Sinek, the author of the book "Start with why" published in 2009. I know I am late to the party.  This video has been published in 2010 and been viewed 11,742,371 times.

Simon Sinek has a simple but powerful model for inspirational leadership all starting with a golden circle and the question "Why?" His examples include Apple, Martin Luther King, and the Wright brothers.

Simon’s message is profound to say the least! I felt compelled to go back to the drawing board - not just in the work situation, but also in my private life! We need to know why we act as we are, what is our inspiration and motivation, even if it's just for everyday things, or significant milestones in your life, such as why you marry someone, or why you start a company.

With my business partner, Eric Renaud, we seek to answer the question "Why Slingboard." What motivates us as a company founder to start this new endeavor?

Here is the result of our thinking:

“Slingboard build software to ensure cooperating teammates”

This vision is the foundation we want to share with the people associated with Slingboard – customers, employees, investors, cooperation partners, etc. We understand that customers buy a product in the first place, but we want more. We want them to understand why we designed the product, in the hope that they will feel inspired by our vision.

Explore during 20% of your work time

In this post, I explain why an entrepreneur should spend up to 20% of his valuable time working on related projects that are not essential compared to its short-term goals.

To increase the dissemination of ideas, the famous TED Conference has created a program called TEDx. TEDx promotes events organized independently at the local level, to get people to share a similar experience to that of TED.

Today, TEDx HEC Montreal published the presentation my ex-wife Nathalie Provost did during this local event.

She explained 23 years later, how she recovered from the massacre that happened in 1989  when she was student at the École Polytechnique. Nathalie was shot by Marc Lépine after he entered a classroom and separated the men and women. She courageously tried to reason with the gunman but took four bullets anyway. Despite the Polytechnique, Nathalie profoundly love life and profoundly love mankind. She have faith in humanity despite everything. And during this presentation, she offer people a little hope, all the better: You can overcome difficult things, personally and as a group also.

In another vein, much more rational and less emotional, while taking a look at the other presentations, I discover a great talk by Louis-Philippe Maurice. "The difference that 20% of your time can make".

Since a very young age, I have always spent nearly 20% of my time working on related projects not essential compared to my short-term goals. Often letting myself be guided only by my curiosity and my passions. I think the 20% rule is fundamental to remain a free thinker.

Too often, we believe that the key to reach success for a startup is to keep the focus. I think the key is to remain open for extension but closed for modification of the fundamentals. This is the "Open Close Principle" applied for startup. The fulfillment of the startup mission should be done in a way that new customers should be acquired only with minimum changes regarding the values ​​of the founders.  The goal is not to add complexity but rather to eliminate what is superfluous. To do this we must give ourselves the freedom to explore. It is by spending time on what seems not important that we free our mind.

Why Slingboard will be an hybrid app?

In this post, I explain why at Slingboards Lab (my new venture), we have decided to build an hybrid mobile app instead of a native or HTML5 app.

I said in the past and I will say it again: the tablet is a completely different platform than the PC and in this sense it has its own natural structure for UX experiences.

Each space has a natural structure, which is an organizing principle that helps people form a mental model of how they think about and navigate that space. Rooms are the structure of homes, neighborhoods and streets are fixed structure of cities, aisles are the structure for most stores, and Web pages are the structure for Web sites.

The natural structure for the PC experience was the desktop and accompanying folder/ file system. Influenced by notions of containment and place, this structure allowed people to traverse their personal file systems with ease. Within the PC platform, applications are often relegated to the role of a secondary actor. Files are the stars of the desktop experience, whereas applications are merely the tools that make files.

In contrast, within the tablet platform, applications are the star, making them a natural structure for mobile experiences. In fact, we can summarize the tablet experience as a list of “native” apps. Disappointing by its simplicity, this minimalist approach has proven effective. Tablet application marketplaces also reinforce the app as the natural structure for mobile experiences. A tablet platform’s value and popularity are largely attributed to the depth and breadth of its App Store portfolio.apps-ipad

Nowadays, the main challenge for organizations is to develop mobile applications. However, we no longer control the mobile platform in use. Tablets are provided by individuals according to their personal preferences. Some will bring Apple IOS devices such as the iPad while other will arrive with Microsoft windows 8 tablets or with Google Androids tablets such as the Amazon Fire. This diversification of mobile devices would not be a handicap if there was a single programming model to build native apps. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Native apps are specific to a given mobile platform and are built using the development tools and language that the respective platform supports (e.g., Xcode and Objective-C with Apple iOS, Eclipse and Java with Google Android).

If developers want to avoid writing three different mobile applications, an alternative is to rely on the open web and create HTML5 apps. HTML5 apps use standard web technologies—typically HTML5, JavaScript and CSS. This write-once-run-anywhere approach to mobile development creates cross-platform web page that work on multiple devices. While developers can create sophisticated apps with HTML5 and JavaScript alone, the vital limitations remain that this application is not visible as a native applications. The user must first start the browser application and navigate to a web pages to reach the application.

A third alternative is to create an hybrid apps. Hybrid apps make it possible to embed HTML5 apps inside a thin native container. Hybrid apps combine the best elements of native and HTML5 apps. With  the  rise  of  mobile  platforms, “native”  has  come  to  mean  an  experience  more  than  the  underlying language and runtime circumstances. That is, the new reality is that you don’t have to  write  an  application  in  Objective-C, Java or C# in order to have a native app.  With the appropriate container and a mix of CSS plus media query, the same Javascript application can target all the most important mobile platforms (Apple IOS, Google Android, Microsoft Windows 8).

So, if you are a young startup like Slingboards-Lab, should you go native, HTML5 or hybrid? Faced with this fundamental issue, I must acquiesce with Stephen Forte: A startup should never, ever, go native. The very nature of a startup is that you have little money and need to be super fast on the market to validate your assumptions (and discover that you're wrong). On the other hand, because the apps are the natural structure for mobile experience, I think opting for an HTML5 app is a mistake. So there is only one logical choice; the hybrid app.

This thinking explains why we have chosen to build Slingboards as an hybrid app. We are working hard and soon we will be able to share with you the results of our discovery. Stay tune.

Resistance Is Futile

In less than 3 years, tablet’s sales passed notebooks and PCs in Q4, 2012. In this post, I highlight what I think are the consequences for the enterprises of such a fast adoption rate by consumers.

One of my favorite sources of information about the tablet ecosystem is the TabTimes portal. I find in there not only the latest news but also very interesting analysis about tablets adoption by the enterprise. For those of you who speak French and want to learn more about this portal, in February, as part of my Visual Studio Talk Show podcast, I did an interview with Patrick Pierra, the founder of TabTimes (which by the way is a French-Canadian like me).

Recently, I read a summary of Kleiner Perkins analyst Mary Meeker. She highlights a big surprise about adoption rate of tablets. In less than 3 years, tablet’s sales passed notebooks and PCs in Q4, 2012.

With such a fast adoption rate by consumers, it is inevitable that tablets will make their appearance in the enterprises. This is already happening. The following quote, well known by Star Trek fans, applies perfectly to the modern reality of IT in the enterprise.

We are the Borg. Lower your shields and surrender your ships. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Your culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile.

We are convinced that not only consumers will use their tablets at work, but a new line of business-centric applications targeting tablets will emerge shortly.  Slingboards are a clear example of this new type of applications. We are happy to be a player in this new era. Follow us and we'll have fun.

Plurality of the small touch screens

Here is why I am convinced that the future will be a plurality of the small touch screens. Personally, I will not accept being restricted to one giant screen, even if it covers an entire wall.

Like Gordon E. Moore, the father of the prediction about the increasing number of components on a semiconductor chip that came to be known as Moore's Law, I am skeptical about the possibility of technological singularity to ever occur. I doubt that there is a point in the technological future at which artificial intelligences will become capable of augmenting and improving themselves, leading to an explosive growth in intelligence. However, like Jeff Hawkins, who is also a unconvinced about singularity, I strongly believe in the value of the machines.

”Machines will understand the world using the same methods humans do; they will be creative. Some will be self-aware, they will communicate via language, and humans will recognize that machines have these qualities. Machines will not be like humans in all aspects, emotionally, physically. If you think dogs and other mammals are conscious, then you will probably think some machines are conscious. If you think consciousness is a purely human phenomenon, then you won't think machines are conscious.”

I think humans will expand the capabilities of their brains using several machines connected to the cloud and all sharing their personal data. With the birth of the iPad tablet, and its many Android and Windows clones, we are already in this era. The future is plurality. We now have access in our immediate environment to a multitude of small and easily portable screens. The context of the task at hand define which machine we use.

TabletsFor many, the above statement may seem obvious and even trivial. With the extremely rapid rate of adoption of the tablet, it is a unavoidable that touch is going to dominate the next era of computing. Welcome to the future, here's your … rectangle.

However, it is interesting to note that until recently few visionary envisioned the ubiquity of tablet in our lives. For nearly 20 years, Microsoft has had the Microsoft Home (also referred to as “Home of the Future”) in a building on its Redmond campus. In that facility, Microsoft replicates a home outfitted with technologies that it thinks will be in use five to 10 years in the future.

Until recently, this futuristic house was demonstrating a wealth of giant touch screens with almost no tablet or smartphone.

microsoft-home-of-the-futureThe omnipotent large touch screen has long been part of our collective imagination. How many science fiction movie perceived as realistic a giant screen that covers an entire wall? Almost no science-fiction movie except from the classic 2001: A Space Odyssey have adequately predicted the importance of the iPad.

Personally, I am not better than my colleagues to predict the future. When I had the initial idea of a slingboard during summer of 2011, I immediately thought that this innovation would be possible only with the advent of large touch screens (30 inches and bigger). So I did not start my business immediately. Instead,  I committed in writing a book with Addison Wesley about agile software development. The book "Executable Specifications with Scrum" is the result of this commitment.

Romane-with-friendsIt was not until nearly a year later that I finally realized that the use of a slingboard was possible on a small screen factor.

One day, I looked at my daughter who was sitting with his friends around the family table. Nobody spoke directly. All were busy with their iPhone / iPod. They had long moment of silence and then suddenly all were laughing in heart. Curious, I finally understood that each was consulting in real-time the same messages thread on their Facebook wall.

This experience was an eye-opener. I finally understood that teammates do not need to see the entire slingboard to work together. They just need to be able to have a view of the section that concerns them.

The giant touch screen is dead (at least as long as it will be too expensive). The future is the plurality of the small touch screens.

Bootstrapping

For my first startups, to support the initial costs before being profitable, I was looking for external funding, mainly venture capital. I do not take this path anymore. When I started my consulting firm in 2003,  I bootstrapped to finance my venture with success. My partner Erik and I, we intent to do the same with Slingboards Lab.

Bootstrapping refers to a self-sustaining process, where entrepreneur proceeds without external help or capital. In our case, we will fund the development of Slingboards Lab through internal cash flow (and we are very cautious with our expenses). For now, the cash flow come from consulting services we do on the side. Obviously, we do not accept full-time contracts, part-time only. Bootstrapping is a real challenge. In general, since we have two jobs, we work more than 60 hours per week. In addition, you need a good network to obtain contracts.

Currently, I am looking for a part-time contract. If you are looking for an agile coach endowed with a strong expertise in architecture, I'm your man.

Another source of revenue that helps fund my startup are training. On 22 May, I will provide training in Quebec City entitled "TEAM FOUNDATION TOUR: Maitriser l'agilité avec l'outillage Microsoft " This training (in French) provides an edge in the adoption of agile practices (Scrum) with Microsoft Team Foundation Server.

TFS2012Here is the web page announcing the event: http://mariocardinal.eventbrite.ca

Single Responsibility Principle

In this post, I explain why the value proposition of the first version of the Slingboards Lab home page was not clear.

An entrepreneur is a creator. One of the challenges that awaits every entrepreneur is to succeed creating simple things with only one responsibility. Everything an entrepreneur creates should do one thing, and no more. In software architecture, we call this rule the single responsibility principle. I learned it many years ago from Robert C. Martin. In object-oriented programming, the single responsibility principle states that every class should have a single responsibility, and that responsibility should be entirely encapsulated by the class. All its services should be narrowly aligned with that responsibility. Another way to state this principle is to say that a class should have one, and only one, reason to change.

I am reminding you of the single responsibility principle because, lately, I've broken this rule. It happened when I created the first version of Slingboards Lab home page.

I discovered the problem in the following days when I started testing this page with professional developers. I was mixing two very different messages. On one hand, I was trying to explain what a collaboration board is, and on the other hand, I was presenting our programming platform. Worse, I was using the word "slingboard" and the word "Collaboration boards" to express the same concept. To say the least, the value proposition was not clear. In addition, continuing my tests, I found that the primary customer segment for our product are the team leaders and not the professional developers.

Obviously, I quickly rebuilt the home page to improve our message. As expressed by my partner Erik Renaud: fail fast and learn quickly. Refactoring the website keep me busy most of my time last week. Now our Home Page has only one responsibility which is to present slingboards to team leaders. I transferred all the content that is intended for developers in the Developers Page.