Thought / Productivity in big environments

While reading this post on Looks Good Works Well by Bill Scott, I started wandering about scale and methodologies. As Scott mentions, when he started using Extreme Programming in agile methodology, it worked for him when not taking it literally or dogmatically, but as guidelines that informed his process.

I wonder if that is not a result of scaling (up or down) the method to the process.

As I see Jason’s approach to work, it more and more seems like ideas that have arised from his own experience at 37signals, and thus are informed by many a characteristic of his own enterprise, such as scale, dynamics and communication methods. An excerpt of Jason’s key points from the article:

(note: this does not pretend at all to be a questioning or judging on Jason’s arguments, it is just a personal reasoning started by these points)

Keep your team small
– Forces you to focus on what’s important
– Clearer communication comes for free
– “Communication usually fails except by accident”

Collaboration is about communication, not control
– Keep your team apart. Interruption is not collaboration. Interruption is the enemy of productivity.
– Encourage alone time
– Stay away from each other as much as possible
– Communicate more passively, less actively.

Meetings are toxic
– Usually a symptom of a problem, not a solution. Mentioned a business leader in Brazil who advocates that all meetings are optional.
– Meetings convey an abysmally small amount of information per minute
– Require thorough preparation that people rarely do
– Tend to procreate

Instead make tiny decisions
– Decisions are progress
– Progress is great for morale

Most of these points are sound and seem to tackle rather well some inner problems of company productivity. Yes, meetings consume valuable time in a rather unefficient way, and yes, uninterrupted time might prove as a very productivity-savvy tool, and yes, keeping your team small helps having an eye on mostly everything.

But (and this usually tends to be a big but) what if you’re handling the intranet design for such a multinational behemot as Dresdner Kleinworth or Accenture? How small your teams can be? How many conferences and meetings you might avoid before the team is completely uninformed? How many uninterrupted time you can have before you fall out of the client’s loop?

My way of seeing it, and where de weakness is, is that all that smart and sound advice is directed and intended for a rather small audience: that of start-ups, small companies, design studios; but it is not explicit in its wording.

Small is not necessarily better: Apple is great and big. Small teams can take care of some projects like Backpackit.com, but not British Gas’ many service websites.Tiny decisions help keep things being done instead of being talked about (as it happens in meeting-driven and design-by-comittee cultures), but in a big project scope can be missed.

I am in no way saying I am contrary to these guides; I am convinced they work, and I believe in most of them as great guidelines to improve your workflow, project and product/service. I just miss the appropiated context on where to apply them, or better, from where to rethink and adapt them to the existing context.

There’s a great book S, M, L, XL by architect Rem Koolhaas. It defines a common ground from where to think about scale inside architecture. His approach is that every scale has its own advantages and shortcomings, and we have to focus on them to exploit them at their maximum. After all, it seems rather unlikely to pretend that you can build the Pyramid of Giza over Agile Architecture. But that thought might be completely wrong.

That’s one thing I might start thinking and working towards, as little has been said on how big companies can benefit from these forward-thinking productiveness-driven guides.

Thought / The picture of New

Lately I have found myself thinking much about innovation. It is a very difficult word to define these days, and it has to do with the marketing value it has.

Today I was looking at a fantastic picture from Reuters about a dreadful fall of Dani Pedrosa, a spanish rider for Honda, in the Japanese Grand Prix.

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It made me think it was beautiful, even when showing an action we might label painful and reprehensive to enjoy. Its beauty came from beyond the situation itself. It came form the uniqueness of it, of the moment captured in the film.

Its beauty lays in its innovative way of showing a situation we already know how to interpret. It is an innovative picture, showing a new way of seeing what might have quotidien to recognise, a fall from a motorcycle, an event that can take secons to happen, and to which eyes are usually unaccustomed to perceive in detail.

Innovation in itself, as a word, means a new way of doing something, more or less. Photography has always depend on innovation, as it rests within showing us new ways of seeing the world that surround us, always surprising our accustomed eyes with uncommon images of what’s colloquial, known to our perception.

As far as I recall, innovation has not been a particualr search for photographers. It might be me but photographers don’t define their work as innovative in general. Breathtaking, incredible and impressive are adjectives that adapt and describe better waht great photographers do. And I start thinking innovation is not a spoken issue just because it is the most common of issues for a picture professional. It is so much part of what they do, it is a common place. It is what good photographers do.

Perhaps we designers should let it become a fundamental part of what we do in order for it to become what it might really be: a fundamental part of our everyday work.

Thought / A little research on wikis

I’ve been running a little research on how wikis can affect/improve communication processes for companies, enhance collaboration and consolidate files and information versions.

Here are some of the most interesting articles I have found (i’ll be updating it as I continue my check)

Case Studies:

Examples:

  • Nokia and Vodafone Share Ideas – ShareIdeas.org is an online community and a wiki for sharing ideas on how to use mobile communications for social and environmental benefits.
  • Microformats – Microformats are a way of adding simple markup to human-readable data items such as events, contact details or locations, on web pages, so that the information in them can be extracted by software and indexed, searched for, saved, cross-referenced or combined.
  • Lussumo Documentation – This wiki contains documentation for Lussumo software like Vanilla and the Filebrowser.
  • Freebase – Freebase is an open shared database of the world’s knowledge

Articles:

Trivia:

Thought / About design.yahoo.com

A couple of weeks ago I was pointed to design.yahoo.com. I went and check it, expectations high and excitement built up…

I personally expected more from a subdomain as design.yahoo.com, being it at the same (virtual) place as Flickr and Delicious (in the Yahoo family). We’re talking about one of the major players in the online world of today. Their vision of R&D might show the world what they’re striving for. And right now it does not amount to more than a couple of projects with future, a bunch of rehashed ideas, and a lonesome blog.

I think Design Yahoo has to hurry up and fill the subdomain with work, and not let it die of lack of content and a forgotten blog, as I also reckon the launch has happened a little too soon: the blog is already 6 weeks old and it has only one entry saying “Hi, We’re excited to share our work with you. Watch this space for more, soon.”. Define soon.

Everybody wants to be design these days, but the way is not to collect some mildly interesting projects and throw them in a cool URL, together with a blog and some videos, and then forget about the whole thing.

Anyone can do such a move. Yahoo, you can do better than that.

Update (28/11/07): After some days of uncertainty, design.yahoo.com finally awoke to the full splendor of their projects. Wish you the best of lucks.

Thought / People-centred Design

It has been a buzz word for some time. It occurred to me that perhaps it is not that new a buzz word, or even a concept.

It came to me that some actors use to research roles they will play, for example, George Clooney being in a real ER before doing ER, and Leonardo DiCaprio hanging out with policemen before The Departed. Stuff like that.

Suddenly it occurred to me that it can be considered people-centred design. In a way, understanding the end user, tailoring an experience, researching the environment, conveying a realistic scenario, isn’t it all happening there?

They’re selling movies to people and they know how to, because they know what appeals to people. How? Knowing what they like, what they care about. They (the people) are in the centre of this kind of movie industry. So they seem to be quite people-centred.

What’s for us to do?