Micro-strangulation vs COTS customisation

Over the last couple of posts, we’ve referred to the following diagram and its ability to create a glass ceiling on OSS feature releases:
The increasing percentage of tech debt

Yesterday’s post indicated that the current proliferation of microservices has the potential to amplify the strangulation.

So how does that compare with the previous approach that was built around COTS (Commercial off-the-shelf) OSS packages?

With COTS, the same time-series chart exists, just that it sees the management of legacy, etc fall largely with the COTS vendor, freeing up the service provider… until the service provider starts building customisations and the overhead becomes shared.

With microservices, the rationalisation responsibility is shifted to the in-house (or insourced) microservice developers.

And a third option: If the COTS is actually delivered via a cloud “OSS as a service” (OSSaaS) model, then there’s a greater incentive for the vendor to constantly re-factor and reduce clutter.

A fourth option, which I haven’t actually seen as a business model yet, is once an accumulation of modular microservices begins to grow, vendors might begin to offer microservices as a COTS offering.

10 ways to #GetOutOfTheBuilding

Eric Ries’ “The Lean Startup,” has a short chapter entitled, “Get out of the Building.” It basically describes getting away from your screen – away from reading market research, white papers, your business plan, your code, etc – and out into customer-land. Out of your comfort zone and into a world of primary research that extends beyond talking to your uncle (see video below for that reference!).

This concept applies equally well to OSS product developers as it does to start-up entrepreneurs. In fact the concept is so important that the chapter name has inspired it’s own hashtag (#GetOutOfTheBuilding).

This YouTube video provides 10 tips for getting out of the building (I’ve started the clip at Tendai Charasika’s list of 10 ways but you may want to scroll back a bit for his more detailed descriptions).

But there’s one thing that’s even better than getting out of the building and asking questions of customers. After all, customers don’t always tell the complete truth (even when they have good intentions). No, the better research is to observe what they do, not what they say. #ObserveWhatTheyDoNotWhatTheySay

This could be by being out of the building and observing customer behaviour… or it could be through looking at customer usage statistics generated by your OSS. That data might just show what a customer is doing… or not doing (eg customers might do small volume transactions through the OSS user interface, but have a hack for bulk transactions because the UI isn’t efficient at scale).

Not sure if it’s indicative of the industry as a whole, but my experience working for / with vendors is that they don’t heavily subscribe to either of these hashtags when designing and refining their products.

Does your OSS collect primary data to #ObserveWhatTheyDoNotWhatTheySay? If it does, do you ever make use of it? Or do you prefer to talk with your uncle (does he know much about OSS BTW)?

Watching customers under an omnichannel strobe light

Omnichannel will remain full of holes until we figure out a way of tracking user journeys rather than trying to prescribe (design, document, maintain) process flows.

As a customer jumps between the various channels, they move between systems. In doing so, we tend to lose the ability to watch customer’s journey as a single continuous flow. It’s like trying to watch customer behaviour under a strobe light… except that the light only strobes on for a few seconds every minute.

Theoretically, omnichannel is a great concept for customers because it allows them to step through any channel at any time to suit their unique behavioural preferences. In practice, it can be a challenging experience for customers because of a lack of consistency and flow between channels.

It’s a massive challenge for providers to deliver consistency and flow because the disparate channels have vastly different user interfaces and experiences. IVR, digital, retail, etc all come from completely different design roots.

Vendors are selling the dream of cost reductions through improved efficiency within their channels. Unfortunately this is the wrong place for a service provider to look. It’s the easier place to look, but the wrong place nonetheless. Processes already tend to be relatively efficient within a channel and data tends to be tracked well within a channel.

The much harder, but better place to seek benefits is through the cross-channel user journeys, the hand-offs between channels. That’s where the real competitive advantage opportunities lie.

The unfair OSS advantage

My wife and I attended a Christmas party over the weekend and on the trip home we discussed customer service. In particular we were discussing the customer service training she’d had, as well as the culture of customer service reinforcement she’d experienced via leaders and peers in her industry. She doesn’t work in ICT or OSS (obviously?).

In our industry, we talk the customer experience talk via metrics like NPS (Net Promoter Score). However, I don’t recall ever working with a company that provided customer service training or had a strong culture of reinforcing customer service behaviours. Some might claim that it’s just an unwritten rule / expectation.

Conversely, some players in our industry go the opposite way and appear to have the mentality of trying to screw over their customers. Their customers know it and don’t like it but are locked in for any number of reasons.

As OSS implementers, the more consistent trend seems to be a culture of technical perfection. I know I’ve dropped the ball on customer service in the past by putting the technical solution ahead of the customer. I feel bad about that on reflection.

Perhaps what we don’t realise is that we’re missing out on an unfair advantage.

As Seth Godin states in this blog, “Here’s a sign I’ve never seen hanging in a corporate office, a mechanic’s garage or a politician’s headquarters:
WE HAVE AN UNFAIR ADVANTAGE:
We care more.

It’s easy to promise and difficult to do. But if you did it, it would work. More than any other skill or attitude, this is what keeps me (and people like me) coming back
.”

Could it be a real differentiator in our fragmented market?

5 principles for your OSS Innovation Lab

Corporate innovation is far more dependent on external collaboration and customer insight than having a ‘lab’.”
Andy Howard
in a fabulous LinkedIn post.

Like so many other industries, OSS is ripe for disruption through innovation. Andy Howard’s post provides a number of sobering statistics for any large OSS vendors thinking of embarking on an Innovation Lab journey as a way of triggering innovation. Andy quotes the New York Times as follows, “The last three years have seen Nordstrom, Microsoft, Disney, Target, Coca-Cola, British Airways and The New York Times either close or dramatically downsize their innovation labs. 90% of innovation labs are failing.”

He also proposes five principles for corporate innovation success (Andy’s comments are in italics, mine follow):

  1. People. Will taking people out of the business and placing them into a new department change their thinking? No way. Those successful in corporate innovation are more entrepreneurial and more customer-centered, and usually come from outside of the organisation.
    Are you identifying (and then leveraging) those with an entrepreneurial bent in your organisation?
  2. Commercial intent. Every innovation project requires a commercial forecast. To progress, a venture must demonstrate how it could ultimately generate at least €100 million in annual revenue from a market worth at least €1 billion, and promise higher profit margins than usual.
    The numbers quoted above come from Daimler’s (wildly successful) Innovation Lab. Have you noticed that they’ve set the bar high for their innovation teams? They’re seeking the moonshots, not the incremental change.
  3. Organisational architecture. Whether it’s an innovation lab or simply an innovation department, separating the innovation team from the rest of the business is important. While the team may be bound by the same organisational policies, separation has cultural benefits. The most critical separation is not in terms of physical space, but in the team’s roles and responsibilities. Having employees attempt to function in both an ‘innovation’ role and ‘business as usual’ role is counterproductive and confusing. Innovation is an exclusive job.
    I’m 50/50 on this one. Having a gemba / coal-face / BAU role provides a much better understanding of real customer challenges. However, having BAU responsibilities can detract from a focus on innovation. The question is how to find a balance that works.
  4. External collaboration. Working with consultants and customers from outside of the organisation has long been a contributor to corporate innovation success. Companies attempting a Silicon Valley-style ‘lone genius’ breakthrough are headed towards failure. P&G’s ‘Connect and Develop’ innovation model, designed to bring outside thinking together with P&G’s own teams, is attributed with helping to double the P&G share price within five years.
    Where do you source your external collaboration on OSS innovation? Dirty or clean consultants? Contractors? Training of staff? Delegating to vendors?
  5. Customer insight. Innovations solve real customer problems. Staying close to customers and getting out of the building is how customer problems are discovered.
    As indicated under point 3 above, how do you ensure your innovators are also deeply connected with the customer psyche? Getting the team out of the ivory tower and onto the customer site is a key here

Do you want dirty or clean OSS consulting?

The original management consultant was Frederick Taylor, who prided himself in having discovered the “one best way” which would be delivered by “first-class men”. These assumptions, made in 1911, are still dominant today. Best practice is today’s “one best way” and recruiters, HR and hiring managers spend months and months searching for today’s “first-class men”.

I call this type of consulting clean because the assumptions allow the consultant to avoid dirty work or negative feedback. The model is “proven” best practice. Thus, if the model fails, it is not the consultants’ fault – rather it’s that the organisation doesn’t have the “first-class employees” who can deliver the expected outcome. You just have to find those that can. Then everything will be hunky dory.

All responsibility and accountability are abdicated downwards to HR and hiring managers. A very clean solution for everybody but them.

It’s also clean because it can be presented in a shiny manner – lots of colourful slide-decks promising a beautiful outcome – rational, logical, predictable, ordered, manageable. Clean. In today’s world of digital work, the best practice model is a new platform transforming everything you do into a shiny, pixelated reality. Cleaner than ever.

The images drawn by clean consultants are compelling. The client gets a clearly defined vision of a future state backed up by evidence of its efficacy.

But it’s far too often a dud. Things are ignored. The complex differences between the client and the other companies the model has been used on. The differences in size, in market, in demographic, in industry. None matter – because the one best way model is just that – one best way. It will work everywhere for everyone. As long as they keep doing it right and can find the right people to do it.

The dirty consultant has a problem that the clean consultant doesn’t have. It’s a big problem. He doesn’t have an immediate answer for the complex problem vexing the client. He has no flashy best practice model he strongly believes in. No shiny slide deck that outlines a defined future state.

It’s a difficult sell.

What he does have is a research process. A way of finding out what is actually causing the organisational problems. Why and how the espoused culture is different from organisational reality. Why and how the supposed best practice solution is producing stressed out anxiety or cynical apathy.

This process is underpinned by a fundamentally different perspective on the world of work. Context is everything. There is no solution that can fit every company all of the time. But there’s always a solution for the problem. It just has to be discovered.

The dirty consultant enters an organisation ready and willing to uncover the dirty reasons for the organisation not performing. This involved two processes – (1) working out where the inefficiencies and absurdities are, and (2) finding out who knows how to solve them.”

The text above all comes from this LinkedIn post by Dr Richard Claydon. It’s also the longest quote I’ve used in nearly 2000 posts here on PAOSS. I’ve copied such a great swathe of it because it articulates a message that is important for OSS.

There is no “best practice.” There is no single way. There are no cookie-cutter consulting solutions. There are too many variants at play. Every OSS has massive local context. They all have a local context that is far bigger than any consultant can bring to bear.

They all need dirty consulting – assignments where the consultant doesn’t go into the job knowing the answers, acknowledging that they don’t have the same local, highly important context of those who are at gemba every day, at the coal-face every day.

There is no magic-square best-fit OSS solution for a given customer. There should be no domino-effect selection of OSS (ie the big-dog service provider in the region has chosen product X after a long product evaluation so therefore all the others should choose X too). There is no perfect, clean answer to all OSS problems.

Having said that, we should definitely seek elements of repeatability – using repeatable decision frameworks to guide the dirty consulting process, to find solutions that really do fit, to find where repeatable processes will actually make a difference for a given customer.

So if the local context is so important, why even use a consultant?

It’s a consultant’s role to be a connector – to connect people, ideas, technologies, concepts, organisations – to help a customer make valuable connections they would otherwise not be able to make.

These connections often come from the ability to combine the big-picture concepts of clean consulting with the contextual methods of dirty consulting. There’s a place for both, but it’s the dirty consulting that provides the all-important connection to gemba. If an OSS consultant doesn’t have a dirty-consulting background, an ability to frame from a knowledge of gemba, I wonder whether the big-picture concepts can ever be workable?

What are your experiences working with clean consultants (vs dirty consultants) in OSS?

6 principles of OSS UI design

When we talk about building capabilities by design, there are a set of four core capabilities that you should keep in mind:

  • Designed for self-sufficiency: Enable an environment where the business user is capable of acquiring, blending, presenting, and visualizing their data discoveries. IT needs to move away from being command and control to being an information broker in a new kind of business-IT partnership that removes barriers, so that users have more options, more empowerment, and greater autonomy.
  • Designed for collaboration: Have tools and platforms that allow people to share and work together on different ideas for review and contribution. This further closes that business-IT gap, establishes transparency, and fosters a collective learning culture.
  • Designed for visualization: Data visualizations have been elevated to a whole new form of communication that leverages cognitive hardwiring, enriches visual discovery, and helps tell a story about data to move from understanding to insight.
  • Designed for mobility: It is not enough to be just able to consume information on mobile devices, instead users must be able to work and play with data “on the go” and make discovery a portable, personalized experience.

Lindy Ryan in the book, “The Visual Imperative: Creating a Visual Culture of Data Discovery.”

When it comes to OSS specifically, I have two additional design principles:

  • Designed for Search – there is so much data in our OSS / BSS suites; some linked, some not; some normalised, some not; some cleansed, some not; This design principle allows abstraction from all those data challenges to allow operators to make psuedo-natural language requests for information. Noting that this could be considered an overlap between points 1 and 3 in the prior list
  • Designed for user journeys – in an omni-channel world, the entry point and traversal of any OSS workflow could cross multiple channels (eg online, retail store, IVR, app, etc). This makes pre-defined workflows almost impossible to design / predict. Instead, on OSS / BSS suite must be able to handle complete flexibility of user journeys between state / event transitions

OSS User Experiences at 3.5 inches

The far-reaching impact of the technology revolution of 2007 with the launch of the Apple iPhone is not to be underestimated. Across every industry, Apple has had a profound influence through the psychological effect of how consumers expect technology to interact with them. People now expect good design as part of their visual communication and interactivity with information. In obsessing over simple, intuitive design, Apple sets a new standard for visual communication. It was necessary to design a completely original visualization experience because when converting from the real estate of a computer monitor to a 3.5-inch screen, smart choices must be made to effectively communicate visually and create intuitive interaction with the device. Not that Apple has always done this perfectly, but it has always focused on aesthetics and the user experience.
Lindy Ryan
in the book, “The Visual Imperative: Creating a Visual Culture of Data Discovery.”

Great point by Lindy Ryan above, but I’d probably suggest that Apple re-set consumer expectations about 5 years earlier with the iPod.  Anyway, here’s what a typical OSS looks like today:
Current OSS UI

Not exactly clean and elegant. Go on. Tell me it’s not true? How many OSS have you used that have a User Interface as cluttered and un-intuitive as the tongue-in-cheek sample shown above?

What if we took the perspective of having to design our OSS for a 3.5″ screen? Would we have to simplify? Would we have to reduce the design and workflows down to their very essence?

Humour me. Just as an experiment, what happens if you set exactly this task to your OSS UI designers (do you even have UI / UX designers or just devs)? Then ask them to expand any learnings back out to the full-sized monitors. I’d love to hear what you come back with.

Put it this way, I’m doubting the designs will be worse.

OSS death in The Matrix

84 percent of employees are “matrixed” to some extent, meaning they serve on multiple teams
Gallup Report: “State of the American Workplace.”

Like me, you’ve probably worked on some highly functional OSS teams as well as some dysfunctional ones. Perhaps you’ve even worked with teams that have had elements of both.

Today I reflect on what have been the ingredients of the highly functional teams I’ve been lucky to work with.

They’ve had smart, dedicated people, but so have the dysfunctional teams so that’s not it. The dysfunctional teams have had conflict, but so have the functional teams.

Interestingly, the highest achieving teams I’ve worked on have tended to be small and located far away from home. They haven’t had a single powerful leader but have had a core of tripods with functional groupings surrounding the core. They haven’t always had great project managers leading the project but that certainly doesn’t mean a lack of leadership.

Large OSS projects tend to evolve as they go, so having a clear view of the end state hasn’t been the differentiator. I’ve always believed that the customer / client gets back what they put in but some of the highest-achieving teams have delivered even when there has been something of an us against them dynamic (but still significant interaction with the client).

My take on all of this is:

  • Having a core of 3-5 multi-functional experts, each guiding smaller teams, spreads the dependence compared with having a single guru
  • Being offshore has tended to force a greater level of team interaction and deeper understanding between team members, especially outside work hours, even where that hasn’t necessarily translated to close friendships
  • Being part of a small team that is under-resourced means everyone has had to go outside the comfort zone of their job title to get priority tasks done. Whilst the single common objective (ie to deliver an OSS) is clear, there has been flexibility in how the objective is achieved
  • Having a single objective (ie not matrixed across multiple teams and projects) has allowed a focus amidst the chaos and a sense of accountability to a single team

l tend to believe that the last item on the list could be one of the biggest, most underestimated factors. Most big OSS projects I’ve worked on in the last few years have been heavily matrixed. They also haven’t had the most highly functional teams interestingly.

If you’re envisioning a moonshot OSS project, I’d recommend building a small expert core and eliminate any sense of the matrix from around them.

In your experience, what have been the ingredients of the most successful teams you’ve engaged with? Are my ingredients consistent or contrary to yours?

An uncommon list of OSS books

Since reading the first book on this list, I’ve become a very avid and wide-ranging reader. The seeds sown by the book list below have immensely helped enrich the content you see here on the PAOSS blog and other PAOSS content.

You’ll begin to notice a very curious thing about this list though. There are only two books in the entire list that are actually about OSS. I have many OSS books in my library, but most struggle for relevance beyond the author’s frame of reference – they have been written from the specific technical experiences of the author, which are rarely transferable to other OSS. Either the technologies are now out of date and/or the details / terminologies were pertinent only to that OSS time and place. It’s one of the reasons that PAOSS content is specifically intended to abstract from technology and deliver insights, methodologies, processes and frameworks that have a broader relevance and greater longevity (hopefully).

The remaining books in the list have not been written with OSS in mind but definitely provide insights and perspectives that are transferable to the challenges we face in the OSS industry. In no particular order (except the first being the first…)

Rich Dad, Poor DadRich Dad, Poor Dad
by Sharon L. Lechter Robert T. Kiyosaki
This was the book that changed it all for me. Whilst its intent is to educate on personal finance, the effect it had was to lift my eyes beyond the purely technical. Like 95%+ of people in our industry, I had previously only ever focused on delivering the best technical solution I could with the assumption that this would deliver a great customer outcome. I now know that the challenges we face are far  bigger than that!
Insanely Simple: The Obsession That Drives Apple's SuccessInsanely Simple: The Obsession That Drives Apple’s Success
by Ken Segall
The greatest OSS (but non-OSS) book I’ve read. The first half of this book in particular delivers powerful examples of simplification at all levels of an organisation as experienced by an advertising executive working alongside Steve Jobs at Apple. The OSS and communications industry need more people who are able to wield the simple stick like Steve did.
ReworkRework
by Jason Fried, David Heinemeier Hansson
These gentlemen have built a strong business around the Basecamp project management suite of tools. In Rework, just like their blog at 37signals, they provide brilliant contrarian insights into how to run a software business… Or any business for that matter. Efficiency and simplicity are the mantra ahead of the Red-Bull fuelled heroics spouted by many organisations in the software industry. One of my all-time favourite business books.
Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and ActionsEnchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions
by Guy Kawasaki
Guy defines enchantment as, “the process of delighting people with a product, service, organisation or idea. The outcome of enchantment is voluntary and long-lasting support that is mutually beneficial.” If there was ever an industry that was in need of enchantment, it is the OSS industry right now.
Rain: What a Paperboy Learned About BusinessRain: What a Paperboy Learned About Business
by Jeffrey J. Fox
An easy to digest story about a boy with a paper-route learning the key tenets of rainmaking, the ability to delight customers and make sales (and projects) happen.
The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any AudienceThe Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience
by Carmine Gallo
There are two acronyms that pervade in the OSS / telco / tech industry; DBA (Death by Acronym) and DBP (Death by Powerpoint). This book provides some stunning insights into how to make a compelling presentation on your latest OSS project.
Killing Giants: 10 Strategies to Topple the Goliath in Your IndustryKilling Giants: 10 Strategies to Topple the Goliath in Your Industry
by Stephen Denny
There are a number of goliath incumbents in our industry. However, I suspect that most of the required disruption is coming from the Davids of our industry, despite the burning platforms at the goliaths. Interesting reading for a different perspective on innovation and change.
Jack Welch & The G.E. Way: Management Insights and Leadership Secrets of the Legendary CEOJack Welch & The G.E. Way: Management Insights and Leadership Secrets of the Legendary CEO
by Robert Slater
This book describes a number of key strategies for how Jack Welch pared back the weighty bureaucracy of General Electric upon his ascension to CEO. I suspect our industry needs similarly brutal change leadership to thrive into the future
The Best Service is No Service: How to Liberate Your Customers from Customer Service, Keep Them Happy, and Control CostsThe Best Service is No Service: How to Liberate Your Customers from Customer Service, Keep Them Happy, and Control Costs
by Bill Price, David Jaffe
There is a distinct difference between the customer service models of the typical communications service provider (CSP) and digital service providers (DSP) like Google, Facebook, Amazon, et al. Most CSPs can only wish for the level of customer self-service that the DSPs enjoy. I was working on a project for a customer-facing business unit of a CSP whilst reading this book and the parallels were almost scary.
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of LessEssentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
by Greg McKeown
Think: Less but better. A motto for our industry, one individual at a time.
Anything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of EntrepreneurAnything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur
by Derek Sivers
Derek Sivers was a professional musician before starting his own business, one that helped sell the CDs of the long tail of the music industry, musicians overlooked by the big labels. This might sound barely relevant to the OSS industry but there is an uncommon clarity in the way that Sivers views businesses, customers and delivery. Many of his thoughts really struck a chord with me (bad pun intended).
Brick by Brick: How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy IndustryBrick by Brick: How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry
by David Robertson, Bill Breen
Bespoke creativity took this icon of childrens’ toys to the brink of bankruptcy. Perhaps counter-intuitively, paring it back to the basic building blocks (another bad pun) allowed creativity and profitability to thrive at Lego.
Principles: Life and WorkPrinciples: Life and Work
by Ray Dalio
Built around the principles that Ray Dalio codified at his company, Bridgewater Associates. Many of his principles of team and culture seem like common sense, but helpfully compiled into a single volume. Not all OSS teams have these principles mastered.
Blue Ocean Strategy, Expanded Edition: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition IrrelevantBlue Ocean Strategy, Expanded Edition: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant
by W. Chan Kim, Renée Mauborgne
This book provides frameworks for shifting an organisation out of fragmented, highly competitive markets (bloody red oceans) into a unique market segment (blue oceans). I’ve even added some of the concepts in this book into a framework that helps my clients plot differentiated strategic roadmaps and product evaluations.
Leading ChangeLeading Change
by John P. Kotter
OSS projects are challenging to implement. Through harsh experience, I’ve learnt that even technically perfect implementations are prone to fail if the organisational change effort hasn’t been managed well. Whilst there are newer change management methodologies available, I still find that Kotter’s 8 steps provide a valuable framework for building OSS change management strategies around.
Everything Is Negotiable: How to Get the Best Deal Every TimeEverything Is Negotiable: How to Get the Best Deal Every Time
by Gavin Kennedy
Introduces some fascinating negotiation tactics such as “The Mother Hubbard” (ie the cupboard is bare). There is more negotiation required in OSS than I first gave it credit for.
Endless Referrals: Network Your Everyday Contacts into SalesEndless Referrals: Network Your Everyday Contacts into Sales
by Bob Burg
In the early days of my career, I’d gone from one project to the next, with my head down focusing on delivery. This book opened my eyes to the value of staying in touch with past colleagues and adding value to my network. The results have surprised me so I recommend this book’s teachings to anyone who is purely tech-focused.
The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American InnovationThe Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation
by Jon Gertner
Put simply, this is probably the most inspiring book I’ve read in relation to the communications industry. The groundbreaking innovations (including OSS) that were developed within R&D powerhouses like Bell Labs during the 1900’s are staggering and something that we can barely even aspire to today. It’s no coincidence that the OSS Call for Innovation references this book
nullLinchpin: Are You Indispensable?
by Seth Godin
A call to action to become a linchpin, someone who delivers in territory where there is no map / rule-book, someone who inspires those around them. OSS needs more linchpins.
Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others DieMade to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die
by Chip Heath, Dan Heath
The term “stickiness” was popularised by Malcolm Gladwell in “The Tipping Point.” This book borrows the term and looks to explain why an idea or concept remains sticky. OSS tend to be so sticky, in many cases to the detriment of the customer experience, but our industry is also in desperate need for powerfully sticky new ideas and approaches.
The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About ItThe E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It
by Michael E. Gerber
The ideas in this book are based on growing small businesses, but there are certainly take-aways for OSS. The biggest for me is the need for repeatability. We need to codify and systematise if we are to refine and improve.
Purple Cow, New Edition: Transform Your Business by Being RemarkablePurple Cow, New Edition: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable
by Seth Godin
In a cluttered or fragmented marketplace, like OSS, it is difficult to stand out from all other suppliers. Seth Godin introduces the concept of the purple cow – when you’re on a long trip in the countryside, seeing lots of brown or black cows soon gets boring, but if you saw a purple cow, you’d immediately take notice. This book provides the impetus to make your products stand out and drive word of mouth rather than having to differentiate via your marketing.
Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True InspirationCreativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration
by Ed Catmull, Amy Wallace
From the creative brilliance of Pixar Studios comes this book of how to cultivate inspired creativity. My biggest take-away was the amount of time and money Pixar spends on upgrading its hardware and software platforms between films…. unlike some of our OSS that are still rooted in tech from the 1990s.
The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New RichThe 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich
by Timothy Ferriss
Starts off strongly but drops away rapidly in the second half IMHO. The words of a friend of mine aptly paraphrase what Tim Ferris talks about in this book, “Only do what only you can do.” Prioritise your efforts on what make you truly unique and use other efficiency tools and/or engage others to do the rest
OSS Essentials: Support System Solutions for Service ProvidersOSS Essentials: Support System Solutions for Service Providers
by Kornel Terplan
Finally, a book that’s actually about OSS. Whilst covering some obsolete technologies, this is one of the very few OSS books that retains a longevity of relevance (it was published in 2001)
Million Dollar Consulting: The Professional's Guide to Growing a Practice, Fifth EditionMillion Dollar Consulting: The Professional’s Guide to Growing a Practice, Fifth Edition
by Alan Weiss
Alan Weiss has the ability to cut through the waffle that’s offered in many consultancy how-to manuals. He provides insightful and often contrarian advice that will make you a more professional consultant, no matter what area of expertise you cover.
Mastering your OSS: Operational Support System Implementation Tips and TechniquesMastering your OSS: Operational Support System Implementation Tips and Techniques
by Ryan Jeffery
This is the best OSS book that I’ve written (so far), but with new material in the pipeline, watch this space for even better publications. It provides the frameworks, processes, insights and recommendations that will help guide you through the myriad of challenges, technical or otherwise, that you will face in the world of OSS.
Power Listening: Mastering the Most Critical Business Skill of AllPower Listening: Mastering the Most Critical Business Skill of All
by Bernard T. Ferrari
Bernard Ferrari advises the use of the Pareto Principle to listening. In other words, spending 80% of the time listening and only 20% talking. It’s such an important trait for all technical resources, yet perhaps somewhat uncommon unfortunately. As the “hired gun,” there is a tendency to start firing from both barrels verbally as soon as you meet with the customer. But the most insightful insights are the ones that are understandable to the customer. They have to be relevant in terminology, desired outcomes, roles/responsibilities, respective capabilities, etc, etc. You only get that context from Power Listening.
The Click Moment: Seizing Opportunity in an Unpredictable WorldThe Click Moment: Seizing Opportunity in an Unpredictable World
by Frans Johansson
Johansson also introduces the concept of the “smallest executable step” as a mechanism for harnessing the apparent randomness of our modern, rapidly changing world. He suggests that we make many small bets rather than one massive bet as a means of improving success rates. OSS are complex systems so any small deviation makes predictions of completion time, resources and cost difficult. As implementers, it’s our job to remove as much complexity as possible
 Harder Than I Thought: Adventures of a Twenty-First Century LeaderHarder Than I Thought: Adventures of a Twenty-First Century Leader
by Robert D. Austin, Richard L. Nolan
More than anything else, one paragraph has stuck with me from this guide to project change leadership, “….once you start a company transformation, it’s like a stampede. If you try to lead from the front, you get trampled; if you try to lead from the back, you have no impact. Best to lead from the side by carefully nudging and turning the stampede to avoid everyone going over the cliff.”
Waging War on Complexity Costs: Reshape Your Cost Structure, Free Up Cash Flows and Boost Productivity by Attacking Process, Product and Organizational ComplexityWaging War on Complexity Costs: Reshape Your Cost Structure, Free Up Cash Flows and Boost Productivity by Attacking Process, Product and Organizational Complexity
by Stephen A. Wilson, Andrei Perumal.
Amongst other things, this book introduces the concept of The Whale Curve, a model that breaks products into the profitable or the cannibalistic.
Cryptocurrency: How Bitcoin and Digital Money are Challenging the Global Economic OrderCryptocurrency: How Bitcoin and Digital Money are Challenging the Global Economic Order
by Paul Vigna, Michael J. Casey
You may (or may not) be interested in cryptocurrencies right now, but this book provides brilliant context for two concepts that are likely to have a big impact on future OSS – blockchains and smart contracts.

What have I missed? What should I be adding to my reading list? Alternatively, which books on the list do you think I’ve over-rated?

The madness of most OSS training

When you’ve just implemented a new OSS, what does the training look like? A 2-3 week classroom course series? A train-the-trainer series, which then trickles down to the workforce?

If this is what your OSS training looks like (or even closely resembles), then this is madness. Unfortunately, this is the model that I’ve seen most predominantly in the wild. Many OSS build contracts / RFPs even mandate this type of knowledge transfer.

It’s madness because classroom courses don’t tend to be very good for absorbing the context or nuance of using an OSS. OSS training tends to be generic, without the local context of using the customer’s process flows, naming conventions, device types, topologies, services, etc.

Alan Weiss articulates this well, “…skills building occurs best when it includes application on the job, oversight by immediate supervisors, accountability for implementation, and rewards for success. None of that is accomplished in a classroom.”

What are the better alternatives then? Embedded training including:

  1. Have the customer operatives deeply embedded in the implementation project, absorbing knowledge in “real” situations as it is being built
  2. Offer supported sandpit environments that reflect PROD (Production environments) and allow operatives the time to build scenarios from their own contexts in the sandpit
  3. Provide handover support, where the installation team is on hand to support operational teams during an initial period after handover
  4. Master classes where operatives ask questions within their specific contexts, noting that this technique is only suitable after students have already developed a significant base of knowledge

Whilst PAOSS offers virtual class-based OSS training (which are generic by nature, not product-specific), I’ve found embedded knowledge transfer is far more successful and is my strongly recommended approach.

A quick OSS complexity checker

The following quick checklist will give you a feel for whether your OSS is too complex for general users:

  1. Who are the personas that interact with your OSS (give those personas names and attributes to give life to them)
  2. What are they trying to achieve with your OSS (what specific use cases do they fulfil)
  3. How many hours a week do the personas dedicate to those tasks (ie full-time, part-time, occasional)
  4. Compare that with how many hours per week it actually takes them to become (and stay) proficient

Don’t just estimate, collect actual user experiences / feelings.

Readers of this blog probably tend to spend all our working hours on our OSS, but for many of our users  OSS are only a part-time means-to-an-end. Many of the users of our OSS will also be situated in roles where there is high turnover (and therefore high training costs). As such, our user experience design has to assume a lower level of expertise than your peers have.

Now to extend the list above just a little further:

5. How do we use our understanding of item 2 above to monetise our OSS (either internally or externally)

6. Is there a clear association between a customer’s investment (ie item 5) and the value it’s creating for them (ie a value multiplier)

If the value equation (item 6) is too complex, your OSS will get lumped into the “cost-centre” bucket that is holding our industry back.

You want more (OSS)?

Something dawned on me recently – People who want to save money don’t want to spend money.

That statement has more profound implications for the world of OSS than you might initially think. Let me explain.

If someone’s main priority is to save money, what are the chances that they’ll spend money to buy a product (let’s say a book) that shows them how to save? I imagine it takes REALLY compelling marketing to overcome the customer’s primary urge.

Is it the same in business? Does someone who’s been tasked with saving money for their company readily open the purse-strings in order to save? This is a little less clear-cut than for the individual case – the employee may’ve been assigned a budget to spend with expected savings attached to it.

What if I offered these alternatives:

  1. Spend money to save money; OR
  2. Spend money to make money

Which is more compelling?

The “cost out” sales model appears rampant in the OSS industry at the moment – if you buy this tool, your headcount / costs will go down by X. [Did someone just mention AI?]

That’s just capitulating to the mantra that OSS will only ever be cost centres (and allowing bean-counters to dictate that costs must be reduced).

We don’t strive hard enough to fasten our metrics to the positives (eg income generation)? If anything, our OSS tend to be associated with loss-related metrics (eg network outages, faults, SLA degradation, etc). That’s the O (Operations) in OSS talking. If we only frame our thinking to building solutions for Operations, we’re pushing the figurative ship uphill to make a sale*.

Here are some suggestions on how to positively re-frame your OSS messaging.

* the “sales model” that I’m talking about here refers to internal pitches / business-cases, not just sellers from third-parties like vendors/integrators.

The colour palette analogy of OSS

Let’s say you act for a service provider and the diagram below represents the number of variations you could offer to customers – the number that are technically supported by your solution.
13,824,000 Colours
That’s 13,824,000 colours.

By comparison, the following diagram contains just 20 colours:
20 Colours

If I asked you what colours are in the upper diagram, would you say red, orange, yellow, green, blue, etc? Is it roughly the same response as to the lower diagram?

If you’re the customer, and know you want an “orange*” product, will you be able to easily identify between the many thousands of different orange hues available in the upper diagram? Would you be disenfranchised if you were only offered the two orange hues in the lower diagram instead of thousands? Or might you even be relieved to have a much easier decision to make?

The analogy here to OSS is that just because our solutions can support millions of variants, doesn’t mean we should. If our OSS try to offer millions of variants, it means we have to design, then build, then test, then post-sale support millions of variants.

However, in reality, we can’t provide 100% coverage across so many variants – we aren’t able to sufficiently design, then build, then test, then post-sale support every one of the millions of variants. We end up overlooking some or accept risk on some or estimate a test spread that bypasses others. We’ve effectively opened the door to fall-outs.

And it’s fall-outs that tend to create larger customer dissatisfaction metrics than limited colour palettes.

Just curious – if you’ve delivered OSS into large service providers, have you ever seen evidence of palette analysis (ie variant reduction analysis) across domains (ie products, marketing, networks, digital, IT, field-work, etc)?

Alternatively, have you ever pushed back on decisions made upstream to say you’ll only support a smaller sub-set of options? This doesn’t seem to happen very often.

* When I’m talking about colours, I’m using the term figuratively, not necessarily the hues on a particular handset being sold through a service provider.

The PAOSS Call for Innovation has been released

I’ve been promising to release an OSS Call for Innovation, a manifesto of what OSS can become – a manifesto that also describes areas where exponential improvements are just waiting to happen .

It can be found here:
http://passionateaboutoss.com/oss-call-for-innovation/
And you’ll also notice that it’s a new top-level menu item here on PAOSS.

Each time I’ve released one of these vision-statement style reports in the past, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that some of the visions are already being worked on by someone in the industry.

Are there any visions that I’ve overlooked? I’d love to see your comments on the page and spread the word on all the amazing innovations that you’re working on and/or dreaming about.

Who can make your OSS dance?

OSS tend to be powerful software suites that can do millions of things. Experts at the vendors / integrators know how to pull the puppet’s strings and make it dance. As a reader of PAOSS, chances are that you are one of those experts. I’ve sat through countless vendor demonstrations, but I’m sure you’ll still be able to wow me with a demo of what your OSS can do.

Unfortunately, most OSS users don’t have that level of expertise, nor experiences or training, to pull all of your OSS‘s strings. Most only use the tiniest sub-set of functionality.

If we look at the millions of features of your OSS in a decision tree format, how easy will it be for the regular user to find a single leaf on your million-leaf tree? To increase complexity further, OSS workflows actually require the user group to hop from one leaf, to another, to another. Perhaps it’s not even as conceptually simple as a tree structure, but a complex inter-meshing of leaves. That’s a lot of puppet-strings to know and control.

A question for you – You can make your OSS dance, but can your customers / users?

What can you do to assist users to navigate the decision tree? A few thoughts below:

  1. Prune the decision tree – chances are that many of the branches of your OSS are never / rarely used, so why are they there?
  2. Natural language search – a UI that allows users to just ask questions. The tool interprets those questions and navigates the tree by itself (ie it abstracts the decision tree from the user, so they never need to learn how to navigate it)
  3. Use decision support – machine assistance to guide users in navigating efficiently through the decision tree
  4. Restrict access to essential branches – design the GUI to ensure a given persona can only see the clusters of options they will use (eg via the use of role-based functionality filtering)

I’d love to hear your additional thoughts how to make it easier for users to make your  (their) OSS dance.

My least successful project

Many years ago I worked on a three-way project with 1) a customer, 2) a well-known equipment vendor and 3) a service provider (my client). Time-frames were particularly tight, not so much because of the technical challenge, but because of the bureaucratic processes of the customer and the service provider. The project was worth well in excess of $100M, so it was a decent-sized project as part of a $1B+ program.

The customer had handed the responsibility of building a project schedule to the equipment vendor and I, which we duly performed. The Gantt chart was quite comprehensive, running into thousands of lines of activities and had many dependencies where actions by the customer were essential. These were standard dependencies such as access to their data centres, uplift to infrastructure, firewall burns, design approvals, and the list goes on. The customer had also just embarked on a whole-of-company switch of project management frameworks, so it wasn’t hard to see that related delays were likely.

The vendor and I met with the customer to walk through the project plan. About half-way in, the customer asked the vendor whether they were confident that timelines could be met. The vendor was happy to say yes. I was asked the same question. My response was that I was comfortable with the vendor’s part, I was comfortable with our part (ie the service provider’s), but that the customer’s dependencies were a risk because we’d had push-back from their Project Manager and each of the internal business units that we knew were impacted (not to mention the other ones that were likely to be impacted but we had no visibility of yet).

That didn’t go down well. I copped by far the biggest smashing of my career to date. The customer didn’t want to acknowledge that they had any involvement in the project – despite the fact that they were to approve it, house it, host it, use it and maintain aspects of it. It seemed like common sense that they would need to get involved.

Over the last couple of decades of delivery projects, one trend has been particularly clear – the customer gets back what they put in. That project had at least twelve PMs on the customer side over the 18 month duration of the project. It moved forward during stints under the PMs who got involved in internal solutioning, but stagnated during periods under PMs that just blame-stormed. Despite this, we ended up delivering, but the user outcomes weren’t great.

As my least successful project to date (hopefully ever), it was also one of my biggest “learnings” projects. For a start, it emphasised that I needed to get better at hearts and minds change management. There were many areas where better persuasion was required – from the timelines / dependencies to the compromised architecture / hardware that was thrust upon us by the customer’s architects. What seemed obvious to me was clearly not so obvious to the customer stakeholders I was trying to persuade.

OSS brand building with the simple stick

Today’s consumers want to get the best prices, but offering your brand at a discount can undermine profits and threaten viability. Smart brands utilize strategies to create and sustain a meaningful difference that helps consumers justify spending more.”
Nigel Hollis
, in his PoV on branding.

I once read a statistic that at one point Apple owned 6.5% of the total handset market, but accounted for 75% of the entire industry’s operating profit. Now that’s a premium brand!

Whilst some in the OSS industry may claim their brand is the strongest, none come close to having the fanatic customer base that Apple has built. This makes me ponder what it would take to create a truly premium OSS brand.

People buy a premium brand for the enjoyment it brings them, either in the experience, the status, the prestige, the satisfaction of having a need met efficiently and probably many other variants on these reasons.

Three questions for you:

  1. For how many customers is the OSS buying experience an enjoyable one?
  2. For how many customers is the implementation / integration experience an enjoyable one?
  3. For how many customers is the user experience an enjoyable one?

Actual customer experiences in relation to the questions above might be 1) Confusing, 2) Arduous and 3) Unintuitive.

I’m going to take a completely contrarian view because the status quo clearly isn’t working. This contrarian view focuses squarely on simplicity. It seems that our developers are always building new functionality. However, most of the OSS functionality that users will ever need has already been around for decades. Rather than new functionality, how about a focus on making old functionality vastly more simple?

Rather than with Engineers, how about beating OSS with the simple stick by engaging marketers, designers, artists, stylists – the creatives – to improve the three experiences above?

The mafia… Pressure? What pressure?

OSS delivery teams can be quite tense environments to work within can’t they? Deadlines, urgency, being in the customer’s line of sight and did I mention deadlines? [As an aside, I’m not sure which type of deadline is more stressful, the ongoing drain of fortnightly releases under Agile, or the chaos of a big-bang release that is preceded by lengthier periods of relative calm.]

When it comes to dealing with stress, I see two ends of a continuum:

  • The teflon end – get it off me, get it off me – the people who, when under stress, push stress onto everyone else and make the whole team more stressed
  • The sponge end – the people who are able to absorb the pressure around them and exude a calm that reduces stress contagion

I can completely understand those who fall at the teflon end, but I can’t admire them or aspire to work with them. I’m sure most would feel the same way. They let urgency overwhelm logic.

This reminds me of a project where the mafia were tightly entwined into a customer’s project team and they were constantly wrangling scope, approvals and payments to ensure “the organisation” profited. They were particularly “active” around delivery time.

A biggest of big-bang deliveries required me to stand in front of a large customer contingent for three days straight to demonstrate functionality and get grilled about processes, tools and data sets. At the end of the third day, we’d scheduled the demonstration of some brand new functionality.

It was a module that had been sold to the customer before even being conceptually architected let alone built. [You know the story – every requirement on an RFP must be responded to with a “Complies” even if it doesn’t]. My client (the vendor) was almost ready to back away from this many-million dollar contract due to the complexity and time estimated to build the entirely new module from scratch. I stepped in and proposed a solution that stitched together four existing tools, some glue and only a few weeks of effort… but we’d never even had it working in the lab before entering into the demo.

At first pass, the demo failed. Being at the end of the three-day demo (and the hectic weeks leading up to it), my brain was fried. The customer agreed to take a short break while we investigated what went wrong. We were struggling to find a resolution, so I was proposing to delay demonstration of the new tool until the following day.

Luckily for me, the most junior member of our team sat in the background plugging away, trialling different fixes. He tapped me on the shoulder and told me that he thought he’d resolved the problem.

We regathered the customer’s team and presented the new module. We waited for the customer’s lead to push an unknown configuration into the network and waited for him to check whether our new tool had responded correctly. It did and the customer was ecstatic.

We’d been saved by a very clever young man with an ability to absorb pressure like a sponge. I couldn’t thank him enough.

Increasing the percentage of digital revenues

Digital revenues
The diagram above comes from research by AT Kearney and Delta Partners courtesy of an article by Mark Newman of TM Forum.

It provides an interesting perspective on CSPs‘ ability to “compete” with a broader, more digitally native group of service providers.

The golden age for CSPs was when they transported data from point A to point B (ie data and voice services) and people performed the value-add on top of those communications (ie business development, marketing, etc). DSPs have disrupted this model by now providing the value-added as digital services on top of base comms services (ie the over-the-top play).

The breadth of OTT services means that CSPs can’t possibly create the whole long tail of offerings. However, like DoCoMo, they can create partnerships and/or platforms that support the long tail of third-party offerings. It’s no coincidence that DoCoMo is the clear leader in the graph above as they have a long history of deriving revenues from third-party partnerships.

The question for an industry where 3.8% of revenues are from digital sources is not so much how to transition to an OTT model themselves, but how to provide digital delivery platforms that support third-party revenue streams and to do so more profitably (for all parts of the supply chain).