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.

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 Dad Rich 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 Success Insanely 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.
Rework Rework
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 Actions Enchantment: 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 Business Rain: 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 Audience The 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 Industry Killing 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 CEO Jack 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 Costs The 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 Less Essentialism: 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 Entrepreneur Anything 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 Industry Brick 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 Work Principles: 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 Irrelevant Blue 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 Change Leading 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 Time Everything 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 Sales Endless 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 Innovation The 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
null Linchpin: 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.
Dangerous Company: Consulting Powerhouses and the Companies They Save and Ruin Dangerous Company: Consulting Powerhouses and the Companies They Save and Ruin
by Charles Madigan and James O’Shea
This book provides some insights into the best and worst of management consulting. It is a little old now, dating back to the late 1990’s but it had a significant impact on me when I read it in the 2010’s. It describes some of the unscrupulous acts / tactics / results that have lead to the poor reputation that consulting has in some circles. It also reinforced a strong belief I’ve always had in doing right by the client before the firm because building reputation and integrity ultimately benefits the firm anyway.
Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die Made 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 It The 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 Remarkable Purple 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 Inspiration Creativity, 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 Rich The 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 Providers OSS 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 Edition Million 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 Techniques Mastering 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 All Power 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 World The 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 Leader Harder 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 Complexity Waging 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 Order Cryptocurrency: 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?

This is NEVER going to happen

Have you noticed all the recent headlines about the big, iconic brands in our industry struggling to make targets, cutting headcounts, etc.? This covers vendors and service providers alike.

As a complete generalisation:

  • Vendors are going backwards
  • Traditional CSPs are going backwards
  • Profit decline means projects and investments in OSS can only be trending downwards too

We know it’s a burning platform. We know that the current arc isn’t working. We know that change isn’t just an option, but a necessity.

Given this environment, today I’ll talk about an idea that will never happen, but I’d love to imagine just for the purpose of experimentation – to see whether it would disrupt in a positive way or just cause destruction.

The one big impetus we need is increasing eyeballs on a smaller number of OSS (ie decreasing fragmentation) – a critical mass of eyeballs on a smaller number of code bases. That means all the big, but flailing OSS vendors throw their code over to an independent arbiter to make a unified, powerful core product suite that then becomes open-sourced.

The core manages inventory, alarms, performance, workflows, service ordering, provisioning, security, scalability, APIs and all the other elements of a foundational OSS.

The vendors can then just innovate and differentiate with add-ins and services and content since there’s currently marginal differentiation in the core anyway (ie everyone has the “entry” functionality).

What are your completely contrarian ideas that will never happen but you’d like to trial just to see the outcomes?

Dirty tickets done dirt cheap

The only way to get rid of Dirty Tickets of Work (DToW) is to get rid of Tickets of Work (ToW)

DToW is terminology used in Telstra to indicate that incorrect information has been entered into the ToW or where the field tech hasn’t been able to complete the ToW as originally designed / planned. I’m not sure if only Telstra uses this terminology. I haven’t heard it used at any other service provider I’ve worked at.

A DToW is an important metric because it effectively means the job has just got more expensive due to quality issues. lt probably means re- design effort,perhaps data audit / remediation and an extra truck roll… at a minimum.

I love the concept and am proposing to extend it to other workflows like Dirty Service Orders, Dirty Trouble Tickets, Dirty API calls, Dirty Processing (fall-outs), etc.

Because of the quality / cost implications, many very clever people have spent a lot of effort wrestling with solutions to this problem. Technical solutions, process solutions, data solutions, user interface solutions. To my knowledge, the problem remains to be solved, not just at Telstra, but at every other Telco that uses a different name for the same metric.

Now we could take the traditional (eg Six Sigma) approach, which is improving the quality of all the ingredients of a ToW. Or, we could take the lightbulb perspective posed in the opening quote and ask how we can build a solution that doesn’t require ToWs or SOs or TTs, etc.

That might just start a revolution for OSS.

How do we get to zero field work? Ubiquitous and over-provisioned connectivity, virtualised networks and CPE (vCPE) and colour-palette solution simplicity are surely a starting point. Blanket wireless networks and a greater use of feedback loop thinking probably help too.

How do we get to no service orders? I’m thinking consumption-based billing here, not your first reaction – thinking I’m espousing free use. But perhaps free use is an option as there are plenty of other revenue models available to clever service providers.

How do we get to no trouble tickets?
Self-healing, highly resilient, elastic networks (and OSS). Also, robotic event processing and automated pattern-recognition / decision-support / root-cause. The perspective here is a “no moving parts” electronics analogy – where Solid State Drives (SSD) tend to be more reliable than spinning drives.

Hat tip to Roger Gibson again for seeding a couple of ideas here.

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.

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.

Do we actually need less intellectual giants?

Have you ever noticed that almost every person who works in OSS is extremely clever?
No?

They may not know the stuff that you know or even talk in the same terminologies that you and your peers use, but chances are they also know lots of stuff that you don’t.

OSS sets a very high bar. I’ve been lucky enough to cross into many different industries as a consultant. I’d have to say that there are more geniuses per capita in OSS than in any other industry / sector I’ve worked in.

So why then are so many of our OSS a shambles?

Is it groupthink? Do we need more diversity of thinking? Do we actually need less intellectual giants to create pragmatic, mere-mortal solutions?

Our current approach appears to be flawed. Perhaps Project Platypus gives us on alternate framework?

Actually, I don’t think we need less intellectual giants. But I do think we need our intellectual giants to have a greater diversity of experiences.

Getting past the first layer on the OSS onion

When you first start off trying to solve a problem, the first solutions you come up with are very complex, and most people stop there. But if you keep going, and live with the problem and peel more layers of the onion off, you can often times arrive at some very elegant and simple solutions.”
Steve Jobs
.

The quote above pretty well describes my experience with OSS. The first solutions we come up with for a given problem are generally very complex…. and that’s where we stop because there are so many other problems to move on to next.

Does that reflect your experiences too?

Do we ever get the chance to take a deep breath because we have all our roadmap items completed, and then therefore have time to peel more layers off old problems?

In my experience this just doesn’t happen. So that just leaves us with solutions that are complex… to the detriment of OSS as a whole.

So the question for you today is how to give the time and space to be able to peel more layers off our OSS onions?

My initial thought is that we should stop adding so many things into the roadmap – to take the 80/20 approach into our roadmap prioritisation – leaving more time to refine the really important stuff. I’d love to hear your thoughts though.

One of the biggest insights we had…

One of the biggest insights we had was that we decided not to try to manage your music library on the iPod, but to manage it in iTunes. Other companies tried to do everything on the device itself and made it so complicated that it was useless.”
Steve Jobs
.

How does this insight apply to OSS? Can this “off device” perspective help us in designing better OSS?

Let’s face it – many OSS are bordering on useless due to the complexity that’s build in to the user experience. So what complexity can we take off the “device?” Let’s start by saying “the device” is the UI of our OSS (although noting the off-device perspective could be viewed much more broadly than that).

What are the complexities that we face when using an OSS;

  • The process of order entry / service design / service parameters / provisioning can be time consuming and prone to errors,
  • Searching / choosing / tracing resources, particularly on large networks, can result in very slow response times,
  • Navigating through multiple layers of inventory in CLI or tabular forms can be challenging,
  • Dealing with fixed processes that don’t accommodate the many weird and wonderful variants that we encounter
  • Dealing with workflows that cross multiple integration boundaries and slip through the cracks,
  • Analysing data that is flawed generally produces flawed results
  • Identifying the proverbial needle in the haystack when something goes wrong
  • And many, many more

How can we take some of those complexities “off-device”

  • Abstracting order and provisioning complexity through the use of catalogs and auto-populating as many values as possible,
  • Using augmented decision support to assist operators through complex processes, choosing from layers of resources, finding root-causes to problems, etc,
  • Using event-based processes that traverse process states rather than fixed processes, particularly where omni-channel interactions are available to customers
  • Using inventory discovery (and automated build-up / tear-down in virtualised networks) and decision support to present simpler navigations and views of resources
  • Off-device data grooming / curation to make data analysis more intuitive on-device
  • etc

In effect, we’re describing the tasks of an “on-device” persona (typically day-to-day OSS operators that need greater efficiency) and “off-device” persona/s (these are typically OSS admins, configuration experts, integrators, data scientists, UI/UX experts, automation developers, etc who tune the OSS).

The augmented analytics journey

Smart Data Discovery goes beyond data monitoring to help business users discover subtle and important factors and identify issues and patterns within the data so the organization can identify challenges and capitalize on opportunities. These tools allow business users to leverage sophisticated analytical techniques without the assistance of technical professionals or analysts. Users can perform advanced analytics in an easy-to-use, drag and drop interface without knowledge of statistical analysis or algorithms. Smart Data Discovery tools should enable gathering, preparation, integration and analysis of data and allow users to share findings and apply strategic, operational and tactical activities and will suggest relationships, identifies patterns, suggests visualization techniques and formats, highlights trends and patterns and helps to forecast and predict results for planning activities.

Augmented Data Preparation empowers business users with access to meaningful data to test theories and hypotheses without the assistance of data scientists or IT staff. It allows users access to crucial data and Information and allows them to connect to various data sources (personal, external, cloud, and IT provisioned). Users can mash-up and integrate data in a single, uniform, interactive view and leverage auto-suggested relationships, JOINs, type casts, hierarchies and clean, reduce and clarify data so that it is easier to use and interpret, using integrated statistical algorithms like binning, clustering and regression for noise reduction and identification of trends and patterns. The ideal solution should balance agility with data governance to provide data quality and clear watermarks to identify the source of data.

Augmented Analytics automates data insight by utilizing machine learning and natural language to automate data preparation and enable data sharing. This advanced use, manipulation and presentation of data simplifies data to present clear results and provides access to sophisticated tools so business users can make day-to-day decisions with confidence. Users can go beyond opinion and bias to get real insight and act on data quickly and accurately.”
The definitions above come from a post by Kartik Patel entitled, “What is Augmented Analytics and Why Does it Matter?.”

Over the years I’ve loved playing with data and learnt so much from it – about networks, about services, about opportunities, about failures, about gaps, etc. However, modern statistical analysis techniques fall into one of the categories described in “You have to love being incompetent“, where I’m yet to develop the skills to a comfortable level. Revisiting my fifth year uni mathematics content is more nightmare than dream, so if augmented analytics tools can bypass the stats, I can’t wait to try them out.

The concepts described by Kartik above would take those data learning opportunities out of the data science labs and into the hands of the masses. Having worked with data science labs in the past, the value of the information has been mixed, all dependent upon which data scientist I dealt with. Some were great and had their fingers on the pulse of what data could resolve the questions asked. Others, not so much.

I’m excited about augmented analytics, but I’m even more excited about the layer that sits on top of it – the layer that manages, shares and socialises the aggregation of questions (and their answers). Data in itself doesn’t provide any great insight. It only responds when clever questions are asked of it.

OSS data has an immeasurable number of profound insights just waiting to be unlocked, so I can’t wait to see where this relatively nascent field of augmented analytics takes us.

Warring tribes and the five paper ball technique

The following extract from Ken Segall’s book, “Insanely Simple,” provides a great story on persuasion:
At one agency meeting with Steve Jobs, we were reviewing the content of a proposed iMac commercial when a debate arose about how much we should say in the commercial. The creative team was arguing that it would work best if the entire spot was devoted to describing the one key feature of this particular iMac. Steve, however, had it in his head that there were four or five really important things to say. It seemed to him that all of those copy points would fit comfortably in a thirty-second spot.
After debating the issue for a few minutes, it didn’t look like Steve was going to budge. That’s when a little voice started to make itself heard inside the head of Lee Clow, leader of the Chiat team. He decided this would be a good time to give Steve a live demonstration.
Lee tore five sheets of paper off of his notepad (yes, notepad—Lee was laptop-resistant at the time) and crumpled them into five balls. Once the crumpling was complete, he started his performance.
“Here, Steve, catch,” said Lee, as he tossed a single ball of paper across the table. Steve caught it, no problem, and tossed it back.
“That’s a good ad,” said Lee.
“Now catch this,” he said, as he threw all five paper balls in Steve’s direction. Steve didn’t catch a single one, and they bounced onto the table and floor.
“That’s a bad ad,” said Lee.
I hadn’t seen that one before, so I rather enjoyed it. And it was pretty convincing proof: The more things you ask people to focus on, the fewer they’ll remember. Lee’s argument was that if we want to give people a good reason to check out an iMac, we should pick the most compelling feature and present it in the most compelling way
.”

For most people in our industry, initiating OSS change is all about designing a technical solution that can fulfill a list of requirements. This may be effective in some situations, but in large carrier environments the bigger challenge is almost always in getting the many stakeholders contributing towards a common goal. If the project is big enough, multiple different business units will be involved and/or impacted. Each will tend to have their own objectives / metrics – and they’re often metrics that are misaligned or even in conflict – what common goal?

In the all-too-common “warring tribe” situation, persuasion techniques become essential. A great place to start is by creating an inspiring vision, much like John F Kennedy established when in 1961, he exhorted America to put a man on the moon before the decade was out.

There are many persuasion techniques, but I put them into two categories:

  • What you’re going to add
  • What you’re going to take away

I’m sure you want to go deeper, so Kellerman and Cole’s 64 Compliance-gaining Strategies give some great persuasive food for thought. Different strategies will work better/worse with different stakeholders of course, .

But to loop back to Ken Segall again, if you’re responsible for a significant change that crosses multiple domains and multiple stakeholders / influencers, you may choose to start with a vision based around the “most compelling feature and present it in the most compelling way.”

How many of you are wondering whether you could use the five paper ball technique to persuade in your next OSS stakeholder group when complexity is running rampant?

This is the best OSS book I’ve ever read

This post is about the most inspiring OSS book I’ve ever read, and yet it doesn’t contain a single word that is directly about OSS (so clearly I’m not spruiking my own OSS-centric book here 😉 ).
It’s a book that outlines the resolutions to so many of the challenges being faced by traditional communications service providers (CSPs) as well as the challenges faced by their OSS.

It resonates strongly with me because it reflects so many of my beliefs, but articulates them brilliantly through experiences from some of the most iconic organisations of our times – through their successes and failures.

And the title?

Insanely Simple: The Obsession That Drives Apple’s Success.
Book by Ken Segall.
Insanely Simple

OSS is downstream of so many Complexity choices that this book needs to be read far beyond the boundaries of OSS. Having said that, we’re incredibly good at adding so many of our own layers of complexity.

Upcoming blogs here on PAOSS will surely share some of its words of wisdom.

One unasked last question for OSS business cases

OSS business case evaluators routinely ask many questions that relate to key metrics like return on investment, capital to be outlaid, expected returns, return on investment, and more of the same circular financial questions. 🙂

They do also ask a few technical questions to decide risk – of doing the project or not doing the project. Timeframes and resources come into play, but again tend to land back on the same financial metric(s). Occasionally they’ll ask how the project will impact the precious NPS (Net Promoter Score), which we all know is a simple estimate to calculate (ie pluck out of thin air).

As you can tell, I’m being a little tongue-in-cheek here so far.

One incredibly important question that I’ve never heard asked, but is usually relatively easy to determine is, “Will this change make future upgrades harder?

The answer to this question will determine whether the project will have a snowballing effect on the TCO (total cost of ownership – yes, another financial metric that actually isn’t ROI) of the OSS. Any customisation to off-the-shelf tools will invariably add to the complexity of performing future upgrades. If customisations feed data to additional customisations, then there is a layer multiple to add to the snowball effect.

Throw in enough multi-layered (meshed?) customisations and otherwise routine upgrades start to become massive undertakings. If upgrades are taking months of planning, then your OSS clearly no longer facilitates the level of flexibility that is essential for modern service providers.

The burden of tech-debt insidiously finds its way into OSS stacks, so when evaluating change, don’t forget that one additional question, “Will this change make future upgrades harder?

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.

If you can’t repeat it, you can’t improve it

The cloud model (ie hosted by a trusted partner) becomes attractive from the perspective of repeatability, from the efficiency of doing the same thing repeatedly at scale.”
From, “I want a business outcome, not a deployment challenge.”

OSS struggles when it comes to repeatability. Often within an organisation, but almost always when comparing between organisations. That’s why there’s so much fragmentation, which in turn is holding the industry back because there is so much duplicated effort and brain-power spread across all the multitude of vendors in the market.

I’ve worked on many OSS projects, but none have even closely resembled each other, even back in the days when I regularly helped the same vendors deliver to different clients. That works well for my desire to have constant mental stimulation, but doesn’t build a very efficient business model for the industry.

Closed loop architectures are the way of the future for OSS, but only if we can make our solutions repeatable, measurable / comparable and hence, refinable (ie improvable). If we can’t then we may as well forget about AI. After all, AI requires lots of comparable data.

I’ve worked with service providers that have prided themselves on building bespoke solutions for every customer. I’m all for making every customer feel unique and having their exact needs met, but this can still be accommodated through repeatable building blocks with custom tweaks around the edges. Then there are the providers that have so many variants that you might as well be designing / building / testing an OSS for completely bespoke solutions.

You could even look at it this way – If you can’t implement a repeatable process / solution, then measure it, then compare it and then refine it, then you can’t create a customer offering that is improving.

In desperate search of OSS flow

Flow, also known as the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting loss in one’s sense of space and time.”
Wikipedia.

It’s almost definitely no coincidence that a majority of the achievements I’m most proud of within the context of OSS have been originated outside business hours. I strongly believe it all comes down to flow. In a day that is punctuated by meeting after meeting, there is no flow, no ability to get into deep focus. In the world of transaction-based doing, there is rarely the opportunity to generate flow.

Every OSS project I’ve worked on has been in desperate need of innovation. That’s not a criticism, but a statement of the whole industry having so many areas in which improvement is possible. But on your current and/or past projects, how many have fostered an environment where deep focus was possible for you or your colleagues? Where have your greatest achievements been spawned from?

Jason Fried of Basecamp and 37signals fame is an advocate of building an environment where flow can happen and starts with manager and meeting minimisation. The best managers I’ve worked with have been great at facilitating flow for their teams and buffered them from the M&M noise.

How can we all build an OSS environment where the thinkers get more time to think… about improving every facet of ideating, creating, building and implementing?

Use cases for architectural smoke-tests

I often leverage use-case design and touch-point mapping through the stack to ensure that all of the use-cases can be turned into user-journeys, process journeys and data journeys. This process can pick up the high-level flows, but more importantly, the high-level gaps in your theoretical stack.”

Yesterday’s blog discussed the use of use cases to test a new OSS architecture. TM Forum’s eTOM is the go-to model for process mapping for OSS / BSS. Their process maps define multi-level standards (in terms of granularity of process mapping) to promote a level of process repeatability across the industry. Their clickable model allows you to drill down through the layers of interest to you (note that this is available for members only though).

In terms of quick smoke-testing an OSS stack though, I tend to use a simpler list of use cases for an 80/20 coverage:

  • Service qualification (SQ)
  • Adding new customers
  • New customer orders (order handling)
  • Changes to orders (adds / moves / changes / deletes / suspends / resumes)
  • Logging an incident
  • Running a report
  • Creating a new product (for sale to customers)
  • Tracking network health (which may include tracking of faults, performance, traffic engineering, QoS analysis, etc)
  • Performing network intelligence (viewing inventory, capacity, tracing paths, sites, etc)
  • Performing service intelligence (viewing service health, utilised resources, SLA threshold analysis, etc)
  • Extracting configurations (eg network, device, product, customer or service configs)
  • Tracking customer interactions (and all internal / external events that may impact customer experience such as site visits, bills, etc)
  • Running reports (of all sorts)
  • Data imports
  • Data exports
  • Performing an enquiry (by a customer, for the purpose of sales, service health, parameters, etc)
  • Bill creation

There are many more that may be required depending on what your OSS stack needs to deliver, but hopefully this is a starting point to help your own smoke tests.