Management User experience, web, technology

Organizational Physics OmniGraffle Stencil

I’ve lately been working on redesigning the organizational structure of Covenant Eyes, and amidst all of the research, analysis, and modeling, I was referred to Lex Sisney’s work in Organizational Physics.

There are plenty of interesting concepts that he raises, and I’m inclined to get his book and read it.

In the meantime, I’m reasoning by modeling, and thought to mimic an approach he’s shown in articles like this one: Organizational Design: The Difference Between Organizational Structure and an Org Chart.

I threw together a stencil to use in OmniGraffle.

Screen shot of OmniGraffle stencil for Organizational Design
Here’s what the OmniGraffle stencil looks like. Major functional area and related KPIs, and sub-functional areas.

Anyone is welcome to it: Organizational Design.gstencil

Management User experience, web, technology

Does design precede strategy?

Is UX more strategic than other business disciplines? I was surprised by this fair critique, and wanted to share it.

My reaction is exacerbated by your [Davin’s] view of strategy and UX as largely coupled. Any quality business work should be strategic. Many financial services firms don’t have anything resembling a UX/design arm, but they’re not necessarily less strategic for it. Is UX a really important resource for strategy here at CE? Sure. But so is tech, finance, etc. Have our UX practitioners developed more strategy-oriented disciplines than employees in other departments? Probably in many cases. I think that simply means we need to deepen our corporate thinking about strategy; not necessarily make UX the guardians of strategy.
Anonymous colleague

There is so much packed in there! For the sake of clarity, I’ll list what I read as the rationale.

  1. Any quality business work should be strategic, not solely UX.
  2. Our UX practitioners have probably developed more strategy-oriented disciplines than employees in other departments.
  3. Instead of relying on UX for strategy, we should train employees in all departments that do quality business work on strategy-oriented disciplines.

I heartily agree with point 2, even with the word “probably.” After all, not all of our UX practitioners have had the same development or have the same sets of talents. It’s a complex group. But I do know that many of them have deepened their expertise in areas that are notably related to strategy.

How does design fit with Playing to Win’s strategy questions?

Which areas of UX are related to strategy? Well, it depends on how you define strategy. For one definition, let’s try the set of 5 questions from Martin and Lafley’s Playing to Win. I’ve listed each question with a sub-point of my opinion about who should be directly involved.

  1. What is our winning aspiration?
    1. The board and executive team need to establish this.
  2. Where will we play?
    1. UX informs executives who decide. UX has insight for this from qual+quant research distilled into personas and related demo/psychographic models.
  3. How will we win?
    1. UX informs executives who decide. UX has insight for this from a product/service innovation perspective, validated by insights from design research and knowledge of other related or competing products and services.
  4. What capabilities must we have in place to win?
    1. Executives need to establish this, including deciding what is outsourced and what is done in-house.
  5. What management systems are required to support our choices?
    1. Executives and managers need to establish this.

Don’t forget that the work of each question informs the reasoning for the adjacent questions.

By definition, strategy is most like design than other disciplines

Now for another definition, this one focused on, well, definitions.

UX is a discipline of design. What is the definition of design? Here is a generic definition: purpose, planning, or intention that exists or is thought to exist behind an action, fact, or material object.

And a definition of strategy: a plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim.

The similarity between these is obvious upon inspection. If they aren’t the same, they are least remarkably similar, with a possible interpretation that design precedes strategy (…policy designed to achieve…).

Now, how does the definition of finance line up: the management of large amounts of money, especially by governments or large companies.

That doesn’t really fit. How about the definition of technology: the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry.

Nope. Also not like strategy.

I’m not playing semantic games here. I’m just looking for the most obvious definitions. So in an effort to find a definition that really has a better chance at being like strategy, here is a definition of business management: Management is commonly defined as the alignment and coordination of multiple activities in an organization. Business owners use management skills to accomplish the goals and objectives of their company.

That too isn’t like the general definition of strategy. However, it is more like the 5th question of Playing to Win. So, business management is a component of strategy, especially for the execution of strategy.

Why would designers end up doing strategy?

Definitions aside, why would UX practitioners, of all types of employee, do strategy work in the first place? Because design activities often lead towards strategy.

Or, as I’ve witnessed, designers in the midst of a specific project often back themselves into strategy by asking questions that their discipline leads them to ask, questions like “Why would we do it that way? How else could we approach this?” and “What does the business need, and what do the users need?” and “What are we really trying to make happen, and for whom?”

One might say that these questions aren’t from the design discipline, but I would point out that these are questions bent on pulling out a deeper understanding of the situation. This deeper understanding is demanded when modernist designer Massimo Vignelli preaches his semantics: “The very first thing that I do whenever I start a new assignment in any form of design, graphic, product, exhibition or interior is to search for the meaning of it.” This sentiment was also expressed by architect and designer Elial Saarinen in his principle of designing a thing in its next larger context.

Indeed, this need to understand the larger context, the purpose, and the meaning is embedded in the discipline of design, and this is why designers end up negotiating strategy, which often is that larger context.

It may surprise you how frequently it is the designers—not managers, executives, or owners—who have first asked the deep questions of strategy. And these designers may not feel safe asking these questions, but they must ask if they will do their jobs well.

I expect designers to wrangle with real strategy in their daily work, because it is in the nature of design, birthed by the practical, empathy-building gut-checks of real design research with real people and the creative, prototyping and modeling activities and thought patterns of design work. I don’t expect this kind of raw strategy development from other workers, and I have only rarely experienced it from them, with the exception of some executives.

And I’ll be so bold as to claim this: this tendency to inevitably end up asking strategy questions seems absent in other kinds of work. If you disagree, then make the case and let me know. (The critique that started all of this said that other disciplines should do this, not that they do.)

Should everyone do design? Do strategy?

Rolling all the way back to the initial claims, I disagree with the 1st point that quality business work must be strategic. I’d rather see these other disciplines do excellent, dare I say quality, business work in their discipline.

I do not believe that doing quality accounting work means developing clear strategies. And I don’t believe that of technology or of customer service either. That doesn’t make them any less valuable or less necessary. They really are, and they have unique value to offer. They are essential in the machinery of the business.

But so far as design work is like sound planning for a major aim, then design work is strategy work. And the training of designers lends itself to it already.

My conclusion is more that I think executives and key managers probably do need training in design thinking—and possibly even some design tactics—so that they will benefit like designers have in their ability to do better development of overall business strategy. But executives and managers should already be studying the discipline of strategy anyway.


Mind map of Shooting Sports

As a follow up to my post from earlier today, I’ve been trying to work through how to organize the various shooting sports.

If you want to help by modifying this mind map, let me know. I’m sure it isn’t quite right, and this effort could use your perspective.

Why do this? Because the whole field could benefit from some standardized language on our shooting sports. Maybe this will help get us there. (I know I could benefit from this on

Shooting Sports by Davin Granroth

Conventional Pistol renamed to Precision Pistol

A pistol target scoring a 99 out of 100.
Precision Pistol is colloquially referred to as “bullseye pistol” because, well, we shoot at a bullseye.

A couple of years ago the National Rifle Association officially renamed Conventional Pistol to Precision Pistol.

This competitive shooting sport has been known informally as bullseye pistol, and to my knowledge that hasn’t changed.

While I’m aware that some competitors are disgruntled by the name change, on the premise that all name changes are bad because they confuse the topic, I personally like the change.

Here’s why: the word “conventional” was too generic. Let’s try “conventional pistol” with some synonyms for “conventional.”

  • Normal Pistol
  • Standard Pistol
  • Regular Pistol
  • Ordinary Pistol
  • Usual Pistol
  • Traditional Pistol
  • Typical Pistol
  • Common Pistol
  • Orthodox Pistol
  • Established Pistol
  • Accepted Pistol
  • Mainstream Pistol
  • Prevailing Pistol
  • Prevalent Pistol
  • Accustomed Pistol
  • Customary Pistol

What does that sense of the word “conventional” give us? It says something about the sport being the most typical and probably with the most ordinary of guns.

And that is not the reality of the sport, at least not today.

Precision Pistol really does have a lot of competitors. I visited the National Pistol Championships at Camp Perry last year, and I’ll estimate that there were about 500 competitors in attendance. (Will anyone who has a more precise number please comment on that?) And for all those who made it to the nationals, there were far more competitors who didn’t attend. The sport of Precision Pistol is very much alive, although when I competed at the nationals in the 1990s, we had closer to 1,000 in attendance.

There are other competitive pistol sports that seem to be more active than Precision Pistol. Action Pistol, Police Pistol Combat, Practical, Defensive, and so on. These are the pistol sports with shooters firing at multiple targets, some that fall over, from different positions, often with the shooter moving through a course of fire. And the targets are much, much closer—but shooters compete for best time to complete a course of fire.

Let’s admit the truth: Precision Pistol looks slow and boring next to these fast-paced pistol competitions, so of course the various action pistol sports will do better at recruiting new shooters.

Also, with so many people picking up concealed pistol licenses these days, some of these programs, like IDPA, do a good job at training shooters in techniques they ought to have acquired if they are to actually carry their pistols.

And are these “ordinary” guns? Well, you can enter the sport with comparatively inexpensive guns, but when I look through the merchandise at a typical gun store, I see a lot of pistols with combat-style fixed iron sights. For bullseye pistol you’ll want adjustable iron sights or a red-dot scope. With targets placed at 50 yards, a good set of sights makes a big difference. So, your typical gun isn’t quite right for this sport.

All that said, I love Precision Pistol. It is my sport, it is extremely challenging, and I’ll bet some great action pistol shooters cross-train in bullseye to their great benefit.

But back to the words. The term Precision Pistol does a better job at contrasting the nature of the sport from NRA Action Pistol, and bullseye pistol is no longer the primary, or typical, pistol sport in town.

Good call, NRA.

Now, can you come up with a set of terms to describe all of the shooting sports around the world, instead of just referring to their organizing groups? For instance, would you consider Olympic-style pistol competitions, which look a whole lot like bullseye pistol, to also be Precision Pistol? I’d like a taxonomy please, but I don’t personally know enough about all these sports to propose one.

User experience, web, technology

“Click Here,” MS Outlook, Seriously?

How is it that such poor wording made it into such a major product, here in late 2015?

Basic web writing practices identified the “click here” language as a poor option well over a decade ago. What makes “click here” a bad choice?

One reason is that you end up with a lot of links on a page that all say the same thing (click here), and a common feature in assistive technology like screen readers for blind or visually impaired people is to pull all link text out of page context to give those users a quick way to scan all the links. If they all say “click here,” then a user will have no idea which link to choose.

A second reason is that the link text is highlighted, usually in blue and underlined, and so ought to be meaningful. “Click here” is not meaningful, but the subject or goal of the link sure is.

Here are pretty easy ways to change the language in Outlook.

Instead of “To re-enable to blocked features, click here,” try this:
Re-enable the blocked features.

Instead of “To always show content from this sender, click here,” try this:
Always show content from this sender.


Management User experience, web, technology

Five-Time Inc. 5000 Honoree: Covenant Eyes

While I don’t often write about work on my blog, I’m happy to share the news that Covenant Eyes made the Inc. 5000 list again this year, now having made it 5 times since 2010.

Congratulations Covenant Eyes on pursuing your worthy mission with successful business practices!

And while not an official award, shows good reviews of Covenant Eyes as an employer.



We shared a look just before we started skipping down the aisle after being married.
We shared a look just before we started skipping down the aisle after being married.

On New Year’s Eve 2014, I married Amy Grace McNeil, now Amy Granroth. The service was at the Davison Assembly of God church in Davison, Michigan, and we had great help from Amy’s family and friends. They prepared everything: the church decorations, the food, cake, corsages, flowers, music—everything.

It was great to have so much help, and we so much appreciated it.

It doesn’t seem like six months already! God has surely blessed us and continues to do so.


Law to require legislators to read bills before voting

What if we had a federal law that required legislators to show that they comprehend bills before they vote?

This could be enforced with tests moderated by a 3rd party before voting begins. If the legislator fails the comprehension test, then they are required to abstain from the vote and this will show up in public records.

Here are some possible effects of a law such as this.

  • There will be fewer laws.
  • Congress people will spend more time on the legislation itself than on politicking.
  • Laws will become shorter and more understandable.

Oh wait, I just ran a Google search on “congress not reading law” and found information about “The Read the Bills Act (RTBA).”

I like it. I did actually read the whole text of the bill, and think it would do fine. I still like the idea of testing for comprehension, to avoid congress members from doing other work or sleeping through the reading of bills.

Shouldn’t legislators understand bills on which they vote? If that isn’t a core aspect of the job of an elected legislator, what is?

Management User experience, web, technology

On Leading Organization-wide Change

Lao Tzu described the essence of an effective leader, which as I interpret it is one who is excellent at drawing the best out of other people and facilitating groups to work together toward a common objective, quickly empowering others to lead change and grow as leaders, managers, or producers in their own right.

Tao Te Ching, 17 (Lao Tzu)

The greatest type of ruler is one of whose existence
the people are hardly aware.

Next best is a leader who is loved and praised.
Next comes the one who is feared.
The worst is the one who is despised.

When a leader doesn’t trust the people,
they will become untrustworthy.

The best leader speaks little.
He never speaks carelessly.
He works without self interest
and leaves no trace.

When the work is accomplished,
the people say: “Amazing:
we did it all by ourselves.”

Of course there are numerous scriptural descriptions of leadership, such as Matthew 20:25–28 when the disciples were getting riled up about who would be a leader or favored and Jesus instructed, “Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” This is held in contrast to the Gentiles who lord authority over others instead of serving. And there is also the example of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples as an example for them to humble themselves in serving one another.

This is good, right?

My experience says that the only real way to change an organization in any sustainable way is captured in this concept, but there is more to it than these proverbs.

So, here’s an overview of how I’ve tried to make these changes at Covenant Eyes.

  • Design Thinking
  • Awareness of Healthy Decision Making
  • Consulting: Developing Others by Asking Better Questions
  • Actions Speak Louder Than Words; Behaviors Change Perspectives

I’ll provide a fly-over of what these mean to me one at a time.

Design Thinking

Many others have already characterized what this means, among them Tim Brown of IDEO, and in my view, Massimo Vignelli especially in the first part of The Vignelli Canon, although I don’t think he ever called it design thinking. You’ll also see examples of this in the biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.

I think it all hinges on one concept, said by Fr John Culkin in his thoughtful partnerships with philosopher Marshall McLuhan, “First we shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.”

Most people are naively shaped by their own tools, including designers themselves. Tools are simply part of our environment, and most often they are provided for us already intact. As consumers, we don’t typically make our own tools, whether it is a house, fork, computer, software program, et cetera. Yet, this massive collection of objects that we use in our lives fundamentally influences, even directs, our behaviors and our thoughts.

As a designer I see this daily, and I believe that it is the worthy purpose of a designer to take care in the shaping of tools, knowing that the shape of those tools will in turn shape people. This is a crucial sense of responsibility that comes with real cause and effect, and it is further heightened when one has a sense of how many people use said tool and how long it may be in existence.

Should we not take care of our work upon realizing that it can effect the world for good or ill? Of course!

Design is sometimes misconstrued as the attention on the creation of an object, but that is too narrow. It is on the humans, their relationship with an object, the object, and how that reflects back into the lives of the humans. In being used, a thing influences the user’s actions and attention. So we do not only design a thing, we design a potential for actions, thoughts, and feelings between people and things. And often between people and things and people. And to what end, and for whom? (This is a better understanding of the field of interaction design.)

Vignelli refers to design process as first about the semantics or meaning of the design task, then the syntactics used in the construction of a solution, and then in the pragmatics that describe the real communication and/or delivery of value.

The AIGA (America Institute of Graphic Arts) published a booklet called Why Design that contains a grid of 12 boxes laid out in 3 rows that describes an overall design process. I can give you a printed copy of this grid. The first row arranges the work needed in Defining the Problem, the second row describes Innovating, and the third row describes Delivering Value. I propose that Vignelli’s semantics, syntactics, and pragmatics resemble the rows of the Why Design grid. These and other frameworks of design thinking all describe a general process used by designers in coming up with effective solutions to all sorts of problems.

Design is a problem solving discipline, and has many cross-overs with healthy decision making, including the concept of divergence and convergence.

Awareness of Healthy Decision Making

I think of decisions and decision making in three zones, personal, small group, and corporate. We are not rational beings! Yet decision making often benefits from a disciplined approach that challenges many of our natural cognitive biases. Some decisions are inconsequential and so don’t really require all this extra effort, but some are of consequence and deserve respect.

Michael Roberto has a series of 24 lectures called The Art of Critical Decision Making, and it is an excellent study. I require my staff to go through it together, and they are often surprised at how many principles of decision making directly correlate to patterns of work they find in design thinking.

Blunder: Why Smart People Make Bad Decisions is a book that describes a series of cognitive traps that we are all in danger of falling in to. These are listed as the following and the book expounds on each. I think you’d find it an interesting read.

  1. Exposure Anxiety: The Fear of Being Seen as Weak
  2. Causefusion: Confusing the Causes of Complex Events
  3. Flatview: Seeing the World in One Dimension
  4. Cure-allism: Believing That One Size Really Fits All
  5. Infomania: The Obsessive Relationship to Information (Info-hoarding and Info-voiding)
  6. Mirror Imaging: Thinking the Other Side Thinks Like Us
  7. Static Cling: Refusal to Accept a Changing World

If one does not understand the threats to good decision making and does not have a toolbox of good decision making methods useful at personal, group, and corporate levels, then one is ill-equipped to lead and coach others through times that require healthy decisions.

Consulting: Developing Others by Asking Better Questions

When I was a freshman in college, I had the good fortune of going through a 400-level special topics course focused on the work of consulting. It has been very influential for me ever since.

One of the key elements of consultancy that I learned was the deliberate control of agency, that is the sense of self-differentiation and authority. A lack of agency leads to a sense of being helpless or dependent on another, but as a consultant I was learning that my job was to develop a sense of agency in my clients so that they would retain a sense of ownership and power over their own work, and while I was at it I would demonstrate for them better ways of thinking, creating information, and sharing it with others (think classical rhetoric) so that they too would learn it.

I did this largely through using non-verbal reinforcement of my client’s agency and open-ended questions intended to get them thinking in more ways and deeper ways that led them to produce better work.

Key here was that I was unable to tell them what to work on communicating. Rather I was only able to walk with them through a method or framework of idea development and ways of thinking about authorship, audiences, and rhetorical patterns.

This approach melds nicely with design thinking, because one of the first admissions is that we may not really understand the problem yet, but that we do have frameworks to uncover it and discover its nuances.

So, sources for thinking about asking better questions?

  • QBQ! The Question Behind the Question by John Miller
  • Interviewing Users by Steve Portigal
  • Mental Models by Indi Young
  • Sections of Observing the User Experience by Kuniavsky, et al.

We should have a number of these books in the CE library in the Commons.

There is a basic concept here that says that a question is more powerful than an answer, because an answer tends to shut down thoughtfulness and understanding whereas a question stimulates it.

Asking better questions is an element in the power of a generative dialectic, and the practice also feeds better design thinking and decision making. Reciprocally, those frameworks inform the sorts of questions we should ask.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

The trick in this statement is in reestablishing who the actor is. My actions are one thing, but when I can get a whole group of people to engage in a shared action, we can begin to shape their perspectives.

First we shape our tools, thereafter our tools shape us.

A leader can shape the activities of people, and in many cases the real desired effect is not the immediate result of the activity, but in the shaping of the people who do it. Without changes in activity and thinking, no incidence of effort is able to be transformed into a sustainable pattern of effort.

This is how new actions lead to new thinking, which together change the culture. Timothy Loo, a corporate UX consultant, shared the soundbite at the UX Strat 2013 conference, “culture eats strategy for lunch,” and he’s right. So the work of a designer is to change culture by changing people’s behaviors and then thinking.

As Loo said, “Culture tells us how to behave when we can’t turn to formal directives, agreements or sets of rules for guidance.” So, culture fills in the grey area that we usually operate within.

We must facilitate group activities repeatedly and employ frameworks of understanding and developing value so that the people who are doing the work have a sense of ownership, agency, and growth. Then they will sustain the change because that way of thinking has become part of their new identities. “Amazing: We did it all by ourselves!”

This is why we do usability studies as groups, why we do design reviews as groups, why we do Agile ceremonies as groups, and so on.

If we want to change the culture of an organization, we should identify what activities we do together and facilitate new activities that can be added to or can replace existing activities so that we will further shape our perspectives, values, and culture in specific, desirable ways.


The 5 most important texts for a business leader

These are the books, or in one case an essay, that I think every leader in a business should study. This is not an academic list paying homage to some MBA syllabus. Rather, if you want a business that has a healthy culture, that is profitable, that is sustainable, and that delivers real value, the concepts in these books are worth wresting with until you make them your own.

The perspectives within these texts overlap in powerful ways.

I purposely did not put them in priority order because I do really think a leader should read and use them all. They cover different areas and complement one another.

In The E-Myth Revisited, Gerber explains the difference between working in your business and on your business, how to grow your business in a way that promotes the details you deem important, why franchises work, and what to apply from that model to your own business. While it is written to a small business owner, the concepts readily apply to a business unit manager in a larger company.

The Advantage is Lencioni’s latest book, and is a detailed playbook for both a healthy leadership team and for carrying out clear strategy leadership across a company. Plus it ends with a sensible framework for making your sets of meetings much more effective.

What is Strategy by Porter is a classic essay on strategy, filled with case studies and definitions that clarify the field of strategy, a field thick with ambiguous buzz words. This essay is a lynchpin for understanding Lencioni more deeply and if you understand what Porter says, the next book on business models will become more clear as well.

Business Model Generation explains a vocabulary and template for reasoning about, building, and refining your business model. It makes sense, it seems complete, and when you apply it to your own business you will likely find strong alignments in certain actions of your business as well as gaps or areas in which you are wasting resources. If you’re going to master your business, you need to model it. This book makes it about as easy as it can get, and once I read this book I was quickly able to see how the ideas from Gerber, Lencioni, and Porter fit in.

Finally, it is practically cliché, but our people are our biggest assets aren’t they? In First, Break All the Rules, Buckingham & Coffman provide a clear framework and set of tools for being an exceptional people manager. Most organizations haven’t yet figured out the basic concepts laid out in this book, but they are important and fundamental. If you read one book on managing people, this ought to be the one.

Now, of course there are plenty of other worthy texts out there, and many should be studied in certain situations, but these are core texts.

If you’ve read these books, I’d love it if you would comment with your thoughts, and if you disagree, by all means post that too with your own recommendations!