Vacation, end of the day swimming in Portage Lake

Silhouette of people at lake at night.
Swimming at the end of the day. Silhouetted from left to right is my niece Seraphina, my daughters Eva and Lila, and the dog Isabell.

Vacation, camp fire

Flame and embers of a camp fire at night.
We roasted marshmallows last night over a camp fire.

Being competitive

shooters on the firing line
Bullseye pistol shooters on the firing line at the 2014 National Pistol Championships, Camp Perry, Ohio.

The key to being competitive is to compete.

Last weekend I shot in the National Pistol Matches, specifically the President’s 100 and the National Trophy Individual match. Wow, was I ever not competitive!

My final scores were very nearly middle of the pack, out of the approximately 475 competitors. While I would have liked to have been in the top 50 in both matches, I didn’t earn it. To deepen the point, I also shot worse than I did in 2013.

That is one of the great things about competitive shooting: you reap what you sow.

I had practiced only a little in preparation, perhaps 400 shots in practice during the month and a half before the matches. More importantly, I think, is that I hadn’t competed at all during the preceding 12 months.

Competing in matches is the best preparation for competing in matches.

While this is obvious, I had talked myself out of competition for a year, one match at a time, choosing instead family time and work. Neither is a bad thing, of course, but if I want to be competitive, then I must compete.

My goal for 2015 National Matches: Make the President’s 100 and shoot in the top 50 for the NTI. How? Compete regularly until then as part of training.

Davin User experience, web, technology

In pursuit of paper

I pay attention to paper that I use for printing. Trivial? Maybe, yet I do care.

I care about the paper weight, brightness, dimensions, finish, and sometimes even what the paper fibers feel like. There seems to be a variety of fibers in paper, and, my, isn’t that interesting?

Yet, although I care about these factors, I haven’t found an online purveyor of paper who appears to also care. Sigh!

This has bothered me now for years, but, dear readers, I fear that if I were to share these troubles, you would not know what I’m talking about, or, more likely, simply wouldn’t care.

Apparently, my online search for paper this evening has finally nudged me just outside that zone of tacit disappointment.

So here’s the quixotic-windmill-tilt I’ve given up on this evening.

My goal: buy a ream of white A4 sized paper, reasonably bright, just a little heavier than normal, like 24lb (90 g/m²).

Simple, right?

A Google search led me to trusty where I found a ream of 20lb A4 paper by Hammermill/International Paper. So, so close.

I didn’t see an obvious way of finding 24 lb A4 paper, so I went directly the Hammermill website. Surely, the paper company would present me with a lovely catalog of papers and I would find precisely what I sought, while perhaps also discovering papers that I’d also like. It would be an excellent distraction!

Alas, it wasn’t so.

Really, what I wanted was a faceted classification of papers, so I could quickly filter down the catalog of papers.

Here are some facets that come to mind.

Color: White, Beige, (and so on)

Size: International sizes like A0 to A10, US sizes like Letter (8.5X11), Legal, Tabloid, etc. And so on.

Weight: 20lb, 24lb, 32lb, and so on. These should include weights in g/m².

Brightness: 90, 92, 94, 96, 98, 100, and so on. (I don’t know the range or increments.)

Finish: Matte, Glossy, etc.

Percent recycled: up to 100%

And maybe, uses: photo prints, standard copier or inkjet printer paper, etc.

I’m curious, does anyone know of an online paper vendor who actually has something like this in place?

Until then, I shall persevere with my ream of Staples brand multipurpose paper, 96 bright, 24 lb, letter-sized, 50% recycled.


On delegating work better

Fellow leaders and managers, I want to share with you thoughts on a skill that we all know we should do better, but that often gets little attention: delegating work.

Summary: Delegation as coaching

Of course delegating work effectively requires the manager to provide instructions, set expectations, choose a suitable delegate, and check-in.

But what if as managers we then shifted our attention away from the delegated work itself and onto the delegate’s level of mastery of the work, levels of mastery like first mimicking, then understanding, and then innovating? We could then know better how to coach the delegate while he or she gains greater mastery over the delegated work.

When I think of delegating like this, it becomes more of a process with a delegate than a work assignment. This will require more time from us in the short term, but in the long run, having masterful delegates will be much more valuable and time saving.

What follows in this post

  1. Delegation 101
  2. The flaw: Abdicating instead of delegating responsibility
  3. Coaching delegates to master the work

Delegation 101

Much has already been written about the basics of delegation. Here is some background reading.

From those readings, which I encourage you to review, I’ve boiled down a basic delegation flow to this:

  1. Choose what responsibilities you’ll delegate to another person
  2. Choose a person who can do the work and who you  trust with the responsibilities and authority
  3. Assign the work using clear instructions and expectations, allowing the delegate the latitude to meet those expectations in his or her own way
  4. Inspect the work as needed
  5. Be thankful and give credit

It is worth remembering that the delegation process assumes that you already know how to do the work and understand the responsibility. If you just know that there is a problem to solve, but you haven’t really figured it out, delegation is premature. That’s an entirely different kind of work.

But that’s just basics, and while they are crucial, we can deepen our understanding even more.

The flaw: abdicating instead of delegating responsibility

In his book about entrepreneurship and creating a successful business, The E-Myth Revisited, Michael Gerber talks about the difference between abdication and delegation.

Gerber illustrates the point in a young manager’s life when he has too much to do and finally hires someone to help. He gives the accounting books to that assistant and suddenly feels free! The manager happily lets the assistant keep the books and shifts focus to other work. Only later does the manager realize the assistant has been doing the bookkeeping in ways that he never would have, and sees that the business is really beginning to suffer for it. That’s management by abdication.

Books like First, Break All the Rules, have emphasized the importance of setting clear expectations for outcomes, not micro-managing. Great advice, right? However, in my experience, there are some types of work for which the process of the work is itself valuable (those in the user experience field will agree, I think). If I only manage the outcome and not the process, I may really be missing out. Again, Gerber’s abdication.

So if we’re going to delegate effectively, not micro-manage, but instead manage by remote control, and still end up with the work done as well as we hope, we do need to know something about teaching the performance and assessing how well the delegate can do the work and what we should expect.

Coaching delegates to master the work

Let’s talk about a model for considering mastery, Shu Ha Ri. Some Agile development thinkers have adapted this concept to software development skills.

English-speaking martial artists have used the translated terms of following, detaching, and fluent, but since we really are moving away from the hand-to-hand nature of martial arts towards more general mastery of work, I prefer mimic, understand, and innovate.

  1. Shu = following = mimic
  2. Ha = detaching = understand
  3. Ri = fluent = innovate

I’ll be the first to call it out: this is a weak model for thinking about such a complex topic as mastery. But it has its uses.

When we delegate work as managers, we can use this model to assess how advanced the delegate’s mastery level is for the work.

For example, let’s use the task of creating a visual sitemap for a website.

To mimic the work is to copy the form of another sitemap and apply it to the website at hand. The layout is similar and the annotations on the map indicate the same analysis as the copied sitemap, even if that analysis isn’t really relevant in this new case. Mostly, it just looks about right and is probably helpful.

To understand the work of creating a sitemap is to include relevant annotations about the organization of content, to tune the layout so related content are near each other in the map and levels of hierarchy are implied by position on the page, and to know how to use it in discussions with members of the team.

To innovate in the work of sitemaps is to create a more appropriate visual vocabulary for the diagram and to show connections drawn from other representations of content, such as content inventories of the same information space to expose relevant facets or perhaps the amount of content in a section, or website analytics to show, for instance, popularity of pages on the sitemap. This kind of innovation work, well executed, should be even more valuable.

For any work that you manage, can you outline what those three levels might look like? With that information in hand, it becomes easier to ask how much mastery you want from a delegate, and of course to see how advanced the delegate is in their mastery.

This model can be a valuable coaching tool for any manager, and adds useful insight for anyone who needs to delegate well.



Will St Charles MI flood in Spring 2014?

I’ve lived in St Charles, MI since 2008. It’s a nice little town, I think. One of the features is the confluence of the North and South branches of the Bad River, pretty much right in the middle of town.

Satellite map of St Charles, MI. Note the two rivers that join up just East of M52.
Satellite map of St Charles, MI. Note the two rivers that join up just East of M52. With so much snow this Winter, and not many warm days to melt much of it, what will the river be like in the Spring?

So, it has been a pretty cold winter with what seems like a higher than typical snowfall. In the past, I’ve seen the Bad River push pretty well at its banks. Last Spring there were a few local roads that were closed because of water spilling up onto them. The storm drains can’t drain a whole lot when they are full.

Snowy street and snowbanks along driveways
A snowy street in St Charles, MI in early February 2014.

So, I don’t think this will be a record-breaking winter for snowfall amounts. My best prediction is that we’ll end up with around 40 inches this season, which is really no big deal. (And I’m no meteorologist, so don’t trust me at all on that prediction.)

But here’s what I’m wondering. If the temperatures stay cold, then not much of the snow will melt. Then, when it warms up, probably in March, a whole lot of snow will melt really quickly, and the Bad River will swell more than we’ve seen in recent years.

Will we have a more serious flooding of the Bad River? I wouldn’t be surprised.

User experience, web, technology

And this is what I get…

Poorly designed travel mug from a colleague
Chad, a manager at work, kindly gave me this mug and the note. Ahh, this is what I get for the user experience evangelization!
Davin Management User experience, web, technology

Five Whys, Socratic Method, and Dependent Arising

Root cause analysis—jargon for managers in lean startups and Agile dev shops. In plain language, isn’t it “Well, I hear what you’re saying, but what’s really going on?”

I feel a rambling, messy first draft coming on.

Why in the world do we need jargon for such a common line of reasoning? This is every day stuff, isn’t it?

  • Parents ask each other in whispers at night: “But why is she acting out like this all of a sudden? Is it those kids at school again?”
  • A doctor sees the symptoms and begins to diagnose the cause.
  • Marriage counselors around the country today coached couples to understand their partners a little better.

Yes, and an Agile team somewhere held a 5 whys session to figure out how that persnickety bug made it through testing, so that they could address the root cause.

Oh, pardon my cynicism, I have trouble writing that line with a straight face; if the team didn’t actually discern the root cause (there’s always just one, right?), they will have at least changed something to avoid one of the causes. How else to get better, really?

I’m being too jaded. Of course root cause analysis, the 5 whys method is one tactic for such analysis, is important. I just cringe at the assumption of a single cause for problems. And those technical problems that are found with lean and agile work often end up (or is that start off as) being human problems, and those are rarely so singular.

In design work, I really don’t know that I’ve asked the question, “So, what is the root cause of this problem?” Though I have most often sought to understand and clarify the problem space, the context, the people involved, their desires and motivations, the corporate interests, et cetera—you know, the basic stuff a designer needs to know in order to actually do good work [PDF].

I simply cannot right out of the gate assume I know what I don’t yet know so well that I would presume it, if it is indeed an it, is a singular problem. The result of that kind of simplistic framing would tend towards imprecise assumptions and lack of multiple perspectives. A lack of understanding. And don’t those sound like further problems that could result in errors? Garbage-in, garbage-out.

So, if I can kick the feet out from under Agile’s dumbed down root cause analysis and just stick with something more like defining the problem, or semantics (as Vignelli has used it), I’ll relax on this point.

Can I assume that this better understanding is what we’re all actually after?

I was in a meeting once, asking deeper questions, and a person I was talking with was frustrated and said something like, “I know all about five whys, I know what you’re doing!” The person was asking me to back off, because he wasn’t prepared to answer questions. While that does make the point to me that I was pushing too hard, I wasn’t expecting the five whys remark.

I was actually patterning the discussion more off of Socrates and his dialogues. I’ve heard the term Socratic Method being described as continuing to question, to ask why. Well, yeah, that sounds like a 5 whys, but I’ve read Plato enough that I understand that those dialogues are far more nuanced than a series of whys.

Wasn’t the philosophical discourse of Socrates and his learned colleagues some sort of root cause analysis too? Is a discourse into the nature of the soul and idealized Forms an analysis? Of course, and there is an aspect of Phaedo that suggests that these Forms are in fact causal forces. I’d call that root cause analysis.

So, this type of “what’s really going on here?” question isn’t just for work any more, it’s for philosophy and an understanding of the world itself (yeah, even though we all believe Socrates had it wrong).

And this question of the underlying problem is common too in religion, isn’t it? What’s wrong with the world? With us humans?! I call a five whys for the fallen world!

I joke, but Buddhists might associate this notion of root cause analysis with another bit of jargon: dependent arising.

As I’ve learned, when Gautama sat in profound ascetic meditation under the Bodhi-tree, nourished by an offering of rice milk, and under the gazes of the gods of many world-systems, he finally received enlightenment. In his awakening under that auspicious tree, he knew what are called the four noble truths (knowledge of suffering, cause of suffering, cessation of suffering, and the path that leads to that cessation).

And yes one of those truths, central to a major world religion, is the root cause of suffering! (Oh, if only an Agile 5 whys was so profound!) The cause of suffering is actually described as a nested layering of causes, which finally reach that singular kernel that causes suffering (duhkha). This is the notion of dependent arising, that suffering arises dependent upon all these other links in the chain. When I read the series of links, I still don’t think it comes down to a simple answer, but the answer itself isn’t the single cause, but the whole chain of dependent arising is part of it. You don’t disassemble it so much as sidestep the whole chain. And yes, that’s quite an oversimplification. Here’s a bit of that root cause analysis as dependent arising (there are 12 links/nidana).

Conditioned by (1) ignorance are (2) formations, conditioned by formations is (3) consciousness, conditioned by consciousness is (4) mind-and-body, conditioned by mind-and-body are (5) the six senses, conditioned by the six-senses is (6) sense-contact, conditioned by sense-contact is (7) feeling, conditioned by feeling is (8) craving, conditioned by craving is (9) grasping, conditioned by grasping is (10) becoming, conditioned by becoming is (11) birth, conditioned by birth is (12) old-age and death—grief, lamentation, pain, sorrow, and despair come into being. Thus is the arising of this whole mass of suffering.
(Gethin, The Foundations of Buddhism, 141-142)

This doesn’t strike me as mono-causal, even though it sounds like it at the end of the chain: death results in a whole mass of suffering. Well, how do you get rid of death, then? Will you get rid of birth?

Right, and so the whole tangled up ball of yarn gets pulled along. There are many causes, and there are many results. This strikes me not just as dependent arising, but interdependent arising. Duhkha, I shake my fist at you!

So, again, this root cause analysis thing is all over the place: work, family life, health, philosophy, religion. But doesn’t it tend to not be simply understood as singular causes? (Christianity seems easier to me, until I try to put a finger on where exactly original sin came in: fruit, gullible Adam, Eve, serpent, why was the tree there to begin with? It gets messy too.)

Let me end this rant, I mean blog post, by saying simply, using terms that suggest we think of single causes to complex problems is foolishness and it bugs me.

(Oh, and the 5 whys method looks a lot more like dependent arising to me than the Socratic method.)


2nd try at the LCP Challenge

Target showing 50 shots from a Ruger LCP.
My friend Adam has issued a challenge to me. With my Ruger LCP, can I have all but 5 of 50 shots score a 10, firing at 7 yards? Here was my second try, and I again had about 7 shots outside the 10-ring. I’m looking forward to the 3rd try.
Management User experience, web, technology

UX STRAT conference, day 2

I just wrapped up the day by having dinner with Simon of Bristol (okay, Simon Norris of Nomensa) and Bob Royce and Dan Klyn of The Understanding Group. A relaxed conversation with three brilliant gentlemen—an excellent end to the day.

So, the conference. First, I was glad to have met Josh Seiden in person so that I could apologize for my choice words about Lean UX in the preceding blog post. Josh is legit.

As for the topics, again, too many for me to itemize, so I’ll first do a top-of-mind review and then think about themes.

Top-of-mind reflections

First, Aarron Walter of MailChimp blew me away with the approach he shared about using Evernote with e-mail as basically an API to take a very real step at solving the data silos problem. Sure, this may not have been pure strategy, but as a tactic, wow. Thank you Aarron.

Doodles about Aarron of MailChimp's talk on using Evernote to connect silos of data
Sharing these notes in case they help someone else remember the talk better. Click on the photo to view it larger.

Heads-up to my team, we’re going to give this a whirl.

Second, Ronnie Battista had the whole room laughing repeatedly. Awesome presentation style, and great ideas on “The Ten Commandments of UX Strategy.” (Where is our Hippocratic Oath?)

Okay, there you go for top-of-mind.

What was missing?

So, back in the late 1990s I thought of information architecture as something akin to strategy, and we didn’t have the label “user experience.” (At least if we did, I was still too ignorant.) Then IA lost its way amidst all the insane growth of the web, related technologies, and professions. (Yep, I’m over-simplifying history.) I stopped thinking of myself as an information architect and eventually replaced my self-identity with user experience.

Then a few years ago a new generation of information architects began to speak, and among them is Dan Klyn. Dan and his cohort have knelt around the dying embers of information architecture and breathed life back into it, adding tinder, twigs, wood.

IA is starting to throw off heat and light again, and thank goodness for that.

And you know what? This new framing of information architecture looks even more like strategy to me. Now, it isn’t strategy any more than design is strategy—but they overlap in meaningful ways.

Let me put it this way, if I had a performance continuum describing information architecture with one end called strategy and the other tactics, I’d probably describe IA by putting a mark halfway to strategy. (Is that “strategy yet tactics?”) If I used the same continuum to describe UX, I would regretfully right now put the mark on the half towards tactics.

Performance continuum, isn't IA more strategic, UX more tactical?
This is just my gut talking, and isn’t based on any deeper study or rationale. When I’m doing more strategy-level work, I find myself frequently reaching for IA methods and frameworks, not more generalized UX facets of the work. Curious about others’ thoughts.

So, whether IA and UX are cooperative siblings or one contains the other (or they overlap, but not fully), UX strategy seems to me like it ought to sit down and listen hard to what today’s information architects are doing.

Or, hey, maybe we as a UX strategy tribe think that “good” is tactical, yet strategic, not the other way around. Seriously.

(End of that editorial.)

Themes from Day 2

We need data. We need to get it and use it. It is part of the language of business.

Stories and data together can be compelling.

We need to continually adapt UX strategy to corporate strategy in order to stay relevant to the business.

We need to be ambassadors, reaching out to our partners within our businesses. Seek to understand them, even serve them, and build those connections.

Learning is part of culture. We need to continually learn. Be bold in being okay with change (think of Dick Fosbury and how he changed how the high jump is done).

The DIKW pyramid, getting to Wisdom is hard!

UX strategy includes shaping our teams capabilities in ways that will best serve the business.

Customer Experience is often populated with marketing professionals. Are they a group to compete with or a group to align with? Should we just admit we’re all doing the same thing, only that we’ve been doing it longer? Or is there really a difference?

UX strategy does include organizational change (overlapping with changes to an organization’s culture). Think the Vistaprint center for excellence, the innovation program at Citrix, and the leadership changes at Sage over a few years.


And, I’m spent. It’s been said, but can be said again: UX STRAT team, fantastic job. Thank you for all your time and effort. It was worth it.