Wednesday, 24 February 2010

IT project failures - an analysis

This is a good summary of typical IT project failure. Certainly rings true for me & the project failures that I've been involved in. My only addenda would be a couple more reasons why IT PMs tend to dumb down risks & assumptions: they either form an over-optimistic view of the features and benefits of the new system (they start to believe their own sales pitch), or they overestimate the level of buy-in from end users (they overestimate the success of their sales pitch).

The lesson for me is not to treat IT projects like other engineering projects. Most non-IT projects deal with tangibles, so the concepts are much easier to share with the layman: a model, drawings, artist impressions, VR walkthroughs, materials to touch etc. IT projects are intangible - mostly invisible to the end user, so as such there may be a wide gap between the IT pro's concept of the workload required, and the layman's concept. So while the PM process can be similar to traditional engineering project management, the emphasis at certain stages should factor in the conceptual differences: both end user and IT pro should ensure that they have a common understanding of the design and effort required.

Update: another good article with more detailed common assumptions and remedies.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Good intro to Google Buzz

(Hands On With Google Buzz - Webmonkey) covers the salient features well and I like the conclusion that it's less a Facebook competitor, as most pundits are trying to draw it, and more a drawing-together of what Google already offers.

Where I think it may have killer app status is in the enterprise. I hooked us up to Google Apps last year, so can't wait to see what Buzz will do for work collaboration across our 5 offices in 5 countries.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Multitasking

With the recent announcement of the iPad, there's been a resurgence in the issue of multi-tasking. The iPhone, famously, doesn't support multi-tasking - a fact that Palm were quick to exploit in marketing the multi-tasking Pre.  The iPhone can do multiple things at once, but only Apple things, like checking mail, or ringing on an incoming call during your game of Grand Theft Auto.  The technorati would have it that multi-tasking is an essential part of any computing device. After all, it was the killer feature of Windows that brought us out of the dark ages of DOS.

The trouble with multitasking is that your hardware has to know how to juggle, without necessarily knowing how many balls or how big each ball may be.  To compensate, the hardware tries clever things to re-prioritise the tasks (balls), so that each gets something approximating the resources it needs. This takes time, and  requires a certain amount of flexibility on behalf of the task: it may not get all the resources it asks for.  A robust app will cope gracefully, a sloppy app will crash.  So, with multitasking your mileage may vary.

Now this usually seems a reasonable price to pay for being able to juggle several things at once: copying that text to your spreadsheet from your browser,while it downloads the next page in the background.  But on a phone?  Do I really need that multitasking enough to risk sacrificing the snappy, consistent response I need from a phone?

I had a couple too many apps open on my Google phone the other day - mucking about with a few newly downloaded apps - and I abruptly had to make a phone call.  I pressed the Phone app button and... waited. Probably a full 30 seconds later, one of the other apps crashed, and my phone was usable again.  Way too long for a phone to make a call.  The trouble is, the phone is just another app on a smart phone, and if the smart phone is multitasking, the phone app has got to juggle and jostle with all the rest of the apps.

The truly smart thing about Apple and their iPhone is a) single-tasking, and b) except where Apple decide multitasking is needed for notifications.  And Apple control the latter by vetting every single app to hit the app store.  So while some may bemoan Apple's control of apps, I actually think it is necessary quality assurance to ensure that users get a snappy phone that does apps, rather than a micro PC that happens to have a phone app too.  This will be the chief hurdle that Android/Google/HTC will have to leap.

As for the iPad, it's an interesting gambit by Apple: their second bite at the tablet market, after the Newton (no, it wasn't a PDA)!  This time they have the iStores, so maybe they'll pull it off, but my gut says it's a product looking for a need.  I can do all the things on it that I can do on my iTouch, so that just makes it an oversized iTouch, right?

Friday, 5 February 2010

Media Publishers' dilemma

So Macmillan, the book publishers, beat Amazon into submission, forcing them to charge $14.99 for bestsellers, rather than Amazon's proposed $9.99.  And now other publishers are lining up to make their demands on Amazon.

It seems like Amazon tried to do what Apple did with the music companies after the ipod became ubiquitous: leverage their big channel to customers to push supplier prices down, in a market that they had effectively reinvented. Your CD sales are dropping, but thanks to us, people are still buying your music online.  So drop your prices because we own your customers and they don't want to prop up your tired old distribution model, they want to pay less for something that costs a lot less to produce & distribute.


So why did Amazon fail, where Apple succeeded?  Possibly because of Apple, who, during their iPad announcement also revealed that they had deals with the major book publishers to release books through the iTunes store (or iBookstore as they're calling it).  And I'm sure they were willing to distribute at whatever price the publishers wanted, happily taking a percentage, like they do for iPhone apps.  Who is going to bet against the iTunes/iBook store?

Now, I suspect these publishers will end up dropping prices for the same reason the music publishers did, but not until they've milked it as much as they can.  Trouble is, it might be too late: in their greed they could well kill the iBook market.  Scenario: I want the latest bestseller. It's $14.99 at Amazon and $14.99 at iBookstore.  The former is presented in a portable, lightweight, rugged format. The latter requires a $700 not-so-rugged device to read it.  Which do I opt for?  The publisher doesn't lose out in either case (okay, margins may differ slightly, but a book is a book).  So maybe Apple starts to lose out.  Or maybe the other attributes of their versatile device make it the de facto reader of choice.  What will they do then?  Same as with the music publishers: squeeze the supplier.  Then the publishers would lose out.