Read this. Now.

Steve Jobs Read this
  • Jakob Nielsen on realistic and achievable research and UX evidence:  “Make no mistake: if you require perfection you’ll have no research. Go with some data, because it’s much better than guessing. “
  • Gerry McGovern on online strategy and how to do it: “Most companies and their top executives … cannot explain coherently how their actions should lead to superior performance.”
  • New Deloitte research finds that if a small business has high levels of ‘digital engagement’… it is twice as likely to be growing and will be earning two times more revenue per employee.

Inside a values-led organisation

Excerpt from the talk I prepared for the launch of the inaugural Coburg Children’s Centre website. Enjoy.

Coburg children's Centre website

“Today we’re launching the first Coburg Children’s Centre (CCC) website.

Something missing?

It’s unusual to launch a website with a criticism of your client… but I think there’s something missing I’d like to point out.

The Centre’s philosophy statement is: Coburg Children’s Centre is a nurturing community made up of children, families and staff. In our nature-based setting we value diversity, wellbeing, learning and development, environmental responsibility, and fun.

What’s missing from this statement text is something really important that underlies work at the Centre: “seriousness”.

You only need to spend 2 days with Marlene and Michelle going through web content line by line, to realise how seriously they take the CCC endeavour.

Many organisations mouth platitudes about being ‘values-led’ but at CCC they really are.

The Centre’s ethos underpins everything they do – from fees to food to fun to the future of the Centre and the planet, and everything in between. That’s not to say they get everything right all the time but that they have great systems ready to swing into action to fix mistakes and improve as they go.

I can prove it

When I asked parents and staff to rank the five things they wanted to find out about and do on the new website they chose ‘philosophy and values’ first. This makes sense, as a parent you need to find out more about these things – the values permeate all the systems at the Centre – so you need to know about them.

My respondents ranked ‘child behaviour and development’ as second. Of course you’d trust the staff and educators at CCC to help you understand what’s happening for your children – they’re the leaders and authorities in the field.

Third, parents wanted to know about the children’s programs. And why not? The programs are carefully designed with parent and educator input and thoroughly considered.

Fourth, was about the rooms and fifth was practical – how to on-sell your bookings.

Once I knew what parents were interested in, I asked the same people to help me structure these interests into the site via an online ‘card sort’. I looked at what items they categorised together and what language they used for the categories.

The website is designed to be easy to maintain, it’s built in WordPress and has 22 pages excluding the home page, 30 images, 3300 words and an average of under 160 words per page. Which makes it quite wordy but there’s a reason for that…

Not a brochure

Unlike some equivalent sites, this website isn’t a business card. It’s not a brochure and it’s not a sales prospectus.

It’s part of the Centre’s services. It’s an extension of the excellence they provide in Childcare. It has to be authoritative. It’s fully referenced both internally and to important external websites. It’s a living document that the Centre can easily maintain and improve as they go – something I know they will do.

I’ve learnt a lot about values-based management from CCC which I hope to continue in my own business and personal life.

I hope you’ve learnt something from me. About F pattern reading, how visitors scan for keywords and about online accessibility.

Thanks for giving me the chance to work with you to develop your first website.”


Umm… you could always ask them

I’m part of a LinkedIn group called Intranet Professionals.

It’s a great group with lots of interesting topics, discussion and support. But there’s been a few questions put to the forum of late that have baffled me.

The first one was:
Schoolboy asking a question

We are trying to revamp the HR section of our intranet and am looking for ideas/inspiration on how others have tackled this area? If anyone would be willing to share how they’ve structured this information, what categories they have used, screen shots etc, it would all be gratefully received!

What baffles me is the underlying assumption of the question and many of the following comments: all we have to do is think about this hard enough and we’ll get the right answer or let’s just get some ideas from our peers and then use them. It’s like they’re working in a vacuum.

Now of course I’m characterising this narrowly. One of the intents of the question is obviously to create discussion and motivation. But…

There’s a problem here: How could other intranet professionals know what was going on in the organisation, how staff think about HR, use language and group concepts together?

Would it kill to ask the visitors to the intranet what makes sense to them? (BTW: My published comment was a little more circumspect in trying to get my point across than this.)

The second LinkedIn question was:

For me it is obvious to sort topics in the top navigation according to functions, processes and what the user needs rather than by organization. But can anyone help me with a few bullet-points to convince C-management in the subject. Grateful for any feedback.

Try data.

Data should work for management and if it doesn’t then you should consider changing jobs.

You could, for example, say something like:

  • 80% of the staff we tested were able to find the target information within 6 seconds; or,
  • we discovered in keyword and card sorting research – see this research – we can improve our staff’s ability to complete this task by a factor of 2 – see research

On usability data, as Jakob Nielsen said recently, “Make no mistake: if you require perfection… you’ll have no research … Go with … some data, because it’s much better than guessing.” (Strength of User Research Evidence)

Get so-called C-management to watch a video of someone being tested trying to use the current system – highlight all the problems. Stop dealing in guesses and start dealing in facts.

I think the main problem is not that people don’t want to ask they just don’t really know HOW to ask to elicit the data they need. We’ve all done surveys that just ask for lots of opinions about stuff – but what do you do with all those opinions and all the expectations you’ve set up by asking?

At the time you’re redesigning navigation, functions or content you need to FOCUS down onto what’s really important not open up to everything.

I hope I don’t see many more questions like those above, but when I do my answer will always be some variation on “umm.. you could always ask them”.




Do you need a business blog? The 5 whys technique

Michael owns and operates a removals business. But his business isn’t just any old removalist, it has real environmental chops: it’s officially carbon neutral,  it’s trucks run on bio-diesel – 100% waste vegetable oil, it reuses and recycles packing material and the office is on 100% green energy.

But Michael is dissatisfied that his green credentials haven’t been the ‘calling card’ he was looking for; attracting the business he wants. He speculates about a business blog.

A business blog is a term for publicly available web content, usually written, but also visual and audio, delivered via a website. I say ‘business’ because it’s a blog whose primary concern is to serve business or career aims, as opposed to a personal blog where hobbies and individual interests come first. It’s also a verb to describe the act of composing a blog.

Does Michael need to blog then? Simple. Surely he only need weigh the benefits up against the disadvantages and get going (or not)?  Less talk, more blog. But decision-making is much more messy than that.

Michael’s question about business blogging is really a solution looking for a problem. What’s the problem?

Our culture pushes people to jump to solutions more often than it allows us to dwell on problems. We’re taught early on to avoid problems. We even have an over-used euphemism: ‘issues’.

ask why

Take it apart, see how it works

I remember the delight I felt when, as a boy, I dismantled a wind up mouse. I couldn’t put it back together exactly the same way it started off but I learnt a lot about how it worked.

A mechanical toy is a complete solution to a bunch of design problems and it doesn’t need to by taken apart. But a blog is only a partial solution to business design problems. In a sense, a hastily constructed solution is a business process ‘fault’.

If you’re looking for advice on whether you should start a blog then you won’t find it here but you might get a powerful technique for how to approach it.

5 Whys

The technique I’ve found success with is simple: ask why until you uncover the underlying problem. It’s been used in manufacturing for ages where it’s called the 5 whys, a form of root cause analysis.

Here’s some things I’ve learnt that’ll help you apply it:

  • Dwell on the problem; ask why as many or few times as necessary to get to the nub of the problem
  • Keep the questions simple; ask with a real sense of curiosity
  • Record the answers
  • Don’t feel like you need to solve any particular problem that arises
  • If you feel the timing is right, also ask a contrary question to test assumptions. I’ve since discovered this is a loose version of what’s called counterfactual testing and I’ve included some examples of this below.

5 whys is also linked to negotiation. It has the side-benefit of focusing on ‘needs’ rather than ‘positions’ and it’s an excellent way to get more people to buy into the eventual solution. Here’s my example of the 5 whys in action:

1. Why do you want a blog? 

Michael thinks a blog may define his unique service offering in the removal industry. (Although I didn’t ask, a counterfactual question you ask could be: why a blog specifically, why not a Facebook page, Twitter account, word of mouth, seminar, webinar or printed material? Or why haven’t you already done one?)

2. Why do you need to define your unique service offering? 

Michael: no one else in the industry is doing green removal. ( How do you know – have you researched this? What about other countries?)

3. Why is no one doing green removal?

Michael: because it’s a conservative industry? (What would removals look like if everyone was ‘going green’?)

4. Why is it a conservative industry?

Michael: because people mainly compete on price. (What would a ‘progressive’ removal industry look like?)

5. Why do people mainly compete on price?

Michael: people want to get from A to B as quick as possible. They want to know we’ll be there on time and take care not to break anything. But they want it cheap. Why would you pay more just because we do all of that AND don’t wreck the planet? (Do you have any examples of a customer hiring you on a factor other than price?)

Focus on the process

So where did the 5 whys (and counterfactual testing) take us? To a strategy problem. Maybe it’s a mismatch between the services and the market.

5 whys technique says to focus on the process. Your business strategy is more of a process than a thing – how you continue to answer questions about your business. And a blog – which is really a way to get your knowledge out of the shop floor (clinic, office, workshop, etc.) – could help you ask and answer a bunch of questions, defining and refining your business strategy.