Sunday, August 22, 2010

What a (non) Result!

I went to buy fish at my usual place in Victoria Street, Richmond, today. As I walked in the Vietnamese guys who run the place were all watching the TV on the wall, Gillard was talking. They jumped on me and said "What was the result? You explain please. We don't understand". I thought 'well you're not alone in that boys', and tried my best to explain that there is no result and there won't be for a while. They love Labor, the shopkeepers along that strip, and this was a big disappointment to them.
Whilst there mightn't be a result there are some things that are clear:
  1. The ALP got what they deserved, they were a crappy, presidential style, failure of a government;
  2. We didn't give Tony Abbott a mandate - and that was on purpose - we don't like him that much either;
  3. Having said both of those things, the party most responsible for the result - whatever it is, and therefore the party with the greatest obligations is the Greens.
So let's work this through. I think that Australians showed a great collective consciousness. You couldn't have orchestrated this result if you had tried. It's basically a hung parliament and it's doubtful that any one party will get to form government in their own right. There's still water to flow under the bridge and there's still an outside chance that the coalition might just get over the line in their own right. I doubt it at this stage though. Therefore the Australian public has chosen to trust neither major party. A good call, and with certain caveats I think it's good for Australia.
That means a parliament with 4 independents of various persuasions and a Green. Adam Bandt won in his own right in Melbourne and more on that in a minute. Neither major party has the requisite 76 and probably won't get there. So whoever forms government needs at least some of those 5 votes in order to survive any motion of no confidence on the floor. And that's all that's required now to govern. One of those independents is new and took the seat from the ALP with Green preferences, he came from third spot in the primary vote to do it.
Here's the thing about Melbourne though: Adam Bandt's election is a sign of the yuppification of the seat and indeed you might argue that he typifies the local yuppy! A review of some of the booths is instructive. St Mark's Church in the heart of the yuppy belt of the electorate saw the Greens polling more or less double the ALP, over in Mooney Ponds it was line ball and in Elizabeth Street in Richmond, amongst the Housing Commission flats Labor won the booth. So it's not all clear cut. Adam won the seat in decisive fashion but the electorate did not uniformly vote for him.
The Greens more than any other party have delivered this result. They took votes from the ALP, they took a seat from the ALP and they have a commanding hold on the Senate - or will have from next July. That delay is a farce in itself.
The obligation that the Greens now face is to deliver not only warm fuzzy policies but good government. The stability of the Australian government will almost certainly rest with Adam Bandt and Andrew Wilkie - the new member for Denison who whilst not a Green in name is certainly a proto-Green.
Are they up to it? Are they up to the hard yards of being part of a government, a government with no clear majority? Are they up to grappling with the difficult, pragmatic realities of delivering to Australia in all the areas of government, not just the warm ones? I'm not belittling the environment by saying that, rather I'm saying that a solid economic and social support base is imperative if we are to have the choice to deliver on environmental needs. It's no coincidence that developing countries generally have poor environmental records and that stable financially sound governments have choices when it comes to good environmental management.
One thing's for sure: If Adam Bandt fails to deliver on his responsibilities for sound, stable government, then Gen X, Gen Y and the older yuppies will ditch him quick smart at the next election. They'll also run far and fast from the Greens in the Senate. Witness the downfall of the Democrats.
Happy days Adam, I hope you're up to it. We all rely on you.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Whinge, whinge...

In mid-July Steve Jobs announced that the iPhone 4 would be released in Australia on July 30. I've come to a couple of conclusions since then: firstly his definition of "released" and mine differ; secondly Apple has become insufferably arrogant towards its customers.
What has Apple stuffed up this time around? Well let's try this for starters:
  1. They offered to keep us informed about the launch of the iPhone 4 if we registered our email address. I'd expect that they would email me to tell me about the upcoming launch and to tell me how to get my iPhone 4...if I wanted one. Instead they emailed me at 20:30 on 30 July...that's about 20 and a half hours after they "released" it. That's early notification isn't it Apple? And the email told me nothing useful.
  2. Right through the day that Apple say they released the iPhone 4 the Apple website said "coming soon". Was it released or wasn't it? Only at about the same time as the email did it change.
  3. When the Apple website changed to show it had been released the pathway that it sent you on to determine where to buy said iPhone petered out, with no actual advice on buying it.
  4. The Apple retail stores wouldn't talk to you on the phone about the iPhone 4, even after it had been "released" so you had no idea whether they had stock or not. As it happens it was largely "not".
  5. Attempting to order an iPhone 4 online led to the information that one would be available about 23 August...not 30 July.
What is apparent is that the iPhone 4 was available through the telco partners on the day of release, and it appears to have continued to be available there...but only on a plan. Some few were also available from the Apple stores on 30 July, but that seemed to be for show.
What appears to have happened is that Apple has left about a month for their telco partners to sell the phone on a plan, before they "really release" it to the general public.
Now you can be sure that Apple don't really care what you or I think about this. They are probably more concerned with the traffic jam in Cupertino, caused by the trucks bringing in all the money that the company is making! Whether you or I think they behaved badly is of no concern to them.
The thing is that the buying public have long memories. When Apple's long line of product successes deserts them, as it will at some future point, then the buying public will take the opportunity to twist the knife. What might otherwise have been a minor hiccup could well turn into a mass desertion. Why's that? I think that the reason is that Apple is progressively squandering the very strong base of consumer support that they have enjoyed. They are treating their consumers, their customers, carelessly and disdainfully. It will come back to bite them.
What should they have done? Two easy things would have kept me happy:
  1. For all those people who registered to receive an email: send them an email around 26 July saying: The iPhone 4 will be available in very limited quantities from Apple retail stores from Midnight 29 July, it will be available in greater quantities on telco plans from the same time. Apple recommends that you order your iPhone now, through our online store. We expect full stock levels from around 25 August;
  2. Place the same clear and simple message, prominently on their website 24 hours later;
  3. Allow the pre-registered people to order from 26 July through the on-line store for later delivery.
Problem solved, I'm not in receipt of instant gratification but I know where I stand.
Underlying all of this is another more interesting issue: Apple doesn't seem to have its supply chain in order. Not only can it not supply iPhone, it can't supply simple things. The new Magic Trackpad is reportedly "released" as well. The problem is I can't find anywhere in Melbourne with stock, including Apple's own shops. I'm not ringing all around Melbourne to find one, but the inquiries I have made in the logical places have drawn a blank.
So the consumer happiness issue would go away if Apple sorted out its apparent supply chain issues. If you release a product on 30 July then make sure you have stock and intend to make it generally available. The better alternative would be to announce a real release date and make sure you have sufficient stock to supply demand. It's not like you haven't had a chance to see the stock implications of iPhone and other new items. And as for no stock of a simple thing like the Magic Trackpad...really Apple that's just silly.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Project Information - Where to put it and how to use it?

I've had cause to think about the issues of managing projects without a LAN. Indeed managing any kind of business activity without a LAN requires a particular mindset.
If you think about project information it falls into a number of clear categories:
  • Control material - things like status reports, actions, issues etc. This stuff is both structured and requires formal control. In a LAN-free environment it lives in some kind of web-based project control tool. This kind of information is generally well understood and well catered for by projects and project managers;
  • Formal documentation - material such as requirements documents, reports, project plans. This material belongs in a document management tools - web-based. The tool should allow check-in, check-out with version management and fine grained access control. Again, this material is well catered for and well understood by project managers;
  • Semi-structured project information. This is the perhaps the most troublesome type of information. How often have you had a client or someone else saying "where do I find last week's status report?". You don't want them wandering around in the document management system and you don't want to have to continually email documents around. Similarly the endless questions about "what's happened about x this week?" can be more effectively answered by having that information in a central spot. It's this last set of information that is both the most troublesome for projects whilst being the least thought of in terms of management.
Clients, project owners, management and client team members are often very interested in progress, often in a qualitative fashion. It takes a lot of time to keep all the stakeholders up to date, particularly those with a voracious appetite for information.
Enter the wiki and blog. This is the right place to manage this sort of information. A really simple initial structure gets you off the ground. The master pager of the wiki has links to these pages:
  • Who's who? Many projects have a large pool of people that they deal with. Induction for new project members can be incredibly slow and time consuming because of the large number of people that they need to be aware of. Creating a Who's Who page and then encouraging all team members to keep it up to date can be a big help here. This is particularly important with the layer of people who are outside the team but very important to the project;
  • Status. This is the place for final copies of the weekly or monthly status reports. Once they are finalised a copy can be placed on this page to give interested parties access without needing to provide access to the DMS;
  • Documents. Every project creates "landmark" documents, whether it's a stage report, a Func Spec or a set of FAQs. These could be placed in a "public" section of the DMS. The reality is it's probably easier to put them on the wiki page. This forestalls the endless questions from project members like "can you send me a copy of...?".
  • Blog. Perhaps the least thought of capability is a blog. This is where project members can be encouraged to publish short snippets about small project achievements, activities for the day and planned future activities. It's a way of letting other project members and stakeholders know what you are up to.
Sitting alongside those pages you need some way of letting others know what has changed on the wiki or blog: either email or RSS feeds work well. Expecting interested parties to visit and check for updates is not very useful, you need to tell them what's happening.
Similarly the capacity to email items of interest into the wiki and to have attachments appear is also important. It creates an additional means of interacting with the system.
So here's what I'd like to know: Do you use wikis and blogs in projects? Do you find them useful? What specific tools do you use?
I've been using the Snow Leopard Server Wiki Server 2, I like it, it works well and it's very simple to use.