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Must be a better way to do business process documentation

The last project was all about process documentation. To be honest, these are not exactly my favorite kinds of projects, mostly because they can be easily associated with long hours of unthankful, tedious work.

Why tedious? Well, one reason is that process documentation tends to have large volume, while efforts required to produce it are mostly not automated.

I was wondering if there is any simple way to streamline this kind of jobs, aside from hiring more analysts or investing in a some BPM software package, which would probably be an overkill for most of the projects I did.

Making any amendments to the processes is especially pita, due to all the custom diagrams interlinked with detailed textual content.

(that is if you use diagrams + text – sometimes just slides are used, especially for high-level documents – I think text is much more flexible if you need to accommodate more information)

While in fact, amending the design based on remarks from business users is the core of process-related projects.

Process-related projects shouldn’t be such a chore – if you take away all the time wasted with Microsoft Office, these projects allow to get the best idea of how the business really works.

Looking back, projects involving deep understanding of processes provide most powerful references today.

The kind of customized process work that is done during relatively short strategy project shouldn’t be mistaken with implementing whole “process-driven” approaches in the company, for which elaborate business process management IT solutions exist.

The idea is to store process designs in central repository, where they can be easily versioned, accessed by large groups of employees (which can be assigned different access rights), monitored, and modified.

Truth is – maybe it’s because it’s Eastern Europe and we are backwards – I never saw any of these system in real world use at any of the clients. Perhaps they are more popular in production company than the financial sector. I remember one Russian client mentioning before the project started that they had one, and that deliverables (processes to a large extent) would eventually have to be integrated in it somehow, but it was the only time the topic emerged.

I think there are plenty of good reasons for such solutions to have difficulties in real life adoption.

Enabling new users (like external consultants) to access the system requires at least creating new logins, in worst case it might require to buy additional licenses. Hardly easier that just emailing process documents.

People are used to work with Word or Powerpoint documents, but might need time to master unfamiliar interface of the process application.

Even though usually it should be possible to export process information in format like PDF, it might not be possible to export in format that is editable, so ad-hoc participants can contribute remarks.

The reason are many and truly converting organization to be managed around a consistent BPM system must be a daunting task. And partial implementations often leave orphaned systems that are not used.

For now, I was rather thinking if there was any way to improve the way stand-alone process documentation is created, rather than an end-to-end system.
(read more…)




Google Sites promising but slooow

Google Sites is a wiki service derived from Jotspot, which Google acquired some time ago. It really does feel that Sites fill a gap in Google Apps. Now they combine knowledge organization tool in a shape of this wiki, online office tools, email and a calendar.

Such combination seems promising for my numerous side projects and I wanted to give it a try, even though, as far as wiki goes, I had good experience with Wikispaces before.

On a positive side, Google Sites does have a feeling of simplicity that I will always appreciate. Even though, it is surprising that it misses some seemingly no-brainer functionalities at the moment, like closer integration with Google Docs.

But the other key advantage of Google products is traditionally their responsiveness. On this account Google Sites is, so far, a disappointment. It’s not just slow, it simply hangs the browser at times (I’m using Firefox). I mean the whole thing goes “not responding”.

ZDnet blogger Dennis Howlett posted similar remarks, even though his focus was on gadgets.

That’s it for my first impressions. I’m curious about opinion of my project collaborator. I’m really optimistic about future of such offerings for teams, anyway.

PS. speaking of performance, now Google blog returns 502 server error, heh.


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I want an Internet phone and all that Nokia can offer is this brick (N95)

Yup I need a phone that can connect to wifi and allow convenient browsing while I don’t have laptop with me. Doesn’t need to replace my ipod, but it wouldn’t hurt, one less gadget to carry around.

After trying to learn differences between gazillion Nokia models I ended up with conclusion that this is supposed to be the best that Nokia can offer – N95:

20080208 Nokia N95.jpg

It looks like a brick, with especially awful cheap shiny buttons on a side (one I held was plum, not black, and it looked far worse than picture). It seems to have a separate, tiny button for each function, with priority given to the functions that I never expect to use (e.g. conferencing).

It is trying to be also a music player, but I don’t see giving up a handy 8gb ipod for this mess (and besides the one I saw was just 2gb). On a plus, the camera seems advanced (but then again, why need a good camera in a phone).

I’m seriously considering simply buying an unlocked iPhone.

Ironically, I recall article in NYTimes which I read not long ago, about Nokia stance against iPhone. Nokia Pushes to Regain U.S. Sales in Spite of Apple and Google:

Nokia’s executives describe their own reactions to it in flat, unemotional terms that would seem scripted, if the speakers were not Nordic.

“The user interface was what one would expect from Apple,” said Kai Oistamo, the executive vice president for mobile phones. (…)

For now, though, Nokia is counting on its broad portfolio of products, rather than a single iPhone-killer, to fend off the competition. “We’re not a one-product, two-product company,” Mr. Kallasvuo said.

Yes, Nokia, fortunately you are not a company of one elegant, pleasant-to-use product. You are a gazillion substandard products company. Way to go.

Zakopane on Google Maps

Google just added “terrain” view to its maps, Warsaw is flat so not much to see, but look at Zakopane:

Zakopane on Google Maps

Pretty nice, even though resolution seems to be lower than in the US.

Why sounds glitches in Vista

Nick White explains why users encounter sound problems in MS latest and greatest OS.

Thoughts…

1) It’s nice thing that such communication occurs at all and MS should be credited for it

2) However, nothing can explain why people who bought new expensive hardware and new operating system from MS get worse experience than what they had 5 years ago… and, as people comment, other OSes deliver better experience on the same hardware

3) I wonder how MS images anyone buying into “PC as entertainment hub” if they can’t even get the simple audio playback right

4) All this makes it scary to think about need to buy a new computer in the nearest future. But new computers should fare better than old ones upgraded to Vista, and hopefully some of these problems will be solved by then.

Empik vs Merlin

Note: this is about Polish online retailers.

I traditionally shop online at Merlin, but in this case, PJ Harvey’s “To bring you my love”, Merlin estimated delivery time for 20-40 days, so I decided to give Empik a try.

Empik.com said dispatch will take place in 3-5 days. I placed an order.

After 10 days, all I got was an email from Empik that they couldn’t complete the order for the lack of stock. But on the website they still advertise 3-5 days.

Ok, back to Merlin (I can wait after all). I placed an order.

After 6 days I got an email that delivery is ready for pickup.

Conclusion: hard to draw conclusion based on one case, but I expect no shopping in Empik for foreseeable future, or before they control their stock better.

Update: ok maybe it’s not one case after all, see for example here and here.

Ideas’ inflation

The recent thing is Truemors, a site founded by Guy Kawasaki.

The idea of the site is to allow people to post and vote on rumors, short snippets of content which may or may not have anything to do with truth.

So far it’s filled with spam and auto-promotional stuff.

I don’t find anything special in the idea, but it get some publicity because of its founder. If it gets anywhere, it’s because of this asset, as it was rightly noted on Deep Jive Interests.

This newest idea of a site makes me think.. if I couldn’t have a better idea for a site.

Goldenline

Another Polish network site, and Linkedin clone, I guess. But quite cute. Recently I’m having special feelings for names with “golden” in it.

Anyway, I found it while looking up some unexpected contact of today. They had a salsa group so I registered out of curiosity (haven’t been to salsa for ages, I prefer horse riding lately because it’s in the open air, even if there are hardly any girls to be met).

Ok small update: after 5 minutes, while breaking from writing this to read some blog entry about unsolicited invitations in goldenline, I got unsolicited invitation from a headhunter. Heh.

Anyway check my profile, with the most dressed-up picture I got (scanned it today for a proposal).

Whatever happened to Google

On the weekend – slow search, and redirection to the results likewise, even with occassional server errors.

Now gmail chat not working.

Really, I should diversify my internet experience provider.

Google docs make a nice first impression

I only took a brief look at the word processor. The spreadsheets I left aside for now.

I won?t go into the topic whether the online office will replace desktop suites and when, and how do you manage to work on the airplane, and all the others. But from the brief tour that I took, and the first document I created, and the one invitation that I sent to collaborate it, the toy has Google?s charm to it.

The interface meets expectations of elegant simplicity, the ones that you usually have in case of Google.

It was fun to poke around and observe how they manage to pack the features into the browser environment. Table editing, for example. Inserting an image. And inviting collaborators, which feels like sending an email from gmail, through the similar auto-suggest box.

Google docs

I?m sure you hit the limits eventually, if you try to go too far with the tool. I would be surprised if it was already fit for complex reports or other heavy duty work.

But I look forward to having a practical opportunity to give it a real world test.

Google Reader got an update

I use Google Reader, which was recently upgraded. After couple of days I can say I like the update a lot. Supports selective reading much better and that’s what I needed, in order not to drown in all these feeds. But now it is probably little different to bloglines and others.. well maybe at least it’s more reliable, thanks to Google’s infrastructure.

Anyway, for those who don’t know what the RSS reader is… who yet don’t know what it is… you might want to try it.

Wiki of choice: Wikispaces

In order to choose a wiki for one of my pet projects I had to spend quite a few weekend hours on comparing, demoing and testing things available on the market. There are lots of them, and I had little background to start with. As a matter of fact, my experience with wikis is limited to Wikipedia… and it’s only reader’s experience.

Eventually, I decided to go with Wikispaces.

I thought my expectations towards wiki to be quite typical, so I was quite surprised that it was so hard to find a suitable solution. My basic requirements for the wiki were the following:

  • Should be hosted
  • Should preferably look as simple and clean as Wikipedia
  • Should preferably NOT look or feel like Sharepoint
  • Should demand as little overhead as possible ? for example provide a WYSIWYG editor
  • Should be cheap, at least in the beginning

I found some helpful sites giving an overview of the wiki landscape, including:

  • Wiki page with list of wiki solutions
  • WikiMatrix? really nicely done dynamic matrix comparing different wikis

In the end I established some intimacy with the following wikis:

  • Confluence
  • Editme
  • eTouch SamePage
  • Jotspot
  • Socialtext
  • Stikipad
  • Wikispaces

Below, rather than a detailed review (I have full time job, sorry), a report on impressions along the way. (read more…)

Text in, image out

Take a look at snap:

http://www.snap.com/

Is it just an eye candy or the true innovation to the search experience?

As for myself, I’m not sure if the visuals of the returned results help a lot to judge their value, and the scroll seems way too slow. But the looks does impress, and the auto suggest while you type is nice.

Update: I forgot to mention that I failed to find my own webpage – an ultimate proof that they still have work to do.

Sushi incident

In how many ways can you screw sushi delivery? One of the Warsaw restaurants, Sushi 77 from Zelazna 41, is determined to find out.

Count to three

Sushi 77 gets into trouble whenever your order exceeds two sets. With three sets, there is 90% probability that you will receive only two soy sauces. You would expect that it would help if after couple of such cases you specifically demanded ex ante that they make sure about that, but you would be wrong.

Still, nothing compared to ordering even more sets – things are getting out of control then. Yesterday when we ordered 6 sets, we received 6 sets, 5 soy sauces and 0 sticks. On the second try to deliver 6 missing sticks and one sauce, the driver appeared with 5 sticks and, for some reason, 4 sauces, reaching required number of 6 sticks only after the third and final round.

Six sigma excellence

Jack Welch would find Sushi 77 to be an attentive listener to his six sigma preaching – one inconsistent product per 3 millions and all this stuff. We are still figuring out how to prevent octopus (no one likes it) from randomly appearing in our orders. According to the menu, it is not a part of the pieces we ask for, but it matters little. Composition of ?standard? sets seems quite flexible.

Streamlined invoicing

We order from a lot of places, but Sushi 77 is the only one not able to attach the invoice to the delivery ? instead, it is supposed to be sent by mail within a couple of days. It never is. I have a dedicated spreadsheet for tracking invoices flow. Average delay for booking invoice is one month.

Final verdict

Basing on the available evidences we can conclude that Sushi 77 has one of the worst, if not the worst, service in Warsaw.

Nevertheless, we are still ordering tons of food from them.

Others providers have sometimes faster delivery, often worse-tasting sushi, and always at least twice as high prices. It seems that if you have a good product and good pricing, you can fail in almost everything else. And with this optimistic conclusion I will leave you, thank you for your attention.

Microsoft’s “experience” strategy

It’s either because I didn’t think about it, because I didn’t care, or simply because Mike’s Torres post does such a good job in explaining it, that only today I started to appreciate the grand idea of Microsoft’s “experience” (emphasis mine):

It isn’t about Windows Vista vs. Mac OS X or Google vs. Windows Live. It’s ultimately about the digital lifestyle and convergence. It’s about the complete “stack” from your PC to your mobile device, television, the web, and beyond.

The thing is: Windows isn’t just a PC operating system anymore; it’s quickly becoming the best seamless end-to-end experience. Windows Vista, Windows Mobile, Xbox 360 (Windows Media Center Extender), and Windows Live. One without the other will work just fine, but the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

It isn’t about the web any more than it’s about the office… or the mobile device… or the living room. The key is to make it all work together like magic. And Microsoft, more than any other company in existence, is in a fantastic position to do this.

And why shouldn’t be Microsoft pursuing this “experience” strategy. Like Google, which started online, then moved to desktop, and then started to put itself on the mobiles. Like Apple, with its “iPod lifestyle” environment.

However, while the other guys can leverage on the reputation based on simple and elegant solutions which “just work” and try to stretch them further, Microsoft might have more difficult time trying to convince people that experience with Windows is the one they want to see extended.

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