Thursday, November 19, 2009

Saying Goodbye to Prinergy

The news came in a 9:00 mandatory meeting. You are no longer needed. Thank you very much. Bye-bye.

After 15 years of living and thinking about print and prepress workflows, it's over. Kodak is moving the software development to Israel. There will be a transition period. I'm not on the transition team.

After driving through the well-known early stages of grieving, anger and denial, I'm moving into acceptance, but not without a deep sense of sadness, and of loss, for Prinergy. I know Prinergy like I know my own kids - in fact they have spent their entire lives living with me envisioning, talking, travelling, selling, presenting, architecting, and tweaking Prinergy. It is part of our lives. It has been a singular focus since the fabled train trip in 1995 where I set out with Amos and Tim the top ten things it would have to do to change the prepress world.

While I am often referred to as the father of it, I never really liked the name Prinergy. Even the Creo CEO kept calling it "Printergy". Maybe I never let go of its original code-name, Araxi, which still adorns the code in various places. Even so, Prinergy has been the most significant project of my career (so far!) and I'm very proud to know that it has enhanced the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of prepress operators and managers, and generated over $1B of revenue for Creo and Kodak over its lifetime.

For me, there will be many things lost. I am sad to lose the contact with the many customers I listened to, and sometimes argued with, but whose time and energy resulted in new features and priority of bug fixes, educating us as to their business problems. I'm sad to lose the breadth of knowledge I have gathered with my colleagues here in Burnaby, that we have built up. I am sad that I won't see the completion of what we expected to be a renewed Prinergy 6 vision at Ipex in 2010 - one that brings high speed digital and offset workflows together. And I will be sad to not come into the office each day with my second family: developers, engineers, testers and subject-matter experts who I have worked with for many years, meeting and sometimes exceeding our customers' expectations.

I'm not sure what the next thing to do will be, but as my Dad says, each time the universe closes one door, another opens.

My gratitude to our thousands of customers worldwide. My life is better for our partnership, I hope you can say the same.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Edna Mode - Product Manager Extraordinaire

While I love all the Pixar movies, I am especially fond of The Incredibles for the amazing lighting, and for the huge orchestral score, and for Edna Mode. Edna is the diminutive Euro-Japanese fashion designer who bemoans the fact that while she used to "design for gods" she is now relegated to designing clothes for super-models "Nothing super about them... spoiled, stupid little stick figures with poofy lips who think only about themselves" but then realizes her ambition of again designing suits capable of being burned, stretched, and tortured on the bodies of most of the world's then-many super heroes.

But I digress.

Why is Edna Mode, a wacky made-up character for a cartoon, my favorite candidate role-model for a product manager (or as some ex-Microsoft dude calls them, Program Managers)?

It all has to do with the cape sequence. Or should I say, the "No Capes!" sequence.

The "No Capes!" sequence points out some of the most important but least understood aspects of product management.

1. A great product manager abstracts from market samples to identify trends.
2. A great product manager doesn't just do what the customer asks.
3. A great product manager has the market data to back up her projections.

Let's look at these in more detail.

Abstracts from Samples

This is sometimes called "trendspotting", but at the core it is looking at lots of things or listening to a bunch, and finding emerging themes. If you're not careful this can increase paranoia, but otherwise it can be lucrative. Identifying market trends before competitors can put you in a key early market position.

Bob opines "You can't generalize about these things..." but is completely shut down by Edna's fastidious market research and machine-gun delivery, proving that yes, indeed, clear insight and the power to recognize emergent themes is exactly what a great designer does.

Doesn't Do What Customers Ask For

Bob Parr says to Edna regarding her "No capes!" statement, "Isn't that my decision?" Clearly not, as she goes on to prove in step 3 -

Using Market Data To Make the Point

Edna points out in dazzling chronological order (aided by great visuals) of the details of every case in which a cape caused the wearer's untimely demise. She quotes them, hero and date, at a time when she is clearly not had time to prepare for seeing Mr. Incredible. She must have had these facts rolling around in her head for a long time before she finally needed them.

So there you have it - three reasons why Edna Mode is my favorite fictional product manager. Now go away and design something phenomenal, and call me when you get back - I love our little chats...

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Operations Vs. Vision, or Why Tim Cook Can't Replace Steve Jobs

I've had a terrific career in high tech looking back at the last 20 years. I learned tube theory in high school but got to play with the new TTL logic chips. I wrote software for one of the first digital telephone switches, played with an Apple Lisa beside the VPs' office, and designed the file system for one of the first voicemail systems from the disk sectors, up. I worked on a network management system where we had to unpack tcp, udp and ip packets, which are the corpuscles of the internet. And I got to be part of a startup that accelerated the move from film to digital workflows in the printing industry.

Over that time, I've received a lot of positive feedback for a role I like to take on, that of a product visionary. It seems to be a simple but unusual set of skills. You have to be able to listen well, have a feel for industry and human trends, you have to be up on the latest trends in technology, and be able to accumulate enough data points to extrapolate a bit into the future with decent accuracy. But that's not enough. If seeing the future were all you needed, Cassandra would have been a happy person. Seeing the future is just the beginning, and the only times that the vision work I've been part of has come to fruition is when I had the courage, energy, and a great management team, to persevere against the myriad compromises that arise to prevent the vision from being achieved.

Sadly it is the compromises that keep many great products from shipping, becoming only "good", or even "mediocre," in the process. What's important to know is that none of these compromises, in and of themselves, seem bad. But accumulated together, one after another, without someone seeing where it is going to lead, and you end up with products like Microsoft Vista, the Blackberry Storm, and non-RPN calculators. There is no one person to blame, just a series of little things that turn into Cortlandt Homes. This is also refered to as the Death by a Thousand Cuts.

Here's the thing. None of the changes suggested along the path of dumbing a visionary product down to a me-too, unsatisfying object, are arguable on a solely rational basis. Each one seems "reasonable" - it will save 5 cents per machine, the competitors have one, and the famous - "we don't have time." You have to be driven to overcome all these setbacks, you have to persevere against the small rationalism in favor of the big picture, and you have to have the authority to say "no." You have to inspire and drive the vision into the people building it so they defend it themselves. You have to create a visionary army.

This is why Steve Jobs could create a company capable of creating, developing, and delivering great products. As CEO, he built the company around the core dna of product beauty, integrity and ease-of-use. He is crazy, and that is how we get insanely great products.

That this should be self-evident is in the examples of yesterday and today. When Steve was kicked out of Apple, the Mac lineup turned into a myriad of beige, functional boxes with hundreds of incremental new features and looked pretty well the same for years. Spindler and Amelio were decent operations guys, but they did not understand the core Apple values of design passion, and of pricing at the premium brand level. You can see the opposite this week when Jon Rubinstein, who was well-schooled in the Apple way, unveiled the most beautifully designed Palm product since the Palm V.

Yet, companies love to have an operational leader. The COO at a company I worked for explained it to me; if you put an operational person in charge, you can be sure that the budgets will get done, the numbers will get tracked, and all the action items will be completed. If you put a vision person in charge, you might get something amazing but you won't know when it will ship. An operation person, he argued, will go find vision if that's what they need to succeed. Sadly, that has never been my experience. Everyone falls back to their comfort zone, and when the going gets tough, the ops people cut back, trim budgets, get conservative, efficiently tracking the shrinking revenue and laying people off, right into bankruptcy. They never believe they need vision. They don't get it. They don't respect it. "We have plenty of vision," one manager told me, "we have more things we want to do then we have people, so vision is not our problem". That product went on to several versions, each with hundreds of new features, without a comprehensive theme, difficult to use, and looking almost exactly the same after years of development.

You have to have the madman at the helm. The person who wants to drive the crew to the edge of the world to do what has never been done before. The same thing that inspires the visionary makes the operations person quake in their boots and run back into the cabin to count things. Operations people join the navy. The visionaries want to be pirates.

So it's fine for Tim to cover daily operations while Steve recuperates, hopefully returning in time for a standing ovation and newly-unveiled innovation at WWDC 2009, but the next CEO of Apple has to be someone who knows how to get the best from Apple, and that means pushing innovation and passion to the forefront, and having the team behind him, sure - sometimes shaking their heads, but nonetheless on board, and making it happen. From what I've seen, that person might be already there.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Pilot to Copilot...

Joel Spolsky, the CEO of Fog Creek Software (or some mailbot) asked me for my experience with Copilot. This was my reply.


It's a fact. I am a Mac user. My Dad, who lives in a far-off city has a PC, because his friends all told him they can help him fix his PC when it breaks, but if he gets a Mac, he will be exiled and left alone on an iceberg of cold-shouldered hatred and loneliness to die while futilely clicking on icons that look like backlit ju-jubes. Who knew? But while I enjoy working on my little pretty Mac, I know all the tips and tricks to make sure that Windows users never really know that I am on the same network as them, sharing their DHCP service, and printing directly to the printers instead of going through the Windows printer queue. They always look at me funny when my printout comes out first. Don't tell them.

Since my Dad does little other than run Eudora and IE on his PC, his needs are few, until his Windows buddy told him he should switch from IE to FireFox to avoid all those nasty viri that would email his bank account to Russia and send him 500lbs. of unwanted caviar while extracting several thousand dollars from his chequing account. (We spell it that way in Canada - cheque, not check, 'cause we like the French people). But when I directed him to our new family web site with animated pictures of nerdy grandchildren, the website informed him that he was an idiot, and would probably be happier being exiled to go sit on an iceberg. Or at least that he needed a newer version of Firefox.

No problem, he thought, "I can do this. I don't have to call in a favor from my tech-savvy coffee buddies, surely I can download my own copy of the latest Firefox." So my Dad, confident and in full possession of his faculties, who has written copy for hundreds of radio and tv commercials, and narration for dozens of award-winning documentary films, simply typed into internet explorer and downloaded the newest version of Firefox. What could be simpler?

But, lo and behold, the web site complained AGAIN? How could that be? The son (that would be me, aren't you following?) then received a cryptic email - can't see images of grandchildren, web site bad. must not be windows-compatible. you are a bad son for putting your pictures on a web site that only your elite and stuck-up mac-friends can see and leaving your poor pc-using parents without a way to see our own grandchildren - what kind of son are you? (Actually I am embellishing a bit, perhaps it's just what I imagine was between-the-pixels)

By this time, sweat is emerging on my brow, and my hands are shaky. I tested the site on Mac Safari and Firefox, and Windows IE 7 and Firefox just to avoid that problem. How could I have failed at so basic a task?

Then I made a crucial mistake. I picked up the phone. Never do this. Repeat after me. Never, ever pick up the phone to call someone less tech-savvy than yourself to engage them in dialog as to how to fix a technical problem. Why not? Because voice communication is to technical problem solving what megaphones are to trench warfare. Wrong tool. Many deaths and sore throats will ensue.

Nonetheless, I picked up the phone and called my Dad. I asked him to tell me the version of Firefox he was running. He said it was the latest. "Dad, do me a favor, find the menu item Help, and pull it down to see "About..." and tell me what it says". "Version 2.1. but I don't understand, I downloaded the newest version a week ago?" "Dad, is there an icon on the desktop that says Setup.exe" "Well, there are a lot of things on the desktop, do you mean the Firefox logo with the little arrow?" "No. Hang on. Let me think about this."

So you know Joel, because you are the CEO of a major respected technical organization, and have been in the geek trenches for years, what happened. Everyone reading this knows what happened. If you don't have a plausible theory as to what happened you have to turn in your geek cred badge and you will never, ever be asked to work at Fog Creek. But it doesn't matter. I sat on the long distance phone call, ticking off minutes, while I calculated how long and how likely I was to succeed at getting my Dad to:

a) understand the Windows Download Run/Save dialog
b) find the location on disk that the installer got saved to
c) run the installer
d) ensure that the desktop icon pointed to the newest install, not an old one, or be some orphaned phantom, stuck on an iceberg

Too long, and too frightening to consider. It's time to pull out the big guns. "Dad, I want to try something, and need your help. There is this program called Copilot written by this company I respect that is made for exactly this purpose, and I'd like to try it out 'cause I think that will be simpler than trying to explain to you the things you need to do to install the Firefox upgrade." "Why do you have to do that, I've already downloaded the latest version?" "Because you not only have to download it, you also have to install it, although since you already have an older copy, it should upgrade it instead - see what I mean?" "Why didn't it upgrade it by itself?" "Dad, it's software - never ask why" "Well, OK, what do I have to do?"

And now, dear Joel, having had the patience to wade through all that preliminary bio-fluff we will come to the question you so innocently asked me today, "How is it (Copilot) working for you?" Because, your 15-day free trial is almost over and you might want to subscribe, (going on my own thoughts here) so that we can have a nice annuity stream and g-d knows - once you've fixed your Dad's PC, you'll probably want to take control of his machine what, 3 or 4 times a day! No, just kidding. The pricing policy is very nice, and the DayPass option will be perfect for the occasional times he gets into a pickle.

But the problem we had with Copilot is that is is too symmetric. Face it, there is big imbalance of power here, and I am ok with the fact that I want to do this mitzvah, this good-deed, and will pony up some time and $ to do it, but I want my experience to be powerful but fast, while I need my Dad's experience to be simple and painless.

Sadly Joel, it was not.

Now I can't even recall all the details of what happened, but that should be a pretty good indicator itself that there is work to do here. My side worked as I'd expect. I download a little app, ok the java stuff that happens, approve its install, and choose a license option. I took the 2-minute free-drive cause I thought it would involve less effort and time - true.

Not so smooth on Dad's side. To start, he really appreciated the big buttons at - Receive Help or Help Someone. That was good. He typed in the code I told him into the field, blithely accepting the terms of service (I'm sure they're fine Dad, I trust Joel), and installing the application (Do you really trust these guys? Are you sure this isn't a virus? - It's all good Dad, I've met the guy, Joel. He's Jewish and kind of chubby. I trust him. "Ok, it's on your head if this kills my computer.") But then - the pause. "Do I want a free 15-day trial of Copilot? yes!"

NOOOOO! See, I didn't really want to have him have to do that. 'Cause then he has to go back to Eudora, and wait for an email and click on a link or type a code, or whatever. I wanted his side to be seamless - once he says "Yes, I trust whatever applet you are about to install on my one PC that is my gateway to the world and if you screw it up I will be upset but my son-who-vouches-for-you said I should do it" is done, he should just sit back and watch me move the cursor from afar. I want to pay for us both, or why does the person receiving help need think they need to have a license at all? I'm used to dealing with this stuff, it's exactly that that I'm trying to save him from, and here copilot is making getting help more complicated instead of easier.

Any way he got his email, clicked the link, got his license, and my copilot screen lit and changed from "waiting for connection" to seeing his desktop in full remote-access glory.

"See, I can move your cursor around, isn't that cool? then proceed to minimize some windows so I can see what's going on. "Uh huh. Wait - I see this icon "FirefoxSetup.exe" should I click on that?" YES! So he clicked it himself, and we watched Firefox install, properly replace the old version, and remove or replace the desktop icon, just like a good installer should. Tried the photo website again. There it is! "Am I seeing your website now with all those pictures?" "Yes, Dad, that's our family photo website" "Nice. What, did you gain a little weight over Chanukah?" "Ya, ok, you're up and running, talk to ya later," and hung up the phone. Then Copilot told me my 2-minute trial was up.

So, I think you could improve the user experience of Copilot by making it even simpler for the person on the receiving-help side to be talked through a simple install of the help app, even if that simplicity costs more, and puts a greater burden on the giving-help side to do techy things.

I'm going to visit my Dad in a couple weeks. I'm thinking I'll install Copilot OneClick....

Monday, January 05, 2009

Get Well Soon, Steve!

Ever since I played with Lisa Paint in 1983 I knew that Apple was a rare company capable of bringing innovative software out of the lab, wrapping it in beautifully-designed hardware, and getting the message out to people that this was the way technology was supposed to be.

The drive behind this synthesis has been Steve Jobs, who brought a very rare combination of skills and aesthetics to a culture of nerds and geeks that has fuelled Macintosh to be the creative and design tool for the "rest of us".

Having attended both MacWorld 2008 and WWDC 2008 I was worried about Steve's weight, and today he explained that it appears to be a treatable condition and we can relax.

Get well soon Steve, even if that means needing to do more meditation and taking some personal time. You've taught us well and we'll all take care of Apple for you while you do.