Keeping my promise

This was very nearly about breaking my promise, in fact I had drafted a blog post full of excuses as to how my year had been miserable and there was no way I could fulfil my promise of February. Then I panicked, ditched the post and emailed the wonderful and supportive Jenny (@miss_jwo) confessing my failure.

A little while later something wonderful happened, I spotted an opportunity and careless of the consequences, grabbed it with both hands. I surprised myself. A few emails later and phpsw user group had kindly accepted my proposal to give a lightening talk. The talk was last Wednesday night. Their warm welcome was a real testament to the friendly community that is a php user group. I am happy to report I felt calmer than I have ever felt in front of 40+ strangers and I am looking forward to doing it again. So much so in fact, I am considering submitting to other user group nights and even conferences!

Along the way I have learned a few great things about speaking:

  • it’s really easy to arrange
  • it doesn’t have to be a new idea, just your take on it
  • audiences come up with the coolest questions (and tips!) to make you think
  • turning up early wins you brownie points and more free drinks choices
  • practicing your talk to yourself in a spare office the week before is worth it just for the funny looks you get
  • lots of user groups are looking for new speakers of any experience level
  • you might even get your petrol money back

Most of all I got to keep a promise and that’s worth everything.

No shoddy work in the free world

When evaluating a feature for value it’s easy to fall into the trap of equating value with money; direct revenue is not the only value you can get from a feature. Here are some other concepts of value:

  • ease of maintenance, monitoring and admin tools to quickly identify and diagnose potential issues (keep good customers)
  • framework designs can save time adding new features and allow parts of your system to be resold as services (robust resellable software)
  • the right free features can draw customers to your product in the face of stiff competition, gaining you greater customer numbers (get more market share)

The benefit from these features is completely wasted if their execution is ill thought out, is flaky or worse, they don’t work at all.

If you hear that someone isn’t ‘allowed’ to put too much time into a feature because it’s offered for free or its only internal, alarm bells should be ringing. The same key aspects of software should apply here as for anything else:

how this feature should work for each and every user type

Does every type of customer interact with the feature in the same way? Are there staff only actions? Does the feature work in different ways on different tariffs?

how it should be presented and supported

How does the interface appear? Does the ‘flow’ of the feature make sense to the intended audience? What help is available immediately alongside the feature? Is it easy to get to more detailed help? How do support staff learn about this feature?

what design will allow it to be flexible for the future

Does this feature scale appropriately? How much does it share with other features? How often do they change? Do we anticipate offering this through another channel or interface? Is there the possibility of a new type of customer we could be offering this to?

who we should be collaborating with

internal users, infrastructure experts, trainers, support staff, beta testers, external suppliers, industry partners

how we can develop it to be easily maintained and monitored

active monitoring and analysis tools for predictive performance, usage and capacity; intelligent logging and log file analysis; alternative access to feature data including admin tools; api endpoint test harnesses and tools

how we should be testing

when we should be testing; who should be testing; what we are testing for: functionality, usability, performance, load

the most efficient, and least disruptive, release process and cycle

where we deploy, redundancy and failover, how often we release, minimising outages, maintaining reliable and predictable service.

If your free service is mentioned as a big selling point in all the marketing material and brings in twice as many customers, you’ll be glad to have shunned the shoddy and invested wisely in the free world.