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Too many Choices Kill the Sale

16 Mar

It’s a basic American right to choose — we want to choose french fries or mashed potatoes with our meal, our salad dressing, our clothing, our partners, our lifestyle.  To be robbed of choice is tantamount to prison – even when it comes to minor things like paper or plastic bags at our grocery checkout.  But, can there be too many choices?

choiceResearch shows that the human brain can handle only a finite number of choices at once without losing track of what was already presented – if I remember correctly from a research presentation, I think the ideal number was six or seven – and choices beyond our limit causes what I call “choice paralysis”.  One study cited on the American Psychological Association’s website states:

“Chernev reports on four studies where he finds that the bigger the assortment, the harder it is for people to choose, except under one condition: when they enter with an articulated preference. In that case, they often choose what Nobel Laureate Herb Simon, PhD, first referred to as a “satisficing” option: the first decent choice that fits their preference as opposed to exhaustively scanning all options until finding the perfect, or “maximizing” one.”

Think about your own Encounters with Choice

If you don’t believe that too much choice is paralyzing, consider what you think is the most popular flavor at a Baskin-Robbins ice cream parlor – despite the 53 flavors of ice cream (changing daily) the favorite remains – are you ready for this: VANILLA!  We are creatures of habit and not up for that many choices when it comes to testing our palate (or our life) on new things.

Another example is Girl Scout cookies.  I always found it easy to select one or two different boxes to purchase at a grocery store exit when there were only 5 or 6 choices displayed.  Did you know that now there are actually ELEVEN different flavors of Girl Scouts cookies available including the 2010 introduction of “Thank  U Berry Munch”?  Fortunately for me, the current display outside my grocer in FL features only the five most popular choices. This is a good thing for me – and for the Girl Guides (who make money on sales) or I’d probably leave without making a purchase (actually in the case at hand I’d always purchase at least one box since Samoas are my “satisficing” favorite!)

Derek Severs posted a blog in the fall of 2009 about research outlining the Jam Experiment where shoppers given too many choices purchased 10x less jam than those presented with a smaller array of options. Here’s an excerpt:

“For 10 years, Columbia professor Sheena Iyengar has been studying choice.  For her research paper, “When Choice is Demotivating”, they ran a great test:

  • They set up a free tasting booth in a grocery store, with six different jams.  40% of the customers stopped to taste.  30% of those bought some.
  • A week later, they set up the same booth in the same store, but this time with twenty-four different jams.  60% of the customers stopped to taste.  But only 3% bought some!
  • Both groups actually tasted an average of 1.5 jams.  So the huge difference in buying can’t be blamed on the 24-jam customers being full. “

Derek’s assessment (click here to read the entire post) goes on discuss rationale for such results but the bottom line is that those with too many choices bought TEN TIMES LESS PRODUCT — buyer paralysis indeed!

ChoicesThink of times when you’ve had too many choices on a website or on a restaurant menu – nested if’s become too difficult in our already too-busy lives — and quickly we yearn for simplicity.  For example, do you want grande/venti/colossal/mega/gargantuan/enormous, with/without/soy/almond milk/skim/full-fat/half-fat/half and half/whipped/partially whipped/steamed?  My response is ‘duh’ – not only do I not know what I want, I have no idea what my friend asked me to buy… Eventually I either order two medium regular coffees to go, or nothing at all (and all I can think is “get me out of here!”)

What can we Learn from Too Many Choices?

Following the Pareto Principle (80/20 rule) we know that we can capture 80% of the market with purely 20% of the options we think we need to provide.  So, save time, energy, and development time by limiting the options available to five or less, and earn more sales and bigger profits.  At the same time, you’ll save your customers stress and decision-making gymnastics as long as you provide them with a choice – just not a vast array of overwhelming features!

Wishing you a highly productive (and stress-reduced) week!

Regards,
Carol

Carol Dekkers, Software Measurement and Global Software Development expert, author, speaker. Want to engage Carol to be a speaker at your next event?      Email Ms. Dekkers at dekkers@qualityplustech.com or carol@caroldekkers.com or visit http://www.caroldekkers.com for details.

dekkers@qualityplustech.com
http://www.caroldekkers.com
http://www.qualityplustech.com

Read Carol Dekkers’ other blog (Musings about Software Development) at http://musingsaboutsoftwaredevelopment.wordpress.com

Copyright 2010 Carol Dekkers – All Rights Reserved ———————

Can’t Focus with all the Noise? Try Kanban…

15 Mar

Too much to do, too little time! seems to be the mantra of today.  With our minds racing at 100 miles an hour and distractions coming at us from every direction (sound, sights, demands, emails, tweets, Facebook pings, instant messages, texts, phone calls, ARGH!!!) it’s amazing that we get anything done that we set out to do…

I’ve stumbled on a solution from software development that I think is equally applicable to our everyday lives and can dim the ongoing noise and clatter of living in a modern world – it’s called “Kanban” (from Japan) and it is the newest cooperative approach to agile software development (for more information see www.kanban101.com or AgileManagement.net).  For non-technical readers, one of the advantages of the Kanban approach is to “Limit the amount of work in progress” and I’ll explain in a bit how this will benefit everyone who wants to increase productivity and the quality of life!

Turn down the Noise! Most of us who are over the age of 35 can remember the days before ipods and mp3 players when teen years were challenging to find the exact volume for music that was loud enough to hear and quiet enough to stop the lamenting calls from mom and dad.  The same thing happens these days in our heads – there is so much clutter, distraction, and ongoing interruptions as we go about to complete our days that it becomes difficult to focus on any finite group of tasks – and as a result we end up spending our days like robots – shifting focus and effort every time another demand calls for immediate attention.  If we can find a way to limit distractions to those that are urgent or minimal – then we can complete more work in less time. This is the goal of Kanban – more, high quality work, completed in record time, with minimum bottlenecks and maximum focus (my paraphrasing!)  So, let’s see what we can take from Kanban and apply to everyday life…

Kanban works on the notion of having an “Input Queue” or pile of tasks that need to get done – think of this like your weekly or monthly to-do list, from which “work” is taken off the pile and started. This piece of work or task enters the “work in progress” pipeline (my visual term) and goes through what is referred to as “swim lanes” (whatever you are doing goes through steps from start to completion) before it gets to the end where it is completed and is “done”.  At this point, the work is no longer “in progress” but finished or passed on to another person or stage or simply crossed off the queue.  Once a task enters the swim lane (forward moving progress), life happens!  The task might take longer to do or be harder than you thought (and you might return it to the queue for later retrieval or adjust your schedule to accommodate this), you might need additional help, other more urgent requests may come in – there’s all sort of things that can happen before you complete the work. The neat thing about Kanban is that you only work on things that is important (i.e., there is a priority and classification step for the queue) and you Limit Work In Progress to the capacity you have!  Wow, industry principles we can use in everyday life

Kanban Principles for Everyday Living. Here’s my short list for Kanban trials in my own life this week (I’ll  report back on my own results next week):

To-do list1. There is no limit to the amount of things that can go on the queue – but you have to document what’s in the queue! (Like the old to-do list) The difference is that each item must have a description (as short as two words – sort laundry), a requestor (who asked for it, partners who will help, etc), a work type (is it a fix, a routine, something new, what’s it going to take to do it), and priority (date driven, mandatory, nice to do, etc). Over time, items in the queue can be added, dropped, changed, merged, etc.

2. Nothing is taken out of the queue to work on by accident. Unless there is capacity (you have the time, resources, extra help,  or something else has been removed from the work in progress pipeline) – nothing new is added to the work-in-progress pipeline.  This doesn’t mean that we cannot be multitasking or attending to children’s or answering the phone while working on something – it simply means that we LIMIT the amount of items we work on at once.

3. Focus on the WIP (work in progress) and don’t go back to the queue unless something urgent arises. When we have too many things presented as urgent during the day, we end up being paralyzed by choices.  There is a limit to the number of choices we humans can handle at once (think of the overwhelming menu choices at some restaurants) – and when we try to tackle to many things at once, we become ineffective at doing anything!

4. Don’t be afraid to take WIP out of the swim lane /pipeline if it doesn’t fit today. Too often we overestimate our abilities to get something done alone, or the amount of time something will take, or the resources we need to complete a task.  This is one of the beauties of Kanban – a task can be taken out of the pipeline and placed back on the queue for later completion or can be set aside until a bottleneck is removed – and there is no harm done!  We want to limit the amount we put in so that we can guarantee what comes out!  We can also “Block” a task (and not work on it) until something downstream becomes available to complete it (e.g., after someone else picks up a needed ingredient) and work on other items in the pipeline (still within our capacity) . It is a flexible but FOCUSED approach to our work.

5. If an urgent item must be done, put another WIP item aside. Similar to #3, urgent matters can interrupt and take precedence over an item in progress. The key principle here is that we consciously take (or block) the WIP to be able to handle this new item.  We are not constantly surveying the queue to see what else might be coming (diverting our energy and focus), and we are not constantly looking over our shoulders for distractions. We are focusing on and working through whatever item(s) we have the  capacity to do at the current point in time.

6. Inform everyone that there is a limited WIP size! This goes for yourself first, then friends, family, co-workers, strangers, phone callers – everyone!  It is mature and healthy to figure out our capacity and limitations for our WIP limit – and the number should be somewhere less than six, ideally a maximum of four items depending on the size and complexity of the task.  Once you inform everyone of this capacity, they will begin to understand the impact that interruptions, urgent requests, and constant demands make on the work in progress. It is simple common sense (seldom practiced in this area) to know your own capacity for work.  The saying goes – how do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time… If we place a task as large as an elephant in our work in progress pipeline – there is room for NOTHING else!  So, divide the elephant into bite size pieces and place them on the queue and tackle them one bite at a time as your WIP pipeline allows.

7. (This is the maximum number of steps or choices we can ever handle at once!) Revisit the queue only periodically or when you complete work! This is a disciplined step that many of us will struggle with. Only check your email inbox (a queue) once a day or when you’ve completed other work. I’m doing that now. My WIP is this posting and I haven’t checked email or answered the phone during this writing.

That’s it!  What do you think?  Want to try Kanban on your life today and see if it makes a difference in your week?  Let me know how it works for you.

I’ll be back here next week with a Kanban board (visual chart of what I’ve used to track my WIP) and how it worked for me.

Best wishes for a productive week!

Regards,
Carol

Carol Dekkers, Software Measurement and Global Software Development expert, author, speaker. Want to engage Carol to be a speaker at your next event?      Email Ms. Dekkers at dekkers@qualityplustech.com or carol@caroldekkers.com or visit http://www.caroldekkers.com for details.

dekkers@qualityplustech.com
http://www.caroldekkers.com
http://www.qualityplustech.com

Read Carol Dekkers’ other blog (Musings about Software Development) at http://musingsaboutsoftwaredevelopment.wordpress.com

Copyright 2010 Carol Dekkers – All Rights Reserved ———————

Computer Engineer Barbie – you go girl!

11 Mar

Mashable.com published an article this week titled: Why Computer Engineer Barbie Is Good for Women in Tech  Computer Engineer Barbie

What do you think?

This article brought to mind an experience I had after I finishing a great presentation at a leading Software Technology conference a couple of years ago. A male attendee approached me to tell me how much value he had taken from the content and he admired my presentation style. “You remind me of that female lawyer in Legally Blonde” he remarked. I was stunned (which was not the reaction he anticipated) and he immediately continued with “That’s a compliment you know – I mean you remind me of her because you are a strong, professional, confident woman!” I took the compliment graciously and realized that my professional dress and demeanor is something in which I take pride – and fashion prowess doesn’t take away anything from being an intelligent female engineer!

I assert that the introduction of any fashion-conscious, popular doll (even the fantasy-proportioned Barbie!) which conveys the possibility of a career in engineering or computer science to impressionable girls – is a good thing. In fact, the more positive role models presented as an alternative to the plethora of fictional Snow Whites, Sleeping Beauties, Cinderellas or other fairy princesses, the better! Maybe we can even anticipate “Speaker of the House” Barbie, “Nobel Peace Prize” Barbie, “Research” Barbie, and “Major CEO” Barbie in the future…

Meanwhile, I’m supportive of the Computer Engineer Barbie and her power.  “You Go Girl!”

Regards,
Carol

Carol Dekkers, Software Measurement and Global Software Development expert, author, speaker. Want to engage Carol to be a speaker at your next event? Email Ms. Dekkers at dekkers@qualityplustech.com or carol@caroldekkers.com or visit http://www.caroldekkers.com for details.

dekkers@qualityplustech.com
http://www.caroldekkers.com
http://www.qualityplustech.com

Read Carol Dekkers’ other blog (Musings about Software Development) at http://musingsaboutsoftwaredevelopment.wordpress.com

Copyright 2010 Carol Dekkers – All Rights Reserved ———————

Has the recession turned us all into salesmen?

24 Aug

Do you ever get the feeling like you are living in an unreal world where nothing is as it ever was?  If you do, you’re not alone!

Lately, more than ever, I feel like I must be walking around with a big “prospect” sign on my back because it seems like everyone I encounter tries to sell me something. Ok, that’s not quite true – I have good friends and family members who are consistent and true – but everyone else seems bent and determined to turn me into a sale.  I can understand how this backwards economy has turned most people’s sanity on its head with layoffs, foreclosures, get rich quick schemes, and MLM’s everywhere (Multi-Level-Marketing), but really, isn’t there a such thing as basic common respect and decency anymore? Continue reading

Tampa Bay Job Fair…

9 Mar

Two weeks ago I did something I’m not accustomed to doing as a successful management consultant — I attended a Tampa Bay job fair. I went down to the 11am-3pm event for two main reasons:
1. To see which companies were hiring during this economic downturn;
and
2. To see how many people would turn out to a Technology/IT job forum.

There were approximately 6 companies who were accepting resumes and talking to prospective employee candidates. Among the notable ones that I can remember were: Catalina Marketing; Raytheon; Wyle; Blackbird Technologies; and a couple of others whose names escape me. Kaplan University was also present hoping to drum up new students and business from job seekers who want to improve their skills.

While the number of jobs was far from plentiful, it was great to see that at least the above 4 companies came out to show their support and encouragement for IT job seekers. Even if the sole interest was visibility and positive press during 2009, I commend these companies for making the effort and giving hope to IT job seekers.

I was encouraged by the sincerity and genuine interest that the “interviewers” or resume collectors were on behalf of their companies. For the entire duration, these committed company employees proudly represented the corporate America we all need more of these days. So, hats off to Raytheon, Catalina Marketing, Wyle, and Blackbird Technologies for presenting an optimistic outlook for Tampa Bay. We certainly can do with more positive examples like you!

Have a good week!

Carol

Carol Dekkers, Software Measurement and Global Software Development expert, author, speaker. Want to engage Carol to be a speaker at your next event? Email Ms. Dekkers at dekkers@qualityplustech.com or carol@caroldekkers.com or visit http://www.caroldekkers.com for details.

dekkers@qualityplustech.com
http://www.caroldekkers.com
http://www.qualityplustech.com

Read Carol Dekkers’ other blog (Musings about Software Development) at http://caroldekkers.blogspot.com.

——Copyright 2009 Carol Dekkers – All Rights Reserved ———————

Networking and Cultural Intelligence – Necessary or Fluff?

29 Nov

Madrid, SpainIt’s been said that “walking into a room full of strangers” is today’s #1 networking fear, outranking the fear of death and the fear of public speaking which were formerly number 2 and 1. (According to Susan RoAne, networking maven and author of several networking books including Secrets of Savvy Networking and How to Work a Room.)Compounding the situation is the reduction in in-person communication caused by the increased use of internet and e-mails. (It is sometimes amazing what and how people will craft their words and send missives out into cyberspace when they are not face to face with their recipient.) The overall result from less person-to-person discussion is increased shyness and a decrease in ability to network with strangers in a social setting.

What do you think?
Has the internet caused us to atrophy in our social, face-to-face communication skills? Has it made any difference in your own social networking to be able to craft a difficult response to someone using email rather than speaking directly to the person(s) involved? Has the increase in multiculturalism in the workplace had any effect on our ability to communicate and connect with one another?  Where can we find the answers to the most important multicultural team questions?

As the world becomes flatter and flatter through outsourcing, offshoring, and the increased migration of professionals between countries, how are our project teams dealing with the many diversities and soft skills that are critical to success? Is there an appreciation that networking and cultural intelligence skills can be gained through knowledge transfer and practice – or is this all considered fluff?

Would you be interested in attending a 2 day networking and cultural intelligence workshop for technical professionals in January 2009 in Tampa, FL? If so, please send me an email to dekkers@qualityplustech.com.

Have a good week!
Carol Dekkers

Carol Dekkers, Software Measurement and Global Software Development expert, author, speaker.  Want to engage Carol to be a speaker at your next event?  Email Ms. Dekkers at dekkers@qualityplustech.com or carol@caroldekkers.com or visit www.caroldekkers.com for details.

dekkers@qualityplustech.com
www.caroldekkers.com
www.qualityplustech.com

Read Carol Dekkers’ second blog (about Software Development) at http://caroldekkers.blogspot.com.

——Copyright 2008 Carol Dekkers – All Rights Reserved ————————————

Marketing and sales for professional IT experts… not your father’s world

17 Oct

As a technical person with loads of experience and a solid reputation for my expertise, I’ve never had to market myself per se in the past. But today’s world is different, and changing, and chaotic – and while word of mouth advertising is still my preferred method to gain new business, it just doesn’t cut it anymore.  Strangely enough, the more I seek to do high quality consulting with companies really committed to process improvement, and the more I seek out conference speaking opportunities, the more I encounter marketing, advertising, and pure sales skills are what seems to separate the busy from the merely working to make a living!

In my father’s world, going to work (even entrepreneurs) and working hard was all it took for the majority of people to earn a solid living with a loyal company and a long career.  Not so anymore. Today, those who are earning the top dollars in the software measurement and speaking businesses are less those with the high quality skills of analysis and communication and more those with sales forces, skilled marketers and slick advertising.  Is this really what it takes today to stand out and be distinctive amongst all of those competing for work?

I’ve been thinking about this and especially in light of the fact that more and more layoffs are occurring in the United States and throughout the worlds – especially for 40-50 something age bracketed professional workers who can be much more cheaply replaced by foreign workers or outsourced partners.  Just how can a technical professional whose strengths lie in experience and expertise find ample work without accepting a fulltime job (if he/she can even find one)?  What are the acceptable limits of selling one’s strengths without overdoing it?  What is the threshold to which our technical peers will still read ad copy and not gag at the pontification that some marketers use to “sell” bodies (as in body-shopping of professional services)?

I’d like to know what you think.  If you’ve got ideas about how you would go about marketing your own professional services into higher quality work that is worthy of your skills and expertise (e.g., not for just “working” anywhere…), please post comments here.  As more and more layoffs, downsizing, outsourcing, and displacement happens here in the US (with a ripple effect throughout Europe and the world) we’re going to need the support of each other.

It’s not the world of our fathers (or even our older brothers) – and the quicker we adapt and adopt to the changes today, the better our children will be equipped to face tomorrow.

Regards,

Carol Dekkers

www.caroldekkers.com

www.qualityplustech.com
———–COPYRIGHT 2008 Carol Dekkers ALL RIGHTS RESERVED————————