"cut off like sausages": "the wasteland of images that surround us"
What's you app story, Herzog & Ebert, pitching CIOS, and learning to love lock-in
I’m working on a new idea for a project - a series of interview and case studies about applications inside, you know, large organizations - my ongoing interest. These are my favorite types of stories: why an application was needed, how people came up with what to do, how they wrote the app, encountered changes as they went, and what they learned through that process.
If you’ve got a story like that, perhaps I could interview you for this project. I’m thinking I’d do a long-form podcast interview and then write a more structured case study from it. I’ve got a list of people I’ve swapped app stories with over the year, but I’m always interested in new ones. Contact me if you’re curious about helping out.
Here’s an example that I use a lot now-a-days, the story of the mayonnaise people:
Case study: Measuring mayonnaise
While you may not know about them, you likely benefit weekly from food services companies. They deliver food to restaurants, run campus and corporate cafeterias, and otherwise help with whatever food and feeding needs you have. At one of these companies, management wanted to lower costs and introduce more consistency in meal preparation by putting recipe books on tablets. This would lead to lower costs and better customer experience: following recipes closer would match both ingredient portions and the delicious recipes that headquarters was dreaming up. To do this, management asked one of their software teams to digitize the recipes so they could be viewed on tablets.
Thus far, this is a project mindset to software: the product team is given a specific set of requirements to implement. Instead, this team had a product mindset. The team’s approach was to first observe the actual end users and research the problems they had. For a week, the product team of developers, product managers, and designers showed up early in the dark of morning to watch the kitchen staff prepare and cook food. These product team members were curious and people-centric—and had the autonomy to verify the problem to solve.
The team observed that, for sure, recipe handling in three-ring binders was not ideal. But the kitchen staff spent an incredible amount of time on a different process: measuring the temperature of mayonnaise, chicken, and other food that needed to stay at a specific temperature. The process of measuring and recording the temperature in binders interrupted staff frequently and simply took up a lot of time.
Using a product mindset, this team had spotted a more important need than management originally identified. The team worked on digitizing the temperature-measuring process, saving staff a lot of time, and also making it easier to pass health inspections. This delivered on the original business goal of lowering costs and increasing customer experience: failing health inspections can damage ongoing business, preventing spoiled food that had to be thrown out, and, not to mention, getting food poisoning probably is way up there in poor customer experience.
This example shows that the initial ideas about what your software should do are often not exactly right. Teams operating under a project mindset would likely have just delivered what was asked, not caring to discover what was actually happening in the kitchen. Subject matter experts (SMEs) and business analysts who write up those initial project specifications are relying on past experience. The experience can be valuable, but they also need to continually update their assumptions and discover new customer needs and opportunities. The actual product team is often the best positioned to do this, suggesting that those business analysts should work more closely with the team, if not be part of the team in the role of a product manager.
The teams went on to digitize menus and do other apps. But this approach to adapting your plans based on the measurable outcomes of your small-batch process is key to understanding the difference between the project and product mindset.
This was written up in my book Changing Mindsets, based on this interview with a product manager who worked on that app.
Herzog: When you are speaking about these images, there’s something bigger about them, and I keep saying that we do have to develop an adequate language for our state of civilization, and we do have to create adequate pictures – images for our civilization. If we do not do that, we die out like dinosaurs, so it’s of a different magnitude, trying to do something against the wasteland of images that surround us, on television, magazines, post cards, posters in travel agencies…
Ebert: I see so many movies that are all the same, they’re cut off like sausages, you get another two hours worth and then you go home and you forget about them. Your films expand me, they exhilarate me, they make me feel that you are trying to put your arms around enormous ideas. And at the same time there’s a feeling of hopelessness. I think of Aguirre on the sinking raft, in the middle of the river, mad, surrounded by gibbering monkeys. And Fitzcarraldo, who wanted to pull the ship across the mountain into the other river. Only you would have thought that it would have to be done with a real ship. It couldn’t be models or special effects.
From “A conversation with Werner Herzog,” Roger Ebert.
“in the pedestrian, the wanderer, the rambler, the flâneur, can be found the soul of the idler. The pedestrian is the highest and most mighty of beings; he walks for pleasure, he observes but does not interfere, he is not in a hurry, he is happy in the company of his own mind, he wanders detached, wise and merry, godlike. He is free.” How to Be Idle: A Loafer’s Manifesto, Tom Hodgkinson
“Economies of scale vanish when operating on the quicksand of monolithic architectures.” “2023 Global Outlook for Banking and Financial Markets,” IBM.
“Technology is a deflationary force against today’s uncertainties and conduit to new revenue opportunities.” Ibid.
I asked ChatGPT to explain this beguiling sentence to me. It said: ‘This sentence is saying that technology serves two key roles in today’s business environment: (1) “Technology is a deflationary force against today’s uncertainties” - This part of the sentence suggests that technology helps to counteract or mitigate the effects of uncertainties in today’s world. The term “deflationary force” is often used in economics to describe a situation where the general level of prices is falling. In this context, it is likely being used metaphorically to say that technology is reducing the impact or “price” of uncertainty. In other words, technology is helping to reduce the risks, costs, and negative impacts associated with uncertainty. (2) “conduit to new revenue opportunities” - This part of the sentence suggests that technology is also serving as a pathway or means to create new opportunities for generating revenue. A conduit is literally a channel or pipe for conveying water or other fluid, but in this context, it means that technology is the medium or channel through which these new revenue opportunities are being created.’
I’m speaking at TEQNation in Utrecht this week, on May 17th. It’s at this fun place called DeFabrique, an old factory-thing that’s been transformed into a conference center. Maybe I’ll see you there.
Relative to your interests
TP–7 - teenage engineering - This is the weirdest looking recording gear I’ve ever seen. It’s so expensive that, like an expensive bottle of wine, I have to assume it’s good. Shipping without mics for such a price seems…weird?
Datadog’s $65M/year customer mystery solved - “Above $2–5M/year annual spend is where bringing a vendor in-house tends to come up. And this is because it is around this number where the cost of hiring a whole team to do what a vendor is doing can theoretically make sense.”
A Formula For Pitching CIOs - Pretty good for any pitch.
Eyecandy - Visual Technique Library - Different, fun camera techniques.
Stop worrying about cloud-lock-in, and outages, Gartner - Perhaps there’s enough good in choosing a single vendor (per app and group of apps, at least) that, like, you should.
Talks I’ll be giving, things I’ll be doing, places I’ll be going.
May 16th Executive Banking Dinner, London. May17th TEQNation, Utrecht. June 1st VMUG Belgium in Brussels, free. June 7th State of Kubernetes overview, online. June 8th to 9th PlatformCon, online. June 21st Cloud Foundry Day, Heidelberg, speaking. June 22nd to 23rd DevOpsDays Amsterdam August 21st to 24th SpringOne & VMware Explore US, in Las Vegas. Sep 6th to 7th DevOpsDays Des Moines, speaking. Sep 18th to 19th SHIFT in Zadar.
I’ve got a quick trip to London tomorrow for an executive dinner. I keep meaning to update my guide to doing executive dinners for a newsletter episode, so maybe this will give me some ideas. See y’all next time.