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Ivan Ferré's Blog Posts


I have recently read for the second time the excellent book buy-in, by John P. Kotter and Lorne A. Whitehead.

John P. Kotter & Lorne A. Whitehead: Buy-In

Buy-in is a short handbook addressed to all who want an idea to be approved by a group of people, in its wider sense. Clearly, all professionals who need to get through a board or committee to approve a project should be interested.

The title may be a little misleading, but the book cover is crystal clear: this book is about «saving your good idea from getting shot down». Not about being persuasive, but to stop common attacks aimed to abort your intentions. It offers a simple method to build strong support for your ideas.

This method is clearly exposed. Buy-in first presents an example scenario of project approval: an inexperienced manager who has made up a sound plan to overcome a real problem and must have it approved by a committee. Through fun and engaging narrative, Kotter and Whitehead display the different types of attacks any proposal may be faced to. Different specific examples, small and uncomplicated enough to focus the reader’s attention on how the attack is defeated, show the mechanics and effect of such attacks. The example is a clear parody of what may happen in any company, and readers will easily relate to their own environments and colleagues.

The second half of the book is the proper handbook, where Kotter and Whitehead go over a categorization of twenty-four typical attacks, depicting for all of them a simple and effective response.

I insist on what is this book and what is not: buy-in is not on how to get the board or anyone else to buy your ideas, but to avoid the strategies that naysayers’ and nitpickers may use to prevent them to be implemented and deliver results. The method the authors present assume your proposal is solid enough to be approved by a sensible board, and you introduce it appropriately. This is not a book about developing either documents or conducting presentations, nor to create new ideas or achieve consensus.

The authors suggest an effective 4-step method to deal with unfair attacks:

  1. Treat everybody with respect.
  2. Capturing people’s attention.
  3. Winning over their minds.
  4. Winning over their hearts.

The method emphasizes on contributing short common sense pills and to avoid lengthy, deep, convoluted debates when seeking for approval. Twenty-four useful responses are proposed to deal with the most typical attacks.

Following these four guidelines and the answer examples, we should be able to avoid the four deadly strategies to attack any proposal:

  1. Death by delay.
  2. Confusion.
  3. Fearmongering.
  4. Character assassination.

Obviously, the contents of Buy-in relate to the much broader topic of transformational change. The book includes an appendix detailing the eight steps to undertake to achieve success in large corporate changes:

  1. Increase urgency and develop a gut-level drive to get up each and every day determined to do something.
  2. Build a guiding coalition of collaborators who volunteer to help and learn to work together as a team to lead the transformation process.
  3. Create a change vision that show how your team and your company will look like if they succeed. Which strategies will lead you there?
  4. Communicate the vision and strategies to all involved stakeholders to obtain broad buy-in. When enough people have truly bought in, both intellectually and emotionally, the process may continue.
  5. Empower the guiding coalition to eliminate obstacles and do what the change effort requires.
  6. Create short-term wins to gain momentum and turn skeptics into supporters.
  7. Make every effort to keep the urgency up and avoid complacency.
  8. Make the change stick: transformation only truly succeeds after the changes have been institutionalized.

Both times I’ve read buy-in I’ve enjoyed a lot. I appreciate Kotter‘s and Whitehead‘s straightforward approach and how they keep the explanation simple. They show empathy with all the book’s characters, emphasizing the open and respectful attitude they advocate in the book. The applicability of their advice is rapidly sensed and this boost the reader’s engage to their suggested process.

Definitively, Buy-in delivers. I find it enlightening, instructive, and entertaining. It is genuine and provides clear and simple advice that once read have the flavor of common sense. And it motivates the reader to perform the author’s approach and achieve his goals by focusing on a single question: don’t get derailed of what you were doing.

At the end, buy-in triggers the will to read on further and connected topics: how to be persuasive, how to read people and their agendas, keep calm and focused, creativity, …

Thanks for reading. Please leave your comments.

Ivan Ferré.

John P. Kotter, * Lorne A. Whitehead*: buy-in. Saving your good idea from being shot down. Published by Harvard Business Review Press (2010).

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WordCamp Geneva 2016

WordCamp Switzerland 2016 has been a great event.

WordCamp Geneva 2016 logo

Many interesting topics arose during #wcgva. I pick the following points as the ones that made the most impact.

The most important thing was the forthcoming WordPress REST API, who will allow WordPress to support a vast range of requirements. From 2017 on WordPress will be capable of dealing with content that updates continuously in a proper way, and to do it without human intervention.

When you consider the envisage tide of IoT future applications, the prospect is most WordPress installations will manage their content through this interface in a few years.

I also think that it is very meaningful that a lot of discussions were focused on WordPress backend and the services it provides to its users. The panel What is missing in WordPress to be the perfect CMS devoted its attention entirely to backend features. In addition, Mark Howells-Mead discussed the WordPress possibilities as a headless CMS, taking advantage of legacy systems like Typo3 or expertise on front-end technologies like AngularJS.

Add this to what I’ve said in the previous point and we face a new scenario where WordPress acts mainly as a fully-fledged content management system and no longer as a PHP framework to easily develop websites. This is a huge change for the product.

Big news: WordPress core is advancing towards proper multi-language support. WordPress 4.7 will provide a host of new internationalization features that hopefully will pave the road for easier multilingual sites development.

I don’t expect WordPress to pull the rug out under their partners feet, so plugins like WPML, Bogo or MultilingualPress will most probably still be required to build proper multilingual sites, but developing content services for markets that span more than one language (welcome to globalization!) is a requirement that should be fulfilled easier with future WordPress releases.

Last, it was very interesting to hear Beatrice Otto‘s dissertation on the struggle of a non-computer-savvy professional when developing her first WordPress project.

A necessary call to user friendliness to developers, designers and technical writers who have devoted time and effort to master tools and jargon, and who are making products for people who do not have the time or money to acquire the same background. We must work better.

Any thoughts about these topics? What feature do you miss in WordPress?

I look forward to your comments… and to the next WordCamp.

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WordPress Performance meeting in Bern

Yesterday I attended the WordPress Bern Group session on Performance Optimization.

WordPress Bern Group

It was a pleasant and interesting meeting (though my poor Swiss German skills) where Nico Martin from vir2al websolutions discussed the most obvious topics to look after when optimizing a WordPress (actually, any) site:

The image load hugely depends on the image size, which in turn depends on the image dimensions and resolution. You must balance the required quality and dimensions for the actual display device to use in your pages.

If you think this is not such an issue, multiply all your site’s images for the number of different size versions when developing a responsive design. I assume you want your site to run fast and be handsome on every possible screen, do you?

Herr Martin discussed the benefits of using progressive jpeg, a question that has supporters and antagonists. He also demonstrated the EWWW Image Optimizer WordPress plugin, which streamlines image optimization.

As for the code minification, he demonstrated how to do it easily by using the Sublime Text editor and Autoptimize WordPress plugin.

Of course this only addresses the removal of spurious characters and not proper code optimization, but the latter is a much larger issue that deals with the quality of your developers’ work.

He also recalled the usual tactics of moving scripts to the footer of the page in order to improve the perceived performance. Not something that is always feasible, but certainly worth to consider.

Finally Nico Martin demonstrated Google’s PageSpeed Insights to test the load time of different webpages, both their desktop and mobile renderings.

WP Bern is a group that’s well worth to check out if you have any interest in web development. I also attended the session on [WordPress Backup & Restore] which was really interesting, too.

You may read about their activities in the WP Bern homesite and join their meetings by using their Meetup group

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Microsoft buys LinkedIn

A few days ago Microsoft bought LinkedIn for $26.2 Billion.

26,000 million dollars is certainly pricey for just a huge contacts database. And Microsoft executives aren’t going to flood all those contacts with spam. Not only because they are not so silly, but mainly because most of those profiles are not on IT-decision making grounds. So we should look somewhere else looking for suitable explanations for this deal.

And I think it’s quite easy to figure out that this acquisition paves an improved way to make business to both companies.

Microsoft may supply LinkedIn’s users with tools to work and cooperate with, from the almost ubiquitous Office to the cloud services to streamline B2B processes.

LinkedIn is the company that bought Slideshare, Pulse, and, to support its users in their search for greener pastures, either finding new jobs, networking with other pros, promoting their profiles, or just having a wider look to their professional arena. So it’s not only aimed to be the contact list on the cloud but the channel to everybody’s next professional deal.

LinkedIn provides a channel to sell, cooperate and meet with other professionals and companies. And that is something Microsoft may use to enlarge the scope of its tools. Outlook has been widely realized by most analysts, but I guess that Skype and the CRM system embedded in Dynamics offer the best chances to transform networking processes.

Last but not least, LinkedIn finds funding for the investments she needs to make.

It’s not so easy to find a deal with benefits for both sides.

Any thoughts about it?

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Let the User in Command

What are computer programs for?

Computer programs are to help humans to perform different tasks. This works for every type of programs including websites or apps on mobile phones. It’s the user who’s doing something; software only helps.

Using the app is only one step in his way. For instance, she may read a website when she’s looking for some information; or she may use a routing app to figure out how to reach a destination. But she may also be talking with someone else, or even be in a hurry. Therefore, the user is not interested in the app by itself. He only wants to get some output from it, to achieve the actual larger goal he’s pursuing. Nobody is interested in using apps. People use apps to get something. Even with games: people play to have fun, and to fill a form to register is seldom fun even if this is the price to play a game. Using an app makes only sense in the context of the user’s flow of action.

The user is doing something **beyond** using the app. So the user has a plan. He intends to do something and he wants to do it right now. He may even be in a hurry! So it’s a bad idea to force him or her to do something else. Actually, it’s a pretty terrible one. Let’s think about some cases.

If the user wants to quickly note some information on the go, a suggestion to update the app may be seen as an obstacle. And a delay caused by some unrequested data format update may be seen as a huge obstacle. The user may be writing something important just while some identification dialog pops up and then not only he cannot jot down what he wants, but he accidentally would have removed that password he wrote months ago and cannot remember.

In scenarios like these, the app may ruin the user experience. Programmers cannot fully figure out the user context, so **deciding when it’s a suitable time to take command of the application is highly risky**.

The usual annoyances include:
– To require to enter an id and even a password.
– To pop up suggestions for social sharing.
– to lead to a form to enter some information.
– To promote other products or services.

All things the user **may** be interested **after** the program has delivered the output he’s supposed to do.

Thus, all these goals should be achieved by displaying notices _the user may choose to accept_.

Removing command from the user will lead him to experience frustration. He may even not understand how to _properly_ use the program. And will unlikely push him to rate high the app in the market. Quite the opposite of the developers’ goals.

These are my thoughts. I invite you to comment on them if you wish.

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