Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Where I really need to spend my time

The hardest, most time-wasting part of my job is not the time spent using the tools. It's getting humans to understand what is involved. So far this month the following typical problems have surfaced:

1. Getting across a vague idea of the full spectrum of what could be in reports, to the point of helping the other person decide at what level they want to buy in and feeling confident about that decision
2. Creating credibility for the longish period of time it takes to get the tool to produce the more advanced insights
3. Convincing people that they can and perhaps should start small and cheap, but in a way that allows easy adding-on or changing of scope
4. Living with the fact that there is noise in the data ... and a couple other principles and realities that are basic to the science of forecasting
5. Living with the fact that any given statistic can probably be interpreted several ways
6. Persuading people that, even though they are regular consumers of business statistics (read: USA Today graphs) and statistics tools (read: Excel) that one day of vendor training in the tool will NOT make them a tool administrator
7. At the same time, persuading them that a day of one-on-one training on how to use the tool's output, working with their own data, is a great way to start.

While I'm at it, I'll list what I wish all tool vendors "got."

1. Sharing their strategy and getting feedback during design and development will always pay off. I'm referring to dialog between the vendor (managers down to tech support and sales) and the users.
2. Dividing the market into verticals AND horizontals is an important exercise, not just for selling but for developing.
3. The features will sell the tool. The details and documentation will make or break it once the tool has been bought, and when it's being talked about among users and potential customers.

And of course, here's what I think vendors' customers need to "get." This is the group I fall into.

1. It's insane to think these tools could be free or cheap. It's business. The market drives the price.
2. The vendor will always have the big picture that determines the course of the product. The customer has to respect this, even if they don't like the decisions that get made.
3. The customer has a responsibility to communicate to the vendor. In a constructive way. Even if the vendor doesn't listen, it's the right thing for the customer to do.