Category Archives: Gathering Knowledge

Should software vendors use social media for product development?

Social media is a great environment for marketing, communication, customer service, and pretty much anything related to customers. Some companies even use it for product development by gathering their customers’ needs and wishes using social media channels and analysing the information to improve their offering. They also engage with their customers or anyone who’s interested in their products and encourage them to contribute with idea, feedback, etc. Some examples of companies dong this are: GE, LEGO, Procter & Gamble or Fiat

The advantages of this approach are obvious: companies get feedback that is hard to obtain through traditional surveys, consumer groups, etc. people can vote and choose the best ideas, and they can even collaborate to improve an idea, thus giving it even more value. Despite its benefits, social product development isn’t used much in services industries and very little in business software.

Some of the disadvantages of crowdsourcing are not so obvious. We found a very good presentation on crowdsourcing for product development, which includes a brief comparison of the pros and cons of this approach (on slide 32).

As mentioned in the presentation, crowdsourcing is hard to manage, but that’s usually the case for social media. The main challenge seems to be that you need to understand the crowd in order to really benefit from its feedback and ideas. This is also important in order to decide which are the best ways to engage with the crowd in order to find a balance between the effort required (on your side and theirs) and the expected results.

As opposed to manufacturers or services companies, software vendors may have a few benefits that they could use for social product development. Here are some of them:
– they already have user communities, either formal or not, usually made of people who got together to help each other either with advice or workarounds
– they use help desk and issue tracking software which allows them to gather a lot of information, not to mention that they already have historical data
– they have qualified technical personnel to manipulate and store the data, as well as programmers and DBAs to perform some analysis
– their customers usually have employees with some technical knowledge and probably already implemented all kinds of add-ons and even tools they developed themselves

All these benefits can have little value if the vendor never really encouraged its customers to build communities, if they don’t track issues properly, don’t encourage their employees to engage in activities that are not profit-driven, and don’t learn from their customers. Also, these benefits will not be enough to successfully implement a social product development strategy. Vendors will still need to have a social media presence, engage customers and end users, invest in social monitoring and analytics, etc.

We will try to find a few interesting examples of vendors which actually succeeded in using social media for product development – one would assume that social business vendors like IBM, Jive or Salesforce would all be doing it but software vendors don’t always practice what they preach.

What’s this company culture everyone talks about?

We’re sure you already heard experts talking about how the company culture is the answer to pretty much everything that goes wrong in any company. Employees hate their jobs? Company culture can fix it. Your customers don’t really like you? You need a good company culture. Company culture seems to be some sort of panacea, named after the Greek goddess of Universal remedy, Panacea, also known as panchrest

Panacea

No one really talks about what company culture is (or isn’t) – experts would rather focus on how to change or improve it (probably assuming that most companies have one already). 

If most of the advice on how to change a company culture (i.e.: engaging people or listening to your customers) sound familiar to you, it’s because it’s nothing new. It all started in the 60s with the concept of Organizational climate which evoled in the 80s to become Organizational culture

Before trying to change it, it would help to understand what a company culture is. The first interesting thing we found is the fact that systematic differences in national cultures (according to a study conducted by IBM on 117,000 of its employees between 1967 and 1973). This can be explained by “four anthropological problem areas that different national societies handle differently: ways of coping with inequality, ways of coping with uncertainty, the relationship of the individual with her or his primary group, and the emotional implications of having been born as a girl or as a boy ” (more details on the site of Geert Hofstede, the author of the study)

The interesting things that we found is that there are different types of cultures: strong vs weak cultures, constructive, passive, and aggressive cultures, or the Organizational Culture Assessment Instrument which distinguished between four types of culture: clan culture (internal focus and flexible), adhocracy culture (external focus and flexible), market culture (external focus and controlled) and hierarchy culture (internal focus and controlled)

To make things even more complicated, companies can also have sub-cultures and mergers and acquisitions between companies will not result in the merger between the cultures of the companies that merge.

Since only defining company culture with its types and characteristics will require more than a blog post, we will dedicate the next three or four posts to provding more information on how to understand company culture by answering the following questions:

– How can decision makers find out what the characteristics of the culture of their company are?

– Is the existing company culture organic, imposed by management, or a mix of both?

– What are the pros and cons of the existing company culture?

In our opinion, questioning the concept of company culture and the existing culture that the company may already have in place is the first important step in improving a company culture.

 

Should we teach children that there are no answers, only questions?

There is a classroom at Prince Charles Elementary School in Surrey, British Columbia, where children are taught that are no answers, only questions. Their teacher is Tiffany Poirier whose goal is to bring the study of philosophy to children, and what better way to do it then though questioning?

For more details, check out Tiffany’s book “Q is for question”

Q is for question

It goes without saying that we find the idea brilliant and we think that more schools should try the same thing, but we also question its utility in the world we live in. There are still lots of people who consider philosophy impractical, even contemptible, and GOP candidate Rick Santorum suggested in 2012 that institutions of higher learning were centers of liberal indoctrination.

Is questioning something that those children will gradually forget, as they grow up and become adults? If they keep on questioning, will it be in their disadvantage at work?