Tools for presentations

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In the last months, Prezi has become very trendy among tools for presentations. I hadn’t tried it and wanted to do so as I had heard so many things that made it very appealing. After my first 24 hours using the tool my perception even positive it´s not so ‘wow’ as I expected.

I have prepared a small presentation on a IT PM related topic, as what is my perspective on Information Technology as a ‘toy problem’. This is the result:

My perspective on Information Technology on Prezi

I have also heard about Impress.js(still in 0.x version) and Grid (for iPad and iPhone) that are probably also worth to spend some time evaluating.

In any case, I don´t think any of them, nor Prezi solve the main limitations that I found:

  • The presentation still needs to be linear, there is no way to change the story based on audience interest, speaker preferences or other factor. In Power Point you could have a bunch of backup slides at the end of your presentation or even have them linked from other slides so that you could go deeper in some points if required.
  • I haven’t found a way to cut and paste from one Prezi to other ( I am using the free version, though), what makes reusing presentations kind of painful if not impossible.
  • If before, people had to be careful about abuse of transition effects now the problem can get worst and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have your motion-sickness pill before attending a long presentation.
  • The web interface becomes unresponsive sometimes, not sure if due to my home internet connection or server workload…
  • Being a web tool, I miss being able to embed content from other webs.. I mean html content, only Youtube videos can be embedded.
  • No space for adding notes for the lecturer.

On the positive side, Prezi helps to avoid adding too much text to the presentation, as it doesn’t look like a format where adding a lot of text makes sense. It emphasizes Zen style presentation what its not something to underestimate given the tendency to fill with text tens or hundreds of slides in PPT that has been suffered by many audiences along time. Sometimes it is required a change of environment, tool in this case, to overcome bad habits even when the previous tool could provide the same functionality.

In the process of preparing the former presentation, and others I am still working on, I have found other tools that I think can be very interesting, both of them have been for long available but I just got to know them now:

  • Wordle, allows to create a tag cloud from any document or web url, allowing to change all the style parameters ( font, colors, layout ).
Wordle sample

Wordle sample

  • Tagxedo, is similar to Wordle but in addition allows to shape the tag cloud according to any image provided.

    Tagxedo Sample

    Tagxedo Sample

I hope they are as useful or at least entertaining to you as they have been to me.

And thanks to Panos for his great work and posts.. I have discovered a new dimension to WordPress…

Risk management: Five neglects

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An article received via Bruce Schneier’s blog, one of the most important experts in Security. Although the perspective usually taken in his work is strictly related to Security, both Logic and Physical, this post is so related to the essentials of Risk Management that I think it can be very useful if taken from a Project Management perspective.

The original article was written in 2009, and only 11 pages long, so well worth a quick reading, at least the first 6 pages, as the following ones refer to several case studies. I would highlight the conclusion, that I wouldn’t dare classify as pessimistic but more as realistic and well grounded on daily experience:

We are good at fighting yesterday’s fires. But new risks—avian flu, innovative financial crises, pollutants long ignored, climate change—continuously emerge, and old risks wax and wane. Unfortunately, collectively and individually, we have the penchant for neglecting important elements of risks, including determining which ones are important. For that sin, we suffer both higher risks and higher costs.

From the article, some conclusions and further work has been extracted that are also of interest. In additon to the summary shown in Schneier’s post:

    1. Probability neglect – people sometimes don’t consider the probability of the occurrence of an outcome, but focus on the consequences only.
    2. Consequence neglect – just like probability neglect, sometimes individuals neglect the magnitude of outcomes.
    3. Statistical neglect – instead of subjectively assessing small probabilities and continuously updating them, people choose to use rules-of-thumb (if any heuristics), which can introduce systematic biases in their decisions.
    4. Solution neglect – choosing an optimal solution is not possible when one fails to consider all of the solutions.
    5. External risk neglect – in making decisions, individuals or groups often consider the cost/benefits of decisions only for themselves, without including externalities, sometimes leading to significant negative outcomes for others.

a process has been defined to help overcome these neglects:

    Step 1 Identification and recognition of a near-miss
    Step 2 Disclosure (reporting) of the identified information/incident
    Step 3 Prioritization and classification of information for future actions
    Step 4 Distribution of the information to proper channels
    Step 6 Identifying solutions (remedial actions)
    Step 7 Dissemination of actions to the implementers and general information to a broader group for their knowledge
    Step 8 Resolution of all open actions and review of system checks and balances

The focus of this work is on the basis of the risk pyramid, where impact is lower but the number of events to be considered is larger.

Risk Pyramid

Error management

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In the culture of a company, the trait that more clearly marks the enterprise personality and at the same time the trait that is more influenced by the rest of the company philosophy is error management, at all levels of the organization.

Error is part of human behavior and complex environments where information is always incomplete, obsolete in a matter of hours or days and has a level of uncertainty as well as being affected by source subjectivity only helps to make any business more error prone. Given this situation, one decision a company takes, consciously or inconsciously, is where to focus its error management effort. This decision is driven either by business needs or quite often by fears, status quo preservation and politics. Even if the decision is the same, the way followed to take the decision and, more importantly, the perspective to review the decision periodically and adjust the business according to the new situation is vital for long term survival in the marketplace.

The options for the company are three.

Error management pyramid

Error management pyramid

Let’s discuss them:

Error avoidance, except in business where the impact of errors can have severe consequences, e.g. pharmaceutical, energy, airlines, this is an attitude that nowadays no company can hold for long. Maybe some years ago when technology evolution and knowledge distribution happened at a much slower pace, big corporations could afford and even pressure so that their field incorporate barriers to entry to preserve their oligopolistic situation. In such context, there is no need to look at the rear-view mirror nor to take risks by innovating in the business. These kind of companies tend to have heavy bureaucratic processes, senior management committees who approve every single decision (sometimes without considering or knowing the low level details) and errors are punished with early retirement or cornering of the nominated responsible. With this context, the stimulus to innovate is low and inertia quickly appears on the stage. The next step is that reasons that justify and drive business decisions are forgotten, like in this business tale: “Five monkeys, a banana and corporate culture” here the graphical version (from http://www.slideshare.net/shaldag/a-story-about-5-monkeys):


This is a text version.

Error prevention, is the category where traditionally more companies have been working. Companies know their business, they work hard to keep pace on leadership or to catch the leader competitor. Metrics are taken prior, during and after important transition phases in the product or service development cycle and adjustsments are done according to the feedback obtained from the controls in place. The more agile, precise, efficient and syncronized with your customers that you are the more likely to perform better in your sector. Zero error does not exist but still must be pursued. Every error cost money, and the longer the error propagates in the process the more money it costs because more work has been put on it and/or you need to go further to fix it. This is the policy that has helped more to develop manufacturing, development and design processes, methodologies and certifications: six sigma, lean and a variety of continuous improvement variants emerge from this value generation philosophy. Root Cause Analysis(RCA), Business Impact Analysis (BIA), Risk Assessment (RA),  Cost-benefit analysis (CBA), Enterprise Feedback Management(EFM), Return of Investment (ROI),… are metrics and techniques used to decide where to focus the effort while improving, starting or closing a manufacturing process of any kind.

Error mitigation,  is the philosophy of the digital age and the Internet. It´s a mantra for those eager of success, who can’t wait to share their work to others for their mutual enjoyment. Why bothering looking for errors under the microscope if there will always be more and the environments, usage models and user needs are so different that it would be impossible to cover a 1% of the test matrix? What if someone releases before you do and takes the success that otherwise would have been yours? Why should you worry about publishing if you can republish with total flexibility, at almost no cost and little disturbance to users(in most cases)?  The physical world is not relevant, is just a temporary container and a medium for the bits being transferred… (Ok, I got too metaphysical).  The Internet makes content distribution easy and potentially universal and social networks activate this potential so the important thing is to release new concepts, so that internauts can choose from a myriad of apps, services, products and talk about them for the good or the bad. Based on that you set the new course for your product, fix issues, add functionalities (and remove). And so that the process is not so crazy as it could appear you take the concepts already mature and you apply them to your context, Lean Startup. You don’t release version 1.0 but version 0.1 alpha. Somebody told you that it was the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) of what your service would be in the future, and you thought that you were lucky that someone knew what your product was going to be because you were struggling to define beyond what you had released, except for those crazy ideas that were too costly for an alpha of the unknown.

Related to startups and innovation, creativity/innovation and a process driven development methodology are not incompatible, in fact, the latter releases resources and fosters the former. The more structured  your tools and processes are the less error prone your environment will be and less attention will be required to low added value details. This focus can then be transferred to more creative and valuable activities that will help you to differentiate your newbie. You must embrace a methodology that is suitable for your needs. Specially if you need to collaborate with others (and few projects can be developed isolately) you must be able to structure your processes, to make sure everything you do fits in your plan and where it does. Otherwise you will be changing your course too often, getting nowhere, delivering nothing.

Looking up “error management theory” in the wikipedia, we find:

In the decision making process, when faced with uncertainty, a subject can make two possible errors: type I or type II. A type I error is a false-positive or in layman’s terms, playing it safe. A fire alarm that later turns out to be a false alarm is a type I error. A type II error is a false-negative, or the siding with skepticism. Ignoring the fire alarm because it is often wrong, but it later turning out to be accurate is a type II error.

Error avoidance organizations are keen on false positive (type I) errors, while error mitigations ones are comfortable dealing with false negative (type II) errors. Error prevention are type II who want to become type I although in the deepest of their hearts enjoy their type II features as are the ones who make them grow wiser, stronger, faster every day.

With this scenarios, you must know where is your organization and realize if it’s the place you must be, how long can you afford to stay there if a change is needed, or in the best case, how to reassure your position so that your evolution remains uptodate in terms of development life cycle.  More importantly, this can help you to understand why people in your company acts and reacts in certain ways when facing a new task, a  new challenge, a tight deadline,…

The codeless code

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Some weeks ago I found a very interesting and entertaining blog that gives lessons on software development principles and philosophy using as characters for the stories monks and their way of life and the stories explained as Zen kōans. I am enjoying reading the stories and wanted to share it with you.

http://thecodelesscode.com/contents

Code is prose

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I found this this article somewhere in the blogs I follow. I think it contains, in addition to a great dose of humor, many interesting points about how important is to have good written communication skills. No matter what kind of job you are doing in a company, your grammar and spelling competence is always important.

The article says, referred to programming:

…code is prose. Great programmers are more than just code monkeys; according to Stanford programming legend Donald Knuth they are “essayists who work with traditional aesthetic and literary forms.” The point: programming should be easily understood by real human beings — not just computers.

20120726-000135.jpg

I would add that code is not all what a programmer writes and that those other documents are as important as the code. Bug reports, functional requirements, user documentation, task reports, … are common information vehicles that are transferred as documents: mails, forms, text documents, slide presentations, manuals… Should we consider them poetry that connects with their audiences? I am not referring now only to proper grammar, writing should be well structured, clear, technical to the appropriate level depending on the readers and complete as providing all the information expected and available supporting data, respecting the mandatory confidentiality level.

The article mentions also two interesting websites, owned by the author of the article, that I think are worth a visit. The first of them is a repository of Repair guides to assist people to do their own fixing of damaged devices. The second is a Software Tool to help companies with their user documentation.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.