Announcing DECola (then compare to how you buy Cola)

Digital Equipment Corp LogoI had another of those days when simple things irritate me – nominally because the designers of some software went off designing something I use with no appreciation of what happens when someone just wants to get something done.

The first was to add some capabilities to a web site to allow users to avoid creating yet another identity to login to one of my customers web sites; so, let’s give them the ability to login using their Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ or Twitter credentials instead. Simples! I put in the add-in to WordPress to enable this, which then left me to register as a developer on each site, and retrieve an API key and an API secret (effectively the username and password that identifies my login application as being interfaced by programmer me). Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter – easy peasy. Google? I gave up after trying to find the API secret for an hour.

The second one was this morning, with my valiantly searching for a proper recycling bin to dispose of two spent HP ink cartridges in Reading while Jane was shopping elsewhere in the town. I thought she was a long time contacting me, so I fished my Nexus 5 phone out of my pocket, and lo behold – a bar on my screen indicating a missedĀ call from Jane. I didn’t have my glasses on, so just pressed the notification expecting it to immediately return her call. What did it do? I got a complete (and to me, fuzzy mess) of a screenful of options, which offered me opportunities to contact her in a wide variety of ways – but no obvious one that suggested it would place a phone call. So, out came my glasses, looked at the screen, and I still couldn’t work it out. SMS, Hangout (video call!), Email… then in one area was her name (repeated twice), one with her current phone number, one with her old O2 phone number – so I pressed what I thought was her current one. Bingo – up popped her picture, and it duly rang her.

WTF. Isn’t it obvious that if I have a missed call, the thing that 99.9% of users seeing it will do is to call right back? After a brief wish that the 20 year old Google employee that wrote the code should be sentenced to wearing glasses to degrade their sight like someone a bit older, and to test the usual usage patterns for a day or two with them on, I thought – this reminds me at some things at Digital.

One personal case was doing the DECdirect Software Catalogue – where we aimed to take the time to look up the part number and price of any of the 250+ products we sold (and over 40,000 part numbers!) to something that could be achieved within the normal attention span of a good salesperson (around 30 seconds). We distilled that down until we hit that 30 second goal every time, often faster.

Ken Olsen (CEO at Digital for 16 of the 17 years I worked there, and many years before that) had a habit of issuing long parables, some of which we spent some time on trying to decode into applicability for us working at a Computer Manufacturer. He would decide he needed to dig a short trench in his back garden in Lincoln (Massachusetts in this case), pop into the local Ford tractor dealer, and try to buy something to give him what he wanted. I should probably note here that he was a Main Board Director at Ford at the time also. The following Monday would come out a parable about going through a tortuous sales process, where he was expected to know the dimensions of the trench and all sorts of detail about the type of soil – and that even before he got subjected to all the different tractor models and payment options available. He closed off the text saying that he often sees that type of situation inside our company, and that we need to fix it.

So, off went a debating round trying to assess what he really meant. In this case, I think he ended up running an offsite (known there as a “Woods Meeting” – due to it often being held in a hut in the New England Forests) and getting the assembled VP’s to order a Minicomputer from Manufacturing, which was duly delivered to where they were meeting. And then he invited them to go build it from the parts shipped, just like a customer. You didn’t have to wait more than a day before all the VP Management edicts started being rained down across the organisation – to vastly simplify the whole installation process for customers.

Unfortunately, I can’t offer anyone at Google a visit to such a Woods Meeting. All I can do is to give one lurid example from someone who got fed up with the complex way we used to tell salespeople how to order a system for their customers. That person wrote a spoof article, styled in exactly the same typical structure as articles that appeared in the Monthly Field Sales Magazine, “Sales Update”. In it, they announced a new bottled Cola drink called DECola (you may need to click on the image to make the text big enough to read):

DECola Sales Update Article

DECola Sales Update Page 2 - Ordering Table

If I ever got close to developers of the Google Login API/Secret keys developers website, or of the “Missed Call” flow on an Android handset, i’d be sorely tempted to send them these two pages, Ken Olsen style.

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