Blog - thoughts and ramblings...

What "mission driven" means to us

We build websites for mission driven organizations. So...what does "mission driven" mean? It means that we choose to work with organizations that are driven by what they're doing in the world as much as (or more than) the bottom line. They have purpose; their people are passionate. Examples? The Student Conservation Association was our first customer back in 2002. They define an organization that is doing good in the world, helping high school and college students fulfill their own mission to "serve the land" at parks nationwide. The City of Keene is municipal government that truly cares about its constituents and the world around it. (The city is even listed in Al Gore's book An Inconvenient Truth for agreeing to the Kyoto Protocol). And yes, mission driven also applies to for-profit companies. Take American Heritage Railways. They transport families back in time to the days when the locomotive ruled the land, preserving history and delighting children with rides like The Polar Express and The Lone Ranger adventure. 

Goal driven design and the importance of getting feedback

We did some site tweaking this year to our own website. We wanted to upgrade to Drupal 7 goodness, enhance the portfolio section and modernize the design a bit. Our primary goals for the site remained the same...

  1. Tell visitors who we are and what we do
  2. Make our portfolio the star of the design
  3. Make it easy for folks to contact us

Here's the thing. We did some user testing after the initial build to determine if we had achieved our goals. What we discovered is that we missed the mark almost entirely on goals 1 and 3. Back to the drawing board, a couple of tweaks later and our site looked better than ever and was truly centered on something we value highly...goal-driven design. See the details here:

It's HOW You Deliver That Matters...

So I'm just returning from a 10 day trip to Quebec City with my son's hockey team. It was a fantastic experience with the exception of one thing, the bus company we used. The bus itself (the product) was nice enough. It didn't have electrical outlets or wifi but was plenty for us on this trip. The issue was in the delivery of that product (i.e. the service) that went along with the product. While the driver was quite skilled at navigating the narrow streets of Old Quebec, it was the little things that he neglected to do that left a lasting impression in the families. First, he was late four different times to pick us up through the week. I suppose technically he's not required to handle luggage. However, he couldn't be bothered to even open the storage bays when we needed access. In hindsight, it's a good lesson...he delivered exactly what we paid for but the manner in which he delivered it will likely send us to another carrier next time we're looking for transportation.

Pricing on value instead of hours

A number of years ago I took a client named Alex out to lunch. As is typical, I asked how we could be better. He paused for a moment; thought and delivered the best advice I've ever received from that question. "I don't care about your hours" was his response. He went on to explain how we always estimated in hours how long the work would take. While he appreciated having a metric to measure value. He didn't really have a frame of reference to truly validate the reference. If he knew what it took to build websites, he wouldn't be seeking companies like ours to do it for him. Moreover, because it was just an estimate, not only could he not be sure of the estimate, he was on the hook monetarily if we went over the estimate. What he needed was a solid price and a timeline for the features he requested. He'd judge if it was worth it him to have that feature and we could proceed. 

The more I thought about that discussion, the more obvious it became that the time and materials estimate approach for website development is flawed. The more time a vendor spends building your site, the more money they make. At the very least, they're looking to come to expend every hour in that estimate or they've "left money on the table." For the vendor, the better they get at building your site, the less profitable they become for the same set of functionality. This is all counter to the customer's best interests...it promotes inefficiency.

That conversation with Alex transformed our business. We introduced fixed price feature quotes for websites instead of hourly time and materials estimates. Our customers benefit from budgets they can count on (and timelines too). We are encouraged to put together features that are reusable from site to site and continually improve them. Our customers are happier, we're more profitable and we build better sites.

2012 Trends to Watch

Content Management Systems will socialize. - Up until now, most companies had their social media (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc.) segregated from their corporate website. Mostly this was because the tools were separate. For content management systems, like Drupal, this year will focus a great deal more on social content integrated with their normal web content. Specifically, look to integrate streams of content from Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn or other social media channels that matter to your industry. 

For business, Social Media stops being another marketing channel and starts becoming a conversation. For many businesses, social media has  been a means to shout their message louder and farther. Truth is, there's a reason it's social. It's a multi-point conversation. At its best, leveraging social media means including your communities (customers, vendors, etc) in the conversation and having them share with their own communities. Much like any conversation, the important question is are you listening or just looking for another opportunity to speak? New, inexpensive online tools, like assistly.com, are available that not only helps you manage incoming email and phone conversations; it will track mentions of your company on Facebook and Twitter, then help you respond and keep the conversation going. 

Design for the web will center on simple, comfortable User Experiences. This will be the year that UserExperience  (UX) wins out over Usability. What's the difference? UX is about more than just how intuitive a particular site (or function) is to use; it's about how a user feels about the interaction. You'll hear the word "delight" a lot when referencing how you want your visitors to experience your online presence(s).

Get the fonts out. Finally, the web world is catching on to the fact that typography matters and has provided the technology to support it...simply. Since the beginning of sites, developers have been forced to choose between a handful of built-in (search engine friendly) fonts and graphically compelling, slow-loading images. Leveraging Google Fonts or the @font-face capabilities built into most modern browsers, we can now choose  from hundreds of fonts to get just the right feel for our brand.

Mobile (web) apps for the ordinary business. This year you'll see the rise of mobile "doing" through websites. Instead of just showing your content on the site, your visitors will be doing things and reading new or changing content using their mobile devices. Using jquery mobile and other libraries that have gained maturity, you can affordably offer a mobile "app" that renders using standard web technology on all of your mobile devices, including iPhone, Blackberry and Droid phones. All of this without having to navigate multiple native device languages.

2012 is the year of "Local." Did you know that the iPad had the fastest adoption rate of any product in consumer electronics history? Faster than the iPhone. Faster than the DVD player. They are carried everywhere and they are aware of their location at all times. Combine a QR code leading to a web-based app and you have unlimited possibilities for local e-commerce, ratings, suggestions, etc. 

You've streamed video but have you streamed video live? With the rise of services like UStream.com, you can now offer live broadcasts of events without expensive streaming hardware or services. It's bringing live streaming to the masses.

Death to the (Corporate) Blog, Long Live the Microblog - So, for years now we've talked about the value of a blog for organizations. Fresh, rich content is king for search engine optimization and  having a continual journal that prompts you to keep writing is a good vehicle to generate it. However, we've also seen the glazed look in your eyes when we talk about writing a full-length blog "article" 2-3 times pre week. We have good news. 

This year, you will see the demise of the full-length blog articles for businesses and the rise of microblogging. It's like blogging, but smaller (and more shareable). Services like Tumblr.com empower users to write short (think paragraph long) posts, upload photos, easily post quotes from others or embed a video. By shortening the amount of written content and expanding the media selections that may be used to produce content, it just gets easier to stay current (and start the social conversations mentioned earlier).

Flash will die this year - HTML 5 interfaces will rise - Now, the semi-savvy folks will say that Flash truly brought video to the web (and it did). It made it so you didn't have to install Windows Media Player or Quicktime. You could see the video right in your browser seamlessly. The reason Flash will die a quiet death is two-fold: 1) there is a web-standard for video built into HTML5 (as opposed to a proprietary library owned by Adobe) and 2) the reason everyone will use that standard instead of Flash is because iPhones and iPads don't support Flash but they DO support HTML5. YouTube already offers the videos in both Flash and HTML5 and Adobe has announced it will no longer be building a mobile Flash player.

Office Hours Start Today...

Remember when your college professors would offer "Office Hours?" Specific days and times where you could drop-in and ask questions to your heart's content. Sure, you could ask questions after most any class or send an email (ok, it wasn't quite email for me) anytime but knowing that she'd be there in-person with nothing better to do than help you was reassuring. Well, we've brought office hours to Lucidus. Starting today, our customers (or others who'd like to ask a question or two) can drop by our web conference and ask online strategy, Drupal or other web related questions on Thursdays from 2-3:30pm.  Here are the details:

 

1.  Please join our meeting.

2.  Use your microphone and speakers (VoIP) - a headset is recommended. Or, call in using your telephone.

  • Dial +1 (636) 277-0137
  • Access Code: 371-316-166
  • Audio PIN: Shown after joining the meeting

Meeting ID: 371-316-166

 

 

More technology is not the answer to everything...

So, this morning I'm in a Giant grocery store. Giant is a chain of stores here in the mid-Atlantic region that I think belong to Stop and Shop. We go over to the deli counter and I notice that they have a digital ticket machine to say who's next in line. You know the ones that you pull the little tab and get your number. They put up an LED number behind the counter to say you're next. Now, I'm a fan of the take-a-ticket concept as they keep from fist fights starting at a pretty crowded counter but here's the question in my head...why does the ticket itself need to be digitally printed real-time? Did the pre-printed tickets not work? Just feels like the ultimate technology for technology's sake.

 

Why is Lucidus leaving Keene, New Hampshire? (Spoiler: We're Not...Not Even Close)

There have been more than a few surprised people around the region when I told them I'm moving my family to Northern Virginia (this month).

The first question..."Is Lucidus moving out of Keene?" I always reassure..."Lucidus was founded here and will remain a vital part of Keene and the Monadnock Region. We're not going anywhere." We've just committed to taking physical space with our partner, Communicators Group, at 9 Church Street. We actually have plans to expand our presence regionally.

Next question..."Are you leaving Lucidus?" Again reassurance..."Nope. I'm just opening a sales office in the most powerful city in the world." Perhaps we all feel self important enough to wonder how a company could ever move on without us but Lucidus has always been my baby. I have the gig I described on a road trip at 25 years old, when asked this question: "If you could do anything, what would you do?" I love my job; I love my company and I love the people I work with. I'll still personally be here in Keene every month to meet with clients, prospective clients and just plain old friends.

Then they get to the real question on their mind..."Then, why are you moving (personally)?"

Now that comes with a bit of background. Since moving to Keene in April of 2000, I have maintained that I'm "living the dream" of raising a family in the quintessential New England town. So, the first thing I let folks know is that I haven't fallen out of love with this region. I love this region in a deeper, more real way than the day I moved here. Much like a newlywed, I came to this town in love with the idea of Keene as much as the Keene itself.

Over the years, I've had the honor of serving with a state task force, the boards of StayWorkPlay, the Chamber of Commerce, Monadnock Economic Development Corporation and even the Council of Advisors for the medical center. Through those experiences as well as providing some sort of web consulting or service for pretty much every major organization in this region, I've come to love this region even more. There truly is no other micropolitan city (love that word) that compares with Keene.

**I have not fallen out of love with this place...I've come to love it more. **

We've talked for a number of years about expanding to other cities for Lucidus. I have maintained from the day we arrived that a business like ours MUST maintain both regional and national customers in order to thrive. We've done a great job at that, attracting clients from all over the country...but it's always been hard when the closest airport is an hour and a half away. So we've been thinking about a sales office in a larger metropolitan region for a number of years.

For the past couple of years (normally during the winter), we've discussed where we would open that office. We've considered lots of places like Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, etc. (We didn't mean to be so alliterative). Surprisingly, we never really considered northern Virginia mostly because both Christine and I grew up there and all of the reasons we loved Keene were counterpoints to why we didn't like living in NoVa. Most prominent? The traffic.

Never mind the fact that we have as deep a background in non-profit association member websites and portals as most anyone and Washington, DC has as high a concentration of those orgs as any place in the country. I couldn't stand the drive to work.

Never mind that my kids and wife were in the dumps every time we left from visiting our closest family and oldest friends. Sitting in a car for that long each day wasn't worth it.

Never mind that the town that always yawned at the hockey team I had passionately followed since early childhood had found hysteria in Rock the Red fever.

While there last year, my eldest said something pivotal while bemoaning once again leaving family to head back to Keene. "Dad, don't you get to choose where you drive to work?"

So with great joy and optimism, I'm taking my family back to where I grew up so they can be part of extended family like I did growing up. We're opening doors wider for Lucidus but we'll always be a New Hampshire company and we'll always be a part of the Monadnock Region. I'll be here every single month to take part in the community, both as a business and as an individual. (Our regional clients will likely see me more often now than they have in the past due to our focused approach here).

Standing Up Daily - How Lucidus uses Daily SCRUM meetings for Drupal development

Two years ago this month, Lucidus started down the path of applying SCRUM to our development process. At the time, we were struggling mightily with a number of goals that we talked about a LOT and never seemed to make progress on. One particular question we always wrestled with was "Where are we on each project?"

We had a tradition of our meeting length swinging on a pendulum. First we'd go for a while with no meetings because people were heads down working. In a few weeks when folks started complaining that no one knew what was going on, we'd insist on weekly (sometimes daily) status meetings that seemed to chew up an hour a day.

Think about that...we had a team of 12 meeting every day for an hour. 12 people x 1 hour x 5 days. We were losing 60 hours / week in productivity. We'd talk about site architecture, the latest Drupal module, etc. It was exciting for the first three days and then we'd swing the pendulum back the other way to no meetings.

In addition to being inefficient, it was frustrating. We just couldn't solve it. That's where SCRUM came to the rescue. Thanks to Mick McGuire, SCRUM was just what we needed for a lot of things but, in particular, it solved our issue with status meetings. Now, I will preface this with we've tailored our flavor of SCRUM to our needs. We hold pretty close to the tenets but leave flexibility for our own business process.

In SCRUM, we meet every day for 15 minutes via web conference. In general, it's recommended to meet in person but with people spread to Oregon, Arizona and New Hampshire, that's just not realistic. For us 1:30 has settled in as the right time that everyone can get a good morning of work done and then report in.

In the Daily SCRUM meeting, each team member reports three things:

  • What they completed since last meeting
  • What they're doing for tomorrow
  • Any impediments they've run into

The team stays connected and knows what each other is doing. Developers are held accountable by each other to get stuff done. If you tell your teammates that you're going to have something done for tomorrow and it's not done once, that's ok. After three days of saying the same thing, people start "looking" at you weird and you feel the pressure. Moreover, it's an opportunity to gain praise from your peers on delivering work. It really helps everyone pull their weight and be excited to contribute.

A couple of our lessons learned / best practices:

  • Concrete reports - Reports should be concrete, not vague. Vague reports are a smokescreen to work that wasn't done (or at least it can be perceived that way).
  • Discussions happen afterward - Any follow up questions specific to how something is being done is pushed until after the meeting
  • Keep it to 15 minutes - this lets folks know that they're going to get back to their work quickly.

Obviously, longer conversations are necessary but we leave those to Sprint Kickoffs (every two weeks) and Sprint Retrospectives (also every two weeks). We've hit a point now where even our retrospectives are only half an hour. By meeting every day for a short, time-boxed period, we dramatically increased our team communication and developer efficiency and provided an opportunity for problems (impediments) to be reported early and dealt with both in terms of development and customer expectations. It's made a HUGE difference for us.

Espresso Code Editor - How to open a directory from the command line (like TextMate)

We had a number of interesting conversations last night at the Keene (NH) Drupal User Group meeting and one of them centered around text editors. Recently, I've been playing with Espresso and REALLY liking it. However, a great question that Damien McKenna asked was if you could open a directory in Espresso like you do in TextMate. For example, let's say I wanted to open an entire folder, e.g. httpdocs, to appear like a project. I would enter the following in Terminal:

mate httpdocs

With a little exploration, I was able to pull this off to make it a similar experience:

espresso httpdocs

Here's what you need to do:

  1. Open (or create) a file in your home directory called .bash_profile using your favorite text editor. (It would be kind of ironic to open it using TextMate). :-)
  2. Add a line anywhere in the file as follows: alias espresso='open -a Espresso'
  3. Save the file.
  4. Close your current Terminal window and open another one. (OSX executes the .bash_profile script when you open a new terminal window which is why we have to exit and open a new window)

Now you should be able to open a directory in Espresso just by typing "espresso" followed by the path you would like to open.

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