Roger Swannell

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Chatbots are one-trick ponies

Are chatbots one-trick ponies?

Yes, yes there are.

And that is exactly how they should be.

When we talk about optimising a web page the discussion includes things like focus the content on one topic, remove distractions, and have a single call to action. Web pages are one-trick ponies and that is exactly how they should be.

A chatbot is simply a conventional interface for surfacing organisational knowledge, in much the same way a web page does in more of a static document form. Chatbots work particularly well when the user’s question or job to be done is too complex to be answered by the content on a web page as chatbots are able to guide the user towards the answer and check understanding in a way that web pages can’t. The more focused a chatbot is on helping the user answer their question, the better service it is providing.

To criticise a chatbot for being too focused misses this point.

Weekly update #127

What happened this week…

  • Wrote lots of content and designed images for Defibrillator product pages.
  • Set up a Blood Pressure Monitor supplier account.
  • Discussed ecards and ideas for Christmas campaigns.
  • Further testing on the Central ordering site.
  • Completed work on including images in the transactional emails.
  • Completed automated work on order exports by warehouse
  • Began work on an improved clothing size guide on the online shop
  • Agreed markdown and write-off clothing lines.
  • Met with our Warehouse supplier to discuss Ecommerce fulfilment when AX is live.
  • Worked on the Ecommerce Q3 cost analysis.
  • Updated the Ecommerce Time Tracker

Read this week…

Doing next week…

  • Visiting a Blood Pressure Monitor supplier.
  • Reviewing the RMSP cutover plan.
  • User testing of Central ordering site.
  • Final tweaks to the Central Ordering site.
  • Improving the file exports MDA receive
  • Fixing Google Analytics and Tag Manager
  • Restarting wedding favour advertising.
  • Completing the Ecommerce Q3 cost analysis.
  • Meeting with the new Product Marketing Manager for the NDN.

Interesting stat of the week…

  • Christmas cards accounted for 20% of revenue over the first three quarters of the year.

In the not too distant future…

  • Reconsidering the new goods range on the Online Shop.

One standard desk space per person

Increasing the number of people on teams into the same size of office space comes with challenges, not least of which, where are they going to sit.

A design company draw up plans for increasing the number of desks by giving everyone smaller desks. I think this is a bit of an obvious approach and fails to understand the problem. It occurred to me that the proposed layout was based on two unvalidated assumptions; that there should be one desk per person, and that those desks can be standardized.

I think that different people work in different ways at different times and designing office space to allow for flexibility provides a far more ‘human’ environment. My suggestion was three different types of workstations that provide for different ways of working. There would be the usual desk, chair, monitor, docking station combo, empty tables which might not even have chairs as these could be taken from desks if needed, and standing desks with large monitors. These different types of workstation allow for more than just head-down working at a computer, they also allow for meetings, discussions, quiet thinking work, spreading out lots of things work, etc., etc.

The showerhead of success

My shower stopped working properly. The flow rate was low, the water temperature would fluctuate between cold and really hot, and would stay hot even when the hot tap was turned off. It bothered me for days but I couldn’t figure out what was going wrong.

Then it occurred to me to rub the rubber nozzles where the water comes out of the shower head. This broke the limescale that had built up and allowed the water to flow freely. The water flowing freely stopped the hot water from backing up into the cold water, and the hot and cold mixed to a constant water temperature.

I was pretty pleased with myself that such a simple solution fixed the problem, and couldn’t help thinking that there is a bit of a metaphor there in removing blockages to allow value to flow and so reducing problems upstream. How do we give more thought to maximising flow and the leading edge of value delivery to our customers? How do we understand more about the value that our customers get, where and when they get it? How can we remove the blockers that prevent us from delivering value at the best flow rate for the customer?

Business teams aren’t like sports teams

Sports teams have objective measures of success; they either beat the other team or they didn’t, they either have the most points at the end of the season or they haven’t. These measures are set from outside themselves and can be seen be those in the team and publicly by those outside the team.

Business teams have subjective measures; increase income by £x, decrease this by x%. These are set internally either by the team or some other part of the business. They aren’t publicly shared, aren’t the same as the competition’s objectives, and are changeable at any time.

This isn’t to say that either way is right or wrong, just that they aren’t comparable.

Giving Slack another go

I used Slack a while ago to communicate between different teams on a project but it caused more problems than it solved, so I stopped using it.

However, I’m in ten workspaces on Slack.

Slack channels

These are more discussion groups than collaborative working. Some are more active than others, ans I engage in them occasionally, but I don’t feel invested enough in any of them to get much value. I think for Slack to work you have to take part in the chats without feeling like you don’t have the right to comment because you aren’t as knowledgeable or opinionated as others.

So I thought I’d give it another go and see if I can get some value out of it by engaging more.

What to do when your product isn’t a strategic priority

What to do when your product isn’t considered a strategic priority for your organisation and doesn’t receive the investment required to grow.

1 – Accept it

An organisation has to choose which business areas and products to focus on. It can’t focus on everything at the same time, and that’s ok. If your product is one of those that isn’t a priority you might need to just accept it. Ego aside, it might be what is best for the organisation at this time.

2 – Carry on regardless

The organisation probably needs you to carry on with maintaining the product as it is. It may be that it serves its purpose as is, generates income, and doesn’t actually need to be improved. Doing what you can with the budget and people you have is a fine for a product that isn’t an organisational priority.

3 – Build a case for the future

Understand the constraints that might get in the way of growing your product in the future, collect examples of other products that have received investment, make suggestions for small improvements that can be achieved without investment, and look for opportunities to add value to other products and areas of the business.

Ignore the uncertainty

Doing something we’ve never done before is hard.

Admitting that we don’t yet know how to do it is the hardest thing of all because it’s a learning problem, not an execution problem, but we can’t admit that. We aren’t in a learning environment, we’re expected to know how to do things, so we convince ourselves that we know what to do and we get on with doing it. We prefer predictability to impact. We prefer to be able to say what we’ll do, and then feel successful when we say that we did it.

Learning is a problem too. Not only do we not know what we need to learn, we don’t know how to learn it. Better then, to stick to doing what we know, better to ignore the uncertainty.

Weekly Update #124

What happened this week…

  • Set up and test the Central Ordering site.
  • Responded to customer enquiries.
  • Discussed changes with Ecommerce for RMSP.
  • Discussed the adjusted Finance Reports with the AP Team.
  • Met with the Retail Customer Services teams to help them with Freshdesk.
  • Wrote product descriptions for defibrillators.
  • Submitted defibrillator emails for approval.
  • Experimented with Power BI for reporting for Customer Services and Ticket sales..
  • Updated the Ecommerce Time Tracker.


Read this week…


Doing next week…

  • Writing more product descriptions for defibrillators.
  • Collecting information to support the discussion about moving ecommerce to a different warehouse.
  • Writing requirements for automating finance reports.
  • Planning activities for selling bought-in goods on Ebay.


Interesting stat of the week…

  • Throughout 2018, 87.8% of our customers were from England, 7.5% from Scotland, 3.6% from Wales, and 0.8% from Northern Ireland.


In the not too distant future…

  • Discussing genetic testing for heart conditions with a heart nurse.
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