Thought Experiment — Public Service Matching

I’ve been on a brief hiatus for a couple of months
and have been thinking about the next endeavor. After some personal time off (even now), there was one idea that’d come to mind. The hard part about it is getting feedback from a product perspective. How do you do that in a way that garners enough attention, brings in interested individuals, and siphons the idea into something usable?

So, I’m writing this as a thought experiment to see what feedback I could garner for an app idea (and prototype). Namely, with public service infrastructure, the hardest part about getting engaged with an institution is how do you reach them and about what? There’s some movements in the Civic Tech space with Open 311, but how do you talk about moments of epiphany about positive comments or questions?

Summary

  • 3M residents in silicon valley; 1M in San Jose
  • 50 requests incoming through mobile apps; 1,000’s coming through phone
  • Inefficiency issues in getting the right feedback
  • Inefficiency in the right departments receiving the feedback

Users

  • Customer Service Directors — Government employees who run day-to-day operations for customer service departments within departments in a municipality (both city and county). They need to quickly triage and propagate work incoming requests in an efficient and effective manner.
  • Community Relations Directors — Government employees who directly interface with the public in regards to social media and email. They need to ensure the department and municipalities are directly interfacing with the needs of their constituents and are kept happy with the service provided. They want to provide greater engagement and quality interactions with citizens and department staff on feedback and requests.
  • Residents — Citizens and individuals within specific geographic regions that depend on public infrastructure to live and perform tasks day-to-day. They need to have infrastructure to run efficiently and effectively. They want not have to interface with their public works departments, but understand that it takes feedback in order to populate how well the infrastructure is running.

Problems

  • Community Relations Directors: Customer service responses don’t go to the right departments.
  • Customer Service Directors: Customer service requests don’t have enough information to be serviceable.
  • Residents: It’s difficult to send customer service requests and feedback to public agencies.

Product Offering

Provide a mobile app experience that adds a description, location, and photo. Using a matching algorithm, provide recommendations on departments to send the request to and sends a customer service request to individual public service departments. Each request requires a verified e-mail address and, potentially, a physical address.

Mockups

App (prototyped on Ionic Framework)

Distribution Strategy

First, target individual geographic regions, such as Silicon Valley, to improve on ways to match filters to recommended departments. Stick to regions with a distribution strategy of tech-savvy, civic oriented residents and focus on garnering normative samples of early adopters. Build up regions supported based off of data-informed recommendations from feedback from the user base. Then, expand using volunteer groups and customer service departments as advocates of a free mobile app
across iOS and Android.

Tripping on Accelerating Change

I felt inclined to re-read Bill Joy’s 4/2000 Wired piece today after reading up on Vicarious, Magic Leap and a few other companies around AI and augmented reality.

Why? I think it was really due to nerves. Feels like the rate of technological improvement is the highest its ever been in the history of human civilization. It’s invigorating to be a part of, but also very disconcerting. To me, it feels like we’re in a system that’s stuck in a constantly accelerating rate of change.

I believe humans were built to manage and direct systems that persist at steady paces, not those that accelerate exponentially. Sure, we can sprint in specific directions, but our minds and bodies require breaks inbetween to review and manage our general path. We don’t have the natural/genetic capability to accelerate and course correct at the same time continuously. If we want to continue this pace while still ensuring we’re on the right direction, we’ll eventually either stop, augment ourselves, or build something that can and have it do it for us.

At this pace, I think we’re going to sprint too hard in one or many very risky areas and create problem(s) we can’t fix.

Lean Analytics: Learning Data-Driven Fundamentals

tl;dr…

If you’re interested in building products for the web, Lean Analytics by Alistair Crolll and Benjamin Yoskovitz is an invaluable source & reference material.

A little more….

This is hands-down the best reference material I’ve found on the basic fundamentals of user-focused, data-driven product development on the web. It does a wonderful job advising prospective builders to form solid growth habits that have a habit of sticking around for the long-term, IMO.

On a personal level, its helped me form better data-driven habits. I’m a 1-2 year old product manager; still learning to be great. After reading the book, its pushed me up a level in terms of knowing what to look for and having a solid approach to product-level conversations. My answers are better focused, I receive praise for my insights far more often, my responses are much more analytical and data-driven, and I just feel confident in my responses.

So, how does the book help form good habits? Well, it takes the theory of Lean Startup and applies it into pertinent case studies (e.g. Media/Ad, UGC, SaaS, E-Commerce, Mobile Apps, and Two-Sided Marketplaces sites). From there, Croll and Yoskovitz append those studies with examples from the industry. There’s some good guidelines overlayed throughout the book too. Can’t ask for much more.

Now, I don’t think anyone should completely take Lean Startup & Lean Analytics to be the end-all, be-all to product development on the web. Its an experiment-focused product development process that works well with small, dedicated teams with little to no dependencies. I recommend having your own opinion on what works for you and your team and applying what you learn in the book to your own process. You’ll see a measurable difference in the quality and speed of your team’s work in building product.

Thoughts on Tesla and its growing community of advocates

If you haven’t had a chance to read through the Tesla forums recently, there’s a very interesting thread by current owners detailing issues with going back to driving internal combustion engine cars. The Model S has had phenomenal success. It’s won awards, turned a good majority of their customers into advocates (no easy feat) and recently started validating their product is something people want.

What’s the best part about all of this? The comments are mostly about their electric drive-train. It gives me a lot of hope on a number of levels:

  • A good number of their customers are advocates and are truly engaged into the success of the company.
  • The Model S isn’t just a mix-shift product, but actually an incremental product evolution. It’s generating the power needed to successfully push forward the entire electric motor industry.
  • The ICE car competitors are starting to notice and either partnering (e.g. Toyota and Daimler) or beginning to build their own competitive products.
  • Altruistically, this is saving the planet and the lives of the generations that come after us.

This type of community building doesn’t happen often. I’ve seen it at Mozilla and its extremely powerful. It’s an incredible opportunity to further push their agenda and further the cause. I sure hope the folks at Tesla understand what they’ve found and are building methods empower and foster the growth of their community. The industry and the world sure would be better for it.

Part-time MBA? Full-time job? No sweat!

It’s been two years into my candidacy as an MBA over at Santa Clara University and, over that time, I’ve been asked by several people how I balance a full-time job, a part-time education and a mid-20’s social life. The usual answer is “poorly” or “terribly”, but that doesn’t help those who are trying to figure out if it’s the right path for them. First things first though, here’s a brief moment of “fud” (i.e. fear, uncertainty and doubt) for those would-be-MBA’ers:

  • You’re going to lose track of one or more friends.
  • Over the course of the candidacy, you’re going to let down your family in some way.
  • Over the course of the candidacy, you’re going to let down your friends in some way.
  • Over the course of the candidacy, you’re going to let down your co-workers in some way.
  • You’ll have less patience with people and it’ll show.
  • You’ll have to either forego a healthy sleep schedule, social life or both.

I’m not trying to scare you away from it; its just important to know what to expect after making the decision to dedicate a big part of your life for the next 3 or so years. Now with that out of the way, let’s get to the real meat and potatoes. I think its pretty manageable if you take the extra onus to schedule and plan your time accordingly and stick to it. The problem is that most, including myself, don’t really understand how to do it until about a year or so of being in the program. So, here’s a little advice that’ll help avoid any or all of those “fud” points from the start:

Before the Quarter Starts

  1. Open up a calendar and notebook.
  2. In the calendar, write down the dates for every homework assignment and project due as well as test dates across every class you’re taking.
  3. With your notebook, write down a list of things you’re looking to accomplish at work AND life over the next 3-6 months, prioritize them and offer a very general time period as to when you think they’ll get accomplish.
  4. Cross-reference with the list back to your calendar and see how that’ll look.
  5. Take out half or more of the things you’d like to get accomplished at work and life. Put it in a backlog. You’re going to go crazy if you try to get everything accomplished.
  6. Inform your manager of time periods of when school work is going to be hectic over the next quarter. This’ll help manage expectations in terms of work.

During the Quarter

  1. Treat free time as an opportunity to actually get a head-start on school work due 2 weeks to a month ahead of time. This’ll help make those expected hectic periods a whole lot more manageable.
  2. Try to do a small portion of reading or homework for ½ – 1 hour everyday.
  3. Take every opportunity to exercise even if it means not hanging out with friends. This’ll really help keep your mind fresh.
  4. Be strict in allocating at least 7 hours of sleep a day.
  5. A week before any hectic period, inform your family, friends and manager that you’re not going to be available through a simple e-mail or two.
  6. Make plans to go out for a fully weekend day with friends or a significant other after each hectic period.

After Each Quarter

  1. Go on a small vacation (i.e. a long weekend trip) with the people closest to you.

Do this every quarter. It may sound crazy, but its tried and true. If you do even half of these things, it’s going to go a long way to make your life a whole lot easier to handle over your time at the institution. Oh, and one other thing: always remind yourself why you’re in the program (i.e. what you’re trying to get out of it). It’s a lot of money, work and time out of your life and doing it without a rhyme and reason is a recipe for disaster. So, make sure you know!

Thoughts from a less, manlier man.

A quick note before the entry: I did this because it was my first month off from school+work for a full month and wanted to do something fun that was anti-MBA. So, it was more of an experiment than anything else. Plus, beards are super awesome and deserve to be grown. I apologize for the lack of pictures.

 

A noticeable length was beginning to form with each strand and the “beard” was beginning to create it’s own little personality. What resulted was a number of quizzical, but pleasant looks from people checking out the “beard” for the first time. It was beginning to get rather itchy especially in 90 degree weather, but it wasn’t as bad as what other bearded and ex-bearded folk explained from their experiences. The one definite logistical positive out of this was not having to spend the time every other day in shaving my facial hair.

At this point, I had a couple of new things to think about that I never had to deal with before: hair growing over the lip, growing in ways that I didn’t expect and what was I going to do when I get one of those “3 on the top and 2 on the sides” haircuts I usually get?

The hairs got in the way while I ate or drank anything if I didn’t trim every other day, so that was a definite priority. This turned into a lot more work than I’m usually accustomed to. Even when I started doing small changes on one part of the beard, I felt the need to take care of the entire beard. An estimated time of 5 minutes ended up taking 15 minutes due to the nature of how my hair grows not only on top of my lips, but also around the jawline and on the neck. It just got kinda nasty after a day or two for that last week.

Past that, the human interaction aspects of how it affected my life started creeping in once it got filled out. It was more than often, the terrorist label came up between friends and family and people in general gave these deer-in-the-headlight stares until they heard me speak to them. It was a bit odd, but certainly not disheartening. Nevertheless, there was this major change in perception of my personality from people, who were at least acquaintances, based on something as arbitrary as facial hair.

In retrospect, my little experiment proved to me that perception continues to be a funny thing. It has a huge part in how we define the way we perform actions in our personal worlds and how others define the way they not only react to our actions, but also supplant those actions with their own personal world. In effect, they create a perception based on something that’s not completely fair, but very natural to the human psyche.

In the end, I’d still love to do it again, but only when I’m in a phase of my life that allows me to do such things with ease.