Reflections on WWDC14

July 4, 2014

Last month I attended Apple’s World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) from 2 June to 6 June 2014.  I had wanted to attend the previous 2 WWDCs, but was unable to get a ticket due to near instant sellouts. This year WWDC tickets were via ballot amongst Apple Developers and I was lucky to be selected.  It was a bit over 2 years ago at QSR International that I started to become familiar with Mac OS X as we started developing NVivo for Mac, coincidentally we publicly released NVivo for Mac on 5 June 2014. Before this, the majority of my commercial software development was with Microsoft Windows applications.


The keynote was introduced by Tim Cook (CEO) and focused on 3 major topics – OS X Yosemite, iOS 8, and improved developer support.

Craig Federighi (SVP of Software Engineering) introduced OS X Yosemite (10.10). This brought a refreshed interface with a cleaner design which was likely influenced by iOS. It changed the typography, refreshed icons, introduced a dark user interface mode, and translucent views.  Spotlight, the desktop search feature was broadened to include search results from the Internet. Continuity was announced which provides seamless transition between devices, including the ability to take phone calls from your Mac.

iOS 8 brought many usability improvements such as improved email app and interactive notifications, whilst also providing the corresponding Spotlight and Continuity changes. Health app which compiles and presents your health data from HealthKit which is open to other apps and institutions via controlled access. New photos app which improves photo editing and integration with iCloud. A new capability called Family Sharing enables sharing of photos, calendars and purchases from iTunes with up to six people.  Interestingly, the day before I flew to San Francisco, my son asked me if he could have his own iTunes account. I had said ‘no – I am not buying the same App several times, once for my iPad, once for your iPad, and once for your sister’s iPad’. Now with Family Sharing they can have their own account and ask permission for Apps they want to purchase from their device and I receive a notification to approve on my device.

It was pleasing to see the amount of investment that Apple was putting into improving support for developers. Xcode gained a new programming language called Swift which is like Objective-C without the problems of C. This will improve developer productivity and will make it easier for new developers to start developing on the Apple platform.  This reminded me of when Microsoft released C# without the problems of C++.  Xcode gained many necessary IDE improvements and new SDKs were introduced which open up exciting new possibilities – HealthKit (health data), Home Kit (home automation), Cloud Kit (cloud logic), and many gaming improvements. I predict that Apple will launch some new products later this year that will take advantage of these capabilities. A revamped App Store will provide app previews, app bundling, beta test support, and better analytics for developers on user purchases and usage.

It was great to have the opportunity to speak with Apple designers and engineers directly, including the ability to demonstrate your application and get feedback.

Having attended Microsoft Professional Developer Conferences in the past, it was interesting to contrast the differences, and it simplistically boils down to differences in culture which influences different priorities and delivers different products. Neither is better or worse, just different, and different is great!

Exploring Trends in Qualitative Data Analysis

December 10, 2013

Since 2006, QSR International has been conducting annual online surveys about qualitative data analysis.  These surveys assist us in having a macro view of those that undertake qualitative data analysis, identifying emergent industry trends, and improving our NVivo software to meet the future needs of qualitative researchers.

In this blog post, I wanted to share some of this survey data, and depending on interest share more trends in future blogs.  The charts below have been fitted with polynomial trend lines to reduce noise and assist with visual comparison.

Why do we survey and how?

Between 2006 and 2013, over 10,000 respondents from around the world have completed these surveys, answering 20 to 40 questions per survey.  The respondents to these surveys generally have job titles of analysts, consultants, lecturers, managers, professors, students and researchers.

For the past 3 years, the surveys were conducted via SurveyMonkey, with the analysis of the open-ended questions done within NVivo.  This has been made even easier now that NVivo integrates with SurveyMonkey directly via their API.

How do researchers collect their data?

Over the years we have asked respondents about how they collect their data and have found the following trends:

Most Popular Qualitative Data Collection Approaches

  • Interviews (e.g. one-on-one, in-depth) are the most popular approach with 81% of respondents stating in 2006 that they collected some of their qualitative data via interviews and by 2013 this had risen to 88%.
  • Articles and documents (e.g. literature reviews, government reports) which rose from 51% to 61%
  • Observation (e.g. field notes) which rose from 44% to 60%
  • Focus groups (e.g. group interviews) which rose from 40% to 53%
  • Self-report questionnaires (e.g. assessments and evaluations) which fell from 46% to 38%
  • Individual accounts (e.g. diaries, narratives) which rose from 22% to 35%.

More recent surveys over the past 3 years have highlighted the emergence of popular approaches leveraging online technologies, including online surveys (39% in 2013), online content (36% in 2013), and online communications (28% in 2013).

Overall, we are seeing greater diversity in data collection approaches.

What are the popular data formats?

We also noticed some interesting trends in the digital data formats that are collected by researchers:

Most Popular Qualitative Data Formats

  • Documents (e.g. Word, PDF) have been the most popular format collected; with 73% of respondents stating that they captured some of their qualitative data as documents in 2006 and by 2013 this had risen to 86%.  This increase can be partially attributed to improvements in reference management software and databases, providing more convenient access to digital articles and papers.
  • Audio (e.g. mp3, m4a) which rose from 51% to 79%, the increase in audio collection is likely due to improvements in technology and more respondents conducting interviews, focus groups and observation research.
  • Spreadsheets (e.g. Excel, CSV) which rose from 45% to 51%
  • Web (e.g. html web pages and social media) which rose
    from 45% to 47%
  • Images (e.g. gif, jpeg) which rose from 23% to 40%
  • Video (e.g. mp4, 3gp) which rose from 18% to 40%

Given the range of data formats collected by respondents, NVivo has evolved to ensure that such needs are met, with documents supported in version 7 (2006) and prior; audio, images, and video in version 8 (2008); spreadsheets and databases in version 9 (2010); and web and social media in version 10 (2012).

What about methodologies?

We also found that the methods of qualitative data analysis continue to evolve:

Most Popular Qualitative Data Analysis Methods

  • Mixed methods has been the most popular approach reported; with 50% of respondents stating that they used mixed methods for some of their research in 2006 and by 2013 this had risen to 69%.  This corresponds with many methodologists advocating that multiple strategies such as qualitative and quantitative enhance validity of the research.
  • Grounded theory which rose from 43% to 55%
  • Ethnography which rose from 24% to 39%
  • Discourse analysis which rose from 25% to 33%
  • Evaluation which rose from 21% to 25%
  • Phenomenology which rose from 17% to 25%

More recent surveys over the past 3 years have highlighted other popular methodologies such as interpretive analysis (36% in 2013), narrative analysis (36% in 2013), conversation analysis (21% in 2013), and framework analysis (15% in 2013).  NVivo does not dictate the method, this is a decision that the researcher must decide and the software supports.

More data, more methods, more variety

Over this 7 year period we have witnessed that respondents conducting qualitative data analysis are employing a broader range of data collection approaches resulting in more varied digital data formats being collected and undertaking an increasing range of analysis methodologies.

Sometimes it is hard to notice the constant change in today’s information age; since the start of this millennium we have seen digital cameras and smart phones become ubiquitous, online search providing access to an incredible diversity of information, and the rise of social media changing how we communicate.

It will be interesting to see to how technology impacts how we collect data in the future, the forms that it takes, and how we go about understanding its content.

What trends have you noticed? How has your approach change to accommodate them?

Note: This blog post also appears at The NVivo blog.

Hack Days – Creating New Product Innovation

May 14, 2013

A hack day (also known as hackathon, hackfest or codefest) is an event in which those involved in software development collaborate intensively on software projects over 1 to 5 days to create new product innovation.

Where does the idea come from?

Companies that run hack days include Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, NASA, and many more.  I was convinced that we at QSR International should also be running hack days to empower our talented staff to create more inventions for our customers and employees.

QSR International’s company values are articulated as collaboration, innovation, and celebration.  Our hack day goals supported our company values and were summarized as:

  • Collaborate with Peers
  • Innovate the Platform, Product, or Process
  • Celebrate the Demonstration of Ideas

Choosing a theme

We undertook our first hack day in October 2012 and set the theme ‘Invent the Future’ which was inspired from the quote ‘the best way to predict the future is to invent it’ by Alan Kay. Our second hack day was in March 2013 and set the theme ‘Leadership through Innovation’ which was inspired from the quote ‘innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower’ by Steve Jobs.  We will continue doing more hacks days every six months.

What’s involved in a hack day?

In the lead up to the hack day we created a wiki based charter of ideas originating from customers that had not been explored.  Participants were encouraged to choose one of these ideas or propose new ideas and seek out interested team members.

Our first hack day involved 37 employees working on 15 unique project ideas over 2 days.  Given the success and interest in the first hack day, the second hack day involved 49 employees working on 17 unique project ideas over 2 days.

Each day started with a stand-up meeting to describe each project idea and raise any assistance requests.  On the afternoon of the second day an exhibit was held to demonstrate and celebrate each of the project ideas to the whole company.

Hack_Day_Photo 1

Quality and diversity – how do you judge the best hack?

We assembled a judging panel consisting of the CEO, CTO (that’s me), Senior Project Manager, and an invited customer.  This judging panel had the difficult task of choosing the ‘most innovative’ and ‘most promising’ project idea.

Additionally, everyone in the company was given tokens to vote on the ‘most popular’ project idea.  The quality and diversity of demonstrable project ideas was incredible and exceeded most expectations.

Kevin Burfitt, our Senior Project Manager coordinated the hack days and when asked about his reflection on the hack days he had this to say:

“For two days we remove all the normal reporting structures, meetings and red-tape and just let people concentrate on their own innovative ideas.  Seeing the enthusiasm of so many people working together and bringing their hacks to life is inspiring.”

Hack_Day_Photo 2

Turning hacks into real features: Community Feed and Geovisualization

The NVivo 10 Service Pack 2 released in February 2013 included 2 hack day project ideas from the first hack day.  The first was the Community Feed which facilitated the ability to provide live news, tips, and video tutorials to users of NVivo within NVivo.

Screenshot of Community Feed and Geovisulization

Screenshot of Community Feed and Geovisulization

The second was Geo-visualization which facilitated geospatial visualization of Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter data captured using NCapture (a browser add-in) for analysis within NVivo.

Encouraging creativity and passion

We are proceeding with a half dozen hack day project ideas that will find their way into product releases and company process over the remainder of this year.

Hack days support building an innovative culture which allows experimentation, failure, and learning.  It enables participants to express their creativity and passion outside their day to day work and drives increased innovation within the organization.  The time constraint imposes the need for creative problem solving and early prioritization to ensure a demonstrable idea.

To finish, I quote Thomas Edison, one of world’s most prolific inventors in history:

“The real measure of success is the number of experiments that can be crowded into twenty-four hours”

Note: This blog post also appears at The NVivo blog.

Recruitment Observations – Getting your next job

August 28, 2012

Over the past 15 years, I have read over 4,000 resumes, interviewed over 300 candidates, and recruited over 100 employees.  This blog post talks about my recruitment observations over the years with advice to those seeking to be interviewed and how to be best prepared for the interview.

Before you send your details to a prospective employer, be selective.  Do not apply for every possible job that is listed, the scatter gun approach will not get you the interview and will waste everyone’s time.  It is better to apply for 10 jobs and get 3 interviews, than to apply for 100 jobs and get 1 interview.

1. Research the company and the job

Visit the companies website and learn about the company, their products and services, their customers, their suppliers, and their recent history.  Do an internet search for news on the company and visit their social media sites.  Determine whether this is a company that you are passionate about and want to work for.

Check your personal networks to see if you know someone that works at the company.  This is made a lot easier with professional social network sites like LinkedIn where you can see your connections and their connections.  Ask your network about the company, their work culture, and information about the job.  Many company’s have referral programs and your contact may refer you giving you an advantage in the selection process.

2. Provide a tailored cover letter

The cover letter is your opportunity to market yourself and differentiate yourself.  The cover letter must be tailored to the job.  You should talk about why you are interested in the job and how your skills and experience relate to the job advertised.  One impressive candidate even provided a link to a relevant commercial application they created with a license key so I could look at their work.

Too often I receive generic cover letter’s that could be for any role, or worse still talk about a totally different role than that advertised.

3. Provide a concise resume

The resume should be concise and tailored to the job.  You should match the terminology and skills of the job advert where applicable and only briefly mention any irrelevant positions.

Too often I read resumes with spelling errors and MS Word highlights these for my attention; this has even occurred for roles where language skills are important such as Technical Writers.

A good resume length is 5 pages or less, the ability to summarize is important, more detail is not always better.  I have seen some fantastic 2 page resumes that are concise, relevant, and inspiring; in contrast to some painful 20 page resumes that are repetitive, irrelevant, and boring.

4. Prepare for the interview

Find out who will be your interviewers and do some research on them.  Check if any of your contacts know them.  Check their LinkedIn or Facebook pages to learn more about them and see if they have a blog.

Arrive 5 – 10 minutes before the interview.  To be safe, arrive 30 minutes earlier, and relax in a nearby cafe, it is never good to be late and flustered.

Respond to questions with 1 to 2 minute responses.  I have seen candidates that answer with 10 second responses through to candidates that provide 20 minute responses, both of which left us wondering.  For behavioral questions, provide responses that follow the STAR (situation, task, action, result) format.

Do not speak negatively about previous managers or positions.  I am hesitant to recruit applicants with a history of negative experiences, I want those in my team that have a history of contributing to a positive working environment.

Ensure that you have some well thought out questions to ask at the interview.  This is your opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge of the company and your interest in the role.

5. Follow up post interview

Candidates that send a thank-you email after the interview are rare, but this simple gesture is noticed.

Ensure that you have referees available that know about the role you applied for and will give you a positive reference.

Even if you do not succeed in getting the role, good candidates will leave a positive impression on the interviewers and may contact them when another relevant position becomes available.

Thoughts from Build Windows Conference

September 15, 2011

This past week I attended the Microsoft Build Windows conference in Anaheim, California.  The conference was focused on developing applications for the next version of Windows – known as Windows 8.

The keynote was presented by Steven Sinofsky (President of Windows and Windows Live Divisions) where he provided an overview and demonstration of Windows 8. Windows 8 introduces a new user interface called Metro (similar in appearance to Windows Phone and XBox) which is possibly the biggest change to the Windows user interface since Windows 95. Metro is designed for touch first and keyboard/mouse second, thereby changing how users interact with the operating system. In Metro there are no overlapping windows, nor are there any icons on the desktop – rather it has ‘living tiles’.  The operating system recedes into the background, whilst applications and content take front stage.

Windows 8 Start Screen

Microsoft claims that any application that runs on Windows 7 will run on Windows 8. To achieve this, Windows 8 provides both the Metro user interface and the traditional Desktop user interface, whilst allowing instant switching between both.  However, applications must be either Metro applications or Desktop applications.  Windows 8 effectively packages 2 different user interface paradigms and allows the single operating system to run effectively on both tablets and desktops.  This is a different approach to Apple which has separate operating systems with iOS for tablets and OS X for desktops.

The conference sessions focused on developing applications for the Metro user interface.  From the sessions, Metro appears great for developing content consumption applications targeted for consumers, but does seem lacking for content creation/productivity applications targeted for businesses.  I am interested in knowing what Microsoft plans to do with their productivity software, such as Word and Excel which are feature rich applications, whether they remain as Desktop applications or whether they can be reimagined into Metro applications.  I particularly like the Share Contract for Metro applications, but it is short-sighted in not allowing the Share Contracts to be used with Desktop applications.

The Windows Store is a good addition to Windows.  Metro applications can only be distributed via the Windows Store and must pass a certification process to ensure quality.  The revenue sharing model has not been released, but all Metro applications use a Microsoft licensing model which licenses software to an account which may be used across multiple devices.  The ability to specify a trial period for a Metro application is a good inclusion, and improves upon the separate Lite/Full version apps in the Apple App Store.  Desktop applications can be listed in the Windows Store if certified and continue to use traditional licensing and distribution methods.

LiveID plays an important role in Windows 8 by leveraging the Cloud to sync user profiles, preferences, applications and their associated data across devices.  Other nice aspects of Windows 8 is the fast boot, AppV support, chrome-less Internet Explorer, revamped Task Manager and the innovative picture passwords.

Metro applications reuse developer language skills in C, C++, C#, VB, HTML, and Javascript.  Developers will need to learn the Windows Runtime which is in a flavor similar to the .Net framework.  Desktop applications developed using the .Net Framework and Silverlight are part of the Windows 8 journey, but they are now relegated to the back seat, with Windows Runtime in the drivers seat and HTML5 calling shotgun.

Windows 8 Apps

Besides sessions on Windows 8, I was interested in Anders Hejlsberg’s session titled Future directions for C# and Visual Basic which demonstrated Project Rosyln – the compiler as a service.  I was also interested in Roger Doherty’s session titled Building mission critical database apps with SQL Server code name “Denali” which overviews the many great improvements in SQL Server for developers and needed a day of sessions to do it justice.

These are my thoughts after attending Build Windows over the past 4 days and look forward to seeing how Windows 8 evolves through the Developer Preview and Beta.  In summary, Windows 8 is a bold refresh of the Windows operating system, positioning to be the best user experience for a diverse range of device formats.

Feedback Loops and Agile Software Development

July 6, 2011

The June 2011 edition of Wired published the article The Feedback Loop by Thomas Goetz.  Thomas mentions:

“Feedback loops are powerful tools that can help people change bad behavior.  Just as important, they can encourage good habits, turning progress itself into a reward.”

Thomas discusses how feedback loops were used to change behavior in drivers by getting them to slow down in school zones.  A feedback loop involves four distinct stages, which I have paraphrased as follows:

  1. Data – gather evidence of behavior that can measured, captured, and stored
  2. Information – relay with emotional resonance the relevance of the data to the individual
  3. Consequence – reinforce purpose and enable the individual to sense opportunity to act on the information
  4. Action – individual engages  to recalibrate a behavior with action

The resulting action can then be measured and the feedback loop restarted with every action stimulating new behaviors that get them closer to the purpose or goal.

After reading the article, I contemplated that Agile software development is built upon feedback loops.  Agile software development is described as being a software development methodology based on iterative and incremental development where solutions evolve through collaboration.

Iterations or sprints are typically timeframes of one to four weeks resulting in working software.  An iteration is planned (goal), progress is captured via daily stand-up meetings (data) and communicated via burn down charts and quality metrics (information).  The team understands the goal and how the information relates (consequence) and is encouraged to improve (action).  These actions typically result in getting closer to the goal, whether that is via improved planning, efficiency or quality.

Agile developers typically receive feedback in many practices, including code reviews, unit tests, and continuous integration.  These are designed to encourage good habits.

Agile project management is responsible for ensuring purpose or goals are effectively communicated to the team and evidence collected of their achievement.  These goals would focus on value, quality, and constraints (scope, cost and schedule).  Project visibility is reported to stakeholders, providing feedback in another loop.

The Declaration of Interdependence was written in 2005 as an adjunct to the Agile Manifesto by a group of successful project leaders, as follows:

  • We increase return on investment by making continuous flow of value our focus
  • We deliver reliable results by engaging customers in frequent interactions and shared ownership
  • We expect uncertainty and manage for it through iterations, anticipation and adaptation
  • We unleash creativity and innovation by recognizing that individuals are the ultimate source of value, and creating an environment where they can make a difference
  • We boost performance through group accountability for results and shared responsibility for team effectiveness
  • We improve effectiveness and reliability through situationally specific strategies, processes and practices”

Without feedback loops, these values would not be achievable in the whole.  In particular, adaptation – the act of adapting  necessitates feedback.

ISV Perspective of Partnering with Microsoft

March 23, 2011

QSR International is an Independent Software Vendor (ISV) that develops and sells Qualitative Research software to an international market. Since 2004, I have been QSR International’s Executive Contact for the Microsoft Partner Network. QSR International has achieved the Gold ISV competency which represents organizations that have demonstrated the highest, most consistent capability and commitment within their business area. This blog post reflects my views on partnering with Microsoft as an Australian ISV.

To achieve an ISV Gold competency with Microsoft, an organization must accomplish the following:

  • Deliver a product that has passed either
    • Certified for Windows Server 2008 R2, or
    • Windows 7 Logo Test
  • Commit to achieving either
    • 12 customer deployments involving Microsoft technologies, or
    • US$50,000 in Microsoft product licensing sales
  • Provide a minimum of 5 customer references for your product
  • Provide a minimum of 10 customers to complete a satisfaction survey
  • Complete an organization profile
  • Pay a membership fee

The benefits of the partnership that we have leveraged are:

  • Access to training, technical support, and events
  • Partner newsletters with news and business opportunities
  • Attendance at the Microsoft Partner Conference
  • Internal usage licenses of Microsoft products for staff
  • MSDN subscriptions for developers and testers
  • TechNet subscriptions for IT professionals
  • Ability to use the Microsoft Partner Network branding
  • Access to ISV Royalty program

The partnership with Microsoft has greatly assisted the growth of QSR International over the past 7 years through empowering our people with relevant information, access to technology, and helping us deliver better products to our customers. The only weakness of the partnership has been with the usage of outsourced telesales Partner Account Managers who lack established connections within Microsoft Corp, struggle to understand your business, and turnover every 3-6 months. I have learnt personally that developing connections within Microsoft has to occur through peer networking and attending conferences. There are a lot of great people within Microsoft and these are the people you need to be connecting with, the Microsoft Partner Network is not a replacement for this, but does help you gain some recognition.  Overall, a highly recommended partnership for ISVs involved with Microsoft technologies.

Forecast: Cloudy

November 7, 2010

Cloud Computing is considered a disruptive technology destined for accelerated adoption over the next few years.  Gartner Executive Programs’ 2010 CIO Survey identified that Cloud Computing is the number 2 technology priority for worldwide CIOs.  IDC estimates that spending on Public Cloud Services was 4% ($16.5 billion) of overall IT spending in 2009 and will grow to 12% ($55.5 billion) in 2014.  The following chart from Google Trends shows how searches for Cloud Computing has risen rapidly and has surpassed searches for Virtualization.

Google Trends - Cloud Computing vs. Virtualization

This week I attended the Cloud Expo in Santa Clara.  The conference was well represented by Cloud Computing providers (75 exhibitors) showing a diversity of approaches and opinions on what constitutes Cloud Computing.  There are 3 common types of Cloud Computing services and they are typically used as follows:

  • Software as a Service (SaaS) – consume it
  • Platform as a Service (PaaS) – build on it
  • Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) – migrate to it

The most valuable conference sessions of Cloud Expo that I attended were ‘How to Monetize SaaS Beyond Subscriptions’ presented by Scott Swartz (MetraTech CEO), ‘The Move is On: Cloud Strategies for Business’ by Tim O’Brien (Microsoft Senior Director of Platform Strategy Group), and ‘Which “aaS” is Right for You?” by Max Coburn (Hubspan Software Architect) and Margaret Dawson (Hubspan Marketing Vice President).

Last week I attended the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference (PDC) in Redmond.  PDC is described as the definitive Microsoft event focused on the technical strategy of the Microsoft developer platform.  What made this PDC unique was that it held at Microsoft Corporation and provided an opportunity to see the campus where many products are developed.  Having attended the previous 3 PDCs, this year’s conference was short on new product announcements, but strong on message.  The focus was firmly on Windows Azure, Windows Mobile and Developer Tools.

The keynote was presented by Steve Ballmer (Chief Executive Officer) and Bob Muglia (President of the Server and Tools Business).  Steve presented an overview of Microsoft’s ecosystem of devices (Windows 7, Windows Phone 7, XBOX 360) connected (Internet Explorer, HTML5) to the Cloud (Windows Azure, SQL Azure, Bing, Office 365, XBOX Live, Windows Live).  This is the realization of the vision presented by Ray Ozzie at last year’s PDC of 3 screens (PCs, phones, and TVs) connected by cloud services.  The real surprise was the emphasis of HTML5 over Silverlight, raising the question of which technology to develop new applications with.  I spoke to several Microsoft employees about this and they answered consistently that it a similar question circulating within Microsoft as many projects are currently under development in Silverlight.

PDC10 Keynote - Steve Ballmer

Bob presented on Cloud Computing, focusing specifically on the benefits of developing Apps on a Platform as a Service (PaaS) as opposed to a traditional platform.  Bob said “Only Windows Azure delivers general-purpose PaaS, which gives developers the breadth of services needed to allow them to focus on their applications and not the underlying infrastructure or virtualizing machines”.  Bob announced the Virtual Machine Role for Windows Azure allowing the Windows Azure platform to easily host existing applications that run on Windows Server 2008 R2, and announced the Windows Azure Marketplace and DataMarket (formerly known as Project Dallas).

I was invited to attend a PDC10 workshop for Windows Azure on the weekend.  The workshop provided 1:1 product team consulting, hands-on labs, and small group interactive sessions.  The Microsoft product team were great to interact with and the day was extremely valuable.  I can confidently say that Windows Azure has matured rapidly since its release at the start of this year and is now the best PaaS to develop new applications against.

Driving Innovation

October 25, 2010

At QSR International we have core company values of Innovation, Collaboration, and Celebration.   Five years ago we developed an Innovation Strategy that can be summarized as follows: 


  • is about collaboration and exploration
  • requires an understanding of technology
  • requires an understanding of business domain
  • must produce deliverables
  • and is not a replacement for customer feedback

to achieve this we must

  • monitor emerging technology and industry trends
  • attend technology and industry conferences
  • undertake surveys and interviews with customers
  • undertake exploratory workshops
  • produce prototypes and whitepapers
  • support innovative ideas during development
  • establish links with universities

We understand that software development teams are led, not managed.  That great new products, outstanding enhancements to existing products, and creative new business initiatives are driven by passion and inspiration.  And foremost that innovation is very much dependent on the quality of the team and therefore it is important to create an environment that will attract the right people and skills.

Recently, I read the book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink.  As the CTO at QSR International, I was challenged that we could step-up innovation further by nurturing a culture that provided staff greater autonomy, mastery, and purpose.  The RSA Animate adoption below provides a good overview these aspects of the book.

To drive this innovative culture, we are launching a program in 2011 that gives our technical staff 20 Development Days per year.  These Development Days can be used for training, research projects, and charitable work.  The program is similar in nature to those in use at Google (20% time), Atlassian (20% time), 3M (15% time), Twitter (Hack Week) and Readify (20 days).

I like this related quote on innovation from David Whelan, CTO, Boeing Space and Communications

The CTO nurtures and cultivates new ideas and innovation in both the technologies and the business processes.

Running a Successful Beta Test Program

September 17, 2010

Recently at QSR International we ran an extensive beta test program for our new version of NVivo being released in October 2010.  Beta test programs are a great way to validate whether your software release objectives are being met in terms of feature value and quality.  Additionally, beta test programs provide for improved product outcomes through customer collaboration and innovation.  This customer collaboration is an important aspect of user-centered design (UCD) which tries to optimize the product around how users  use the product, rather than forcing users to change their behavior to accommodate the product.

Yesterday, I presented with 2 colleagues to the Victoria.NET Dev SIG on Running a Successful Beta Test Program.  The presentation gave an overview and tips for running a beta test program and included an in-depth demonstration of using PreEmptive Solutions Runtime Intelligence Services which allows the capture of feature usage and user behavior. Microsoft collects similar application analytics through their Customer Experience Improvement Program.  The presentation can be viewed below: