Archive for category Market Research

On Flawed Market Research

There is a particular report that was recently released and has been heavily promoted through various publications. What I am referring to is a report by Strategy Analytics in which they claim that apparently Android has well over 30% of the tablet market because of some numbers that they collected. This post is not a rant about how iPad has a lot more than 65% of the market. Arguing about that is just silly. What this is about is how most companies collect statistics on business performance without even considering what it is that they are counting. Don’t get me wrong, it is not an easy problem and it’s made even harder by the fact that most MR companies offer relatively low salaries compared to actual consultancy jobs and hence they get employees with sometimes poor understanding of business. What blows my mind about some companies however, is that senior executives in those companies such as Neil Mawston don’t know any better and actually stand by crap like this. Oh and before I go any further I don’t know Neil and I am most certainly not associated with Strategy Analytics and never have been.

Here is the problem guys, you have collected shipment numbers for Android devices from manufacturers such as Samsung, HTC, LG, Motorola, etc. and then compared them to actual sales numbers from Apple. In a stable (read mature) market that might be ok because you can use some reasonable assumptions for inventory levels. The problem here however, is that none of the Android table manufacturers know how much they are going to sell. They are manufacturers and not retailers and the numbers that you get from them are projections of shipments based on orders that they have received or expect to receive. Well I’m here to tell you that orders get cancelled if a device does not sell well and they most certainly get scaled down. And all that is OK with the Asian manufacturers because they are used to getting stuck with unsold products. If recent months are any indication, Android manufacturers have grossly overestimated their own importance on the market. There is a clear lack of understanding the stages of product competition if you will and they have all of a sudden decided that it’s all down to competition of price when clearly the features stage hasn’t been passed. But back to the MR problem, you cannot compare retail numbers (Apple’s) with manufacturer shipment numbers (Android squad) in a growing market such as the tablet one. You have no point of reference for the growth curve of the market and trying to predict it is nothing more than an exercise in time wasting. Furthermore, without knowing what the market growth curve is, you cannot predict the difference between products being shipped and products being sold. What that leads to is an unpredictable level of inventory and any forecasts based on data like that would be extremely unreliable. Further more Mr. Mawston I very much doubt that you have any reliable information on the inventory levels that Apple keeps. In fact I know for a fact that your assumptions are wrong and also that Apple requires you to sign an NDA before they show you any performance numbers. So conclusions like “Android captured [a] 30% share of global tablet shipments in Q2 2011,” are laughable at best. Please do you damn homework and for the love of God take some MR courses if you must. I don’t know how you got to be at the position that you are at but I really feel sorry for the people that have to work under you.
Yes, a manager does not have to be the smartest person in the team, in fact you have a problem if he/she is, but a manager most definitely needs to know his/her stuff and you Sir do not!

1 Comment

Recap of MWC 2011

I’ve been away for a week or so. I went to Mobile World Congress and I just needed a long weekend after that. There have been a lot of in the press about the event however, it seems like quite a few things got missed.

Nokia adopting Windows Phone 7 pretty much overshadowed everything else. I had the chance to attend the Nokia analyst event on Monday morning so here is what was not covered in the press. Nokia is adopting WP7 because they desperately need to reduce OPEX. Effectively what this means is that Nokia is content with the idea that they are never going to be as big as they were. The gold days are over and now they have to scavenge whatever is left from the wrecked ship. There are no talks about expanding market share. It is all about stopping the decline and maybe retaining the existing market share. Windows is being adopted because it reduces OPEX and because as it is, turning Symbian in to a smart phone OS would take too much money. I personally doubt very much that that is the case but that’s just me. For me, Nokia is chopping off their nose to spice up their face but hey we’ll see how it works out for them.
A lot of people are upset that Nokia did not pick Android but here are the facts about Android. Motorola aside, Android is the OS of the Far East. East Asian OEMs are the ones selling Android phones and Nokia cannot compete with any of them when it gets to OPEX. They desperately had to get out of that market and despite what WSJ says Android was actually never close to adoption. A statement like that seems uneducated and overly enthusiastic.

Here is the ugly side of the deal. Nokia is giving up Ovi maps. Yes Ovi Maps never brought the company any direct sales but it was one of the selling points for Nokia phones for years. Nokia has agreed to give the Ovi maps content to the Bing so now certain, or all Bing content will be powered by Ovi maps. It is not clear at the moment, but the difference might be that Ovi maps run from the phone on Nokia and off the web with other phones, but essentially they are the same maps. However, given the tone of the analyst briefing, Nokia Windows phones will be very very similar to any other WP7 phone and more likely than not, they all will have the same version of Bing Maps. It was not discussed why Nokia chose to give up so much, but there were talks about supposed revenue sharing with MS.

Symbian is not going anywhere. It will stay on smartphones (low end ones) until Nokia and MS figure out a way to put WP7 on them. Symbian will also power all the feature phones for as long as they exist.

RIM was a complete disappointment. No new phones and nothing to show so they rented out their own booth to software providers. Oh and the tablet is an utter disappointment. It has a small screen and apparently the whole interface was written in Flash. Really Flash! It runs OK and they were showing off some games, but the device is strictly consumer oriented. I don’t care what the press says, this is not a corporate device unlike iPad. I was amazed to see so many people at WMC using iPads actually. Looking back, it is a bit like when mobile phones hit the streets. Almost everyone had one and it was the same with iPads.

HP had a very nice demonstration of devices. WebOS is truly great but I am not sure if it can make it. There are simply too many competitors. Oh and HP has skipped NFC … what were you thinking. The touchstone does not use NFC but rather a proprietary standard, as if we needed another.
But to be fare the devices are nice and I hope HP gets to release them soon.

All the new Android devices are absolutely pitiful. The interface is slow and when you consider that they are running crazy fast chips compared to my iPhone 3GS it makes them look even slower. Also the new LG phones kept locking up constantly and there is no way in hell that I am buying a device like that. 3D displays are mostly a gimmick unless you have one of the Sharp phones that Docomo sells. Those actually work well.

Overall there was a bit of a confusion over NFC and we got a lot of conflicting statements. It seems like operators and suppliers of NFC chips cannot make up their mind whether embedded NFC is a good or a bad thing. But this will sort itself out by next year.

What was really amazing is to see small software developers being represented at MWC. You have 5 man outfits churning huge profits and being able to afford the entrance fee and this is simply unheard of in an industry that is basically pinching pennies. That said, Huawai was spending money like it was the end of days. By the looks of it. it was the company with the biggest show budget and this is hardly an exaggeration. But then again when you pay hardly anything to most of your workers and expect then to work well over 12 hours a day you can afford to splurge every once in a while.

Oh yeah Qualcomm had a little show and tell about Mirasol … unfortunately the portable light was dead but that was hardly the only problem. The demo was basically a video running in a loop and was exactly the same as the last one we saw. Yes the device is light and thin but Mirasol displays are like the display on my sister’s truly ancient GBA. Only when Nintendo released GBA, expectations were a lot lower and we both didn’t care that an addon light was needed to play it in the dark. No offence to Qualcomm but the market for a Mirasol display is shrinking very fast. But you never know. Maybe Amazon can make it a success despite the small size.

, , , ,

Leave a comment

Why Android’s team still doesn’t get it

Ok bare with me here. Android’s market share is growing very fast and yes I know it is quite popular but it is heading for a very rough reality check. The main reason why the market share is growing so fast has nothing to do with superior technology or great ideas. It has only to do with Android being better than the Symbian and Windows phones that it replaced and with the large number of East Asian manufacturers that are involved. For those it is indeed an improvement however, Google seems to believe that they are actually competing with Apple and they most definitely are not. They have never taken any significant number of iPhone users and there is a very good reason why as it stands they can never compete with Apple.

Yes, Android has a great promise and it is a good OS however, they have a huge problem and it comes in the face of Google Checkout. No offence to the Checkout team but it is the stupidest payment system ever. It has no recognition for the fact that you are selling to a global market and you have to use different currencies. If you have to use your bank to pay in a different currency then you will get hit by some massive charges and you cannot sell cheap goods like that. And if Google will be nothing than an advertising agency then why do they take 30% off your profits? Quite frankly Apple gives you a lot more for your money and it is no surprise that developers make more money there. You can release an application and sell it to everyone in their currency and you do not penalise them for living in a different country. Effectively there is no artificial barrier for the customer making the sale very easy.
And while Google might focus on technological improvements, at the end of the day they still make money from something else and since Google is not willing to pick up the slack you can bet that others will. There is an Amazon Market place which most definitely does currency conversion in the countries that Amazon exists and there are other coming out. Google is in fact in danger of being pushed out of their own operating system and that is just sad. I actually amazes me how business inapt the Android team is and how the crazy corporate policy that Google has is eating into their profits. I get it Google never uses services that compete directly with their own but when yours are clearly lacking you have to do something about it. Google needs to recognize that Android is no longer a pet project and is actually the future for Google. If you can’t fix Google Checkout please do everyone a favour and hire some financial gurus and please DO LISTEN to what they say. Otherwise Android is going to hit the glass ceiling a lot sooner. At the current rate I personally think that Android adoption rate will peak in 2012 and I don’t even think that it’ll be a flat line from there on.They will have to deal with disappointed customers and disillusioned developers and that does not equal a flat line.

Leave a comment

In search of the perfect project management system (continues)

Ok here is my position of project management software.
Maybe this does not apply to your business but it certainly does to mine so take it with a grain of salt.

GANTT is the biggest piece of crap I have ever seen. No offence to the creator supporters and users alike but you must be insane to use GANTT for small to medium projects. It has not concept of ease of use and minimalistic maintenance. Sorry, but my time costs money and it’s much better spent managing tasks and people than maintaining an insane system of resources, cost for those resources, time lines etc. etc. etc. Yes you need to know how much a certain projects costs and you do that in the feasibility study. Which by the way should never take you more than 1 days for mid size project. You should know how much the whole projects costs you and you should be able to analyse costs and efficiency after the project or a set of actions is completed but doing so should take you very little time. Also tasks have 5 states; planned, in progress, completed, delayed, and cancelled. I couldn’t care less what percentage has been completed and if you’d like to argue I dare you to tell me the difference between a 40% completed task and a 50% completed one.

Anyway so I hate GANTT with a passion. For my daily activities I need a system that is simple to maintain. Is based around talks and not milestones. Allows for changes in the plan, i.e. is flexible. Does not concern me with crap like resource distribution and most of all, does not waste my time. Well I have looked high and low and there is no such system. Yes there are semi academic management techniques that do all that and a bit more but I need a usable software. Well I found one that just might fit the bill. See I don’t need file storage/sharing because that is done on an internal Sharepoint because of security concerns. So all I need to be able to do it to share links. If you don’t have access to the network then the link means nothing to you even if it does get leaked.

Cohuman seems to do everything that I need in a very polished web interface. It’s not perfect and it is not exactly like my idea but it is pretty close. It look intriguing enough so that I would like to give it a shot and that is exactly what I am doing. So stay tuned and I’ll let you know how it goes. The first thing however, is that unlike Basecamp this thing has unlimited projects and only has a limit on storage for the accounts. It is still a new product by this start up that just got some more VC funding.

Oh and if you want to know more about my project management pet peeves, take a look at my older post.

, ,

Leave a comment

On useless market analysis

One of the things that I have started noticing lately is how useless certain market analyst reports are. The most recent ones are the Gartner and IDC PC sales reports. They are different yet both seem to have copied the exact same ridiculous template for the tables. Here’s a though to both, if your Others category is a larger percentage than the largest manufacturer in the market … YOU HAVE SCREWED THE POOCH! It goes even further though. Even when the Others category is not that large it is still the 3rd largest one and that is just wrong.  Yes it is much easier to collect numbers from 5 manufacturers and use an estimate for the rest but it makes for a very low quality report. I couldn’t care less about the numbers however, reports are supposed to present collected performance data and analysis of things such as risks, level of competition, trends in consumer preferences, etc. Now exactly how are you going to do that when you know very little about over 40% of the market and what would your margin of error be in that case? Or maybe you need a clarification on what margin of error means?

It is sad when respected companies such as Gartner and IDG publish crap like this. Yes it is a quick hack job and yes most computer manufacturers don’t really care about the report but did you ever stop and think that maybe they don’t because you are actually not telling them anything that they don’t already know? Did you think even for a second that a company like Apple, or Dell does not have it’s own team of business analysts? They know very well how the company is doing and their forecasts are in all likelihood a heck of a lot more accurate than Gartner or IDG’s.

Oh and on top of the mediocre tables that IDG uses, the analyst even goes so far as to suggest that Apple and the iPad are responsible for Acer’s decreasing market share … uh really? Exactly how does that add up? Acer is a low cost high volume company where as Apple is a high cost low volume one. In what world would they have the same target customer? (pick up a basic Econ book if you really don’t know what I am talking about). What most likely happened is that high end PC users have switched over to Apple’s camp and they have mostly been replaced by low end ones from other PC manufacturers due to the said manufacturers providing inferior products or a slightly higher price. It is basic economics after all and no offence but you are confused by things like this maybe it’s time to think about career change …

Anyway, I guess what I believe in is that any market report should focus on the analysis of the data presented and should treat data as a by-product of the process. Tables and numbers alone might make for great newspaper articles and blog posts however, they alone are worth very little to management!

Leave a comment

How much vacation do you need?

So it’s the holidays and I just had a somewhat heated discussion with my gf about vacation so it got me thinking. How much vacation is actually enough? How important is vacation time to you? Often employers use vacation time as a benefit and tell the employees that they get x amount of vacation time an because you get more vacation from company A it is better than company B but is it really?

When did time off from work become a benefit? Do we really live in a society where you sell your soul to a company and then they have to let you off and allow you to do things? I don’t think so. Look it is not about being lazy. It is about selling your time to the highest bidder and I don’t mean in monetary measurement. You are at the end of the day selling your ability to do something … anything for someone else. You are the seller and you are not the buyer and I don’t know how somehow along the way it all got switched around. You see one thing that people seem to forget is that it is the employer who competes for talent and workers and not the employee who competes for whatever. Your employer would love you to believe the latter but this is not the truth at all. And it is not just that, you have to put yourself in a position where you are selling something valuable so that you can get the best price for your time and abilities. Once you do that, you shouldn’t forget that it is not just when you find a job that you are selling things. Every time you get a performance review, you should look at it as an opportunity to sell yourself. Don’t settle. Anyway, I digress.

So back to the vacation question. How much time off from work do you need? 2 days a week (every week)? 3 days a week with the ability to combine them? See here is the problem for me. You get into the routine of thinking that you work 5 days and you are off for 2 and then you start living for the weekend. But that’s wrong. You are limiting your potential because of a stupidly designed schedule. It all get’s back to an unimaginative managers and scheduling that is not based around creativity and kills creativity. Do you really think that you can predict your company’s progress by making sure that you have people working for 8 hours at a time? Fair enough, some jobs take no creativity and you have to turn your brain mostly off to do them. Those, jobs usually require that there is a semi-automaton there for a set period of time. Those particular jobs would one day be done by robots but as it is, are done by people. There you can schedule and manage people like we do. However, creative jobs should not be a 9 to 5. You should feel at work 24 hours 7 days a week, and yet not feel at work for the same amount of time. You could work one day for 12 hours and the next for 2 because the project is not going anywhere. But you need a flexible schedule. Actually, if you give people enough freedom so they can take care of their personal life and be creative, you would be surprised that they actually would work more than before and be a lot more productive per hour of work than before. It does take a complete retraining of your brain and I suppose a does of ADD. Quite frankly I think every creative person must have ADHD to some extent. You have to be a bit chaotic and not be able to follow rules in order to be able to create something. You have to be challenged by the current system in order to be driven to innovate. There is no other valid explanation for me.

And as far as amount of vacation time goes, who cares how much time off you take if you feel like every project that you work on if your own? It won’t matter that you are not at the office for 30 or 40 days a year. After all you don’t need a preset physical location to work. I personally think that every creative profession should be treated as a free lance job only you do get benefits and you are a part of a team and a company. But hey I am no fool. I know very well most managers are terrified by the unknown and the unpredictable and most of them believe that there is no chaos theory. I know that no medium to large company would ever allow their teams to be free spirits. Google get’s somewhat close to it on paper (Fridays are for your pet projects) but in reality it is not like that. So we maneuver the system as much as we can an keep fighting for days off and as much benefits as we can.

Oh well, Happy Holidays to us all !

,

2 Comments

On Project Management

This is not really a new issue and there are quite a few books written on the subject. I come from the perspective of someone who has done the academic legwork and has been taught the *proper* ways of managing projects. I have also worked on software projects and I know that the academic view on the subject is not really that great when it comes to real life projects. Anyway consulting and market research in general are quite different from software development and project management has a bit different face there.

Anyway, rambling aside, I recently read “Reworked”. I’ve known about 37 Signals for a while now and if I have to be honest, I respect then a lot. There are not a lot of 12 man outfits out there that can make as much money and create a invaluable products as 37 Signals have. My recent search for an easy way to manage my research projects led me straight back to Basecamp. Problem is Basecamp is not cheap and my current budget is quite tight. I had to justify spending money on a project management solution and I was up against the IT manager who says there is no more money because of a recent hardware and software upgrade and we don’t need a project management solution. Needless to say … I lost. So I looked for some free solutions and none really work that well. At the end I gave up. Tried setting up an Access database for project management purposes and after 2 weeks of trial and error, much to my surprise, the solution is much simpler than I would have ever guessed. It is actually 2 excel files. The legwork takes very little time (much less than anything else) and the solution is quite flexible. I’ll explain a bit more later but first a bit more about the problem.

You see when you manage Projects there are 2 very significant aspects.

* First, you need to be able to manage your time

* and 2nd management needs to know how far the projects are and what you have been doing.

That is all great but it hardly scratches the surface of the problem. You see project management is not only about time management. It starts from the moment that you start planning the project and ends when you do the analysis of your delivery which is after you have finished the project. So in a way, you have to have a plan for your project along with the time management of some sort. What “Rework” got me to think of is that plans actually change in the real world, and believe me they ALWAYS do. So in a way every plan is actually a guess as to when you think that a certain task would be completed. However, you cannot get away with planning as Fried and Hannson seem to suggest. Plans help you think about the project and what you need to do in order to complete it. Planning actually should be viewed as an act of brainstorming and evaluating existing practices. It is an auditing act amongst other things. What is however, detrimental is setting dates and deadlines. At the stage of planning your project there is no need for you to set dates and furthermore it’s detrimental because you are making sure that none of your projects would be completed on time and you are condemning yourself to overtime. It really doesn’t matter how much overhead you leave you will run into the ceiling eventually OR you are just spending way too much time on your plan.

One thing that you should NEVER do is overspend on planning. Think about it this way, your time is a part of your budget. You need to spend it sparingly and you do have a very limited amount of it. The less you spend on planning and maintaining reporting and other administrative tasks like that the more you have for the actual task.

So what I did was I basically decide to reengineer the existing process of project management at my company. It sounds sophisticated but it really isn’t. I analysed the existing resources, the current practices, the driving forces, and the needed outcomes. At that point I had everything to create a new lean project management process. We are now working with 2 excel files. One is a project plan, the other is a tasks plan. The project plan is based on total number of weeks allowed for a project. Deadlines are not really set. Tasks are kept based on a logical progress of events in order to complete the project. Duration is kept in days and hours with a work week having 4 days and a day having 8 hours. Projects always start in week one and never go beyond the length of a project. Excel is simple but complex enough to where you can do simple tasks like keeping track of the tasks that you need to complete for a project. In most project managers this file would be called the milestone file. I don’t like the term because I don’t like to deal with an expected outcome of a mini project. It’s an unnecessary overhead. Milestones are NOT a requirement for project management, they are NOT a deliverable/outcome. If anything, you can class them as a tool but for me you would really have to convince me that the project is complex enough for it to need such a tool. In consulting and MR they really aren’t that complex. But feel free to prove me wrong!

So far all you have a project plan. You can show that to your client and tell them exactly how much it would take for a project to be completed. You can using as a marketing tool as well as a management one. A project plan would also tell you when you can start planning for your next project if they overlap (and they most likely will) and it will also determine a lot of other aspects of how your next several months will progress. So it might seem like a simple Excel file but it is a lot more than that.

You know how I said there are no dates in it? Well here is why. Say you have to pause the project because of an illness or because a resource becomes unavailable. There is no need to change the dates. Yes you can easily change dates with software, but why should you if you don’t have to? Also, even if you have done this job for many years now, you cannot predict the future and eventually changes will have to be made. When you work with other people/suppliers their plans will change too. Eventually you will find yourself waiting for them. It is not your fault and in a regular plan you will have to change things. Your tasks are still on track and your plan never got delayed. Yet you will have to change deadlines in it. Why? In our system, what happens is that you simply suspend the plan for some time. Effectively you will need a 3rd file that notes delays so that you can create the delivery report at the end and conduct an analysis of the delivery. Only this simple system still lets you know exactly how much time you will be pass the deadline even though you never think of the deadline as a concrete date. Truest me when I tell you that at the end of the project your analysis would take no time at all and you will be able to justify to either your colleagues or management what happened and why the project is delayed. You have accountability and transparency at every single moment of the project. Best of all, in most cases you will spend and hour at the start of a project creating the project plan and probably 5 min. every week maintaining it (if you are unlucky).

The 2nd part of the project manager is an excel file that lists the tasks that you have to do over the upcoming week. We talked about this and it could be 2 weeks if the team is long enough and the sequence of events is too complex and intertwined between teem members.

Auditing is a very important aspect of every project management system so what you would have by default, is 1 hour every Friday when you review the tasks over the last week, note ones that are not completed and why, and plan your tasks for the upcoming week. This is done by all members of the team individually and then they all exchange the plans, or in our case present them on Monday morning. The working assumption here is that the team is small enough to where you can all meet up and present plans within an hour every Monday. Technically, meetings can be virtual so you don’t even need to do them. Is this an overhead? Possibly, however the meeting was a desired outcome in my case. In ideal world, you would just share your list of tasks with the rest of the team and they can review it every monday morning and ask you questions. As the project progresses, you will get a distinct paper trail of what tasks were completed and when. At the end of the project you will have all that data that you can analyse (if you need/want to). You as a manager can prove to a team member why they got a certain evaluation and noone will ever argue about data that they entered. You can also address problems as they arise and look for solutions. The weekly plan gives you enough granularity for detecting problems in early stages but it also does not require more than an hour a week to create and maintain. That is approximately 2.5% of administration time every week which is pretty good if you ask me. ( 1 hour out of 40 just in case you are wondering ) In reality, with larger projects, you would see that the time is more like 4-5% administration tasks but that is still pretty amazing. And best of all, there is no huge jump in the time that it takes a manager compared to the time that it takes a regular employee. Not only that, you are actually encouraged to do the work right because this is your own task planner and keeping it accurate helps you more than it helps your manager. By design, it is guaranteed that employees will do a good enough job at keeping track of what they do.

I almost forgot, we don’t keep dates on the deadlines for weekly tasks. The week has starting date and an end date but tasks have deadlines in day names. After all you don’t need to know the date if you know the day. It is just one week we are talking about and thinking in days saves you time.

 

Do I think this system is perfect? No! It would have to be tried and proven but it has enough flexibility for it to be adjusted and applied to many cases. Also, this whole process would have to be a bit more optimized and possibly built into a dedicated software for me to consider it as perfect. It would have to be integrated with your calendar (which it kind of is) and possibly create a culture where other team members ask you questions and try to understand why certain tasks took so long or so little time. It is not about defending your choices but rather about creating a collaborative environment and building a stronger team and utilizing the company’s intelligence.

 

I’ll keep you updated on how the process works but meanwhile what do you think? Do you have a similar experience and what did you do? Why and what were the benefits, outcomes, problems that followed from your decision?

,

Leave a comment