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James

Conway’s Law, Fred Brooks and Agility.

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Melvin E Conway

We talk often about Conway’s Law and I was reminded recently of an observation Fred Brooks (author of the Mythical Man Month) made in one of his papers.

A Reminder of Conway’s Law:

“Any organisation that designs a system (defined broadly) will produce a design whose structure is a copy of the organisation’s communication structure.”

Fred’s Observation:

“Because the design that occurs first is almost never the best possible, the prevailing system concept may need to change. Therefore, flexibility of organisation is important to effective design.”

This triggers a few thoughts for for me.

The first is pretty obvious – developing Agile, Systems Thinking and Lean capability across your organisation is a good defence to the harsh reality of Conway’s Law and Fred’s observation. The basic lean capabilities will develop new habits and mind-sets for learning, communicating and collaborating within cross-functional teams – and most of all, embracing the inevitable change and variation that occurs when people are involved in the process.

The second is less obvious, and I will confess this is a thought experiment for me today. Let’s add one more theorist to the mixture – Eric Evans and his work on Core Domains (aka Domain Driven Design – see this video Steve Hayes sent us years ago) tells us that not all of a system can be well designed, so figure out your core domain, and focus energy and time on that. Build around that core domain with smart engineering techniques.

What if an organisation chart is the same? Our experience tells us org charts always seem sub-optimal, and many hours are wasted trying to re-org and change-manage our workplaces into the perfect tree structure. In the end it’s almost always a matrix, and functions versus customer-focused business teams always cause dissonance for individuals. We often struggle to define the core domain of an org chart. Is it IT? Is it product? Is it marketing? Is it sales? Tell you now, it’s not HR.

Anyway, once found, Eric Evans would have us focus nearly all of our energy on identifying and enhancing the core teams in an organisational ‘system’, and we could also adapt his various tools and techniques to loosely couple other parts of the org chart to the core. Easily changed, cross functional core teams focused on the biggest problems/ opportunities/ customer segments therefore make a lot of sense in this kind of world.

Conway’s Law would then dictate that those new teams will ultimately architect our IT systems to match. It might seem the long way round to get a robust IT architecture, but it’d probably work.

What is your organisational core domain ? Are you prepared to try the experiment ? Let us know how you go.

Ground Hog Day

By | Agile, Disruption, Strategy, Technology | No Comments

I just saw this graphic of American Print Newspaper Advertising (adjusted for inflation) and had a strong sense of deja vu:

Exhibit A: Newspaper Ad Revenue in the US

Exhibit B: US Recorded Music Revenue in the US

Business Insider points to journalist Jay Rosen’s comment that the peak for Newspaper Ad sales lines up with the birth of blogging online.  I find it fascinating and terrifying that we see this same pattern of the rapid disruption of business models, with industries succumbing to seismic changes being repeated time and again across unrelated verticals.

The speed of the change can result in the digital companies that inherit the previous analogue dinosaur’s world only working in a market a fraction of the size of the old industry. The money, and the consumers, just go elsewhere.

Chaos theory shows us how small changes in the fundamentals can cause such different results in otherwise deterministic systems, and that the changed results are often so dramatically different that it is likely to be impossible to predict. Not even in your 5 year plan you paid consultants to write I’m afraid!

Nigel and I have thought about this quite a lot in the past when we invented our Dalton-Pierce Disruption Quotient.  Indeed it was one of the drivers for starting Luna Tractor itself.  Predicting these changes is one thing, but learning how to respond faster is really the only thing you can control. Resilience and speed to learn are the new competitive advantages.

The lifecycle times for industries and business models are getting shorter too. Maybe they relate to the build time of a dynasty or maybe something else – cultural inertia, stickiness or just a generational change.  Older, more traditional businesses (like newspapers, broadcast TV or music) may take 50 years to build and 10 years to decay.  Younger inventions like fax machines have already come and gone, along with many early dot comm successes (MySpace anyone?).

The early giants of computing are all fading fast or changing their business model. With Apple selling more iPads in the last quarter than any computer-making rival sold laptops or desktops, I’ll have a bet (with anyone that will take it) that computers are next … via Ars Technica

Exhibit C: Sales of Smartphones and Tablets vs Computers.

Apple and their iPhone commands around 80% of the profit from Smartphone sales while all the other makers struggle to sell units at any price (note Samsung is a minor exception to this, Apple and Samsung are the only games in town really, hence the large fuss over their recent court dealings).  Google tells us that we search more on our phones than on our computers now.  Where is the peak for Smartphones, and I wonder what will disrupt them?

Neil Armstrong – 1930 – 2012

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With the passing of Neil Armstrong we lose one of the quiet hero’s of the space race, a man who resented the fame of being ‘the first man’ for the rest of his life.

“I am, and ever will be, a white socks, pocket protector, nerdy engineer, and I take a substantial amount of pride in the accomplishments of my profession.” – Neil Armstrong.

“In my own view, the important achievement of Apollo was a demonstration that humanity is not forever chained to this planet, and our visions go rather further than that, and our opportunities are unlimited.” — Neil Armstrong

He echo’s the sentiment of my favourite quote of all time; it also speaks about the space race, innovation and humanity.

“The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were.” – John F. Kennedy

WHY ?

By | Agile, Communication, Customers, Development, Disruption, Lean, People, Strategy | No Comments

At various times I’ve heard Fiona, Nigel and myself telling people “If you only adopt one Agile practice make it the retrospectives” … But why ?

The boards are useful, but they are really just give you a prompt when you talk at your stand ups, and those are just an efficient way to make sure everyone is communicating.  While the demos and showcases give some social incentive to produce real things and check your progress over a useful timeframe (weeks not months or years).  But … The retrospectives (or reviews), that for me is where the real magic happens.  If you never stop to check, to ask how things are going and question why things are the way they are, why you are doing things and what you should do next in response then you risk having  the veneer of an Agile process which is either just micromanagement on the wall, Waterfall or perhaps worst of all, no real plan at all.

Being Agile isn’t enough.  Being Lean isn’t enough.

It’s all to easy to build and do the wrong things very well and very quickly using these techniques.  Perhaps the single most important thing is that your CEO, your leaders, your product people and you need to understand, ask and articulate is WHY you’re doing things.

If it’s a statement about profit and growth, start running. The powerful WHYs come from passion and insights from your customer (or potential customers if you’re doing something new).

WHY –> WHAT –> HOW … Simon Sinek

There are two standout statements in Simon’s TED talk.

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy WHY you do it.”

“There are leaders and there are those that lead. Leaders hold a position of power or authority, but those who lead – inspire us. We follow those who lead not because we have to but because we want to, we follow those who lead not for them but for ourselves.”

Too many companies and individuals talk about what they are doing, the great ones talk about why.

Luna Perspective via John Dobson (Inventor of the most practical large amateur telescope design)

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“One of the problems of human knowledge is that the world which we see from the surface of this planet on a sunny day bears almost no resemblance to the Universe at large. Our Earth is made of iron and rock, but the Universe as a whole is mostly hydrogen. The actions which we see on the surface of this Earth run mostly on sunlight, but the Universe runs on gravity. What we see here are continents, oceans, rivers and lakes, mountain ranges, forests, tundra and prairies. But the Universe at large is mostly gas, partly condensed by gravity to galaxies and stars, and lightly sprinkled, here and there, with interstellar dust. The dust is made from hydrogen in the bellies of the stars, and is scattered through the galaxies by the explosions and the stellar winds of stars much bigger and much hotter than our Sun. But the dust is scarce, and, like our bodies, the rock on which we live is made of these dusts. It is a collector’s item. The heavier elements, such as iron, have sunk to the center, overlaid with the rocks of the mantle and the crust and a thin veneer of water and gas. Since the age of this museum piece is pushing five billion years, by now the water-soluble compounds of the surface rocks have leached into the water layer, making the oceans salty. The saltiness of our blood is the saltiness of the ancient sea, some four hundred million years ago. That is when our scaly ancestors, on stumpy fins, crawled out across the land in search of other water and the sight of other fish. Descended as we are from them, we can think of our bodies, even now, as little bags of sea water, hung out on clotheslines of bone, gulping oxygen directly from the gas layer above us, and shambling out across the rocks to gaze with starry eyes, through the blackness of night, at the vast expanse of the Universe beyond.

Even the oxygen that we breathe is freed by sunlight through the instrumentality of our photosynthetic relatives, first by the blue-green algae in the sea, and now by the green leaves of the rain forest. Even the rain is driven by sunlight. But the Universe at large has a reducing atmosphere, and it is without rain and without sunlight. It is very cold, very dark, and very lonely, trying desperately to fall together by the seemingly inexplicable attraction of the particles for each other. Even the radiation of the Sun is driven by this attraction which has pushed the central temperature of the Sun up to some fifteen million degrees Celsius. And it is only because its gravitational collapse has been slowed by the nuclear fusion at its core that the Sun has bathed our Earth with its warming rays for nearly five billion years. Only this delay has made possible our long genetic development till we were able to climb out of the water and gaze in wonder at the starry sky of night. Although we, as living organisms, owe both our existence and our long genetic development to the Sun, its dazzling brightness prevents us from seeing the Universe by day. The blueness of the daytime sky is not the color of the air, but simply the shorter wavelengths scattered from the sunlight by the gas layer above us. And that gas layer by night, unlit by the Sun, is sufficiently transparent so that through it we may gaze into the far reaches of the Universe.” – John Dobson.

Something to keep in mind next time you look up at the stars.

Welcome aboard Fe

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This month Luna Tractor welcomes a new face, Fiona Siseman.  Fiona’s last job was with Lonely Planet in Melbourne as a Project Manager and enabler on a wide range of Agile teams. Most recently she worked with the team building the Shared Publishing Platform which is revolutionising the way that Lonely Planet collects and organises its content. Fiona holds the rare distinction of having worked with every department at Lonely Planet and was there for every step of Lonely Planet’s transformation to an Agile enterprise, where Agile and Lean practices are used from software delivery to legal to print product development. A master of ‘getting stuff done’, Fiona has also employed Agile techniques in managing the construction of an outdoor deck at home.

Book Review: We Are Anonymous

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There is some irony that I decided to read this book on a few days of holidays in a cottage where there is no phone, no 3G reception and certainly no internet. By following the journey of a handful of so-called hackers, Parmy Olson leads us into the sometimes facinating and sometimes seedy deep web (forums, chat rooms and other pathways hidden from google and outside your average facebook obsessed internet user’s conciousness) that houses the collective who call themselves Anonymous.

I won’t spoil the story for you, like the tale of uberhacker Kevin Mitnick (titled Take Down published 16 years ago) it’s an insight into parts of the internet, cyber security and some relatively distasteful behaviour online for a period of time from about 2006 to 2011. The links between Anonymous (and no doubt many similar groups) and WikiLeaks were eye-opening for me. As was frankly how rudimentary the exploits and techniques used by the group and the hysteria caused by garden variety SQL injection and confidence tricks.

As always, most hacking is possible because a) People are lazy and predictable and b) people are fairly easy to socially engineer. None of the techniques described in the book were particually advanced, to be honest back in my unix admin days I could have probably pulled off most of their hacks myself if I had the inclination.

A few observations from the book.

The internet is an amazing thing, its power to bring together like-minded souls from anywhere in the world, to transport information instantaneously and broadcast that same information to millions of people, can be used for both good and for evil.

Good password security which would have prevented most of the ‘hacks’ mentioned in the book is actually very basic, and yet even those who ought to know better got it wrong. As individuals you need to have secure passwords – long passwords, letters and numbers … 8 characters isn’t long, think 20!

Use different passwords for all your services important services, PayPal and your Internet Bank are probably pretty secure, but that doesn’t help you much when you’ve used the same password for some small online shop which doesn’t encrypt it’s password database and ends up giving a hacker your login (normally your email address these days) and password in clear text – we all use the same services Twitter, Facebook, PayPal and GMail etc – it doesn’t take long for a hacker to try these standard sites.

Also don’t email or share your password, ever. I’d suggest using a password you dont even know, applications like 1password will generate a unique, incomprehensible password.

Finally, anonymity, or at least the perception of anonimity leads to some pretty awful behaviour. It leaves me wondering how thin the veneer of civilised society really is. Maybe it’s nihilism ? Like Chuck Palahniuks Fight Club, these are a generation of lost soldiers – they channel the rage and futility of lives defined by suburban consumerism into destruction – of those they hate, and those they don’t even know. Academics call it the disinhibition effect.

Anonymous called it lulz, probably because they couldn’t spell schadenfreude.

How big are our Space Ships ?

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Nigel is traveling in the US presently taunting me with images of him standing with SR71s, a Shuttle, Command module and Soyuz vehicle etc, and with a recent lack of space related posts I give you  Invader Xan’s graphic with the relative size of all the interesting things we’ve put (or are planning on putting into space) … All I can say is, Damn, the ISS is quite large then eh.

Source

The Biological Basis for Visual Management.

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How do we see ?

A lens in our eye focuses light onto our retina, our retina send signals to our brain, and our brain spends a huge percentage of its capacity, by far the largest of any brain function, just to decode those signals and recognise what’s in front of us.  We look for patterns, seeing lines and movement; and we learn over time from when we are babies how to interpret those things and figure out what we’re looking at. We also constantly scan; if our eye is rigidly fixed in one spot (through painful apparatus) the image disappears.

These basic biological mechanics are the reason that the cockpit of nearly all aircraft look something like this:

An early 747 cockpit.

Lots of analog dials, rather than digital readouts.  Dials work better than digits because our visual system lets us scan and notice when things are out of place; we instinctively zero in on things that are changing.  We’re also good at figuring out the direction and rate of change with analog dials. Experienced observers can often estimate where a dial will stop based on watching it while it’s still moving. Even in modern aircraft where digital displays are replacing analog dials, the key instruments are always present as analog representations.  The peripheral systems are monitored by computer software rather than the pilot.

Digital readouts, while undeniably more accurate, require much more mental energy to read and process. We just find it much harder to take a snap shot of what’s normal, and notice what’s different, when faced with a panel of 40 numbers vs 40 dials. This is also why we tend to skim reports, and zero in on the graphics, graphs and pie charts rather than tables of figures or words. We decide what to look at from the visual cues, and then check the relevant reference data only for the more interesting items to work out how and why.

So as we apply this understanding of our visual system to an Agile context we can see how Agile boards are very suited our our natural strengths. We’re good at noticing when things change, move or something looks out of place.

Boards also give us a good way to use our instinctive ‘gut’ feedback system – over time teams and even people outside the team get very good at knowing what a good ‘on track’ iteration or cycle looks like – and equally when things are off track.  It’s often not as simple as one or two cards or tasks, but noticing the natural weighting and flow of the system changing over time.  It’s a worrying thing then to hear from a team talking about their Agile board – ‘It works ok, but doesn’t change very much’.  It’s also why habits like putting fences and rows on cards that are stuck is important; it reminds us to check back later when we naturally gravitate to the shiny distraction of the things that are moving instead.

The Race Car Board

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Sometimes in the course of our work we get to see things which just make us smile.  In this instance it’s a race track board at the City of Melbourne invented by Lorraine Tighe who runs their Web and Customer facing program.  It tracks the delivery phase of different projects.  The different pits represent various blockers and the cars get a sticker to set them on fire (with an explanatory post-it note attached) in the case of unexplained failures.  Just awesome.

Y-Combinator and the No Idea startup…

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Y Combinator has just announced they are taking a round of startup applicants with no idea. This triggered a predictable and pretty amusing reaction on twitter etc.

At first I was cheering on all the tweeters, going ‘right on’… But, then I realised what Paul Graham and co are doing is exactly right.

Clearly they have a successful recipe for making startups work, Reddit, Disqus, Dropbox, Posterous, Airbnb and on it goes, those are just the ones _I_ like.  So what they are doing is innovating their own recipe, iterating and trying something new, why not, what else are they going to do ? Wait for all the copycats to get just as good at making pie as they are ?

The other point is of course that I agree with Y Combinator, teams, culture and ways of working are much more valuable than ideas.  I think we just don’t like saying it out loud sometimes because it sounds soft, so we have aquihires and we use words like ‘pivot’ to make it sound more legitimate.

Your ability to succeed in the face of an uncertain environment or problem is directly related to the quality of your team, how well they work together and how good they are at finding and responding to new intelligence and customer insights – the ideas will come, go and change along the journey.

Addendum: These three insights into Google, Goldman Sachs and Yahoo give a window into what happens to companies that ignore their people, ignore their customers and lose the ability to innovate.

The upside of coronal mass ejection

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I’m just back from a week working with our friends in Horsham at HC Pro on their Agile and Lean process – I just love the ‘Why’ for their business – Capturing, sharing and preserving visual memories.  Every time I visit I’m reinvigorated about beautiful photography.  In related news, the Sun has finally woken up a bit from it’s long solar minimum and we are starting to see some big sun spots and really big flares.  Big flares means a strong Aurora Borealis.  A strong Aurora Borealis means beautiful photos, so I have to share.

More here

Roundabouts and Traffic Lights

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A Quiz:

  • What’s safer ? An intersection with traffic lights or a roundabout ?
  • What’s faster ? Traffic lights or a roundabout ?
  • What’s better for the environment ? A roundabout or traffic lights ?

The answer in each case is the roundabout, they reduce overall accidents and drastically reduce the number of serious accidents (very few t-bone crashes). Traffic flows much faster with a roundabout as well and this in turn leads to a better environmental outcome with less start stop traffic producing less emissions.

I was reminded of this recently listening to Bjarte Bogsnes talk about his work making the financial planning of organisations more agile (Nigel promises to write about this shortly) – he used the metaphor of traffic lights and roundabouts when thinking about the budget process. The traffic lights are rigid rules, the decision about when to drive (or spend) is being made by someone else who is removed from the intersection and placed in a computer program sequence. At a roundabout the drivers who are at the intersection have to make their own informed decision about when to stop and when to go themselves in consort with other drivers.

Traffic lights are a rigid system, programmed based on traffic patterns at some fixed point in time perhaps 5 years ago, they don’t adapt. At a quiet time with one car on the road you may still end up arbitrary stopped because that’s what the traffic light, or the system says to do. With a roundabout, the system adapts; Little traffic and everyone can just flow through the intersection without even slowing down much. Lots of traffic and the system adapts, people slow and take their turn to move through.

Traditional organisations and projects are very much like the traffic lights, planned with the best of intentions to be safe and consistent, but the process is rigid and doesn’t adapt to the daily changes in traffic flow, market intelligence, sales or perhaps software development progress. Agile organisations and projects are like the roundabout, individuals and teams taking responsibility for themselves with the process providing a framework for dynamic, localised decision making based on the best currently available information. While traffic lights take responsibility away from individuals, roundabouts require individuals to step up and take responsibility for themselves and the other drivers negotiating their way forward.

Interestingly despite the indisputable benefits of roundabouts, they make many drivers feel anxious. The fear may not be not be rational, but it is real. We find the same thing as we introduce Agile concepts to organisations. Leaders are scared of giving up control and individuals are scared of taking responsibility for their own decisions, regardless of the benefits.

This is why Apple wins …

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Via APPL Orchard:

“[Apple is] going to continue to make the best products in the world that delight our customers and make our employees incredibly proud of what they do.”

– Tim Cook in his first email to Apple employees as Apple’s new CEO sent August 25, 2011

“The path [Sony] must take is clear: to drive the growth of our core electronics businesses – primarily digital imaging, smart mobile and game; to turn around the television business; and to accelerate the innovation that enables us to create new business domains.”

– Kazuo Hirai in response to being appointed Sony’s new President and CEO on February 1, 2012

Apple: {best, world, delight, proud} vs. Sony: {growth, businesses, accelerate, domains}

Following on from Nigel’s last post… Apple is a Lean and Agile Customer driven company focused on the bottom of the McKinsey list.  Focused first on customers, innovation, greatness and employee pride and satisfaction.  No where in that statement is Cook talking about growth, profit or any of the other bullshit most companies (and leaders) think they should focus on … Those things are outcomes, which Apple has in spades, but they come because Job’s built a culture focused on the right Why.

How to figure out individual bonuses in Agile teams.

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It’s not about the money.  If you haven’t seen Dan Pink on the surprising truth about what motivates us then you must watch this now.  In fact, you know what, just watch it again anyway.

Also, we’re much more motivated by short term rewards vs long term rewards, something called ‘hyperbolic discount’. We discount the future reward, and over value the short term one.  It’s why we don’t got to the gym. 

It’s also a key reason that Agile as a development approach can be very motivating: a weekly cycle, the thrill of showing off your work to your peers every iteration at your demo or showcase is a reward you can look forward to getting soon and regularly.  Teams find this success addictive and motivating. I think this is also why a regular team lunch, or knocking off early on a Friday for a few drinks, is a good motivator and reward for a team.

So let’s imagine you work for BigCo and have to figure out the bonus structure for your Agile team(s), what should you consider ?

First make sure you’re paying everyone a fair salary for their role and make sure that there is good parity within the team.  If you haven’t got this much right, then your environment will turn toxic with jealousy way before bonuses are even due.  In the past it may have been considered quite rude, or not the done thing, to share your salary with your co-workers.  Today, especially among Gen Y, it is almost a norm to discuss pay, bonuses, etc openly… or on Facebook at any rate.

My second instinct is to say it’s all for one, and one for all – Agile is about teams.  If there has to be a reward or bonus, it should be applied evenly to the whole team – that’s the only thing that’s fair in a cross functional, team focused work method.

Finally, Agile teams are good at recognising individual performance; the weekly retrospective and the transparent team mode of working builds a culture where often teams will call out stellar performance by individuals. As a team lead or manager, watch for these clues and use your discretion to reward those individuals with pay rises or other incentives. If you are careful and have your finger on the pulse, this is a fair way to reward individuals who have gone above and beyond in a way that that other team members won’t resent. But, remember it’s probably not about the money – often the best reward for someone who has gone above and beyond is the chance to take more responsibility or autonomy, the chance to improve themselves and gain mastery or the chance to influence the direction of their team and work gaining a stronger sense of purpose.

Great Engineering Lasts – The U-2 Spy Plane and the SR 71 Blackbird.

By | Agile, Development, Lean, Space, Technology | 4 Comments

We spoke at YOW this year on the topic of innovation and agile over 6 decades, highlighting the Agile and Lean principles we see in space and engineering projects. From the 1930s we talked about the Cabinet War rooms and that deserves a whole post of its own as we continue to expand our understanding of how physical spaces enable and impact the people and results.  From the 1940s we talked about Lockheed Martin and their Skunkworks which we’ve written about before.  From the 1950s we looked at some of the magnificent engineering created by that same Skunkworks team… The Agile movement may only be 10 years old, but the principles and the evidence that it works goes back way further than that.  We’ll write more reflections on YOW itself at some point, but today you get one of the lessons that most appeals to us.

The U-2 Spy Plane

When the U-2 first flew in 1955, it was an accident.  A high speed taxi test saw it rolling down the runway at 70 knots at which point its sailplane wing generated enough lift and it took off into the air unexpectedly.  At the other extreme, its cruising altitude of 70,000 feet is referred to by pilots as coffin corner; at this height its stall speed is a mere 10 knots slower than its maximum speed.

The balance is so critical on the U-2 that the cameras had to use a split film setup with reels on one side feeding forward while those on the other side feed backward, thus maintaining a balanced weight distribution through the whole flight.

The plane is incredibly difficult to land because of the lift cushion under the wing as it comes close to the ground.  It lands on two inline ‘bicycle wheels’ and the wing tips also land and skid on the ground on titanium plates.

Perhaps the most amazing U-2 fact, and the reason we consider it such a testament to great engineering, is that it’s still in active service today.

The SR-71 Blackbird

This is the fastest and highest flying air-breathing aircraft ever made (only rockets can go higher or faster).  It has a maximum speed unspecified above Mach 3.5 (3.5 times the speed of sound) and a maximum altitude also unspecified but in excess of 85,000 feet.  At Mach 3.5 you’re covering 1km per second and the engines are sucking in 3 million litres of air every second – an average human breaths in that much air in a year.

The construction of the plane is pretty special too, with 90% of it being made from titanium.  At Mach 3+ the surface of the plane heats up to 500+ degrees.  The wet patches you can see on the wings and central spine in this photograph are caused by the fuel leaking out of the expansion joint ‘gills’ in the plane.  Until about Mach 2.5 when the plane heats up and expands, the SR-71 leaks fuel constantly.

While the Concord can do the transatlantic London to New York flight in about three and half hours, the SR-71 is the way to go if you’re in a hurry.  It holds the record at just 1 hour 54 min.

My favourite SR-71 story comes from a pilot in the book Sled Driver: “One day, high above Arizona , we were monitoring the radio traffic of all the mortal airplanes below us. First, a Cessna pilot asked the air traffic controllers to check his ground speed. ‘Ninety knots,’ ATC replied. A twin Bonanza soon made the same request. ‘One-twenty on the ground,’ was the reply. To our surprise, a navy F-18 came over the radio with a ground speed check. I knew exactly what he was doing. Of course, he had a ground speed indicator in his cockpit, but he wanted to let all the bug-smashers in the valley know what real speed was ‘Dusty 52, we show you at 620 on the ground,’ ATC responded. The situation was too ripe. I heard the click of Walter’s mike button in the rear seat. In his most innocent voice, Walter startled the controller by asking for a ground speed check from 81,000 feet, clearly above controlled airspace. In a cool, professional voice, the controller replied, ‘ Aspen 20, I show you at 1,982 knots on the ground.’ We did not hear another transmission on that frequency all the way to the coast.”

This article from Gizmodo about flying the SR-71 is required reading.

In a world of throw-away appliances and software it’s a salient reminder that great work, great engineering lasts a long time.  The Skunkworks team was isolated and protected from the rest of the organisation; this one team designed over 30 planes including the U2, A-12, SR-71, F-117, F-22 – just to name a few iconic aircraft.

Eating our own Dog Food

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Some Luna friends, Horsham Colour – or I should say now HC Pro – are one of the largest professional photographic labs in Australia, situated in the charming country town of Horsham in the middle of the wheat belt of western Victoria.  Their business is as a high volume, but still very high quality, photographic and print production house.

As a generation of wedding and portrait photographers grow old and retire, a new generation of photographers and products have grown in their place.  Customers no longer just want prints in frames, but albums, cards, books, canvas and prints bonded onto metal etc.  Enabling photographers to understand and order such a wide range of products online has been a goal for the lab for some time.

hcpro.com – a new website which describes the lab, their products and the online ordering process – has just gone online with a bunch of hard work from the guys in Horsham, Grant Bisset at www.speakinteractive.com and ourselves at Luna Tractor.

We extol to teams the virtue of actually using their own products and processes… to eat their own dog food.  With this web project we took exactly the same approach we would recommend to others, ourselves.

We started with a brain storming and culling exercise to decide what the  minimal viable product was – which messages we had to communicate to give us focus.  Working through three areas:

  • Brand – What people remember.
  • Content – What people learn.
  • Action – What people do.

With each of those three areas defined as 2 or 3 easy to understand anchors we went away and designed a simple site. From there we made basic, hand drawn wireframes.

Next we drew up a rough content plan based on the wireframes and started to flesh it out by doing the product photography and copy writing. Over about a week we continually updated our content ‘board’ until we were happy with how it was sitting.

Ready now for construction, Grant did some work on the build in short cycles with Michael (from HC Pro) and I engaged in a review and then tasks to create missing pieces of content.   Having the whole website as a visual picture on the wall made it easier to choose images that conveyed the story we needed to tell,  quality and careful made products.  It also showed us what was missing, and we could put in place holders which served as our to do list, and a kind of burn down chart. Building a very small site (which is really only a version 1.0) made it easier to get quick feedback from potential customers.  From here we’ll listen to what real life customers say, how they use the site from the stats, and phone them to ask why.

The end result is a surprisingly small and simple site, just what we were aiming for.  It never ceased to surprise me how often our solution to problems was simply to remove content, text or extra ‘fluff’ which we had designed in but wasn’t answering one of our core Brand, Content or Action goals.  Check out the site and let us know what you think.

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The new competitive advantage is the ability to anticipate, respond and adapt to change.

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