Sunday 28 October 2007

NEW feature - extra workflow fields

We've added another new feature to Matchpeg Workflow:
  • You can now create two bespoke text fields and two bespoke number fields in each workflow definition. These can be used for any purpose you like - you simply give them an appropriate label.
For example, you can use the number fields to record two extra items of numeric information about each purchase request. These fields show up in searches, and can be downloaded in CSV form for analysis in software such as Microsoft Excel.

Monday 15 October 2007

NEW feature - workflow descriptions and attached files

We've added a new feature to Matchpeg Workflow:
  • The description of a workflow item and attached files can now be marked as compulsory or not required.
Previously, these fields were always optional. You can now insist that users supply a description of a workflow item, or attach at least one file.

Friday 14 September 2007

And God said to Adam...

(Part of a series on matters technological. It beats doing real work.)

We've been interviewing recently. Before hiring people for software jobs, everyone reads Joel Spolsky's Guerilla Guide to Interviewing *. You must have read it - it's excellent. Well, mostly excellent.

The bit we got stuck on is part 6:

Part 6: the design question. Ask the candidate to design something. Jabe Blumenthal, the original designer of Excel, liked to ask candidates to design a house. According to Jabe, he's had candidates who would go up to the whiteboard and immediately draw a square.

Really? A square?

A square! These were immediate No Hires.

A square does seem a bit minimalist for a house. The fashion in the UK at the moment is for buying distressed Victoriana in run-down parts of town. High ceilings, superfluous ornamental brickwork. But it turns out that's not Joel's problem:

Good candidates will try to get more information out of you about the problem. Who is the house for? As a policy, I will not hire someone who leaps into the design without asking more about who it's for. Often I am so annoyed that I will give them a hard time by interrupting them in the middle and saying, "actually, you forgot to ask this, but this is a house for a family of 48-foot tall blind giraffes."

This is puzzling. We'd much prefer a candidate who says "What's the budget for the design stage?" followed by "Well, let's hire an architect to design the thing properly".

Anyone involved in software development will leap at this sort of design question like a seal after fish. It's actively encouraging three of the most disastrous traits of the IT industry: (a) ignoring precedent and expertise, and therefore continually re-inventing the wheel in a squarer form; (b) concocting "problems" in order to be able to "solve" them; and (c) unshakeable belief in one's own wide-ranging genius. It is impossible to over-estimate the self-regard of anyone who has ever worked in the software industry. (Yes, this includes the author of this article.)

There's another problem, which we can tease out by inserting a stage direction into Joel's scene of the hapless interviewee being humiliated somewhere in the Garment District:

Interviewer:Please could you design us a house.
Interviewee:(Pauses. No further information is forthcoming. Eyes swivel in alarm at the prospect of working for people incapable of providing even the most basic brief for a project. Cursing the evil hour that they sent in their resume, the interviewee begins to draw the thing most apparently in tune with the interviewer's mental faculties: a childlike depiction of a house.)

Who wants to work for someone so inept at communicating their essential requirements? When, in real life, would you make a request such as this unless you were the worst manager in the world, or an unspeakable sadist? It's as though God said to Adam, "Don't eat from the tree of... oh, whatever, just hang out in this garden for a few days."

The following is pure supposition, but interesting: questions such as this seem designed to identify candidates with a talent for arch, knowing role-play, and for recognising when it's professionally advantageous. These are skills which seem best-fitted to large, rigidly hierarchical, politics-ridden organisations. Microsoft is the source of this interview question and many other equally famous ones. Microsoft has become notorious for its bureaucracy and back-stabbing.

(* The Guerilla Guide to Interviewing got revised about a year ago. The Design Question mysteriously vanished. The new version is great, but it's less fun and the silent changes are as informative as the article itself.)

Monday 10 September 2007

NEW feature - guest access to meetings

We've added a new feature to meetings:
  • Action points can now be assigned to guests (i.e. people who are not on your firm's Matchpeg user list)
  • Guests can log in to a simplified version of the meeting overview using a six-digit PIN.

After logging in the guests are able to see the meeting details, and can update the status of any action points which have been assigned to guests.

Two things to note:

  • If there is more than one guest in a meeting, all guests share the same list of action points, and any action point assigned to "Guest" can be updated by any of the guests.
  • Guests can't propose agenda items (except by e-mailing them manually to the meeting organiser etc). Guests aren't full users of the system.

The URL for guests to log in to a meeting, and the PIN to use, is shown at the bottom of the list of participants on the organiser's view of the meeting overview. These details are also included by default in e-mails sent out to particpants by the meeting organiser.

Friday 31 August 2007

NEW feature - Skype names as meeting locations

We've added a new feature for people who regularly run meetings over Skype: you can now enter a Skype name as the location of the meeting. The system then displays the location as a clickable hyperlink which fires up Skype.

You simply enter the location in the form skype:name, e.g. skype:bobjones

Saturday 14 July 2007

NEW feature - quick entry of new users

We've added a new feature making it easier to set up meetings and brainstorming sessions: new user accounts can now be created from the pages for setting up meetings and sessions, without having to set up the users on the User List first.

At the bottom of the list of attendees is a new hyperlink labelled "Create a new user". This asks for minimal information - e-mail address, first name, last name, initials - and then creates the user and adds them to the participants for the meeting/brainstorming session.

The user is given an automatic random password which is sent out to them by e-mail (saving the amount of information which you need to provide manually). The user also gets a very basic set of privileges on the system - these can be altered at your leisure via the normal User List.

Sunday 1 July 2007

NEW feature - graphs

We've added several graphing options to the system, mainly on the pages for analysing search results:

  • Analysis of meeting search results

  • Analysis of action point search results

  • Analysis of workflow item search results

  • Analysis of workflow item progress

Graphs are also available in one further place:

  • Participant activity report for a brainstorming session

In each case, a graph icon is displayed at the top of each column of figures in the analysis. Clicking on the icon inserts a graph of the numbers, plus options for changing the style of the graph etc. And the graph gets included if you then choose the save the page as a PDF document.

This isn't intended to handle every possible graphing scenario. You can continue to build bespoke graphs (and reports) yourself by downloading list results in CSV form, into Microsoft Excel etc, and graphing it there.