This post is cross posted from my LinkedIn account. You'll find most/all comments there.
Echo, echo, echo ... Can somebody stop the f**king echo ... Now!! Please!!
Video calling is better than it has ever been, but check out Conference Call in Real Life to get a hilarious view of what typically goes wrong with audio calls . Seriously, if you haven't seen this video then watch it now! You'll laugh so hard until you realize how sad your meetings really are. Audio glitches destroy calls and echo is just one of the culprits.
I can fix the issue now! Sally just needs to put the headset on.
But girls don't wear headsets.
Dang ... Really?. The quick technical fix is a non starter due to user culture. We need to do a better job. For now it's one big #fail. There are many technical excuses for echo (or audio/video sync problems or error resiliency issue or dozens of other things), but do you really care? ... NO! Why can't things just work the way I expect them to work?
I won't put on the headset.
Human machine interaction is a fascinating topic. Don Norman's book, Psychology of Everyday Things (1988), was instrumental in the way I think about products. Basically it made the case that the fault doesn't lie with you (or me), but rather with the product design itself. Long before I heard the word "affordance", I was captivated by this topic. Don has an updated version (2013) called The Design of Everyday Things.
Too often the product gatekeeper is forced to choose the wrong result. You get to pick two out of three: features, time & quality. Embedded in this choice is what the user experiences. Disruptive innovation has to be user centric & we as product builders need to continue to make complex solutions simpler.
Can this be codified with process? Nothing replaces a developer that cares. Equally important is the rare person that has the cajones to step in front of the production train, hit the emergency stop button and say "This is NOT good enough". But I have used various innovation models to keep the focus on what's important.
Several years ago, I ran into Vijay Govindarajan. He gave a memorable presentation on Innovation and managing time. The Three-box approach is:
- Preserve. Manage the present. Core Biz ~50%-60% of your time.
- Destroy. Selectively forget the past. Explore adjacencies 20%-30%.
- Create. Create the future. Dedicated team. 10%-20%.
You can find more here & here, but the real magic for me came later when he talked about managing and testing assumptions. The basic idea was to write down all the project assumptions. Categorize based on the impact if you are wrong. This can range from no big deal (tweak) to disaster (GameOver). Obviously you want to test the critical assumptions that lead to disaster if wrong. On the y-axis you rate the assumptions based on how confident you are that they are true. This can range from highly confident (I would bet one year of my salary that this is true) to very little confidence (I would not bet a penny that this is true). Focus on the critical assumptions that are game over if you are wrong AND you have little confidence in. Test, test test.
So where does this leave Sally? The critical assumption that it is OK to wear a headset on a highly visible board meeting was wrong. It should've been tested. We had to do a better job of echo cancellation on equipment that we didn't make. Turns out this was a good thing not only Sally, but many others too.
*BTW, for the record I've seen plenty of girls wear headsets and plenty of guys not. So I don't believe it is a gender issue. The fact remains that they decide, we don't.
**On the technical issue of audio echo cancellation, it really is quite difficult to do it well. It gets even harder when you don't completely control the microphones and speakers. This is the case when you run communication applications on various PC and mobile devices. If you are inclined to put the earbuds on, then the others on the call will likely thank you! Also, if you hear the your voice echo, then the problem is not on your end. Forcing everyone else to go on mute causes a whole different set of issues.