Monthly Archives: September 2005

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Best Buy’s personas hit the mainstream

Where I muse about personas and technical writing

It is exciting when something relevant to your job hits the mainstream news sources. In my case, Best Buy’s use of personas to help create empathy and understanding of customers was a concept I could relate to immediately. I want to share it with others who may not be familiar with technical writing and how we can use personas to help us write targeted end-user documentation. In this Washington Post article, I learned that Best Buy’s personas are:

  • Buzz (the young tech enthusiast)
  • Barry (the wealthy professional man)
  • Ray (the family man)
  • Jill (a soccer-mom type who is the main shopper for the family but usually avoids electronics stores).

The book that the Washington Post article references is “ Angel Customers and Demon Customers,” by Columbia University Professor Larry Selden. Apparently Best Buy would like to release the Demon Customers from their customer lists. I guess those demon customers are the people who buy-to-rent electronics, like buying an expensive scanner to scan one picture, and then returning it. Their Angel customers are someone like Jill, who rarely shops at the store but spends a lot when she does. I was curious to find out more about what they put in place to help target “Jills.” As it turns out, it’s better signage, special “escorted” assistance to fast checkout lanes, and places for her to hang out with the kids while they play the latest gadgets. I could go for all of that. I suppose I resemble a Jill in some ways, but in reality I’m such a tech enthusiast I’m probably a Buzz.

Personas aren’t meant to be a stereotype (I can empathize with the moms-who-go-to-soccer-games but don’t like the “soccer mom” label). Rather, personas should help you get a mental image of someone you’d like to help accomplish something. We’re not pigeonholing our users, rather, we’re trying to read like they would read and seek information like they would seek. Also, while you can keep a persona in mind while writing doc or designing a new product, you should be sure to accomodate people who learn or think in different ways.

At BMC, we have used personas in the past either for brand-new products or for a newly-acquired product where we want to be sure to understand the target audience. My favorite persona was a UNIX admin or DBA with 20 years of experience with long hair and a tie dyed t-shirt. He’s “Kip,” and he’s sleep-deprived, has wrinkled clothes, carries a pager, he’s an introvert by nature, a workaholic by habit and demand, a total tech junkie, he might feel a little ego-centric about name recognition and contribution, and he reads techy magazines online. There’s also “Kim.” She’s a junior DBA, just out of college, proud to be a DBA, goes to professional association meetings, she’s highly technical and professional but knows that she won’t be doing reorgs until she gains her coworkers’s trust. There are more personas used for different products, but that’s a sampling. You can use personas for writing doc or for designing a product.

One of the personas for writing that I always have in my head is my system administrator husband. He came home with a software user manual one night. He needed to refer to it because their VP had gotten a new BlackBerry and wanted their Exchange server to work with it. He didn’t need the manual for any other reason than the one-page of system requirements and the maybe two pages of configuration info. Other than those two types of info (reference info with a little bit of task info), he understood the product well enough from the interface alone to accomplish the task of setting up the VP with his new BlackBerry so he could receive his email off the Exchange server. This example sticks in my mind because the real task was getting two different technologies to work together.

How about you? Do you identify with any particular personas from Best Buy or BMC? Do you use personas while designing user assistance or a product or a service?

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ITIL is dead. Long live ITiL.

Just kidding. ITIL is far from dead, and here’s some proof.

“ITIL is dead” said the sign hanging in the network ops group at Nationwide Insurance in Columbus, Ohio. Take a look at this article on how it’s going in the trenches of ITIL adoption. The article is “ IT pros share their tales of making ITIL work” on networkworld.com. The article talks about how the “people” aspect of ITIL’s People/Tools/Processes triangle is easy to overlook and can be the toughest sell, but likely the most important.

Another article with an interesting “people” idea is IASA News: CIOs Bear Alignment Burden from informationweek.com. Here’s a quote: “Insurance is about insurance, not technology, so IT bears a heavier burden in pursuing the elusive goal of IT/business alignment…” Basically, they have their IT folks shadow underwriters to show them the effect that IT has on their fellow coworkers. How’s that for a low-technology, no-tools-required method for getting the real scoop on business services and managing them, in real life?

This job shadowing idea is something we talk about in user assistance design all the time. Imagine watching someone who uses applications that rely on the IT infrastructure every day. Would it be a humbling experience when you find out they have some strange workaround for a process that you thought was just fine the first time? For me, my humbling moment came while watching someone in our usability lab try to find something in a help system for which I wrote and helped design the structure. We learned that our embedded search engine couldn’t look up an error message based on the error number alone. Woops! Back to the help system design drawing board.

But back to the surge in interest in ITIL. From DataPoint: IT research that matters, Chris Jablonski points out that ITIL is getting more and more mainstream. Interestingly, a coworker had also pointed me to this BMC-sponsored white paper (registration required, but it’s quick and painless). Here’s what my coworker and I found interesting, is the jump in interest levels in ITIL and also implementations of ITIL frameworks.

ITIL has made significant in-roads into the enterprise: In 2003, only 26 percent of organizations were familiar with ITIL. Today, 73 percent are in various stages of implementing the framework. In just two years, a general lack of awareness has leap-frogged into implementation, although only 1 percent have reached the highest level of maturity.

These organizations are mostly in the US and Canada, have more than 100 employees, and the respondents were mostly in technical job roles (over 80% of them). How about you? Are you in the ITIL trenches? What’s your perspective?

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Demystifying diet Coke and ITIL

Where I connect diet Coke and ITIL, oddly enough

At my office, our Coke machines are on free vend. What a great employee benefit for a diet Coke drinker like me. It’s my coffee substitute. Unless I’m going to be giving a presentation (ItalktoofastwhenIdrinkcaffeine), I drink a lot of diet Coke. I’m very excited to have stumbled across a diet Coke decoder page via Kottke.org. Ever wonder what diet Coke Zero is? What about diet Coke with Splenda? This blogger took the time on the Coca-Cola support line to find out the scoop on all these kinds of sugar-free Coca-Cola formulas. Nice! Plus she describes the historical information, which is nice to know and not always easy to find out.

In the spirit of elucidating and decoding, I’d like to offer some basics to help demystify ITIL. I’ve said it before, I’m still wrapping my mind around the concepts. One of the best articles I’ve read on the subject so far is ITIL Power: Why the IT Infrastructure Library is becoming the most popular process framework for running IT in America, and what it can do for you at cio.com. Interestingly, this article focuses on its popularity in America, but ITIL originates from the UK-based Office of Government Commerce (OGC).

If you look on the OGC site, you find that the IT Infrastructure Library comprises eight books, and ITIL is a framework for IT Service Management (ITSM).

  • Software Asset Management
  • Service Support
  • Service Delivery
  • Planning to Implement Service Management
  • Information Communication Technology (ICT) Infrastructure Management (The C for Communications expands IT beyond computers to telephones, televisions, and so on.)
  • Application Management
  • Security Management
  • The Business Perspective

Okay, now I have helped decode a few of the acronyms, but I know it’s merely the tip of the iceberg. What ITIL articles have you found helpful?

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Where are you on your route?

Last week I talked about the journey along a route to value. Today I’ll point you to a tool to assess where you are on your journey.

I said last week that the Route To Value approach makes it possible for you to gain value from solutions, regardless of where your organization is on the IT maturity level scale or Route To Value milestone level. And then I discovered that you can evaluate the maturity level of your organization with the personalized BSM assessment tool on bmc.com. The lawyers will tell me to say that our methodology is independent of the Gartner Maturity Model and is not endorsed by Gartner. So I’ll say it!

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Ah ha! Discovery along your route

Discussing what is a route to value, anyway?

I just started on a Routes To Value writing team this summer, and I had a lot to read just to try to wrap my head around a route to value. What is a route to value? Why were they created?

A Route To Value is basically a bite-sized, somewhat more manageable chunk of Business Service Management (BSM), showing you a way to attain BSM value according to your organization’s primary pain points. Trying to tackle all of these IT goals at once was overwhelming, to both our sales force and our customers. IT folks were asking, “Good grief, where do I start? I have this set of problems to solve, show me how. I can’t even think about implementing BSM until I get some of these other annoying recurring problems out of the way.”

Whether your organization is chaotic, reactive, or proactive, you can find value along the route, no matter what path you choose first. You can enter any route you want, focusing on the problems that plague your IT group the most.

This discovery along any route to value is what I’m calling an “Ah ha” use, similar to Real Simple magazine’s column on the same. Got only a sock to spare on board with you on a flight to the moon? As seen on the movie Apollo 13, one of the items they used to adapt their square filter into the round receptacle is a sock.

Here’s an example of an Ah ha use from BMC’s IT department. They needed to bring several databases into compliance for Sarbanes-Oxley audits. They are using BMC SQL-BackTrack for Oracle and BMC SQL-BackTrack for Microsoft SQL Server, but they found they could use BMC Remedy Asset Management to actually go out and look for the data sources that needed backing up. Ah ha! While database backup and recovery is along the Infrastructure and Application Management Route to Value, they discovered that an Asset Mangement and Discovery Route to Value helped them on their journey to their goal.

What “Ah ha” uses have you found for your software tools lately?

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How to sign up for BSM International Airport Simulation

Sign up for the BSM thrill ride is a few clicks away.

I thought I’d offer some sign up information for the BSM International Airport Simulation I wrote about yesterday. The BMC education site has other locations as well that you can get to with a few clicks. Class details for U.S. locations. Click the “Change your country” button to get information for other locations.

And don’t forget to check out the movie clip! (.wmv file)

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The catering’s down! Flights can’t take off!

BSM International. Where we all get to stare at fancy mock network diagrams, solve logic puzzles, and pretend to feed hungry airline passengers.

Ah, yes. Atwell Williams’ podcast brings back memories of the BSM simulation course.

A few weeks ago, I also stumbled across this review of our BSM International training class. The article is titled ” Riding the Fright Simulator” and it’s a first-hand account of the BSM International airport simulation course that BMC offers that helped me understand the connections between IT services and the IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL), a common set of standards first developed by the UK government. I know I sure learned a lot there.

Here’s an excerpt from the article, which absolutely nails the way you feel during the course:

Clive Ford was looking forward to a quiet day at the office. After all, there was nothing complicated about the outfit he was running — just an ordinary four-terminal international airport.

But then all hell broke loose. The sky started falling, the wheels were coming off and he knew it was going to be one of those days.

The airport went ballistic, he recalls. The radar tower malfunctioned, emergency services were out of control, poisoned food was being loaded on to aircraft, the sky was dark with banked-up planes and the media were hammering on his door.

As soon as one problem was sorted, another slammed into view. So far no one had been hurt, but it seemed like time would soon take care of that. And meanwhile the crises were eating dollars — millions of them.

All rattling good fun, Mr Ford says in retrospect. The best day’s training course he has ever attended.

This course is a great introduction to why the heck you’d want to manage your business services through IT technology. I won’t give away too much of the course, but I will brag that my group was one of the first to come up with a display board for a knowledge base. Leave it to the tech writer to be excited about a fake knowledge base. Solving problems efficiently was actually an adrenaline rush, which is suprising, since the course was also a first introduction to BSM and ITIL for me.

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Anne Gentle, explorer

I’m Anne Gentle, the latest addition to the blogger lineup at talk.bmc.com.

I’m a self-professed geeky information developer, which is merely a fancy term for technical writer. I’m definitely branching out with the blogger job description, but in my mind a blogger is simply a writer with some server technology behind the words, right? I’m based in Austin, Texas, but actually, like the Lyle Lovett song, I’m not from Texas but Texas wants me anyway.

I obtained a chemistry degree for my undergraduate degree, and then I completed a master’s degree at Miami University in Technical and Scientific Communication (MTSC) in December 1995 while working full-time as a graduate student. I am a senior Society for Technical Communication (STC) member (meaning: I re-upped my membership five years in a row and then some) and a few years back, I volunteered as the Advisor for the Miami University Student STC Chapter and was awarded a Distinguished Chapter Service Award for my service there. It’s still hanging on my wall, inspiring me to continue to be enthusiastic, supportive, and give sound advice, because apparently that’s what the students nominated me for. Aw, shucks, thanks guys!

Just this past year, I passed the ten year mark as a technical communicator, and half of that time has been spent at BMC Software. Nearly all gadgets from cell phones to digital SLR cameras to high-tech sewing machines interest me, and I have a special interest in using technology in interesting ways for communication purposes. Blogging definitely fits that interest, and I look forward to exploring some Routes to Value at talk.bmc.com. I write for the Infrastructure and Architecture Management Route to Value, that foundation layer of technology to ensure Business Service Management can work. I’m all about how to put the hype into action.