Mario Cardinal

"The real voyage of discovery consists, not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes" – Marcel Proust


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Software as a service (SaaS) in 2018 revolves around JavaScript

In 2014, on this blog, I wrote a post in which I announced that we intended to create native mobile applications for tablets and phones (IOS and Android) and that we had planned to use Xamarin.Forms as the main programming tool. At the time, web tools were not mature enough to design applications that target all classes of personal devices be it laptops (Windows, Chrome and Apple), tablets (Android and iPad) or phones (Android and iPhone). This is no longer the case in 2018, change is the only constant and we must not be afraid to review our previous decisions. As developer polls in recent years show, the reality is simple, native development on mobile platforms is no longer important.

At To-Do Studio, with my business partner Erik, we are convinced that the best technologies in 2018 to launch software as a service (SaaS), revolves around JavaScript (at least for the front end).

We have decided to build our SaaS using one codebase, with familiar tools and web technology. In this regard, we chose Vue.js for web development. Vue.js is a library for building interactive web interfaces. It simplifies managing states in the front-end and provide composable view capabilities with an API that is as simple as possible.

vue_and_vuetify

I just spent the last four months learning to program with this framework. Vue is one of the easiest frameworks to learn and master, the learning curve is gentle and there is a well-defined ecosystem. Furthermore, since I already know the basics of the web, the transition was easy enough. I am not yet a pro in javascript but I am improving every day. Since I’m in charge of UI integration, I mainly focus on mastering Vuetify, the UX component framework for Vue.js that we have selected.


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An assistant does not have to be a chatbot

Last winter, after realizing that one of the super powers we had to offer was a productivity assistant, we worked hard to find the best solution to include this feature in our product To-Do Studio. As a recap, the purpose of the assistant is not only to provide a daily schedule, but also to coach and direct teammates’ commitments throughout the process.

It was a long and winding journey and, today, I am happy to share the solution we have chosen.

As soon as we ruminate about a feature that resembles an assistant, we immediately think chatbot. A chatbot is a software program that converses with humans in a natural language, such as English or French, rather than through a graphic interface or via computer-language commands. Mainly because they are cool, seemingly very smart, potentially a little dangerous, and everyone wants to get to know them, recently, chatbots were widely talked up as the future of human interaction with technology. However, it is important to remember that the goal of most chatbots is not to match the capabilities of a human — to pass the Turing test — but to help people achieve specific goals without needing another human to be involved.

Conditioned by the bubble hype around chatbots, we initially tried to create a user experience driven by human-to-machine conversation.

Since we do not need a very sophisticated solution, we quickly identified that a simple notification assistant could meet the needs. A notification is an act of bringing something to the notice of someone, so he can act upon it. In addition to having to notify, we also identified the requirement for a rule-based bot with a limited set of commands that represent the potential responses to the notification.

chatbotThrough all our experiments we discovered two improvements to simplify user experience (UX):

  1. No need for a chatbot: Interactions with a notification assistant do not behave like a conversation. The conversation is limited to a notification (the starting context) and a response (a choice limited to a set of predefined commands). In this perspective why use a significative part of the screen space with a chatbot.
  2. Need to display answer choices: As most bot developers could tell you, giving end users a box to type in rarely ends up being just a simple question and answer. We must provide shortcuts in the form of commands and commands must also be displayed in the conversation area if you want them to be easily visible and accessible.

In the end, after several iterations, we abandoned the user experience based on a chatbot. Similarly, we abandoned the idea of displaying the answer choices in the conversation area.

We opted for something simpler and proven, a menu-based conversation. The advantage of the menu-driven approach is that we can highlight the presence of the assistant with an extremely visible button, floating throughout the screen (Floating Action Button), and we can guide the user with a notification area.

notification_bot

The user has no difficulty discovering the commands because they are displayed as a menu that also floats above the screen.

menu_bot

Now that the bot hype is dying down, we recognize that a bot is just another frontend for accessing software services. An assistant is not necessarily a chatbot especially if it aims to help users perform specific tasks within a software service. A menu-based conversation is as valuable a choice as a chatbot.


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MVP Renewal Day

Microsoft is now announcing the MVPs (Most Valuable Professional) in one annual reward cycle in an aim to recognize their community in one, big way. Today, I found my MVP renewal amongst the other emails coming in.

For fifteen consecutive years, I am the proud recipient of the Most Valuable Professional (MVP) award from Microsoft.

community

The Microsoft MVP Award is a unique opportunity to honor technology experts who have shown a deep commitment to innovation, and have made outstanding contributions to their communities. This might be through speaking engagements, creating content, providing expert feedback or organizing events – but most importantly, the award is given to those who are passionate about technology, and have great community spirit!

According to the MVP blog, to bring the program closer together, they reduced the number of awardees from 4000 to 2600. I’m happy to be included once again!


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Bracket Show

As an entrepreneur, to launch a service as ambitious as a To-Do Studio, one must work on many fronts at the same time. In parallel to reviewing the user experience, over the last few weeks, I’ve been putting some efforts into engineering issues such as DevOps and testing strategy. I prioritize this work to respond to an invitation from the Bracket Show, a YouTube channel about software development (in French), led by my good friends Eric De Carufel and Bruno Barrette.

They asked me to share with their viewers the new cloud testing practices that we intend to apply for our service To-Do Studio.

bracket_show

For French-speaking readers who are interested in DevOps and new cloud testing practices , here is the link to listen to the video.

Tester en production

Do not hesitate to subscribe to the Bracket Show.


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Customers don’t buy products they buy better versions of themselves

Samuel Hulick at User Onboarding wrote an incredible post and graphic, showcasing how customers use products to design a “new me”.

mario-water

This is basically what I discovered through my readings about de “Get-the-job-done” approach.

Recently, equipped with my new skills, for our product To-Do Studio I tried to discover what superpower is needed when people team up with others.

Clearly, for many, getting things done WITH others is not high on their priority list. Mainly, because it is hard to work efficiently with others. There is always someone somewhere who does not do his share of the work. For them the desired superpower is to be able to get things done BY others. Currently, they do not have a high success rate.

The only ones who see teamwork positively are leaders, managers and entrepreneurs. In fact, for them getting things done with others is very high on their priority list. Therefore, they desire the same superpower; to be able to get things done by others. Currently, they are struggling to do so because of the burden of tracking and moving forward work progress.

Following my interviews, here is the system of progress that I see:

system-of-progress3

Clearly, we need to improve our studio to add a productivity assistant. A studio is a creative space to team up. We need to figure out how to add something like a chatbots in this creative space. In the coming months we will rework the user experience to add a productivity assistant. Back to the drawing board again…


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Customers hire something to get a job done

Last year, after almost two years of effort working on a daily planner as the co-founder of To-Do Studio, I had to admit we were working on the wrong idea. Since that day, we have focused our efforts on a new vision: the design of a creativity space to team up with others. Although our new idea seems promising, we have no formal proof that we are on the right track. Until recently, I thought I was forced into this very unscientific process of trusting my good fortune and my instincts to compete against luck.

Fortunately, in recent days, I’ve discovered an innovation approach that presents a product not as a set of functionality but rather as a solution that a customer hires to get a job done.

intercom on job-to-be-doneI first became aware of the “Job to be Done” approach through Intercom. In recent months I have subscribed to their blog and recently they have published a book to summarize how they use the approach internally for product management.

competing against luckThis innovation approach is very well documented by Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen in the Wall Street Journal Bestseller: Competing Against Luck: The Story of Innovation and Customer Choice.

“When we buy a product, we essentially ‘hire’ something to get a job done. If it does the job well, when we are confronted with the same job, we hire that same product again. And if the product does a crummy job, we ‘fire’ it and look around for something else we might hire to solve the problem.”

– Clayton Christensen

when coffe and kale competeChristensen’s book is a must read but, in my opinion, the best reading I have found on the subject is the book by Alan Klement: When Coffee and Kale Compete: Become great at making products people will buy. I particularly appreciated how he unifies the “Job to be Done” approach within a system of progress.

Now that I am equipped with a more scientific approach, I will take advantage of the next few weeks to review and validate whether setting up a creativity space to team up with others is always the best idea.


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Electric car

I was due to change my car. I just bought a Nissan Leaf electric car. I opted for a used car not too expensive because I want to keep my savings to invest in my startup.

nissan_leaf

Since I have to travel more than 60 km a day for the needs of my consulting. I will save over $250 in gas costs per month. In addition to being profitable for the health of the planet (which is my first buying criterion), this new acquisition is profitable for my wallet.

In my opinion, an electric car is a computer on 4 wheels. In this regard, I intend in the coming year to experiment with the software LeafSpy Pro to monitor and configure vehicle information normally visible only to the dealer.

aveqFor those who are interested in electromobility, who speaks French (my native language) and live in Quebec, here is a podcast to follow from the association of electric vehicles of Quebec (AVEQ):

http://www.aveq.ca/silence