Category Archives: Google

Google Video Customer Service

Google Video sold digital videos that were controlled by Digital Rights Management DRM (so the purchaser didn’t buy something they bought the right to view the digital media according to a set of constraints. I, and many others find these DRM deals a bad deal for customers. I think Google realized that DRM made their Google Video a bad business (though maybe they decided it was a bad business for other reasons).

Well Google’s original method of existing the business left many people upset – with good reason I think. Google has wisely reacted to that feedback by improving the exit strategy (including full refunds and the ability to play videos purchased for the next 6 months). This improvement is evident for customers but also is an improvement from the perspective of the other stakeholders too. An update on Google Video feedback

When your friends and well-intentioned acquaintances tell you that you’ve made a mistake, it’s good to listen. So we’d like to say thank you to everyone who wrote to let us know that we had made a mistake in the case of Google Video’s Download to Own/Rent Refund Policy vs. Common Sense.

To recap: we decided to end the Google Video download to own/rent (DTO/DTR) program, and are now refocusing our Google Video engineering efforts. The week before last, we wrote to Google Video DTO/DTR program customers to let them know that videos they’d already bought would no longer be playable.

We planned to give these users a full refund or more. And because we weren’t sure if we had all the correct addresses, latest credit card information, and other billing challenges, we thought offering the refund in the form of Google Checkout credits would entail fewer steps and offer a better user experience. We should have anticipated that some users would see a Checkout credit as nothing more than an extra step of a different (and annoyingly self-serving) kind. Our bad. Here’s how we’re hoping to fix thing…

Related: Dell Listening to Customerother companies refuse to listenGoogle: Good Service not ArbitrageDell, Reddit and Customer FocusDiscover Card Dis-service

Data Based Blathering

Ok, this is one of those posts you might want to ignore or you might enjoy. Before blogs there is little chance this would reach you. But I am tired of seeing the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) promoted as if it were some encouragement for better management when all it seems to do to me is encourage superficial, non data based claims. And since it my blog I can rant if I feel like it.

ACSI: Flat Customer Satisfaction Suggests Continued Weak Consumer Spending

That is the title of the news release. Are they kidding!! They think a flat American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) reading is going to lead to weak consumer spending? I doubt it. I really doubt it. What data, or theory is that based on? Jeez this whole thing just makes me crazy. Trying to use a index to promote the “importance of quality principles” (ASQ is one of the “sponsors” of this effort) and customer focus in this way – ARGH. It does the opposite – showing people how to misuse numbers. How to overreact to variation. How to compare one dot to another dot and make claims from those 2 dots. I am sure I will make mistakes in my statements but the ACSI has bugged me since it was started with the way it ignores sound quality practices and promotes the opposite of what people like Dr. Deming taught.

“American automakers are narrowing the gap with Asian manufacturers, but they’re still coming in last,” said Prof. Fornell. “Though foreign nameplates just passed domestic cars for monthly sales, Detroit’s Big Three might have an opportunity to take advantage of Toyota’s difficulties in maintaining quality as it increases production. When you make more cars, chances are quality is going to slip.”

I suppose it it possible their was a statistically significant change in the actual consumer satisfaction in favor of the Big Three versus Asian Manufacturers, though I doubt it. But fine, lets say it isn’t just random variation. And heck for a sentence or two lets even accept this measure of “satisfaction” is even meaningful. Why would making more cars mean your quality is going to slip? This seems like trying to say something about numbers when you don’t really have anything to say. Toyota will make more cars next year, most likely (unless there is a large recession), so is your prediction that their ASCI is likely to slip? Please read Practice and Malpractice in Management Research v 6.0 by Paul R. Carlile and Clayton M. Christensen.

Making a prediction and testing it out would at least be applying some semblance of the PDSA cycle (granted I probably shouldn’t even bring that up as it is such a stretch from a what PDSA really is) – but the concept of PDSA is that it is a learning cycle. You make a prediction based on your theory and then test out your theory. The claim is making more cars means your quality is going to slip (which in the context I take them to mean is equivalent to the ASCI number slipping – otherwise the quote is basically a non-sequitur)?
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Great Marissa Mayer Webcast on Google Innovation

Marissa Mayer speech at Stanford on innovation at Google (23 minutes, 26 minutes question and answers). She leads the product management efforts on Google’s search products- web search, images, groups, news, Froogle, the Google Toolbar, Google Desktop, Google Labs, and more. She joined Google in 1999 as Google’s first female engineer. Excellent speech. Highly recommended. 9 ideas:

(inside these are Marissa’s comments) [inside these are my comments]

  1. Ideas come from anywhere (engineers, customers, managers, executives, external companies – that Google acquires)
  2. Share everything you can (very open culture)
  3. You’re Brilliant. We’re Hiring [Google Hiring]
  4. A license to pursue dreams (Google 20% time)
  5. Innovation not instant perfection (iteration – experiment quickly and often)
  6. Data is apolitical [Data Based Decision Making – this is true but as an operating principle requires people that really understand data. See: Data can’t lie.
  7. Creativity loves Constraints [process improvement and innovation]
  8. Users not money [the opposite of what business school’s teach business case]
  9. Don’t kill projects morph them

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Hiring: Silicon Valley Style

Interviews on how to hire in Silicon Valley. I especially like Guy Kawasaki’s comment – “the key to getting great people to work for you is to have a great product. That is why Google does so well. That is why Apple does so well.” I agree with the concept that a huge part of hiring good people is offering them a place where they feel proud of what they are working on. This is even more true when you talk about great software developers that have more choice than most in how they choose to earn a living.

via: How Are Companies in Silicon Valley Hiring?

Related: Interviewing and Hiring ProgrammersGoogle’s Answer to Filling Jobs Is an AlgorithmGoogle Exceeded Planned Spending on Personnel

Google Exceeded Planned Spending on Personnel

Often people have trouble understanding Dr. Deming’s disapproval of arbitrary numerical targets. What he was trying to prevent is what many see every day, such as managing to quarterly earnings targets. There are several problems with numerical goals but in here lets focus on one. The change from managing for what is best for the business to managing to hit a target. Google Profit Trails Analyst Estimates; Shares Slide:

The company hired more people than expected last quarter, Chief Executive Officer Eric Schmidt said on a conference call. Google added 1,548 jobs, mostly in sales, marketing and engineering, bringing its total to 13,786. “We overspent against our own plan on headcount,” he said. “We decided it was not a mistake. The kind of people we brought in were so good that we’re glad we did this.”

Great statement. And if more people could manage that way, one of the problems with numerical goals would be eliminated. But with so many organizations tying huge bonuses to meeting arbitrary numerical targets you will have a great deal of difficulty getting managers to hire 3 extra people this quarter, who will help the business, but will ruin their chance at a bonus. Or even if they just take a hit on their performance appraisal compared to the other managers that meet the headcount target – even if it meant turning away talent the organization could have benefited from greatly – and then the manager that missed their target loses out in the next promotion opportunity.

I am happy to own a tiny portion of Google and glad they are making decisions like this. Now just because I think there is a good case to be made for exceeding the targets that doesn’t mean that hiring more people is necessarily good. It is perfectly possible Google is hiring too many people and making a bad prediction about how these people will benefit Google in the long run. I am just saying I strongly support not tying yourself to short term numerical targets, if you predict a better decision requires taking actions that will cause the target to be missed.

Google increased profit by 28%, from the second quarter last year, to $925 million (and down from $1.0 billion in the first quarter of 2007). Lest you think personnel can’t really cost Google that much can it, just the stock based compensation in the second quarter reduced earning by $242 million in the quarter (an “expense” that wasn’t reported just a few years ago). Google had 13,786 full-time employees as of June 30, 2007 (up 1,548 in the quarter) – so that is over $17,500 per full time employee. If anyone at Google wants to talk I am open to considering an employment offer.

Funding Google Gadget Development

Google Gadgets are small tools and toys that integrate with iGoogle. Google is funding developers to work on creating gadgets through Google Gadget Ventures. Great idea. They offer:

1. Grants of $5,000 to those who’ve built gadgets we’d like to see developed further. You’re eligible to apply for a grant if you’ve developed a gadget that’s in our Google gadgets directory and gets at least 250,000 weekly page views. To apply, you must submit a one-page proposal detailing how you’d use the grant to improve your gadget.
2. Seed investments of $100,000 to developers who’d like to build a business around the Google gadgets platform. Only Google Gadget Venture grant recipients are eligible for this type of funding. Submitting a business plan detailing how you plan to build a viable business around the gadgets platform is a required part of the seed investment application process.

Google continue to make good moves to manage in a new world. With this program they are not investing in creating an infrastructure to develop software, support software, hire staff… Instead they get to tap the drive and capabilities of those developers working on products which increase the value of iGoogle through small cash incentives. Previously they offered Google Gadget Awards. They also fund Google summer code – to support software developers creating open source software and reducing computer waste (where they didn’t stop with improving the servers they use but to making a broader impact on society). They really do a great job of leveraging their efforts well.

Related: Google Innovation and EntrepreneurshipGoogle Custom Management Improvement Search EngineExperiment Quickly and OftenInnovate or Avoid Risk

Eliminating Quarterly Earnings Guidance

It is good to see more people understand the bad practice of excessive short term focus on quarterly profits. It is also a bit amusing to see the Chamber of Commerce pushing an idea Deming was called unrealistic for pushing.

The right way to handle a surprise:

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is calling for companies to halt “earnings guidance,” or coaching analysts, toward a precise target for quarterly profit. “The incentive to meet that number is an incentive to manipulate,” says Robert Pozen, head of the MFS mutual funds. The negative surprise comes in the end: Remember Enron.

Roughly a quarter of the companies in the S&P 500 have stopped giving guidance (or never started), including Berkshire Hathaway, Coca-Cola and Google. Check the investor-relations area of a company’s web site to see whether it plays what David Hirschmann of the Chamber of Commerce calls the “fool’s game” of earnings guidance.

Related: Management: Geeks and DemingDeming’s Seven Deadly Diseases of Western ManagementGoodbye Quarterly Targets?Distort the System

Reduce Computer Waste

High-efficiency power supplies for home computers and servers [the broken link was removed] (pdf) by Urs Hoelzle and Bill Weihl – Google:

Most likely, the computer you’re using wastes 30-40% of the electrical power it consumes because it is using an inefficient power supply. It’s difficult to believe that something as basic as a power supply could be responsible for that amount of waste, but it’s true.

The opportunity for savings is immense — we estimate that if deployed in 100 million PCs running for an average of eight hours per day, this new standard would save 40 billion kilowatt-hours over three years, or more than $5 billion at California’s energy rates.

The net result of these changes is a dramatic improvement in efficiency (including the power supply and the regulators) to about 85%, at virtually no cost. In other words, you won’t have to pay more for a higher-efficiency PC, because the power supply is actually getting simpler, not more complicated. By spending another $20 or so extra, it is possible to use higher-quality components and achieve efficiencies well over 90%.

Google has adopted the technology for their servers. And they are working to have the technology adopted by manufacturers; so when we buy computers they will use this technology to reduce waste. This is good since not many of us cannot eliminate this muda ourselves (since we don’t build our own computers – as Google does). It is also an example of a company with a higher purpose that makes a good deal of money. Google definitely understands the concept of eliminating waste.

Related: Cost of Powering Your PCHow Google WorksEngineers Save EnergyInnovate or Avoid Risk

Google Customer Service

Google and Ice: A service story:

“Ice.com has been very vocal with its criticism. It’s a classic case of a dissatisfied customer. So from a PR dimension this was a problem for Google.”

“We got a call from Google in February asking us what they could do to help us,” Gniwisch said. He said Google put together a team of people who flew to Ice.com’s headquarters in Montreal. “We were also on the phone with them two to three times a week for the first three weeks,” he said. “These folks put a lot of time into fully rebuilding our philosophy about AdWords from the ground up.”

Good reaction. Better to have avoided the problem in the first place, but still good to react at some point. The question I have is if they have improved the system to avoid the problems the customer experienced. And have they put in place measures which might indicate a problem (say a significant decline in customer spending) so they could intervene more quickly in the future. The last couple of paragraphs are not a great sign – but it is no surprise, Google (and any other organization) would have plenty to improve.
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Google Software Engineering

An interesting series of posts on Google NYC, Top Google engineer talks to NYC software industry [the broken link was removed]:

Google NYC is not a specialized engineering operation, its 300 engineers work in teams of three on the full gamut of Google products and services. Currently, Google NYC engineers are working on about 100 different projects.

Of Google’s 8000 employees worldwide, approximately half are engineers. Warren stressed that Google pro-actively seeks to keep an engineering-centric culture and does all in its power to avoid undue influences from the likes of biz dev, VC and marketing folks.

Google continues to stress the importance of letting engineers pursue customer delight. It seems to be working pretty well, even if some don’t like the primacy of engineers at Google.

Google Engineering: The REAL story [the broken link was removed]

The Google agile development process begins with “upfront ideation,” Rechis said, and “story creation” follows. Once “stories are in place,” a highly managed “weekly sprint” development cycle is set in motion, with multi-functional teams working to meet supervised deadlines. Development teams typically are comprised of a Project Manager, a User Experience Engineer and a Technology Lead prioritizing workflow. Project schedules are set and reviewed for compliance in regular and frequent team meetings:

Engineer finishes task, Produces build for User Experience approval, Engineer releases into build, Build QA’d. Build stage for release…

The Google “weekly sprint” methodology enables flexible iteration integrating user feedback during the development process, Rechis indicated. As is the Google rule, he concluded, “focus on the user and all else will follow.”

Related: Stretching Agile to fit CMMI Level 3Agile ManagementGoogle New York Speaker Series