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Ruminations on The Development Process – Part 3Jul 25, 2016

How do we plan the next version?


If you hadn’t noticed, we launched a new version of the application on the first of July 2016. Macrobond 1.16. You can read about it here if you want to catch up on all the new features that were added. In light of this I want to write about what goes into the planning of a new version. A bit of a behind the scenes view, so to speak. Why do some things get added and others don’t? And how do we decide?


The Basics

The first thing you should know is that we have a very long list of things that we would like to add to our product. And new things are added to that list all the time. There are many reasons why we can’t just do them all at once.


One obvious reason is resources.

Developing a product is expensive. It doesn’t scale very well. If you double the number of people working on a software project, you are very lucky if you speed things up by 50%. It is kind of logarithmic with quickly diminishing returns on the investment.


Adding a basic version of a feature first in order to get feedback from the users.

We use this well proven strategy before taking the next step. But for this to work, things need to sink in. If we rush ahead too quickly, we might end up moving in the wrong direction.


Changing the product too quickly puts a strain on the users.

Users need to be educated and learn to use the new features. Some users like new things; others hate when things are changed.


Long term planning – rarely works

Things are changing all the time. So are priorities. Over the years I have spent countless hours making long term plans and doing detailed time estimates. This has been a waste of time. Long term plans never hold. New things come up and priorities change before the full plan is executed. If you choose to ignore this and stick to the original plan, you end up with an inferior product. If you abandon the plan you have wasted all that time planning and there is always someone who expects you to deliver. And to deliver on time.


Time estimates – rarely work

Even if you make it very clear that the time estimates are very uncertain, they still tend to be taken as a promise, and there is always someone who is upset by the “delay”.

What about making a good time estimate? Very time consuming. And you really have to dig into the details in order to make even a fairly rough estimate. Essentially, to make a perfect time estimate, you might need to spend as much or more time on the estimate as on the implementation. The effect is that you have moved the uncertainty of how long it takes to implement a feature from the implementation phase to the planning.


What will you add next year? - I am proud to say, I don’t know!

This is how we do it:
  • We aim to deliver a new version every 3-5 months.
  • When we have implemented all the features for a new version we let internal and beta testers use it for 1-2 weeks in a final test phase. From then on we will only work on bug fixes.
  • During the final test phase, we take a look at our long list of things we would like add to the next version of the product and pick some things from the list that we think would take 3-5 months to implement.

We often implement a basic version of a feature in a given version, and then refine it in future versions. That way we get feedback before taking the next step, which results in a better product.


Taking things as they come

It does happen that our time estimates are completely wrong. If things are easier to implement, and so take less time, we consider adding more things to that version. If things take a much longer time, we can either postpone that version, add the feature to the next version or, in the worst case, skip it altogether.

This approach gives us a lot of flexibility to adapt our development to changing conditions. It also makes it possible to respond quickly to new important requirements. If we implement complex features in several smaller steps, it gives us an opportunity get feedback. Taking on shorter projects also works better for most people. It makes it possible to focus hard on something for a few months and then take a breath before you move on to something new. Some things we do might be rocket science. But we are not building a rocket to the moon with an absolute deadline, where work on the project is complete when it is launched. We are in this for a long time!


So, what’s the catch?

One drawback is that we cannot provide a long term roadmap. We certainly have some long term ideas about the direction in which we’re heading, but we do not know how long it takes to get there. My experience is that most long term ideas will never be realized because they are out of fashion, priorities change, and other things become more important.

For this reason, we don’t communicate our long term ideas. Because if we do, we cannot be as flexible as we need to be. Even if they are just ideas, there would be pressure to deliver.


How do we decide which features to add next?

We look at a number of factors when we decide what things to attempt to do in the next version.

  • The priority we get from customer feedback.
  • The amount of time it takes to build something.
  • Looking forward.
    We try to add features that no one has asked for, but that we think would be useful for many users.
  • Developer resources.
    Some of us are better at certain things. There can also be conflicts if several developers work on the same “area” of the application.
  • Interdependencies.
    Interdependencies require building one feature before we can build another feature with a higher priority. There might also be dependencies on other parts of our IT infrastructure or data that must be in place before we can do our part.
  • Technical requirements.
    Sometimes we need to adapt to new technical requirements, such as new versions of Windows or Office.
  • Diversity.
    It’s preferable to try and include some improvements in all of the main areas of the application for most versions. For instance, we may try to improve charting functionalities in each version.
  • Housekeeping and maintenance.
    Every now and then we need to replace parts of the internal plubming in the application just in order to have a solid foundation to build on in the future.
  • Fun.
    I must admit that there have been cases where we have done some things just because they are more fun to build than some other thing.

Now I need to stop writing! We have a new version to plan and I need to do some real work.

More

Finding data by conceptJul 6, 2016

A new feature for faster, more intuitive data navigation

User intentions

They're what drive the way we design data navigation at Macrobond. Organizing data to reflect your intentions for it? By far the simplest and quickest way to gather what you're looking for.

But, your intentions aren't always the same. This is why we work with multiple views for the economics database.

You're probably familiar with the Economics - by country (major), and Economics - by source views, for example.

By country is ideal when you want to view all the data for one country, in one place. When your focus is on the releases of a particular source, then it's by source you should be using.


Economics - by concept

Today we want to introduce the by concept view. It's an on-going project, to make navigating data as efficient as possible in the application. The by concept view is for when you're interested in a particular indicator, but want to compare the data across a variety of countries or regions. It removes the repetitive work of searching for, and selecting the data for each entity individually.

When navigating the by concept view you're able to access the data via two categories, National sources or All sources.


National Sources

Navigating via National sources will allow you to find data sourced from national sources, such as statistics agencies, and central banks.


National sources

All Sources

Under All sources you'll find the majority of the data is sourced from International organizations such as BIS, IMF and OECD. However, national sources are, as the name suggests, also included in the All sources view.


All sources

Both of these views allow you to drill down by standardized subcategories, the same as those you'll see in the by country views. So, you're always dealing with a familiar pattern.


Excel Integration

As with all the other views, navigating the data this way is not only done within the application, but can also be done from within Excel, as you can see below.


By Concept Excel
More

Macrobond 1.16Jun 30, 2016

Release Notes

New features in version 1.16 of the Macrobond application

Enhanced document & chart sharing, & overview capabilities

With version 1.16 of the application you will find that working with documentation & charts is much simpler and more efficient. From creating dynamic presentations to tweeting charts, making use of your work product easily, in a variety of contexts, has been a central focus of this update.

The following text will guide you through these & other changes: what they are, where you can find them, and the different ways you can make use of them.

You are always welcome to contact the Macrobond team to arrange access or if you have any questions.

Click on the link for How to upgrade in the Overview section below if you would like more information.


Webinar

Introduction to 1.16

If you want to get a head start on using the new features, we will be hosting a live webinar introducing you to Macrobond 1.16.

Follow this link to register your place, and choose a date and time that suits you (there are four options).


Overview of what’s new

Presentation documents Analytics & charting
Exporting & sharing charts Navigating the application
Document handling How to upgrade


Presentation documents

As the name suggests, presentation documents are used to organize charts and tables so that you can easily and professionally showcase an overview of your work. The Presentation documents window opens outside the application to give you more flexibility for working with, sharing and presenting charts. Charts can be organized by pages and in folders.


Macrobond Presentation Document
An example of two pages in Presentation documents, containing six charts each.

Benefits of Presentation documents

  • Get an overview of multiple charts at once. You can make changes to the charts in the application and see this reflected in the presentation document in real-time. The Presentation documents window can be viewed on a second monitor to enhance your ability to work with multiple charts efficiently.
  • Add and organize an unlimited number of charts from different documents in one place. Save presentation documents for your personal use or for sharing with others. You can browse through the pages using the Page Down and Page Up keys on your keyboard.
  • Print or export a presentation document with a number of charts (in this version PDF creation only works on Win10). This will then work as an alternative to PowerPoint.

A simple, dynamic alternative to PowerPoint

While Presentation documents does not have the same formatting options as PowerPoint, it does contain some simple editing options. It also allows you to present dynamic charts. For example, you can easily:

  • Create presentations with a multitude of charts. Simple header and footer options are available for adding text, as well as formatting columns for chart display. Style sheet options include selecting text positioning, size, color, font, and background color.
  • Easily share presentations in the application. By using your company account, for example, just like you do with other Macrobond documents.
  • Avoid broken links between the application and your presentation documents. You will be warned before deleting documents that are linked. See which documents are being used for presentations, and in which presentations documents they are being used.

We plan to make it possible to view these documents on the web based Macrobond.NET in the future.


To get started with Presentation documents have a look at this easy-to-follow help guide.

If you have already installed the new version click on this link to see a sample presentation document: Macrobond chart library : What's new/1.16/Presentation/Sweden summary.

If you have not updated yet click on the yellow ribbon that you’ll see when you open the Macrobond application.


Exporting & sharing charts

Twitter

To help you share your insights quickly with a larger audience, you can now send charts directly to Twitter from the Macrobond application. You can select the size of the image (which affects the amount of characters used) as well as add an accompanying text.

Sending tweets from the Macrobond application
An example of how the Twitter dialog box will appear in the application.

When you have a chart open, go to File and select Send to Twitter. The first time you use this feature, you’ll be asked to log in to your twitter account via the Macrobond application, in order to approve access.

If you want to revoke the application’s access to your Twitter account. You can do so on the Twitter “Applications” page.

For a more detailed explanation see the help page.


SVG

Use SVG to smoothly export your charts and tables to the web, or programs such as Adobe Illustrator and InDesign. In addition to PNG (bitmap) and EMF (metafile) we now offer a format called SVG via the export, web publish and copy to clipboard functions. To adjust the way text and fonts are handled in SVG go to Edit | Settings | SVG, in the top menu bar.

See the help page for this feature here.


Share

On the same topic of reaching a broader audience more easily, if you run Windows 10 you can now send images of Macrobond charts to Windows apps. Sharing is as simple as opening the relevant chart, and selecting one of the multiple ways to share the image: via the File menu, the toolbar, context menu, or with the Ctrl+H shortcut. There is also a Share button in the Web publish activity in the Macrobond application.


Macrobond charts sent via Windows10 Share feature
The Share feature will bring up the standard Windows 10 share options similar to this.

Document handling

Document revisions

To give you greater control over your work product it is now possible to revert to older versions of a document. For documents stored in one of the account storages, you can access the last 10 versions. These versions will be available for up to one year. This feature is also available for Style sheets.

Right click on a document in the File, Open dialog and you will see an item called Older versions:


Accessing previous file versions in the Macrobond application

Recently deleted

To make sure you don’t accidentally lose valuable documents, all deleted documents or folders stored in a company account will be moved to a folder called Recently deleted. Documents will be stored here for a few months, allowing you to retrieve them.

This folder will always be last in your list of folders. The folder will be created automatically the first time you delete something, but you may need to press refresh to view it immediately.

Documents will automatically be deleted from the “Recently deleted” folder after a few months.

Accessing the recently deleted files and folders

Referenced documents

You can see if a document is used in Presentation documents or published on the web using the Web publish feature by selecting Used in from the context menu of a document. You can open presentation documents from this menu if you have access to them.


Checking where the Macrobond chart was used in

Pin documents

For documents you need to access quickly or frequently, you can now pin to the top of the start activity. Pinned documents will always the first of the recently opened documents shown. Hovering your mouse over the document will activate the pin symbol. Simply click on it to pin the document.

Pinning certain documents to the Macrobond's start activity

Analytics & charting

Confidence bands in VAR

We have added an option for generating series for the confidence band in the VAR analysis. You can select whether you want to include the parameter uncertainty or not. This could potentially be a heavy calculation.


Trend output from X13

There is a new option called Calculate trend in the Seasonal Adjustment Census X-13 analysis. This will produce an extra time series containing the trend output from the seasonal adjustment model.


Data range in the series list

You can specify an optional data range in the series list if you want to limit the time series used in the document. The range is applied to the series before any other operations, such as frequency conversion.


Setting a data-range for a Macrobond document

Hold shift key to lock annotations

Holding the shift key down when drawing line or arrow annotations will ensure that your lines are perfectly horizontal or vertical.

Holding the shift key down when changing the size of text boxes will constrain the text box to square proportions.


Copy/paste colors

You can now copy a selected color using the copy and paste commands, and apply this to the color settings for other segments of the chart.

Copying a color in Macrobond

Always show start page

The start activity will now be shown by default when you open the application. If you would like start with the most recently used activity, uncheck the option Always show this activity when starting, in the lower right corner of the start activity.

Always show this activity when starting Macrobond

Unread news notification

There is a new indicator in the status bar that tells you if there are any unread news items. This is where you can find out about new data added to the application database, new features and fixes to the application, and posts such as the Development team’s blog. Click the links in the notifications to read the news on our website.

Unread news indicator

How To Upgrade

The new version can be installed directly via the Macrobond application by clicking the yellow ribbon, which appears on the screen, or by selecting Check for update on the Help menu. If you need assistance, a description of how to upgrade may be found here.

In Macrobond 1.16 we have dropped support for Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2008. The minimum requirements are now Windows 7 or Windows Server 2008 R2.

If you are running a version of Windows not supported by this version of Macrobond, you can continue to run the older version until support ends for that version. Those dates can be found here: https://help.macrobond.com/additional-materials/product-versions/

Please note that this upgrade requires admin rights, so you may need to ask your IT department for assistance.

If you are unable to make use of automatic updates or use the setup program on http://www.macrobond.com/go/installation, then please note that upgrades to 1.16 cannot be done by simply installing a patch (MSP file). You need to install the base installation (MSI file) and the corresponding patch (MSP file).

More

Your Overview of Data AdditionsJun 21, 2016

Tourism, Real Estate, Banking and Credit and the TIC SLT Report


This week we’re highlighting added tourism data, South African Real Estate data, and banking and credit data in a variety of forms. We’ll also take a closer look at the TIC SLT Report from the U.S. Department of Treasury. As always, you can view an alphabetical list (by country) of selected additions made over the last two weeks below the text and charts that follow.


Tourism

New data has been added for Morocco, Spain, and Turkey. For Morocco you can view the statistics on visitor arrivals by regional grouping as well as the totals, starting from January 2000.  Data for Spain covers guest arrivals and occupancy, as well as overnight- and average stays. Turkey’s tourism data spans across various categories, including expenses, income, arrivals and departures. Follow the links above to view the data in the application.


Real Estate

In the recent months you may have noticed an increase in real estate data being added. Additions were made for Denmark, Ireland, Spain, Switzerland, Uganda, and France, amongst others. We have now expanded that list with house price index data for South Africa. Click on the chart below to open it in the application.


South Africa House Price Index


Banking & Credit

With a variety of additions made, the data in this category include non-performing loans for the Czech Republic, off balance sheet commitments in Greece, and loans per industry in Finland.

If we take a broader view of the category to include foreign finances data, the TIC SLT report should also be mentioned. Given the U.S. Treasury’s commitment to more regular reporting on foreign-held U.S. securities following the financial crisis, we’ll expand a bit on the relevance of the report, and the need for these changes in a separate paragraph below.

But first, charts demonstrating the data additions for the Czech Republic and Greece.


Czech Republic - NPL


Greece - Off Balance sheet commitments


TIC SLT Report

The Treasury International Capital (TIC) SLT report provides information on cross border financial flows and positions. This data is essential to understanding the sustainability of the US current account deficit.

During the financial crisis, it became clear that vulnerabilities could not be accurately identified or understood early enough, due to limitations in the data. At that time securities positions were only surveyed annually. Instead, timelier transactions data were used to estimate cross border positions in the interim, which proved to be imperfect and sometimes misleading.

Since then, improvements in measuring cross border securities positions and flows have been implemented. The resulting data is presented in the TIC SLT report, available for analysis, here, in the application.


US Treasury held by Country


Data Additions by Country

Czech Republic

Non-Performing Loans Monthly Data
Mid-Period Population

Finland

Loans to Non-Financial Corporations by Industry

Greece

Off Balance Sheet Commitments

Italy

Payroll Jobs
Youth Unemployment

Japan

Consumption Activity Index

Morocco

Foreign Visitors

Singapore

Seasonally Adjusted Money Supply

South Africa

House Price Index

Spain

Guests, Overnight, & Average Stays Statistics

Sweden

National Wealth Balance Sheet

Turkey

Tourism Statistics

UAE

Population by Sex & Age

UK

HMRC Overseas Trade

U.S

TIC SLT Report

More

Your Overview of Data AdditionsMay 24, 2016

Detailed, regional U.S. industry data, OECD ANA aggregates for EU 28 countries & the TANKAN Business Survey


This week we’ll look at additions made to the BEA and OECD databases, as well as the progress we’ve made towards offering complete coverage of the TANKAN Business Survey. Have a look at the examples in the charts that follow, or skip straight ahead to the lists of data additions by country, and by database below the text.


BEA: Regional Economic Accounts

The additions to the BEA database in the Macrobond application provide access to the industry detailed dataset. This contains GDP related indicators, from the regional economic accounts, by state and metropolitan area. The data is classified according to NAICS, making it comparable across all U.S. regions. Data is located under BEA, United States, Regional, in the application


BEA: Gross Operating Surplus, Construction Sector


OECD: Main Aggregates EU 28

There are frequent and ongoing additions to the OECD database in the application. The most recent have been focused on expanding the Annual National Accounts data, adding the main aggregates for all the EU 28 countries. This data looks at various GDP related time series, disposable income, saving and net lending, population and employment, as well as comparative tables on PPPs and exchange rates. Direct links to the data can be found in the Data additions by database list below.


EU 28 - GDP compared to Exports & Imports of Goods and Services


TANKAN Business Survey

When we are faced with adding a large dataset we release the data in waves. One of our larger projects recently has been towards carrying the complete TANKAN Business Survey. We are now close to reaching the halfway mark on the project, in terms of coverage. Our most recent round of additions saw 6480 (to be exact) new time-series being added, amongst which were series in the categories predicted exchange rate, sales, and ratio of current profit to sales. Follow the link in the list below to access the data, or click on the chart to open it in the application.


TANKAN Survey: Ratio of Current Profit to Sales


Data additions by country

Azerbaijan

CPI
GDP
Interbank Rates

Brazil

Central Bank Focus Market Readout Report
IBGE Monthly Services Survey

China

Bonds Issuance Data

Czech Republic

State Budget Taxes Revenues

Ireland

CSO Job Vacancies by Economic Sector

Japan
TANKAN Survey

Predicted Exchange Rates
Ratio of Current Profit to Sales
Sales

Finland

MFI Euro-Denominated Loans of Finnish Residents
MFI Euro-Denominated Deposits of Finnish Residents

South Africa

Central Government Budget- Borrowing
Annual Data on Export by Country
Annual Data on Import by Country

Spain

Autonomous Communities: GDP
Average Property Prices by Province
Dwellings Sales by Province
Mortgages
Domestic Trade, Industry Turnover: Large Companies
Employment, Male & Female: Large Companies
Wages & Salaries: Large Companies
Tourist Expenditure

Sweden

SCB Recruitment
SCB Vacancy Rate
SCB Average Recruitment Time

Switzerland

Residential Property Index in Zurich

Thailand

Water Stock Levels, by Reservoir

Turkey

Quarterly International Investment Position

Uganda

Balance of Payments

UK

Gilt Market Size

U.S.

Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia ATSIX (Aruoba Term Structure of Inflation Expectations)
Advance Technology Products


Data additions by database

BEA

Regional Economic Accounts: Industry Detailed

OECD
Main Aggregates for EU 28

Disposable Income & Net Lending/Net Borrowing
Gross Domestic Product (GDP)
Population & Employment by Main Activity
PPPs & Exchange Rates

More

Your Overview of Data AdditionsJul 18, 2016

Surveys and frontier markets.


Surveys

This week survey data has been added from a variety of sources. Both worldwide, and UK specific indicators were added. In the chart below you’ll see the EPU Index, and Migration Fear Index, as well as a chart showing consumer confidence data for the UK. Click on the charts or use the links at the end of the post to further explore the data.


Macrobond chart



Macrobond chart


Frontier & Emerging Markets

Core indicators have been added for Papua New Guinea. The first additions of data from local sources from this country include balance of payments, CPI, government and public finance data, and national accounts.


Macrobond chart


For Saudi Arabia banking and credit, and balance of payments data has been added. The chart below covers data for consolidated balance sheets of commercial banks for the country.


Macrobond chart


Data Additions by Country

Global

Migration fears & economic policy uncertainty

China

Population by province

Denmark

Registered sales of weekend cottages – Regional level

France

INSEE employment data by department

Ireland

Domestic GFCF

Japan

Government bond trading volume - Category of investor

Government bond trading volume - Totals

Malaysia

IIP – Local & abroad

New Zealand

Weekly oil price monitoring

Norway

Applications for asylum

Papua New Guinea

Balance of payments

Consumer price index

Government & public finance data

National accounts

Saudi Arabia

Consolidated balance sheet of commercial banks

International investment position

Spain

CPI weights

U.K.

GFK - UK consumer saving index


Get the news delivered to your inbox

If you like keeping up with the what’s new, but you’re more of an email person, then this is for you! Click on the link below to get this bi-weekly overview of the data additions by email.

Sign up to get this news in your inbox.

More

Your Overview of Data AdditionsJul 5, 2016

Brexit, Trillary & Emerging markets


Get the news delivered to your inbox

If you like keeping up with the what’s new, but you’re more of an email person, then this is for you!
Click on the link below to get this bi-weekly overview of the data additions by email.

Sign up to get this news in your inbox.


Current Events

One of our core focuses when it comes to deciding which data to add to the database is responding quickly to current events. Leading up to the Brexit vote, leave/remain opinion poll data was made available.

Our latest addition on the theme concerns the uncertainty around the EU, specifically whether membership in the EU is considered a good thing or a bad thing. Have a look at the chart below for a quick overview of the Eurobarometer data from DG COMM. Alternatively, you can click on the link here, or in the list at the end, to navigate straight to the data in the application.


Macrobond chart


From the other side of the Atlantic, away from Brexit chaos, but no less tumultuous, we bring you U.S. presidential poll data, from RealClearPolitics. This data covers daily opinion poll measurements on Clinton and Trump. For the moment Hillary is still holding on to a small margin, but you never can be too sure about what’s going to happen with Donald in the mix.

Speaking of which… there’s the U.S. recession probability indicator from the NY FED. The data is generated using a model which looks at the difference between 10-year and three-month Treasury rates to calculate the probability of a recession in the U.S. 12 months ahead. Have a look at the chart below, in which recession probability data is compared with ISM manufacturing PMI data.


Macrobond chart


Emerging Markets

True to form we have some additions for the emerging markets too. Foreign debt for Turkey, key macro indicators for Myanmar, as well as additions for Paraguay, Panama, and Namibia, to name a few.


Macrobond chart


Macrobond chart


Data Additions by Country

Global

BIS Credit to Non-Financial Sectors

Australia

House hold projections by State

Chile

 House Price Index 

China

National Labor Strikes by Industry

SGE Gold Benchmark Price

Czech Republic

Population by Age

France

Department Employment Breakdown

Germany

Demography: Applications for Asylum

Decisions on Applications for Asylum Received

Guernsey

Residential Property Prices

Japan

Tertiary Activities Index Weights

Jordan

Tourism Statistics 

Myanmar (Burma)

Consumer Price Index

Employment

Gross Domestic Product

Total Import & export

Unemployment

Namibia

National Accounts

Panama

Panama Canal Statistics

Economic Activity Index (IMAE)

Paraguay

National Accounts

Switzerland

Business New Entries

Turkey

Short-term External Debt Stock: Currency Composition

Short-term External Debt Stock: Remaining Maturity Basis

U.K.

Regional Breakdown: Net Supply of Housing

Nationwide House Price Index

U.S.

RealClearPolitics Presidential Poll

Recession Probability

Europe

Duke/CFO Magazine Global Business Outlook Survey

DG COMM Eurobarometer

More

Ruminations on The Development Process – Part 2Jun 27, 2016

Collecting feedback. (Or, what goes wrong when you leave it to someone else)


In last month's post I wrote about why I think it’s important for me (and other developers) to know about the businesses and users that are going to use the product we develop. So, meeting clients and getting feedback via customer support are really useful sources of information for us. But what happens when we simply receive a request, with no opportunity to understand the user’s context? Let me guide you through some of my past experiences to give you an idea…


"Nice, but how do I print?" – Miscommunication and Preconception

When you ask users what they need in a product, they often leave things out. Because we all operate from within our own worldview, we take certain things for granted and have implicit expectations. The thing is, it’s not always obvious to us when our assumptions aren’t shared by those we’re speaking to.

If a user says:

"I want to be able to create documents that I can save"

The user probably takes for granted that a saved document can be printed and shared too. From a user perspective, why wouldn’t it? That’s how many other programs work.

And if a user says:

"I want this to be presented as a table"

There might be an expectation that it’s possible to sort the table, because that’s how it works in Excel. Not an unreasonable expectation, but an unspoken one, none the less.


"I want transparent charts" – Design by User

When working on another project many years ago as a consultant, we got a feature request from the product manager:

"Users want transparent backgrounds in charts"

This wasn’t difficult to implement, so we added it to the product. Great, we thought, and ticked it off our list. But then we got another request…

"The users are not happy with the transparent charts. They want to control the x and y axes too, so that they are perfectly identical in all charts. Please add the settings so that the users can control all aspects of the axes. This is a request from the head of market data working for this very important client."

I didn’t understand why this was important, or why it was mentioned in relation to transparent charts. So, I asked the program manager. He in turn asked the head of market data, who asked the users. A couple of weeks later I got the answer: they want to stack several charts on top of each other. No closer to understanding why someone would want to do that, I asked again. After another long delay I got the answer:

"The users want to combine lines and bars in the same chart."

Well why didn’t they just say so? We could easily have created a much better solution than stacking transparent charts! What had happened was that when users wanted to combine bars and lines, they tried to solve this by stacking charts. It didn’t work. But, since they thought it would be easy for us to make charts transparent, they asked for that, rather than describing what they really wanted to accomplish. This is very common. Many of the requests and the feedback we receive are for specific features and do not actually describe what problem the user is trying to solve.


The Error of Omission

Different people have different ideas about what makes a thing, that thing. To start with, developing software is quite abstract, open to a degree of freedom you don’t see when designing something like a car. Add to this the very human habit of leaving out bits of information that we take for granted. Then add people. Each with their own ideas about what makes a thing, that thing, all involved in passing messages and information back and forth, leaving out all the things that people took for granted and didn’t mention… Well! If it seems like it’s confusing to write about, try building it.

As I see it, when you talk to someone about a design or feature, you both build a mental model of what the result should be like. The difficult part is to synchronize those models. But, learning more about each other’s needs and experiences can often help.


The Moral of the Story

We, the developers, need to understand how you, the users, work in order to understand what you need. What’s even better is if we can learn about what you want to accomplish, and not only how you currently do things, or how you think they should be done. One way for us to learn is for us to come out of hiding, and meet you. That’s how really good products are created. Together.

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Your Overview of Data AdditionsJun 8, 2016

Further coverage of emerging and frontier markets data.


The latest data additions have followed the same trend as in previous weeks with an increase in our emerging and frontier markets data. This week we are keeping it simple and letting the charts do the talking.

Those of you who have been following the updates recently will know that the data shown in the charts do not cover all the additions made in the last two weeks. We do however include a list of data additions at the end of this post, organized by country. But, even this does not reflect all the data additions, because, well, scrolling through that list would probably give you Carpal Tunnel.

So, without further ado, we present to you Israel, Turkey, and Vietnam!

 

Israel, Foreign Currency Transactions


Turkey: Loand to Hoseholds and NFC


Vietnam Exports: Top 20 countries of destination


Data additions by country/region

France

Trade Balance on Agricultural Products

India

Executive Summary of Power Sector  

Iran

Balance of Payments  

Israel

Institutional Investors’ Exposure to Foreign Exchange 

Lebanon

Tourism Statistics: Arrivals

Malaysia

Gross National Income

Singapore

Median Vacancy Rates of Office & Retail Space

Median Rental Prices of Office & Retail Space

South Africa

Consumer Price Index Weights

Tunisia

Tourism Statistics

Turkey

Loans by Sector  

UAE

Tourism Statistics by Tourists’ Country of Residence

U.S.

University of Florida Consumer Sentiment

Assets & Liabilities of U.S. Branches & Agencies of Foreign Banks

Foreign Holders, Debt by Country

Foreign-Owned Assets in the U.S., Debt by Country

Vietnam

Foreign Trade by Country

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Thoughts from The Dev TeamMay 18, 2016

Ruminations on the development process – Part 1


Why I meet our clients

As I write this I’m sitting at the airport waiting for a flight to Toronto. I’m on my way to visit clients. I will be there for one day and then travel on to New York for more meetings. It’s not unusual in our industry for company representatives, like sales people, or training consultants to go and see clients. But the head of software development? A little less usual.

For me and the other developers in our team, taking these trips is important. They give us the chance to meet our users on a regular basis. Insight into what our users do, and want to do is essential to the way we design and develop the product we give them.

But working this way isn’t always the case. In many organizations there is one team that designs the product and decides how it should work. This team listens to sales, support teams and other sources, after which they come up with a plan. This plan is then translated into a product specification. Finally, the specs are handed over to the developers, who do their best to turn these specifications into a product.

With this many steps between the users and the developers it’s not surprising that IT products are often disconnected from the real issues experienced by the users.

So, why do IT projects seem to fail on delivering good products so often?


From the Bottom up

I think a very common problem is that IT projects are often treated in the same way as more industrial projects, with a top-down approach. A team of engineers or designers, with highly relevant knowledge, come up with a product plan. Then workers execute these plans to produce the product. In contrast, in the IT industry you’ll find that the process may be structured in the same way, but the distribution of knowledge and skills is not. Of course you need good management and project leaders, who help to organize the work. But for the most part they don’t have in-depth knowledge about software development. Naturally, the developers do. So in this case, the typical top-down approach doesn’t make so much sense. Unlike industrial projects, with IT projects the people who have the most relevant knowledge are at the bottom.


Design is difficult without context

One way of approaching the development process is to have a separate design team, who act as mediators between the users and the developers. In this case the role of the developer is to solely focus on executing the product specifications. I won’t say that this never works, but you have to have a really good design team that understands both the needs of the users and how to develop software. In my experience, this is very rare.


The devil is in the details

A product specification cannot possibly cover all the details that the developers need to consider. After all, a computer program is just a very detailed specification of what the program should do. In theory, if a specification contained all the details, it could be transformed into a computer program and you would not need any developers. Luckily for me, that’s not possible, yet.

All these small decisions, the ones that can’t be covered by the specification, are really important for the end result. If the developers understand how the product is going to be used, the solutions they develop are far better suited to the users’ needs.


If you’re still unsure of whether it really is necessary for us developers to meet our clients, look out for my post next month when I’ll be mentioning some examples of what happens when we don’t!

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