Movies

We went to see  Duma today. It is set in south Africa and is the story of a boy who adopts a baby cheetah. I enjoyed the movie and the scenery was fantastic.

Last weekend we saw Pride and Prejudice. I was disappointed. I love the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice so much that I am afraid I am spoiled for any other version. I think I would have enjoyed it if I hadn’t had such high hopes for it. Apparently the version they have been showing in the UK has a different ending than the US version, I wonder if British tastes are really that different.

The movie we saw before that was Match Point. The movie starts with a tennis ball hitting the top of the net and hesitating there for a second. The point of this is that luck plays a very big role in how our lives turn out. I found Match Point so nerve racking that I could hardly watch it but I would definitely recommend it.

I still haven’t seen the latest Harry Potter movie or Narnia. I love both books so I am looking forward to seeing them next.

Fart Proudly

Thanks to Digital Rules: The Blog by Rich Karlgaard, I was reminded that today is Benjamin Franklin’s 300th birthday. Franklin is absolutely my favorite historical figure.  If you want to read something fun and different I suggest Fart Proudly – Writings of Benjamin Franklin You Never Read in School edited by Carl Japikse. At the end of his introduction Japikse points out that Franklin was not an "antiseptic, prudish man …. He was bawdy, roguish, and loved to play jokes on his friends. And when England grew oppressive, he was not afraid to rebel." Two of my favorite pieces in the book are "On Choosing A Mistress"  in which Franklin advises why "in all your Amours you should prefer old Women to young ones." and "Who’s the Ass" about trying to please everyone at the same time.

On a different note… I am really enjoying Rich Karlgaard’s blog. Before I started reading his blog I always read and enjoyed his column in Forbes. It has the kind of voice that good blogs also have.  Not to mention the coincidence that Karlgaard went to the same elementary school as I did in Bismarck, North Dakota. He was two years behind me and in my sister Barbara’s class.

It is Hard to Make Something Easy

I think I have mentioned before that as we get ready to launch PortfolioMinder we are doing a lot of watching people use the product. I would say this ability to learn from how people use our product is a core competency of the people in my group and I suspect it is a core competency of Intuit. It has been fascinating and a bit awe inspiring to watch how the designers and user experience experts work.

This really hit me in a research session on Friday. There is a part of the basic PortfolioMinder data architecture that is key to the product. Over the past year no matter how the screens were laid out people just weren’t getting it. It was fascinating and frustrating to watch how they would fill in the wrong information on the screen and then find that the data didn’t make sense. The designers have been trying different things to make it easy for people to get it right since the beginning of the product design.

On Friday we were watching a pilot tester use our latest build and he Got It! He put the right data in the right place. What was weird and cool at the same time was that it was easy. It was obvious and it seemed like no big deal. He filled in the data and everything made sense. No one will ever comment on how well this screen works. It just seems obvious. But I am really impressed with how hard it was to make it easy.

PDAs

A few weeks ago I took the time management class that Intuit offers. My main reason for taking the class was to improve my effectiveness using Outlook. Before I started at Intuit I had never used Outlook. I came out of the class with a great Outlook based system. It allows me to focus on what I need to do as opposed to letting my email manage me.

Anyway the purpose of this post is not to talk about Outlook or time management. The class got me interested in using a PDA again.  I had a couple of Palm Pilots a few years ago buy syncing them on  a Sun system was a difficult exercise and after I lost all my data a couple of times and then had the last one stolen out of the office where I was charging it I decided to go back to a paper based system. Currently I carry an address book, a calendar and a little Moleskine notebook in my purse. I like how easy it is to access them. The class made me think I’d like to have everything synced up and current in one place, especially my to do list.  So I thought I would take advantage of the fact that I am due for a new phone. I had decided to buy an integrated phone / PDA. A guy in the class said he liked his Palm PC.  And I have some Christmas money to spend.

I went to the Verizon store a couple of weeks ago and found out that they won’t sell you a integrated phone / PDA unless you subscribe to wireless Internet. I have a personal aversion to monthly fees. I already pay monthly fees for for cable TV, DSL,  telephone, cell phone,  utilities, and home owners dues. Why would I want to pay another $60 per month ($60 per month at 8% interest over 10 years comes to $10,976) for wireless Internet). I’m sure it is nice to have but I’m not convinced it is worth it.

So the question is… and I would love your input. Do I stay with the paper based system? Or do I buy a new PDA without the cell phone and wireless Internet? If I do get a PDA what kind should I get?

Yoshi’s

I usually listen to Alisa Clancy on the jazz station, KCSM on my way into work. On Monday morning she was giving away tickets for the 10 o’clock show at Yoshi’s Monday night. I called in and won! The question I answered to win the tickets was "Who was our 37th President? Monday would have been his 94th Birthday." (answer at the end of this post)  Duke and I were already planning on going out to dinner with some people from work so after dinner we just drove over to Yoshi’s in time for the show. We saw and heard The Moutin Reunion Quartet from Paris.They are exceptional musicians. There were probably only about 40 people in the audience and Yoshi’s is a wonderful place for live music. What a great evening.

We had such a good time that we decided to go to the 8:00 show on Thursday nigh to hear E.S.T. Esbjorn Sveneeon Trio. They were wonderful too.  We are very lucky to be able to hear wonderful live music, quite inexpensively in such a wonderful venue so close to home.

I highly recommend Yoshi’s. If you live in the San Francisco area and have never been there you are missing out and if you are visiting this area a visit to Yoshi’s would be the highlight of your trip.

(Nixon was our 37th president.)

Some Intuit Links

Some updates on what is happening in the group I am in at Intuit, The Quicken Solutions Group (QSG).

The product I am working on, PortfolioMinder, was favorably  highlighted by Joel Bruckenstein in his  year end wrap up of financial planning industry software. We will be launching PortfolioMinder soon so I have started bringing on Customer Care agents. It is going to be a great team.

There is an article about Intuit in the latest issue of FORTUNE  – "CEO – Intuit’s Scott Cook on How to Be a Great Leader. In the copy of the magazine that I saw the article included a picture of the PortfolioMinder team room. I spend a lot of my time in that room. I  tried to find the magazine on the new stand but the article and picture weren’t in the copy of the magazine that I found. I guess they were just in the copy of the magazine that people get in the mail.

Zipingo is another product that comes out of QSG. They have made a lot of improvements to the site since it went into beta last summer, especially in the ability to search for businesses. The number of companies rated is growing too. Check Zipingo out. It is a cool site.

Six months at Intuit

I’ve been working at Intuit for six months now. It seems like a good time to step back and think about my impressions of my first six months. Keep in mind that my impressions are  parochial. I have a view of my little corner of the company and the project I am working on. Your mileage may vary. But I don’t think my experiences are necessarily atypical.

My view of Intuit is also colored by the fact that this is the first individual contributor job I  have had in a long time. I’m managing the customer care organization for PortfolioMinder. But right now it is just me. This is by design and absolutely the right strategy and what I signed up for. Up until now If things were going to get done to build the customer care organization I’m pretty much the one who did them. I’m starting to bring customer care agents on but these first six months have been very much about doing instead of managing. I have enjoyed it. I certainly had stints at Sun when I wasn’t managing but I was always getting things done through people.

I have to smile a bit because I think I am getting payback for all the meetings I scheduled as a manager. I thought my meetings were really important and I think I discounted people’s complaints about too many meetings. Now I am feeling the reality that when you are in a meeting you aren’t getting tangible things done. I always knew that intellectually, but now I am really feeling the pain of having to work extra hours to get things done around the meetings.

On the other hand the meetings are also a sign of one of the many things that are right about Intuit. I truly feel that my opinions count and that I am making a very real contribution to my group and to PortfolioMinder.  My group makes a very big effort to keep every one informed and I think we are a much more effective team because of  it. I really appreciate the attitude towards employees at Intuit. We are encouraged to have a balanced life and not work 16 hours a day.

Intuit has a very strong culture of being customer focused. From what I have seen they don’t just talk the talk. They walk the walk. Intuit is known for its emphasis on the user experience. From what I have experienced it is part of the DNA of the company. We have had more contextual interviews, end to end user experience discussions, and reviews of the user interface than anywhere I have ever worked. It would be very easy as we push to deliver our product to say we’ll worry about the user later. But we really are researching what works and making changes as a result of it. Even though at times it is frustrating I know that at the end it will be better product.

I heard an interesting story in an all hands meeting the other day. Apparently Steve Bennett was talking to some people and they asked him if Intuit hires anthropologists. He answered "Why would I hire one anthropologist when I have 7000?" There is no doubt that we pride ourselves on listening to consumers and knowing what they want. I would agree that it is a very real part of the Intuit DNA.

All of our goals are structured around Intuit’s three stakeholders; customer, stockholders and employees. I not only see the emphasis on employees and customers that I described above, but I definitely see a focus on shareholders. There is a strongly articulated understanding of and commitment to the need to fuel the growth of the company and to do it for the long haul not just for the next quarter.

So what are my impressions? I just took my first annual employee survey. I like working here. I like the company vision, strategy and focus and I would recommend Intuit to others. I think we have a bright future.