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April 2023 Menlo Bits


Good Design Just Works. Literally.
Design thinking can bring your business to new heights!

Shopping cart design idea by IDEO
A key piece of Menlo's full software development process is that our two-phase (user Discovery and Design) High-Tech Anthropology® practice gets employed before a single line of code is written. While the details of what our High-Tech Anthropologists® do varies by project, at a high level they follow a guiding procedure that shapes how they approach creating designs for our developers. At Menlo, we consider this practice one of our best risk management strategies because it lets us validate the utility of our end products and minimizes the chance that we end up with a fancy paperweight that no one wants to use at the end of development. As a related topic, in this month's Menlo Bits we wanted to feature the industry concept of design thinking!

An article by McKinsey describes design thinking as a "systemic, intuitive, customer-focused problem-solving approach." Why is this important for companies to understand? Well, from 2004 to 2014 design-led companies outperformed the S&P 500 by 219 percent! By identifying key user needs and iterating to find solutions for those needs, unique solutions can be found even in a short timeframe. In fact, one of the pioneers of this process, IDEO, famously filmed an episode of Nightline demonstrating design thinking by redesigning the common grocery cart in just one week.

As a reminder, design isn't just about aesthetics. Design encompasses all the ways something serves an end user, and design thinking is about how people approach problem solving to serve those end users. Which means yes, design thinking is for people in all industries! Does your company use a systematic approach to problem solving and design?
Brush up on your design thinking skills by reading here or watching the IDEO shopping cart redesign here!

Open the Pod Bay Doors, ChatGPT!
Generative A.I. can improve novice & low-skill worker productivity

Whether you think it's the beginning of the end of the world or the best thing to happen to humanity since sliced bread, pretty much everyone seems to be talking about ChatGPT these days. But for all the speculation that's happened around it, there haven't been any formalized studies and conclusions drawn on the use of the technology in the workplace. That is... until now. (dun dun dun!)

Cutting straight to the chase, the MIT- and Stanford-based study found that worker productivity increased 14% at an undisclosed Fortune 500 firm when a generative A.I. assistant was added. But before everyone starts panicking that robots are going to take our jobs, let's clarify a few things. First, generative A.I. assistants were used to help customer service agents resolve issues faster and handle more clients, but did not replace human-to-human interaction. Also, while less experienced workers saw a 35% increase in their speed, generative A.I. assistants had "minimal impact" on experienced and highly skilled workers. Functionally, this means that generative A.I. was helpful as a training and support tool; the authors of the study claim that by lessening workers' pressures and facilitating their workflows, this type of support can help with retention. Given that this study took place in the high-turnover space of customer support, from a business perspective the implications of this study suggest that both workplace culture and companies' bottom lines could be improved by implementing generative A.I.!

While we plan to stick to pairing to transfer knowledge and support our team here at Menlo, for some companies generative A.I.  might be a great solution to help with training or reduce the stress of employees... all while boosting productivity. While it's important not to get too caught up in the technology hype cycle and no technology is one-size-fits-all, we're excited to see what clever and disparate ways companies implement generative A.I. over the coming years.
Learn more about the study from Chloe Taylor by clicking here!

WFH Will (Not) Set You Free
Work flexibility doesn't necessarily increase job fulfillment

What if we told you that research into the challenges and opportunities posed by remote work existed long before the pandemic shuttered the world's doors? In a Forbes article, Miriam Grobman dives into the story of Sarah Aviram, who back in 2018 was permitted a year of remote work by her company in order to research exactly that. Initially, Aviram loved it: meetings in Vietnam, after-work trips to the beach in Mexico, and more! Having felt uninspired at her job prior to the transition, this was exactly what she'd wanted when she'd approached her company with the proposition to work remotely. Freedom at last!

... That is, until the honeymoon phase wore off. As it turned out, being able to work from anywhere was only a band-aid for not being motivated and fulfilled by her work itself. During the year after this revelation, Grobman did research on remote workers and published a book on the topic right as the pandemic began. In it, she describes the six motivators that drive our career decisions and our sense of fulfillment at work: money, identity, routines, growth, impact, and joy. She asserts that the most fulfilled people prioritize the latter three and minimize the pressures related to the former three.

Of course, that's easier said than done, but progress is a marathon and not a sprint. A good first step is for managers and employees to reflect on and discuss to find the real causes of disengagement at work. For example, what skills or capabilities do you want to develop? What rewards work best for you? What routines do you have that don’t serve your goals or the team's goals? Grobman provides these questions and more as a starting point for understanding and improving our relationships with work.

Here at Menlo, we obviously have a strong focus on the last of Grobman's six motivators in particular: joy. As a company, we want to give opportunities to our team to do work they find meaningful and empower our team members to seek out opportunities for growth, too. We also want our work to feel meaningful in the way that it serves our clients and end users! How does your company empower employees to find meaning in what they do?

Read more about Grobman's findings related to the importance and influence of fulfillment at work, as well as ways to improve it, here!

The Toyota Way

Author: Jeffrey K. Liker

Recommended by: Dan Roman, Menlo Software Developer

If you’ve ever heard the term “lean” come up in conversation or during a meeting with your peers, you may have also heard Toyota brought up in the same conversation. Before reading this book I had heard of lean and the Toyota Way, but it wasn’t until after starting to read it that I learned how intimately linked the two philosophies are. In contrast to a more dry style like Edward Deming, Liker does a good job of weaving the narrative history of Toyota itself in with the conceptual elements of the Toyota Production System (TPS).

Having worked with teams both internal and external to Menlo on improving their process and culture, I believe there is a great deal of power in the philosophies of TPS. The importance of genba (going and seeing the work) is a core theme in the book; I have come to value the quality and quantity of insight you can get by just watching a team work. This is in addition to the relationships you inevitably build with those doing the work. The TPS emphasis on visual management is also one I find critical for any team. The profound ability for visual and interactive management artifacts to provide value and insight to anyone on the spectrum of experience is part of the reason I find myself coming back to them for any team I am a member of.

Finally, Toyota clearly is part of the first set of pioneers in the business value of joy, as laced throughout the book is an emphasis on people and their relationships. I was worried the book would just espouse all the technical elements of the Toyota system but was glad to see such a profound emphasis placed on the importance of the human beings doing the work. It reminded me of Delivering Happiness (the story of Zappos), Outward Mindset (the story of collections agency CFS2), and of Menlo itself. While a substantial read, The Toyota Way is a great read for anyone looking for reliable principles to guide the way they perceive and change their environment of work.

Get a copy for yourself here!


This month, we want YOU to be a part of our experiment! With the dates for our next public High-Tech Anthropology® Workshop finalized, we decided to experiment with a name to help people who aren't as familiar with Menlo understand what the workshop is all about. Currently, we have changed the name from "High-Tech Anthropology® Workshop: The Menlo Way" to "High-Tech Anthropology® Workshop: Designing User-Centered Solutions". However, we had some other name contenders that could be just as good, or better. If you'd like to be a part of our final workshop name decision, you can fill out the survey below! 

Does the name "High-Tech Anthropology® Workshop: Designing User-Centered Solutions" accurately convey how you'd picture learning our HTA practice or do you prefer one of the other names below? Click on the name you prefer to vote! 

High-Tech Anthropology® Workshop: Designing User-Centered Solutions

High-Tech Anthropology® Workshop: Human Centered Design the Menlo Way 

High-Tech Anthropology® Workshop: Menlo's Unique Approach to Design Thinking

High-Tech Anthropology® Workshop: Striking the Balance Between User and Business Goals
 Striking the Balance Between User and Business Goals 

These names are okay, but I think you could still do better



Menlo Bits

The Menlo Bits is Menlo's monthly newsletter, filled with all the latest in science and technology trends as well as what's been happening at Menlo.