10 Apr

3 Big Ideas For B2B Product People: Daniel Eicke


As Product Owner of Brand Solutions at Zalando, Daniel Eicke is responsible for building services and products for the company’s “fashion partners” – suppliers, retailers, fashion brands and others, all of whom are involved in the sale of fashion-related items.

This is separate and apart from the company’s primary focus as an international online retailer. Zalando has built a “fashion platform” and Daniel’s role is the development of products and services for a broad range of businesses across any number of functions, including delivery, payment, branding, promotion, etc.

As you might guess, he knows a lot about what it takes to build a robust platform that meets customers needs.  Here is what he told me…

  1. Create a collaborative environment

    We’ve been working with 2,000 – 3,000 brands for many years. But it was on a simple, contractual level … we didn’t have such a close relationship. As a retailer, brands worked to convince us to sell their stuff in our shop. We wanted to change the kind of relationship we had with them, and instead, focus on creating a win-win situation with our partners.

    So three years ago, we developed a new initiative with a simple slogan: “Help brands win online.” We invited 100 of our most important partners for a “strategic partner day.” The goal was to spread the message about our fashion platform and sketch some ideas in an environment where we all worked together.

    Yes, we were concerned, initially, about bringing competitors together to work on shared problems. We didn’t know what would happen. But thanks to emphasizing the problems, and making sure we were working towards mutual solutions, the participants were able to put aside the competitive elements and give us the insights we needed to develop the necessary platform and toolsThey saw it the same way we did, as part of an effort to elevate the industry as a whole.

  2. Develop solutions for a wide range of audiences.

    When we set up that first strategic partner day, we reached out to a handful of brands with the goal of connecting with them closely. We were looking for the early adopters – the people who were eager to participate and move forward.

    But we were also careful to get a mix of partners based on several criteria: small/big, consumer/commercially driven, etc. We set up intensive brainstorming sessions which gave us lots of insights regarding their plans with Zalando, as well as what they were trying to achieve more broadly. Overall, we wanted to make sure that whatever we developed was applicable to many audiences and situations.

    We also learned that it’s important to keep things fresh.  At some point (we have done this for three years now), the energy can begin to fade away with a particular group.  It took us a while to understand that with each new focus or discipline that we were building, we should bring fresh brand partners into the mix.

  3. Decouple research from the sales team.

    As a product owner, of course my team collaborates with sales. But product management is connected to technology. If you are too tied to the sales function your inputs will be sales driven.  For example, we don’t want to select a test partner based on who is the biggest – or shouting the loudest – just to satisfy a sales need.  We wanted all kinds of partners and circumstances.  Otherwise, you are in danger of building features that are only of value to your top customers.

    We have our own research team and base of contact for our partners. This allows us to ask the right questions and stay focused on the problems that need solving.


Thanks so much, Daniel.  I found the idea of bringing competitors together to work on shared problems to be particularly insightful!

Speaking of competitors (see what I did there?), what’s your preference, Captain Kirk or Captain Picard?

“Picard, of course. Captain Kirk is so 60s! Also the old Star Trek stories were less complex.  Next Generation had much deeper plots with social topics behind them.”

Bonus: Get a look behind the scenes of Zalando’s Techblock.


14 Mar

Channel your inner toddler


When my son was a toddler, his favorite question was “Why?”  Here is a typical conversation:

Me (getting him ready to go out the door): “Let’s go buddy, put your rainboots on!”

Him:  “Why?”

Me: “Because it’s raining out.”
Him: “Why?”

Me:  “Because the water vapor in the air needed to be released.”  (Yes.  I really said that.  It’s never too early to teach them a little meteorology, right?)

Him: “Why?”

You get the idea.

And while my strategy was admittedly not that successful in getting him to put his @#^&!$ boots on, it did teach him a lot about how the world works.

In fact, what always got me about these conversations was how deeply and inevitably we ended up in the realms of topics like thermodynamics, astrophysics, or philosophy. (“Why IS it impolite to throw your peas at the wall?”)

I’ve always been pleasantly surprised by how quickly one can get down to fundamentals with a (rather annoying) series of “why” questions.

This isn’t a new idea.  It was famously part of Toyota’s management methodology breakthrough, which advocated asking “why” five times to get to the root of a particular problem.

Likewise, I have found it to be a surprisingly simple and effective way to get to the heart of customer feedback.

The challenge, after all, is in separating what customers ASK FOR (features) from what they really NEED (solutions) in achieving their goals. Asking “why” can get you the insight you need.

Consider this example conversation:

Customer: “What we really need is a button that lets me email this to myself.  Right over here – on the top left.”

If you take that comment at face value, you’ll probably walk away with a note that says, “Add an ‘email to me’ button on the top left”.  Easy peasy.

But not so fast, the bloat-ware graveyard is filled with products that were developed with this superficial approach. Better to ask a few “whys”.

Me (playing the annoying toddler):  “That’s interesting; tell me why you need that button.”

Customer: “Because I need to have a copy of this for my records.”

Now you’re thinking, “Oh, this customer must be one of the stupid ones who didn’t see the ‘save to archive’ button that does exactly that.  What a dope.”

But wait, maybe we can ask “why” again.

Me: “Hmm.  Do you keep all your records in email?”

Customer: “Well it depends.  In this case, when I save it to archive, it’s a hassle because it’s in your proprietary report format and I can’t easily get at the data.”

Me: “Why do you need to get at the data?”

Customer:  “I need to create reports for my boss, and I need the data from a couple of places in your app.  When I use your archive feature, I can never find where it gets saved, and it uses your private format, which I can’t use easily.  So right now I copy and paste what I need into a spreadsheet and create the report from there.”

Ah.  Now we’re getting to the heart of things.

So what this customer REALLY wanted wasn’t an email.  He simply wanted to create a report that wasn’t currently produced by the application.  Hmm… now who’s the dope?

Once you understand the underlying roadblock that is motivating a specific feature request, you are empowered to solve the actual problem at hand.

So, the next time you find yourself listening to a customer want, go ahead and channel your inner toddler and ask “why” a few times.  Just remember, it’s still impolite to throw your peas.

01 Mar

3 Big Ideas For B2B Product People: Ali Rizvi

Ali Rizvi has a tough job. As the Head of Product at Fonality (recently acquired by NetFortris), a leading telephony company, he’s charged with continually developing world-class communications products for enterprise-level customers.

At the heart of his experience, Ali’s found that truly understanding his customers is the best way to consistently stay ahead of his competition. He had some amazing insights during our interview, including:

  1. The best time to get B2B customer feedback is when they’re happy.

    Let’s face it — with most B2B customers, their number one desire is, “just make it work”. Naturally, this means that we most often hear from our (angry) customers when our product doesn’t.

    Be careful, though. While this negative feedback is important and should be listened to, it’s usually about an issue you’re already aware of. What product managers and engineers should really seek is positive feedback. Positive feedback tends to be more constructive, and can yield the deep insights needed to continually develop a product into something incredible.

    Mining this elusive data from your customers can be tough, though. Our trick? We get our best positive feedback from customers when they’ve just finished a great experience with us. We have an exceptional customer onboarding process, during which we carve out a time for each customer to give feedback. Some of our best new recommendations have come from happy customers during this process.

  2. Use feedback consistency to find meaningful trends.

    When you manage a product (or a bunch), deciding when to act on a particular piece of customer feedback is a delicate balance. Respond to every customer demand and you’ll find yourself running in circles; respond to too few and you’ll start losing customers to your competitors.

    How do you pick out the meaningful feedback from the momentary? For me, consistency is the driving factor. If I hear a suggestion once or twice, it’s mildly interesting. If I hear ten, twenty times, however, I know we’ve hit on a real pain point and should build around it.

    Try to be open-minded and unbiased when listening for this feedback, too. For instance, I — and many industries — have been steadily moving their products to become browser-based, cloud applications. And for a variety of good reasons.

    But, lately I’ve been hearing the same thing from our customers: they really like desktop applications! Their reason is so simple that we overlooked it, actually: desktop applications can be broken apart and modularized (you can’t do that with browser-based applications). That allows people to have just the things they use on a daily basis, always there.

  3. Increase user “stickiness” by focusing on the problem, not the product.

    At the heart of any good B2B product, you’ll find it’s really not about the product at all. Instead, a well-designed solution focuses on the problem, and realizes that solving a real pain point — no matter the method — is the only thing that matters when it comes to getting user adoption.

    Finding a way to get a critical mass of adoption from the end users at your customer companies is crucial. Even if you’re able to sell a big contract to a large employer, you won’t make much progress in the long run if the actual employees aren’t satisfied with their experience. Great user experience should be so intuitive it becomes part of someone’s daily business practice, and eventually so ingrained that the customer can’t simply “unhook” and choose one of your lower-priced competitors.

Thanks, Ali! These types of insights are tough to find, and I have no doubt our B2B readers will build great things if they’re able to follow in your footsteps.

Okay, one last question for Ali: Hitchhiker’s Guide or Lord of the Rings? Ali knew his answer instantly: Lord of the Rings! In fact, he’s been a die-hard fan since he read the entire series over a summer at age nine.

Bonus fact: He can speak Elvish a heck of a lot better than I speak Klingon!   He taught me how to say hello (“Mae govannen”) and goodbye (“Namárie”).

Thanks for reading, see you next time.  I mean, Namárie!

15 Feb

Are You Playing the Telephone Game With Your Customers?


Every family has a collection of “favorite stories.”  You know, those things you keep retelling to each other, year after year.

One of ours involves my son. When he was in grade one, he came home from school and recounted the following history of the indigenous people of Canada:

The Native peoples fought against the Germans and won. The Native peoples were the first Franco-Ontarians. The girls spoke French and the boys spoke English, so they taught each other their languages. They started traveling the world, first the girls in kayaks then the boys in ships. They broke the law by speaking French in school. If it wasn’t for the teachers we wouldn’t have school today because the teachers fought to defend the school from the police and the kids defended with pens, erasers, and chalk. The teachers used rulers, and they won.

Yes, in case you’re wondering, we wrote it down, word for word, as he brought us up to speed (we are planning to read this at his wedding, two decades from now).

If you think something might have gotten garbled in the story somewhere along the way, you are right to be suspicious. The grain of truth in that retelling is that there was a great deal of conflict among the English, French and native people of Canada. Native languages and French were not permitted in schools and the right to speak was hard won.

Clearly, if I wanted a proper history lesson, I would be better off talking to his teacher than to my son,or better yet, an actual historian.

And yet this second hand approach, one that has more in common with a game of “telephone” than with true research, is exactly what many product developers often do: Instead of talking to customers directly, we get our information through intermediaries.

Talk to users, not just choosers

A few years ago, I was working on a product for an insurance company.  We were very engaged with the executives there (“the choosers”), who told us what they needed. But when I asked if I could speak with some of their insurance agents (“the users”), to help us understand the workflow, I was told, “Oh, well, they aren’t part of this committee.”

So I persisted. “Well, can you introduce me to a few of your agents so that I can reach out directly?”

Turned out that this wasn’t possible either, because … here comes the punchline … no one on the committee knew any agents!

Uh oh. So people who didn’t know any agents were telling a bunch of product managers what kind of products their agents should be using.  The product managers then conveyed this information to a bunch of engineers.  You see the problem.  It wouldn’t take long before we would end up with, “the kids defended the school with pens, erasers, and chalk”.

Fortunately, we were (eventually) able to talk to insurance agents, but only by independently recruiting them.  The internal bureaucracy at the customer site made it practically impossible to speak to any of the agents through official channels.

It’s a funny story, but it’s also quite common, particularly in companies with many layers of management and functional specialization. The people using a given product are often far, far away from the people with the authority to sign a $500,000 check.

What’s the solution?

Get as close as you can to the end user before building anything. It’s not always easy, and the value of doing so won’t always be immediately obvious to the “decision makers” in the organization.

But remember, those who don’t learn from grade one history are doomed to repeat it.

Photo credit: Kelly Knox https://www.stocksy.com/493960

01 Feb

3 Big Ideas for B2B Product People: Oleg Mysyk

In most organizations, the people using the technology, buying the technology and developing the technology, don’t tend to communicate frequently (if at all). At times, it feels like an extended game of “telephone,” with the essential elements of the conversation getting garbled along the way.

I sat down with Oleg Mysyk, a Product Manager and leader in application development at Nokia, to gain understanding of how direct observation can overcome these challenges.

Here’s what he told me:

  1. Ask for stories rather than requirements.When talking with customers about their needs, it’s tempting to just ask them for a wish-list — what features would they like most?This approach is sometimes effective, but it has an ugly downside: What happens when a customer’s requests don’t align with your capabilities or roadmap? Now, not only are your customer’s needs unmet, they feel ignored, too.

    Instead, let your customer tell you stories. Ask them to talk about the job they do and the obstacles they frequently face. When you take these stories back to your team, you can put yourselves in problem-solving mode and work on solutions from the customer’s point of view.

  2. Observing your customers in person is crucial to understanding their needs.
    I recall one particular project I had worked closely with for a year, and I was quite happy with it. As far as I could tell, it fit our customers’ needs like a glove. I then did something a bit unorthodox: I took a three week “shadowing tour” to observe some of our actual users. Not to make a sale, not to train them, but simply to watch. The results were both astonishing and painful. On one hand, I gained a whole new understanding of who used our software. On the other; I realized many of our assumptions were wildly off.In many cases, the insights gained from this “fly on the wall” approach were simple yet powerful. For instance, our software was designed for use by a single user. After a week of observation, though, we realized our mistake — many different people were using the same piece of software, and information was constantly changing hands. Seeing this, we adjusted our assumptions about the customer use cases and added functionality to ease transitions between a variety of users.
  3.  Outsourcing customer observation can obscure the longer term vision
    Doing the in-person shadowing described above can be incredibly valuable, but it’s not easy. Not only is it time-consuming and a scheduling nightmare, the travel costs of visiting many clients can make it downright expensive.At one point, we tried to outsource this shadowing within our own company and asked our regional sales teams to do the observation days instead. As it turned out, big mistake. The reports we got from the sales teams, as you might expect, were entirely focused around short-term insights needed to close sales – not the farther vision needed to develop tech that stands the test of time.Whenever possible, I now try to do customer observation directly. It may be painstaking and expensive, but I’ve found the insights we gather are always more than worth our time.

Thanks, Oleg! After hearing what you shared, it’s hard to imagine going about technology design any other way.

Of course, there was one more question I had for Oleg: “Star Trek or Star Wars?” “That one’s easy,” Oleg told me. “I watched Star Trek all the time at university — that’s my pick!”

29 Nov

3 Big Ideas 4 B2B Product People

Fabien Tiburce, Founder and CEO, Compliantia

Fabien Tiburce is the Founder and CEO of Compliantia, a cloud based B2B retail audit software. If you’ve recently walked into a 7-11 or a UPS Store, you can thank Compliantia for helping to keep your local franchisees up to snuff with the corporate standards.

As Fabien explains, “We help large, multi-unit, franchise-based retailers uphold standards for their franchisees. Standards for service, health and safety, security and more.”

So I asked him what he’d learned in the seven years he’s been running the business. Here’s what he said:

1) Educate first.

One of our “A-ha” moments came after launch. I had been promoting the business based on, “Buy us because we are great and do these things better.” Our blog was little more than a sales pitch.

A friend said, “You’re pushing things down the throats of readers.” So we switched to an entirely educational approach and began blogging about best practices, how to address problems, how to uncover pain points. We tried to walk in our customers’ shoes. Today, even our free demos don’t involve selling anything.

You need to plant seeds. Be selfless. You give and give and one day people want to know more. That’s when they call and that’s when they buy.

2) In product development, look for commonalities.

It’s easy to just react to every bit of customer input you get; there’s a temptation to build in everything that’s ever requested. But you can’t be all things to all people or else you’ll never fit into any one market or provide a valuable solution.

So we look for patterns. We try to find the “lowest common denominator” in terms of what people want and what’s really needed. We also avoid customization for one or two big clients which may satisfy them, but take your product development off course in the process. (Thanks to Jason Fried of Basecamp for that insight!)

3) Act on feedback.

Customers have been trained to not report bugs. First, because they assume that they – not the software – are the cause of problems. And second, because they’ve learned that companies don’t usually respond to problem reports anyway, so why bother?

What we’ve found though – and this is so simple it’s amazing – is that the best way to keep getting feedback, is to act on it. That teaches people to keep doing it. At Compliantia, our philosophy is, “Every door is always open.” Anyone in the company with a telephone or email must listen, interact, respond and communicate with other team members.

It’s a cultural thing. It’s low tech and not expensive. And it doesn’t take special initiatives. But we do it consistently. We listen and act.

Thank you, Fabien! Great stuff.

Of course, my last question to Fabien was the toughest: Star Trek, or Star Wars? Turns out he’s a Star Wars guy. “That’s so hard, but I’m going to go with Star Wars. Jedis and light sabers, you can’t go wrong with that!”

06 Jun

Talk to customers on their schedule, not yours


When my kids come home from school I always ask “how was your day?”
Any guesses as to the answer I invariably get?


“Anything special happen?”


Bonus points if you visualized a pre-teen eye-roll in there as well.

But it’s funny, they actually have plenty to say at other times.

While I was busy writing this newsletter, my son told me all about the “waterworks” in the school yard.  The waterworks are what he calls the elaborate set of water channels he has dug in the mud with his friends at school.   Then my daughter interrupted to educate me about the evolution of various Pokémon creatures (did you know that Charmander evolves into Charmeleon, which evolves into Charizard , which evolves into Mega-Charizard?  Well now you do.  You. are. welcome.).

“I’m busy, don’t bug me” I told them.

An hour later, I was ready to talk to them again, but they had better things to do – like play Pokémon and dig in the mud.

For some reason, they insist on communicating on their own schedule.  It’s most aggravating.  Why won’t they talk when I want them to?

Ever notice how your customers react this way when you try to talk to them?

When your customers try to talk to you, how often do you send them the message “I’m busy – don’t bug me” ?

When you  are ready to talk, how do they react to you?  Do you talk to them only when your end of quarter is looming?  Or when you have a new product initiative that you would like feedback on?  Or when you decide to start up a  Voice of Customer initiative and you ask for their time to provide feedback?  Remember that survey you had pinned your hopes on that no one filled out – except that one really grumpy guy?

When you are ready to talk to your customers, do you get the equivalent of  “Everything is fine. Nothing interesting to tell you about”?

Try this for a change.

Next time your customer reaches out to you with questions or wants to tell you about their problems, trying pausing and actually listening.  Write it down.  Share that information with your colleagues.

I know, I know.  You’re busy.  You’re in middle of launching your next marketing campaign, or working on the business case to present to your executive on that new project, or you are preparing for the alpha release of your product.   But here is the thing, your customers are busy too.  I hate to be the one to break it to you, but they are not waiting breathlessly by the phone, waiting for you to call them and ask them a bunch of questions.  They have their own big projects, campaigns, and presentations to prepare for their bosses just like you do.

Here is the bottom line:  Your company must have some way of being open and receptive to customers on their schedule, not yours.  It just might be your only chance to talk to them.

Any kid can tell you that.

Photographer: London Scout

02 May

How to train your customers to destroy your brand


Anyone with toddlers dreads the public meltdown.

You’ve seen us, the harried moms with the kids in tow, just… trying… to get…  the shopping… done.   And then, just as we are coming down the home stretch at the checkout counter, the supermarket has helpfully placed chocolate bars precisely at toddler eye-level.

To the right, Mars bars and KitKat.

To the left, a shopping cart full of broccoli and brussel sprouts.

The escalating requests begin.

Starting with the relatively polite request “can I have a chocolate bar – pleeease?”  and eventually ending in tears and screams “AAAGHHH! I WANT IT!!!!”  And, just to shut the kid up.  We cave.

Ahem.  I mean other mothers cave.  My children are of course perfect angels at all times.

Sometimes, when we (*cough* I mean they) cave too often at the screaming phase, the child eventually learns to skip all the polite preamble stuff and jump straight to the wailing and thrashing.  In effect, the parents have trained their kids to make a public scene, because that is what gets results.

Dumb right?  But companies are training their customers in exactly the same way.

By providing very few ways of letting customers contact them, they give customers little choice but to air their grievances on social media.  Companies don’t like being publicly criticized, so they react very quickly to these kinds of complaints.

Last week I was struggling with my online meeting account shortly before a client meeting.  Try as I might, I couldn’t get the session started successfully.

I searched the help forums and the knowledge base. No help.  I looked for a way to contact customer service, no chat, no email address, no phone number.  Nothing.

With a meeting starting in 20 minutes, I took to Twitter to complain publicly.   It’s the adult white-collar version of the checkout aisle meltdown.  Companies will do anything to get us to just… be… quiet…

Within minutes after my Twitter complaint, I was on the phone with a service representative who resolved my problem in time for my meeting.

I asked the very nice, very competent service agent why they made it so hard to reach customer service on the website, and yet were so responsive once I took to social media.  He seemed embarrassed and suggested that I fill out the customer satisfaction survey to provide this feedback.

And then he laughed.  It was a sad kind of laugh.

Next time I ran into a problem, guess what I did?   They trained me to skip the polite requests and take directly to a public forum, because hey, that’s what gets results.

Here is the bottom line.  Customers will do what gets them results.  If the only way you listen to them is after they’ve publicly complained, you are training them to destroy your brand.  

Give your customers other channels, and easier ways to communicate with you.  Respond to polite, private requests just as quickly as you respond to angry, public ones.  Your customers will be happier, and so will you.

Photographer: Speedkingz

05 Apr

A day like any other

I thought it was going to be a day like any other until I stepped outside the front door and saw this…


Now I know what you are thinking – I should have been expecting this on April 1st.

Except that it WASN’T April 1st, it was April 3rd.  My kids had decided to extend the hilarity for  an as-yet undisclosed period of time.

As my seven year old daughter put it, “Pranks are fun every day.”

Why is there is only one day a year dedicated to joy, good-natured pranks, and general goofiness?  That’s not a world that I want to live in.  At least, that’s what I tell myself as I discover plastic bugs in my sock drawer, snakes in the shower, and fake poop in my shoes.  Again.

Why is it that we tend to restrict the good things of life to small constrained periods?  Should you have fun only on April Fool’s Day (and maybe even New Year’s Eve) but be a dour curmudgeon the rest of the year?

We do this with customer experience as well.

Often organizations will launch special research programs to understand their customers.  They will do a Customer Journey Mapping Workshop series, launch a big survey, run a series of intense focus groups, or initiate a special  “service excellence month”.  That’s all good stuff – but what are they doing the rest of the year?  If the results of these projects aren’t baked into the day-to-day operation and culture of your organization, it ultimately has no effect on how your customers are experiencing you.

I am all for special research projects, but if they are not grounded in a daily practice of listening and being attuned to your customers, you might as well save your money and ignore them year-round.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go make sure my sugar hasn’t been swapped for salt yet again.

13 Nov

It’s 3am. Do you know where your research data is?


I have a confession.

Early in my career many years ago, I was conducting some internal stakeholder interviews at a large company.  As usual, I assured the interviewee that her remarks would be kept anonymous.  Feeling at ease, she let loose with a very open critique about the product direction, using some um…. colorful language.

I kept my promise to her and presented the results without revealing her identity.  I never told anyone about what she said or where those comments came from.  However, the document that held my interview notes was called Jane_Doe_Interview and it was stored on an internal shared directory.

What I didn’t realize was that the company had an internal knowledge base search, which looked through all the shared directories.  When you searched for her name, that document was one of the first results, which revealed her comments in all their colorful glory to anyone who cared to look for it.

People found it.  They weren’t happy.  Jane Doe wasn’t happy.  I was mortified.

File that one under “hall of shame”.

To be fair, I’m in prestigious company.

These days it seems like a new data breach is in the news every other week.  JP Morgan Chase suffered a data breach at an estimated cost of $250 million.  The Ashley Madison leak destroyed a few lives.    The US government, which uses biometric fingerprint data to authenticate employees, had 5.6 million fingerprints stolen.  Now all federal employees need to change their fingerprints.  Or maybe that’s just a rumour.

Every single one of those companies assured their customers (and employees) “We promise to keep your data safe”, and I’m sure that they had every intention of keeping their promise.  Ah, if only good intentions were enough to protect your data!

When dealing with customer research data, you need to take concrete steps to protect the identity of your research participants.  It might not seem like the stakes are high, but they can be, and data breaches happen all the time.

Your guiding principle to protecting your customer data is: keep the data and any identifying information separate.

Here’s what it means in practice:

  • The customer’s name, employer, contact information, location is not kept in the interview notes.  If it appears in the notes, remove it through redaction (cover it with a black box), or just plain remove it.  That information is usually not important in the analysis.
  • Instead, refer to your participants by number in your notes.   John Smith becomes “Participant 1”.
  • If you DO redact information from a document, make sure that you use a proper redaction tool.  That means you have to convert the document to PDF format, and use Adobe Acrobat, Nuance Power PDF or another PDF tool to perform the redaction.  If you just draw a black box over the text, a text search will still find it.  Seriously, the US Department of Defense got egg on their face for making that mistake.  Put that in their hall of shame.
  • There are certain situations when you DO need to know the names of participants.  For example, when I’m doing my analysis, I like to have the names visible because it’s easier for me to remember each interview “oh yeah, Kim was the one with problem X”.  If that’s the case, print out the document and hand write their names on the hard copy (sorry trees).
  • Alternatively, if you absolutely need to have names of people recorded, have it in one document and create a table with a column for the participant name, and a column for participant ID number, so that you create a mapping of name to participant ID.  Then password protect that sucker and give that password only to people who really need it.
  • If you share the password, don’t email the document with the password in the same email.  Send the password by text, or call the person with the password.
  • If the information you are dealing with is in any way sensitive, as soon as you no longer need the identifying information, delete it!  Don’t leave it hanging around, waiting to be discovered.  At the very least, delete the document that contains the mapping.

Notice there is no fancy technology at play here.  No cryptography, no certificates,  no super secure spy devices.  Just some simple, practical techniques that won’t cost you a dime. 

So now you have no excuse for not delivering on your good intentions.

Photo Credit:  Nick Carter (Creative Commons Commercial License)