Which Programming Language Should I Learn First?

Posted on by Libby Thomas

Which coding language should I learn first header

Deciding which programming language to learn first is a big decision: Which language is best for coding mobile apps? What’s the difference between Java and Javascript? Isn’t Python a type of snake?

Fear not, future coder. This flowchart will guide you through the complex world of programming languages, which means you can stop researching and move on to learning.

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Be a Sales Beast: 5 Tips For Starting Your Day

Posted on by Samantha Nielsen

We’ve all been there. We wake up and it’s…oh my gosh I’m late! We run out the door halfway put together, hoping we grabbed everything we need for the day. By the time we get into the office, half the morning is gone, which is a big deal when you work in sales. Everyone has already arrived and we start the day already feeling behind. We muddle through some tasks we think might be important, and then it’s time for lunch. It’s not a good feeling. Luckily, it’s a situation that can be easily avoided with five simple steps:  

1. Wake up early

This means going to bed early. Make it a priority to get to bed at a decent hour. You know how much sleep your body needs, so plan accordingly. Waking up early will help you get started on the right foot and literally gives you more time in the day. With clients in different time zones, it is important that you wake up early and reach out with a phone call as soon as you can. Use those quiet hours with the office all to yourself to not only make calls to Europe (if you are based in the U.S.), but also to clear your mind and focus on the day ahead. Start your day early, and you will be surprised at how much more you get done. 

2. Read something inspiring

Working in sales is hard. We all go through ups and downs, so it’s important to start the day off feeling inspired and ready to face difficulties head on. Find a book that inspires you and read a few pages or paragraphs before you get too far into the day. Write down a quote from your reading and look at it throughout the day to inspire you when things get tough.

3. Have a plan

This is a really important one. Having a plan for your day will relieve a lot of stress while increasing productivity. Pick a few key tasks you know you need to accomplish today, write them down, and rank them by importance. Get your most important things done first, and complete the tasks diligently so you don’t have to go back and redo your work. Having a plan will give you purpose in your actions and allow you to get a lot more done than you would otherwise. Our team uses Lucidchart to plan our daily workflow, making it easy for us to see what we should do each morning.

4. Don’t get distracted

It’s really easy to get distracted at work. A friend has a funny story, someone messages you an interesting article, there are donuts in the kitchen, etc. You know what distracts you, and the best way to prevent derailing your morning is to shut out distractions. Of course, I’m not saying to ignore everyone and everything around you, but be mindful of the time you spend on things that are not helping you, your company, or your co-workers. Socialize and take time for yourself, but put it in your plan so your whole day doesn’t get sucked up in activities that don’t help accomplish your key tasks.

5. Take breaks

It is important to breathe, relax and regroup after you have accomplished your key morning tasks. Schedule out time for yourself to connect with co-workers, grab a snack, or go for a walk. These breaks will allow you to step back and regain the balance that is sometimes lost in the hustle and bustle. Remember, this is not a race to the finish line—don’t burn yourself out.
Make mornings your friend. Plan your day. Get inspired. Have key tasks and execute with exactness. Take time for yourself. Everyone can be a morning person, and everyone should take advantage of those early morning hours to get their day off to a great start. And remember…


Samantha Nielsen is in Account Development at Lucidchart. She focuses on providing Enterprise level solutions to industry leaders around the world. Samantha is a graduate of BYU’s Information Systems program and is passionate about technology and how it can be used to solve business needs. She enjoys meeting new people, delivering quality solutions, and cultivating business relationships.

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How Does Email Work?

Posted on by Micaela Wright

how email works

It’s Monday morning. You sit down at your computer to tackle the mountain of emails that poured in over the weekend. After replying to your colleagues with a few perfectly placed cat GIFs, you’re on your way to tackle whichever project is next.

cat

But have you ever thought about what actually happens when you hit “send”? Maybe you haven’t — and maybe you don’t care — but I can guarantee you there are people at your company who do — and they also care about what you do with your personal email (stay tuned for another article on what your email marketer wishes you knew).

Sending an email often happens at close to the speed of light, but there are a lot of steps in between you hitting send and the recipient seeing that adorable cat GIF.

The Process

Check out the Lucidchart diagram below for a summary of this process.

The first thing you need is an email client — think Gmail, Yahoo, etc. This is where you type up an email and hit send.

From the client, the email is delivered to a simple mail transfer protocol (SMTP) server where it is queued to be processed. Once the email is processed, the server needs to look up where the receiving domain is located. This is done with a domain name system (DNS), which returns the IP address of where the email is going back to the SMTP server.

Now, the SMTP server knows where to send your email. The next step is for your SMTP server to connect with the recipient’s SMTP server.

The IP address is delivered to your router and finds the fastest path to your recipient’s inbox. The email is then passed through a firewall into the internet — where it hops from router to router until it reaches your recipient’s firewall.

The firewall passes your email to the recipient’s router, which directs it to the recipient’s SMTP server. The SMTP server checks with a DNS server, which validates the sender is who they say they are; if they are valid, the SMTP says it’s ok to send the email.

Important note: All of this happens before the email is actually sent. It happens just to establish a connection. Basically the SMTP servers are just saying a pleasant hello to each other.

Once the receiving DNS says it’s ok to send an email, the sending SMTP pushes the email to the router for delivery.

The router breaks the email into individual packets, making it easier to deliver the email.

The packets are then sent one at a time through the process already described above. Once it reaches the recipient’s router, the packets are put back together and transferred to the recipient’s SMTP server.

The recipient’s SMTP server checks the domain against an internal spam list and/or an external spam database. If it passes this initial spam test, it is queued to go to a POP3 Mail Server (post office protocol 3), which is used to receive emails to a local email client. This server allows you to download the email message to your local computer. It is checked by a few more spam filters before being viewed in the recipient’s email client — and they can finally see that adorable cat GIF.

Again, keep in mind — this process happens insanely fast. Think about this the next time you draft up an email. What a time to be alive.

This Lucidchart diagram summarizes the process we just discussed.

lucidchart

So What?

Now — why should you care about any of this? What you send, especially through your corporate domain, affects the deliverability of your marketing emails, which at most companies are an important part of the lead acquisition and nurturing process. If you send a bunch of crappy emails to fake email addresses or email addresses that don’t want to hear from you, not only are you breaking CAN-SPAM regulation, but you’re also hurting your business. Spam complaints and hard bounces mean your future emails won’t get delivered. I can promise your sales and marketing teams will not be pleased about that. This is one of the few times you should NOT follow Nike’s advice.

nike


Micaela Wright-Hansen is a Sr. Digital Marketing Specialist at Lucid Software, makers of top-ranked productivity apps Lucidchart and Lucidpress. At Lucid, Micaela is responsible for all marketing automation for Lucidchart – from product selling and education to outbound lead gen for the growing sales team. Prior to working at Lucid, Micaela attended the University of Texas at Austin (Hook ‘Em) where she completed the Texas Media program. Outside of work, Micaela is a rabid tennis and football fan and enjoys reading & cooking.

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12 Ways to Screw Up Your A/B Test

Posted on by Spencer Mann

Spencer

I have been running a growth team for about two years now, and I have done a lot of A/B testing in that time. While the fundamentals of an A/B test are fairly simple, there are a lot of mistakes that can be made — and believe me, I have made them all. However, the biggest mistake a growth team can make is not testing at all. Testing, if done correctly, not only helps optimize your customer’s experience, it also helps you understand your customers. Today, I am excited to share some of the things I have learned so far that can help you run A/B tests successfully.

Without further ado, 12 ways to screw up your A/B tests.

1. Assign people who will not get the test experience to an arm of the test.

The biggest problem with this mistake is that it dilutes your test results. If in reality the test experience increases conversions by 50%, but only 1% of users assigned to that arm of the test actually get the experience, there is a good chance you won’t detect a significant impact at all. This mistake usually occurs in one of two ways:

  • Assign users several steps before the actual test experience occurs.
  • Assign users who are ineligible for the test experience.

2. Change your control arm.

Pretty basic here, but it is not uncommon for people to want to add an “obvious fix” to the control arm because it simplifies the experiment or corrects a perceived error. I recommend you avoid doing so whenever possible, as it is difficult to assess either the psychological or technical impact a change may have on a user or his machine. We test so we can find out.

3. Give users an inconsistent experience.

Many tests we run only impact the user at a single point in time, as with the onboarding flow, but some tests, like adding a paywall, have a repeated impact on the user. For a clean analysis, it is important that your test is structured to give users a consistent experience. Some thought should also be given to how you transition users off a test when it is complete. This is particularly difficult for pricing tests which may be seen by users before and after they register. The areas where you should be particularly sensitive include:

  • Re-assigning users to the test. This scenario is fairly easy to avoid when the user is logged in, but much more difficult if they are just a visitor.
  • Members of the same team seeing substantially different things. Again this is very difficult pre-registration, but make sure everyone on an account gets the same test assignment.
Stop sign

Pro tip: Anchor with this picture when a user complains about an inconsistent experience in the product.

4. Make it difficult/impossible to turn off.

Ideally the team analyzing and implementing the test has the power to turn a test on or off. This sounds obvious; however, depending on your testing system, it may require an analyst to identify the change needed, an engineer to make a code change, and the ops team to do an emergency release. If you are testing as often as you should be, this type of flow quickly results in frustrated people and wasted time.

5. Fail to track all relevant actions for the test.

If I had to identify the single greatest cause for an emergency release for our team, it would be failing to track a key metric that could clearly determine the efficacy of the test. When scoping out your tests, it is important to clearly identify what information you will need to get clean results. If you launch a test without a way to collect that information, add a way to do so asap or turn off the test. There is no reason to run an experiment if you can’t measure the impact. Another variation of this mistake is testing a change where you can’t articulate the positive impact you expect it to have (usually making styles consistent).

6. Fail to consider edge cases.

Considering edge cases can sometimes be difficult to do, as your code may be fairly complex. For this reason, it is critical to have excellent engineers and QA people on the team. A good engineer will ensure the code handles multiple flows intelligently and will think about how the code will interact with your other tests. A good QA person will drive you crazy with edge cases that can make or break your results. Be particularly sensitive to edge cases that are highly correlated with value, such as team or enterprise experiences.

A/B tests

Some edge cases are more obvious than others.

7. Introduce bias to the test results.

No one does this intentionally, but it can happen pretty easily if you are filtering your results or changing your test distribution. At times we have started a test at 80:20 to be conservative with our test results, but then when we are comfortable we have changed to a 50:50 mix. If you do this (I actually try to do everything at 50:50 the entire time), you have to account for the additional cooking time the average control arm user had. One other variant of this mistake is to accidentally assign 100% of a subsegment to one arm of the test. This usually happens when a group of users cannot be allowed to experience the treatment. These users either need to be clearly flagged at the time of the test assignment, or better yet, not assigned to the test at all.

8. Fail to monitor the test closely during day one to ensure that nothing is broken in the implementation.

This is a fairly controversial point, as statistical purists will complain that monitoring on day one will significantly increase your chance of a type I or type II error. You aren’t checking the results after a day to make a final call, you are checking them to make sure that the test is deployed correctly and users are getting the expected behavior. We recently deployed a test to drive sharing during the standard download flow. While the test arm increased sharing on day one by 80%, it came at the cost of a 9% drop in downloads; both impacts were highly statistically significant. In raw numbers this test added 100 shares but dropped 200 downloads. When we saw the magnitude of this impact, we knew we needed to soften the flow a bit. It was very beneficial to have an emergency release ready to go when we started getting complaints about the change.

Stairs

Closely monitoring your test soon after release will allow you to correct obvious mistakes before they ruin your credibility forever.

9. Call test a win too early.

At times you will be pressured to end a test early. Maybe it’s because you want to end the quarter with a solid win, or maybe it’s because an executive wants to capture as much of the value as possible. Fight this. If you are running a growth team, your lifeblood in the organization is credibility. If people trust your methods and conclusions, you are free to test all sorts of things and really make a big impact. Consequently, nothing is scarier than reviewing an old test that was called as a win too early. It’s a whole different ballgame for calling a loss early. If you think it is a lemon, and you have learned everything you can from it, cut your losses.

10. Fail to quickly dig into inconsistencies in test assignments.

Before you launch your test, you should have a pretty good idea of how many people should be assigned to it. Check your test a few days in, and verify that the assignments meet your expectations. After noticing a few tests that favored a single arm for test assignments at a statistically significant level, we began a several week witch hunt to find the culprit. After filtering for registration sources, we eventually discovered an error from our old demo flow that assigned everyone to the same arm of the test. Since these users behaved significantly differently compared to our standard users, we had introduced a systematic bias into our test results.

Inconsistencies in test assignments may be an early warning that things are about to get worse before they get better.

11. Fail to predefine success and ignore secondary effects.

Some jerk once told me, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” Well, in testing it seems more like, “If you fail to define success, you can choose to call whatever you did a success.” I have seen some pretty creative definitions of success that conveniently meet a nuanced result (not great for the old credibility though). A less offensive mistake, and a more common one, is to fail to consider any secondary impacts of your test. Usually we predefine our core metric and balance it with the most likely negative result. For example: First Payments against Returning Use, First Payments against Quality of Payments, Shared Documents against Downloaded Documents.  As a rule, we pair all payment metrics with engagement and quality of payments.

12. Optimizing low value channels or functionality.

In my opinion, a bad test is not one that fails, but one that wouldn’t make a difference even if it succeeded. Make sure you are testing things that have the potential to be needle movers. We once spent a month fixing the conversion funnel for one of our onboarding flows, and in the end we increased conversions by 20%. Unfortunately, this flow represented a tiny minority of our registrations and had the worst conversion rate of all (now slightly less terrible). Our time would have been better spent optimizing a higher touch experience with more qualified users.

chart

Don’t optimize flow 5, focus on flow 1 and 2 to move the needle.

Even when avoiding these 12 pitfalls, executing a clean test is often more difficult than it sounds.  Consequently, during the test design we usually find it helpful to use Lucidchart to diagram the process in a flowchart. Doing so helps us anticipate the various edge cases and ensures we have thought about the experiment more robustly.

Lucidchart

Hopefully implementing these tips can help you successfully use A/B testing to accelerate your company’s growth!


Spencer Mann is the Senior Director of Growth at Lucid Software, makers of top-ranked productivity apps Lucidchart and Lucidpress. At Lucid, Spencer is responsible for leading the growth and business intelligence teams. Prior to working at Lucid, Spencer worked at Celanese where he was a product manager for the polyester product line. Spencer graduated with a BS degree in Biological Engineering from USU, an MS degree in Biosystems Engineering from OSU, and an MBA from BYU.

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Lucid Software Secures $36 Million to Enhance Visual Productivity in the Enterprise

Posted on by Lauren McNeely

Lucid Software

Salt Lake City, UT — Lucid Software, a leading provider of cloud-based visual productivity applications, today announced it received a $36 million investment from Spectrum Equity, a prominent growth equity firm whose previous investments include successful online subscription businesses Ancestry.com, Lynda.com, Prezi, and SurveyMonkey. This financing will fuel the expansion of Lucid’s diagramming and design solutions and capitalize on its already wide-scale adoption within large enterprises.

Lucid Software has two market-leading products, Lucidchart and Lucidpress, that are used by over 8 million users and hundreds of thousands of paying subscribers from more than 175 countries. Lucidchart offers an intuitive and collaborative platform for building complex diagrams to improve productivity and visual communication, while Lucidpress enables brand-compliant layout and design for organizations of all sizes.

“With our freemium model, we enabled millions of users to experience Lucid’s products before hiring our first sales representative,” said Karl Sun, co-founder and CEO of Lucid. “Over the last 18 months, we’ve developed our internal sales and customer success teams to accommodate the incredible demand from these grassroots champions, many of whom work in the world’s most successful companies.”

Over the past year, Lucid increased its enterprise customer base by 6x, which includes many industry-leading organizations such as Hubspot, Kohl’s, Pearson, Quantcast, Spotify, Uber, and Woolworths.

Freemium to Enterprise

Lucidchart has primarily been discovered and incorporated by teams looking for a collaborative, cloud-based diagramming application to perform a variety of tasks — from mapping out a core business process, to wireframing and prototyping UI and UX designs, to drawing an organizational chart or designing network architecture. Lucidchart’s diverse use cases reflect its broad adoption across all key functions within enterprises.

Lucidchart’s popularity within a company increases as people share these diagrams with other team members and clients, resulting in the number of users in a Lucidchart enterprise account growing 5.5x on average in the first year.

Lucidchart is intuitive for the end user yet also meets scrupulous enterprise-specific standards. Because Lucidchart is the only cloud-based diagramming app offering an enterprise solution, it’s able to comply with a company’s strict security, mobile capability, administrative and integration requirements. Lucid Software integrations include Google Apps, Microsoft Office 365, Confluence, JIRA, Box and Slack.

“The Lucid team has created an intuitive, beautiful user experience which also has robust adaptability to meet the demands of an enterprise environment, “said Ben Spero, Managing Director at Spectrum Equity. “Lucid’s easy-to-use and collaborative apps enable all users in an organization to do their best work. We are excited to support the company as Lucidchart and Lucidpress continue to rapidly proliferate within enterprises around the world.”

In conjunction with the investment, Ben Spero and Ethan Choi of Spectrum Equity join the Lucid Software board of directors.

About Spectrum Equity
Spectrum Equity is a leading growth equity firm providing capital and strategic support to innovative companies in the information economy. For more than 20 years, the firm has partnered with exceptional entrepreneurs and management teams to build long-term value in market-leading internet, software and information services companies. Representative investments include Ancestry.com, BATS, GrubHub, Lynda.com, Passport Health, PicMonkey, Prezi, Jimdo, SurveyMonkey, Teachers Pay Teachers, and WeddingWire. For more information about Spectrum, visit www.spectrumequity.com.

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The Startup Shuffle: How to do Space Planning on a Budget

Posted on by Lauren McNeely

This is a guest post by Brad Hanks, VP of marketing at ZipBooks.

My name is Brad Hanks, and I believe in space planning.

I work at a small, scrappy startup that makes accounting software for small businesses. We’re growing fast, which is wonderful but also painful. Right now we spend a large chunk of our time screening and interviewing people. Once we manage to hire the right person, we’re tasked with figuring out a suitable place to put him or her.

To save on overhead we take the Aladdin’s genie approach to office space—phenomenal cosmic power, in an itty bitty living space.

When we hire someone new, we want to make sure that they are comfortable while still making the best use of our space. Often, adding just a couple more people requires us to rearrange completely.

Unfortunately, hiring a space planner at our level of operation is a non-starter. That said, I’ve found Lucidchart to be an effective floor planning alternative that allows me to do all the space planning myself.

Here are three tips for getting started with Lucidchart’s floor plan shape library.

Pay attention to scale

Scale

When you plan an office space with Lucidchart, you aren’t spitballing something that might work. You can set the exact scale that you are working with and make sure that your space, furniture, walls, windows and doors are all accurate.

I’m the kind of person that likes to iterate until something is right. However, if you iterate in the physical world you end up wasting a lot of time trying to figure out how many powerstrips you will need to buy for a given arrangement of desks based on where the outlets are. Space planning is a team sport in which the more people who are involved, the more likely everyone is going to lose . . . their minds.

You are going to be tempted to just make things “good enough.” However, it’s worth taking the time to pick an inches to feet scale that makes sense for your space and then making sure that all objects in the floor plan layout are true to that scale. I can promise you that whatever quick layout problem you are trying to solve will come up again in the future—and you’ll be thanking yourself if you have a master document of the existing layout to use as a starting point.

Take advantage of advanced shapes

 

door closed     door open

In true Lucidchart fashion, they have really nailed the execution of how you can interact with shapes on the canvas for space layouts. Many shapes in the floorplan library have advanced features, which are there for a reason. Take time to check them out. For example, I like that I can open and close a door slightly so I can see how much clearance I have between a door and the closest piece of furniture.

Use layers

office floor plan

In order to get a high-fidelity representation of an office space both at rest and in motion, I recommend using layers. Objects overlap in real life, so make sure you build that into your floor plan. I can visualize what it looks like when people are sitting with their chairs slightly under their desk, but I can also see what it looks like when people leave things a little askew. This feature is key for me, as there’s not a lot of room for error in our cozy space.

While I currently use Lucidchart to quickly rearrange a small office layout, I’ve worked for both startups and large companies and see this approach proving effective no matter your company or circumstance.

For example, let’s say you’re signing a lease for a new building. You can use Lucidchart to complete a detailed space evaluation and make sure the area fits your needs before you seal it with your signature. If you’re going to stay put for a long time, this tool makes it easy to plan a remodel. For larger companies with complex team structures, Lucidchart is perfect for ensuring that everyone is seated where they need to be.

office floor plan

Apple may have the ability to spend millions on a circular campus to solve their space planning woes, but for the rest of us, Lucidchart is a great option. I know it’s been just the right choice for me in terms of affordability, flexibility, and convenience.

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A Diagram a Day Keeps Distracted Readers Away

Posted on by Lauren McNeely

visualization

Words are processed by short term memory, where only around seven pieces of information can be retained at a given time. That’s not very promising. Images, on the other hand, go to long-term memory where they are indelibly etched–that’s why a picture is worth a thousand words.

Whether you are presenting data in a slide deck to executives or a biology lesson to fifth graders, you may want to give this cliche some consideration. Visuals can make the difference in whether or not your message makes a lasting statement. Here are a few of the reasons as to why you may want to hop on the visualization train:

1. Visuals stand out from the crowd.

We are inundated with information every second of every day, and we can’t take it all in. Visuals up your chances of making the cut.



Eye tracking studies show that people pay attention to and spend more time looking at information-carrying images than reading text on a page. Content paired with relevant images gets 94 percent more views than content without images. It’s a simple solution for making sure your message breaks through the noise—give your audience something engaging to look at.

2. Visuals speak our language.

We are visually wired. As a result, images can help break down the complex.



Take this example—people following directions that include both text and illustrations do 323 percent better than those with just text. Relationships between data can be better demonstrated in a visual format—it’s much easier to show increase in profits over time with a line graph than it is with a load of numbers and letters. Visuals offer a common language and can help your audience comprehend information quickly. In an office setting, employees are 17 percent more productive and have to use 20 percent fewer mental resources when data is displayed visually.

3. Visuals stick with us.

We remember images. Visual cues can help us to remember and retrieve information because in stark contrast to the abstract nature of words, images are concrete.



In a study, students were asked to remember groups of three words. Those who tried to remember by repeating the words didn’t do well, but those who made visual associations with the words did significantly better. Graphics go a long way to ensure your information is memorable.

Diagramming: A ticket to visualization

The importance of incorporating visuals in order for your message to break through the noise, be understood and be remembered is clear. But it’s not always clear how to actually go about representing certain types of information visually. Cue the visual world of diagramming.  

Diagrams can help you visually organize and display nearly any type of information, segmenting it into manageable, memorable chunks. It doesn’t take much to get started. Let’s look at just three examples of diagrams you can easily start using to embrace the power that is visualization.

Concept Maps

Concept maps are excellent for visually representing the relationships between concepts or ideas. They are ideal for presenting new information, as they integrate new and old knowledge to give you a better idea of the big picture. This integration promotes meaningful learning which increases knowledge retention.

Use this comprehensive guide to become a concept mapping guru and learn how to create your own.

Concept Map

Process Maps

A process map helps you visually describe a workflow by using a variety of symbols to map out the series of events that lead to an end result. You can use a process map to help all members of your organization understand how a process is completed and who is involved in that process.

Images explain a process much more clearly than a narrative can. By building a process map, you can identify areas where you can improve efficiency. You can then present visual proof of existing problems such as bottlenecks, repetition and delays, so that everyone can then collaborate on the necessary changes.

Discover more about process maps and how to make them.

process map

Venn Diagram

A Venn diagram illustrates the logical relationships between different items, allowing you to organize and compare them. These diagrams are often used in reports or presentations because of their ability to visualize data in clear, powerful ways. For example, when presenting two different choices, this diagram can clearly convey the similarities and differences more efficiently and concisely than words can.

To learn more, check out this handy a Venn diagram guide.

venn diagram    5 set venn diagram

 

And that’s just scratching the surface of the many diagram types you can utilize to illustrate your message. After all, while a picture may be worth a thousand words, a diagram can be worth a thousand and one.

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Chart Chat: Mapping the Way to Curricular Clarity

Posted on by Lauren McNeely

We love hearing about the creative ways in which our users apply Lucidchart to solve problems and make their lives easier. We are excited to introduce “Chart Chats,” a new series in which we will highlight one of these unique users each month. Meet Alexandra Yanovski of Temple University.

Alexandra Yanovski has unusual nightmares.  As the Coordinator of Undergraduate Strategic Initiatives at Temple University, her job is to help students stay in school and progress toward graduation. But sometimes her work interferes with a good night’s sleep.

“I’ve literally had nightmares of bouncer-looking guys with course prerequisites written on their t-shirts,” she explains.

What do prerequisites have to do with student retention and graduation rates? Quite a bit, according to Alexandra. She wants to find out why certain students stay in school while others don’t. She looks at both external socioeconomic factors and internal structural factors that can limit students’ progress. After combing the data, she began to suspect that the curricular paths of certain majors were holding students back.

Alexandra

“There is something wrong with the system,” she says, “when a course has 21 prerequisites and 120 seats, but 86 of those seats are overrides.” (An override occurs when a student receives an exemption to take a class without meeting the prerequisites.)

The students weren’t the only ones who were confused. Many instructors didn’t understand how their courses fit into a broader curriculum. Meanwhile, advisors with the power to grant overrides were bogged down with hundreds of requests.

“If you think of every override as a five-minute conversation with an advisor, that can add up to a couple days’ worth of work over a semester,” said Alexandra.

Fortunately, Alexandra found a way to meet the needs of students, instructors and advisors alike—all while cleaning up curricula along the way.

Drawing on the power of drawing

When Alexandra Yanovski was an undergrad at Rutgers University planning her own path to graduation, she ended up drawing a diagram. “I’m a visual person, so I try to understand things from the perspective of flow.”

The same strategy has proven effective at Temple University. For each major, Alexandra and her team have built curricular maps with Lucidchart, a cloud-based diagramming app that’s free for educators. Those maps look something like this:

Curricular map

Each column represents a term. Boxes are courses, with the box color indicating what kind of course it is, such as an elective. Lines connect prerequisites to the subsequent courses.

While the university can’t legally make the maps public, it can offer them to students through their advisors. After filling out a personal copy of a curricular map with an advisor, a student can immediately grasp what classes he or she needs to take and in what order. Similarly, students transferring from another institution can see the minimum number of semesters it will take to graduate.

“It’s like shining a flashlight on a curriculum,” says Alexandra.

Instructors, meanwhile, can get a clearer picture of how a course is intended to prepare students for future courses, allowing them to focus on essential principles. This is particularly useful for majors like engineering and public health, where there can be a chain of six or seven prerequisites.

Resounding results

Most surprising, however, was the number of policy changes that were made as a result of the maps Alexandra and her team created. By the time they finished their first round of curriculum mapping and recommending improvements, the requirements for over 70 majors had changed, some quite significantly.

“The question we kept asking ourselves was, ‘what is it about this program that keeps them from graduating?’” says Alexandra.

Having worked at several institutions of higher education, Alexandra is hopeful that her methods could be applied to the benefit of many schools.

“This doesn’t just apply to higher ed. You can easily map out a curriculum in K-12 as well,” she says.

Alexandra has also mapped out courses on a micro level. One of her responsibilities is to oversee a few seminar series. To make sure that the instructors cover all the necessary topics, she provides them with a visual syllabus, which she also makes in Lucidchart.

She compares a visual syllabus to a flower petal, with each petal containing related lecture topics.

Visual syllabus

The end result of Alexandra’s efforts? “If you eliminate administrative hurdles, you open up the time for more important human-to-human contact.” With the new policies in place, she also expects to see graduation rates rise as students finish school more quickly and with less debt.

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Lucidchart for All Your Microsoft Office Needs

Posted on by Lauren McNeely

Microsoft Office 365 and Lucidchart

The human brain can process only a limited amount of information at any given time, and visual information is processed 60,000 times faster than text. Here at Lucid, our goal is to make effective visual communication a daily reality for our users. We’re excited to announce the release of add-ins for Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Excel. The new add-ins work with Office 2013, Office 2016 and Office 365. From brainstorming to board meetings, these add-ins make it easier to incorporate visual information into any situation.

PowerPoint

The new PowerPoint integration creates a richer, more user-friendly experience. Users can embed static or interactive Lucidchart diagrams that include links, hotspots, layers, panning, zooming and even the Lucidchart presentation mode. Once Lucidchart content is embedded into your PowerPoint slides, you’ll never have to exit the presentation to access diagrams.

The integration makes it possible to create, edit, share and utilize visuals dynamically within your slides:

  • Wireframes: Click through and interact with a wireframe from within the presentation.
  • Diagrams: Turn large, complex diagrams into slides in Lucidchart and embed them in PowerPoint, where the diagram is clickable, zoomable and pannable.
  • Floor plans: Create floor plans with toggles between layers that include seating assignments, furniture, dimensions, etc.
  • Flowcharts: Embed flowcharts that include links to external sites or pages for additional context and examples.

 

PowerPoint integration

 

Word

Word is perfect for word processing, but it isn’t designed for diagramming. The Lucidchart add-in for Word allows users to embed diagrams, mind maps, flowcharts and wireframes to create a professional looking document with key visual elements in less time and with less frustration. The integration will enhance the value of Word documents like reports, proposals, technical documentation, user manuals and more.

 

Word integration

 

Excel

It can be difficult to understand endless numbers on an Excel spreadsheet, but thankfully, the new Excel add-in allows users to easily embed a flowchart or other diagram to help explain processes, calculations and the relationships between data sets. Using the add-in to present this information visually can reduce the learning curve and provide additional context to help readers make sense of the underlying data and analysis.

 

Excel integration

 

Lucidchart also makes it easy to import and export your Visio diagrams (including Visio stencils). Since any imported Visio files are completely editable, you won’t have to recreate old documents in Lucidchart. You can even export Lucidchart documents to a Visio format with the click of a button.

Lucidchart now works with Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Visio, OneDrive and Azure, with even more Microsoft integrations planned. Start thinking visually with our Office 365 integrations today.

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Inside a Successful Product Manager’s Toolbox

Posted on by Vicky Thomas

Being a product manager can be hard—especially at a startup where there are infinite tasks vying for your attention and where you can only afford to focus on the most important ones. When a typical day includes analyzing a/b tests, triaging emergency production issues, managing the current programming sprint, interviewing job candidates, responding to questions from the sales team and building a strategic roadmap, it’s difficult (yet essential) to keep the big picture in focus. 

Calendar

Over the years, I’ve built a PM toolbox of (free!) tools and workflows that have helped me stay focused and have dramatically improved my productivity. I’ve even created a few tried and true templates. I’m hoping these tips will help you—my fellow fearless product managers—be even more efficient and successful. Below are my prioritized tasks and favorite tools for the job.

Strategic Planning

OKRs—Objectives and Key Results—are a well-documented and often-discussed goal setting method used by companies like Google and Twitter to ensure everyone is focused on the things that matter most and making tangible quarterly progress towards those goals. The idea is to set a top-level objective, such as “demonstrate significant traction with a professional user base.” You then add three sub-bullets called “Key Results,” such as “bring in xx enterprise accounts by EOQ.” In the ideal world, you’ll have OKRs broken out for the company, for each business unit and department and for each individual employee. At the beginning of 2016, I used our company OKRs to set my cohesive personal quarterly OKRs for the entire year.

Once I have my OKRs for the quarter, I create a spreadsheet with rows as the weeks in the quarter and the columns as the various objectives. For each objective, I fill in the major tasks or deliverables for each week. Although it’s kind of a pain to front-load, this type of planning makes each week’s objectives clear because all my tasks are already defined for me. Doing this frees me up to focus on execution.

Tip: Make sure to include an OKR around personal growth and development.

OKR Spreadsheet

Roadmapping

When I worked at Adobe, our roadmaps lived in PowerPoint slides that were emailed around and posted to wikis. At Lucid Software, we’re in a much earlier stage, which allows our roadmap to be more fluid and flexible. To strike the right balance between having a sufficient plan to communicate to others while maintaining the adaptability I need, I use a combination of Lucidchart, our diagramming app, Google Sheets, and Lucidpress, our design and layout tool. This system is fast, flexible, collaborative when I need it to be and always up to date. Here is what it looks like:

I use Lucidchart for high-level phase planning & communication. This is just a simple example with made up phases to illustrate the point.

 

Roadmap

 

Roadmap

Tip: Put big disclaimers, red fonts or warnings in these types of roadmaps if they’re going to be shared with others…and remember that view-only permissions are your friend!

Feature Definition & Design

After several less-than-awesome attempts to use JIRA, Google Docs and Dropbox for feature definition and design, we’ve come to rely heavily on Confluence. We create a Confluence page for any major project that we’re starting. This Confluence page includes a few key sections: background, user stories/requirements, mockups and open questions. Open questions are the secret sauce that have really unleashed our ability to define features quickly. When questions or skepticism come up, such as How will we deal with xyz edge case, and do we even care? or How does this relate to xyz conceptually-similar-but-we’re-not-yet-sure-exactly-how feature? we put them in the open questions section. As a result, instead of getting hung up on those questions and going down rabbit holes, our team is able to move on with the discussion. We make sure all open questions are answered (and documented) before we start building the story.

Tip: Use JIRA to break down the project into trackable issues, but instead of attaching mockups directly to JIRA cards, upload them to the Confluence page and link to that page from the card. We’ve learned the hard way that mocks uploaded to JIRA cards often result in outdated versions of stories getting built, which results in frustrated developers.

Wiki

 

Sprint Planning & Management

Just this morning, a teammate looked at one of my spreadsheet templates and asked if it was still the 1990s in my brain. I chose to take that as a compliment.

One of my favorite spreadsheets is my sprint velocity and planning template. I refer to it daily and use it to plan each of our two week sprints for a whole quarter. Unlike our JIRA backlog, this spreadsheet allows me to see sprint by sprint our team’s individual and collective capacity, the projects we need to complete, how many points we’re reserving for bugs and production issues and whether we’ll end up ahead of or behind our end-of-quarter project deadlines. These insights then allow me to quickly identify options (cut scope, add developers, push deadlines, etc.), adjust the spreadsheet to see how the different options would play out and communicate those options to involved stakeholders. This sprint velocity spreadsheet also helps me play what I like to call “JIRA Tetris,” which is planning a sprint that doesn’t just add up to the correct number of points for your collective team but also for each team member. Ideally, each team member has the perfect number of story points planned for them based on their individual velocity, and you’re still magically getting the high priority stories built. Trying to plan sprints exclusively in JIRA used to be a major hassle, but it’s a breeze now that I have my spreadsheet. I do still use JIRA to manage our backlog and run our sprints, but all the planning happens in the spreadsheet first.

Tip: Quadruple check that your dates are right and that each sprint is counted only once. I accidentally double-counted a sprint when I first used this spreadsheet and committed our team to 27 points more than we actually had in the quarter. Oops.

Sprint Spreadsheet

Disclaimer: Feel free to click the image above to access the doc for your personal use, but please be sure to make a COPY of the spreadsheet rather than editing the original! 

JIRA

User Interviews

I’ve tried lots of conferencing tools for user interviews, and Uberconference is far and away my favorite. The setup is fast (for both you and the user), the quality is good and the calls can be recorded. We use Google Docs to take notes during the calls, and I make sure to have the questions I want to ask written down ahead of time.

Tips: 1) If you plan to screenshare with Uberconference, be sure both you and the user are on Google Chrome. 2) Have someone else take notes for you during the call, so you can focus on the user. 3) Spend a few minutes at the beginning of the call chitchatting to set a friendly tone—doing so will make you and the user less nervous and more productive.

Presentations

Here at Lucid, we use Lucidpress for all of our presentations. I may be biased, but I think it’s pretty great. A particularly good example of how we use Lucidpress is for our company updates, which are held every other Friday. Each team lead prepares a few slides worth of updates to share with the whole company. Thanks to Lucidpress’ real-time collaboration, everyone can be in the document adding slides at the same time (usually 11:45 am before the 12:00 pm update). We recently launched a few new convenient features in Lucidpress: Brand Assets and Template Locking. These features allow our creative team to define our company default styles and lock down our logo, so that people like me can’t inadvertently mess up company branding. The presentations look great, and everyone is happy.

Tip: Submit your updates an hour ahead of the rest of the crowd to look particularly well-prepared. 😉

Template locking

Admin Tasks

I spend about 40% of my day in various administrative tools, so this post wouldn’t be complete without mentioning them. My admin tools of choice are:

  • Gmail
  • Slack (best checked every few hours and closed in the meantime to stay focused)
  • Google Calendar
  • Running Google Docs or Confluence pages to jot down topics for later discussion. It’s hard to think of everything that needs to be covered in a recurring retrospective on the spot, but it’s a lot easier if you record issues over the course of the sprint as they come up.

I also have a few administrative processes that help me stay organized day to day. I don’t think I could do my job effectively without them.

  • I schedule 30 minutes of “Admin Time” at the beginning and end of each day to answer emails, clear my desktop and establish priorities for the day ahead.
  • No meeting Thursdays. Thursday is my reserved time to crank out hard stuff, and I guard my calendar ruthlessly. Sometimes there’s pushback, but usually people understand the need for heads-down time for important work.
  • Every other Friday, I have 30 minutes of “self-sprint planning.” Just like our engineering team, I plan out my work, day by day, for the next two weeks. I have a Google Doc  template that lists each day in a two week period and the standard tasks that need to be done on a given day (i.e. prep for Thursday estimation on the second Tuesday of the sprint). When planning my self-sprint, I list the project priorities at the top of the document and then schedule them alongside the standard tasks that need to get done. I have this document, my email and my calendar up on my desktop at all times. The beauty of this process is that I arrive in the morning knowing exactly what needs to be accomplished that day.

Tip: Just list the big stuff so you don’t get caught up planning more than you need to.

Most days, I still leave the office with a longer to-do list than when I arrived and an unshakeable feeling that I’m not getting enough done. However, over time these tools and workflows have helped me to be more productive, more focused and more efficient. Hopefully, they’ll help you do the same.


Vicky Thomas is the Head of Product Strategy at Lucid Software, makers of top-ranked productivity apps Lucidchart and Lucidpress. Prior to joining Lucid, Vicky was a Product Manager at Adobe, where she was responsible for simplifying the Marketing Cloud implementation process. She is passionate about bringing new ideas to life with teams of exceptional people. Vicky holds an S.B. in Aerospace Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with a certificate in Advanced Engineering Leadership from the Gordon-MIT Engineering Leadership Program. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including a prestigious 2015 Women Tech Award from the Women Tech Council.

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