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Trade Talk Blog: Learning from the Pros at the U.S. Open

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Gael Monfils (FRA), right, gets a shot past Roger Federer (SUI) on day 11 of the 2014 U.S. Open tennis tournament. Photo: Reuters/Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports.

“If something’s not working, change it up.”

When a frustrated coach said this to an even more frustrated player during a regular season Division III collegiate tennis match, she had no idea she was giving this student-athlete a guiding principle for a future career in the user experience (UX) design of software. At the time, I certainly didn’t recognize this as a pearl of wisdom, but it has helped immensely in the way I approach almost everything including software design.

After watching Roger Federer conquer Gael Monfils in the men’s quarterfinals of the U.S. Open last week, I realized this is a takeaway not only for amateur tennis players turned product managers, but for players on the pro tour, for traders and for life.

In Thursday’s match, both Federer and Monfils headed onto the court well practiced and with a strategy. They had studied each other’s strengths and weaknesses. They had improved themselves. Federer has focused on his net game this year, and Monfils on his concentration and intensity.

In software, you design a user experience with all the best intentions and the best strategy: you get a handle on who your users are, you talk to them, you ascertain their specific use cases, you design an interface, you massage it based on the available technology (or you find the right technology to make it work), you provide all the right feedback mechanisms, you prototype it if you have the opportunity, you test it, and then you put it out into the world.

In trading, you also develop a strategy. You may research the product or instrument. You may study the cycles of the daily trading session watching for peaks and valleys, ebbs and flows. You learn the effect of the vagaries of world, weather or market events on your strategy, and you set your course of action.

But sometimes center court comes with its own surprises. What then?

In tennis, you change it up. If you are playing the baseline, you push the net. If you are consistently getting passed at the net, you hang back. In trading, if your strategy suddenly stops working, you can place trades that hedge against sudden exposure or make changes to your algorithm. And in software development, if the data shows that your user interface is not as clear as you thought—if users want to interact with the software in a way that wasn’t expected—you can also change it up.

For our next-generation trading platform, simply named TT, we are using a modular architecture from front to back. Each component of the platform can be readily accessed by an engineer to respond to user feedback and input, changes in the market and new exchange-listed products. The components are based on a collection of APIs that allow rapid innovation and integration with other systems. We are also intentionally building in an iterative fashion, starting with the basics and adding functionality as it’s needed.

In this environment, it becomes easy to quickly tweak our game and further enhance the user experience. For example, we have a new feature in the next-gen TT platform that enables a tabbed MD Trader® ladder, maximizing valuable screen real estate. One of our alpha testers suggested we allow a spread trader to launch the tabbed MD Trader with one click to show the synthetic Autospreader® contract as well as each leg of the spread. Our product management team agreed the suggestion was valuable, and within a week, the feature was added to the product and available to all of our alpha testers.

Even when things seem to be working, new information may suggest that your original strategy can be improved to make your game, your trading strategy—or in our case, an entire trading system—even better. To be even more effective on the court, in the markets or in business in general, take the information at hand, make an adjustment and then maybe make another. Incremental changes based on new information can make a huge difference. By being open to “changing it up,” you might even find yourself winning the match of a lifetime.