Walk, Don’t Run

The beginning of my daily commute takes me past an elementary school as the kids are arriving.

Today, just past the crosswalk leading to the school, a pair of parents were consoling their boy, who I’d guess to be about eight or nine years old, while the crossing guard looked on.

Parent: “You OK?”

[Boy nods, still sniffling a bit.]

Crossing guard: “Yeah, you’ll be fine.”

"Just remember not to run anymore or you might get hurt."

Yes.  That’s it.  Ignore fun, instinct, the need to play and experience the world and the things that make you a child.  Follow the rules.  Stay inside the lines.  Listen to authority figures, or else.

You might get hurt.

The Right First Questions vs The Wrong First Questions

"What is our goal for this project?"

vs

"What is our timeline for this project?"

"What is the customer need that we are trying to meet?"

vs

"Do we know what customer price sensitivity is?"

"How do we propose to deliver value? (i.e. meet the customer’s need in an innovative way)

vs

"When can we have a look at design?"

It’s not that the second set of questions isn’t important.  It’s that you have to answer the other questions first.

What A Product Manager Does - Part II: Innovation vs Optimization

I was going to wait a few days to post again, but a couple things happened.

1. I attended a simulcast of The Lean Startup Conference and left feeling inspired.

2. I was asked a question (perhaps rhetorical, but I’m going to go ahead and disagree with one if its underlying assumption):

I sent the initial Tweet during a very informed talk by Robert Fan about how his company Sharethrough (a startup that’s found Product-Market fit and reached early success) allocates time and effort to ensure that they still innovate.

First, I should mention that my Tweet was in no way intended to refute the methods used by Sharethrough (creating protected teams within the company who are staffed with people excited to create new products), which seems like a really good idea to me.

My comment originated from a statement in Rober Fan’s talk, which I’ll paraphrase as: No Product Manager is going to spend time innovating when there are items on the list that will directly impact optimizing his/her KPIs.

True.  Unless you make innovation itself a KPI and make product backlog diversity a team goal, effectively spreading the work of optimizing different areas of the existing product over several teams so that each team has some time to innovate.  I’m not saying it’s a better solution than Sharethrough’s; just offering it up as an alternate possibility for orgs. who have teams that don’t want to miss out on the innovation part.

So, short answer: Yes. You can have a well prioritized backlog within the Chaos of a startup.

Here’s what I mean:

At a very basic level, whether you’ve found success or not, Lean Startup principles teach us that the only types of work worth giving priority are:

1. Work to figure out if people will give you money for your product.
2. Work to optimize the product to figure out how to grow it (how many people will give you how much money) until it reaches its limit.

Before Product Market fit, the PM must be able to recognize when it’s time to pivot from 2 back to 1.  After Product Market fit, the PM needs to be able to persevere with 2 for the existing product and begin the cycle anew with MVP ideas at the same time.

Anything that doesn’t fit 1 or 2 doesn’t get prioritization.  Your Product Managers need to know how to recognize which items fit and which don’t.  This alone will lop a huge number of ideas off the stack.  They also need to know how to prioritize within the items that remain.

Next up, I’ll talk a little bit more in-depth about the nitty gritty of how good Product Managers figure this out.

What A Product Manager Does - Part I: Overview

Depending on the organization, industry and a number of other variables some particulars  of a Product Manager or Product Management Department’s day to day may vary, however, at the heart of it, they all serve the same function within an organization:

Deciding what products to make.

But how do they decide?

The obvious answer is: They pick the most valuable product directions, with the highest ROI. (like, derr…)

There are plenty of product management techniques for determining ROI over the short or long term involving financial modeling, strategic alignment and risk reduction through spreading priority over a variety of different projects, both large and small, in the portfolio.^1

In a startup, however, there exists, by definition, too much uncertainty to reliably predict financial or other performance outcomes.  There are different ways to prioritize in this environment as well, but only one that actually seems to make much sense (try to guess which):

  1. Try to do everything -  Jump around from idea to idea.
  2. Whoever shouts loudest wins - Pretty self explanatory. 
  3. Highest authority employee in the room wins - Worked for Steve Jobs, right?  [Answer: not really]
  4. Tackle low hanging fruit - Estimate effort on your stack first, then tackle the stuff you know you can get done in an a pre-selected amount of time and hope that they will net you big returns.
  5. Lean Startup Methodology^2 - Use scientific method to test your value hypothesis and adjust as needed.

Regardless of which methodology you use (hint: pick E!) the Product Manager works hand in hand with the executive team to choose a product strategy that’s aligned with the company’s goals and then takes ownership of that strategy to decide what specific products, features, upgrades and fixes align with that strategy and produce desired results (in the form of significant movement towards financial and strategic goals).

Using lean methodology, assumptions, questions and hypothesis which need to be answered in order to reduce uncertainty and validate the product strategy (both that it has value and that it is scaleable) are tested through iterative development cycles, the goal of which is to collect more information.  Eric Ries calls this “validated learning”.^2

If leanings from successive experiments (including customer behavior data, information from talking to customers and financial performance) fail to support the product strategy, then a course correction or “Pivot”^2 may be needed.  The team takes available data and comes up with a new product strategy, based on a new hypothesis.

At a high level, this should look something like this:

(Click on image to see presentation)

Next up, I’ll drill into a little more detail about how Product Manager’s handle the iterative optimization cycle, what type of skills a good Product Manager needs and also about the need for your product to be remarkable^3.

REFERENCES:

1. Portfolio Management for New Products (2nd Ed), by Robert G. Cooper, Scott J. Edgett, & Elko J. Kleinschmidt
2. The Lean Startup, by Eric Ries
3. Purple Cow, by Seth Godin

Fixing What’s Broke

I was very impressed by this article on Spotify— mostly with the presentation within the article released by Spotify on how the run an agile/lean shop.  Seems like they’ve got some smart ways to get around common execution pitfalls, like team isolation and communication gaps.  There’s a couple of lines discussing the Product Owner role there.

I was quite taken with this Tweet from Cory Booker:

 shouldn’t run for governor. It would damage his 2016 brand.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do, but we all should be less concerned with “brand” and more concerned with service

How can I be more sensitive with the attitude I convey in my social presence?  As a “fixer”, I get a lot of satisfaction from:

1. Making products that solve people’s problems/fill needs (Product Management)

2. Fixing issues and removing pain points from the software development lifecycle. (This is more operations/configuration management, but I like to think of it as Product Management where the Product is the team’s performance towards a goal.)

Problem is, I actually get excited finding the problem.  Something I can fix!  I have the solution!  Great!  Is this excitement downplaying the successes?

Resolution: Continue to accept and be motivated by challenges, but focus more on motivation through championing the real strengths and wins.

Or is it?

http://www.agilebuddha.com/agile/agile-principle-simplicity-the-art-of-maximising-the-work-not-done/

I once had an agile coach explain that the “ideal” software product is one which you don’t write any code, don’t put in any effort and lots of people give you money for it.

Infinite return on investment.  Win!

The above article describes this as “maximizing work not done.”  While I agree (strongly) with the point the article is trying to make, I prefer to think about it as minimizing waste and working only on the items of highest value (where value is either profit or validated learning in the quest for profit).

Yeah, it’s less catchy, but taken it it’s (il)logical conclusion, maximum work not done is no work and no one’s going to buy that product.

Git set up. Hedgehog eraser in place. Android dev: commence.

Git set up. Hedgehog eraser in place. Android dev: commence.

U What?

(Thanks to @walpolea for the blog post idea—see twitter conversation at end of post).

There’s long-standing confusion over the difference between UI and UX (or UEx as I was so uncouth to call it recently).  Most of the blog posts expert definitions I’ve seen seem to center on defining them as roles rather than as essential parts of a product.

Given, there’s a need to define the disciplines surrounding UI and UX (and many job posts I read have been a bit off mark), but I think it’s important to define what they are in and of themselves as well, so I’m throwing my hat into the conversational ring.

Simplest starting point, and where most people begin, is by stating that User Interaction (UI) is part of User Experience (UX).  So while UI defines certain specifics of how a users/customers input information and commands into a product, UX defines the entirety of how they derive value (or lack thereof) from that product.

A little vague and, in my opinion, the borders of UI within the circle of UX can be a bit fuzzy, but to be more specific, UI covers the controls, forms, links, pop-ups, overlays, right-click menus, and even navigational and layout elements— the actual inputs and outputs within the site/app/products structure.  UX encompasses everything else that happens, on screen, off screen, even in the user/customers head surrounding that product.

Examples:

  • A digital music app with the most intuitive player controls ever made might have award winning UI, but if the music fails to start promptly when you hit the play button, you have a bad User Experience.
  • A new restaurant may use digital menus to make ordering faster or more fun and customizable (UI), but if the food takes too long to arrive (UX)…
  • Conversely, a word processing site with complicated and difficult to find features without an intuitive control system has a bad UI and, I’d argue bad UX, especially for beginning users, but in some cases, if the software was feature rich enough or had enough online support, even a bad UI could still result in a good overall User Experience. (NOTE: This is not a suggestion that the importance of good, clean, intuitive UI be overlooked.)

—-

Tweets

Quick  tip: If you have both a continuously scrolling page and a link I need to get to in the footer, you have failed me.

 sorry to be that guy, but I believe the industry prefers over .

 I think the term UX is too often confused with the term UI which is part of User Experience, but not the whole of it. Prefer UEx.

 confusion due to misperception outside the industry, all the more reason to advocate  for what it really is

 Good idea. Will post tomorrow. Re  vs . Thanks!

Big Fish v Big Apple

We’ve all heard the stereotype that New Yorkers can have a certain, shall we say, singular world view.  I’ve always denied the accusation of snobbery, and I stand by that, but the fact remains that, with so much to choose from, people in NYC can choose to be, even have to be, selective.

What I’m finding in the job search is that employers are being very specific about past experience; as in, “You’ve got all the qualifications for [Position TItle], but we’re looking for someone with more experience [specific technical knowledge/role/skillset that applies to the company’s latest project].”

And why not?  As someone in my freshman dorm put it, if you’re “one in a million”, then in an average day in New York, there are eight people just like you (quote adjusted up from 1993 demographics).  There are more job opportunities here, sure, but there’s also a bigger candidate pool.  Why settle for someone whose got 90% of what you’re looking for in the job description when you’ve got 3 qualified candidates with 100%?

I’ll tell you why: because six months from now, those aren’t going to be the same qualifications for success in the role.

Tip to employers: Hire based on experience, yes, but track record of rapid learning, growth, pushing for positive change and focus on the right value proposition are far more important than, “have you done X”.

Tip to NYC job seekers: Step up your game.  In what areas are you the expert where few others are?  Network and find the opportunities that are looking for exactly that, then sell it.  Make sure they understand that hiring you could be the difference between making it or breaking it.

Seth Godin’s, The Dip discusses the dominance of Microsoft’s Word.  Microsoft has created a Dip so deep that, until the platform on which people do word-processing, or until some unforeseen technology changes people’s word-processing needs, there’s no way out of it.
The book makes the point that online document creation technologies such as Google Docs are making some headway, but they don’t yet have the right combination of feature-richness and usability to unseat Word.
That got me thinking about the frustration with figuring out how to find features in Word.
The majority of people use, something like 5% of Word’s features, despite it’s capabilities. They wanted to do more, but they couldn’t find the features.  The Ribbon design was Microsoft’s attempt to solve this:
http://channel9.msdn.com/Events/MIX/MIX08/UX09?format=html5
It didn’t do the trick.
One thing that’s nice though is that, on Mac OSx Word 2011, if you use the search bar in help to find a feature and get a hit (rare), selecting the search tearm will open the menu and show you where the feature lives.
So, why have the drop-down menu?  Why have Ribbons and Toolbars?  Why have complicated command keys?  Search is fast, smart and much easier to implement these days that it was just a handful of years ago.  Why not one command that pulls up an intelligent search prompt.  A little effort into this feature and creating a search that will easily find your desired command should be possible.  Then select it, or select from various sub-options, (perhaps searchable themselves) and you’re done.
Simple.

Seth Godin’s, The Dip discusses the dominance of Microsoft’s Word.  Microsoft has created a Dip so deep that, until the platform on which people do word-processing, or until some unforeseen technology changes people’s word-processing needs, there’s no way out of it.

The book makes the point that online document creation technologies such as Google Docs are making some headway, but they don’t yet have the right combination of feature-richness and usability to unseat Word.

That got me thinking about the frustration with figuring out how to find features in Word.

The majority of people use, something like 5% of Word’s features, despite it’s capabilities. They wanted to do more, but they couldn’t find the features.  The Ribbon design was Microsoft’s attempt to solve this:

http://channel9.msdn.com/Events/MIX/MIX08/UX09?format=html5

It didn’t do the trick.

One thing that’s nice though is that, on Mac OSx Word 2011, if you use the search bar in help to find a feature and get a hit (rare), selecting the search tearm will open the menu and show you where the feature lives.

So, why have the drop-down menu?  Why have Ribbons and Toolbars?  Why have complicated command keys?  Search is fast, smart and much easier to implement these days that it was just a handful of years ago.  Why not one command that pulls up an intelligent search prompt.  A little effort into this feature and creating a search that will easily find your desired command should be possible.  Then select it, or select from various sub-options, (perhaps searchable themselves) and you’re done.

Simple.