The Deal with Agile

Guest Author: Jay Fox

Big week! The company I work for, The Deal (www.thedeal.com), launched a product  that I have been working on for nearly a year that creates LinkedIn-like functionality for people in the deal-making space using our proprietary data.

Not only is this the biggest new product launch for the company in 5 years, but it represents our first effort in transitioning from waterfall to agile development process. I am extremely impressed with our development team in making this transition – and while we have a long ways to go – we are operating much more efficiently than before.

How the transition has worked to our benefit…

Pre-agile: Long, detailed (read: boring), spec docs taking months to write were handed over to dev, who would take months to write code, and then business side would only see the product when it was in test, right before the given launch date. This caused a lot of frustration for the business side when the envisioned product was not achieved, and even more frustration for the dev side when deadlines were missed.

Post-agile: No spec docs, just weekly product development meetings in which daily scrums between business and dev side were summed up and discussed. I used wireframes to communicate design intent, and people in the meeting could give real-time feedback.

Pre-agile: Virtual Chinese wall existed between dev and business side with communication only happening in formal setting once a week at company-wide meetings. Biz side usually think one thing while dev side thinks another. Usually we wouldn’t find out what the other side was thinking until it was too late and deadlines has passed…

Post-agile: Frequent communication with dev team both in weekly formal setting and in daily chats by the water cooler. Much more open atmosphere of tossing ideas back and forth about design, UI, UX, and dev challenges. Collaboration is the name of the game. I believe this is the sole reason the product that launches tomorrow is meeting its deadline.

Pre-agile: Clients only got involved once the product or feature "went live." Feedback then went into an endless ticket cycle that was never implemented.

Post-agile: Dev set up a client testing site that allowed us to "beta" the new product early on in the development cycle. I even showed clients mock-ups before the testing site was available. This helped define what features we needed to be "launch ready". Plus, even after we launch tomorrow, we will still iterate frequently based on feedback. No long ticket process.

Here’s a screenshot of the main tool:

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A few things we are still working out…

  • How can we be truly agile when a large part of our development is outsourced to a team in India? Going back and forth on tweaks following client input was difficult and often ended up in a game of telephone where what was communicated wasn’t what we ended up getting. This process ultimately didn’t affect the launch date but still wasn’t as smooth as I would have liked. Would appreciate folks sharing thoughts or similar experiences in the comments. 
  • I had a hard time getting client input throughout – pinning them down was tough and so iterating through input was not easy. Ultimately, we will launch the product, then get client input and decide if we’ve got an MVP or if we need to go back to the drawing board. I suppose this is a bastardized version of agile :)
  • We were operating without a UX design team – it was really me, the project manager, and the developer, none of which have hard UX experience. Any thoughts? Again, please share in the comments.

Thanks & would love to hear what you think!

Guest Author Bio

Jay Fox has been involved in financial and legal industry product development for nearly 5 years and has recently assumed the role of product director at The Deal (www.thedeal.com). The Deal is a media company owned by The Street (of Jim Cramer fame) that reports on M&A, Private Equity, regulatory issues, and restructuring. Follow Jay on twitter @FoxNY1 or on LinkedIn at http://lnkd.in/c2we8c.

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On the Track to Success

Guest Author: Raj Moorjani

Hi, my name is Raj Moorjani, and I am the Director of Marketing at Tracks, and basically the Product Person, for a cool mobile application called Tracks (http://bit.ly/tracksapp). Recently, I took a course in Product Management at General Assembly, created and taught by Jeremy Horn, to more effectively communicate my product ideas to the rest of the company.  Below is my story.

First, some background

Tracks is a way for people to make group photo albums (tracks) in a collaborative way. The app launched at TC Disrupt in May of 2011.  It began as a way for users to share photos around any event or experience in a private way. The app has evolved over the last couple of years, as we have better understood how people use it.

Back in January of 2013, I sat down and analyzed various metrics and KPIs such as Cohort, engagement time, retention, K-factor, and Cycle Plots. By doing a data first approach to product development I came up with a list of improvements we can add to the app.

The list of ideas I jotted down:

From this point, I had a brief discussion with the CEO, and then it was announced that we would be launching a 2.5 version of Tracks in the springtime!

On Track

Fortunately, I had signed up for the Product Management class at GA taught by Jeremy Horn. I learned the tools to be able to more effectively communicate my ideas to the rest of the Tracks team.

The top product ideas I wanted to focus on were:

  • Public Tracks (making it an option for users to make public as well as private Tracks).
  • Redesign of the Track list
  • Track it (ability for users to track any photo they discover to their own account).
  • Refining Twitter Invites (invites sent via Twitter).

I started drawing up the wireframes…


I imagined a redesigned home screen. Focused on the photos and the varying sizes of the pics changing depending upon popularity of them.
The “Track it” button (later renamed to ReTrack) would allow users to take any public photo in the app and place it in their own Track or album.

Here the Track it button would be placed below the photo.

After hitting the button, the user is taken to a screen to select where to put the photo.
Wireframe of a ReTracked photo from the perspective of a user.
Improved invites sent via Twitter by taking advantage of the Twitter card functionality. Instead of just showing a link in a tweet, a Twitter card shows a whole photo with descriptive text. The whole area is clickable to any website. 

Tracks 2.5 – What ended up being built

This is the main activity screen that shows all the Tracks.
Implementation of Public Tracks. Discovering any track around specific tags such as Fun, Love, Friends, etc…
Tap the share button under the photo.
After hitting the Share button, you see an option for ReTrack.
After hitting the ReTrack button the user is taken to this screen to select where to ReTrack the entry to.

Track to Success

Launch Day and Apple’s Feature on April 16th, 2013!

Then got some great press …

Now, I am heavily involved in the product direction of the app and we’re working on some really big things for the next version.

Thanks & stay tuned!

Guest Author Bio

Raj Moorjani, Director of Marketing, brings more than ten years of digital media experience in both mobile and web environments. He is proficient in employing state-of-the-art data analytic tools to evaluate and increase user acquisition and engagement. For the Tracks mobile applications (iOS, Android, and Windows), he has used Cohort, ETL, K-factor, retention, funnel, cycle plot, and engagement analyses, resulting in a one hundred percent increase in social connections and installs since the app’s initial product launch. His technical skill set includes expertise in wireframing, storyboarding, and developing roadmaps and preparing FRDs to help implement viral growth strategies. Specific product development contributions to Tracks are Public Tracks, ReTrack, and Twitter Cards implementation. Follow him on Twitter @rajmoor .

The Product Guy: Astonishin’ in 2010!

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Wow! Another year of The Product Guy is now coming to a close… an awesomely astonishin’ 2010! Together we explored many exciting products and enjoyed the perspectives from very smart guest bloggers, from startups to user experience to modular innovation and more — all while getting to meat and speak with many of The Product Guy’s steadily growing readership.

And, once again, let’s take a brief look at the top posts that made this year on The Product Guy so awesomely astonishin’…

#10 Stribe to be Instantly More Social

Recently, The Product Guy had the opportunity to interview Kamel Zeroual, CEO of Stribe — Gold prize winner at Le Web ‘09. And he covered topics ranging from this Paris-based startup’s origins to where it is going and how it is planning to get there.

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#9 brainmates Interview with The Product Guy

Two weeks ago I was interviewed by Janey Wong over at brainmates for their brainrants blog. We touched on some really good Product Management topics in which I think you would be interested.

So, here it is, reblogged straight from Australia…

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#8 Why Startups are Agile and Opportunistic – Pivoting the Business Model

Startups are inherently chaotic. The rapid shifts in the business model is what differentiates a startup from an established company. Pivots are the essence of entrepreneurship and the key to startup success. If you can’t pivot or pivot quickly, chances are you will fail.

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#7 Quick-MI Worksheet: Spreadsheet to Sustained Online Success

Over the past few years I’ve been discussing Quick-MI. Now, through the help of Google Docs, I’m sharing the Quick MI Worksheet to make it even easier for you to apply Quick-MI to your products, track progress, and share the results with your team. The Quick-MI Worksheet automatically performs all the necessary calculations and summarizes the product for you.

#6 Modular Innovation 201

The products and concepts that constitute Modular Innovation are those that connect, enable, produce, enhance, extend, and make use of these relationships and, in turn, users’ online experiences with them. Let’s get to understand them better.

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#5 Facebook PDQ

In answering the question of Usability, "Can I use it?" the sub-category of Page Load plays an instrumental part. Facebook is one such excellent example of a web product with Prompt Page Load Time.

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#4 Automating the Path to a Better User Experience

Quick-UX evaluates the degree to which a product successfully addresses the following 3 questions: Can I use it? (Usability), Should I use it? (Usefulness), and Do I want to use it? (Desirability). Now, through the help of Google Docs, as I did the other week with the release of the Quick-MI Worksheet, I’m sharing the Quick-UX Worksheet to make it even easier and faster …

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#3 jQuery ThreeDots: yayQuery Plugin of the Week!

I’ve been a fan of yayQuery since shortly after their initial podcast episode. Therefore, you can imagine my surprise and elation when I heard them announce that my ThreeDots plugin was this week’s jQuery Plugin of the Week… almost falling down the stairs as I listened this past Friday while entering the subway here in NYC.

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#2 jQuery Plugin: CuteTime, C’est Magnifique! (v 1.1) [UPDATE]

I am very pleased to announce the latest major update to the CuteTime jQuery plugin. CuteTime provides the ability to easily: convert timestamps to ‘cuter’ language-styled forms (e.g. yesterday, 2 hours ago, last year, in the future!), customize the time scales and output formatting, and update automatically and/or manually the displayed CuteTime(s).

In addition to the inclusion of French CuteTime in this latest release, version 1.1 features: ISO8601 date timestamp compliance, insertions using the %CT% pattern of computed numbers within the CuteTime cuteness, support for all foreign language characters and HTML, Spanish CuteTime translations, courtesy of Alex Hernandez, richer demos and test, improved settings flexibility of the CuteTime function, documentation updates (corrections and clarifications).

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#1 jQuery Plugin: Give Your Characters a NobleCount

In my quest I have been on the lookout for a jQuery plugin that would provide the ability to: (1) provide real-time character counts, (2) enable easy to customize visual behaviors, and … While there are other similar tools out there, none adequately met these goals. Therefore, I created the jQuery NobleCount plugin.

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This year The Product Group grew beyond all possible expectations! Now with 600+ active members in NYC we Product People of all sorts and levels of experience to meet, interact, and network, in a laid-back, conversational environment on first Thursday of each month. Thank you to our sponsors, Balsamiq Studios, RYMA Technology, and Sunshine Suites, and to every one of you who attend, engage and help make The Product Group the astonishin’ success it has become!

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Happy New Year!

Jeremy Horn 
The Product Guy

How to Hold Kickass Virtual Meetings

clip_image002_thumb1Guest Post by Saeed Khan

One of the core activities for Product Management  is to get out of the office and gain first hand understanding of needs of customers and partners, and other issues in the market  There’s little that can substitute for good field research.

Having said that, getting out of the office to collect primary information is not always possible. There are many reasons including lack of travel budget, lack of time and distributed teams (on your side as well as for your customer/partner).

So, whether we wanted it or not, we had to deal with these issues and still get the research done. Here’s how we did it.

Planning & Recruiting for Kickass Virtual Meetings

Holding the virtual meeting

After all this effort, make sure you make the best of the time you have with the customer. The fact that they are virtual means you have to keep them engaged during the meeting or they will drift off and do other things and you won’t get the information you need.

I had one virtual meeting where one of the participants was furiously typing away in the background. Clearly they were not paying attention to what we were discussing. When I mentioned the background typing noise — hoping they’d stop and listen — the person apologized and announced he’d mute his phone! Not a good sign. Needless to say we didn’t get much from that person.

So here’s what you can do to maximize the value of the virtual meeting.

1. Guide the discussion with a simple slide deck

The purpose of the deck (prepared in advance) is to structure and guide the discussion and should contain the following:

  • Agenda with topics of discussion and allocated time
  • 1 slide per discussion topic
  • Key questions to answer for each topic

This deck should NOT be a marketing or detailed technical slide deck. That’s a mistake that many people make. The purpose of the meeting is to hear from the customer, not to present to them.

The agenda should list the allocated time for each discussion topic and this will be used to control the discussion and ensure the meeting time is used wisely.

The key questions come from the planning phase of the project.

Overall, keep the deck short and simple. It should facilitate discussion, not be the focus of it.

2. Appoint a lead speaker from your side

If you have multiple people from your company attending the call (in my calls, we had up to 6 people from our company), appoint 1 person as the leader. It will likely be the Product Manager, but whomever it is, set the ground rule (in advance amongst your team) that the leader guides the discussion, and keeps it moving forward. Others can certainly chime in and ask the customer follow up or clarification questions as needed.

This has two benefits. First it stops people from your side from stepping on top of one another during the session; and second, for the customer, it provides some coherence in the conversation flow. Overall, it keeps the discussion organized and flowing.

3. Appoint a time keeper

Have someone (other than the leader), be a timekeeper. Whether the meeting is short or long, this person’s role is to watch the clock and remind the leader when the agenda is falling behind schedule. The agenda timings are not set in stone, but if time is short, use it to focus on the important areas of discussion.

4. Record the call/webinar

Something you can do with a virtual meeting that you can’t do with a face-to-face meeting is record the entire event.  Recording the event frees you (and others) from furiously taking notes during the event. I’ve only met a few people who can take good notes in real-time.  One had a previous career as a stenographer!

Make sure you get the customer’s permission to record the event. Make it clear to them that the recording is only for note taking purposes and it won’t be distributed or used for any other reasons.

Some customers may decline but most won’t, and take my word for it, particularly for a longer meeting, when you review the recording after the fact, you’ll hear comments or statements from the conversation that you missed when it was live.

5. If taking notes, have more than 1 person take notes

If the customer declines to be recorded, then have at least 2 note takers ready and waiting. Why two? Neither note taker will be able to capture 100% of the call. With 2 people taking notes, each will capture points that the other missed.

Also, when consolidating notes after the meeting, if there are discrepancies between the two, it may identify areas of confusion or that need follow-up with the customer.

6. Have interactive exercises to collect input

A dialogue and Q&A type meeting will help you collect information, but information can be collected in a variety of ways. And particularly for a more in-depth (i.e. longer) meeting, exercises help break the tedium of a long discussion.

Exercises can be quite varied, but anything that helps collect data you need in your research, AND is simple to execute online is fair game.

In my work, we conducted some simple stack-ranking exercises of potential product features — including items that the customers had raised themselves earlier in the call. This was well received by the customers and it helped us collect some quantitative information that we could use in our requirements process.

The kinds of exercises are up to you, but make sure they are easy to understand and execute online, and the collected data can be consolidated easily and analysed across the customers you speak with.

7. Finish on time

This goes back to point 3 above (Appoint a time keeper), but make sure you finish on time, or worst case, if you see you are running behind, ask in advance if the customer can extend the call by 5-10 minutes. Most customers I’ve met are very busy and don’t have a lot of extra time.

Additionally, it’s unprofessional in my view to let your own meeting run over. If you can’t finish the full meeting in the allotted time, AND the customer can’t stay on, thank them for their time and either request a short follow up, or collect the rest of your info via email.

And finally…

Once you’ve completed each call, hold a short debrief with your team to review the call and identify anything notable that was learned, as well as anything that should be improved on future calls. This is especially important in the first couple of virtual meetings you have with the team. Once you work out the kinks, you’ll find the meetings flow well, end in a timely manner, and you collect valuable information from your customers.

Subscribe now (click here) to make sure you don’t miss any part of this series exploring the art of the Customer Virtual Meeting, as well as other insightful posts from The Product Guy.

 

Saeed has over 20 years of experience in the software industry with experience in , product management, product marketing, development and education. Having worked in both Toronto and Silicon Valley, at both technology startups and public companies, Saeed has contributed to the success of a broad range of organizations. He has written a number of articles for Pragmatic Marketing’s publications and is co-founder of ProductCamp Toronto. Saeed is based in Toronto Canada, and can be reached via his blog at http://www.onproductmanagement.net

 

Interested in being a Guest Blogger on The Product Guy? Contact me.

Planning & Recruiting for Kickass Virtual Meetings

clip_image002Guest Post by Saeed Khan

One of the core activities for Product Management  is to get out of the office and gain first hand understanding of needs of customers and partners, and other issues in the market  There’s little that can substitute for good field research.

Face to face meetings are difficult

Having said that, getting out of the office to collect primary information is not always possible. There are many reasons including lack of travel budget, lack of time and distributed teams (on your side as well as for your customer/partner).

And it’s this last situation, with geographically distributed team that makes face-to-face meetings incredibly difficult.

But virtual meetings are no substitute to live, face to face meetings. You can’t read body language over the phone/web; you can’t just get up and "whiteboard" a discussion topic;  you can’t make sure the attendees aren’t ignoring you and simply working on email.

I recently completed a series of in-depth customer engagements (2-3 hours minimum per customer + follow ups) for some new product areas I’m researching. With the exception of one customer, all of the meetings were done via phone and webinar.

There were several reasons for this that included all of the reasons listed above.

In a few cases, the customer team members were geographically separate — London and New York, Boston and Dallas, Seattle and San Francisco — so it was impossible to actually be face-to-face with the customer.

In other cases, the meetings were broken over 2 sessions to accommodate customer schedules. It’s difficult for many customers to find 2 or 3 hour uninterrupted blocks of time.

So, whether we wanted it or not, we had to deal with these issues and still get the research done. Here’s how we did it.

Planning

As with any task, proper planning is key.

1. Clearly identify your goals.

  • What are the key questions that must be answered from these customer meetings?
    • Think of the decisions you will need to make with the collected data and then use that to formalize the questions.
    • What teams or stakeholders will need to use the findings of the research?

2. Who can provide the needed information?

  • Who are the people at your customer sites that you want to speak with?
    • e.g. What are their roles? Are they the users, buyers, managers etc? And in the case of the users, are there different types of users? e.g. administrators, business analysts, developers etc.?
    • Who specifically are the targets for your discussions?

3. Are there specific customer profiles you must speak with?

  • New vs. longtime customers?
  • Large vs. small
  • Vertical specific?
  • Use case specific?
  • Technology specific?
  • etc.

4. How many customer meetings do you need to hold to collect the necessary amount of information?

  • If your objective is to speak to enough customers to start to identify patterns amongst them, then you should target at least 5-7 customers of a similar profile.
  • Depending on your product, market, target audience and objectives, you may need more than that to get the data.

Recruiting

Getting customers to agree to meet — particularly for anything over 30-60 minutes — is like a sales process. You need to start with 2x-3x the number of customers you need to eventually speak with, and then get the necessary number to commit to meetings.

If you need to speak with 8-10 customers, you’ll probably have to solicit between 20-30 customers. Some may not want to speak with you :-(, for others the timing will be bad, and yet for others, particularly ones with distributed teams themselves, the logistics of coordinating schedules may be a problem. Timing — holidays (summer and end of year) as well as seasonal or quarterly busy periods — will also contribute to your success rate.

To maximize your chances, do the following:

1. Prepare a brief outline – 1-2 pages maximum – describing:

  • the purpose of the meeting,
  • the attendees from your side (product management, engineering etc.)
  • who you want to speak with on the customer side
  • the key questions you are looking to discuss,
  • what you will do with the information you collect

Usually customers will be interested in having the meeting if the topic is relevant to them, AND if they know something useful will be done with the information, such as influence into the product roadmap.

2. Leverage personal relationships with customers

If you don’t have strong personal relationships with a number of customers, you’re not speaking to enough customers! :-)  But if you do – and let’s assume you do – then contact some of them as a starting point in your recruiting process.

Not only will you increase your chances of getting commitment to the meetings, but these customers will likely make time for you so that you can get your first meetings completed in short order.

Be warned though, don’t abuse the relationships by constantly asking these customers for meetings. Not only will some of them start pushing back, but you also risk skewing your findings by talking to the same customer set time and time again.

3. Involve your sales teams in this process

Send an email or set up a short call with various sales people to let them know what you are doing and why. Ask for their help in making introductions to customers. Share the outline document with them and let them know that they can pass it onto their customers for background information.

4. Connect with the customer directly to assess their suitability

If you get leads (from sales reps or others in your company) contact the customers directly and have a brief information call with them. This will give you a chance to answer their questions, but also to gauge them to see if they fit the profile(s) you defined in your planning process.

This is particularly important if you are planning extended (> 1hour) meetings. You don’t want to waste your time (or theirs) by having a lengthy call and realizing half-way through that their input is not meaningful to your research.

Now that we have Planning & Recruiting down…

In Part 2 we will learn How to Hold that Kickass Virtual Meeting.

Subscribe now (click here) to make sure you don’t miss any part of this series exploring the art of the Customer Virtual Meeting, as well as other insightful posts from The Product Guy.u

 

Saeed has over 20 years of experience in the software industry with experience in , product management, product marketing, development and education. Having worked in both Toronto and Silicon Valley, at both technology startups and public companies, Saeed has contributed to the success of a broad range of organizations. He has written a number of articles for Pragmatic Marketing’s publications and is co-founder of ProductCamp Toronto. Saeed is based in Toronto Canada, and can be reached via his blog at http://www.onproductmanagement.net

 

Interested in being a Guest Blogger on The Product Guy? Contact me.

Building strong brands as a Product Manager

image Guest post by Janey Wong.

A recent blog post titled Fighting the Fast Followers reminded me of a great book I read a several years ago called Eating the Big Fish by Adam Morgan. Eating the Big Fish focuses on marketing communications and how to leverage advertising and other smart marketing tactics to build your brand so you can move from being #2 player to the #1 position for your category. I’ve only take a small fraction of Morgan’s ideas and insights from Eating the Big Fish to share some of my own take-outs from the book from a Product Management perspective.

The market is saturated

The unavoidable truth is there are more products out there for any given category than ever before and the market is increasingly competitive with both direct and indirect competitors fiercely launching products to win your target customers over. Companies that were not competing with you are now becoming a threat – whether that’s Barnes and Nobles’ NOOK versus Amazon’s Kindle, or Apple’s iPad that’s taking over the eReader space, the point is you have to know how to play the game – when the market is tough, the ‘Big Fish’ can afford to play tougher. And, that’s thanks to a strong brand.

Don’t learn the hard way

On 28 April 2010, the Financial Times published a special report on Global Brands. The front-page headline, “Big names prove worth in crisis” by John Gapper. Excerpts from the article include:

  • The underlying value of any brand – the premium commanded by products and services with strong reputations and identities – has not been eliminated by the crisis.
  • “Brands outperform in good times and when there is a recession they do go down, but they come out the other side with a sustainable advantage,” says Joanna Seddon, chief executive of MBO.
  • …well-established luxury goods brands such as Louis Vuitton have kept their value, even if they have not seen the kind of growth they might have hoped for. The value of the Louis Vuitton brand, at $19.8bn, is 2 per cent up on the previous year.
  • So, despite the shock that many experienced following the financial crisis, brands are playing their traditional role of giving companies some cushion against market pressures. They have proved their capacity to retain loyalty among consumers even through downturns.
  • Many brands will experience crises, or simply stagnate, in the coming year and have to claw their way back but the aftermath of the crisis has proven once again an old lesson. Brands may suffer, but they are hard to destroy altogether.

This doesn’t just highlight the fact that strong brands survive tough times, but it also shows that strong brands make a difference to their financial value.

Read the full article at www.ft.com – search for “Big names prove worth in crisis”. There are other interesting highlights in the article.

Here’s some endearment: it’s OK to not be #1

Morgan makes a good point, “We may not be number one, but you don’t want to be in last place. You can’t just be anywhere in the middle – you need to be a strong number 2 – and you can’t do that by being like a smaller version of the big fish.”

So how do we, as Product Managers, do things different from the market leader?

Well the first thing to remember is communicating a message is hard. We have to feel some sympathy for the MarComms team. With all the noise out there we’re not just competing against competitors, we’re also competing for the target market’s attention. And, the target audience probably doesn’t have the time or energy to be completely engaged or interacting with a brand or product. We need to find ways to grab the target markets attention.

The second thing to remember is the product is integral to the brand. You can create a zillion compelling marketing messages to attract people to your product, but if your product doesn’t live up to the message – that’s BIG miscommunication! And, your brand will suffer.

Do the Product Management thing a bit differently

Eating the Big Fish has some great ideas for how to craft your marketing message and activities to capture the target audience’s imagination and grow your brand. I took a few of these ideas and applied them to Product Management.

1. Be a leader in the problem-solving space

Eating the Big Fish Idea: Find ways to break conventions and preconceptions about your product and its category to reposition one’s identity and positioning. Re-frame the category to change the rules on how the customer views your product.

Dig deeper into the consumer’s world and not into the consumer’s preferences and desires to find new insights about what they want. More and more market research is now using ethnography to analyze the consumer’s environment to discover new market problems and product ideas.

I like how HSBC plays with this concept in their advertising – for example:

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2. Develop temporary amnesia

Eating the Big Fish Idea: Reinvent key aspects of the product by forgetting what you know.

Forget what features your competitors’ products have. Forget what solutions your product offers. Forget what is currently in the marketplace and how the market perceives a solution to a need. Go back to the market problem and find ways to offer new solutions – the solution could be a product enhancement or modification, but even small changes can have a big impact.

image For example, 3M’s Littman Electronic Stethoscope 3200. It’s not just a stethoscope – it “listens to a patient’s heartbeat, captures the sound for later playback, lets you transmit sounds real-time to your PC, which can then be further analyzed, attached to medical records, or reviewed online with colleagues… The sound-amplifying 3M Littmann Electronic Stethoscope 3200 will not only be able to catch dangerous murmurs and heart defects but will also eliminate more than eight million unnecessary echocardiograms and cardiologist visits a year, saving some $9.4 billion (http://blog.sherweb.com/top-10-tech-invenitons-shaping-2010/).

3. Let your product do the talking

Eating the Big Fish Idea: Invite customers to navigate your brand. Create an emotion-based relationship. Be intense and highly intrusive about what your brand is so your product has to be noticed.

Strong brands demand your attention and so should your product…

image Should I say more?

4. Strike a (juxta)pose

Eating the Big Fish Idea: Make people re-evaluate the product. Put two things together that you wouldn’t expect to find together in a product.

When people think of “fast food” un-favorable associations like ‘unhealthy’ come to mind, but Subway has been able to change how the public perceives their food – let alone the types of available food in the fast food category. Market research shows that Subway is the brand that is “most trusted” as offering healthier food items than any other fast food joint – largely breaking the idea that fast food only offers unhealthy meal options.

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5. Cordially invite the MarComms team

Eating the Big Fish Idea: Work closer with your Marcomms team at the beginning of the product development process to leverage advertising and publicity.

Why? Because I doubt many Product Managers do and having the MarComms team buy-in and on-board with your product could mean

  • More time to strategize the marketing and publicity for your product
  • Clearer and aligned product messaging between both teams
  • A side stash of advertising and publicity dollars
  • Creative input, which is nice to have if and when needed
  • Possible access to different ideas and customer insights, and
  • Building a strong brand together

Your product is a tangible representation of your brand to your customers, and the Marcomms team communicates your product and brand to your target customers. It just seems to make sense to work together to build a strong brand that will see your product further at launch and at top of consumers’ minds through tough times.

I’m at lost for an example here. Any Product Managers and Product Marketers out there with thoughts, suggestions, and experiences with working with a Marcomms team early on?

I’d like to thank Adam Morgan for his inspiration for this blog.

Janey Wong is a Product Marketing consultant.  Her expertise is in marketing strategy development and implementation, marketing communications, and product marketing.  She has worked for clients in the fashion, new media, entertainment, and not-for-profit sectors.


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Really Bad is MUCH Better than Nothing and Really Great Isn’t Much Better than Bad

01_luke Guest post by Luke Hohmann of Enthiosys.

Product Managers, Agile or otherwise, are asked to create a fair number of documents. Even when we’ve replaced our “Big” MRDs with vision Statements, Roadmaps, and Backlogs, most of us are still expected to clearly document:

  • Who we’re serving (e.g., target markets, market segments)
  • Why they care (e.g., benefits of product often expressed in ROI)
  • Why we care (e.g., market size, total available market, total addressable market, growth, and share)
  • How we’ll reach them (e.g., sales channels, partner structures)
  • Our sustainable competitive advantage
  • The competitive landscape
  • Personas
  • and… ???

My point is that even the most minimalistic approach to Product Management has a Product Manager creating a fairly large number of documents. Which doesn’t concern me, because these are quite sensible documents to create.

What does concern me is that I’ve seeing an increasing number of product managers who are avoiding creating these basic artifacts. The conversation goes something like this:

Luke: “Francesca, can you show me your personas?”
Francesca: “Oh yeah—personas. They’re really great. I like the cooper format, but I also think the format I learned from Pragmatic Marketing is really neat”.
Luke: “Yes, both formats are quite useful. I’ll be OK with either. Can you show me your personas?”
Francesca: “Well, you see, that’s the thing. We don’t have personas. You see, we really didn’t have all the time we wanted to create the persona format that we thought would be great. And since we couldn’t create a really great persona we decided just to skip it.”

Push the big red button labeled “STOP”.

Just because you can’t create a “really great” anything does not mean you should skip it.

Yes, I know. Writing a really great persona is hard. But a really great persona is merely better than a good persona. And a good persona (which looks “bad” in comparison to a really great persona) is MUCH, MUCH, MUCH better than a bad persona. Logically:

“bad” Product Management deliverable >> NO deliverable

“really great” Product Management deliverable > “good” Product Management deliverable

To help get you started, I hereby proclaim that creating “bad” deliverables is OK. Specifically:

  • It is OK to have a persona without just the right picture.
  • It is OK to define your Total Addressable Market as a “reasonable guess” Low-to-High estimate of your Total Available Market
  • It is OK to have a roadmap that only projects 12 months into the future
  • It is OK to define your initial market segment as the “customers who bought from us”
  • It is MORE than OK to define your ROI in less than 12 lines of Excel
  • It is OK to focus more on your customers and than your competitors

What do you need permission to create badly?

 

Luke is a recognized expert on agile product management of software products and a former senior software product manager at four companies. He is also the author of three books  and numerous articles on software product management. He is also a frequent speaker at software and other industry events.  Before founding Enthiosys in 2003, Luke was vice president of business development in the U.S. for Aladdin Knowledge Systems; vice president of engineering and product development at Aurigin Systems Inc.; education technical director at ObjectSpace Inc.; and vice president of systems engineering at EDS Fleet Services.

 

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Prevent Good Metrics From Going Bad

chris2010 Guest post by Chris Cummings of Product Management Meets Pop Culture.

"It’s not my fault!" Those four words underscore so many of the discussions (or, as I like to call them, blamestorms) that accompany product management.

A reasonable person might expect that to be less of an issue when we’re talking about metrics. After all, good metrics are:

  • Aligned with the business
  • Honest
  • Actionable
  • Measurable
  • Objective

Who could argue with a number that’s honestly calculated, from credible sources, without bias or subjectivity?

Turns out, many people. Especially if they’re on the wrong end of a good metric.

Metrics Affect People

Many discussions about metrics in product management do a great job of looking at things logically but remain silent on the consumption of those metrics or the behavioral reaction to those metrics.

We measure what we figure is important. And if your job is connected to a metric, and you want to look good at your job, then you want that important metric to look good, too. It’s human nature.

Avoiding The Misuse Of Metrics

As a Product Manager, we play a key role in how metrics are collected and conveyed. Here are three tips on how to avoid the misuse of metrics.

Use the right mix of metrics

Too many metrics can lead to analysis paralysis. Too few metrics and you can end up really fine-tuning one particular aspect of your product (the part being measured) at the expense of something critical that’s not being measured.

For example, in online games, there are many things that could be measured (visitors, time spent, etc.) but the most critical metrics generally relate to viral growth (retention and referral) and total sales (revenue per user per day).

The goal is to determine the right mix of metrics to provide an insightful, actionable, balanced view of your product. Measuring in this way amounts to leadership, and encourages others to think about the product holistically as well.

Use metrics to make decisions

Want to a) kill a metrics program, b) get a lot of people mad at you, and c) fail at an importance aspect of your job? Then pay no heed to applicable metrics when making a decision where the collected data could prove informative and valuable.

A reasonable person might say, "Well, duh." But I’ve seen this happen multiples times within multiple organizations, and the end-result is never good–particularly in terms of morale.

No one should be a slave to the data, but if you can’t legitimately explain why you’re opting for what’s in the Box when all the applicable data says to take what’s behind Door #2, you’re demonstrating a flagrant disregard for the agreed-upon decision-making and encouraging others to play the same way.

Remember: Metrics are not maces

It can be really, really tempting at times to wield metrics like a mace and figuratively bash in the heads of those who seem happily misinformed and proud of their ignorance.

Don’t do it.

By all means, convey the information in a way that it can be received and processed. But if you set an example of using data as a weapon, it suggests that others do the same — which inevitably contaminates the data as it gets twisted, sometimes right at the source, in a nuclear arms race where nobody wins and the organization suffers.

"It’s Not My Fault!"

People are going to feel how they’re going to feel and react how they’re going to react. But if you use the right mix of metrics to get a full view of the product; use metrics in your decision-making; and create a context where data is use constructively — to solve problems rather than assign blame — then you’re on your way to diffusing the danger of collecting metrics and using them to propel your product forward.

 

Chris leads product management for the Lycos Network’s games division, including Gamesville.com and white label game solutions. Prior to Lycos, Chris served as product manager for GameLogic, Inc., where he drove alignment among business, technical, and creative resources to create casino-style online games for land-based casinos in the United States and the United Kingdom. These games are available at Foxwoods Resort & Casino, Dover Downs, and Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort, among others. Chris graduated with distinction from Merrimack College with a degree in English and a minor in Religious Studies. He received a Master of Business degree from University of Phoenix.

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Like, How Many Friends Does Facebook Need?

me-grayGuest post By Edo "Amin" Elan, Product Designer,  The Product Point-of-View blog

Facebook’s new, disruptive "like" feature may also be a pre-emptive solution to a looming problem: the anthropological boundaries of friend management

According to the official stats, the average Facebook member now has 130 friends. Is this too many Friends? Can you have too many friends? In fact, you can. 130 is dangerously close to 150, also known in anthropology and social media as the Dunbar number.

Robin Dunbar, a British anthropologist and evolutionary biologist, argued in 1998 that there is a cognitive limit to the number of relations that any one primate can maintain. Researching gossip, grooming and human history Dunbar How%20Many%20Friends%20...lr[1]formulated that people can only keep gossip with 150 people at any given time. According to Dunbar, “this limit is a direct function of relative neocortex size, and that this in turn limits group size … the limit imposed by neocortical processing capacity is simply on the number of individuals with whom a stable inter-personal relationship can be maintained.”

The Dunbar number is discussed in some length in Malcolm Gladwell’s "Tipping Point". Dunbar himself blames the Internet for simplifying his theories into a "Dunbar number", but the title of a recent (2010) anthology of his writings seems to wink to the Facebook generation: "How Many Friends Does One Person Need?" (see Dunbar speak here, mentioning Facebook).

It’s no surprise that the Dunbar number made its way to social media circles, and keeping within Dunbar number boundaries may already be one of the industry’s established "best practices". I first learned of the Dunbar number while reading a 2006 article by sociologist Danah Boyd, who researched Friendster and MySpace, among others. As Boyd noted back then, Friendser was acknowledging the Dunbar limit when it capped Friends at 150. With its current average at 130, Facebook might appear to some to be like a car running with steam shooting from under its hood.

To be fair to Boyd, she regarded Friendster’s practice as a misconception. In her 2006 "Friends, Friendsters, and MySpace Top 8" she pointed out that Friendsters were actually connecting to friends from the past with whom they are not currently engaging, so those past links should not be counted towards the 150 contact cognitive limit. That said, Boyd was far from suggesting complacency in the face of exploding friend numbers:

"Because social network sites do not provide physical walls for context, the context that users create is through their choice of Friends. They choose people that they know and other Friends that will support their perception of what public they are addressing through their presentation of self, bulletins, comments, and blog posts. This completely inverts the norms in early public social sites where interests or activities defined a group (Usenet, mailing list, chatroom, etc.) and people chose to participate based on their interest in the topic."

Escaping the Dunbar Curse

The recent Facebook "like" feature, released about two weeks ago, seems to be designed for creating precisely such contexts for social proximity. With a sufficient inventory of "like"s, Facebook should have plenty of options for contexts to differentiate between different kinds of friends. This should help to bail it out if 150 indeed turns out to be Dunbar’s Curse.

In her 2006 paper, Boyd says "While it was once possible to gather all cat lovers into one Usenet group, the size of this group would be beyond unbearable today". I couldn’t help but look into the couple-of-weeks-old Facebook "like" page for Cats- and found it had 53,544 people who "liked" it. Beyond unbearable? Sure, it’s difficult to carry any meaningful conversation in that size of community. But when I view the "Cats" page, all I see above the fold are posts that, indeed, include "Cats" but originate from my friends. So the "context", to use Boyd’s term, might have been created here – but its effect isn’t so much to generate conversation within the huge Cats group, as much as to enable the Cats context between me and my friends.

This correlates to my own experience as an interaction designer. Recently, when designing the interaction for an enterprise social network, I noticed that the more the social element was brought into the forefront, the less the total number count of participants in a "topic" mattered. What mattered was seeing that some "friends" are already participating in the topic. In fact, just a handful of friends interested in (or "liking") a  topic was sufficient to create significant peer pressure.

Simultaneously with launching "like", Facebook also continued quietly revising the news feed filters – another location sensitive to a growing contact book. In a previous post, from about a month ago, I noticed some interface confusion there. It’s now cleared.

Also note that friends lists have a prominent place in the "Account" menu in the current Facebook  layout. Editing those lists will become a more familiar, everyday activity as we learn to target our posts to "lists" (or in the future, "likes") instead of to all friends. My present Facebook policy is to accept any Facebook friend request arriving to my account, then to organize my hundreds of Facebook contacts in lists that look a lot like "Like"s.

Dunbar, by the way, did not provide a single number but a series. The first number was 5 (Bret Taylor, FriendFeed co-founder and Facebook Head of Platform Product, referred to this number as "the magic number" in the beginning of his F8 presentation).  But the next significant "friendship circle" beyond 150, Dunbar says, allows for a more shallow connection with up to 500 contacts. Last weekend, my Facebook friend count crossed that magic number. I’ll keep you posted.

 

Edo "Amin" Elan (LinkedIn.com/in/edoamin) is a Product Designer in San Francisco, CA. Elan has been following social media from its inception to its global spread. His most recent project was designing the interaction for an enterprise social platform. He also likes to draw comic strips.

Interested in being a Guest Blogger on The Product Guy? Contact me.

Why Startups are Agile and Opportunistic – Pivoting the Business Model

steve_blank Guest post by Steve Blank, of Steve Blank dot com.

Startups are the search to find order in chaos.
Steve Blank

At a board meeting last week I watched as the young startup CEO delivered bad news. “Our current plan isn’t working. We can’t scale the company. Each sale requires us to handhold the customer and takes way too long to close.  But I think I know how to fix it.” He took a deep breath, looked around the boardroom table and then proceeded to outline a radical reconfiguration of the product line (repackaging the products rather than reengineering them) and a change in sales strategy, focusing on a different customer segment. Some of the junior investors blew a gasket. “We invested in the plan you sold us on.” A few investors suggested he add new product features, others suggested firing the VP of Sales. I noticed that through all of this, the lead VC just sat back and listened.

Finally, when everyone else had their turn, the grey-haired VC turned to the founder and said, “If you do what we tell you to do and fail, we’ll fire you. And if you do what you think is right and you fail, we may also fire you. But at least you’d be executing your plan not ours. Go with your gut and do what you think the market is telling you.  That’s why we invested in you.”  He turned to the other VC’s and added, “That’s why we write the checks and entrepreneurs run the company.”

The Search for the Business Model

A startup is an organization formed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model.

Investors bet on a startup CEO to find the repeatable and scalable business model.

Unlike the stories in the popular press, entrepreneurs who build successful companies don’t get it right the first time. (That only happens after the fact when they tell the story.) The real world is much, much messier.  And a lot more interesting. Here’s what really happens.

Observe, Orient, Decide and Act

Whether they’re using a formal process to search for a business model likeCustomer Development or just trial and error, startup founders are intuitively goal-seeking to optimize their business model. They may draw their business modelformally or they may keep the pieces in their head. In either case founders who succeed observe that something isn’t working in their current business model, orientthemselves to the new facts, decide what part of their business model needs to change and then act decisively.

(A U.S. Air Force strategist, Colonel John Boyd, first described this iterative Observe, Orient, Decide and Act (OODA) loop. The Customer Development model that I write and teach about is the entrepreneur’s version of Boyds’ OODA loop.)

Pivoting the Business Model

What happens when the startup’s leader recognizes that the original business model model is not working as planned? In traditional startups this is when the VP of Sales or Marketing gets fired and the finger-pointing starts. In contrast, in a startup following the Customer Development process, this is when the founders realize that something is wrong with the business model (because revenue is not scaling.) They decide what to change and then take action to reconfigure some part(s) of their model.

The Customer Development process assumed that many of the initial assumptions about your business model would probably be wrong, so it built in a iteration loop to fix them. Eric Ries coined this business model iteration loop – the Pivot.

(One of the Pivot’s positive consequences for the startup team is realizing that a lack of scalable revenue is not the fault of Sales or Marketing or Engineering departments – and the solution is not to fire executives – it’s recognizing that there’s a problem with the assumptions in the initial business model.)

Types of Pivots

“Pivoting” is when you change a fundamental part of the business model. It can be as simple as recognizing that your product was priced incorrectly. It can be more complex if you find the your target customer or users need to change or the feature set is wrong or you need to “repackage” a monolithic product into a family of products or you chose the wrong sales channel or your customer acquisition programs were ineffective.

If you draw your business model, figuring out how to Pivot is simpler as you can diagram the options of what to change. There are lots of books to help you figure out how to get to “Plan B,” but great entrepreneurs (and their boards) recognize that this process needs to occur rapidly and continuously.

Operating in Chaos + Speed + Pivots = Success

Unlike a large profitable company, startups are constrained by their available cash. If a startup does not find a profitable and scalable business model, it will go out of business (or worse end up in the “land of the living dead” eking out breakeven revenue.)  This means CEO’s of startups are continually looking to see if they need to make a Pivot to find a better model. If they believe one is necessary, they do not hesitate to make the change. The search for a profitable and scalable business model might require a startup is make multiple pivots – some small adjustments and others major changes.

As a founder, you need to prepare yourself to think creatively and independently because more often than not, conditions on the ground will change so rapidly that your original well-thought-out business model will quickly become irrelevant.

Summary

Startups are inherently chaotic. The rapid shifts in the business model is what differentiates a startup from an established company. Pivots are the essence of entrepreneurship and the key to startup success. If you can’t pivot or pivot quickly, chances are you will fail.

Pivot.

Lessons Learned

  • A startup is an organization formed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model.
  • Most startup business models are initially wrong.
  • The process of iteration in search of the successful business model is called the Pivot.
  • Pivots need to happen quickly, rapidly and often.
  • At the seed stage, microcap funds/ superangels understand that companies are still searching for a business model – they get Pivots.
  • Most of the time when startups go out for Series A or B round, the VC assumption is that a scalable business model has already been found.
  • Pivots are why startups must be agile and opportunistic and why their cultures are different from large companies.

Steve Blank currently teaches entrepreneurship at U.C. Berkeley Haas Business School and at the Stanford University Graduate School of Engineering. Over the last 25 years, he has been part of, or co-founded eight Silicon Valley startups (MIPS, Zilog, Rocket Science, SuperMac, Convergent Technologies, Ardent, ESL, and E.piphany). Steve teaches a methodology of starting and managing marketing, sales and business development in high technology startups that you can read more about on his blog self-titled blog, Steve Blank.

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