Sketching a Path Forward

sketch-forwardDon’t debate the debaters, but instead, influence the influencers.

Product managers are leaders and influencers of features, ideas, and epic tasks. Some have direct and backed authority, many others have variants that are partial or merely implicit. Either way, to achieve the greatest success, do you rule with force? Or influence, and guide, and allow for shared discovery in support of your product’s end goals?

Functional Forms

When your designer says “no”… how do you get them to “yes”? Let’s look at this challenge with respect to a few designer types that many of us have had the pleasure and privilege of working with.

The Perfectionist
The Innovator

This week, let’s take a look at…

The Mixologist
The Standard Bearer

The Mixologist

The Mixologist may lack vision or a good stream of resources. No problem.

Influence the sources. If the sources are blogs, suggest other blogs more inline with your desired approaches. If the sources are people, work with them, share your vision, share your perspectives, recommendations, creativity, logic and reasoning. Build relationships and foster broad support from below. Tread lightly here; you do not want to offend The Mixologist by overstepping or allowing any of your relationship building to be construed as anything threatening.

When The Mixologist is aligned with your goals and proposing ideas you have pitched and sought, get your ego out of the way… #1 is always to achieve the business objective. And, if you have built sound relationships, the right people will know where the credit truly belongs. Oh yeah… and frequent lunches with The Mixologist help too.

The Standard Bearer

“Standards are great, because there are so many to choose from.”

There are a ton of standards out there. For every standard, there is another competing one. Identify the competition, share it around the organization. Build support for the new standard, or at least for a willingness to experiment with it. Let those new supporters become the advocates of the new thinking. Foster an environment where multiple ideas, multiple standards can co-exist and compete on objective measures. Encourage and reward the experimentation with competing standards as well as non-standard concepts. Standards are great; they can always be improved.

Designers are people, too.

Yep. And, they too, do not often fit a simple character description. Most designers are a mix of traits, some potentially described here.

Generally speaking, the best influencer, the one to really buddy up to, is statistics– they can often be your best influencer and supporter in most cases. Collect the data, find the data, and introduce the data (“your key influencer”) to your designer and together understand it, explore it, and challenge yourselves to build upon it.

Over the next few weeks, we will be discussing various examples and approaches in wielding strategic influence as a successful product manager.

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

Enjoy!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

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Strategic Influence of a Product Manager

Team-leaderDon’t debate the debaters, but instead, influence the influencers.

Product managers are leaders and influencers of features, ideas, and epic tasks. Some have direct and backed authority, many others have variants that are partial or merely implicit. Either way, to achieve the greatest success, do you rule with force? Or influence, and guide, and allow for shared discovery in support of your product’s end goals?

Dream On

A path of unquestioned authority over all product decisions may be many a Product Manager’s dream. ;-)  Those that chose this seemingly easier path, will, at best, yield short- or medium-term results.

It’s the People, Stupid!

Any good product manager knows that to be successful they must manage, directly and indirectly, a great diversity of people and their backgrounds, personalities, and skill-sets. Many individuals that do not lend to being told what must be done are more yielding to a path of inclusion and self-discovery.

Over the next few weeks, we will be discussing various examples and approaches in wielding strategic influence as a successful product manager.

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

Enjoy!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

More Companies are Becoming Modular Innovation Enablers

dokdoklogo_thumb154Email will be with us for a good time longer. DokDok, along with founder Bruno Morency, is seeking to evolve this often cumbersome communication mechanism, solving the often onerous challenge of exchanging documents via file attachment, tracking them, versioning them, facilitating interaction with them, and extending this vision to facilitate other products.

In Part 4, of this 4 part series, I sat down with Bruno to understand how he sees Modular Innovation (MI) affecting DokDok and how his startup is shaping the MI landscape.

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On Modular Innovation

TPG: Describe the benefits of this product for the average online user. (or, why should the average user care)
Bruno: We see the need for such an email API has follows: Conversations, collaboration and document exchange happens in email on a daily basis. Unfortunately, complementary apps such as CRM, document management, collaboration and project management ignore most of it or ask you to forward and bcc every single emails you want to view from their app.

TPG: Describe the benefits of this product for the application developer (and their online products).
Bruno: Many applications like CRM, wikis and task managers let you "attach" documents to clients, pages or tasks. Developers need to spend a lot of time adding those features and for users, it’s a burden to keep those documents updated. It’s not publicly available yet but we’ll offer these developers an API to use documents found in their users mailbox instead of building their own file management functionality.

We provide a unique email API that makes it easy for application developers to retrieve that information and leverage it in applications. Everyone can keep using email as the daily communication tool with the benefit of great apps that leverage those conversations and document exchange.

bunch of modular innovation TPG: Modular Innovation.  Tell me how you see each of the following contributing (when applicable), and to what degree, to the consumer’s online experience.

  • Sharability of content (if shareable, can you control to which people different information is shareable)
  • Flexibility (can a user and/or developer customize their experience/interaction with the product)
  • Interoperability (from / to 3rd party apps; redundancy; etc.)
  • Portability (does a user ‘own’ the content that they create/contribute; what parts do they own; can they download it; save it; etc.)
  • Convenience (can a user access the product/content from a diverse variety of access points; to what degree does the product automatically remember user settings, etc.)

Bruno: One important thing about DokDok is it’s not a new container for documents, it’s an "enabler" for the documents scattered in your mailbox. In that sense, we see DokDok bringing sharability, flexibility, interoperability and convenience to email.

TPG: How do you see your product evolving with respect to the trends of Modular Innovation?
Bruno: Your presentation of these trends of Modular Innovation is very interesting and fits really well with how innovation happens in technology. There’s been a lot of innovation to develop tools that are basically buckets for digital content and then to make these buckets "connectable". For document sharing, it’s pointless to build yet another platform to exchange and share documents. There’s hundreds if not thousands of these all promising the end of attachments with no success. The big universal bucket of electronic documents is email. Unfortunately, email is really bad at many things, managing shared documents being one of them. That’s what we’re after, bringing sharability, flexibility and interoperability to email attachments.

TPG: Any plans to integrate with other online products?
Bruno: That API was initially built out of our own need for an HTTP based way to query data from an email account. After talking with other developers, we realized there was more interest for this than the Gmail contextual gadget we built it for.

It can be used to query any email account accessible through IMAP (it’s not only Gmail/Google Apps).

What we did isn’t replicating IMAP connections in an HTTP context, we created a set of high-level calls that abstract a lot of the low-level email-specific details. For example, getting the history of messages exchanged with a contact is one simple call, you don’t need to worry about searches within numerous folders found in the mailbox.

And…

Since I originally spoke with Bruno DokDok has made many exciting strides in its product, especially in its continued embrace of the trends of Modular Innovation. Excitingly, DokDok has made available its Email API to enable all applications to leverage users’ emails as a data source. For more, visit http://dokdok.com/email-api .

We can all expect to see many more great things in the coming years from DokDok as they continue to expand to more platforms (hopefully, we will start seeing it, by default, built-in to more of our favorite apps) while enabling other products to leverage their experience through its awesome API’s.

Part 1: DokDok: Who’s there?
Part 2: More than Just Email Being Brought to the Future
Part 3: DokDok… It’s Advice!
Part 4: More Companies are Becoming Modular Innovation Enablers

Subscribe now (click here) to make sure you don’t miss out on any other insightful posts and series from The Product Guy.

Enjoy!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

DokDok… It’s Advice!

dokdoklogo_thumb15Email will be with us for a good time longer. DokDok, along with founder Bruno Morency, is seeking to evolve this often cumbersome communication mechanism, solving the often onerous challenge of exchanging documents via file attachment, tracking them, versioning them, facilitating interaction with them, and extending this vision to facilitate other products.

In Part 3, of this 4 part series, I sat down with Bruno to pick his brain and see what advice he may have for other entrepreneurs and startup pioneers.

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Learn

TPG: What are some tips/advice you can offer entrepreneurs?
Bruno: There are vast amounts of very good blogs written by successful entrepreneurs that cover all aspects of starting up a company. A good starting point is to read them regularly, debate these ideas and post comments.

bruno-pic I would add one simple piece of advice: just do it. A lot of people wait for the perfect time or opportunity to come. It just won’t. Is success more about luck than anything else? That question misses the point. Luck and opportunity knocking are consequences of what you do. You have to become a magnet for these. Build your first prototype now. Show it and iterate on it until people care enough to pay for it and/or invest in it.

TPG: How can DokDok help startups or others in the community?
Bruno: The startup community in Montreal has been coming together really nicely over the past 2 or 3 years with many great social and tech events and we’re actively involved. We share offices with other startups and we’re aiming to host regular events and workshops opened to everyone interested. We had a first one about automated QA a short while back; we’re hoping to host more of these in the coming year.

See DokDok

DokDok began as an email enhancer, working with your Gmail, Google Apps, Highrise to overlay concepts of a robust document management and version control system to email attached documents. As many resilient products do, it has now evolved to tap more deeply into the trends of Modular Innovation that are propelling many of the most successful and emerging companies out there. However, my conversation with Bruno covered many other topics. We can all look forward to the next part in our conversation with Bruno and DokDok, understanding how DokDok is surfing the Modular Innovation wave.

Part 1: DokDok: Who’s there?
Part 2: More than Just Email Being Brought to the Future
Part 3: DokDok… It’s Advice!
Part 4: More Companies are Becoming Modular Innovation Enablers

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

Enjoy!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

More than Just Email Being Brought to the Future

dokdoklogo_thumb1Email will be with us for a good time longer. DokDok, along with founder Bruno Morency, is seeking to evolve this often cumbersome communication mechanism, solving the often onerous challenge of exchanging documents via file attachment, tracking them, versioning them, facilitating interaction with them, and extending this vision to facilitate other products.

In Part 2, of this 4 part series, I sat down with Bruno to understand more about the future of DokDok, as well as from finances to fundraising.

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The Future & Finances

TPG: What’s your goal with the company?
Bruno: In a few years I’d like people to think back and ask themselves how they could ever use email without DokDok. If we get to that point, I’ll be one happy guy!

We have big objectives in mind for DokDok. Whether the best way to execute that roadmap is through venture capital or as part of a bigger company remains to be seen.

TPG: What are your near term and long term goals for DokDok?  Where would you like to see DokDok in 3 years?
Bruno: Our near term goals is to work with our active users to really refine the product and get feedback on the features we’re about to add. Longer term, we’re aiming to expand the service outside of Google Apps. In 3 years, I hope to see DokDok support most email systems with our API implemented by a majority of email clients.

As a matter of fact…
Our effort will be focused on the Email API (behind the initial DokDok presentation).

TPG: What are your growth plans?
Bruno: There are more than 2 million companies that adopted Google Apps for a total of over 50 million users. It’s a great customer base that includes many early adopters of innovative technology.

We’re currently in beta so the product is completely free to use. We will offer a paid account with premium features for a monthly or yearly cost in the coming months. We don’t plan to monetize through ads, referrals or anything else than our users paying us because they love our product.

TPG: How successful is your business?  Profitable yet?
Bruno: We launched on the Google Apps Marketplace on June 15, 2010. Feedback so far has been really good and we’re happy to see more users register daily. Putting a price tag on our premium account will be a good first step to profitability ;)

TPG: Did you ever consider taking on any investors?
Bruno: We funded initial development through my personal savings, revenues from consulting contracts and R&D grants.

Also noteworthy, (DokDok) closed a seed round of funding with Real Ventures a few weeks ago (http://nextmontreal.com/real-ventures-announces-first-two-investments-fabric-technologies-and-dokdok/).

Following DokDok

DokDok began as an email enhancer, working with your Gmail, Google Apps, Highrise to overlay concepts of a robust document management and version control system to email attached documents. As many resilient products do, it has now evolved to tap more deeply into the trends of Modular Innovation that are propelling many of the most successful and emerging companies out there. In this part of the series, we learned a good deal about DokDok, its finances and future plans. However, my conversation with Bruno covered many other topics. We can all look forward to the next part in our conversation with Bruno and DokDok, gleaning valuable advice from this exciting company and its founder.

Part 1: DokDok: Who’s there?
Part 2: More than Just Email Being Brought to the Future
Part 3: DokDok… It’s Advice!
Part 4: More Companies are Becoming Modular Innovation Enablers

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

Enjoy!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

DokDok: Who’s there?

dokdok-logo Email will be with us for a good time longer. DokDok, along with founder Bruno Morency, is seeking to evolve this often cumbersome communication mechanism, solving the often onerous challenge of exchanging documents via file attachment, tracking them, versioning them, facilitating interaction with them, and extending this vision to facilitate other products.

In Part 1, of this four part series, I sat down with Bruno to understand more about the product and its origins.

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Background

TPG: How would you describe DokDok to the average person?
Bruno: Have you ever spent a few hours editing a document only to realize that you didn’t start from the latest version? That01_dokdok_ui shouldn’t happen and this is what we solve. When a document gets emailed to colleagues or clients, typically, a long sequence of emails follow.  DokDok makes it easy to keep track of who said what and list versions of the document attached from different emails.

 

TPG: Tell us about yourself and how you decided to start DokDok.
Bruno: My first company, started right after graduating from McGill Engineering in 2001, developed a web-based knowledge management application and was bought in 2003. Before founding DokDok in 2009, I was involved in other hi-tech startups as head of marketing and product development.

02_dokdok_ui

Since being introduced to Pine on an old UNIX terminal, I always had a love-hate relationship with email. I kept on trying to find a better way to share documents rather than sending attachments but always ended up coming back to email. With DokDok, my goal is to make attachments a sensible way to share document. That effort made me love email even more as a user but, coincidentally, hate it more as a developer.

TPG: What is your business model?
Bruno: DokDok is a SaaS product. It’s offered as an hosted service and once we’re out of beta, we’ll have membership options with added premium features.

03_dokdok_ui

TPG: Who is your competition?
Bruno: Currently users manage attachments and documents in email in an ad-hoc way. As it is, the process of handling document revisions in email is time consuming and prone to error. The competition mainly includes solutions addressing this problem by trying to eliminate email: folder synching (Dropbox, SugarSync, …), collaboration rooms (Box.net, Huddle, SharePoint, …) and traditional enterprise document management systems.

Fact is, unless you can force everyone to create an account on these services and check it regularly for updates, you can’t escape from email. Products like Xobni and Gist brought relationship management to the inbox because that’s where it happens. We’re doing the same for documents.

04_dokdok_ui

TPG: What is your work environment like?
Bruno: Amazing! We’re still a small team and we’re sharing an office with a few other tech startups in downtown Montreal. Being surrounded by people close enough to your team (you see them many times per week) yet not directly involved (they’re working on their own startup) has given feedback, ideas, opportunities and connections that just wouldn’t have happened if we all worked from home or in a tiny office just for our small team.

It’s DokDok

DokDok is an email enhancer that currently works with your Gmail, Google Apps, Highrise to overlay concepts of a robust document management and version control system to email attached documents. In this part of the series, we learned a good deal about DokDok, its origins, and environment. However, my conversation with Bruno covered many other topics. We can all look forward to the next part in our conversation with Bruno and DokDok exploring the company’s finances and future.

Part 1: DokDok: Who’s there?
Part 2: More than Just Email Being Brought to the Future
Part 3: DokDok… It’s Advice!
Part 4: More Companies are Becoming Modular Innovation Enablers

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

Enjoy!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

The Product Guy: Astonishin’ in 2010!

Snowman

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.

yayquery-plugin-of-the-week

#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.

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.

 

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