From Composing to Servicing

Every week I read thousands of blog posts. For your weekend enjoyment, here are some of those highlights. What are you reading this weekend?

product_2x4

On Product Management…

http://www.proficientz.com/two-by-four-product-management.html
Take a 2×4 to your product team.

 
 

On Starting Up…

http://www.bothsidesofthetable.com/2013/03/19/one-of-the-biggest-mistakes-enterprise-startups-make/
Service that professional business to start.

startup-service
mi-dealangel

On Modular Innovation…

http://techcrunch.com/2013/02/18/dealangel-api/
Rest in knowing of the new complementary streams of modular innovation.

 
 

On Design & Product Experience…

http://www.fastcodesign.com/1672250/how-a-tiny-new-compose-window-could-reinvent-gmail
Compose yourself with increased efficiency.

design-compose

Have a great weekend!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

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From Team Motivation to Design Hell

Every week I read thousands of blog posts. For your weekend enjoyment, here are some of those highlights.  What are you reading this weekend?

01_motivation

On Starting Up…

http://www.entrepreneur.com/humanresources/employeemanagementcolumnistdavidjavitch/article206502.html
Motivating your team can be tricky in the best of times.

 
 

On Design & Product Experience…

http://theoatmeal.com/comics/design_hell
Finding humor in a design process gone wrong.

02_design-hell
03_blippy

On Modular Innovation…

http://news.cnet.com/8301-27076_3-20004735-248.html
Blippy broadens its Modular Innovation footprint.

 

Have a great weekend!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

The Product Guy’s Weekend Reading (July 11, 2008)

reading_w_TPG_thumb5_thumb2_thumb2_t Every week I read tens of thousands of blog posts. Here, for your weekend enjoyment, are some highlights from my recent reading, for you.

On Starting Up…
http://gigaom.com/2008/07/05/meebos-jen-how-to-find-hard-to-find-talent/
Tricks on how to address that ‘other’ scalability problem — quickly finding the right people for your startup.

On Design & Product Experience…
http://www.boxesandarrows.com/view/building-the-ux55
A look at the ideal design team behind the great User eXperience (UX).

On Modular Innovation…
http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/exclusive_first_look_at_genome_next_gen_social_network.php
Positive developments in next generation social networks, and Modular Innovation, can be seen at new social network, Genome.

Have a great weekend!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

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The Product Guy’s Weekend Reading (June 27, 2008)

reading_w_TPG_thumb5_thumb2_thumb2_t Every week I read tens of thousands of blog posts. Here, for your weekend enjoyment, are some highlights from my recent reading, for you.

On Starting Up…
http://www.bloggingstocks.com/2008/06/22/entrepreneur-s-journal-bringing-google-magic-to-your-company/
Brief look at how to bring some ‘Google magic’ to your start-up.

On Design & Product Experience…
http://www.uxmatters.com/MT/archives/000300.php
The balance between User eXperience (UX) and everything else can be, at times, tricky. Take a look at one way to quantify and evaluate the cost-benefit of building a great UX.

On Modular Innovation…
http://www.techcrunch.com/2008/06/25/structural-change-is-always-a-good-theme-to-invest-in/
Venture capitalists are investing in the building blocks of the Modular Innovation trend while keeping an eye on Modular Innovation’s (investment) risks/challenges, which are simultaneously also the trend’s benefits.

Have a great weekend!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

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Trust and Credibility – They Go Hand-in-Hand

access Would you use an online product that has neither made any announcements, nor made any improvements to their product in 6 months or longer? Of course you wouldn’t.

The Internet lowers the barrier to entry for many products and start-ups. However, with that lower barrier comes the greater need for establishing and maintaining Trust and Credibility.

Credibility cannot be assumed to simply exist. Credibility is a product feature that needs to be created and cultivated. The most elementary components of Credibility are Design, Contact, and Team, and also used by Quick-UX in determining product Usefulness and Credibility. Beyond Quick-UX, altogether, the principal factors of Credibility and Trust are:

Design
Contact
Team
Activity
Quality

Design

First impressions are important. When someone visits a new online product they start forming their opinion immediately. Therefore, it is important to instantly convey the look-and-feel appropriate to your target audience. If you are targeting a business audience, you will start out on the right foot building that critical initial Trust, with a clean and professional site design.

Many may be surprised by the level of simple mistakes, typos, that can be found in online products. No matter your audience, business or social, typos are a quick way to damage Trust in the product and the people behind the product. Evidence of typos demonstrates a carelessness and lack of attention to detail, which no consumer wants to be receiving.

Contact

The more prominently displayed is the contact information, the more comfortable any web product user will feel. Users want to know that if they have a problem, a question, or a simple desire to comment about a web product, there are one or more means by which this can be accomplished. The more options available, the more personal and real those options feel, and the more credible will be the web product. Even if the contact options are not used, having that safety net, that security blanket for “just in case,” helps keep the user engaged and utilizing the online product. The ability to contact by email (or form) should be seen as a basic requirement. Proving that the company has a physical location to which mail can be sent or that the company can be reached by phone where a real person will answer only serves to bolster the important case of web company / product legitimacy.

Team

Are there real people on the other end? Hello? Is somebody out there? When you are a company offering products on the web, prove it. There is nothing like actually seeing and learning about the people behind and supporting the product. A friendly face, a trustworthy visage, builds personal, emotional bonds.

It is important to show that there are real people, with their names and reputations standing behind the product, especially if you want your users to stand in front of, and use, it. And, here too, to increase the Trust further, a very welcoming act to the timid user is demonstrated by showing that (in addition to being able to contact the more amorphous support team) even your team, with real people, can be directly reached by email or phone.

Activity

At the start of this article I asked, “Would you use an online product that has neither made any announcements, nor made any improvements to their product in 6 months or longer?”

The lower barrier of entry to releasing a product on the Web also makes communicating to that product’s users easier and, in turn, builds on the expectations of recurring and forthright communications. There is no excuse in today’s world for a web product to not be in constant, open, and honest communication with its various audiences (press, user, prospective user, etc.).

There should never be a time when there is nothing to communicate. There is always a status update, a product update, a company update, a product tip, and more that can be communicated to a web product’s users via many channels, from product blog, to homepage and forums.

Users will come back and continually engage a web product if the people behind the product continually return the favor, engaging the users, honestly communicating, and respecting those who have placed their Trust in it.

Quality

Part of Trust means that I can count on ‘you’ to be there when I need you; and I will, in turn, be there for you. I will be your web product’s user. For a web-based product, Trust in reliability is all that much more important than that of a software or brick-and-mortar company. Web products perform such tasks as enabling communication, enhancing mobility, and/or storing information. The moment the value-add of the web product comes into conflict with the ability to access that product or interferes with that product’s ability to meet expectations, then loyalty will wane and alternative web and desktop products sought out.

A company like Google understands the Trust that has been placed in them, and understands the damage to its Credibility, and the tremendous amount of mending that must be done to restore it, when Quality falls short (see Worldwide Vacation Day – Courtesy of Google). Even with the tremendously positive reputation of Google, there exist many individuals who fear storing their personal or other important data within Google’s products.

A web product is making the argument to its current and potential users that it will in some way improve or enhance each user’s life. The user may initially take a leap of faith with the product, but that faith needs to be surrounded by a cushion of Trust. That Trust is established through the consistent delivery of reliable services (e.g. uptime, release dates, information updates, etc.) and meeting (or exceeding) the user’s expectations.

Trust me

Often Credibility is not well understood by both well established companies and startups. Many times it exists for a brief moment, and is squandered due to mismanagement or negligence. Credibility is critical to the retained growth and prolonged success of a web product. The basics of establishing and maintaining Credibility and Trust can be best summarized by…

Be professional. Look professional.
Be reachable. Provide prominent contact information.
Be visible. Show your face.
Be active. Frequently communicate.
Be reliable. Act professional.

Credibility starts and ends with presenting a professional online presence, be it for a fun, social website, or a b2b product.

Trust you

With so many online product options available, there is simply no reason to use an untrustworthy product — just move on to something else.

Whether you are a start-up or a long established company, you should never rest on your laurels. You need to establish Trust and Credibility early and constantly maintain and build upon it. People have too much choice to be bothered with any company that causes them even the slightest bit of doubt.

Everyone knows of online products with Trust issues. What is happening (or starting to happen) to their userbase? How well do you feel those companies are addressing their challenges of Credibility?

Feature Request: Trust
To the creators and guardians of both new and old online products:

Your users, your fans, your critics, whether they enjoy or disparage your web product, there should be one pillar no one should be able to fault, and that is your company’s and your product’s Credibility. They may like or not like what you are offering, but they should, at the very least, Trust you.

Thank you & Enjoy!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

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The Product Guy’s Weekend Reading (June 20, 2008)

reading_w_TPG_thumb5_thumb2_thumb2_t Every week I read tens of thousands of blog posts. Here, for your weekend enjoyment, are some highlights from my recent reading, for you.

On Starting Up…
http://www.undertheradarblog.com/wp_blog.html?fb_2042860_anch=4200947
Discussion of the characters that make up a successful team.

On Design & Product Experience…
http://www.webdesignerwall.com/trends/2008-design-trends/
A look at the current state of design trends for 2008.

On Modular Innovation…
http://www.techcrunch.com/2008/06/18/liveblogging-supernova-liquid-conversations-panel/
Discussion of how Modular Innovation is shaping the expansion of capabilities at FriendFeed and other ‘liquid conversation’ enterprises.

Have a great weekend!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

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Real Virtual Office Challenges

netconnect Today, I want to inject some increased reality and a clearer picture of the challenges of creating and managing a successful Virtual Office before I paint too rosy a picture of the great gains that can result in the areas of cost and time, especially since it is more typical that a Virtual Office at the core of a company is the exception. It is equally important to understand the positive aspects of a Virtual Office, as well as its challenges.

…And take careful measure of the downsides.

Most notably, the undesirable component that company management compatibility needs to be critically assessed against and typically leads to the failed Virtual Office exercise involves the additional overhead that impacts every one of the Virtual Office processes. If the individual or management team is not honestly up to the challenge or unwilling or incapable of addressing the issues of overhead then DO NOT PROCEDE — this is the primary reason for incompatibility and failure of either or both the Virtual Office experiment and the company, itself.

Over-communicate and plan.

With many companies, and especially start-ups, workflow is often highly fluid and dynamic; there is often, at best, an idea of what is wanted, no plan, but a process of iterate, iterate, iterate. This is not a very compatible approach within a Virtual Office environment where there is extra time required per iteration, sending-waiting, also resulting in more difficult course corrections due to the distances and time between the parties. Yes, there are many tools and other aides to assist in minimizing this shortcoming, but they will only minimize it; nothing beats face-to-face, in-person, working together, pointing, cycling, doing.

To be successful the management and employees of a Virtual Office must actually go beyond the normal same-office expectation of communications – they must over-communicate. Solid communication and information flow have to be there to minimize the misunderstanding or assumption that, in a real office situation, could have been noticed typically by walking by or in casual chatter around the water cooler. In this area, there are great tools to help from IM, to video, to phone, to chatroom (a personal favorite of mine being campfire) and more to minimize communication breakdowns and keep the processes moving smoothly. But, again, when used perfectly they are only asymptotic to some productivity level near, and short of, that of a non-Virtual Office.

Part of the over-communication picture is the need for clear and concise planning. Again, as just mentioned, it is the goal to minimize the chance for misunderstanding or other communication breakdowns that could send a project on a misdirected spiral. When people are heads down for any duration of time you want to maximize their chance of success by providing the best planning and direction that the time available will allow. If the communications and information flow between the same individuals working side-by-side is strained, or just on par with the non-Virtual Office needs, then, those individuals, that company, does not have the right people and management in place for a successful Virtual Office at the core of their operations.

As part of the planning process additional steps, additional overhead, can be put in place to further minimize the negative impact a misunderstood project or directive can have on the business. For example, after a project has been reviewed and assigned, have the individuals responsible for the project create a work plan, timeline, etc., sufficient to the point where you are certain they are on the right path.

Cutting corners on communication, or just not having the communication skills required for a highly distributed office environment, leads to mistakes, misunderstandings, and more time and resource investment to correct the resultant business / project problems. The organized process of planning and communication and creating a well lubricated machine that keeps everything running like clockwork requires a unique skill-set belonging to the individual creating and managing the Virtual Office, as well as a company compatible with the additional time overhead required to allow the machine to function smoothly.

To do. To hear. To see.

In the same line of understanding as the need for over-communication, there is also a part of the communication that is handicapped over the normal course of activities, namely the visual aspects of communication. Most importantly, when communicating with the employees of the Virtual Office, it is much easier to understand their perspectives, level of understanding, comfort with the discussions, emerging HR problems, and much, much more by seeing and reading their body language when communicating. But, it is a Virtual Office, and seeing everyone all of the time is a rarity, even if you do use some video conferencing software. When managing in this situation the manager needs to be extra sensitive to voice tones and further pursue the over-communication in both a working and friendship building manner, just like a real office, to know and understand and keep as open a comfortable channel of dialog as can be possible. If something is not right with the employee, they are losing motivation, they are having a problem with a person or the work, there is something at home that will impact the work, you don’t typically see that person, you don’t have the luxury of easily noticing they are avoiding people or other visual changes of manner or dress — you need to over-communicate, maintain a healthy work and non-work dialog, ask questions, and stay engaged and interested in the well-being of the team — a much greater challenge all around in a Virtual Office, but that much more important with the other senses of sight and sound greatly restricted.

Just because you have a Virtual Office doesn’t mean that you don’t have a “normal” employee training and acclamation process and routine. By “normal,” I am referring to the over-communicative, extra-trained, learning and setup involved within a Virtual Office setting, more intense and thorough than the other “normal” that would be normal for a non-Virtual Office. In a Virtual Office, training on procedures and clear establishment of processes are all that much more important than in a non-Virtual Office. There is no opportunity for looking over someone’s shoulder and identifying and fixing mistakes. Everything will take much longer if procedures are not clear and the skills of the manager and the employee are not up to the challenge.

Speedy is as speedy does.

Clearly, with all of the overhead involved in running a Virtual Office there is a significant hit to the overall productivity of the company. If the Virtual Office is the right fit for the company and the management is up to and willing to take on the challenge, then all the overhead can be optimally reduced. Typically I have observed the time impact on work, of course depending on the work, can add anywhere from 5%-30% overhead — attributed to a well run Virtual Office machine.

Sounds like a lot of work. Why do it?

Virtual Offices work where both sets of expectations, the positive as well as the inherent challenges, are perfectly aligned.

Virtual Offices are not for everyone. The positives need to be weighed against the challenges. The team needs to clearly understand what can be achieved from a Virtual Office as well as have the right person in place to successfully tackle its primary challenges.

Virtual Offices are just not as prevalent as many _other_ experts think they could or even should be, and, hopefully, you now have a better understanding of ‘why.’

To make sure you don’t miss future posts about the Virtual Office, and other cool and informative topics, you can subscribe to The Product Guy by following this link: http://feeds.feedburner.com/tpgblog

Enjoy!

Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy