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Design Thinking and Product Management

October 9, 2018 Leave a comment

I came across a great article on Interaction-design.org today.  What follows is a short excerpt from that article.  Follow this link to read the entire article.  It really is a must-read for anyone interested in Product Management, Lean or Agile.


Interaction-design_Design-Thinking

Design Thinking’s Phases

There are many variants of the Design Thinking process in use today, and they have from three to seven phases, stages, or modes. However, all variants of Design Thinking are very similar. All variants of Design Thinking embody the same principles, which were first described by Nobel Prize laureate Herbert Simon in The Sciences of the Artificial in 1969. Here, we will focus on the five-phase model proposed by the Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford, which is also known as d.school. We’ve chosen d.school’s approach because they’re at the forefront of applying and teaching Design Thinking. The five phases of Design Thinking, according to d.school, are as follows:

  • Empathise – with your users
  • Define – your users’ needs, their problem, and your insights
  • Ideate – by challenging assumptions and creating ideas for innovative solutions
  • Prototype – to start creating solutions
  • Test – solutions

It is important to note that the five phases, stages, or modes are not always sequential. They do not have to follow any specific order and can often occur in parallel and repeat iteratively. Given that, you should not understand the phases as a hierarchal or step-by-step process. Instead, you should look at it as an overview of the modes or phases that contribute to an innovative project, rather than sequential steps.


Grand Old Man of User Experience, Don Norman, who also coined the very term User Experience, explains what Design Thinking is and what’s so special about it:

“…the more I pondered the nature of design and reflected on my recent encounters with engineers, business people and others who blindly solved the problems they thought they were facing without question or further study, I realized that these people could benefit from a good dose of design thinking. Designers have developed a number of techniques to avoid being captured by too facile a solution. They take the original problem as a suggestion, not as a final statement, then think broadly about what the real issues underlying this problem statement might really be (for example by using the “Five Whys” approach to get at root causes). Most important of all, is that the process is iterative and expansive. Designers resist the temptation to jump immediately to a solution to the stated problem. Instead, they first spend time determining what the basic, fundamental (root) issue is that needs to be addressed. They don’t try to search for a solution until they have determined the real problem, and even then, instead of solving that problem, they stop to consider a wide range of potential solutions. Only then will they finally converge upon their proposal. This process is called “Design Thinking.”

– Don Norman, Rethinking Design Thinking

outside the box

Read more…

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Spotify Engineering Culture (Agile Enterprise Transition with Scrum and Kanban)

July 13, 2018 Leave a comment

Henrik Kniberg of Spotify put this video together back in 2014.  It describes the Podular Agile culture at Spotify.  It is both entertaining and informative, and I find myself going back to it every so often – as I did today.

Spotify+Engineering+Culture

You can find the video on YouTube here:  https://youtu.be/R2o-Xm3UVjs

Some highlights from the video:

  • Some concepts are more important than others:
    • Agile over Scrum
    • Principles over Practices
    • Servant over Master
    • Community over Structure
    • Enable over Serve
    • Trust over Control
    • People over everything else
  • Autonomous Squads
    • Be autonomous but don’t suboptimize
    • Alignment enables Autonomy
  • Fail-Friendly Environment
    • Fail faster than everyone else
    • Failure Recovery over Failure avoidance
  • Lean Startup Practices
    • Waste-repellent Culture
    • Impact over Velocify
    • Innovation over Predictability
    • Value Delivery over Plan Fulfilment
  • Experiment-Friendly Culture
    • Data-driven decisions
    • Chaos over Bureaucracy

Have a look and let me know what you think.  Does this sound like your Culture?  Was there anything here you took back to your team?

spotify-engineering-culture-part-2-agile-enterprise-transition-with-scrum-and-kanban-6960

 

Productization

Something that I think about every day is how to make sure the team is building the right thing.  Particularly in a customer-driven environment.

Image may be subject to copyright

Now, the answer may seem obvious – just build the thing the customer is asking for.  Well, the problem here is that the customer rarely knows exactly what they want, and more importantly, you don’t want to waste development cycles building something that your other customers don’t want.

 

Taking a Lean approach, we first need to define the problem space in the broadest possible sense, and define solutions.  We then need to verify these solutions against the customers who have the problem, and the use cases that are being addressed.  This means that we have to expand on the specific customer request and see how it applies to the larger product definition and to the larger customer base.

Productization.png

The diagram above simplifies this process:

  1. Starting with specific customer requests, define the Feature Enhancements that satisfy the request
  2. Define the problem space your are addressing, then expand that out to cover the broadest possible product footprint
  3. Define additional requirements that address the problem space beyond the original customer request
  4. Up-level all requirements into a General Product Specification (design spec, implementation plan, PRD – whatever your team uses)
  5. Prioritize the features and enhancements based on the specification
  6. Build and release (Go Live, GTM, Marketing, Sales, Support, etc)

Remember – the original feature requests from the customer may not necessarily be the top priorities.  After considering the broader set of requirements, prioritize the work and deliveries based on the value they add for the broadest set of customers.  It is tempting to only build what the customer asks for and then come back later and build additional enhancements.  But this wastes valuable resources and development cycles.

Always focus on delivering the maximum value to the broadest set of customers.  Make sure you understand when a customer has real needs, and when they are in “it never hurts to ask” mode.  Then, understand what similar customers need even though they may not have even asked.

What is Product Management/Leadership?

September 20, 2017 Leave a comment

star_trek_classic_communicator_inhandI’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: “Different isn’t always better, but Better is always different“.  Companies and organizations that fear change will cease to  move forward and cease to innovate.  And it is the job of Product Leadership to create, nurture and manage this change.

I have recently been out in the market looking for opportunities to advance my career.  I’ve been working in Product Management in one form or another, for nearly two decades.  In the course of interviewing for various positions, I often found myself trying to articulate what exactly Product Management was, and what value it had to offer – or more specifically, what value I had to offer.  I naturally assumed that leaders and managers in tech knew exactly what the Product department did.  I discovered that that was not necessarily true.  At all.

So, what is Product Management and how can great Product Leadership drive innovation and success in a company? Good Product Management is a sustainable competitive advantage. It provides process, structure, and focus for creating innovation and customer delight. Product Management helps Product-driven businesses create new markets, and Customer-driven businesses deliver customer delight. It is the job of Product Leadership to evangelize Agile processes, advocate for the customer, and drive not just User Experience, but Customer Experience.  It is said that process is the scaffolding of productivity.

Is there a difference between Product Management, Product Marketing, and Project Management?  Yes.  In startups and smaller companies, these disciplines are often all aggregated together.  However, at scale these are generally separate functions. In the broadest of terms,  Project Management is “how and when” a product is delivered.  Product Marketing tells the story of the product.  And Product Management is “what and why” the product exists in the first place.

“The job of a product manager is to discover a product that is valuable, usable, and feasible.” – Marty Cagan, Founding Partner of Silicon Valley Product Group

Product Managers are essential contributors at the intersection of business, technology, and user experience. In any company, Engineering will have ideas, Marketing will have ideas, the Business will have ideas, Marketing and Sales will have ideas.  People sometimes think that coming up with ideas is the most important part of the job.  In practice however, execution of an idea is much more important.  Product leadership isn’t just design or engineering or business or marketing. It is all of these things in a sandwich of stress and competing expectations.

“Product management is the glue that holds together all the various functions and roles across a company that speaks different languages.  It’s like the universal communicator in Star Trek – a hub of communication between all these different groups.” – Ken Norton, Product Partner at GV (formerly Google Ventures)

An important and unique distinction among Product Managers and Product Leaders is that they usually have no direct authority over the teams and processes they manage.  Transparency, communication, and trust are the tools of a Product Manager.  If you’re managing a team of creative people – developers in particular – you will be judged on how well you are able to protect them from distractions and what they are able to create. It is not about mindlessly barking orders at subordinates, but empathetically motivating creative personalities toward mutual goals.

“Traditional management is great if you want compliance, but if you want engagement, which is what we want in the workforce today as people are doing more complicated and sophisticated work, autonomy and self-direction just works better,” – Daniel Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (Riverhead).

Great Product leaders lead by influence and example. They need to be people-first communicators who can rally everyone behind a vision without much formal authority.  In his book Drive, and based on studies at MIT, Daniel Pink suggests that to motivate employees who work on anything above and beyond basic tasks, we need to focus on three factors:

  • Autonomy – Our desire to be self-directed.
  • Mastery – The urge to develop better skills.
  • Purpose – The desire to do something that has meaning and is important.

Product Management is often not about individual success, but about getting the best out of others.

On vision, prioritization, and planning:

Jeff Bezos, CEO and founder of Amazon –  “Be stubborn on vision, flexible on details.”

In order to set your team up for success as it scales, it’s important to consider what the core product and design principles for your organization are and articulate them clearly so everyone in the team understands them and can apply them in their work. As an example, Paul Adams, VP of Product at Intercom, uses the following three principles as the foundation on which everything they do is built.  I think these three principles are a useful starting point for any Product Management process.  Says Paul:

  • The first principle is that we think big but start small. This means thinking about a big vision and then ruthlessly cutting the scope so we can ship.
  • Because our next principle is ship to learn, which means shipping as fast as possible so we can learn as fast as possible.
  • The third principle is to design from first principles – to start with a blank sheet of paper instead of copying a competitor or assuming the best solution exists in the world already.

“Dream in years; plan in months; evaluate in weeks; ship daily.” – DJ Patil, Vice President of Product at RelateIQ, and former Chief Data Scientist of the United States Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Fail Fast.  For a Product Manager, deciding  whether to work on new problems or improve on existing ones is essentially an exercise in understanding what is most important to the customer.  Discovery is all about the effort you as Product Manager put into understanding your customer.  Great Product Leaders spend the majority of their time focusing on the discovery process.  And while talking to your customer about their needs is paramount, they can’t always give you the answers you need.  You oftentimes have to show them the solution before they even know they have a problem.  It is always a balancing act between discovery and delivery.  Discover for value then deliver on that value.  Prototypes, and the observations that go along with sharing them with users, are exceptionally powerful ways to gather this data.

“If a picture is worth a thousand words, a prototype is worth a thousand meetings.” – John Maeda, Global Head of Computational Design and Inclusion at Automattic

The Agile Manifesto:
To wrap up, I always like to be reminded of what Agile development is all about at it’s core.  The Agile Manifesto:

We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more.


 

I was inspired by and borrowed liberally from the following books – which I highly recommend if you are interested in this topic and more:

“Product Leadership: How Top Product Managers Launch Awesome Products and Build Successful Teams”, Richard Banfield, Martin Eriksson, Nate Walkingshaw

“Inspired: How to Create Products Customers Love”, Mary Cagan

“Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us”.  Daniel H Pink

“The Lean Startup: How Constant Innovation Creates Radically Successful Businesses”,  Eric Ries

And I am eagerly awaiting Eric Ries’s new book: “The Startup Way” . For more information visit thestartupway.com

 

 

 

SMART

September 7, 2017 Leave a comment

SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely) objectives.

Track progress and measure success. I can’t say it more simply.

An MVP Story

March 8, 2017 1 comment

Eric Ries recently asked for favorite MVP stories on his blog, The Leadership Guide.  Here is what I submitted.

Back in 2002 I was involved with a company that had some interesting Flash technology around which we built an Email Marketing Agency.  In 2002, Email Marketing was not the Juggernaut it is today, and we were able to build small, one-off, rich-media email campaigns for our customers.  However, the agency model was not very scalable and we found ourselves in need of a pivot to survive.  

Our biggest client, a large cruise line company, did most of their own creative work and was beginning to think that maybe they were spending too much money with us since our fees were primarily for our creative services.  We began to wonder if we could sell our email services separately as a SaaS offering.  We had a pretty good backend for sending and managing email, but in order to sell it as a Service, we needed to answer a couple of questions:

  1. What kind of UI would be needed to allow customers to be totally self-service?
  2. How fast did the system need to be?
  3. And, how much would customers pay for such a service?

Remember, this was before Email Marketing was a thing.   Before MailChimp, ExactTarget, StrongMail, or Constant Contact even existed.  So, we had 1 potential client and a handful of questions to answer.  MVP time…

So in short order we built what you might call a “man behind the curtain” solution.  A very simple web page – an HTML form actually – to collect all the data necessary to set-up an email campaign.  The customer would need to give it a name, tell us when to send it, what the subject line would be, etc.  They could then upload a csv file of recipients, and an HTML file for the email itself.  

The web form, when submitted, would send all the data via email to our lead Engineer, who would immediately grab all the data, upload the file of recipients, manually transform the HTML into a multi-part email document, rehost any images, manually create any landing pages and redirect pages (for tracking clicks) and fire the whole thing off.  We used a simple ASP script to fire off the emails 1 at a time.  We tracked the opens and clicks using our web server and could upload the stats daily to our “app”.

We showed our app to the customer and they agreed to use our software to send their next campaign to a list of 3 million of their customers.  If I remember correctly, we charged them a $3 CPM (cost per thousand), for a total of $9000. Considerably cheaper than the Agency fees we would have normally charged.  

The campaign was a success and we were able to get answers to our 3 basic questions.  From that first campaign we knew that at a minimum we had to automate the process, provide an Email content editor, provide image hosting, proper reporting, and basic CRM capability. But our idea was viable, and people would pay for it.   We used that MVP, and the lessons learned, to build out one of the industry’s first Email Marketing SaaS platforms.  

What customers want

January 4, 2017 Leave a comment

Update: Just after writing this post, I started reading a great book – “The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers” by Ben Horowitz, and stumbled upon a quote that really articulates what I am trying to say with this post.  I decided to add the quote to the top of this post:

“It turns out that is exactly what product strategy is all about—figuring out the right product is the innovator’s job, not the customer’s job. The customer only knows what she thinks she wants based on her experience with the current product. The innovator can take into account everything that’s possible, but often must go against what she knows to be true. As a result, innovation requires a combination of knowledge, skill, and courage.”

What customers want.  Does it matter?  Depending on the kind of business you are trying to run, it may matter less than you think.

Is there a difference between a Customer-driven business and a Product-driven business?  After all, there is really only one goal – happy customers.  Right?  You either make things that people want, or make people want the things you make.  Business experts would postulate that there is a big difference.  And those differences are critical to how managers should run their business.

T0 the Customer-driven business, customer feedback is the cornerstone of success.  The entire product pipeline is based on information gathered on customers, and the focus is first and foremost on the customer. How to make the customer happy, how to meet or even exceed their expectations.  This type of business often operates under the assumption that it can only survive if the customers are satisfied.

In terms of marketing, the Customer-driven business is not greatly invested in marketing the product. After all, the product has been designed and created with the customer in mind, so it goes without saying that there is already a market (and customers) for it.

Speed and flexibility become the pillars of the Customer-driven business.  Unfortunately, in many cases the Customer-driven business is heavy on Sales, heavy on Marketing, and a little thin in Product and Technology.  Product Management is well poised to offer the benefits of process and discipline, but methodologies such as Agile and Lean are misunderstood and often shunned by Sales and Marketing heavy businesses. Without such discipline, products become ad-hoc and  meandering under the load of unending customer requirements.

The Product-driven business, on the other hand, cares much less about customer feedback.  Why?  The Product-driven business works under the assumption that with great products come great customers.  The Product-driven business exists to expand and create markets, create customers, and thereby create profits.  They are highly dependent on marketing since they make people want things rather than make things that people want.

In an existing Product-driven business, customer feedback at the aggregate level is crucial, but feedback at an individual level is almost irrelevant.  The Product-driven business is laser focused on the market they are trying to create.  Outliers most often point to customer-product mismatches.  Aggregate feedback should be used to validate the new market – not market fit.  Market fit implies that the target market already exists, which it does not.

Lean and Agile processes are essential to the Product-driven business because the new markets and customers are, in a manner of speaking, an educated guess.  The technology teams need to be flexible and fast as knowledge about the new market and new customers emerge.  MVP’s (minimal viable products) and validated learning cycles are the essential processes for the Product-driven business.  Sales teams need to be able to say “no” and move on quickly on the quest for the defined but unknown customer.  And Marketing is the portal through which these new customers will come.

One process internal, one  external.  Both require different approaches. Often times a hybrid approach results in an in-between process that serves neither.  Product Management needs to provide the leadership to help the company clarify the type of business, and then provide the tools and processes for success.

As a Product Manager, ask your self the following questions:

  • Is yours a Customer-driven business?  If yes, then
    • Customer feedback is crucial
    • Understand the role of Marketing.  If your business is truly Customer facing, then you should already know who and where your customers are.  Use marketing to build awareness, not to build a market.
    • Implement an Agile process for speed and flexibility.  Customer feedback should be coming in fast and furious, you will need resources and process to deal with it.
  • Is yours a Product-driven business?  If yes, then
    • Use customer feedback to support validated learning.  Focus on finding new customers and creating or expanding markets.
    • Rely heavily on Marketing to bring in the customers who need you, but probably don’t even know you exist
    • Implement an Agile process.
    • Create beta programs, identify evaluation customers, build MVP’s and Validated Learning loops

And remember attempts at hybrid models tend to die in an unlivable no-man’s land between product and customer-driven territories.

So yes, it matters what customers want.  But more importantly, know what you want from your customers.

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