Sunday, October 9, 2011

The lessons I've learned from Steve Jobs - A tribute

This week, Steve Jobs passed away. I never met him. I never worked for him. But somehow I felt touched by his loss. I wanted to wait a little bit before I wrote this tribute (there has been a lot written since his passing). I wanted to process my thoughts and try and codify what I learned from him. So here they are, some of the lessons from a great visionary and leader, Steve Jobs:

  1. Have a vision - Steve knew what he wanted and had a vision. Whether it was with NeXT, Pixar, or Apple, he had a  great sense for what was beautiful. He knew it when he saw it.
  2. Pay attention to the details - If there was one thing I love about Apple is there attention to detail. Everything matters. The packaging, the material, the feel of the product, how well it works with everything else. I just felt special using their products.
  3. Hold people accountable - Steve was well known as a difficult manager. He would yell and use less than appropriate words in meetings. While many may consider this inappropriate or consider this rough management style, I tend to look at it on the flip side. He had high standards and he held people to them. He didn't let people feel like it was ok to not be your best. It is not ok to not stretch before your means. People will follow you when you lead them to success.
  4. Be mindful of how you spend your time - As Steve's health began to get worse, I read a lot about how he would choose how and with whom he spent his time. He knew what was important and he focused his limited time there. He was the master of knowing when to say "No". This is a great lesson for all of us. Since he past away, I have learned to be more mindful of how I spend my time. Am I making my life better? Am I making a difference? Suddenly watching football on Sunday afternoon's doesn't make much sense.
Some of my favorite Steve Jobs Quotation
  1. ”My job is not to be easy on people. My job is to take these great people we have and to push them and make them even better.” 
  2. “Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.”
  3. “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
  4. “Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations"
  5. “Do your best at every job. Don’t sleep! Success generates more success so be hungry for it. Hire good people with a passion for excellence.”
  6. "Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
So, Steve I hope that you know that not only did you impact how folks use technology, listen to music, watch movies, but you also impacted how people think and behave. Thank you.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Great vs. Good Product Managers

In all my years of product management (and being an electrical engineer and software developer) I've started to pick up what separates the great product managers from the good product managers. I've decided to share my thoughts on this today and I'm curious as to your thoughts. Without further ado:

  1. Inspiration - Great product managers know how to inspire the people that they work with. This means inspiring your fellow product managers, your development teams, and your cross functional coworkers. The great product managers are leaders. They know how to endear themselves to others and really be that positive energy that can lead to teams exceeding expectations. They are relentless in their promotion of their products and teams and folks see that and are drawn to them. 
  2. Pro-active - Great product managers are always a step ahead. They are already working on the next release and are ready when that request comes. Without being asked they prepare quarterly reviews or highlight market shifts. They seek out opportunities to talk to customers and get feedback. Whenever a request comes in, with very little effort they can meet the request. How many of us, myself included, have had to scurry to create a presentation, business model, etc. when we should have anticipated the request. This is a tough one!
  3. Thoroughness - Great product managers know how to "peel the layers of the onion" so to speak. While the good product managers may use anecdotal evidence or a customer interview to support their position, the great product manager will dig deeper into market research, competitive intelligence, customers support cases, multiple customer interviews, discussions with Sales and support, etc. The Great product managers know how to build a more complete picture of the market problem rather than trying to jump quickly to the feature.
Please share your thoughts?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Let me give you the BOOT! - A real world pricing example.

So the other day I injured my calf and the doctor gave me this boot to wear. I originally had crutches but after fumbling around with them, I asked for a boot. So as I leave the doctors office and sign the paperwork I noticed that the boot costs $160 dollars. At first I thought "I should be in the boot making business! That's way too much for a bunch of velcro, foam, with a little bit of metal on the bottom"

But then the product manager in me asked the classic question "What value does this boot provide me and would I be willing to pay $160 for it?" We'll let's see here's the value that it provides:

  • Comfort - Way more comfortable that crutches
  • Prevents excruciating pain when bending ankle - That's pretty valuable, who likes pain?
  • Reduces Healing time - by preventing me from reinjuring myself I can get to normal fun activities much sooner
So now I thought to myself "Is the boot worth $160?" and the answer is YES! Also, if you wear glasses or contact lens, think about how much those cost to make vs. how much they charge.

I would also say that perceived value has an emotional side to it. Think about all those Apple fans who have an emotional relationship with their iPhone, iPod, MacBook,  etc. That increased emotional tie leads to higher perceived value which ties into a higher price. As you design your product, think about the emotion you want your customers to have!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Kanban - Some Open Questions?

So this topic has come up some here and there (I remember studying it a bit in my Supply Chain class) and I've been thinking about it and researching it a bit more and I have some open questions about it. So here you go:

Question #1 - Without a sprint commitment, what motivates the team?
The typical answer to this sounds like "The team is excited and aligned to the vision of the product owner so much that they will be motivated to see the team (and company) succeed". I agree...but without a commitment will they be as motivated? Let say for example, I join a gym that is $1 per month. If I go, then great, if not, then I've only lost a buck. Now let's say I join a gym that is $100 per month. If I don't go I'm wasting a lot of money and I'll either quit my membership or start going. The size of the commitment impacts how I act. With no commitment how will the team act?

Another way I started to think about this question was to go back to the roots of Kanban (manufacturing cars...learn more here). When manufacturing cars, a person will stand on assembly line and repeatedly perform the same task over and over again while the cars move down the assembly line. There is a key point here...each worker has a specified amount of time to perform very specific steps. That sounds very different than software development. Also, what motivates the assembly line worker will not necessarily motivate the software developer.

Question #2 - How can you understand your team's throughput when not every story is the same size?
Let's go back to another common question "How will you know if the team's performance is improving?" and the typically Kanban answer is that the amount of time per story will decrease thus increasing their throughput. But here is where I get confused...

Let's once again go back to the origin of Kanban building cars on an assembly line. The worker on an assembly line knows exactly what their task is and will always be and knows exactly how long it will take. That is not to say that improvements cannot be made to decrease the time it takes to perform a task, but rather that there is uniformity in the task. Compare this with software development where stories are introduced to the Kanban team. Some stories may be minor...and if a team gets a string of these stories in a row it will appear to the outside observer that the team is really performing since their throughput has increased. Now, suddenly they get some larger stories thrown in the mix and their throughput drops as the tackle these more difficult stories. Is the team performing poorly due to the non-uniform task size? Imagine if you will that same assembly line worker getting a 4 door family sedan and then a 2 door sports car, and then a 4 wheel drive truck and then the factory wonders why it takes they have a different throughput?

These are just some thoughts....Not sure if they are meaningful to the broader lean/kanban I welcome answers to the questions above! Please help! I definitely see Kanban's potential value and want to consider it more deeply, I'm just trying to answer a couple of questions, so go easy one me.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Marketing and Schrodinger's Cat?

Being a former geek (and still trying to retain my geek credentials) I like to watch Through the Wormhole to help me live vicariously through these great scientists. So this is my attempt to combine 2 of my favorite subjects (physics and marketing) and somehow not alienate either the marketing folks who read this and the physics folks (assuming either marketing or physics folks read this blog)

On one of the recent shows they explain the famous Schrodinger's Cat paradox (for those that are unfamiliar with this paradox click here). In this case the cat is both alive and dead and you don't know what state the cat is in until you open the box.

This reminds me a lot of how some folks approach marketing. They don't know if their efforts and dollars are effective because until they "open the box" on the results. But many of them don't bother to even open the box and think that they are succeeding!

So this ends my poor attempt at comparing quantum mechanics and marketing...but for some reason I want to continue typing away.

So don't forget it isn't marketing unless you have a goal in mind at the beginning and that you measure yourself against that goal. After you measure your results you now know whether or not achieved your goal, but one question still remains...Why? Why did you achieve your goal? (which is different than "What did you do to achieve your goal?"). You have to think about both.

For example, let's say your goal is to get more paying customers and you determine the best way to measure that goal is to compare the number of paying customers you get this month vs. what you got last month and the same month 1 year ago. So far this is pretty easy! Let's say you decide that in order to achieve your goal you will:
  • Drive more people to the purchase page
  • Have a 1 month special discount
Great you now have your tactics down. At the end of the month you look at the numbers and you have achieved your desired results. You can point back to your tactics to help you answer the question about what you did to achieve your goal. Great! Now ask yourself why did more people visit the purchase page and why did they decide to purchase? What factors drove them to convert? Suddenly the answer is not as could be any one of the following:
  • The lower price
  • The features of your product 
  • Dissatisfaction with their current provider
 Or it could be any combination of the 3??

Once you understand the why it can impact your tactics in the future to help you refine your marketing.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Product Experiments

Lately I've been thinking about business plans and product launches and how product managers can validate many of the assumptions that are made about their products. It is rare that a product manager can really know/survey potential customers before a product is launched or before making a major product decision. We all make some assumptions, is there a way to minimize the risk that we are wrong?

Some typical product assumptions:
  • Price elasticity of demand - This boils down to how price impacts demand. Should you go with a low price strategy or justify a higher price since you have a differentiated product. How will changing the price up or down by 10% impact quantity demanded?
  • Market Size/Potential - We can always assume that everyone is interested in our product, but sometimes those assumptions aren't true. This is especially difficult to assess when your market size is dependent on the adoption of a broader platform on which your product is built, etc.
  • Most Important Features - Often times product managers think they know which features will be used most often. The surprising thing to consider is how the feature is used with other features or what other features are being used to an increasing degree.
So how can a product manager mitigate the risk that one or more of his assumptions will prevent the product from living up to its full potential? Here are some ideas:
  • Experiment with pricing - One way to do this is to conduct a short pricing experiment where the price is increased by X% for 1 month and then decreased by 10% the next month. Compare and contrast the demand changes, if any. Another idea is to offer every other customer a different price (if possible) as this will remove the seasonality component of demand changes.
  • Try a Beta - Start with a beta and learn from that and then launch the real thing. This is a common method to help refine the feature while minimizing the likelihood of releasing something that is not very polished. You can even turn your "beta" into a special event by limiting who can participate and making those that you select feel special by giving them a sneak peek.
  • Offer the feature to your high end customers - Perhaps you have different versions of your product (e.g. Basic, Pro, Premium). Offer the feature to the premium customers as a sort of beta and then once the kinks have been worked out (and you have hopefully derived some additional revenue). For example, you could offer a feature in the high end version of your product and use those higher margins to recoup your expenses in building the feature. Once you have recouped the costs, consider moving it to the lower end version of your product to increase adoption and differentiation in that version of your product.
  • Include a Feedback button - Be prepared to get some constructive criticism :). I would recommend personally replying to every single one of them to encourage a dialogue.
Oh well...just some thoughts for today....I'm already thinking about my next blog post so that's probably a sign that I've exhausted my thoughts on this subject :)


Sunday, May 29, 2011

Competitive Advantage vs. Competing

So I'm going to borrow a page from MBA days (and of course, Mr. Porter) and discuss competitive strategy today. Everything always boils down to how do you create a long term sustainable competitive advantage and then manage to keep it. Many times, product manager just want to compete rather than build a competitive advantage.

Whenever I look at building a feature or assessing a competitor I rate/rank the feature against the following 4 criteria:
  • Valuable - Is the feature valuable for your customers/prospects?
  • Rare - Is it rare or common in the marketplace?
  • Costly to Copy - If you were to build the feature, would it be easy for competitors to mimic you?
  • Easy to Substitute - Can the feature be substituted with another feature, thus eliminating this features importance?
You should apply these 4 criteria to the target market segment for your product/company. For example, 8 cylinder engines are Rare for 4 door family sedans, but not so rare for large SUVs. If you start with your company/product and create a VRIN matrix of all of your features and then one for your competitors you may find some nuggets of information such as:

  • Your product has no long-term source of competitive advantage
  • Your product is well positioned vs. the competition, however, this is likely short term as it is easy for competitors to catch up
  • Your product has a lot of features that are not valuable to your target market, but are valuable to another market segment.
As you and your competitors add new features add them to the matrix and put a date of launch. You may find that by focusing on when a feature is launched you may be able to determine trends (e.g. your competitor has been building a lot of features lately that are focused on a particular market segment). You will be prepared next time an executive asks you for how you compare to the competition. 

Another analysis technique I have used is Kano analysis to help determine the type of feature. For more information on Kano analysis click here. The uniqueness of Kano is that it asks the negative question (i.e. How would you feel if the feature was not present?) in addition to the positive question (i.e. How would you feel if the feature was present?). The negative question allows the product manager to determine which features are "exciters" vs. "expected".

So as you think about competing in the market, don't forget to think about building up your competitive advantage!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Why companies fail - A lack of focus on the "micro"

Much like physicists are trying to create a grand unified theory of all physics to explain all the various forces and particles, I started to think about a unifying theory about why companies fail. Now I know what you are thinking, there are many reasons and coming up with a single reason is silly. Don't worry I thought the same thing. But I didn't give up.

There are so many books out there such as "Innovators Dilemma", "Good to Great" and "Blue Ocean Strategy" that provide all sorts of reasons why companies don't achieve their potential. I think all of these books focus on the "macro" side of things. Things like corporate strategy, corporate focus, etc.

But the reality is that the "macro" result is the sum of many "micro" interactions. That is the topic of this blog post...what creates the types of negative micro-interactions that cause companies to fail. At the end of day companies are run by people and people interact with each other and it is these interactions that are of interest. This topic reminds me of Patrick Lencioni's book "5 Dysfuntions of a Team"

So I'll start with this hypothesis and then we can pick it apart.

All negative micro interactions are driven by the employee putting their needs before the companies need. So let's ask Why?

  • Why - Because I have a desire or need that supercedes the needs of the organization
  • For example - I will not share my opinion when asked because I fear for my job.
  • As a result - They attempt to rationalize this disconnect by convincing themselves that there needs are aligned and that it is ok for me to not give my true opinion when asked.
Or let's try this one:
  • Why - Because I have a desire to advance my career at the expense of the organization
  • For example - I'm going to get "buddy buddy" with key influencers in the company so that I can become their "Yes" men in order to get the next promotion. 
  • As a result - People have a tendency to hire/promote folks like themselves. Employees will see this "favoritism" and complain about politics and morale suffers.
Now multiply these interactions be every time they occur with all the employees in your company.  Healthy companies spend time focused on the "macro" and "micro" in order to improve.

What are your thoughts? I wonder if we can go look at companies that have failed and see if we can characterize their cultures and draw out key indicators of companies going in the wrong direction. It would be like "Good to Failed - Why companies fail" the exact opposite of most books that describe how to succeed. If you think about it, it actually make is easier to drive consensus on what is bad vs. what is good just like it is easier to say and agree on what "smells bad" vs. what "smells good".

Oh well...enough rambling for a Saturday morning.....

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Why I turned down an interview with Google

This blog post is a bit more personal than my traditional blog post, but I felt it necessary to help me get my head around why I politely declined an opportunity to fly out to Mountain View and interview at the Googleplex.

First of all, it happened so quickly! They found me through my LinkedIn profile and emailed me about a job opportunity as a Lead Product Manager. Wow! I was flattered. I had a 45 minute phone screen with the  recruiter and it went really well...mostly questions about my experience, managing people, and education. Nothing too hard or anything. I really did not prepare for it, I was just myself. The one question she asked that caught me off guard a little bit was "What is the most important accomplishment of your life?" If you want to know my answer, let me know. Anyways, she said I fit the mold of the type of product manager they look for and I sent her some information and we set up a phone screen for Wednesday (just 3 days later).

I didn't really prepare or the 2nd phone screen either. It pretty much went like this:
  • 5-6 minutes talking about my experience
  • 20 minutes talking about how I would improve a product that I really liked
  • 4-5 minutes for questions I had for them
It seemed very rushed and although I answered the questions well (at least I thought), it just seemed rushed to the point where I didn't feel comfortable about how the interview went. Oh well...I thought..

Next day I get an email that says that they really liked me and want to fly me out for an in-person interview. Wow, that was cool...but then my mind started racing...was I ready to fly my entire family out there if I got a job offer? I didn't want to waste Google's time or mislead them if there was a very low likelihood of taking a job given my current family situation. I really struggled...I didn't want to look back and regret that I had not gone out there...but I also wanted to be honest with Google and with myself. To thine ownself be true!

After spending some time thinking about it, I called to politely decline for the following reasons:
  1. Fit - The job wasn't quite a good fit for my skills/interest. I love research and market analysis and this opportunity did not lend itself to that as much. I like sizing markets and public market launches. So it just wasn't the ideal fit.
  2. Career - At this point in my career, I want to manage and lead people and take that next step forward in my career progression. I wasn't quite ready to start over at a new company. Plus I like where I am now.
  3. Family - My extended family is nearby and at this stage it makes more sense for me to stay near them.
We had a positive call and you never know what the future holds!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Does Marketing Create Value?

This blog post rambles a bit...bear with it :)

So I read a tweet from @NCStateMBA (where I got my MBA) that read "Marketing is all about creating value. Our Marketing Management MBA creates value for tomorrow’s business leaders". When I first read the tweet, the 1st sentence really struck me. Is marketing all about creating value?

So I have to admit, I am a bit biased since I'm a product guy...but the more I thought about the question the more I realized that marketing does not create the value, but they can participate in the process.

Pick up any marketing text book and they talk about the 3C's and 4P's. More often than not, a marketer will know how many customers the product has, and what the price is, and what the latest promotion is, etc. But they may not know the WHY! Why do your customers by your product? What need do they have? What are their selection criteria? What price would they be willing to pay? In fact, some marketers may not even care...they may be tasked with generating a set number of leads and that's about it.

I've recently read links\tweets that encourage startups to focus on the product and let that lead the way in creating customers. The product is the value. If you have a product that solves an unmet need and does so in a compelling may not need that much marketing (if any). Your customers will spread the word. I'm willing to be if Apple did not have a single iPhone commercial, they still would be quite successful.

So is Marketing all about creating value? - I'd so in a perfect world they participate in the process, but they definitely don't create the value. I'd say the product development team creates the value.

That being said, I do think the NC State MBA does create a tremendous amount of value for those that get it and is really awesome. I've worked with a lot of MBAs from those "blue" schools nearby and I'll say that I'm glad I went to NCSU. One day, I wish I could go and get an MBA from one of those schools just to see what all the fuss is about, but I'm not sure I want to get saddled with those student loans. How's that for ROI!

P.S. If one of those blue schools is reading this, I'm willing to go there for free and blog\tweet about how wonderful your school is :)

Monday, February 21, 2011

More Product Management Resources

So I've done a couple of blog posts (here and here) on resources that I like to use to help research the market. Here are some additional resources that I use and would recommend in conjunction with my previous blog post.

  • Google Scholar
    • Every once in while I am researching a topic that may lend itself to some academic research. The best part of this type of research is that the authors are unbiased. However, it may not work very well for more recent business topics. I just like to keep this as a source in my back pocket.
  • Wikipedia
    • Obviously, I don't always believe what is on wikipedia, but it can be a source for additional research. I like to read the links in the "Further Reading" and "References". It's contextual helpful content.
  • Quora
    • I just started using Quora. I'm not sure how I feel about it, but it does seem to have content on there that can be helpful. Especially for very nascent or non-mature markets
  • Google Images
    • Often times I'm looking for articles or data to better understand a market forecast or market players. The images search typically helps point me to the right articles that have the richer market insights via some pretty images.
Are there any other tools that you use? Care to share?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Understanding your Customers Purchase Criteria

A lot of times product managers are so focused the details of the features that are being built and how customers will interact with them that they forget about how customers become aware of and purchase your product. What goes through the mind of a shopper when they are making that decision to purchase.

This reminds of me of what many of the top consumer goods companies do to understand their consumers. They set up a grocery store (fully stocked and functional) on site and watch consumers make their purchase decisions. This is probably why all the kids cereals are on the bottom shelf and all the ones with fiber and oats are at the top :) After they make a purchase decision they interview them and really dig into the psyche of the customer.

How many of us have had a competitor launch a whiz bang feature that you have never even consider? For example, in the early days of LCD TVs no one ever heard of 60Hz or 120Hz, etc. Now it's like an arms race with this stuff (just read the latest Crutchfield). A company made it a purchase criteria through its heavy marketing and then everyone had to follow suit. I'm willing to bet 99% of consumers could not tell the difference between 120Hz and 240Hz. The problem with this feature is that it is easy to duplicate, so any competitive advantage is fleeting.

So as many folks approach you about a feature, always keep in mind your customer and how they decide to make their purchase and don't think that it doesn't change. These criteria change!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Slide Share for Market Research

So a couple of weeks ago I blogged about how I use twitter to make my job as a product manager easier (Check it out here). However, there are some deficiencies with Twitter which I will briefly describe and then I'll dive into another tool I have used (and continue to use) SlideShare.

Twitter Challenges
  • Perhaps It's just me, but I don't really find twitter for researching topics outside of the folks I follow. For example, If I'm doing research for "online marketing" on twitter...the results are just not that helpful. If your network on twitter is not strong in an area of research you have to go find folks to follow and it just isn't quick or easy enough to identify experts and move forward. I want my research on the quick!
  • The strength of twitter being only 140 characters, can also be a weakness. It can be harder to determine if the link is meaningful enough for me to click on. I find myself clicking on shortened URLs trying to find something and it's just not a good use of time. This is where search is easier in my opinion.
SlideShare, on the other hand, has rich content and is easily searched. It's a great source of secondary market research. You don't always have access to analyst reports, etc., but you can find some content online at SlideShare. The slides are great and very visual which, as a product manager who sometimes needs to convey complex topics in an easily understood fashion, is very valuable. There is so much great content there, I can easily spend hours. Check it out here.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Understanding your Product - Product KPIs

Many times, Product Managers focus on the launch of the product and then they are off to focusing on the next product or the next feature. They don't realize that the launch of the product is just the beginning. It's time to understand and validate those assumptions you made when building the product. Do you really understand how customers are using and interacting with your product? Do you understand how the product impacts the customer?

Here are some key metrics to measure and ideas to help you better understand your customers:

  • Think about Measurement when Building - Often times we are so focused on building the features, we don't think about how making sure we can measure and understand the product's usage afterwards. It's OK to pay a little bit of a cost penalty to make sure you have the data you need to inform your future decisions and your management. 
  • Weekly KPI Dashboard - Collect the data on a regular basis. I prefer to aggregate that data in Excel with a sheet called "Dashboard" that has a visual display of several graphs while all the other sheets contain all the raw data. There are several benefits to collecting and knowing this data. For example, any time an executive asks me about the product's usage I typically know the answer right off the top of my head while other product managers are left scrambling to find this data. While you may have data warehouse systems or analytics packages that help with this, I prefer using them to store all in the information in one place. Collecting and aggregating this weekly is one sure way to stay on top of what is going on with your product! Use that data to drive conclusions!
  • Talk to your Customers - Ask your customers. I know that sounds simple, but too many product managers are not talking to their customers. What problems do they face in general? Or using your product? What features would they like? Why?
 Let me know what you think about these ideas...feel free to post a comment.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The 3 A's of hiring

So I've done my fair share of evaluating employees and hearing about how others determine who to hire. I've heard one manager list out what he looks for in a potential employee and I thought I'd pass along with my own perspectives. So here they are, the 3 A's of hiring:
  • Attitude - Does the employee have the right attitude? This is very difficult to measure in a short interview. Here are some techniques/ideas that you may find helpful.
    • I would suggest focusing on difficult or challenging situations and probing deeply into what the candidates initial thoughts facing that situation and how they handled it. This line of questioning can also help you determine tHe emotional awareness/intelligence that the candidate possesses. 
    • Another area to look at is at their LinkedIn recommendations. Does the candidate have any recommendations and, if so, do they reference their attitude. Obviously these should be taken with a grain of salt, but look for common themes across several of them.
    • How does the candidate carry themselves in the interview. Are they smiling and actively listening? Are they prepared? Nothing turns me off more than a candidate who has not done their homework. Have they read about your product/company and, if possible, used it. 
    • One interview question I read recently (click here for top 2010 Interview Questions) was "You just inherited a pizzeria, what is the first thing you do?". I think this question can really help gauge how a person would approach a problem and what their attitude would be.
  • Aptitude - Can the employee adapt to change and succeed? How well can they learn? I can't tell you how many jobs I've had where I have gone back in time and looked at the original job description and realize that what I am currently doing in that same job is totally different. Situations and environments change, is the candidate comfortable with that. You can ask questions during the interview about their experiences with change and learned a new skill and how they and others dealt with that.  Do they invest in learning and can they adapt quickly to change?
  • Ability - Do they have the skills to even do the job? Have they done it before? Can they speak with specificity on what they have done? 
    • I can't tell you how many times I have interviewed someone who claims to have written a business case and then the more I probe, the more I find out that someone else wrote the finance section, someone else wrote the strategy section, etc. If you are looking for someone with a great deal of experience they should be able to list out a litany of examples.
    These are 3 criteria that I have started using to help me identify and rate candidates. There are many more such as team fit, etc. that can be used...but I like these...

    Saturday, January 8, 2011

    "Growing" your team

    No, I don't mean how to make your team bigger by adding more people. I mean how do you get your team to grow as a team. How do you get them to trust each other and constantly strive to be better? Of course the first thing everyone always says is "Have you read 5 Dysfunctions of a team?"

    But I wanted to present some of my personal observations both when I managed people and now as part of a scrum team. Here they are:
    • Treat individuals as individuals - Folks are at different levels and places in their careers. Some are seasoned veterans who have stepped up and are leading the team, while others are followers. Not everyone is the same and no blanket rules apply. If someone has a particular strength try to accentuate it and improve their weaknesses. Who have to trust your team and guide them. For example, in one of my previous jobs I hired an information architect/technical writer who was very skilled. Rather than try to tell him to do this or that, I worked to give him the tools and guidance he needed to succeed. I let him teach me more about his style and work and then adapted my style to his. This technique really worked!
    • Always Raise the Bar - Challenge the individuals on the team in different ways. As they grow in their capabilities, continue to raise the bar. For example, let's say you have a natural technical leader on your team who was unable to influence the team on a particular matter. Use this as an opportunity to brainstorm and discuss what happened and how it could have been differently. When you wait to discuss an opportunity for improvement you fail to raise the bar! I think sprint retrospectives are a great opportunity to be transparent, but the team can easily fall into a routine of only highlighting items outside the team for the challenges. For example "The business does not know what it wants" or "The server is not working". You have to recognize this and look to challenge the team to understand how they can participate in the solution.
    • Be transparent - Constantly share your feedback, but also expect and embrace feedback. I have worked with a lot of folks who are so reserved you never know what they are thinking. I have found these folks so hard to read that they don't motivate the team since no one knows where they stand. This is easier to say than do. 
    • Enjoy Yourself - Too many times it's easy to get caught up in a moment or are frustrated about a particular person or difficult goal. Enjoy what you do and more importantly enjoy who you work with!
    Just some thoughts and experiences...

    Sunday, January 2, 2011

    How I use Twitter to make Product Management Easier

    The rise of social media has really revolutionized the tools I use for my product management duties. Over the past several months I have been using Twitter to really help make my life a little bit easier. Here's how I use Twitter and related tools:

    How I use Twitter

    • Listening to your customers - I like to see what our customers or prospects say about us. Do they like our product, are they complaining about a feature, are they happy about a new feature launch, etc. Just watching the tweets helps give me a feel for how some segment of our customers are responding. Often times, I read a tweet and forward it to the appropriate team/person. For example, if someone tweets about the great service they receive, I take a screenshot of the tweet and send it to the support team to give them some kudos.
    • Listening to your competitors and their customers - The first thing I did when I installed Tweetdeck (see more in the Tools section below) was to add columns for searches for them and I started to follow them. Now I know when their customers are complaining, when the announce a new feature, what tradeshow or marketing event they are going to, etc. I get to see how their customers are reacting to them and all of this happens in real time. I typically check out tweetdeck on my phone whenever I have a free moment, just to stay on top of it. You have to be careful to not check it too often or it will suck up too much time :)
    • Gather Market Data - This is really cool! Before twitter I used Google and it just wasn't effective...It took forever to get through the noise of all the search results. Often times I would click a link and the content wasn't helpful and then have to go back to the search and it just took forever. Now I just add a column in Tweetdeck with some keyword (or hashtag) I am looking for and the research just comes to me! With only 140 characters it is easy to quickly digest the nuggets of information and then find the right content. Because the content comes from people like myself, it is often relevant and helpful.
    • Follow the right people - Easier said than done :). Often times I look to follow key employees of my competition, bloggers who seem to have a lot of good information, and of course employees of my current job. I try my best to use this stream of content to help augment my other twitter streams with content that can sometimes provide more context.
    • TweetDeck - This is a great tool of aggregating a lot of twitter content in a customizable fashion. I know folks who use HootSuite which is a great tool as well.  Check it out here.
    • TwitterVenn - I played with this tool a couple of times. It was kind of nifty but a bit slow. It provides a venn diagram that shows any overlap between tweets with same terms in them. I would recommend playing with it for a little bit by clicking here.
    So if you have noticed I'm not really engaging in a two way conversation with my customers. You might be thinking that takes the "social" out of social media. You would be correct. Depending on your company this may not be desired (some companies have folks whose job it is to monitor and respond to customers). For the time being I just use it to listen and if I find something really useful I can always retweet it.

    Thanks and have a happy new year!