Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Development Process and the Startup

Blog Post #2 - The Startup and Development Process
As a company grows from 10 people to 50 and then to 200, processes have to adapt and complexity grows. The reality is that product managers can get sucked into the whirlwind of trying and figuring out the best development process. Should you be agile? What about this form of agile or that form of agile, sprint lengths, etc. It's very easy to get sucked into this whirlwind of decision making at the expense of other duties.

The Problem
As a company grows rapidly, job responsibilities start to shift to newly hired specialists. Where once you were a project manager, developer, QA are now in your natural state as the roles get filled in with other "experts". The challenge comes from the fact that expectations and responsibility change at different paces, thus resulting in the need for process to overcome confusion. As a product manager who sits in the middle of many processes and departments (marketing, finance, sales, technology, etc.) you often have to fill in the gaps cause by the separation.

  • Tied at the Hip - First you must realize that as a product manager you are tied at the hip with the technology teams. Their success is your success and vice versa. Don't say "It doesn't matter what process they use as long as it gets done". Partner with technology teams try and understand their motivations and needs. Make sure that you are clear what the needs of the product management team and that those are communicated.
  • Mind the pendulum - Technology can have a tendency to dominate the development process discussion and thus creating a lot of burden on other teams. Sometimes those other teams won't be able to handle the weight of this new process and thus they become a constant bottleneck and have frustrated employees. Agile processes have altered a typical product manager's job quite a bit and so be aware of the impacts to roles/responsibilities. Just be aware that the pendulum of burden is equally shared so that there every group is stretching a little bit in order to fill in the gaps (hiring and change do not happen at the same rate). Otherwise, one group becomes a bottleneck and the target of blame...
  • Embrace change - Change is constant in startups and small companies. As a product manager, you have to embrace that change. Change is difficult for everyone. That disconnect between expectations and a changing reality combined with individual insecurities can result in a lot anxieties. Change has to become part of your job. Much like a great product manager has to embrace saying "No" to stakeholders, a great product manager must embrace change. 
  • Have a checkpoint - It is often the tendency to think one and done and once the process is set it will work for a while. That is never the case. Create a checkpoint meeting after 2 sprints (for example) to let folks know that we will not get it right and we should discuss. It also sends a signal to the team that they should be aware of pain points and jot them down so that they can bring it up at the checkpoint. It gives them an avenue for feedback and frustration rather than unhealthily venting to folks.
Just some initial thoughts on the subject...more to come in the blog post series...

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Stepping out of your comfort zone

I recently attended a user conference and hear Peter Shankman encourage the audience to step out of their comfort zone in order to grow. Peter's advice and encouragement really struck a chord with me and made me think of very few times that I have done something new in my career. Something that I  initially had some hesitation or concern, but then I just made a decision to do it. Here are a couple of examples and then a couple of thoughts:
  • Moderating a Panel - I had never moderated a panel at a conference before and when it was suggested that I do that. I quickly said yes (there is a reason for saying yes more about that in the thought section). Afterwards, I had some other things come up and I did want to back out a little bit. But my manager suggested that it would be a good experience for me and I decided to give it a shot. I did some research on moderating best practices. Took some notes about the speakers and questions to start the panel off. 
  • Speaking at a conference - I was offered the opportunity to speak at the Online Marketing Summit (OMS) on behalf of my employer on Email Marketing. I had never done that before so I wanted a day or so to think about it. I thought about all the extra work on top of the extra work I was already doing. My mind was racing about all the ways I could get out of it. But then I thought about the Oliver Wendell Holmes quotation "Man's mind, stretched by a new idea, never goes back to its original dimensions." I decided to give it a shot.
  • Prepare, prepare, prepare! - Whenever you do something new, preparation is always the key to success (even more so when you are doing something new). I would research online, take notes, memorize, and I would start my preparations early. For my talk at OMS, I took the slides and took notes on each one. I added additional information that was not presented on the slide (stories, other stats, etc.). Afterwards, I prepared by giving the presentation (I did it several times) to note the duration and got myself fairly comfortable with it. The practice also helped me come up with new ideas to make the presentation even better. When I gave the presentation, I was vey relaxed. I was walking around (not standing behind the podium) and I was interacting with the audience. It was actually a lot of fun. Being prepared is the key difference between mediocrity and excellence. 
  • Opportunity knocks - As I have progressed in my career, I've done a lot of reading in an attempt to learn. Most of what I read are business related magazines. I came to the realization that career growth happens for two reasons. First, its all about you and your decisions and your decision to take assignments and projects that force you out of your comfort zone. Say yes when asked. But here's the other part. In order to have the opportunity to say yes, you have to be given the opportunity by someone. Someone has to believe enough in you to give that assignment. It takes two to create a market :)
I hope you find this helpful and I wanted to thank Peter Shankman for serving as the catalyst for this blog post. You can learn more about him here:

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A Thank You and a Goodbye

The past couple of months have seen quite a transition for me at my job. After the company I worked for was acquired by another company there were significant layoffs and for those who made it through it was a completely different culture and business model.

June 13th marks my last day at my current employer. It will be a sad day as I have worked with so many great people who have sacrificed to bring new products to market and support our customers. We have built, launched, and supported products together and it was fun! I have learned a lot about product management from them. But, the most important lesson I learned is a lesson of being aware of myself enough to begin to self-correct my own behaviors.

Being able to view myself through a lens that begins to match how others view me has been very helpful in that regard. I have my manager to thank for that. From that lesson, I learned that it is not all about me, but rather it is about others and their success. It is not about how I feel, it is about moving forward in a positive and healthy way for both me and the team. It is my hope that I take this lesson to heart.

So I say goodbye to my current coworkers and friends and thank you so much for the time and the lessons learned. They have made me a better person and hopefully, I made their hours at work more productive and fun!

Soon, I will start a new journey with a new company and I know that I still have a lot to learn and I'm excited to take the next step in my career. 

5 Tips for your Job Search & Interview

So over the past couple of months I have been exploring some new options for my career and I was and here are some of my lessons learned as I have navigated interviews and job offers.

So here are some of the tips I'd like to share that I learned and thought about:
  1. Don't get too caught up in titles - Titles vary greatly from company to company, depending on the size company and its culture. While a fancy title is great, I would recommend focusing on the learning, experience, and potential for growth. Titles are also something that is negotiable, but they are less important than your responsibility.
  2. Don't ask too many questions during the interview - It is always best to get a list of who will be interviewing me in order for me to list out questions ahead of time to ask them based on their role. However, be aware that asking too many questions about the company's business model, etc. may make it appear that you lack a depth of knowledge and that bringing you on may require a steeper learning curve that the company is looking for. At the end of the day,  just be aware that like many other things in life - quality is more important than quantity.
  3. Explore your network - This applies both pre-offer and post-offer. Use your network to inquire about potential opportunities and companies. Once you get an offer, leverage their inside knowledge and viewpoints to help you make the right decision. Job decisions are often inflection points in your career and shouldn't be taken likely. Seek advice.
  4. Take Your Time - Don't accept your job offer too quickly. Take some time to think about it. If a company is rushing you or you feel rushed don't move too quickly. Any company that really wants you will understand that and give you time. It also takes time to think about the advice and perspective you get in tip #3.
  5. Know Thyself - Ultimately the decision to accept an offer maybe very easy or it may be very difficult. Either way the decision lies with you. What is that you really want? Think about that answer and then keep asking why do you want that? Dig deeper. For example, if you want a fancy title, why do you want that? Is it that you prefer to manage people or get exposure to executives? Perhaps there are other ways to accomplish those goals, but you wouldn't even know that had you not dug a bit deeper. Just think about what you really want.
 And here's a quick bonus tip (since you have read down this far)

  • I like to ask for a tour of the office. This should be part of the interview anyway, but in case it is not, ask for it. I like to get a sense of the company's culture outside of the interview process. For example, is it really quiet or are there a lot of discussions happening? Does it look like folks are engaging with each other? Are the cubes/offices decorated? Are people smiling? It's just an intangible way to get a "feel" for the place. If you do get an offer and accept it, you'll at least have a picture in your head of what the place is like. 

Just some "off the cuff" thoughts....

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Startup CEO and Product Management

Product Management is a unique and challenging discipline, but working in product management at a startup is a bit of a different beast. I've always thought about writing a short book about product management at startups (or smaller companies), but instead I'll write some blog posts in an effort to see if I have enough strong content to aggregate into a book (let me know what you think).

Blog Post #1 - The Startup CEO
The Startup CEO - The startup CEO has sacrificed to build their company. This company is often times the embodiment of years of sacrifice and passion. This personal investment gives them a unique perspective as they have grown the company. The CEO role changes as a company grows from a single person who has to dig into the details across many details in the beginning, to a CEO that makes capital and investment allocation decisions at the product and strategic investment level.

The Challenge
I've seen startup CEO's get a little bit too full of themselves. I've seen them wear t-shirts that say things like "I'm the CEO, You shut up". As that new product manager trying to help your company create a more scalable development process (more on that in another blog post), you are also faced with a CEO who thinks they know everything and aren't afraid to talk directly to developers to get their request done.

Product Management is a fairly broad role. For some companies, it is simply writing requirements (or user stories) and then working with technology to implement. For others, product management is a broad role that drives the vision, roadmap, strategy, and business metrics for the product. The reality is that product management in a small company is all the former and very little of the latter. In fact, I've never been at a startup/small company where product management didn't initially report into the technology organization. You have to have developers to write software in order to launch your startup. Product managers are not required. Furthermore, the CEO isn't used to going through product management to get new features out the door, they are interested in making the current customers happy and attracting new ones.

The Tips
  • Realize and Accept - Trying to fight it and get frustrated will not help you. You have to realize and accept the fact that the CEO has invested a lot more time and effort in the company than you have. Try and figure out if there are other features that customers are looking for or the market is expecting. Perhaps there is a tweak or minor use case or feature that can be easily added to expand the CEO's request.
  • Understand the CEO's history - It is always helpful for me to understand the past experience of the CEO, just to try and get a better feel of how they may approach their work, etc. Do they have a strong marketing/sales background or is it more of a product/technology background? Understanding this will help you in communicating and influencing the CEO regarding features and roadmap.
  • Use Data and Testing - Hopefully your CEO is open to data and customer feedback. Try prototyping the feature and getting initial customer feedback to help shape your perspective and influence the CEO. For example, if your CEO insists that the tab that contains all of the analytics usage of your application is called "Dashboard", but your customers interpret the word "Dashboard" to mean something completely different than analytics usage, you may be able to convince the CEO that this would confuse your customers. CEOs should have a maniacal focus on the customer, so data from customers should increase your ability to influence your CEO.
This blog post is really just me sharing my thoughts on a spur of moment, but if you like it, then I'll continue with a series of blog posts of product management at startups/small companies. Feel free to share your advice, who knows it may show up in a book one day (with proper attribution!).

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Making my job easier - An iPad

So I finally convinced my wife to get an iPad 3. We have never owned an iPad until now, so I watched with envy as many of my friends or coworkers got one. I am always looking for new tools, techniques, processes I can follow to help make me more efficient at work.

Here's how the iPad fits into my work process:
  • Flipboard - This is the 1st app you should get when you buy your iPad. I use it to read what I missed online from my friends and followers on Facebook. The information is presented in such a beautiful way that it makes my research and social media work very easy and fun. It allows me to share the content easily as well...including emailing it to myself or directly into Evernote.
  • Clipping to Evernote - So this was actually fairly hard to set up. I had to do some googling, but I found this link and I followed the directions carefully. Once that was done, I could easily clip web pages to Evernote directly from the iPad's browser. Pretty cool. Also, since I love Evernote (see my last blog post here), this was really important for me to get working. 
  • Email - I have more and easier access to email. I prefer the iPad to my smartphone and it is my handy companion as a 2nd screen.
  • Penultimate - This is a great app (I would recommend purchasing a stylus). I use this to draw, brainstorm, and jot down notes on my iPad. It has become very handy and connects directly to Evernote to store those notes. I would also recommend trying out GoodNotes.
  • Reading PDFs - As I do quite a bit of research I tend to download a lot of PDFs. I like to use the iBooks App on my iPad to read when I'm sitting on the coach. It makes it easier to focus on reading as there aren't several windows and applications on the screen distracting me away from my PDF :)
Obviously I can talk about the web browsing and email, but I think you already get that benefit so I decided to focus more on different use cases, etc.

Please feel free to share your experiences with how the iPad has made your product management job (or any job really) easier!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Being a great agile scrum master

I've worked directly with a couple of different scrum masters in my time (and indirectly with several others) and have begun to notice the importance of a great scrum master in a proper agile environment. I just wanted to share some of the key skills/traits that I noticed the great Scrum Masters had:

Key Skills
  1. Ownership - A great scrum master is someone who feels a strong sense of ownership and pride in their work and the work of the team. They strive to always make sure that the team is staying on top of done-ness criteria, stories, grooming, etc. They see dependencies, impediments and obstacles and they work cross-functionally and with their team to address them. They are diligent at daily scrum, asking questions and making sure everyone is there and ready to contribute. 
  2. Leadership - A great scrum master knows when to let the team step in and drive a situation and when to take more of a visible role in driving the team. This depends a lot on the team and experience level of the scrum master. For example, if the team has a strong natural leader already on the team, the scrum master can be there to address dependencies and let the team shine. On the other hand, if the team is constantly struggling or has been known to be underperforming, a more active leader/mentor type of role from the scrum master may be necessary.
  3. Appreciation - A great scrum master gets along with the team. They know when a moment of levity is needed or when the team needs a little bit of a breather. They understand and appreciate the efforts of everyone on the team and work to foster and build great relationships.
Scrum Master Traps
  1. Overbearing - I've seen scrum masters publicly "beat" up a team member for making an honest mistake. This is a tough trap to avoid, you have to know when to push and challenge without being overbearing or causing fissures in relationships. I've seen other scrum masters force the team into behaviors they don't want or are not bought into because that's what some agile book suggests. Once the scrum master starts to become overbearing, it becomes harder and harder to earn the team's trust and respect and regain their ability to influence. 
  2. Too Protective - This is a common mistake. (especially when the scrum masters report in to the same managers as the developers). In this case, the scrum master fails to act as an impartial leader and gives the bad actors on the team free reign to frustrate others. Another example, is when they don't challenge the team to improve or don't address a situation where the team could have performed better. If a scrum master (who is part of the team) is silent at a retrospective, that's probably a sign that they are too protective :)
In my view, the key to a great self-managing team is this constant ebb and flow of feedback and information. When there is an imbalance or the team is starting to head down the wrong path, the scrum master should let the team try and self-correct without letting it get too far. Trusting the team, but still knowing when to step in is something that will take time as the scrum master gets to know the team. 


Thursday, April 26, 2012

How I use Evernote to make my job easier!


One of the greatest challenges I have as a product manager is staying on top of the market, trends, competitors, specific research projects, etc. Add to that the burden of managing, storing, and organizing all of that information, it can quickly become a tangled mess of information that you can never seem to find right when you need.

And then there was Evernote. I splurged and got the premium version ($45 dollars a year) which comes out to less than $4 a month (yes, I can do some basic math). Here's how I use it:
  • Browser Extensions - This is the 1st thing I would do. Do a search for a browser plugin/extension from Evernote. This extension will let you store URLs as notes. As you research online and find something online just clip the URL in Evernote for permanent storage. It's nicer than storing a bookmark. The key here is to make it very easy to store research in Evernote. This can be done for PDFs you find online as well.
  • Tagging - As you clip your articles, tag them. Evernote does a great job of making this easy to do and will autofill your tags as you start typing them to make it very easy. I find the tagging is very easy to find content.
  • Folders - Once you get a decent amount of content in Evernote you'll notice it's all in one place. It then makes sense to create folders and move the content into the right folder. I like to start adding the content to Evernote and then organize it instead of pro-actively trying to organize and create folders I may never need. Folders will make it easy to find content.
  • Email Address - This is a feature that I initially didn't use, but now that I have an iPad I use more and more. Evernote gives you an email address that you can send notes to and it will automatically be stored in Evernote (in a default folder). I use it a lot when folks email me research or content about a project and then all I have to do is just forward it to Evernote.  This makes it very very easy to store content.
  • Shared Folders (Premium Features) - This is where it really gets cool. I know there are times when I'm too busy handling engineering requests, working with sales, etc. that I'm not researching or up to speed on the latest competitive or market changes. So I essentially have crowdsourced this. I asked several folks at work who have sent me content in the past to install Evernote (many were already using it) and then I shared folders with them and gave them links to install browser extensions and then we could all add to the same folders and take advantage of the research of the entire team. Best of all, they don't have to the paid version, so it's free for them and super easy. Nothing beats other folks making your job easier!


  • SocialFolders - I would be remiss, if I didn't mention another favorite tool I use in conjunction with Evernote. I use SocialFolders whenever I have files or photos that I want to add to Evernote. SocialFolders creates folders on your hard drive that mimics your folders in Evernote. Any file you put in those folders appears in the corresponding folder in Evernote. Easy!
  • LiveScribe Pen - I use this pen to help me store my handwritten notes. Call me a little bit old school but I like to take a pen and paper to meetings rather than my laptop to meetings. I then use Livescribe to send the notes to Evernote. Once again very easy. The cool part here is that notes are searchable within Evernote. The other benefit is that I also have a tool that converts the PDF into text which I can then use to distribute the notes. It works so-so, but it is nice to use and I have found it useful several times.
Any chance you can share with me how you use Evernote to make your job easier?

Friday, April 20, 2012

It's the people, not the process!

Over the past several years, I've experienced several different software development methodologies while in various roles. As a software developer, I experienced XP/Pair Programming and waterfall. As a product manager, I was involved in agile/scrum. I've also seen Kanban. All of these process discussions and all the "rules", etc. got me to thinking about whether or not we are spending too much time talking about process. So let's talk about process for a little bit, and then dive into what makes a team great.

So what makes Agile so popular?
Agile has many great qualities that depend largely on the extent of your implementation. Nothing beats demonstrating working software! Agile involves the customer early and often, allows for change, and favors team work and discussion over formal, time-consuming requirements gathering. Agile is also a very flexible process so it allows for change in requirements and adaptation to fit within your company's culture.

So why is Agile so hard to get right?
Agile is more of a framework than a formal process. As such there are different variations (e.g. sprint length, release cadence, team size, grooming meeting cadence, retrospectives, etc.). Furthermore, every organization has different roles such as Business Analyst, Project Manager, Product Manager, UX, which all need to fit into this framework in some way. This is where folks like Agile Coaches help provide experience and guidance to adjust and tweak to work within the context of a particular organization. Of course, Agile is a commitment, those that try it a little bit or do not embrace its concepts will be challenged.

One of the pitfalls of Agile?
Agile is heavily dependent on day to day communication. Because there is no formal contract or big up-front requirements document, ongoing and constant communication are very critical (remember people over process). As a member of the team, communication is key, but should get too heavy weight with a lot of meetings. Remember that every minute you (or a team member) is in a meeting, they are not writing code, testing, or thinking about the next sprint. The key is to find the right balance between communication and over communication.

So does it matter what process I use? 
It definitely matters. Agile works very well and gives you a lot of flexibility. I would definitely recommend a thoughtful learning experience and approach to adoption.

But, is the process the most important thing?
Not at all. I would rather focus my energy on building great teams. Great teams will succeed regardless of the process. There are way too many folks who are so interested in the process that they forget that the process serves the team and not the other way around. Build a great team and you will get great results. If you have a great process will you get great results?

What makes a team great?
If you have the right team together, you don't have to worry about process or making them happy. 'Happy' to them is building a great product and working with people who share the same passion that they do. In fact, the word passion is derived from the latin word for suffering. These are folks are sacrifice and suffer for their craft and product.

Building a great team starts with the hiring proces, but doesn't end there. Just like launching a product doesn't mean you are done, it's only the beginning of a new set of work. Constant leadership and mentorship is required. A focus on process is often time done at the expense of diligent leadership and mentorship.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Google+ - The Problem and Solution

Why Google+ isn't as great as it can be?

This is my letter to Google to help them with Google+. I've been thinking a lot about this and I think I have some ideas to help, but before I dive into ideas to help, let's start with what's wrong. If you don't understand the problem, how can you solve it?

Problem #1 - Social Networks are no longer about the number of users. That was Social V1.0. It's now Social V2.0 and it's all about engagement. According to a recent article, Google+ users spend 3 minutes a month on Google+ vs. 405 minutes on Facebook for Facebook users. Touting the number of users isn't going to help engagement.

Problem #2 - Focus on users, not businesses - Google+ adds value to businesses and marketers because it impacts search results. But where does it add value to users? Sure it's got a couple of bells and whistles, but the reality is that it is not enough to encourage growth. Compare that approach with Facebook's approach. For Facebook they focused on users almost to the point of neglecting businesses. They focus on engagement (e.g. expanded open graph). They built a large and engaged population and then businesses flocked there. They had no search engine to help them grow. Here's a great article from Social Media Examiner titled "Why Major Marketers are Moving to Google+". Can you see the problem here? Why should I, as a user, ditch my friends and pages on Facebook and have to start all over again on Google+? Will I do that because major marketers are moving to Google+?

Problem #3 - Google waited too long to be that "fast follower". The reality is that Facebook got so big and folks were so engaged, where are they going to find the time to spend on a very similar social network. The advantage of being a follower is that you can fix the mistakes of the prior market entrant. Google did that, but they did it too slowly. Folks will accept a inferior design/product simply because of the network effect. Ask Microsoft and Apple about this.

Now it's time for solutions:

  • Solution #1 - Be different - Talk to Pinterest about this. Talk to instagram. Don't be a me too product.
  • Solution #2 - Open your wallet - Buy startups and leave them alone and learn from them. You don't always know better. Don't wait too long. I remember YouTube and Google Video.
  • Solution #3 - Stop thinking about search results and businesses and start thinking about people. Nobody cares about search results. They care about sharing their lives.

What are your thoughts?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Shame on you Inc. Magazine

Why working more than 40 hours a week is such a poorly written article with a sensationalized title. The title is misleading as the article never proves the premise. In fact the article clearly states that " increasing a team’s hours in the office by 50 percent (from 40 to 60 hours) does not result in 50 percent more output...In fact, the numbers may typically be something closer to 25-30 percent more work in 50 percent more time."

So the reality is that your productivity drops, but the math is clear…working 50% more (e.g. going from 40 to 60 hours per week) results in approximately 50-52 hours of actual work. So yes it isn't as productive, but to say it is useless is simply misleading. Creating an extra 10 hours of productivity per week results in an extra week of productivity per month. Does that sound useless to you?

Shame on you Inc. magazine, perhaps a little bit of extra effort would have resulted in a more accurate title.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Top 3 signs that your job offer may belong in the recycle bin

So during my career I have been lucky enough to get a wide spectrum of experiences at many different companies large and small. Obviously, part of that involves interviewing and negotiating job offers and I've had my fair share of ups and downs so I've decided to share some obvious signs that your shiny new job offer may belong in the recycle bin:

#1 - They aren't willing to work with you on salary
This is especially true if the offer is significantly lower than your current salary. While salary is only one component of compensation and the job itself (think culture, team, product/market, etc.) it is important. Typically salaries are negotiated and the best negotiations are those that end with both sides feeling like they have won. If the company doesn't really give you a good reason for not budging on the salary...think more carefully about your expectations and theirs. Is there a match?

#2 - Executives don't really have a clear picture on the health of the company
This happens more often than you would think especially at smaller companies. I'll never forget the one meeting I had with a CEO of a SaaS company many years ago and I asked him what metrics do you measure and follow to keep a pulse on the health of the company. Instead of ARPU, Active user count, retention rate, etc. I got the following "I get an email whenever someone signs up and I go and research them". I left that meeting feeling like if I took the job I would be like in the middle of nowhere without a map.

#3 - Multiple interviewers complain about a particular employee
This is a big red flag. I had an interview and every interviewer (with the exception of one) pretty much asked how I would handle a micro-managing CEO. Fair questions, but when some interviewers say things like "You'll be successful if you can get the CEO off my back" or "I don't mean to bad mouth the CEO" then those are some challenges that you should think about more deeply.

I'm not suggesting that any/all of these reasons are reasons you should turn down that job. Merely these are reasons to think more deeply about the job offer.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The top 5 Interview mistakes people make

I've done my fair share of interviewing and am known for giving tough interviews. Depending on the position and individual I try to assess their capabilities while also giving them an honest perspective of what the work will be like. I always try and remember that an interview is a 2 way street. The interviewer is trying to assess the individuals attitude, aptitude, and skills while the interviewee is trying to assess the company and the answer the questions well at the same time. Over the course of my career I have noted the following mistakes that candidates make when interviewing.
  1. Don't know who is interviewing them - Knowing your audience is key. What are their goals and their passions. I'll give you a great example. At one point in my career as a product manager, I was interviewing to be the Director of Product Development and I was being interviewed by the lead technical writer/information architect. Before the interview I spent some time on her linkedIn profile and the profiles of her team members. I saw that she had a passion for DITA and I was already familiar with DITA from a previous job. During the interview I made sure to highlight my experience and interest in DITA. You should have seen her face light up! I guarantee you I was probably the only person she interviewed that connected with her in that way.
  2. Don't do any research - Research the company and team you are interviewing for. Your interviewer will ask you if you have any questions, if your question does not appear to be informed or is too generic, it will show. Also, as you are interviewing you can indicate and ask questions about the market, competitors, etc. This will help you get a feel for your potential new employer and will give them insight into the depth of your knowledge vs. other candidates who did not do their homework.
  3. Don't dress appropriately - This is an easy one. People form their first impression of you very quickly. One thing I like to do is to ask the recruiter what is typical and their expectations. Their goal is to get your hired so they will give you good advice. My advice is that if you are interviewing for a leadership position, suit and tie is best. If it is more informal, then a jacket with no tie is probably OK. For me personally, jeans are probably not OK.
  4. Don't show up on time - There are a lot of factors at play. It is likely that I've never visited this company's location before so I'll of course get a sense from Google Maps of the distance. I'll also note the time of travel (i.e. will there be traffic?). I like to try and get to the interview location at least 20 minutes early. I can then sit in the car for a couple of minutes and review my notes and talking points. No need to feel rushed going into an interview.
  5. Don't smile and have fun - Interviewers pick up on nervousness. Being relaxed, having fun, and smiling will show your enthusiasm for the opportunity and give you confidence. No company will ever hire a leader who is not self-confident. Just have fun and be honest. If they ask you a difficult question like "How many piano tuners are there in California?" Use a pen and paper and think out loud. Can come up with an answer, then give it a guess or range. Either way, don't feel defeated, have fun with the question!
Let me know what you think!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Creating a Facebook App with the new Open Graph Part 1

Part 1 - Creating the FB Application

So I attended the Facebook F8 Conference last year and got really excited about the expanded open graph and authored this byline in Mediapost (click here). I think Facebook and social media is in its early stages of development. The expansion of the Open Graph will continue and I think there are many great opportunities for businesses to expand their social media footprint to drive traffic and grow! But enough with all of this marketing speak, let's get to it!

Being a former developer I thought I would give it a shot with my blog using the new action "read" and the object "website". This blog post highlights the learnings and challenges I faced creating (Part 1) and adding the application (Part 2) to my Google Blogger blog. Hint: adding the application to my blog was WAY harder than creating the application.

Facebook actually makes this easy (click here for the steps), but I'm going to walk you through specifically what I did.

Step #1 - Create your application
This is actually the easiest step. Since this was a FB app for my website I put in the URL for my blog for the "app domain" and "site URL" fields. The site URL must begin with an http or https. I made up a namespace (which must be at least 7 characters long) and a name. The key here is to make sure you copy and paste your App ID. Trust me you will need it later for Part 2. For this type of application you don't need to host it anywhere so don't get confused by the Hosting URL or Cloud Services section of the page. I also would recommend selecting your image an logo at this step.

Step #2 - Define your Actions and Objects 
Click here for a great explanation. Essentially these are the nouns on which your actions (e.g. verbs) will act. For my blog, the object is a website. As you type in the 2nd text field, you'll see the website option appear. 
Here's what you should see now (expect for a different title at the top)

For some reason I was able to create an object type of Website with an action of Read, but now Facebook is forcing you to have an Object Type of Article if you pick Read as your Action. My guess is that they changed this between the time I originally created the application and the now. You can also create custom object types, but for now we'll stick to the predefined object type of Article.

Now let's dig a little bit deeper into the Article Object Type by clicking on the Article link.
Once you do that you'll notice some object properties. It should look something like the picture to the right. These are the properties of the object that you can/should specify so that when the user reads the article they and others will have information about what they read.  You can see a preview of this on the same page.

Step #3 - Define your Aggregation
At this step your are defining how you want the information to be displayed on the FB timeline. For example do you want to show the title and description, or the title and time it was read, etc. You are essentially determining the UI for how it will be shown on the timeline. The Object Properties you defined earlier can be used to help provide additional details about what was read. You can see the screenshot below which is a default aggregation.

The sample data is there so that when Facebook prompts the potential app user the first time for permissions they have an idea of what will appear on their timeline. For now I just left mine blank. If you click the Read Aggregation you'll see what I did as noted below:

As you can see the aggregation will appear as a list sorted by the most recent article first. The title I specified isn't too descriptive, but good enough for now (you can always change it later). The Caption Lines are the most important part. In this case I'm saying that I want the title and author to appear in the aggregation.

Now the fun really begins...creating your object page and publishing your actions. This is when integrating with Blogger got challenging. Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post (Part 2) on that step!

Let me know if you have any tips, the more folks that comment and respond, the more likely I'll finish part 2 sooner :)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The lost art of story telling

How many times have we seen presentations that are just boring. We struggle to not open our laptops or avoid doodling on our notes. Too many words, too repetitive, too boring. This blog post is not designed to be another "5 key tips to make your presentations better" type of post, but rather to talk about how product managers (who create their fair share of presentations) can make them better. The key to me is to tell a story, folks like stories they don't like boring presentations :)

 By telling a story you accomplish the following:
  1.  WIIFM - If you haven't heard of this, it stands for "What's in it for me?" The audience has to feel an emotion, a desire. You are taking up there time, what value are you providing in return. Are you asking them for something? If so, what are you providing them? Think about your audience, not about you or your slides. 
  2. Connect the dots - Often times the audience may already have the story made up in their minds and are probably not receptive to your view. We have all had this happen. You are trying to convince a VC with your pitch, but they have already determined that there is no future for your product, business, market, etc. Our brains are wired to automatically fill in the gaps when presented with bits and pieces of a vision or story. Fr xmpl cn y rd ths sntnc? You see how your experience/knowledge allowed you to fill in the gaps? I can assure you my 5 year old, can not fill in those gaps! As you present your story, you have to connect disparate pieces of information together with data and emotion to fill in the gaps/assumptions that your audience may have.
  3. Ability to Influence - So you have thought about your audience and helped connect the dots in order to fill in the gaps, what's next. The key to telling a great story isn't just the words...its the audio and visuals. As a product manager who loves data and wants to share it as quickly as possible, it takes time (and restraint) to sit down before you create the slides and think about how do you want to communicate your story. How do you present the conclusion in a way that will resonate with the audience? One thing that I always ask myself when I'm presenting to management is "If I wasn't there could the audience understand the story?" If we can provide them content that your management can understand and present themselves or share with their management, that will only serve to increase your sphere of influence. Data for the sake of data is not your goal, ability to influence is...
 I hope you found these ideas interesting and I'd love to hear your thoughts! Please share or retweet.