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.