My product management toolkit (3) – Goal setting

As part of my product management toolkit, I’ve thus far covered the creation of a product vision and the definition of a product strategy. The next thing to look at is goal setting: what are the business goals that a product strategy and or roadmap need to align with? I’ve learned the importance of goals to help define or assess a product strategy. I would even go as far as saying that if your product strategy, roadmap, backlog or – low and behold – your actual product don’t align with your business goals, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

Tool 3 – Goal Setting

What are goals? – This is what Wikipedia has to say about “goals”: “A goal is a desired result that a person or a system envisions, plans and commits to achieve; a personal or organizational desired end-point in some sort of assumed development. Many people endeavour to reach goals within a finite time by setting deadlines.” In other words, what is it the that we are looking to achieve, why and by when?

I typically look at goals from either of the following two angles: metrics or ‘objectives-key-results’ (‘OKR’s). From a metric perspective; what is the single metric that we’re looking to move the needle on, why and and by when? What does this impact look like and how can we measure it? For example, a key business goal can be to increase Customer Lifetime Value with 1% by June 2016. To be clear, a metric in itself isn’t a goal, the change that you want to see in metric is a goal.

From an OKR perspective, the idea is to outline a number of tangible results against a set, high level, objective. For example:

Objective: To enable sellers on our marketplace platform to make business and product decisions based on their sales and performance data generated from their activities on our platform.

Result 1: Our sellers making key business and product decisions before and throughout Christmas 2015

Result 2: Our sellers can look at their historic sales data so that they’ve got more sales context for their decision-making

Typically, there will be a set of overarching business goals that have been established and our responsibility as product managers is to link our product goals to these objectives, so that our product strategy is fully aligned with the business strategy.


Taken from:

What goals aren’t – Goals aren’t a strategy or specific features. This might sound obvious, but often see cases where people do confuse things; setting goals without a strategy to achieve them or having a roadmap that doesn’t align with business goals.

In contrast, the point of a strategy or a roadmap is to highlight the ‘how’, the steps that need to be taken to achieve specific goals.

When to create goals? – It’s simple: if you join an organisation and hear “we don’t have business goals”, you know what to do! My point here is that a product strategy or roadmap that isn’t aligned with broader business goals, is just a loose collection of features or random solutions. The one thing to add is that some early stage startups tend to get really hung up on a whole range of specific goals or metrics. I’d always recommend to keep it simple and focus on a single goal or metric, understand what your (target) users’ needs are and how are they actually using your product.

Characteristics of good goals – I can imagine that a lot of you will have a heard of SMART goals:

  • S = specific, significant, stretching
  • M = measurable, meaningful, motivational
  • A = agreed upon, attainable, achievable, acceptable, action-oriented
  • R = realistic, relevant, reasonable, rewarding, results-oriented
  • T = time-based, time-bound, timely, tangible, trackable


SMART 2Example taken from:

Main learning point: In my view, setting and understanding goals is just important as creating a strategy to achieve them. Before I delve into creating a product strategy or roadmap, I’ll always try to make sure I fully understand the business objectives and translate those into specific, measurable product goals.


Related links for further learning:


CommonBond, learning about marketplace lending

I recently came across CommonBond, an online student loan platform in the US, co-founded by David Klein. In a recent podcast, David explained how the idea for CommonBond came up when he himself had to get a loan to finance his Master’s Degree at Wharton Business School. When doing so, David discovered a few things: “rates were unnecessarily high”, “the process (of getting student loans, MA) was opaque and unnecessarily complex” and “the service was pretty poor.” Together with two co-founders, David founded CommonBond, which he describes as a “marketplace lending platform which to date has focused specifically on student debts.”

Marketplace lending is effectively the same as peer-to-peer lending; instead of a bank lending you money, it’s another user (this can be a person or a private company) lending you the money. Companies like CommonBond, Lending Club, On Deck and Kabbage all act as a marketplace, providing the technology to connect borrows and lenders.

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It was interesting to hear Dave talk about the two main goals that underpin CommonBond’s proposition. Firstly, to lower the cost for graduate students in getting a loan. Secondly, making the experience of getting a loan as easy and speedy as possible. Dave pointed out that the plan behind CommonBond is to eventually expand beyond student loans, supporting borrowers throughout different stages of their life.Currently, the lion’s share of CommonBond’s business comes from refinancing existing loans, but it aims to issue more direct loans to students in the coming months.

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In the podcast, Dave talked about marketplaces starting off with a single asset class e.g. mortgages or credit cards, and then branching out into multiple classes. His view is that there’s a shift happening from ‘unbundling banking products’ to ‘re-bundling banking products.’

In that light, it was interesting to learn that CommonBond recently secured so-called “warehouse lines” from established financial institutions like Barclays and Macquarie Capital. The term “warehouse loan” refers to a loan made and would be repaid as it was securitised and bundled into a broader portfolio that is sold in secondary markets like the New York Stock Exchange or London Stock Exchange.

Main learning point: When looking at the CommonBond site and from listening to Dave Klein, it strikes me how CommonBond is really making an effort to make applying for a loan as simple and as intuitive as possible. Klein refers to Nordstom and Zappos. I love how CommonBond aims to disrupt the traditional way of obtaining loans, starting with student loans but looking to roll their approach out to other loan types in the future.


Related links for further learning:



My product management toolkit (2) – Product strategy

I often see product managers seemingly forgetting about product strategy. I typically refer to strategy as the ‘bit in the middle’ between a product vision and a product roadmap. You can hardly describe a product strategy as a ‘tool’ and one could arguably dedicate a whole series of blog posts to the topic of creating and managing a product strategy.

For the sake of simplicity, I’ll treat product strategy as a tool and I’ll use this post to look at the difference between product vision and strategy as well as the components of a product strategy.

Tool 2 – Product strategy

What is a product strategy? – Once you have established a product vision – an aspirational view of what the product needs to achieve – you’ll need product strategy to work out how to achieve the vision. Typically, a business will have high level business objectives it needs to achieve within a certain timeframe and the strategy will map out the steps or milestones that need to be in place to achieve these goals.

For example, if the vision is to become the no. 1 online stationery provider in the UK by 2017, a specific business business objectives can be to UK market leader for stapler sales online by December ’16. The product strategy consists of a number of steps or elements necessary to achieve on the vision and its related goals. The product strategy can take the form of a simple flow diagram of steps or components or a “vision board”, a template created by Roman Pichler. If I take the fictitious example of becoming the no. 1 online stationery provider in the UK by 2017, this is what such a vision board would look like:

Sample vision board

What a product strategy isn’t? – Let’s be clear, a product strategy isn’t just a bunch of features and timings. Like I mentioned above, if you start off with vision, then the main function of your product strategy is to visualise the way forward on how to achieve this vision. As product consultant Greg Geracie points out: “Providing a solid product strategy will help focus activities, establish a direct link between the product and the company strategy, and clearly identify to everyone involved the high-level steps currently being taken to achieve the vision.”

Creating a coherent and easy to understand product strategy can be a very effective communication and collaboration tool for product managers. I often find it much easier to talk to stakeholders – especially those who aren’t that close to product development – about strategic goals than about specific features.

Once you’ve defined your product strategy, a product roadmap should follow an agreed product strategy closely since it’s more of a tactical tool which outlines the high level product milestones to create as part of an overarching product strategy. The roadmap connects the product strategy and the day-to-day product design and development.

When to come up with a product strategy? – If there’s no strategy for the product or portfolio that you’re responsible for, then I strongly recommend creating and validating a product strategy first. In my experience, having a valid product strategy in place really helps to put together a clear roadmap and make tough prioritisation decisions. The reason why I find validating a product strategy just as important as creating one is that validation gives you the opportunity to ‘road test’ a strategy in a cost effective manner before committing lots of financial or people resources to implementation. Validation is all about learning about and getting answers on some of the following questions: Is the direction we’re looking to take the right one? How does this direction resonate with our customers?

How to come up with a product strategy? – To arrive at a strategy, in the form of a vision board or an outline key milestones, it’s important to consider a wide range of factors that inform a strategy. Below is an overview of some of the factors which play a role when defining and implementing a product strategy.


Strategy inputs

This overview is by no means intended to be finite. It’s about considering a wide range of aspects when considering a product direction or idea. We’ve all been there; it’s easy to look at a cool sounding product idea and say ‘yes’ to it, without considering fully whether it meets a customer need or whether it will actually have an impact on the bottom line of the business.

Equally, it doesn’t mean that you automatically have to reject a good idea because a competitor already does it. What a strategy effectively gives you is a framework against which you can make product and tradeoff decisions, and say ‘no’ to things. I often refer to product strategy as ‘the bit in the middle’ between a business vision / strategy and a product roadmap / features. The great Des Traynor, co-founder of Intercom, has visualised this idea of ‘the bit in the middle’ quite nicely in the diagram below:



Taken from:

Main learning point: A product strategy outlines the key steps or milestones – and their underlying rationale – necessary to achieve a business vision and specific business objectives. Coming up with a product strategy means looking at and validating things such as customer needs, market environment and constraints. The product strategy is the ultimate tool to link business strategy with product design and development.


Related links for further learning:


App review: Tabl

I work for a marketplace – Not On The High Street – and I’m therefore always on the lookout for new marketplaces. I recently came across Tabl who promise “the world’s best dinner parties” and it prompted me to have  a closer look at what Tabl are all about:

My quick summary of Tabl (before starting to use its service)  I expect a service similar to Open Table, Resy and Uncover, which enables me to book a table at a cool restaurant.

How does Tabl explain itself in the first minute? – A very first look at the site tells me that Tabl connects people looking for new dinning spaces with people who offer a dinning space. If I click on the “Be our guest” tab, then I see just above the fold that there are food related events I can choose from. Similarly, if I click on “Become a host”, the content on the page is actually the same as on the “Be our guest” page, but the headline banner has changed to encourage hosts to come forward. I can imagine that Tabl’s business model is that of marketplace, with its success determined by both the number of people interested in dinning at unique spaces (similar to Dinner Lab in the US) and people who have space or an experience to offer (thinking of Appear Here in the UK).


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Getting started, what’s the process like (1) – The aspect I’m most interested in is ‘finding a Tabl near me’. So I click on the arrow next to the “Find a Tabl near you …” on the homepage. I clicked on the arrow, both in a signed in state and in a non signed in state. In a signed in state, I’d expect to be presented with one option, e.g. London or north London, based on my post code details as part of my Tabl account. Given that I live in London, seeing options in Brighton and Sussex are not really of interest to me.


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When I arrive on the page showing events in London, it becomes instantly clear to me that there are no dining events this week. A decent amount of real estate has been devoted to alerting the user that there are no events this calendar week, however, given that I’m checking on the last day of the week, this message doesn’t come as a total surprise to me. Also, I’m thrown slightly by the call to action to “add an event”, given that I’m looking for an event and have no intention to host one …

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When I then scroll down the page, I see that there are events in the coming week for me to look at. When I scroll down even further and look at events “this month” these seem to be repeated.

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Personally, I would downplay the fact that there are no events this week, especially since the user hasn’t specifically indicated that she’s looking for events this week. This prominent message would be more appropriate if the user were to search for events within a specific time frame. Instead, I would automatically display those events on dates closest to day on which I’m carrying out my search.

Alternatively, Table could highlight a section of curated or recommended events, similar to the wat YPlan do with their ‘collections’ section.

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Also, the need to scroll down the page to find out about upcoming events feels somewhat clunky and would need revisiting for a mobile solution, irrespective of whether this would be a native or responsive solution. Instead, I’d consider using a format where the user can navigate easily between months or weeks, like on the KOKO site.

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For first time users I’d include a call to action to find out more about their dining or event preferences. For example, you might be a vegetarian and therefore not interested in pop up ‘steak parties’ or might be looking for events for no more than 25 people to keep things intimate. This means that Tabl can provide its (recurring) users with more tailored and personalised recommendations.

Getting started, what’s the process like (2) – I select Monograph: Japanese Supper Club which will be be held on 29 January ’16. I really feel this event page can work a lot harder than it’s doing currently. Firstly, the imagery on the page feels suboptimal. The resolution of the header image feels poor and I think that one can pick a more enticing image for a secretive Japanese supper club dinner. The pictures of the different menu options could be given greater prominence, based on my assumption that users are more likely to book a table after seeing appealing food pictures as opposed to reams of text about how great the food is. But then again I’m not a food critic!

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Also, the ‘hooks’ used to get users to book now for this event could be much stronger. For example, the ‘last few’ icon feels a bit lost within the image at the moment. Instead, I’d create a call to action around ‘only 4 places left!’, instilling a sense of urgency within the user and pressing them to book now if they don’t want to miss out. A simple example can be found on Travel Republic where it indicates that a room was booked in my hotel of interest 20 hours ago or which highlights the number of people look at and booking a specific hotel.

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Instead of highlighting other guests at the bottom of the page, I’d suggest removing this feature and instead creating a ‘similar events’ section. This would keep those users on board who decide not to book a table at the Japanese Supper Club but might want to discover other, similar, events instead.

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How does Tabl compare to similar services? – I looked at Dinner Lab, a US based service that offers a service very similar to Tabl. The design and experience of Dinner Lab feels clean. However, the discovery element, encouraging users to explore more events and stay on the site feels very limited. For example, when I look at Burns Night on 22 January ’16 I can see it’s sold out, but there’s no sign of any other or similar events to consider (see below).

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GrubClub also feels very similar to Tabl. It strikes me how users can filter events on Grub Club in order to be presented with dinning options that feel most relevant to them. For instance, if I’m looking to meet new people, there’s a tag for that. In addition, Grub Club has a ‘Curated by us” section which Tabl doesn’t have.

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Did the app deliver on my expectations – My main feedback after using Tabl and some of its competitors is that I would suggest that they take a critical look at the content (and its signposting) and navigation. Currently, there are a significant number of pages on the site with content that could ‘work harder’ to convert users and space owners. Even more so, there seem to be quite a few pages with no content whatsoever, which doesn’t make for a great user experience. Tabl’s proposition is great, and there’s ample opportunity for Tabl to find ways to prove its value more effectively.

My product management toolkit (1) – Product vision

Lately I’ve been thinking about how to best collate the tools and techniques I use to ideate and develop products and make product decisions throughout the product lifecycle. It felt like a good opportunity to reflect on my ‘toolkit’ and benefits of different tools for a wide range of user or business related scenarios, understand what to best use when, why and how.

Let’s start with some of the tools and techniques that I tend to use during the “conceive” stage, typically the first phase of the product lifecycle. To me, the “conceive” stage is all about product vision, strategy and ideation. In other words, the tools and techniques I use during this stage are aimed at fully understanding the context for a product or a service, before delving into designing the actual product. The critical first tool is a “vision”, since the development of any product or service starts with a good product vision:

Tool 1 – Product Vision

What is a product vision? – The main function of a product vision is to provide direction for a product or service, concentrating on solving a question or a problem – either from a customer or business perspective, or both. The way in which one executes on a vision is likely to evolve, but the overarching vision typically remains unchanged.

For example, the long form product vision statement for Mozilla Firefox reads as follows: “Discover, experience and connect with apps, websites and people on your own terms, everywhere.” The tactics and solutions Mozilla implements to achieve this vision are likely to evolve, but the overarching vision has remained unchanged for a good couple of years now.

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Mozilla Firefox product vision statement – Taken from:

What a product vision isn’t? – A product vision isn’t a strategy nor is it a plan to achieve business or user goals. As I mentioned above, the product vision provides ‘direction’ and a framework to make decisions against. I believe that a good product vision offers a set of beliefs that can be tested and fits in with company values. A good example is IKEA, where “low prices” form a core part of its overarching vision statement. From a product development perspective, this means that the price tag is the first thing that needs to be designed when creating a new product:

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IKEA’s vision and business idea – Taken from:

When to create a product vision? – As tempting as it is to jump straight into a product idea or creating features, a central product vision is where you need to start as a product manager. Everything else flows from there; product strategy, roadmap, problem statements, product discovery, prototypes, etc.

Characteristics of a good product vision? – It was interesting to go back to a blog post which I wrote three years ago about what makes a good product vision. Reflecting on this post and some of the things I’ve learned since, this is my list of traits of a good product vision:

  • It should answer a question or solve a problem
  • It translates into a set of beliefs that can be tested
  • The product vision aligns with the company values
  • It envisages where the product will be in 3 years’ time
  • It takes into account the needs of the consumer
  • It’s short and sweet
  • It’s motivating
  • It can be used for decision making

How to come up with a product vision? – In my experience, product vision statements have the biggest chance of success – i.e. becoming a living and widely shared notion – if lots of people inside and outside of the organisation buy into it. Running a “visioning workshop” is a great way to make the creation of a product vision a collaborative process.  As a product manager, you’ve a got a pivotal role to play in the formulation of product vision and therefore in leading the visioning workshop. These are some of the key aspects to take into account when preparing and facilitating a product visioning workshop:

  • Goals – (1) To get buy-in for the vision early on from a range of internal and/or external stakeholders and (2) to leverage the knowledge of the group to come to an agreed product vision
  • Have a rough idea of the vision beforehand – As a product person, it’s important to already have an idea of the what the initial product vision and direction should like like. This will help in facilitating the workshop.
  • Listen, but don’t end up making weak compromises – Especially when you’re doing a visioning workshop with a large group of stakeholders, it’s important to listen to the different viewpoints but not making weak compromises on the vision ‘just to keep everybody in the room happy’.
  • Consider stages of market maturity – What stage is your target market in? What is the competition like and what are their differentiators? What are the needs of your market segment?
Running a visioning workshop – See also:

Main learning point: Please resist to urge to delve straight intro creating a product or feature. Start with the product vision instead, as it will help to provide valuable context against which you can develop products or make product decisions. If there isn’t an existing product vision, go ahead and create one, but don’t forget involving your key stakeholders when doing so!

Related links for further learning: