My product management toolkit (38): discovering opportunities and solutions

As product people we all know how enticing it can be to take an idea for a product or feature and simply run with it. The number of product teams I come across that will straight away test a specific idea without understanding the problem or opportunity it’s trying to address is plentiful. This observation is by no means intended as a criticism; I know first hand how easy it is to get excited by a specific idea and to go for it without contemplating any other ideas.

Teresa Torres – probably one of the best product discovery coaches I know – observes that “we don’t examine our ideas before investing in them” or “our solutions don’t connect to an opportunity or our desired outcome at all” (you can find Torres’ observations in her great article here). To solve these issues, Torres has come up with the “Opportunity Solution Tree” framework:



Taken from: Teresa Torres, Why This Opportunity Solution Tree is Changing the Way Product Teams Work,


Torres argues that “good product discovery requires discovering opportunities as well as discovering solutions.” Product people are problem solvers most and foremost, and Torres encourages us to start with the problem first and I like the definition of what constitutes a problem by the late David H. Jonassen that she refers to:


“A problem is an unknown that results from any situation in which a person seeks to fulfil a need or accomplish a goal. However, problems are problems only when there is a “felt need” that motivates people to search for a solution in order to eliminate discrepancies.”


This problem definition by Jonassen made me reflect on what makes an “outcome” as defined in the excellent book by Joshua Seiden titled “Outcomes Over Output”:


“Outcomes are the changes in the customer, user, employee behaviour that lead to good things for your company, your organisation, or whomever is the focus of your work.”


Torres talks about how we often will retro fit an idea or solution to a desired outcome, thus failing to both fully understand the desired outcome and explore an appropriate number of potential solutions to that outcome:



Taken from: Teresa Torres, Why This Opportunity Solution Tree is Changing the Way Product Teams Work,


Instead, Torres’ “Opportunity Solution Tree” encourages us to think about the desired outcome first, after which we can explore opportunities to achieve the desired outcome. We can then examine each opportunity and potential solution in more detail, cross-compare perceived value of each solution in a more objective and systemic manner:

Main learning point: A key takeaway from the Opportunity Solution Tree is to consider multiple opportunities and solutions. Whilst this may sound like no brainer, we’re often tempted to zoom in on or commit to a single opportunity or solution straight away, failing to consider its impact on the desired outcome.







Book review: “Outcomes Over Output” by Joshua Seiden

Over the years I’ve learned a lot from Josh Seiden, starting with “Lean UX” which he coauthored with Jeff Gothelf. Seiden recently published “Outcomes Over Output” a nifty little book (should take about 40 minutes to read), which – you guessed it – encourages it readers to move from “making stuff” to creating outcomes by changing customer behaviour. Seiden asserts that customer behaviour is the key metric for business success:

  1. What is an outcome? Seiden defines an outcome as “a change in human behaviour that drives business results.” He goes on to explain that outcomes have nothing to do with making ‘stuff’ – though they’re something created by making the right stuff. He explains that “outcomes are the changes in the customer, user, employee behaviour that lead to good things for your company, your organisation, or whomever is the focus of your work.”
  2. Delivering value early and often – Instead of big bang product releases, Seiden stresses the importance of creating specific, smaller customer behaviours that drive business results. Think for instance about enabling users to create music playlist, so that they can find their favourite music easily. You can create new behaviours or focus on existing customer behaviours (e.g. opening emails or sharing images). This could in turn help increase the life time value of those users, which is a measurable business result. Seiden reminds us of the first Agile principle – “our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of valuable software.” Seiden rephrases this principle slightly to best fit today’s context: “our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of value.”
  3. Outcomes, experiments, hypotheses, and MVPs – I loved Seiden’s point about what constitutes an Minimum Viable Product (‘MVP’) and what doesn’t. “An MVP is NOT version 1.0 of your product. Instead, think of MVP as the smallest thing you can make to learn if your hypothesis is correct”, explains Seiden. He talks about agile projects effectively being a series of hypotheses and experiments, all designed to achieve an outcome.
  4. Finding the right outcomes (1) – For me, the million dollar question behind “Outcomes Over Output” is how teams determine the right outcomes to concentrate on. Firstly, you start with a fairly simple question: “what are the customer behaviours that drive business results?” You set an “impact level target”; e.g. increase the rate at which customers visit the site from once a month to twice a month or to reduce the number of times users abandon the checkout process on the app from hundred times a month to ten times a month. Secondly, once the impact level target has been defined, we can then ask “what are the things that customers do that they predict they’ll visit our site?” or “what are the behaviours that predict a successful customer checkout on the app?” In both examples, the focus is on observable and measurable outcomes.
  5. Finding the right outcomes (2) – Rather helpfully, Seiden shares what he refers to as “The Magic Questions” that we can all apply when figuring out the right, measurable outcomes to concentrate on: (1) What are the user and customer behaviours that drive business results. This is the outcome that we’re trying to create; (2) How can we get people to do more of these behaviours? These are the features, policy changes, promotions, etc. that we’ll do to create the right outcomes and (3) How do we know that we’re right? This uncovers the dynamics of the system, as well as the tests and metrics we’ll use to measure our progress.
  6. Planning around outcomes – Instead of building plans around outputs or features, it often makes makes more sense to plan around themes of work, problems to solve, or outcomes to deliver. Seiden makes the point that the less certain that you are that your outputs (i.e. the features that you want to deliver) will deliver the results you seek, the more it makes sense to plan in terms of outcomes and to build your roadmaps around sets of outcomes.

Main learning point: “Outcomes Over Outputs” does a great job of linking customer focus with specific business results, and is a great read for anyone keen to make the right impact on customer behaviour for the right reasons.

Product review: Poshmark

My quick summary of Poshmark before using it – All I know is that Poshmark is a fashion site which has enjoyed phenomenal success recently and is rumoured to IPO later this year.

How does Poshmark explain itself in the first minute – “#1 way to buy and sell fashion” is the main strap-line on Poshmark’s homepage, urging people to sign up and “join millions of people on the largest social marketplace for fashion.”

How does Poshmark work? When I scroll down the Poshmark homepage, I see a “Brand Spotlight” which highlights the most popular brands available on Poshmark this week.


Clicking on one of the most popular brands listed, Banana Republic, takes me to a dedicated Banana Republic page, showing available products sold by Poshmark community members. “Just in” is the default filter that is set.

When I click on an item, I land on a fairly standard product listings page. Because of the seller – I presume – wearing the product, viewers can get a better idea of size and fit. One of the thumbnail images on the left hand side gives a good idea of the heads size appropriate for this hat.

Did Poshmark deliver on my expectations? Yes. Sellers on Poshmark can upload any new items very quickly and easily, uploading an image onto their ‘closet’ right from their phone. The process of discovering and buying products seems to be pretty simple. My only question mark would be around the ease of returning items. Since I haven’t tried returning an item, I can’t yet judge that part of the experience.


Related links for further learning:


Book review: Banish Your Inner Critic by Denise Jacobs


I think it’s fair to assume that suffering from ‘imposter syndrome’ is common among most of us. Even with those people where you least expect it, they often suffer from some form of self-criticism. In her latest book “Banish Your Inner Critic”, Denise Jacobs links creativity and imposter syndrome: “creativity comes from relaxing self-evaluation and self-judgment – and the self-criticism and self-doubt that result from them.” Not to say that only creative people are prone to self-criticism, but Jacobs focuses on how feeling like an imposter can impact one’s ability to be creative or try things.

Whilst it’s purely anecdotal evidence, I know a lot of creative (product) people who can be their own worst critic. Full disclosure: I’m definitely one of them 🙂 It’s that inner voice telling you that your work is sh*t or, even worse, that you’re useless as a person. Self-criticism can really put (and keep) us down, not only blocking our creativity but also the ways in which we present ourselves or interact with others. In “Banish Your Inner Critic” Jacobs explores where our inner critical voice comes from and how to best manage it:

  1. Replace self-criticism with self-compassion: Jacobs points out that instead of applying self-criticism, we need to actively practice the opposite: self-compassion. Self-compassion is realising that self-criticism is the enemy and then acting to reverse its negative effects. Jacobs adds that self-compassion also helps to unlock creativity. She helpfully explains the two components of self-compassion; (1) making a conscious effort to stop self-judgment and (2) actively comforting ourselves, the same as we would do with a friend in need.
  2. Recognise your inner critical voice – Awareness of your inner critical voice (“Inner Critic”) is crucial. This then enables you to see your critical thoughts for what they are: thoughts. Jacobs shares a great template to help you unearth your critical thoughts (see Fig. 1 below). She adds that “being more aware of what your brain and mind do when sensing a potential threat in the form of being judged and receiving criticism will encourage the development of a calmer part of the mind.”
  3. Know your cognitive distortions – There are a number of so-called cognitive distortions that are relevant to the Inner Critic. Jacobs invites readers to reflect on these and assess how many of them have stuck with them (see Fig. 2 below).
  4. Seek positive confirmation – The good thing about negative confirmation bias, Jacobs points out, is that it can be flipped to create a positive full-filling prophecy too. Rather than walking around in a perpetual state of feeling that no one believes in you, you can be on the hunt for support. Take confirmation and use it as a force for good, Jacobs says, to seek out positivity rather than negativity.
  5. Stop awfulising – I know from experience that it can be easy to slip in a mindset where the worst has just happened or is about to happen. In her book, Jacobs recommends looking at the facts of the situation at hand without embellishing or minimising them as a way of trying to avoid a ‘spiralling’ effect (see Fig. 3 below).
  6. Live better through criticism – Truth be told, I used to really struggle with receiving criticism. Like most people, I still don’t love criticism, but have gotten better at taking in criticism and using it to improve. Jacobs provide a number of valuable tips to help you learn take criticism in well and use to get better at whatever you are doing (see Fig. 4 below).
  7. Move from stagnation to action – The best quote in “Banish Your Inner Critic” comes from Chetan Bhagat: “Be so busy improving yourself that you have no time to criticise others.” Jacobs makes the point that by letting go of our preoccupation with the trajectory of other people’s lives, we can transform our envy from a stagnant, blocking force into a powerful motivator for growth.

Main learning point: “Banish Your Inner Critic” is a very valuable resource for anyone suffering from imposter syndrome, wanting to better manage their critical inner voice. The book’s greatest strength is in helping you reframe your self-criticism; seeing critical thoughts for what they are and combating them with compassionate thoughts.


Fig. 1 – The critical voices in your head – Taken from: Denise Jacobs, Banish Your Inner Critic, pp. 77-78:

I can’t ______________________________________ because ______________________________________________________.

I’m not _____________________________________________________________________________________ enough.

I’m afraid that I’m _________________________ because I ______________________________________________________.

I never ____________________________________ because I always _______________________________________________.

I’m afraid that I’ll _____________________________ because I ___________________________________________________.

I can’t ________________________________________ because I’m not as _____________________________________ others.

If I __________________________________________ then people will _________________________________________________.

I shouldn’t __________________________________ because I haven’t _______________________________________________.

I _____________________________________________ because my ideas ______________________________________________.

I’m too ________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

My biggest fear around my creativity is ______________________________________________________________________.


Fig. 2 – Know your cognitive distortions – Taken from: Denise Jacobs, Banish Your Inner Critic, pp. 110-130:

  1. Mental Filter (also called selective abstraction or tunnel vision) / Magnification and Minimisation (also called the binocular trick) – You find ample evidence to support negative beliefs, but filter out any positive counterexamples.
  2. Overgeneralisation – You make a broad, sweeping negative conclusion from a single isolated occurrence and then apply to all instances of its kind, making a truism from it.
  3. Jumping to conclusions – You negatively interpret the meaning of a situation without any actual evidence or facts to support your conclusion.
  4. Mind reading – You determine that the thoughts of others toward you are unfavourable despite lacking sufficient evidence, considering other more likely possibilities, or even checking it out..
  5. Fortune telling or catastrophising – You predict that circumstances will turn out poorly, and then are convinced that your prediction is fact despite lacking supportive evidence.
  6. Emotional reasoning – You turn feelings into facts and assume that the way you feel emotionally is a reflection of reality, and ignore evidence to the contrary.
  7. All or Nothing Thinking (also called black and white, polarised or dichotomous thinking) – You look at situations in black and white categories instead of along a continuum.
  8. Should statements (also called imperatives) – You use shoulds and should nots as your main source of motivation, holding yourself to a precise and strict list of acceptable behaviour.
  9. Disqualifying / Diminishing the positive – You discount or ignore positive experiences, situations, attributes, and qualities.
  10. Personalisation – You assume responsibility for negative events and circumstances that are outside of your control, blaming yourself unnecessarily for situations without more plausible explanations for the root causes.
  11. Labelling and mislabelling – You generalise and make labels of negative characterisations of yourself and others based on perceived shortcomings and a limited set of behaviours, without considering facts otherwise.


Fig. 3 – Stop awfulising – Taken from: Denise Jacobs, Banish Your Inner Critic, p. 121:

First on a piece of paper or in a journal, write down and answer the question:

  • What I am afraid will happen?

Next, write down a response to this question:

  • What could happen?

However, instead of going into a place where your anxious thoughts push yourself to awfulise the situation, actively apply realistic optimism. Tell yourself the story of what could possibly happen using “and then …” to devise an alternative that is positive instead of the feared outcome. Build upon this new realistically optimistic story by making each of your “and then…” additions more positive until you feel better and your fear diminishes.

Use this framework:

and then ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

and then ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________.

and then ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________.


Fig. 4 – Curious and open – Taken from: Denise Jacobs, Banish Your Inner Critic, pp. 132-133:

  1. Breathe – Get yourself grounded and make an effort to stay relaxed so that you don’t end up blocking the information through being tense, anxious or defensive.
  2. Detach – Make an effort to detach whatever criticism you get from your self-worth. Even when it seems that a person is criticising who you are as a person, there’s a good chance that what they are actually criticising is your behaviour.
  3. Listen actively – One of the best ways to do so is to write everything down. This will help you detach from your emotions and put you more into a listening mode. Ask questions to clarify points, and make notes of items to double-check or focus when you review your notes.
  4. Get specifics – What specifically does the person think you need to improve? What are her or his thoughts and suggestions on how you can do so?
  5. Find the relevant – Take criticisms with a grain of salt. Use your powers of discernment to keep what is relevant and ignore the rest.
  6. Invite – Actively solicit constructive criticism or ask for it – and be appreciate of their suggestions.
  7. Discover – Set your intention to discover new perspectives and ideas that you may not have considered.
  8. Be curious – Approach the criticisms with curiosity. Look for what was the most interesting thing the person said. It could be that they revealed a major insight through that point.
  9. Grow – The criticism can help to shine a light on issues that you still need to resolve within yourself: fears, doubts, and insecurities.
  10. Save time and learn – Changing how you react to criticism is actually a time-saver: if you really take in the information and learn from it, you will save yourself making the same mistakes and having to try the lessons in the future.


Related links for further learning:


Product review: ZocDoc

I’d never heard of ZocDoc before until I heard someone recently mention it on a podcast. The person in question mentioned something about an app that lets you find your local doctor. Intrigued to learn more, I decided to do a product review:

My quick summary of ZocDoc before using it – I expect a mobile app which lets me find local doctors and book appoints through a single interface.

How does ZocDoc explain itself in the first minute? Unlike other apps, I’m not entirely clear about what ZocDoc is all about. Perhaps I’m slightly distracted by the overlay message which asks me whether I want to accept notifications to “Get important reminders and wellness updates”:


How does ZocDoc work? Once I’ve dismissed the notification alert, I can view ZocDoc’s homepage in full. It enables me to search by illness, filter by location and availability:


Once I click on “Find” I get a load of results local to me, and available today:

This interface feels intuitive, although I personally could have done without the sponsored result at the top of the screen. This is where ZocDoc’s sorting functionality comes in handy, although I doubt whether I can completely filter out the sponsored results 🙂

Instead, results can be sorted based on “relevance” – although when I do this I start getting results with dentists who aren’t available today (which was one of the original filters) – “distance” and “wait time rating”.


Did ZocDoc deliver on my expectations? Yes. The app feels intuitive and does make it easier to book a medical appointment. I nevertheless feel that the app can work harder in terms of enabling customers to sort results, e.g. by price (with and without insurance) and availability. I believe this additional sorting ability will make the results feel even more relevant to the user.

Book review: “Who – The A method for hiring” by Geoff Smart and Randy Street

Almost everyone I speak to complains about how hard it is to hire good product people. We talk about the low return on investment of lengthy interview processes and those product hires that “didn’t work out”. I’ve written about hiring product managers previously and shared my lessons learned about recruiting good product people. Who – The A method for hiring, published back in 2008 by Geoff Smart and Randy Street has been a very welcome addition to my learnings about hiring:

  1. It’s about “who” not about “what” – In the book, “who” refers to the people you put in place to make the “what” decisions. Who’s running your sales force? Who manages your product? Who engages with your customers? In the book, Smart and Street stress the importance of making the right hiring decisions, and how as a manager your success is largely determined by the quality of the people around you.
  2. When ‘who’ mistakes happen – Smart and Street list a number of instances where “who” mistakes happen; when managers end up hiring the wrong person for the job. They also talk about “voodoo hiring” (see Fig. 1-2 below). Their book aims to help people make better “who” decisions, and provides a proven method, dubbed the “A method” to help readers on their way.
  3. The limited value of CVs – There’s only so much candidate CVs will tell you as a hiring manager. In my experience, a CV can be a useful snapshot but often not more than that. Smart and Street describe a CV as “a record of a person’s career with all of the accomplishments embellished and all the failures removed.”
  4. Finding A players – Smart and Street define an A player as “a candidate who has at least a 90 percent chance of achieving a set of outcomes that only the top 10 percent of possible candidates could achieve.” To help find A Players, Smart and Street and their colleagues at ghSMART have developed the “A Method for Hiring” or the “A Method” for short. There are four steps to the A Method: (1) Scorecard (2) Source (3) Select and (4) Sell (see Fig. 3 below). Naturally, the hiring manager needs to feel confident about having A Players around him or her, which might not always be the case. Equally, I’d argue that it pays off to look for good B (and perhaps even C) players too. These candidates might not have achieved their A game yet, but still stand 70 percent chance of achieving key outcomes (and can learn as they go).
  5. Scorecard – The idea of having a predetermined scorecard for each role is a valuable one, since a scorecard describes the mission for the position, outcomes that must be accomplished, and competencies that fit with both the culture of the company and the role. What do you really want the person that you’re hiring to accomplish, and why? What’s the phase that your company is in, and which the person you’re hiring needs to adapt to? The scorecard consists of three parts: (1) the job’s mission (2) outcomes and (3) competencies (see Fig. 4 below).
  6. Source – The idea of sourcing is all about constantly looking for talented people, irrespective of whether your company has an imminent hiring need. As some of the people interviewed for the book explain, ‘source’ is all about constantly asking people we know to introduce us to the talented people they know and maintaining a relationship with high-potential candidates (see Fig. 6 below). You thus build up talent pool which you can use as your first port of call when hiring, thus increasing the overall velocity of your hiring process.
  7. Select – The ‘select’ element of the A Method comes down to interviewing well. Smart and Street recommend doing structured interviews in order to avoid what they call ‘voodoo hiring methods’ (see Fig. 2 below). They suggest the following steps for selecting the right candidate:  (1) Screening Interview (2) Who Interview (3) Focused Interview (4) Reference and (5) Skill-Will Bull’s-Eye (see Fig. 7 below).
  8. Sell – In their book, Smart and Street stress the importance of putting yourself in the candidate’s shoes as the key to successful selling your candidate to join your company. Care about what they care about. The book explains how candidates typically care about five things, and encourage you to make sure that you address each of these five areas until you get the person to sign on the dotted line (see Fig. 12 below). Selling doesn’t happen just at the end of the process. Instead, you ‘sell’ throughout: When you source; When you interview; The time between your offer and the candidate’s acceptance; The time between the candidate’s acceptance and his or her first day and The new hire’s first one hundred days on the job.

Main learning point: Hiring good people is easier said than done in my experience. “Who – The A Method for hiring”, however, does a great job in offering every hiring manager with key considerations to make and techniques to apply when look for  new people.


Fig. 1 – When ‘who’ mistakes happen – Taken from: Geoff Smart and Randy Street, “Who – The A method for hiring”:

Who mistakes happen when managers:

  • Are unclear about what’s needed in a job;
  • Have a weak flow of candidates;
  • Do not trust their ability to pick out the right candidate from a group of similar-looking candidates;
  • Lose candidates they really want to join their team.

Fig. 2 – Voodoo Hiring – Taken from: Geoff Smart and Randy Street, “Who – The A method for hiring”:

Top ten voodoo hiring methods:

  1. The Art Critic – Hiring people based on gut instinct.
  2. The Sponge – A common approach among busy managers is to let everybody interview a candidate, with the risk of interviewers asking candidates exactly the same questions.
  3. The Prosecutor – Many managers act like the prosecutors they see on TV and aggressively question candidates, attempting to trip them up with trick questions and logic problems.
  4. The Suitor – Rather than rigorously interviewing a candidate, some managers spend all of their energy selling the applicant on the opportunity. Suitors are more concerned with impressing than assessing their capabilities.
  5. The Trickster – Then there are the interviewers who use gimmicks to test for certain behaviours. They might throw a wad of paper on the floor, for example, to see if a candidate is willing to clean it up.
  6. The Animal Lover – Many managers hold on stubbornly to their favourite pet questions – questions they think will reveal something uniquely important about a candidate.
  7. The Chatterbox – This technique has a lot in common with the “la-di-da” interview. The conversation usually goes something like this: “How about them Yankees! Man, the weather is rough this time of year. You grew up in California? So did I!”
  8. The Psychological and Personality Tester – Asking a candidate a series of bubble-test questions like “Do you tease small animals?” or “Would you rather be at a cocktail part or the library on a Friday night?” is not useful (although both are actual questions on popular psychology tests), and it’s certainly not predictive of success on the job.
  9. The Aptitude Tester – Tests can help managers determine whether has the right aptitude for a specific role, such as persistence for a business development position, bit they should never become the sole determinant in a hiring decision.
  10. The Fortune-Teller – Just like a fortune-teller looking in a crystal ball to predict the future, some interviewers like into the future regarding the job at hand by asking hypothetical questions: “What would you do? How would you do it? Could you do it?”

Fig. 3 – “The ghSMART A Method for Hiring” – Taken from: Geoff Smart and Randy Street, “Who – The A method for hiring”:


  • Scorecard – The scorecard is a document that describes exactly what you want a person to accomplish in a role. It is not a job description, but rather a set of outcomes and competencies that define a job well.
  • Source – Finding great people is getting harder, but it is not impossible. Systematic sourcing before you have slots to fill ensures you have high quality candidates waiting when you need them.
  • Select – Select talent in the A Method involves a series of structured interviews that allow you to gather the relevant facts about a person so you can rate your scorecard and make an informed hiring decision. These structured interviews break the voodoo hiring spell.
  • Sell – Once you identify people you want on your team through selection, you need to persuade them to join. Selling the right away ensures you avoid the biggest pitfalls that cause the very people you want the most to take their talents elsewhere.

Fig. 4 – The three parts of the A Method scorecard – Taken from: Geoff Smart and Randy Street, “Who – The A method for hiring”:

  • The mission – The mission is an executive summary of the job’s core purpose. It boils the job down to its essence so everybody understands why you need to hire someone into the slot. You’ll know you have a good mission when candidates, recruiters, and even others from your team understand what you are looking for without having to ask clarifying questions. A good mission statement could for instance read: “To serve as a visionary leader who helps the bank capture market share from the competition by analysing the market and devising successful new strategies and product offerings.” Mission statements also help you avoid one of the most common hiring traps: hiring a generalist over a specialist.
  • Outcomes – Outcomes, the second part of a scorecard, describe what a person needs to accomplish in a role. If you are hiring for a sales person for instance, the scorecard should read” “Grow revenue from $25 million to $50 million by end of year three.” This is a clearly defined outcome which a sales person either can or can’t achieve. An outcome is something which a person must get done.
  • Competencies – Competencies flow directly from the first two elements of the scorecard. The mission defines the essence of the job to a high degree of specificity. Outcomes describe what must be accomplished. Competencies describe how you expect a new hire to operate in the fulfilment of the job and the achievement of the outcomes. The book lists some critical competencies for A Players (see Fig. 5 below).

Fig. 5 – Critical competencies for A Players – Taken from: Geoff Smart and Randy Street, “Who – The A method for hiring”:

  • Efficiency – Able to produce significant output with minimal wasted effort.
  • Honesty / integrity – Does not cut corners ethically. Earns trust and maintains confidences.
  • Organisation and planning – Plans, organises, schedules, an budgets in an efficient, productive manner. Focuses on key priorities.
  • Aggressiveness – Moves quickly and takes a forceful stand without being overly abrasive.
  • Follow-through on commitments – Lives up to verbal and written agreements, regardless of personal cost.
  • Intelligence – Learns quickly. Demonstrates ability to quickly and proficiently understand and absorb new information.
  • Analytical skills – Able to structure and and process qualitative and quantitative data and draw insightful conclusions from it. Exhibits a probing mind and achieves penetrating insights.
  • Attention to detail – Does not let important details slip through the cracks or derail a project.
  • Persistence – Demonstrates tenacity and willingness to go the distance to get something done.
  • Proactivity – Acts without being told what to do. Brings new ideas to the company.
  • Ability to hire A Players (for managers) – Sources, selects and sells A Players to join a company.
  • Ability to develop people (for managers) – Coaches people in their current roles to improve performance, and prepares them for future roles.
  • Flexibility / adaptability – Adjusts quickly to changing priorities and conditions. Copes effectively with complexity and change.
  • Calm under pressure – Maintains stable performance when under heavy pressure or stress.
  • Strategic thinking / visioning – Able to see and communicate the big picture in an inspiring way. Determines opportunities and threats through comprehensive analysis of current and future trends.
  • Creativity / innovation – Generates new and innovative approaches to problems.
  • Enthusiasm – Exhibits passion and excitement over work. Has a can-do attitude.
  • Work ethic – Possesses a strong willingness to work hard and sometimes long hours to get the job done. Has track record of working hard.
  • High standards – Expects personal performance and team performance to be nothing short of the best.
  • Listening skills – Lets others speak and seeks to understand their viewpoints.
  • Openness to criticism and ideas – Often solicits feedback and reacts calmly to criticism or negative feedback.
  • Communication – Speaks and writes clearly and articulately without being overly verbose or talkative.
  • Teamwork – Reaches out to peers and cooperates with supervisors to establish and overall collaborative working relationship.
  • Persuasion – Able to convince others to pursue a course of action.

Fig. 6 – How to source – Taken from: Geoff Smart and Randy Street, “Who – The A method for hiring”:

  1. Referrals from your professional and personal networks.
  2. Referrals from your employee
  3. Deputising friends of the firm
  4. Hiring recruiters
  5. Hiring researchers
  6. Sourcing systems

Fig. 7 – Select: interview steps – Taken from: Geoff Smart and Randy Street, “Who – The A method for hiring”:

  1. Screening Interview – The screening interview is a short, phone-based interview designed to clear out B and C Players from your roster of candidates. In the screening questions you can ask some of the following questions: What are your career goals? What are you really good at professionally? What are you not good at or interested in doing professionally? Who were your last five bosses, and how will they each rate your performance on a 1-10 scale when we talk to them? The whole point of the screening interview is to weed people out as quickly as possible.
  2. Who Interview – The Who Interview is designed to give you more confidence in your selection because it uncovers the patterns of somebody’s career history, which you can match to your scorecard (see Fig. 8 below for a sample Who Interview Guide). The Who Interview is a chronological walkthrough of a person’s career.
  3. Focused Interview – The Who Interview is comprehensive and will get you most of the way toward the right answer of who to hire. In the Focus Interview, you can gather additional, specific information about your candidate. In essence, you’re turning the magnification up another notch so you can give would-be hires one last look with a finer degree of granularity (see a sample Focused Interview Guide in Fig. 10 below).
  4. Reference Interview – There are three things you have to do to have successful reference interviews. First, pick the right references. Second, ask the candidate to contact the references to set up the calls. Third, conduct the right number of interviews; you personally do about four and ask your colleagues to do three, for a total of seven reference interviews (see sample Reference Interview Guide in Fig. 11 below).
  5. Skill-Will Bull’s-Eye – The goal of the “Select” step of the A Method is to gather the facts you need to decide if somebody’s skill (what they can do) and will (what they want to do) match your scorecard. This is a person’s skill-will profile. When a candidate’s skill-will profile matches up perfectly with the requirements outlined on your scorecard, your candidate hits the the skill-will bull’s-eye.

Fig. 8 – Who Interview Guide – Taken from: Geoff Smart and Randy Street, “Who – The A method for hiring”:

  1. What were you hired to do?
  2. What accomplishments are you most proud of?
  3. What were some low points during that job?
  4. Who were the people you worked with?
  5. Why did you leave that job?

Fig. 9 – ‘Master Tactics’ for the ‘Who Interview’ – Taken from: Geoff Smart and Randy Street, “Who – The A method for hiring”:

  • Interrupting – You have to interrupt the candidate. If you don’t, he or she might talk for then hours straight about things that are not at all relevant. The bad way to interrupt somebody is to put up your hand like a stop sign gesture and say, “Wait, wait, wait. Let me stop you there. Can we get back on track?” The good way to interrupt somebody is to smile broadly, match their enthusiasm level, and use reflective listening to get them to stop talking without demoralising them.
  • The Three P’s – The three P’s are questions you can use to clarify how valuable an accomplishment was in any context. The questions are: (1) How did your performance compare to the previous year’s performance? (2) How did your performance compare to the plan? (3) How did your performance compare to that of peers?
  • Push Versus Pull – People who perform well are generally pulled to greater opportunities. People who perform poorly are often pushed out of their jobs. Do not hire anybody who has been pushed out of 20 percent or more of their jobs. Push: “It was mutual.” “It was time for me to leave.” “My role shrank.” Etc. Pull: “My biggest client hired me.” “My old boss recruited me to a bigger job.” “The CEO asked me to take a double promotion.” Etc.
  • Painting a Picture – This is all about empathic imagination, which helps you move away from generic answers that don’t mean anything and toward specific details that give you real insight. You’re really trying to put yourself in the candidate’s shoes and get curious to truly understand.
  • Stopping at the Stop Signs – One of the advantages of the Who Interview in person is that you can watch for shifts in body language and other inconsistencies. The idea isn’t to gather dirt. Think of yourself instead as a biographer interviewing a subject. You want both the details and the broad pattern, the facts and the texture.

Fig. 10 – Who Interview Guide – Taken from: Geoff Smart and Randy Street, “Who – The A method for hiring”:

  1. The purpose of this interview is to talk about _______________ (Fill in the blank with specific outcome or competency such as the person’s experience selling to new customers, building and leading a team, creating strategic plans, etc).
  2. What are your biggest accomplishments in this area during your career?
  3. What are your insights into your biggest mistakes and lessons learned in this area?

Fig. 11 – Reference Interview Guide – Taken from: Geoff Smart and Randy Street, “Who – The A method for hiring”:

  1. In what context did you work with the person?
  2. What were the person’s biggest strengths?
  3. What were the person’s biggest areas for improvement back then?
  4. How would you rate his/her overall performance in that job on a 1-10 scale? What about his or her performance causes you to give that rating?
  5. The person mentioned that he/she struggled with ________________ in that job. Can you tell me more about that?

Fig. 12 – Five Things Candidates Care About – Taken from: Geoff Smart and Randy Street, “Who – The A method for hiring”:

  • Fit ties together the company’s vision, needs, and culture with the candidate’s goals, strengths, and values. “Here is where we are going as a company. Here is how you fit in?”
  • Family takes into account the broader trauma of changing jobs. “What can we do to make this change as easy as possible for your family?”
  • Freedom is the autonomy the candidate will have to make his or her own decisions. “I will give you ample freedom to make decisions, and I will not micromanage you.”
  • Fortune reflects the stability of your company and the overall financial upside. “If you accomplish your objectives, you will likely make [compensation amount] over the next five years.”
  • Fun describes the work environment and personal relationships the candidate will make. “We like to have a lot of fun around here. I think you will find this is a culture you will really enjoy.”

My product management toolkit (37): product / market fit survey

Since venture capitalist Marc Andreessen introduced the concept of “product / market fit” back in 2007 there have been many different interpretations of what this concept actually means. From people using sales projections to companies applying customer satisfaction to determine product / market fit, I’ve seen companies utilising different yardsticks. I therefore thought it would be good to go back to Marc Andreessen’s original definition and look at a great approach by Sean Ellis – who specialises in growth strategies – to identify product / market fit.

First, let’s look at Marc Andreessen’s original definition of product / market fit:

“Product/market fit means being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market.”

Andreessen has taken this definition from Andy Rachleff – another successful startup founder and venture capitalist – who describes getting to product / market fit as “the only thing that matters” when you’re a startup. Product / market fit thus means being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market.

The million dollar question then becomes how one knows that product / market fit has been achieved. Andreessen explains how you can feel when product / market for isn’t happening:

“The customers aren’t quite getting value out of the product, word of mouth isn’t spreading, usage isn’t growing that fast, press reviews are kind of “blah”, the sales cycle takes too long, and lots of deals never close.”

Andreessen argues that you can feel when product / market fit is happening if:

“The customers are buying the product just as fast as you can make it – or usage is growing just as fast as you can add more servers. Money from customers is piling up in your company checking account. You’re hiring sales and customer support staff as fast as you can. Reporters are calling because they’ve heard about your hot new thing and they want to talk to you about it.” 

Another way of establish whether you’ve achieved product / market fit comes from Sean Ellis and his product / market fit survey. Ellis’ survey consists of one simple question:

“How would you feel if you could no longer use this product?”

People can respond to this survey in one of the following ways:

  • Very disappointed
  • Somewhat disappointed
  • Not disappointed (it really isn’t that useful)
  • N/A – I no longer use this product

Ellis’ rule of thumb is that if you’re above 40% of the people saying they’d be very disappointed, you’ve found product / market fit, and if you’re less than that, you haven’t.

Through the survey, you can learn about a person’s underlying reasoning behind their response by including a free text field which says something like “Please help us understand why you’ve selected this answer.”

In addition, you could conduct user interviews to learn more about the products which people consider as an alternative to your product or to understand the perceived benefits of your product. For example, those survey respondents who responded that they’d be “somewhat disappointed” it might be that you haven’t delivered on the product’s intended value proposition. Similarly, it would be good to find out from those people who indicated “not disappointed” why they wouldn’t care if your product ceases to exist.

Main learning point: Understanding whether (and why) your product has achieved product / market fit is critical for any startup. Learning why a product has or hasn’t achieved product / market fit through a survey or an interview will fuel further product development and decision making.

Related links for further learning: