App review: TikTok

Lately, I’ve heard lots of good things about TikTok – which came out of Musical.ly, a hugely popular social media app – headquartered in Shanghai – that let you watch and create your own lip sync video to the music available on the app. I was familiar with Musical.ly but lost track somewhat after the company got acquired by Bytedance who merged the app with TikTok. Let’s have a look at the TikTok app:

My quick summary of TikTok before using it? I expect a highly interactive app, which lets users create and share their own music clips.

How does TikTok explain itself in the first minute? When I open the app, I see a quick succession of videos;  “Real Short On the job Videos”, “Real Short Art Videos” to “Real Short Weird Videos”.

 

 

What happens next? I swipe up on one of the videos I land on what looks likes a sample personalised “For You” news feed, with a standard overlay asking me whether I’d like to receive push notifications from TikTok. The feed does suggest it has been personalised for me, but I’m unsure what this is based on since I haven’t been on any on boarding journey where I, for example, started following other TikTok users or indicated my content preferences. Presumably, I’ll need to create a TikTok account first in order to be able to get tailored content and be able to create my own content.

 

 

 

What’s on boarding like? TikTok’s on boarding process is pretty straightforward: (1) it asks for my birthday (which won’t be shown publicly) (2) I can then sign up via my phone or email (3) set a password and (4) slide puzzle piece in the right place to make sure I’m not a bot.

 

Getting started – The first video in my personalised feed is a video from “cameronisscoooool” in which she shares her realisation who she is and describes herself as a “piece of sh*t”:

 

I realise straight away that I’m not the target audience for TikTok, which is totally cool – painful, but cool 🙂 Understanding how I can start either discovering new videos or creating my own is very simple; tapping on the “search” icon at the app’s bottom navigation displays trending content and tapping the black “plus” icon on the same bottom navigation.

 

 

Did TikTok deliver on my expectations? Yes. Based on my previous familiarity with musical.ly I was expecting just user generated music videos, but I like how TikTok has now broadened this out, combine music and video content.

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, https://www.producttalk.org/2016/08/opportunity-solution-tree/

 

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, https://www.producttalk.org/2016/08/opportunity-solution-tree/

 

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:

  1. https://poshmark.com/
  2. https://www.forbes.com/sites/bizcarson/2019/06/11/poshmark-selling-home-decor/
  3. https://www.theverge.com/2019/6/11/18659886/poshmark-home-market-app-seller
  4. https://www.forbes.com/sites/margauxlushing/2019/05/31/i-tried-shopping-sustainably-on-poshmark-heres-what-i-learned/
  5. https://www.mercari.com/
  6. https://www.tradesy.com/
  7. http://fortune.com/2018/11/15/dia-co-series-c-40-million-plus-size/

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.

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: 

  1. https://www.slideshare.net/hiten1/measuring-understanding-productmarket-fit-qualitatively
  2. https://blog.crisp.se/2016/01/25/henrikkniberg/making-sense-of-mvp
  3. https://open.buffer.com/measure-productmarket-fit-product-feature/
  4. http://www.startup-marketing.com/getting-to-product-market-fit/
  5. https://growthhackers.com/
  6. https://www.pisano.co/en/blog/sean-ellis-test-figure-out-product-market-fit/
  7. https://pmarchive.com/guide_to_startups_part4.html
  8. https://foundr.com/product-market-fit-andy-rachleff-wealthfront/

Book review: “High Output Management” by Andrew Grove

“High Output Management” by the late Andrew Grove, ex Chairman and CEO of Intel, is a must read management book in my opinion. It’s easy to be quite cynical about most management and business books as a lot of them seem to introduce one central theme (or buzzword) right at the beginning of the book, followed by endless repetition throughout the remainder of the book …

 

 

In contrast, “High Output Management” contains valuable advice and tips from the beginning right to the end of the book. First published back in 1983, the book applies production principles to management. Some of these principles really resonated with me and I feel strongly about all (product) managers benefiting from these principles as part of their day-to-day working practices:

Identifying the “limiting step” – Grove defines the “limiting step” as the step in the overall shape of the production flow that will determine the overall shape of a company’s operations. In the book, Grove uses the simple example of a breakfast company, and highlights the time required to boil an egg is the critical component or the ‘limiting step’ in the production flow (see Fig. 1 below). The key idea here is to construct your production flow by starting with the longest (or most difficult, or most sensitive, or most expensive) step and work our way back. As a (product) manager you’ll thus focus on the limiting step within your context, e.g. in the workflow of your team, the customer funnel or the decision-making process.

 

Fig. 1 – Example of a limiting step when creating a breakfast – Taken from: http://clarkeching.com/ccblog/2018/1/21/what-are-bottlenecks-andy-grove

 

Detect and fix issues at the “lowest-value stage” possible – If there’s a problem with your product, you want to find out about it as early on in the production process as possible so that you can minimise risk. In the production world, I witnessed lowest-value stage thinking first hand at the assembly line of a Toyota factory. Here, employees can pull the   “Andon” cord to (temporarily) bring things to a halt as soon as they come across an issue. It’s an easy way of escalating things, making sure that a problem or bottleneck is dealt with before proceeding with the rest of the assembly process. Think about when you last pulled an imaginary Andon cord to flag a product or team issue early!?

 

Fig. 2 Using the Andon cord to raise an issue and stop production – Taken from: https://www.lean.org/lexicon/fixed-position-stop-system

 

 

Using (leading) indicators to measure and predict – In order to run a production process well you’ll need a set of indicators which help you monitor and improve the efficiency of the production line. Grove stresses that for these indicators to be useful, “you have to focus each indicator on a specific operational goal.” He goes on to list a number of relevant production indicators (see Fig. 3 below). Leading indicators give you one way to look inside the production process by showing you in advance what the future might look like.

 

Fig. 3 – Indicators related to the production process – Taken from: Andrew S. Grove, “High Output Management”, p. 16:

  • Sales forecast
  • Raw material inventory
  • Manpower
  • Quality

 

Leverage – Grove introduces the concept of “leverage”.  This is the output generated by a specific type of work activity. An activity with high leverage will generate a high level of output; an activity with low leverage, a low level of output. This raises the question about what qualifies as managerial leverage and output. Grove’s distinction between activities and output really helps to bring the concept of leverage to life (see Fig. 4 below). The overarching idea is that with each activity that the manager performs, the organisational output should increase.

 

Fig. 4 – Managerial activities vs output – Taken from: Andrew S. Grove, “High Output Management”, pp. 39 – 54:

Managerial activities:

  • Judgments and opinions
  • Direction
  • Allocation of resources
  • Mistakes detected
  • Personnel trained and subordinates developed
  • Courses taught
  • Products planned
  • Commitments negotiated

Managerial output:

A manager’s output is the output of all of the people and the teams that report into her. For example, if someone manages a design team, then his output consists of completed designs that are ready to be implemented.  That output can take many different forms depending on the type of role and industry. Regardless of the form of output, managers must measure its quantity and quality:

A manager’s output = The output of his organisation + The output of the neighbouring organisations under his influence

 

High leverage activities – We’ve already touched on the impact of highly leveraged activities on an organisation’s output, and Grove explains how these activities can be achieved (see Fig. 5 below). For example, to maximise the leverage of his or her activities, a manager must keep timeliness firmly in mind. Equally, managers micro-managing or ‘meddling’ are examples of negative leverage activities. A big part of a manager’s work is to supply information and know-how, and to share a sense of the preferred method of handling things to the teams under his control or influence. A manager also makes and helps to make decisions.

 

Fig. 5 – Three ways in which to achieve high leverage activities – Taken from: Andrew S. Grove, “High Output Management”, pp. 54 – 55:

  • When many people are affected by one manager.
  • When a person’s activity or behaviour over a long period of time is affected by a manager’s, well focused-set of words or actions.
  • When a large group’s work is affected by an individual supplying a unique, key piece of knowledge or information.

 

Applying production principles to management – In the book, Grove rightly points out how time management techniques are commonly used to improve managerial output. He then uses production principles to improve on some of these time management techniques (see Fig. 6 below).

 

Fig. 6 – Ways to improve on time management techniques – Taken from: Andrew S. Grove, “High Output Management”, pp. 62 – 63:

  • Identify our limiting step: determine which things that have to happen on a schedule that’s absolute, and which can’t be moved. You can then plan more flexible activities around it and thus work more efficiently.
  • Batching similar tasks: group similar activities, e.g. performance reviews, as these activities tend to require (mental) set-up time. You can thus maximise the set-up time needed for the task and reduce duplication of effort.
  • Forecasting your activities: Your calendar can be a valuable production-planning tool (and not a dumping ground for random meetings or “orders” by others). If you want to use your calendar as better forecasting and planning tools, Grove suggest that two conditions should be met. Firstly, you should move toward the active use of your calendar, taking the initiative to fill the holes between the time-critical events with non-time critical though necessary activities. Secondly, you should say “no” at the outset to work beyond your capacity to handle.

 

Meetings, the output of managerial work – A lot of managerial tasks (see “High leverage activities” above) are best suited for face-to-face interactions, and more often than not, for meetings. Grove provides a useful distinction between two basic kinds of meetings: process-oriented and mission-oriented meetings (see Fig. 7 below). I love how at the end of the book’s chapter about meetings, Grove reminds us of a quote by the late management guru Peter Drucker who said that “If people spend more than 25 percent of their time in meetings, it’s a sign of malorganisation.”

 

Fig. 7 – Process-oriented and mission-oriented meetings – Taken from: Andrew S. Grove, “High Output Management”, pp. 72 – 87:

  • Process-oriented meetings: Knowledge is shared and information is exchanged during process-oriented meetings, which take place on a regular, scheduled basis. One-on-ones and team meetings are good examples of process-oriented meetings.
  • Mission-oriented meetings: The purpose of mission-oriented meetings is to solve a specific problem and often produce a decision. These meetings are ad hoc affairs, not scheduled long in advance, because they usually can’t be. The key to the success of a mission-oriented meeting is what the chair of the meeting does. The person leading the meeting needs to have a clear understanding of the meeting’s objective – what needs to happen and what decision needs to be made.

 

 

Planning: today’s actions for tomorrow’s output – In High Output Management, Grove offers three simple steps of a  planning process (see Fig. 8 below). He describes planning as an ordinary everyday activity, something we all do – both in our professional and personal lives. The planning process enables you to reflect on what’s needed, the gap with the current situation and the specific actions necessary to close the gap.

 

Fig. 8 – Three steps your planning process should consist of – Taken from: Andrew S. Grove, “High Output Management”, pp. 103 – 120:

Step 1 – Establish projected need or demand: What will the environment demand from you, your business, or your organisation?

Step 2 – Established your present status: What are you producing now? What will you be producing as your projects in the pipeline are completed? 

Step 3 – Compare and reconcile steps 1 and 2: What more (or less) do you need to do to produce what your environment will demand?

 

Main learning point: “High Output Management” is probably one of the most valuable management books I’ve read in the last couple of years. If you’re looking for an inspiring but practical book about management, I suggest you look no further: High Output Management is the book for you!