My product management toolkit (33): launch and learn

“Build it and they will come!” I used to work once with a senior executive, who was of the opinion that a product or feature should just be launched, without any testing with customers beforehand. “I know that once it’s out there, people will want it” she’d explain to me, adding that “it’s what people want”.

 

 

Hearing this “build it and they will come” mantra time and time again did annoy me ūüôā At the same time, it did make me wonder whether it might be a good idea to (continuously) release product features without prior customer discovery … What if this executive is right and any new product, feature or service should just be launched, as a way of learning as quickly as possible!?

Being able to ‘launch and learn’ is a vital tool in any product person’s toolkit. I strongly encourage you to avoid ‘one-off product releases’ at any time; what are you going to learn from shipping a product only to then move on to the next thing!? One can debate about when to best learn – should you learn pre-release? – but the main point is that you’ll need to ship early and often to learn continuously.

Basecamp, a project management software compare, does take ‘launch and learn’ to the extreme, they don’t show customers anything until every customer can see it. In the book “It doesn’t have to be crazy at work”, Basecamp’s co-founders Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson describe how at Basecamp:

  • “We don’t beta-test with customers.”
  • “We don’t ask people what they’d pay for something.”
  • “We do the best job we know how to do and then we launch it into the market.”
  • “The market will tell us the truth.”

Fried and Heinemeier Hansson argue that anything you ask or test with customers prior to launch is hypothetical: “Real answers are uncovered when someone’s motivated enough to buy your product and use it in their own environment – and of their own volition. Anything else is simulated answers. Shipping real products gives you real answers.” Whilst I do agree with this line of thinking, I don’t believe in simply launching some crappy product or feature and see if it sticks (just as much I don’t believe in “build it and they will come”).

 

 

My suggestion would to ‘launch confidently and learn’. This means that for each new product or feature you determine – based on your confidence level – whether it needs some form of customer research before launch:

  1. Deliver value in order to learn¬†– You want to be smart about the things you want to learn. The best opportunity to learn comes when you’re confident about the value that you’re delivering to the customer. Naturally, people might not buy or use your product despite the value it intends to deliver, but that’s a learning in itself.
  2. Minimum Level of Confidence (1) – How confident are you? What exactly are you confident about (and why)? The main reason why I believe in product managers adhering to a confidence treshold is to avoid launching products that don’t work or provide an awful user experience. The Newton MessagePad which came out in 1993 is a good example of the launch of an incomplete product, which didn’t live up to its promise. Larry Tesler, senior exec at Apple at the time of of the Newton MessagePad, described Apple’s promise about the Newton’s handwriting capability as a large nail in the Newton coffin. The lesson learned here is that you shouldn’t launch when you’re not confident about the capability and value of your product or feature.
  3. Minimum Level of Confidence (2) – I’ve come up with a number of basic questions and criteria to apply when you’re thinking of launching a product (see Fig. 1-2 below). In my experience, identifying your Minimum Level of Confidence shouldn’t result in ‘analysis paralysis’. In contrast, it’s an important conversation to have throughout the product lifecycle to ensure that everyone fully understands what risks or unknowns are associated with the upcoming release. As an outcome of such a conversation you can decide whether to get customer feedback pre-release.
  4. Make sure you learn! – Whether you do or don’t engage with customers before launch, being clear about what you’re looking to learn from a release is paramount. Like I mentioned above, I view releasing something without learning from it¬† as a cardinal sin. It’s very important to continuously learn from real users and actual usage (or not) about your key hypotheses. These learnings – both quantitive and qualitative – will give you the data points to iterate or terminate a product.

Fig. 1 – Questions and criteria to check your confidence about launching a product or feature:

  • Internal quality assurance¬†– Have you tested your product feature to ensure there are no obvious bugs or gaps in the user experience? Even if you don’t test with customers prior to launch, you should test some key acceptance scenarios internally before launch to make sure the product works as intended.
  • Does the feature or product touch on core user experience? – If “yes” is the answer to this, then I recommend you do test with customers prior to launch to identify any major usability issues worth solving before launch. You typically need to test with no more than five customers to unearth any critical usability issues.
  • How confident are you?¬†– The combination of low confidence in something which your business has got a lot riding can be deadly. Yes, one can always try to do damage limitation, but it might already be too late at the time of you trying to repair things! The idea behind determining your confidence levels upfront isn’t a scientific one. Instead, it enables a conversation, making sure that people have got their eyes wide open and understand the level of risk and unknowns involved in an upcoming product launch (see Fig. 2 below).

Fig. 2 – Basic confidence levels to consider before launch:

  • High Confidence: Our confidence in the upcoming release is high because we tested it thoroughly internally, have launched a similar product or feature before or if there’s an issue the fallout will be small.
  • Low Confidence: Our confidence in the upcoming release is low because we haven’t fully tested it, it’s based on new technology or creates a totally new user experience.

 

 

 

Main learning point:¬†Even if you decide not to generate customer learnings before a product launch, make sure you at learn after launch. Launch and learn. Don’t launch without learning!

 

Related links for further learning:

  1. https://www.mindtheproduct.com/2017/02/the-life-of-a-product-manager-learning-by-doing/
  2. https://www.intercom.com/blog/shipping-is-your-companys-heartbeat/
  3. https://medium.com/@joshelman/a-product-managers-job-63c09a43d0ec
  4. https://uxplanet.org/10-things-i-learned-from-jason-fried-about-building-products-5b6694ff02aa
  5. http://time.com/13549/the-10-worst-product-fails-of-all-time/
  6. https://twitter.com/jasonfried/status/935555293014036480
  7. https://247wallst.com/special-report/2014/03/03/worst-product-flops-of-all-time/2/
  8. https://www.macworld.com/article/2047342/remembering-the-newton-messagepad-20-years-later.html
  9. https://www.nytimes.com/1993/09/26/business/the-executive-computer-so-far-the-newton-experience-is-less-than-fulfilling.html

Book review: “Powerful”

“Radical honesty” is easier said than done. In her latest book “Powerful; Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility”, former Netflix’ Chief Talent Officer Patty McCord¬†delivers a great plea for the importance and benefits of a culture of “radical honesty”, one of the many things McCord helped put in practice whilst at Netflix. This element of always speaking the truth is one of the tenets of the Netflix culture which McCord was instrumental in shaping and which she writes about in “Powerful”.

McCord looks back on the Netflix culture as one of freedom and responsibility, and describes Netflix’ approach to creating “the leanest processes possible” and “a strong culture of discipline.” I’m keen to unpick the main elements of Netflix’ culture and McCord’s approach to co-creating a ‘powerful’ culture:

  1. Transform organisational¬†culture – McCord outlines where to start with transforming organisational culture: “identifying behaviours that you would like to see become consistent practices (…) then instilling the discipline of actually doing them.” This is very much an evolutionary process, consisting of lots of small steps. The book lists the core set of practices that underpinned the Netflix culture McCord co-created (see Fig. 1 below).
  2. Great teams contribute to success – McCord singles out contribution to success as the greatest motivation for the majority of people and teams. She talks about the energy teams get from meeting a challenge and states “great teams are made when things are hard.”
  3. Hire ‘high performers’ only (1)¬†– My simple adage when recruiting is that if I’m not sure about a candidate or if I / we feel a persistent doubt about the candidate, it’s probably best to refrain from hiring that person. McCord goes one step further by saying that one should only hire high performers; people who do great work and challenge each other. This made me wonder whether this introduces a barrier to entry for less experienced or more junior hires? These people might become very good at their job and will – eventually – benefit from an environment that is both challenging as well as supportive.
  4. Hire ‘high performers’ only (2)¬†– McCord’s point about the importance of “having a great person in every single position on the team”, and how this makes for a highly performant team, reminded me of Steve Jobs’ famous quote. “A players hire A players, but B players hire C players and C players hire D players. It doesn‚Äôt take long to get to Z players. The trickle down effect causes bozo explosions in companies.” Perhaps it’s because I don’t know the exact traits of an A player and how to best look out for them, but I struggle with the A player concept. As a result, I felt that the makeup of great teams was the least convincing aspect of McCord’s book. I wondered what McCord make of some of the thinking by¬†Andy Rachleff, a well-known VC and founder, who argues that “when a lousy team meets a great market, the market wins.”
  5. Treat people like adults – McCord also makes the point that we should treat all employees like adults. I know this sounds obvious, but I’ve seen plenty of environments where people aren’t being treated as such. At Netflix, McCord and her colleagues got rid of a whole lot of process, and instead relied much more on people’s own good judgment. For instance, at Netflix they stopped onerous processes such as annual budget and roadmap planning. This introduces a large dose of “trust” into the mix which I believe is invaluable for any business or team.
  6. People don’t want to be entertained at work; they want to learn – McCord’s makes a point about how employees want to learn things at work; they want to solve problems and deal with challenges. Instead of employees spending a lot of time away from their jobs for off-sites or formal training classes, McCord argues, employees benefit from truly learning on the job. She also covers the importance of all employees fully understanding how the business works; this being “the rocket fuel of high performance and lifelong learning.”
  7. Radical honesty (1) – As mentioned above, “radical honesty” plays a key role in Netflix’ company culture. Whether it’s about telling the truth about the company (e.g. its challenges, problems, etc.) or to each other, it’s important that the truth is being shared at any given time. For example, McCord encourages people to be fully transparent about their decisions and where they went wrong.
  8. Radical honesty (2) – The power of asking questions is another important hallmark of the Netflix culture of freedom and responsibility which McCord describes. At Netflix, people were taught to ask questions such as “how do you know that’s true?” or “can you help me understand what leads you to believe that’s true?” People thus learned first hand about what McCord refers to as “the ethic of asking”.
  9. People have power, don’t take it away – McCord dismisses any talk of empowering people. Instead, she argues that people have power and companies shouldn’t take that power away from them. The company’s job isn’t to empower people; companies need to make sure all conditions are in place for people to exercise their power. As a business leader, McCord explains, your job is “to create great teams that do amazing work on time.” She mentions the importance of great leaders ability to spot people’s growth potential and to nurture this potential.
  10. Build the company now that you want to be then – When recruiting people, McCord advises company to focus on future, as opposed to just hiring for the here and now. Can the people you’ve got in your team now do the job at scale? Are you going to need them to do tomorrow the same job they’re doing now? What’s your plan for them? McCord shares a “fast-forward six months forward” exercise which she uses to shape teams for the future of the company (see Fig. 2 below).

Main learning point:¬†I can see how some of the elements that McCord describe describes in “Powerful” might not be applicable to all companies or to specific challenges that readers might be facing. However, I believe that we can all learn from the underlying mindset which McCord describes in her book; whether it’s the importance of ‘radical honesty’ or letting people exercise their power.

 

Fig. 1 – Core set of practices that underpinned the Netflix culture – Taken from: Patty McCord, “Powerful: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility”

  • Open, clear and constant communication: across the entire company about the work to be done and challenges being faced.
  • Radical honesty: telling one another, and management, the truth in a timely fashion and ideally face to face.
  • Debating based on fact based opinions: at Netflix, employees are expected to have strong, fact based opinions and to debate them avidly and test them rigidly.
  • Customer and company first: people to base their actions on what’s best for the customer and the company, not on attempts to prove themselves right.
  • Preparing teams for the future: hiring managers take the lead in preparing their teams for the future by making sure they’ve got high performers with the right skills in every position.

Fig. 2 – “Fast-forward six months” exercise –¬† Taken from: Patty McCord, “Powerful: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility”

  • Imagine six months from now, you have the most amazing team you ever assembled and you’re saying to yourself, “Wow, those guys are awesome! I can’t believe what they’re accomplishing.”
  • First write down what the team will be accomplishing six months from now that it’s not accomplishing now. now. Use all the figures you want.
  • For those different things to be happening, what would people need to know how to do? What kind of skills and experience would it take for the team to operate the way you’re envisioning and accomplish he the things you’ll need to do in that future?

 

Related links for further learning:

  1. https://jobs.netflix.com/culture
  2. https://www.slideshare.net/reed2001/culture-1798664
  3. http://pattymccord.com/netflixs-patty-mccord-on-being-a-great-place-to-be-from-protect-the-hustle-ep-1/
  4. https://visualsynopsis.com/uncategorized/powerful-by-patty-mccord/
  5. http://firstround.com/review/this-is-how-coursera-competes-against-google-and-facebook-for-the-best-talent/
  6. https://recruitloop.com/blog/steve-jobs-top-hiring-tip-hire-the-best/
  7. https://daedtech.com/a-players-dont-hire-a-players-they-partner-with-a-players/
  8. http://web.stanford.edu/class/ee204/ProductMarketFit.html
  9. https://medium.com/parsa-vc/7-lessons-from-andy-rachleff-on-product-market-fit-9fc5eceb4432

 

Managing products of the future – Business as usual?

“Managing products of the future” came up when I was thinking of a suitable title for a piece about products that look and feel very different to most products that we see today. Products such as driverless cars and voice assistants popped into my head as examples of products that are likely to dominate our daily lives before we know it.

However, these products are here already and I’m keen to look at if and how this does affect the role and focus of product management.

Will we manage products differently when the user interface of these products changes? Do we need to think differently about our products when data becomes the main output? Will customer needs and expectations evolve? If so, how? These and other questions I will start thinking about; considering the nature of machine learning, different product scenarios and their impact on the role of the product manager.

Taken from: https://robertmerrill.wordpress.com/2009/04/15/the-future-is-already-here/

It’s easy to get swept up by the hype surrounding AI and products based on machine learning, and to start feeling pretty dystopian about the future. But how much will actually change from a product management point of view? People will continue to have specific needs and problems. As product managers, we’ll continue to look at best ways of solving these problems.¬†Granted, the nature of people’s needs and problemx will evolve, as it has always done, but this won’t alter the problem solving and people centric nature of product management.

To illustrate this, let’s look at some AI-base products and the customer needs and problems that they’re aiming to solve: Google Photos, Sonos One and Eigen Technologies.

Google Photos

Google Photos’ strap-line is “One home for all your photos ‚Äď organised and easy to find”. Over the coming months, Google Photos will roll out the following features:

  • Using facial recognition, Google Photos will know who’s in a picture and will offer a one-tap option to share it with the person in question – provided that this person is in your phone’s contact list, Google Photos will have learned this person’s face.¬†If that person appears in multiple images, Google Photos will even suggest to share all of them in one go.
  • Automated image editing suggestions, Google Photos will suggest different corrections based on the look and quality of the image. For example, if there issues with the brightness of the image, Google Photos will automatically display a “Fix brightness” suggestion.

Taken from: https://www.digitaltrends.com/photography/google-photos-suggested-edits/

With these new features, Google Photos aim to address customer needs with regard to sharing pictures and improving image quality respectively. These needs aren’t new per se, but the ‘intelligent’ aspect of Google Photos’ approach is.

Sonos One

The Sonos One is entirely controlled by voice. The speaker works fully with Amazon Alexa, which means that if you’ve got an Amazon Alexa compatible device, you can control your Sonos sound system through Amazon Alexa. Because Alex is a native app within the Sonos platform, you don’t even need to have an external Amazon device – i.e. Echo or the Dot – installed to control your Sonos One speaker. The installation of the Alexa mobile app will be enough.

Taken from: https://uniquehunters.com/sonos-one-marries-amazons-alexa-high-end-audio-hardware-exquisite-musical-enjoyment/

The integration with the Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant is a logical next step within Sonos’ mission to “empower everyone to listen better” and makes it easier for people to control the music they listen to. Granted, the user interface of Sonos One is different to other product; it doesn’t have buttons, for example. However, it still is a product like any other in a sense that it delivers tangible value to customers by solving their music listening needs.

Eigen Technologies

“Turn your documents into data” is London and New York based Eigen Technologies’ mission statement. The company enables the mining of documents for specific data. For example, if you work for a mortgage lender and are looking to make a decision about the credit worthiness of a home, Eigen’s data extraction technology helps to quickly pull out key ‘decision inputs’ from a number of – often very lengthy – property documents.

Taken from: https://www.artificiallawyer.com/2017/11/03/legal-ais-dark-horse-eigen-technologies-comes-into-the-light/

The way in which Eigen Technologies use machine learning algorithms, is ultimately to improve the speed and quality of decision making. Even though the underlying technology is based on machine learning, the outcome is very much like that of any other product: a clear user interface which shows the relevant document data that a user is interested in and needs to make decisions.

Main learning point: AI and machine learning based products will no doubt change the ways in which we interact with products and what we expect of them. However, existing examples such as Google Photos and Sonos One already show that the core of the product manager’s role will remain unchanged: building the right product for the right people and building it right!

 

Related links for further learning:

  1. https://productsthatcount.com/blog/66-google-vp-product-ai/
  2. https://www.wired.com/2015/05/bradley-horowitz-says-that-google-photos-is-gmail-for-your-images/
  3. https://blog.sonos.com/en-gb/making-sonos-one/
  4. https://www.engadget.com/2018/05/08/google-photos-will-add-ai-powered-suggestions-to-fix-your-images/
  5. https://techcrunch.com/2017/10/04/sonos-announces-alexa-controlled-wireless-speakers/
  6. https://www.digitaltrends.com/photography/google-photos-suggested-edits/
  7. http://www.wired.co.uk/article/sonos-one-alexa-review-uk-price
  8. https://techcrunch.com/2018/02/20/sonos-one-is-the-speaker-to-beat-for-those-that-want-great-sound-and-smarts/
  9. http://uk.businessinsider.com/connected-speakers-explainer-sonos-libratone-echo-google-home-2018-4
  10. https://assistant.google.co.uk/
  11. https://www.sonos.com/en-gb/social-impact
  12. https://www.artificiallawyer.com/2017/11/03/legal-ais-dark-horse-eigen-technologies-comes-into-the-light/
  13. https://www.eigentech.com/
  14. https://blog.bolt.io/what-cracking-open-a-sonos-one-tells-us-about-the-sonos-ipo-dcab49155643

Why Square and Klarna are looking to become banks?

Just a short post this time, as I just wanted to share my excitement about the likes of Square and Klarna becoming banks (eventually). As an outsider looking in, I can see the rationale for companies like Square and Klarna, payments platforms, for becoming full blowing banking entities:

  1. Logical extension of the payments ecosystem – Given that Square and Klarna already process payment transactions for thousands of merchants and their customers, it means that they’ve got a strong foot in the door with small businesses. It therefore makes total sense to offer new products and services to both merchants and their customers.
  2. Data, data, data РI can imagine that with the amount of transactional data being processed, Square and Klarna no doubt have built up great customer and merchant data profiles, and are now looking to further monetise on this customer understanding. Offering lending products jumps out at me as a key reason for Square and Klarna wanting to become banks. This pattern fits well on the trend involving challenger banks like Monzo and Chime starting out with limited features, but gradually expanding into fully fledged bank accounts.
  3. Regulatory relationships – As Square and Klarna start offering more bank-like products and services, they’ll need to put robust regulatory compliance frameworks in place. Establishing regulatory relationships by becoming a bank helps with establishing these frameworks.
  4. Hook at point of sale РBeing able to engage with both consumers and merchants at the point of sale feels like a pretty strong hook to me! Loved how backend payment platform Adyen recently got valued at $8.3 billion, and it shows you that the financial sector is way off from calming down.

Main learning point: Whilst there are concerns about small businesses being impacted negatively by the likes of Square becoming banks, I’m excited by the ongoing disruption of the financial sector. Recent applications for banking licenses by Square and Klarna are a sign that the Fintech startups and challengers are scaling. As long scaling doesn’t happen at the detriment of the customer – both consumers and merchants – this can only be a good thing!

 

 

 

 

Related links for further learning:

  1. https://www.cnbc.com/2018/05/18/square-stumbles-into-the-banking-business.html
  2. https://www.americanbanker.com/news/the-story-behind-squares-bank-charter-application
  3. https://techcrunch.com/2017/06/19/klarna-gets-a-full-banking-license-gears-up-to-go-beyond-financing-payments/
  4. https://www.pymnts.com/news/banking/2017/square-makes-its-big-move-on-banking/
  5. https://bankingblog.accenture.com/might-fintechs-become-banks
  6. https://techcrunch.com/2017/03/23/revolut-launches-a-premium-subscription-and-starts-raising-a-new-round/
  7. https://techcrunch.com/2018/05/31/no-fees-mobile-banking-service-chime-raises-70m-series-c-valuing-its-business-at-500m/
  8. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-06-05/it-took-a-1-billion-ipo-for-everyone-to-see-why-adyen-matters

Book review: “Radical Focus”

Christina Wodtke’s latest book, “Radical Focus”, is probably the most valuable ‘business’ book which I’ve read thus far this year. The full title of the book reads “Radical Focus – Achieving Your Most Important Goals with Objectives and Key Results” and Wodtke¬†provides a great story – literally – as well as useful tips about the importance of goal setting. The book starts with a fable about a Silicon Valley startup, and offers a good narrative about how (not) to use of objectives and key results (‘OKRs’). This fable, which felt very close to the reality of being in startups – sets the scene for the practical tips that Wodtke offers with respect to using OKRs effectively, irrespective of whether you work in a startup or at Amazon.

 

 

What are some of the most common reasons why key things don’t happen? Wodtke offers a number of insights here:

  1. No prioritisation or stack ranking of goals – Everything is deemed important and critical things don’t get done as a result.
  2. No obsessive and comprehensive communication of the goal – Wodtke suggests that for key goals to be achieved, it’s important to reiterate the goal daily and having regular¬†commitment meetings, where the team talks about the key goal and commit to specific activities directly related to the goal.
  3. There’s no plan to get things done – Often, companies will have lofty goals but no plan or process to actually achieve these goals. Wodtke introduces a number of useful ceremonies which teams can use to keep goals relevant and top of mind: commitment meetings, check ins and celebrations.
  4. No or insufficient time carved for what really matters – Love how Wodtke refers to the “Eisenhower Box” which helps identify and prioritise those things that must be done (see Fig. 1 below).
  5. A tendency to give up instead of iterating – Business often give up at the first attempt, canning a goal if it isn’t achieved (fully) first time around. Instead, Wodtke urges, try to avoid a lack of followthrough by¬†iterating constantly.

Fig. 1 РThe Eisenhower РTaken from: https://jamesclear.com/eisenhower-box/eisenhower-box-2

As the book title clearly suggests, Wodtke advocates the use of OKRs to achieve focus and making sure that key goals are being realised:

  • Objectives are bold and qualitative – Set a bold, inspirational and qualitative Objective each quarter. Wodtke provides examples of both good and poor Objectives (see Fig. 2 below).
  • Key Results are tangible and quantitative – Each Objective will have three quantitative Results that let you know when you’ve hit your Objective (see Fig. 3 below). Wodtke stresses that Key Results are “hard goals, the kind where you only have a 50/50 shot of achieving.” These ‘stretch goals’ are hard to achieve but not impossible, and you indicate for each Key Result how confident you are of achieving it.
  • OKRs and health metrics – In the book, Wodtke makes a helpful distinction between OKRs and health metrics. OKRs are “the thing you want to push, the one thing you want to make better.” I’d add an emphasis on the word “one” here as I find working with a single business Objective to be most effective. In my experience, having multiple business Objectives starts muddying the water in terms of focus and prioritisation. Instead, start with setting one Objective for the company. Secondly, set OKRs for each team that ty back to the company goal. Health metrics are the key things to continue to watch, these metrics are more concerned with ‘hygiene’.
  • Set OKRs together, pick Key Results as a team – Identifying and agreeing on Objectives and Key Results is a collaborative process. Clearly articulating and sharing the business Objective is a critical first step. The different teams can then set those Key Results which they believe will contribute to the business Objective.
  • Progress monitoring – I particularly liked the 4×4 matrix that Wodtke suggests as a way of monitoring progress with respect to achieving your business and associated team OKRs (see Fig. 4 below). This matrix is a very simple but effective way of committing to (weekly) priorities and capturing progress.
  • Setting a rhythm¬†of execution – Wodtke introduces a number of weekly ceremonies which you can use to keep OKRs relevant and to ensure that you keep to them (see Fig. 5 below). The risk with goal setting is that it remains a one off exercise and I believe that having weekly ‘commitment’ and ‘win’ sessions will help massively keeping OKRs front of mind.

Main learning point:¬†In “Radical Focus”, Christina Wodtke does a great job of explaining the role and value of OKRs. Not only does she provide valuable tips on how to best define OKRs, Wodtke also offers useful methods of keeping track of progress against OKRs. If you feel that you and your business are doing too much of everything, or not achieving anything, then Radical Focus is a must read!

Fig. 2 – Examples of good and poor Objectives – Taken from: Christina Wodtke, Radical Focus, self-published, 2016, p. 110

Here are some good Objectives:

  • Own the direct-to-business coffee retail market in the South Bay.
  • Launch and awesome MVP.
  • Transform Palo Alto’s coupon using habits.
  • Close a round that lets us kill it next quarter.

and some poor Objectives:

  • Sales numbers up 30%.
  • Double users.
  • Raise a Series B of 5M.

Fig. 3 РKey Results РTaken from: Christina Wodtke, Radical Focus, self-published, 2016, pp. 111 Р112

Key Results can be based on anything you can measure, including:

  • Growth
  • Engagement
  • Revenue
  • Performance
  • Quality

For example, if your Objective is to “Launch an Awesome MVP” you could have the following Key Results:

  • 40% of users come back 2X in one week
  • Recommendation score of 8
  • 15% conversion

Fig. 4 – Example of Christina Wodtke’s 4×4 OKR matrix – Taken from:¬†https://medium.com/@cwodtke/one-objective-to-rule-them-all-1058e973bfc5

Fig. 5 РSetting a rhythm of execution РTaken from: Christina Wodtke, Radical Focus, self-published, 2016, pp. 120 Р123

Monday Commitments

Each Monday, the team should meet to check in on progress against OKRs, and commit to the tasks that will help the company meet its Objective.

  • Intention for the week – What are the 3-4 most important things you must get done this week toward the Objective? Discuss if these priorities will get you closer to the OKRs.
  • Forecast for the month – What should your team know is coming up that they can help with or prepare for?
  • Status toward OKRs – If you set a confidence of five out of ten, has that moved up or down? Have a discussion about why.
  • Health metrics – Pick two things you want to protect as you strive toward greatness. What can you not afford to eff-up? Key relationships with customers? Code stability? Team well-being? Now mark when things start to go sideways, and discuss it.

Fig. 6 РOKR Fundamentals РTaken from: Christina Wodtke, Radical Focus, self-published, 2016, pp. 109 Р112

Your Objective is a single sentence that is:

Qualitative and Inspirational

The objective is designed to get people jumping out of bed in the morning with excitement. And while CEOs and VCs may jump out of bed in the morning with joy over a 3% gain in conversion, most mere mortals get excited by a sense of meaning and progress. Use the language of your team.

Time Bound

For example, doable in a month, a quarter. You want it to be a clear sprint toward a goal. If it takes a year, your Objective maybe a strategy or even a mission.

Actionable by the Team Independently

This is less of a problem for startups, but bigger companies often struggle because of interdependence. Your Objective has to be truly yours, and you can’t have the excuse of “Marketing didn’t market it.”

An Objective is like a mission statement, only for a shorter period of time. A great objective inspires the team, is hard (but not impossible) to do in a set time frame, and can be done by the person or people who have set it, independently.

Fig. 7 – Quick tips on OKRS use – Taken from: Christina Wodtke, Radical Focus, self-published, 2016, p. 153

  • Set only one OKR for the company, unless you have multiple business lines. It’s about focus.
  • Give yourself three months for an OKR. How bold is it if you can do it in a week?
  • Keep the metrics out of the Objective. The Objective is inspirational.
  • In the weekly check in, open with company OKR, then do groups. Don’t do every individual; that’s better in private 1:1s.
  • OKRs cascade; set company OKRs, then group’s/role’s, and then individual’s.
  • OKRs are not the only thing you do; they are the one thing you must do. Trust people to keep the ship running, and don’t jam every task into OKRs.
  • The Monday OKR check in is a conversation. Be sure to discuss change in confidence, health metrics and priorities.
  • Encourage employees to suggest company OKRs. OKRs are great bottom up, not just top down.
  • Make OKRs available publicly. Google has them on their intranet.
  • Friday celebrations is an antidote to Monday’s grim business. Keep it upbeat!

 

Related links for further learning:

  1. http://eleganthack.com/the-art-of-the-okr/
  2. https://medium.com/@cwodtke/one-objective-to-rule-them-all-1058e973bfc5
  3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8aW5gdRRn_U
  4. http://fortune.com/2018/05/21/john-doerr-measure-what-matters-okr/

My product management toolkit (29): analysing competitors

Don’t believe anyone who claims that they don’t look at what their competition is doing. Agreed, there’s a fine line between doing a healthy amount of competitor analysis and being completely obsessed by what the competition is doing but I believe it’s important to understand how your product differentiates from similar products.

Competition is good. Product isn’t a zero sum game and it’s important to understand the competitive landscape that you operate in and to figure out your product ‘niche’. I try to do a competitor analysis of some form or other on an ongoing basis, as your competitive landscape is bound to evolve.

Before delving into ways of analysing competitors, let’s first look at the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of competitor analysis:

  • Understand where your product fits – Reviewing competitors helps to understand where your product sits within the market, analysing and comparing on aspects such as features, price, perceived benefits, etc.
  • No need to look at ALL competitors – Realistically speaking, it’s impossible to keep up with all of your – direct and indirect – competitors, all the time. When you narrow things down, you’re likely to find that a small percentage of companies in the market either scoop up most revenue or are direct competition in your specific market segment.
  • Treat competitor analysis for what it is; valuable guidance – Instead of getting obsessed with your competitor(s), get obsessed with your customer! I can only refer to a quote from the wise Sun Tzu in “The Art of War”: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” I find it very helpful to understand the competitive landscape and the position of my product or service in it, without becoming completely distracted by the features a competitive product does or doesn’t offer. You don’t want your competitors to dictate which features (not) to include, and cause ‘featuritis’ as a result!
  • Find the perfect niche for your product – The likelihood is that your product will be targeting the same customers that other companies and their products are already serving. Your product needs to be exceptional and differentiated enough for customers to consider switching. Look at the market and ask yourself: “are we solving the same problem, but differently?” or “are we tackling a different customer problem altogether?”

Now, let’s look at some common tools you can use to analyse your competition:

 

SWOT analysis

Fig. 1 – SWOT analysis – Taken from: https://research-methodology.net/theory/strategy/swot-analysis/

The SWOT analysis is probably one of the more traditional ways of studying and comparing competitors. It might be an older method, but SWOT still holds true and is a tried and tested way of understanding your competitors:

  • Strengths – Specific characteristics and attributes which give a company competitive advantage. For example, one could argue that design, brand, a loyal customer base and innovation are key strengths of Apple.
  • Weaknesses – Specific characteristics and attributes which reduce the competitive strength of a business. For example, major debts and inadequate online presence hinder lots of today’s retailers to compete effectively with Amazon.
  • Opportunities – Advantageous situations or circumstances that can create new competitive power for businesses. Think, for example, of entering new geographic markets, new customer segments¬†or new product opportunities.
  • Threat – Disadvantageous situations or circumstances which can hamper companies in their ability to compete. For instance, I expect ‘Brexit’ to hinder UK companies in attracting talented new recruits or operate globally.

 

Kano analysis

Fig. 2 РKano analysis РTaken from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kano_model

I’ve written previously about conducting a Kano analysis¬†as I find this method very helpful when looking at the competition from a customer point of view. Understanding what the “basic needs” and “delighters” are in your market, will help¬† understand:

  • The position of your product – Understanding where a product sits vis a vis customer expectations.
  • Which battles (not) to pick – Where do you want to play and what will you playing for? Are you happy to just focus on so-called ‘hygiene’ factors or do you want to focus on more unchartered territory?
  • Potential product opportunities – Where are the opportunities for improved or totally new products, and why?

 

Lean Canvas

Fig. 3 – Ash Maurya’s “Lean Canvas” – Taken from:¬†https://blog.leanstack.com/business-models-vs-business-plans-4a802e15c51d

Plenty of companies use Ash Maurya’s “Lean Canvas”¬†to better understand your product and market, which is great. In addition, you can also use the Lean Canvas framework to compare and contrast competitors. For example, what’s the dominant channel of companies X and Y, and how does their path to customers compare to yours?

 

Direct customer feedback

My favourite way of analysing competitors is to hear directly from customers. For example, when I worked at a digital music service, I ran sessions simply observing people using the likes of Spotify, Rdio (which died a few years ago) and Soundcloud. This way, my colleagues and I could learn first hand about how people felt about our product in comparison to the competition.

With digital products and services, it’s harder to do a traditional “bind product test” but you can still observe and listen to people testing different products which are all trying to solve a similar problem. People will tell you why they think product A is better than product B, especially when you make it clear that you don’t have an allegiance with any of the tested products!

Fig. 4 РBlind product testing РTaken from: http://www.bloncampus.com/columns/fundamental/why-blind-testing-is-important-in-product-research/article7976927.ece

 

5 Forces of Competition

Fig. 5 – Michael Porter’s “Five Forces of Competition” – Taken from:¬†https://www.pocketbook.co.uk/blog/2017/02/14/michael-porter-competitive-strategy/

I can imagine that you might have come across Porter’s “5 Forces” before. Like the SWOT analysis, the 5 Forces approach is a longstanding one which helps companies understand their sources of competitive rivalry and which factors they need to concentrate on in order to gain the upper hand.

Main learning point:¬†Don’t shut your eyes and avert looking at the competition! Equally, don’t get freaked out by competitive products or services. Instead, analyse the competition to get a better feel for whether and how your product differentiates. You can then use these insights to focus more on delivering customer value and creating strong points of differentiation.

 

Related links:

  1. http://edwardlowe.org/how-to-conduct-and-prepare-a-competitive-analysis/
  2. https://www.quora.com/How-do-Product-managers-perform-competitive-analysis-for-enterprise-products
  3. https://medium.com/pminsider/real-competitive-analysis-is-about-learning-to-love-your-competitor-15e45b9ef10a
  4. https://marcabraham.com/2015/09/13/what-is-psychographic-segmentation/
  5. https://marcabraham.com/2016/06/17/my-product-management-toolkit-11-assessing-the-market/
  6. https://news.greylock.com/the-only-metric-that-matters-now-with-fancy-slides-232474cf414c
  7. https://blog.leanstack.com/business-models-vs-business-plans-4a802e15c51d
  8. https://www.pocketbook.co.uk/blog/2017/02/14/michael-porter-competitive-strategy/

Book review: “Inspired: How To Create Tech Products Customers Love”

About four years ago I read and reviewed Inspired: How To Create Products Customers Love by Marty Cagan,¬†who I regard almost as the ‘founder’ of modern tech product management – along with Steve Jobs of course ūüôā Cagan has now released a second edition of “Inspired” in which he captures two aspects he’s uncovered since writing the first edition.

The first aspect is a critical need to focus on the specific job of the product manager, aiming to clarify which elements constitute the role of a product manager in a tech company. The second aspect is the importance of creating the right product culture for success, and understanding the range of product discovery and delivery techniques available to solve customer and business problems.

Whilst the book contains a wealth of valuable content about product management and how to create great products; in this review I’ll primarily focus on Cagan’s recommendations with respect to product discovery and delivery. Before I do that, it’s important to first look at Cagan’s take on the “root causes of failed product efforts” (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1 – “Root Causes of Failed Product Efforts” by Marty Cagan¬† – Taken from:¬†https://www.mihneadb.net/notes-on-craft-conf-2015/

Cagan sees a very sequential, “Waterfall” type approach as the underlying reason why many products fail. This approaches comes down to companies using a ‘feature heavy’ and preplanned roadmaps, as well as and using regular planning sessions to negotiate and prioritise the roadmap. Cagan shares some home truths to explain why this approach is now obsolete (Fig. 2).

 

Fig. 2 – 10 problems that companies using a Waterfall type approach suffer – Adapted from: Marty Cagan, Inspired: How To Create Tech Products Customers Love, pp. 17-21

  1. Stakeholder-driven products: It’s a top down approach which leads to stakeholder-driven products and teams that don’t feel empowered
  2. Business cases are mostly fictitious:¬†I couldn’t agree more with Cagan when he argues that the two main business case inputs – how much money we’ll make and how much it will cost – are complete unknowns. We can’t know how much money we’ll make because that depends entirely on how good the solution turns out to be. In contrast, a lot of products end up making no money whatsoever! One of the most critical lessons in product, Cagan explains, is “knowing what we can’t know.”
  3. Product roadmaps –¬† There are two problems with traditional, feature led product roadmaps. Firstly, the reality is that half of our product ideas are simply not going to work. I always cringe when I see product roadmaps that contain detailed features prioritised prioritised for an entire year … In my experience, until you start discovering, implementing and launching product ideas, you’re not going to know whether your product is actually going to work. Secondly, even when ideas do prove to have potential they’re likely to need several iterations to reach the point where they deliver tangible business value. Cagan introduces the term “time to money” to refer this evolutionary process.
  4. It’s not about gathering requirements for engineers to implement – I recently came across an organisation where they employed an entire team of project managers and business analysts whose main job it was to gather stakeholder requirements, and document them for designers and engineers to implement. Cagan rightly makes the point that “this is 180 degrees away from the reality of modern tech product management.”
  5. UX designers are getting involved way too late¬†– Don’t involve designers only once the requirements have been gathered, it’s simply too late as the designer won’t be able to add much value add this stage.
  6. Engineers are getting involved way too late – If you’re just using your engineers to code, you’re only getting about half their value. I love the ‘little secret’ that Cagan shares with us: “engineers are typically the best single source of innovation.” He’s totally right!
  7. Agile for delivery only – Cagan talks about “Agile for delivery”, whereby product development teams work in an Agile fashion, but the rest of the organisation isn’t.
  8. Project-centric processes – The company usually funds projects, pushes projects through the organisation, and finally launches projects. Unfortunately, projects are output and product is all about outcome. I’d add that most projects are one-off pieces of works whereas products have a continuous lifecycle, until the product is being discontinued.
  9. Customer validation happens way too late РCagan points out the biggest shortcoming of the old waterfall process, which is that all the risk is concentrated right at the end and that customer validation happens way too late. Instead, customer validation or discovery should be continuous and needs to happen early and often.

 

Cagan offers three overarching principles which help overcome the aforementioned root causes of failed product efforts:

  1. Risks are tackled upfront, instead of at the end
  2. Products are defined and designed collaboratively, rather than sequentially
  3. Finally, it’s all about solving problems, not implementing features

“Continuous Discovery and Delivery” is a great way to translate these three principles into a process and mindset for people to adhere too (Fig. 3). You can see how Cagan has taken the eight steps involved in the traditional waterfall approach (Fig. 1) and condensed them into to three, continuous stages: Objectives – Discovery – Delivery (Fig. 3).

 

Fig. 3 РContinuous Discovery and Delivery РTaken from: Marty Cagan, Process vs Model, https://svpg.com/process-vs-model/, 7 August 2017

 

Ultimately, this process enables you to to get answers to four critical questions:

  1. Will the user buy this (or choose to use this)?
  2. Can the user figure out how to use this?
  3. Can our engineer build this?
  4. Can our stakeholders support this?

Apart from these four critical questions, I like the emphasis Cagan puts on business context over a traditional product roadmap. In the book, Cagan covers two main components that provide this business context:

  1. The product vision and strategy
  2. The business objectives

The “risk” aspect feels like a crucial one to me, and thinking about ways to identify and mitigate risks early and often. For example, I’ve found the pre-mortem technique to be a great¬† way to unearth key risks right at the outset. Cagan describes some common risks to consider:

  • Financial risk – Can we afford this solution?
  • Business development risk – Does this solution work for our partners?
  • Marketing risk – Is this solution consistent with our brand?
  • Sales risk – Is this solution something our sales staff is equipped to sell?
  • Legal risk – Is this something we can do from a legal or compliance perspective?
  • Ethical risk – Is this solution something we should do?

Cagan then goes on to describe three of his favourite discovery framing techniques:

1. Opportunity Assessment

The idea is to answer four key questions about the discovery work you’re about to undertake:

  1. Objective – What business objective is this work intended to address?
  2. Key results – How will you know if you’ve succeeded?
  3. Customer problem – What problem will this solve for our customers?
  4. Target market – What type of customer are we focused on?

2. Customer Letter

Cagan refers to Amazon and their working backward process, where you start the product effort with a fictitious press release.

3. Startup Canvas

The “Startup Canvas” is particularly useful when you work at an early stage startup and are staring from scratch, both with the business and your product or service. There are lots of these canvases around for you to have a closer look at; I’d suggest having a look at the Business Model Canvas (by Alex Osterwalder) and the Lean Canvas (by Ash Maurya; Fig. 4).

Fig. 4 ‚Äď Ash Maurya‚Äôs ‚ÄúLean Canvas‚ÄĚ – Taken from Ash Maurya, “Running Lean”:¬†

Cagan explains how you can use a canvas for any product change, no matter the size, but you would likely quickly find a risk of duplication once you’ve got an existing business and product. I agree that the law of diminishing returns kicks in once you’ve already established your business and products, since you’ll have already figured out things like your cost structure or distribution strategy.

Finally, Cagan explains about “testing value” as a key thing to consider when planning your customer discovery. The main thing here, Cagan stresses, is to learn whether customers perceive your product to be substantially better than the competition. So many companies and product teams think all they need to do is match the features of the competitive alternatives. This idea of “feature parity” being enough to woo customers has proven to be a false one. The reality is that for customers to switch from an existing product, they need to¬† perceive the new product as a much better alternative.

For example, sometimes it’s not clear whether customer want what it is that we’re going to build and it can be very risky to simply think “we’ll build it and customers will come.” In the book, Cagan talks about how you can quickly and cheaply test whether there’s demand for instance through launching just a landing page. On the landing page, we describe the new offering exactly as we would if we were really launching the service. The difference is that if the user clicks the call to action, rather than getting the expected outcome, the users sees a message that explains that you’re thinking of launching the new service and that you’d love to get initial input from the user. It all falls under the mantra “Do Things that Don’t Scale”, first introduced by Y Combinator Founder Paul Graham. A good example is this one from Buffer:

Fig. 5 – Buffer example of a ‘smoke and mirrors’ landing page – Taken from: Christopher Bank, 15 ways to test your minimum viable product,¬†https://thenextweb.com/dd/2014/11/12/15-ways-test-minimum-viable-product/, 12 November 2014

Main learning point:¬†Marty Cagan has written a great followup to his first edition of “Inspired”. In this edition, he offers valuable tips and examples in relation to important themes as product discovery and delivery. Whether you’re new to product management or have got some good product management experience under your belt, “Inspired: How To Create Tech Products Customers Love” is a great and valuable read.