It’s a sad but true fact that the vast majority of B2B apps out there have traditionally focused on basic functionality, satisfying RFP checklists, and convincing corporate buyers of the value that they offer over delighting and amazing the end users who acting really interact with the product in a daily basis. Unfortunately for the companies who have taken this tack in the past, the world of corporate technology is rapidly changing, with increasing focus on BYOD, and with the increasing exposure of end users to the world of apps on their phones and tablets, the world of corporate technology is undergoing a massive paradigm shift. Expectations are higher, and the bar had been raised with regard to what users will accept when it comes to their daily work experiences.
Archives for August 2015
Fail Fast, Fail Cheap, and Fail OFTEN!!
In the world today, it’s no longer efficient or effective for a Product Manager in any company to devote months of time, effort, and expense in designing and developing new products or new product features. The market moves faster than that, and even in traditionally slower markets like B2B customers are increasingly exposed to the world of apps and SaaS solutions — which sets expectations for how technology as a whole works. These expectations bleed into the workplace, and workers who previously simply accepted technology as part of the drudgery of their jobs are increasingly vocal about solutions that no longer meet their needs. Combining those expectations with an open market where initial costs to launch products are constantly decreasing through the use of cloud solutions and free open-source technologies, and any company or Product Manager who sits on their laurels and continues to work in a business-as-usual world will find themselves significantly challenged as the market and their users change around them.
Fortunately, there are many approaches that even an old-school Product Manager can adopt to increase their throughput on validating new ideas, testing new solutions, and generally ensuring that they’re being proactive in their market approach and not simply reactive to the changes happening around them. The key component of any such approach is to accept uncertainty, and to test your ideas, problems, and solutions as quickly, cheaply, and often as possible — with the understanding that many of these ideas might fail. However, without testing new ideas, you’ll either invest too much time, money, and effort into the wrong things…or you’ll never bring those challenging and inventive ideas to market, since you’ll never have the data to convince those who are unsure of the direction you wish to pursue.
Thus, your focus should be on failing fast, failing cheap, and failing often.
Don’t Forget to Evangelize INSIDE Too!
Product Managers often wind up serving as product evangelists, due to their interest in maintaining product dominance in their market, as well as their constant touch points with the market as a whole. It’s really almost inevitable in a healthy company for the Product Manager to reach out and present at conferences, meet regularly with advisory boards, and to present the product’s best side to the media whenever the opportunity arrives.
However, there’s another side to this that sometimes gets lost in the shuffle — that the Product Manager needs to be as much an internal evangelist for the product, the strategy, and the vision as they do an external evangelist. Every internal team that the Product Manager touches should leave their interaction with a better understanding of why the company is doing what it’s doing, and with more buy-in for the projected future of the product and the company.
The “CEO of the Product” Myth
I’m fairly confident that anyone who’s worked as or interacted with Product Managers for any extended period of time has run into someone talking about how the Product Manager is the “CEO of the Product.” The implication is that the Product Manager has some form of ultimate authority for what’s in, what’s out, and when things ship; that people ask “How high?” when the Product Manager yells “Jump!”; that simply by virtue of being the Product Manager, there’s a level of influence and direct control over the day-to-day and strategic operations of the product.
This is complete and utter bullshit, in the vast majority of companies.
Understanding How to Lead Through Influence
It’s a common truth that’s discussed in Product Management circles that we generally do not lead through direction, from a position of direct power or authority; but rather through influence, indirectly and by convincing others to go in the direction we want or desire. But what does this really mean, and how can we best explain the concept to people who are just starting out on their Product Management careers with some feeling that they’ll be the “CEO of the Product”, delivering dictates and orders and just sitting back and watching things happen? How can we help these poor souls to adjust to the reality of the modern Product Management world, which is that you have zero ability to force your perspectives, and must rely on others to take your plans and buy in to bring them to fruition?
Solving for the Commitment-Phobic Developer
Since the Clever PM is recovering from a nasty bug, he’s going to rely on Quora for a little Clever content again, this time focusing on the question “How do you get developers to commit to finishing a sprint on time?” I chose this one because it plays into one of the common misconceptions about Scrum and Agile approaches — that it’s the responsibility of the Product Manager to ensure commitment from the Development teams; this is certainly how it works in the Waterfall world — the Product Manager negotiates a “contract” with the Development team for what they’ll do, how it will be done, and how long it can take. But in the Agile world, particularly in Scrum, it’s the team that makes the commitment to deliver, based on what they believe they can achieve in their next iteration. It’s the Product Owner/Manager’s job to ensure that the team has a well-groomed, prioritized backlog to choose that work from. [Read more…]
Never Let the Perfect be the Enemy of the Good
There’s a strong tendency in product management and user experience circles to want to ensure that the product you ship is “perfect” and that it touches every corner case and every single use case that your customers may need elegantly, efficiently, and with no learning curve.
This is an entirely unrealistic expectation.
The fact is, you’re going to miss some things, no matter how hard you try or how much time you take “ensuring” that your product is perfect. That’s because, even if you involve customers in the development process, even if you iterate repeatedly, and even if you’re the most user-centered team in the world, there’s going to be something you miss, because you’re always operating on incomplete information.
The trick, then, is knowing what risks you’re willing to accept and which you’re not…