Ensure the Business Outcome

Wonderful article from Marty Cagan illustrating how good product teams and cultures deliver great products.

One of my favorite quotes from the article:

The Product Manager needs to ensure a business outcome, not just ensure a product gets defined. This requires a good understanding of the many inter-related parts and constraints of the business – financial, marketing, sales, legal, partnership, service, the customer environment, the technical capabilities, the user’s experience, and figure out a solution that works for the customers as well as the business.

Also great to get hear the back story of some great products like Word, Netflix, and iTunes.

Read the full article – Behind Every Great Product.

 

 

Read This –> Shoe Dog

You should read this book.

Phil Knight’s memoir will not disappoint. The book was engaging, full of suspense, and very inspiring. And all based on his life creating the company Nike. It is part business book, part adventure tale, and full of entrepreneurial spirit.

You should read this book.

Here are a few quotes worth sharing from the book that will hopefully peak your interest:

I’d been unable to sell encyclopedias, and I’d despised it to boot. I’d been slightly better at selling mutual funds, but I’d felt dead inside. So why was selling shoes so different? Because, I realized, it wasn’t selling. I believed in running. I believed that if people got out and ran a few miles every day, the world would be a better place, and I believed these shoes were better to run in. People, sensing my belief, wanted some of that belief for themselves.

I refused to even consider ordering less inventory. Grow or die, that’s what I believed, no matter the situation.

Supply and demand is always the root problem in business. It’s been true since Phoenician traders raced to bring Rome the coveted purple dye that colored the clothing of royals and rich people; there was never enough purple to go around. It’s hard enough to invent and manufacture and market a product, but then the logistics, the mechanics, the hydraulics of getting it to the people who want it, when they want it — this is how companies die, how ulcers are born.

Fear of failure, I thought, will never be our downfall as a company. Not that any of us thought we wouldn’t fail; in fact we had every expectation that we would. But when we did fail, we had faith that we’d do it fast, learn from it, and be better for it.

It’s never just business. It never will be. If it ever does become just business, that will mean that business is very bad.

 

You should read this book.

Recommended Reading – Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction


A quick note on book recommendations:

I’ve been working on reading a book a week this year (see more here) and thinking how best to share the really good ones. Usually by the time I find the book, there are plenty of reviews out there so I don’t think that another one offers much value.

That being said, I think a short recommendation could be useful and serve as a good reminder to myself of some the ideas captured in the book. My plan is to focus on a few concepts/quotes that I found inspirational and that would hopefully serve as a proxy of why the book is worth investing some of your time in.

With that, here comes my first recommendation for the year – Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction.


Thinking about the future? Trying to figure out what will happen next?

The book Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction should be on your reading list. Philip Tetlock covers the topic of how we form theories and why some of us are significantly better than others when it comes to predicting what will happen in the future.

The book covers research that Tetlock and his team performed over a 20-year period to determine if there were people out there that could forecast the future with a better success that others. The results were fascinating and determined that there were ‘superforecasters‘ that could repeatedly beat the experts year over year.

A few highlights from the book:

Foresight isn’t a mysterious gift bestowed at birth. It is the product of particular ways of thinking, of gathering information, of updating beliefs.

For superforecasters, beliefs are hypotheses to be tested, not treasures to be guarded.

Forecasters who practice get better at distinguishing finer degrees of uncertainty, just as artists get better at distinguishing subtler shades of gray.

This is not complicated stuff. But it’s easy to misinterpret randomness. We don’t have an intuitive feel for it. Randomness is invisible from the tip-of-your-nose perspective. We can only see it if we step outside ourselves.

Superforecasting isn’t a paint-by-numbers method but superforecasters often tackle questions in a roughly similar way—one that any of us can follow: Unpack the question into components. Distinguish as sharply as you can between the known and unknown and leave no assumptions unscrutinized.

The advice on how to improve your forecasting skills was enough for me to recommend this book on its own, but it was the research on teams that I found the most fascinating and applicable. Tetlock found that if a team followed a path of ‘constructive confrontation‘ and avoided perils like groupthink, their ability to forecast the future was dramatically improved. I also really enjoyed the example of the how the JFK administration adapted its decision-making process after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion (HRB has a good summary on how JFK changed decision-making).

Tetlock writes on the benefit of teamwork,

On average, when a forecaster did well enough in year 1 to become a superforecaster, and was put on a superforecaster team in year 2, that person became 50% more accurate. An analysis in year 3 got the same result. Given that these were collections of strangers tenuously connected in cyberspace, we found that result startling.

Hopefully, by this point I have peaked your interests enough to want to read the book (if you are looking for a longer review, check out the Economist’s post). I think you will find it a good investment of your time.

Let me know what you think!

Product Management Resources Worth Paying For

The start of the new year is a great time to reassess what’s working and what’s not. I’m reviewing all my monthly subscriptions that I pay for, for the purpose of helping to improve my business and product skill set.

I’m cutting the ones that are not consistently delivering value and am looking for new ones to add.

Here’s what I have on my keep list. Have something else to add that’s worth paying for? Let me know!

  1. Harvard Business Review – this is the last physical magazine that I subscribe to. I have been a subscriber off and on for several years and have come to the conclusion that there is no better resource for keeping up and learning new business skills. The articles are diverse and cover different domains and can help you become a better manager, leader, marketer, and product manager.
  2. WSJ – a great way to keep up with what is happening in the world of business and the macro economic trends. I think the Economist is also a good resource but I have stuck with the WSJ for many years. They have recently improved their mobile apps making it very easy to keep up with the world of business with a quick scan of the app.
  3. Texture – an almost too good to be true monthly magazine service that gives you access to Business Week, Wired, Fast Company, Fortune and many more magazines. You might not read all the articles but the service will highlight the best articles of the week/month making it easy to find helpful reads.
  4. Stratechery – a daily email on technology with a specific focus on strategy and business. The analysis of the industry is fantastic and the writing style is sharp and to the point – check out the 2015 year in review post for an example of what to expect.

What’s on your list?

Why Product Austin

If you are in a marketing, product, or tech position, there is a meetup just about every night in Austin. There are so many great (and usually free) talks that it can be hard to keep up with them all. The key ingredient you are looking for is a high quality to noise ratio.

I am biased as one of the co-organizers of the group, but I think in its first year, Product Austin is off to an amazing start. From Jared Spool, to Nir Eyal, to Andrew Allison, Product Austin has been able to bring some very knowledgable speakers to share their wisdom and best practices. The topics have ranged from getting traction with customers, to designing culture, to UX strategy – 100% on point for anyone interested in learning about building and growing a product business.

If you haven’t been able to join Product Austin this year, the good news is that it isn’t too late. The majority of the talks have been recorded, thanks to the sponsorship of the Capital Factory, and there is one more final event left in 2015.

Join us to hear the founder of Growth Hackers, Sean Ellis, talk about the overlap between product and growth. You can also view several of the past talks recorded below.

Big thanks to Prabhakar Gopalan for his excellent job recruiting such an amazing lineup of speakers and getting them to come to Austin!

Hope to see you there in December or at a future meetup!


Designing Culture: Applying Design Principles to Hiring and Building a Culture with Andrew Allison, CEO of Main Street Hub:

Finding Your Product Distribution Channel with Justin Mares, author of Traction, A Startup Guide to Getting Customers:

Building a Growth Machine with  Brian Balfour, VP of Growth at Hubspot:

Hooked: How to Build Habit Forming Products with Nir Eyal, best selling author of the book, Hooked:  How To Build Habit Forming Products:

UX Strategy Means Business by Jared Spool, the founder of User Interface Engineering:

Strategies for Growth with Kenneth Berger, Slack’s First Product Manager.

 

The Curious Leader

Continuing on the topic of curiosity, HBR has a recent post worth sharing, “Why Curious People Are Destined for the C-Suite”.

The article brings up a great point about the challenge of being a leader and remaining curious. When you are in a leadership position, it can become dangerous if you believe you are suppose to have all the answers. It can lead you to make false assumptions and avoid exploring potential issues.

From the HBR article,

In many cases, managers and top executives have risen through the ranks by providing fixes and solutions, not by asking questions. And once they’ve attained a position of leadership, they may feel the need to project confident expertise. To acknowledge uncertainty by wondering aloud and asking deep questions carries a risk: the leader may be perceived as lacking knowledge.

Leaders need to ask questions and be diligent about searching for new information that can help decode where the business needs to go in the future.

Another great point from the article was on the topic of getting out of the building. While often used in the context of visiting customers, the authors stress the importance of getting exposed to new thoughts and information. New inputs increase the number of opportunities to ask questions and discover new insights. From the post,

Leslie notes that curiosity seems to bubble up when we are exposed to new information and then find ourselves wanting to know more. Hence, the would-be curious leader should endeavor to get “out of the bubble” when possible; to seek out new influences, ideas, and experiences that may fire up the desire to learn more and dig deeper.

Read the rest on HBR at, https://hbr.org/2015/09/why-curious-people-are-destined-for-the-c-suite

 

Curiosity and Product

Last week, I attended a conference hoping to connect with as many business managers as possible to discuss a new product.

One of the gentlemen I spoke with was just a few years out of college and was more of project implementer than a project executive. I politely asked him a couple of questions about his job as I scouted for someone else to speak with. What happened next completely surprised me.

He had a fresh set of eyes on some of the challenges in our market and his perspective  unique compared to the feedback we usually hear. He provided a context that a more seasoned customer would not even realize was part of the problem. The conversation left me with several new ideas to take back to our team.

It was an insightful conversation that almost didn’t happen because of my assumptions and lack of interest.

When you ask what qualities you should look for in a product manager, you will hear results like:

  • determined
  • detail-oriented
  • communicator
  • problem-solver
  • empathetic
  • confident

This list goes on and while are all very important, you hardly ever hear that a product manager should be curious.

Curiosity is what drives discovery. Curiosity is what enables you to fill gaps. Curiosity is what allows you to discover something you didn’t even know you were looking for. Curiosity is what enables you to take an idea to the next level.

You might be thinking, what about being creative or innovative? In his book, A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life, Brian Grazer has a great response to this question. Grazer writes,

But as indispensable as they are, “creativity” and “innovation” are hard to measure and almost impossible to teach. (Have you ever met someone who once lacked the ability to be creative or innovative, took a course, and became creative and innovative?) In fact, we often don’t agree on what constitutes an idea that is “creative” or “innovative.”

Grazer continues to make the following points on the value of being curious,

With the iPhone, the cup holder, the easy-to-use dishwasher, the engineer has done something simple but often overlooked: he or she has asked questions. Who is going to use this product? What’s going to be happening while they are using it? How is that person different from me? Successful business people imagine themselves in their customers’ shoes…. But the truth is much broader: curiosity doesn’t just spark stories; it sparks inspiration in whatever work you do. You can always be curious. And curiosity can pull you along until you find a great idea.

And one more final bit of inspiration from Grazer on why you should never stop being curious:

“We are all trapped in our own way of thinking, trapped in our own way of relating to people. We get so used to seeing the world our way that we come to think that the world is the way we see it.”

BTW – highly recommend getting a copy of A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life. It is a great read and excellent motivational reminder to stay curious.

Don’t Worry About Failing Fast, Worry About Learning Fast

Failing fast really isn’t useful unless you have way to internalize the failure and determine what to do next to improve.

In his book, Smartcuts, Shane Snow, writes on the topic and uses the example of the famous Second City improvisation club to help illustrate. Shane writes:

When releasing a new product, a company will spend months, sometimes years, fine-tuning, building up to one critical moment: the launch. Then on launch day the product either is a success or a failure. People buy it and the company makes a profit, or they don’t and the product fails.

The Second City, on the other hand, puts its students on stage in front of live crowds every week. The class I sat in on wasn’t just practicing for the big show in four weeks; they were practicing for the little live show they did every week, the one with a crowd that would give them feedback on their material-in-progress. That’s how in just eight weeks— half a typical college semester— a class can put together a full-length sketch comedy show and it will be extremely funny. They know, because they got the feedback early, and often.

“Speed is an essential part of our game,” Leonard explains. “The rapid feedback . . . it’s non-stop.”

Failing isn’t the point. It is the feedback from the failure and your ability to make adjustments that improve your position.

On the Stratechery blog, Ben Thompson shared a recent example on iterating to make your product better. Ben was writing on the topic of online media vs. print while comparing BuzzFeed and the New York Times. Ben writes:

There is a famous parable in the book Art and Fear that goes like this:

“The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.

His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot – albeit a perfect one – to get an “A”.

Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.”

Perhaps the single most powerful implication of an organization operating with Internet assumptions is that iteration – and its associated learning – is doable in a way that just wan’t possible with print.

If you don’t make adjustments that improve your product, failure is just a path to more failure.

You are Blind to Change

In his book, Only the Paranoid Survive, Andrew Grove writes, “The lesson is, we all need to expose ourselves to the winds of change”.

What he was referring to how easy it is to get comfortable. How easy it is to get complacent. How easy it is to miss that someone is eating your lunch.

Max Bazerman researched this topic in his the book, The Power of Noticing: What the Best Leaders SeeMax explains,

Research on change blindness documents the striking degree to which we fail to notice information in our environment. Unfortunately some of the information we miss is important, even critical. And much of this failure occurs not with physical information that we should be able to see with our eyes but with changes in economic conditions, changes in unemployment rates, changes in medical conditions, and so forth. Even people in society who are charged with noticing often fail to do so…….One important hint from Simons and Chabris’s research is that we are particularly unlikely to notice a change when it occurs gradually.

In other words, we’re particularly blind to the slippery slope.

Sometimes you do have to sweat the small things because those small things, add up to major changes.

 

About Products: A Few Things I Think I Think – Part 3

Continuing on the theme, here are few more articles and books that I have spent some time thinking on. Hope some are useful for you.

  1. Be like Charlie Munger. Sue Decker writes, “He says he has constantly seen people rise who are not the smartest but who are learning machines. They go to bed every night a little wiser than they were when they got up”.
  2. You may have caught the article where Bill Gates and Warren Buffett discuss the best business book they have ever read, Business Adventures, and then realize it was published in 1969. I can attest that the examples in it are very dated but some of the stories are priceless. Learning about the failed launch of the Ford Edsel and the invention of xerography are worth the small price of admission.
  3. Additionally, would recommend The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon and Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal. Lots to learn about building products and companies and overcoming the many obstacles in the way (some self inflicted). On Bezos, “He reaffirmed his commitment to building a lasting company, learning from his mistakes, and developing a brand associated not with books or media but with the “abstract concept of starting with the customer and working backward”.  
  4. Having trouble with your engineering team? It may be you, not them.
  5. When it comes to prioritizing features, you need to not only understand the customer benefits but also the complexity involved – there is always a cost.  “When you create an interaction for a product, you have to design more than what it looks like. You even have to design more than what happens during the interaction. You have to design what happens after the initial user interaction. And then you have to keep going.”
  6. If life is like soccer,is a product manager a goalie, a forward, or the one selling peanuts in the stands?  From the article, Baseball or Soccer?, “Once we acknowledge that, in life, we are playing soccer, not baseball, a few things become clear. First, awareness of the landscape of reality is the highest form of wisdom. It’s not raw computational power that matters most; it’s having a sensitive attunement to the widest environment, feeling where the flow of events is going. Genius is in practice perceiving more than the conscious reasoning.”
  7. If you try to be more than one thing, you are going to have issues – Why multi-claim positioning statements don’t work.
  8. Read How Great Leaders Think: The Art of Reframing. It will help you be a better thinker when it comes to looking at problems from multiple angles and help you avoid missed opportunities. From the book, “Framing involves matching mental maps to situations. Reframing involves shifting frames when circumstances change. But reframing also requires another skill—the ability to break frames“.
  9. Ask your customers why? Don’t ask your customer why to the point of being unproductive. “Often, there isn’t just one root answer and even if there is, it may not be all that valuable on its own.”
  10. a16z’s podcasts are phenomenal. There hasn’t been one that I have listened to without walking away learning something new or with an idea to go chase. Check out Everything You Need to Know About Amazon and Ben and Marc Explain (Practically) Everything for starters.
  11. If you are debating adding a new feature to your product, can you answer questions such as, will everyone benefit from it? Read a classic post from the awesome Intercom blog on when to add features to your product roadmap and when to gently say no, “Rarely say Yes to a Feature Request“.
  12. I recently had the chance to interview Robert Hoekman Jr on designing successful products. Robert had some amazing thoughts to share on the topic and it is worth reading everything he has created. One of my favorite articles, Want To Create A Great Product? First, Forget “User Friendliness”. Also, check out his latest book, The Tao of User Experience.
  13. “There are no superior products. There are only superior perceptions in consumers’ minds”, from Having a Better Brand Is Better Than Having a Better Product.
  14. Do you have you have to display a lot of information in your product (aka a dashboard)? Check out these dashboards laws for advice on how to actually make it useful for your users: “If you don’t know what to take away from your dashboard, your users won’t“.
  15. Think about this profound insight:

Bonus content –  if you have not heard about the Hardcore History Podcast I would highly recommend listening. I just finished the three part series on the Wrath of the Khans and it is amazingly good.