Friday, May 30, 2008

Are you a product manager - do you have this trait?

Through a pretty winding (web) road I came upon this blog post. The title says it all - "Strong opinions, Weakly held". I think that is my personality by default. The strong may be replaced with passion in my case :-) Often times in the past I have encountered people who were annoyed with the fact that I changed my opinions. It took me a while to understand that this is not a common operating model for a lot of people.

I would hypothesize that this is a pretty key personality trait if you want to succeed as a product manager. If you do not have passion or strength behind your opinions then your endeavors will fail at the first speed bump you encounter. On the other hand if you do not have the humility and courage to hold on to them weakly, you will find yourself leading battles not because you are fighting for the right cause but instead you are fighting because you want to be right. A big difference :-).

p.s In a lot of instances, people were annoyed with me for the right reasons but i am getting better ;-)

Two sides to every coin

  1. Walmart puts the squeeze on suppliers. Times are really hard if you are predominately a WalMart dependent supplier but the article ends with the note that if WalMart did not focus on driving prices down so efficiently, a lot of our population would find basic necessities too expensive.
  2. One of my colleagues at work was complaining about the cost of filling up his truck and exploring alternatives. Few days later he was thinking of opening a trading account so he could profit from the fuel price madness. :-) (and yes he continues to complain about the fuel cost...)
Just a thought : in a global economy there are no simple answers and there are no one size fits all answers. Your pain is very context sensitive and hopefully your context is aligned with the interests of several others.

Monday, May 26, 2008

A brief history lesson

I was listening to NPR in the car and I heard this interview with Frank Buckles. Frank is the last known living American world war I veteran. I wonder what it must feel like to be him, 107 years old and being interviewed because he is the last American left, who was part of the 1st great war. We need a new word for this.

Gmail -- 4 years and counting

I went digging into my gmail account and realized that I got my original "welcome to gmail" email on May 18th 2004. It has been 4+ years and it went by FAST!! The only other email program I recall giving me as much joy for such an extended length of time was pine. That was when i went from never having an email account to my first encounter with the wonders of email. All the other programs I have encountered in-between and since including Notes, Outlook, Yahoo, Hotmail, Zimbra, Mail(mac)have not been memorable. Wonder why?

Here is to the next decade of gmail innovations! :)

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Serving too many Gods

This is my second "inspired by Jeff Lash" post :-). Jeff recently blogged about -> "Deliver customer value, not product features" which I think should be gospel for a product manager. Incidentally making this simple statement ring true is the most rewarding as well as the most challenging part of product management.

In my personal experience, one of the challenges with living up to this goal is the desire to please too many masters. As a product manager, you are in the middle of a lot of information flow and will get G2/request/demand/threats/requirements/... from a lot of sources. Accept them with gratitude, treat them with respect, process them appropriately but remember that your allegiance and goal is to delight the customer while solving the customer's problem and not to put the other stakeholder's product needs ahead of the customer. Your company expects this of you.

I leave you with this hasty diagram :-)

Happy customer picture is the property of Dan Taylor and is being used here thanks to his Creative Commons license. Thanks Dan!

Don't peek into the kitchen of your favourite restaurant

I have always heard that said to indicate the fact that once you see first hand how things are made, you are most likely to lose your enjoyment of "the thing" going forward. This is true for your favourite restaurant dish as it is for your favourite magic trick.

Not that I enjoy the current state of the English curriculum adopted by the Texas public schools, but this sound bite does not install confidence in our public school system.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Can rational actions lead to irrational thinking

This is an actual headline from a London news web site.

European Court agrees to hear chimp's plea for human rights

This is just plain crazy at so many levels. It indicates a substantial break down of our world view when we agree to entertain the debate that animals are humans. This is absurd but intriguing since this is the natural conclusion of a world view that accepts macro and micro evolution as tautologies even though only micro evolution can be scientifically proven.

Does this mean that I can claim social security for a chimp that is my pet?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Should I be very afraid?

Below is the full post from Greg Mankiw's blog.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Coming Tax Hike

CBO writes to Congressman Paul Ryan:

Under current law, rising costs for health care and the aging of the population will cause federal spending on Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security to rise substantially as a share of the economy....In response to your letter of May 15, 2008, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has prepared the attached analysis of the potential economic effects of...using higher income tax rates alone to finance the increases in spending....

With no economic feedbacks taken into account and under an assumption that raising marginal tax rates was the only mechanism used to balance the budget, tax rates would have to more than double. The tax rate for the lowest tax bracket would have to be increased from 10 percent to 25 percent; the tax rate on incomes in the current 25 percent bracket would have to be increased to 63 percent; and the tax rate of the highest bracket would have to be raised from 35 percent to 88 percent. The top corporate income tax rate would also increase from 35 percent to 88 percent.

Such tax rates would significantly reduce economic activity and would create serious problems with tax avoidance and tax evasion.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Book recommendation

"The Protean Corporation" by Michael S Malone to be published by Random House. I found out about this when I read an opinion piece on the WSJ today. It was a good read :)

Ideas can sometimes resemble an itch that you want to scratch but cannot locate. That is, until an author comes along and pins it for you and you go Ah hah! that is exactly what I am thinking about. This opinion piece did that for me. Below is a excerpt and the link.

This higher level of anarchy will be exciting, but it will also sometimes be very painful. Entire industries will die almost overnight, laying off thousands, while others will just as suddenly appear, hungry for employees. Continuity and predictability will become the rarest of commodities. And if the entrepreneurial personality honors smart failures, by the same token it has little pity for weakness. That fraction of Americans – 10%, 20% – who still dream of the gold watch or the 30-year pin will suffer the most . . . and unless their needs are somehow met as well, they will remain a perpetually open wound in our society.

Scary, exciting, liberating, frustrating, infinitely ambitious and thoroughly amnesic. If you live in a high-tech community like Silicon Valley or Redmond or Austin, you already live in this world. It's hard to imagine more exciting places to be.

I live in Austin and though it is not quite the valley it is a fast changing landscape :) not necessarily for the faint of heart. Link to WSJ article.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Freak weather in Austin

Temperatures were unusually high over the past few days. Today we had a true to God thunderstorm in the middle of the day along with unusually large hail (my wife says this is the largest she has seen). Here are some pics courtesy my wife :-)

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Product Management: Art + Science + Intuition.

Jeff Lash's recent post caught my attention :-) [Stop gathering requirements:link]. I guess the title is meant to be provocative and attention grabbing (it worked :) . I agree with most of what Jeff says - I would like to clarify it further.

I would amend the title to say "Do not stop with gathering requirements". Gathering requirements is just the first step, the science part. The subsequent steps are where the art and the intuition factor in. The job of the product manager is to collaborate with the other teams (engineering, services, support, docs, etc.) and try to flush out the true customer market need that is buried within those requirements. Sometimes it means extrapolating (customer is not seeing their own problem), and other times it means pruning (customer is treating multiple symptoms instead of one cause).

To me it translates to the following guidelines:
  1. Always listen to the customer but the customer is not always right: Do not ever make stuff up. A product manager has accountability across the organization so the sooner you get into the habit of not making stuff up the better.

  2. Look for clusters and patterns: This is the art and intuition part. Your job is grok the market. You do that by meeting with customers one at a time but you do not solve an individual customer's problem, you solve the markets problems. Look for patterns, this is where intuition plays a big role. Learn to listen to your own intuition and trust it.

  3. Collaborate and Communicate: Take the time to earn the respect and trust of your peers and the market, do not assume it comes with the title. The quickest way to get there is to listen and ask others who might know better. For instance you think your product needs better user profile management. A good way to validate this is to ask your support team how many of their customer interactions are around password management and address book management.

  4. Do not be afraid of failure: A good product manager focuses on making sure the product being developed is a best-fit for the market needs. This will automatically ensure your individual success but the corollary is not always true.

This is my current mantra and what I call "Evidence based product management".

1. Assumes you are not a brand new start up. If you are one with no customers, then your only guideline is "market research - build - release". Keep doing this till you have enough customers and can extend the hyphen between the three stages.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Friday, May 02, 2008

Time she keeps on ticking...

So here is what is going on.

  1. Pretty psyched about this development - We are having our first ProductCamp event in Austin. It is going to be at the St. Edwards campus mid June. Follow this link for details. Seriously recommend this if you are into product management, product marketing or interested in these areas. This is the first of its kind in Austin so you have the opportunity to influence and be involved no matter what your experience level. Show up! and make it happen :-)
  2. Yesterday was RSS awareness day. I think it is worth a shout.
  3. Sometimes all that is required for big observable change is a lot of thinking and researching, not a lot of doing. (Something that all product managers would benefit from remembering)
    1. Proof - 37signals blog post.
    2. Anti-proof - Joel Spolsky blog post.
  4. My broken collar bone is healing well. I started hitting the stationary bike at the gym this week. I cannot sprint standing up yet but just getting back on the bike has been rewarding.