•August 23, 2009 • 2 Comments

I started reading a book about Simplicity titled Simplicity: The New competitive Advantage by Bill Jensen, and immediately one of the author’s assertions struck a chord.  One of the book’s hypotheses (simplified) is that knowledge workers spend too much time figuring out what to do, leading primarily to diminished productivity and frustration.  For large companies, much of this is laid at the feet of upper management, who may craft a concise strategy at the top but fail to disseminate that strategy appropriately within the organization.

In the case of product companies, whose effectiveness is related to how well they can develop new products and bring them to market, this is one function of product management.  Product managers are responsible with becoming intimately familiar with the market’s needs in order to identify opportunities to build solutions the market will pay for, and documenting those problems and needs as requirements.  (as opposed to building something we think is cool, and then struggling to find buyers)

With this role as market spokesperson, the product manager guides designers to craft a solution that will satisfy the needs so completely that buyers will be lining up to pay.  In some organizations, the product manager serves as the designer as well.  Either way, when that design is delivered to development, the vision, goals and solution must be clear enough that the developers can craft an accurate plan and execute without getting mired in confusion and endless analysis paralysis.  Certainly the feasibility of the design must be validated before the project team is ankle-deep, but much of the programmer-as-knowledge-worker’s confusion can be alleviated by a clear vision of the solution.

Note: Modern design patterns tell us the product should also be simple and focused, but that is a topic for another post.

Jensen cites his research to assert that the 4 primary causes of confusion among knowledge workers are:

  1. lack of integration of change
  2. unclear goals and objectives
  3. ineffective communication
  4. knowledge management experience

Certainly the integration of change is a big problem during merger and acquisition activity, forcing disparate systems to be blended.  Knowledge management is the problem of finding knowledge already present within the organization.  But the other two–unclear goals and ineffective communication–can be addressed within a software development organization by product management.


ProductCamp Austin – Summer 2009 – recap

•August 17, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I’m writing to share my recap of ProductCamp Austin.  As expected, the event was fantastic – over 300 product management and marketing professionals sharing their knowledge and tips.  I met some great folks, and wish I could’ve met more.  The only negative was the day wasn’t long enough!  But that leaves us wanting for next time, and leaves open a bunch of unfinished conversations.

My own cryptic notes from several sessions are published on Slideshare for whatever value they may provide you.  They include audience comments and are not in a narrative, but are rather cryptic and choppy.  They’re free; leave me alone.  Along with that, a few slide decks and better notes by others that I’ve found shared so far.  Note, more may be collected on the PCA website over time.

Meanwhile, I must simply reiterate that the ProductCamp experience is as much about the things you can learn as the people you meet.  If you are interested in product management, agile, product marketing or even user experience, make it a date next time ProductCamp rolls into your town.

Session notes etc
Personas to Production / Paul Sherman
Employee to Entrepreneur / Kevin Koym
Down and Dirty Marketing Ideas / Jonas Lamis (notes)
Buyer Personas Justify Bigger Online Marketing Budgets / Brian Massey
Podcasting Means Business / Fred Castaneda
Agile and PM / Growth Acceleration Partners
10 Ways to Predict an Impending Launch Disaster / Dave Daniels @ Pragmatic (best presenter)

Notes by ID University

Session notes etc

Personas to Production / Paul Sherman

Employee to Entrepreneur / Kevin Koym (mindmap)

Prove and Disprove your Ideas / Jonas Lamis (notes)

Buyer Personas Justify Bigger Online Marketing Budgets / Brian Massey

Podcasting Means Business / Fred Castaneda

Agile and PM / Growth Acceleration Partners

10 Ways to Predict an Impending Launch Disaster / Dave Daniels @ Pragmatic (best presenter)

Others’ notes

ID University

Session 1:

Jonas @ TechRanch

Prove and Disprove your ideas

Industrial revolution was an anomaly, bc of the cost of information. Companies will have 0-10 employees, rather than 1000s.

Getting paid;

  • what you do = advertising

    • keywords–>correct audience–>testing mesages–>browsers to buyers.

    • Landing page with 3 plans, and buy button – lead to a ‘not live yet’ page with signup and a reward for signing up.

    • “nothing happens til somebody sells something.”

  • what you know = thought leadership

    • Passion/Knowledge/Domain => sweet spot is all 3 shared area.

    • Perceived value by most readers: Least = your co’s products and services. Most = industry trends.

    • Find the best 5 blogs in your subject area, and ask to write a guest post.

    • Google rankings: video is 1st, audio 2nd, blogs, then website.

  • who you are

Colleen & SmartWoman

Thought Leadership for Consultancy

Vicki: I increased my business by doubling my price.

Colleen: offer classes to mid size orgs with staff of Pms;

team with marketing firms to bring in PM/mktg expertise.

Time tracking and estimation is key to running your own business.

Commoditization of templates: set of deiverables.

Smart: My biz Skyrocketed after $ back guarantee at end of project. Only 2% do this.

Many of my customers I’ve never met in person.

I do gap analysis repeatedly. Commoditize that; FAQ=product. 1-2 months or less –> this is a proposal for a bigger project.

I frequently fire clients if i learn they are nuts, when the gap analysis is completed.

Polite but insistent with slow payers. Pay dates @ milestones. Smart does 50% up front.

Be able to identify your ideal co. In 1-3 sentences.

How important is your experience? Put yourself in ideal client’s shoes. If they need a specific subject area, it’s more important.

    • Bag the Elephant = book about bagging large companies as clients.

    • Results with companies and clients = your “experience,” where it’s NOT your time in an industry. Testimonials also help.

      Smart: Position yourself so you don’t NEED to know the industry. Process > domain knowledge.

    • Roger: Domain knowledge is important for strategy-interested clients.

    • Positioning: Product expert of type (SaaS) in an area (Medical) or Process (prod mgt know-how).

    • Strategy–>higher in the org., CEOish.

    • First: Interview prospective cust, lay out the probs.

      • Roger: They don’t do it, and do NOT hire us to do it.

      • They want right side of pragmatic grid (tactics) not left: they believe they already have good strategy.

    • Idea: sell a win/loss to sales manager, then develop a strategic proposal.

Smart: I have increased my biz in this economy. Relationships are my #1 job.

Rate Examples:

      1. $150-225 hr

      2. monthly

      3. Colleen: Doubled my hourly rate as an employee, added a bit more, and calculated for a job. $10k engagement, cust said “fine.” I should have asked for more.

Agile PM and Requirements

Roger on Pragmatic: Practical Product Management, + req’s that work, by Barbara or Steve only. Did not help me monetize my business, but helped me greatly to be a better product manager.

Typically, 1 yr to 18 months to successfully adopt agile.

Agile requires more intensity and more mature company.

Balance between documentation and conversation.

Challenge if marketing, customer talk, sales and training are also demanding time.

Rigorous prioritization; If you don’t prioritize, the dev team will do so, and will not use yours. Riskiest or biggest payoff should come first.

Daily accountability achieved by The daily scrum, where you hear each person say what they did.

UI may be scaffolding

QA gets shafted frequently.

“Wagile” = agile sprints + a testing cycle afterwards. This often leads up to real agile, as an intermediate step.

Roger: most do functional decomposition. You lose site of the user benefit.

Make progressively more demanding exit criteria, using versioned user stories.

Quality must be built in from day 1, not at the end.

Sell a company on reducing config time on large scale implementation, without knowing look and feel; that allows input on the implementation of solution itself. Sell the “realtime feedback” of agile.

When and how for UI? As soon as possible. Change to UI usually means big underlying changes.

Roger: frame metrics without interactoin. Ace criteria = x seconds to achieve x. Also design persona to show why this is important.

Roger on PO: Product owner = product manager + architect + UI/UX.

Growth Accel Partners.


see above

Your status + value goe up with knowledge about the market, NOT the product.

Who does CEO go to about market data? VP of Sales, because they are known to have people in the market. Fallacy is that these people just know recent deals, NOT what’s actually happening in the market.

Knowing the buyer and knowing how they buy makes you a rock star.

Don’t promise the future and kill today’s sale, or you lose the trust of Sales. Make sure those you speak with are not in the pipeline, so you don’t sabotage a sale and they may not tell you everything. Open ended problem discovery vs. Validation of ______.

Colleen – Time Management

with Tom Evans from Lucrum Marketing

Paul Y: How to avoid things that provide less value or don’t move the revenue needle?

Sometimes, be an asshole and push back on meetings.

Identify schedule in 4 categories, color coded

green = add value

blue = other work

yellow = rest/exercise

pink = errands

“The Time Breakthrough.” The Strategic Coach, by Dan Sullivan.

Buffer day = prep for focus/free days. Use this as delegate/calls/etc.

Focus day = midnight to midnight, 80% or more must be focused target value add.

Free day = required for rejuvenation; must do No work.

Focus day on Friday because no-one pays attention.

Zero inbox.

Minimize context switching.

Tom Evans:

MS Framework team/model/role clusters (c) 2004.

Program management + UI + Testing are all non-PM funcitons that product managers get stuck with.

Blackblot strategic PM

Become a market expert.

Mrd= prob space

mkt opp = biz case

plan + guide market docs (mkt plan, positioning)

goal: market req doc, not even product req doc.

Maxims on last slide

disconnect on off days

multitasking is a myth

block productive time

deleted/delegated = completed

manage your time in Project

gannt to show how adding a task pushes others back.

Daniel Pink: Whole new Mind (creativity)

Babuta: Zen to Done (Simplified GTD)

Covey; spend time in Important/Not urgent Quadrant

closing suggestions

  • some 2 hour sessions to get us more depth on some topics

  • response back from volunteering requests

  • know highest rated sessions from last year

  • vote online the night before

  • hashtags for each room / effective use of Twitter during the day

  • printed schedule

  • mroe roundtables

  • some 30 minute sessions to give us access to more topics

  • small group discussions over lunch

  • More time between sessions for networking

  • longer day, 9-5, to get in more sessions

  • Timekeeper in each room

  • Informal follow-up in 2 weeks

  • repeat selected events from sessions that overlap

  • take time to introduce newbies to folks

  • post schedule changes online

  • post meetings for partnering; link up and share interests

  • tracks; beginner and advanced (from Tweetcamp)

  • Badges for volunteers

  • stickers for volunteers/rookies/etc

  • Label sessions novice/intermediate/advanced

  • feedback online sessions and overall

  • bios of speakers before sessions

Best session = John / PM & PM?

Best speaker = Dave Daniels

Olga re info interview

heard about your work, want to learn about your background. Let me buy you lunch.

ProductCamp Austin Summer 2009

•July 26, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Others have summarized ProductCamp better than I; for that, I’ll cite the driving force behind ProductCamp Austin, Paul Young:

ProductCamp, the free unconference for marketing and product management, is teaming with the McCombs School of Business to return to Austin for its Summer edition! ProductCamp is a must-go event for marketing and product management professionals. ProductCamp is a free, collaborative, gathering for interesting, smart people to network and learn from one another. ProductCamps have been held in Silicon Valley, Austin, Boston, New York City, Toronto, Atlanta, with more in the planning stages. This is Austin’s third ProductCamp, and will be one of the largest in the country. If you are in Austin, or can get here, ProductCamp will be well worth your time.

Paul covers the concept of “uncoference” quite nicely, but suffice it to say that the important piece is that this event is free, and put on by those who attend.  Everyone attending is asked to participate somehow, whether it be by manning the welcome table, coordinating sessions, coordinating the venue, etc.   In that way, everyone gains and everyone gives, and the group has a common experience to share afterwards.  As Paul’s been known to say, it should start conversations, not end them.  I personally participated in the last event by helping to secure note-takers and videographers for the sessions; this time, I’ve taken on social media by running the Twitter and Facebook presence of the event.

So far, and this is only 9 days after the official public launch, there are 267 people signed up to attend/participate.  In the spring, the event was capped at 250 and saw true attendance around 150-160 if I remember correctly.  Also to compare, the inaugural event in Atlanta (my previous home, and a metro area 4 times as large) that just occurred in June was attended by a little under 200.  New York’s event only captured about 150.  Clearly Austin’s community is large and active, no surprise to those familiar with the area.

If you haven’t registered yet, get to it!

Contact info

•June 8, 2009 • 1 Comment

I have to admit, this post rang true for me. When I go to find contact information for a company, and I run across a contact form that keeps the operator masked behind a cloak of anonymity, I typically find myself annoyed. This post helps to explain why.

Sorry this one’s a bit short, but I thought the article is worth a read.

Can Palm come back from the Dead?

•May 19, 2009 • Leave a Comment

By now, everyone has heard about the hype of Spring 2009, the Palm Pre. The release is finally confirmed to be taking place on June 6. Many are asking, can the device possibly live up to the glowing reviews?

Let’s look at this from a slightly different angle–I think it’ll be fascinating either way. Look at the amount of brand publicity Palm has gotten out of this device! For a company that became a household name ten years ago with the Palm Pilot line of products, it’s been a rough ten years watching that name fade in its influence until it was practically swallowed whole by Apple when the iPhone was released. I think this is one of the contributing factors to why the Pre is getting so much pub, but there are a couple of others:

– people who think Apple needs a solid competitor in the consumer space
– perceived quality of the WebOS “card” UI
– need for a new “story” to fill the pages of technology blogs
– Palm loyalists who want to get away from Windows Mobile
– everyone loves an underdog

Yes, I’m stretching here. I’m not exactly sure what is really motivating all this attention. I really think it’s blog filler–I’ve had two Palm devices over my lifetime and own one now (the 800w), which sadly I’m contractually committed to until June 2010, but I’m definitely a late adopter. I’m still waiting to see if that whole “computer” thing is going to take off.

One thing Palm is actually doing right is involving developers early, to jump start the “app store” concept. Palm recruited a bunch of developers to have a look at the OS and got impressive feedback. Developers are already organizing BarCamp-like PreDevCamp events to collectively organize and learn to develop for the new OS. So part of the seed behind the hype is winning over the geek squad.

Still, this won’t succeed if it only wins over the technical folks. Simply put, this product must win over the consumer–and that battle starts June 6. has already begun.

So many products, So few solutions?

•May 17, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Healthcare IT is on the minds of many as federal funding is being waved like a carrot to optimize Healthcare IT by 2014.

One important question is why, given that there are any number of vendors already marketing electronic medical record (EMR) products, this area is considered to be so lacking? Is it that physicians aren’t adopting these solutions, or are the solutions that exist not meeting the needs of the market (and, in turn, the American healthcare consumer)?

I believe it’s both. I also believe it’s far too big a problem to cover in one post, much less one blog. Or book.

Adoption rate of electronic health record (EHR) and EMR software is nearly 40%. A number of factors are acknowledged to play into this, both at the practice level (cost, perception of expected productivity gain, physical space) along with legal and business reasons such as ownership of the EHR itself and competition. Certainly there are more, and I make no claims that this is an exhaustive list.

I do find it interesting that several of the reasons in this non-exclusive list are related not to the technology itself, but rather to fear: fear that (without committing fully to the EHR implementation) the productivity gains promised won’t be realized, fear about the legal repercussions of collecting cross-provider data into one record, and fear of making it too easy for a patient to go elsewhere.

Sam’s club is attempting to address the cost concern, and the federal stimulus money should help with this barrier. Technology continues to evolve into smaller, more targeted form factors and purpose built devices – this trend promises to address concerns with space in the clinic, and fitting office technology into a clinical setting.

One overarching challenge is that even if we overcome all of these factors — including the fears of legal and competitive concerns — and doctors all get on board and decide to share their patients’ information in the interest of improving care, there is an underlying challenge with transferring information from practice to practice: semantics. From practice to practice, a condition or a treatment may be coded with similar but unequal terms. Either these unequal terms must be linked to the same code to allow the system to resolve the discrepancy, or the system must learn to interpret the language well enough to identify cases where distinct terms are not equal and when they are. Otherwise, what is delivered from one practice to another must be displayed to the clinician for translation and action, rather than acted upon automatically.

So what’s the solution? Is the problem technological or interpersonal?

Twitter overestimates itself on the diffusion curve

•May 12, 2009 • 1 Comment

Twitter posted news on its blog today, and briefly on the service, that they are removing one of the settings for @replies.

Based on usage patterns and feedback, we’ve learned most people want to see when someone they follow replies to another person they follow—it’s a good way to stay in the loop. However, receiving one-sided fragments via replies sent to folks you don’t follow in your timeline is undesirable. Today’s update removes this undesirable and confusing option.

What Twitter reads as “most people” is clearly not the power users, who are using Twitter actively to build networks and reach out to people. That group of power users–a persona, perhaps–is distinctly vocal, and so within moments of this change being announced, blog posts from heavyweights like TechCrunch to personal (but busy) blogs from industry veterans like Whitney Hess all lambasted the move immediately.

How can a company with a clearly scoped, profitable product like Twitter not understand this? (oh, wait..) I believe Twitter is victim of its own hype, and doesn’t know its own location in the product lifecycle. In terms of the diffusion curve, I would estimate Twitter is somewhere in the “early adopters” stage. Until about 6 months ago, it was used innovators only–and heavily dominated by the power user persona who would be offended by a setting like this being removed. As a few celebrities and news networks have jumped on board, the media thinks Twitter is now “mainstream,” but try this test: Go ask 10 of your non-technology friends whether they use Twitter. Even better, whether they understand it, and whether they access it from a mobile device. I bet you get less than 2 who answer yes to the last 2. Twitter is NOT mainstream.

Given that, Twitter should be focused on those power users who make up the innovator and early adopter group–people who like to tweak the experience to their tastes. Instead, they chose to not only remove a useful option, but even worse phrased the rationale as removing an “undesirable and confusing” option. Way to talk down to your user base!

Very bad move, guys.

UPDATE: Turns out there was a technical limitation, so the rationale given was bogus to begin with. So not only did they insult their most technical users, but they lied to them about a technical problem.