Day to day I help teams at Twitter be Agile, whether they are Scrum, Kanban, or unique snowflakes. I am passionate about customer and product development. I love the speed and quality that Agile, DevOps and analytics deliver.
There is so much going on here at Agile 2012, what a busy week! And we’ve still got three days to go!
GreenHopper 6 has launched!
After a year of work, over 30 releases, thousands of pieces of feedback from beta (GreenHopper Labs) customers and many iterations we’ve released GreenHopper 6. This is a very very happy day for me personally, it has been wonderful watching this product mature over the past 3.5 years and I look forward to the future growth. Gosh product management (and now marketing) is fun!
For the full details check the What’s New page. Love it? Tell the world what you think in the comments below.
Adrienne from @brainmates, Cindy from @prodmgmttalk and I shoot the breeze about Agile, Product Management, Customer Development, Innovation Games and more. Check it out and provide feedback in the comments below.
Lots of positive words about Jeff Patton’s session this afternoon. Unfortunately I was unable to attend so I am awaiting notes from @smithcdau, you’ll see them on Craig’s blog when they go live.
Share your favourite session in the comments below.
Agile 2012 kicks off this morning and there are some great speakers and sessions lined up. One in particular is Atlassian Andrew Prentice who will be sharing his thoughts on the testers role in improving developers testing skills. Be sure to check that session out.
I’ll be in a panel on #ProdMgmtTalk this evening chatting about the role of a product manager and how they fit into an Agile team, live from Agile 2012 of course!
UPDATE: John Cass wrote a great response to this post about why agile marketing does need its own manifesto, I can’t argue with any of it, John nailed it. The definition of marketing that he uses is superior to the one I use below as well:
“The management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably.”
SprintZero was organised by John Cass and Jim Ewel and hosted by Jascha Kaykas-Wolff, CMO at Mindjet. Being new to marketing and an old hand at Agile this was an interesting event for me – I wasn’t going into it thinking I could contribute a whole lot to the marketing discussion. I was expecting to learn a tonne though. I’ll start by clarifying a few terms:
Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers.
Agile, as in Agile software development, is the iterative and incremental delivery of value to customers where solutions evolve through collaboration between self-organising, cross-functional teams.
Agile Marketing is in its formative stages. One of the goals of the day was to develop principals and values that build upon the Agile Manifesto and which are specific to marketing organisations. To my knowledge this is the first time a functional department has extended and built upon the original Agile Manifesto. It leaves me wondering why this is necessary when we have accounting and finance departments, legal and human resources departments, all of them adopting agile practices without writing their own manifesto. Jim Ewel has more on this aspect of the day in his blog The Making of a Manifesto.
Of course, we are all at various stages of this learning so we need to bring everyone up to a common platform of understanding. Focusing attention on Agile Marketing will do this.
Does this overlap with The Lean Startup?
Doesn’t everything these days? There was lots of discussion throughout the day about testing ideas and validating hypothesis. I feel this is reactionary and that marketing teams are on the back foot. Product teams are turning into customer teams and doing this today. Marketing is playing catch up and risks being left out of the decision making process.
One question for me was: if we think back to agile and the cross-functional teams, how can we get marketing people embedded within the product development team?
Brand is even more important today. Everyone in the company should be connected by the values of the brand. Brands are more successful if they start inward and emanate out. Employees drive the brand, it is not top down.
This is spot on for Atlassian. Early on our founders decided that the employees should have their own voice – for instance, this blog and my many colleagues on Twitter, Facebook, etc. That approach has worked well for Atlassian by ensuring that it is legitimate. We – the team at Atlassian – develop the brand based on our alignment with the company values and how we live and breathe them every day, in everything we do. As a result we have faces out there who are all singing from the same songbook.
I hadn’t thought of it this way previously. Kirstin put it succinctly and I like that!
I left this event feeling so out of place. I’ve lived Agile. We are Agile at Atlassian. This isn’t a change we are trying to make so much as something we have had since day one. We are constantly exploring opportunities to improve. On the whole though I left this event thinking that we’re doing pretty well. The key for me is to brush up my knowledge on traditional marketing and learn more about where those folks are coming from when they seek to be agile.
What is their motivation?
How do they bridge the gap between past and present approaches?
Austin Walne is organising the first SF Agile Marketing meetup which we will host Atlassian next month. Looking forward to catching up with folks and continuing the discussion.
What did you think?
What was your takeaway? Was this blog valuable? Tweet me and let me know.
What a treat! Dan Olsen just finished sharing his thoughts at the SF StartUP Product Talks on best practices for being a product manager and living product management in a startup environment.
Product Management Best Practice
Who is Dan Olsen?
I found this fascinating as I’ve been asking folks in SF how they arrived at their current state in life – amazing to hear the various stories and this one is no different. Dan kicked off professional life as an engineer in the navy conducting submarine design. That got him a Masters in Industrial Engineering, paid by the navy, nice! He then headed to the Stanford Business School to get an MBA. He followed this up with a five year stint at Intuit as a product manager which gave him experience in product management and marketing.
Dan then moved on to his next gig at consumer play Friendster. After that he decided to teach himself PHP, MySQL, etc. He moved on to consulting (business cycles…) and was Interim VP for a few post-Series A startups.
Of course like most folks at SF StartUP Product Talks Dan wanted to do it himself. So he kicked off and bootstrapped YourVersion which is like a precursor to Flipboard (it his the TechCrunch 50 in 2009). YourVersion got seed funding although didn’t see the hockey stick growth that consumer apps need.
The best way to think of Product Management is as an area of responsibility versus an actual position.
The Product Manager sits between the market (customers) and the development team.
A successful product manager has a successful product. They may think of themselves as a Mini GM or Mini CEO.
Common refrain of all this product management talk – Little responsibility, no authority. It is an influencing job.
With great power comes great power.
With great responsibility comes no power.
What does Lean mean?
Think of the intersection of The Lean Startup and Product Management. As a product manager you are trying to find product / market fit – when the customers like what you deliver.
Being Lean means you clearly articulate the hypothesis then test and learn. Eric Ries calls this the Build, Measure, Learn cycle. More on The Lean Startup next week when I post my conversation piece with Eric Ries from Atlassian Summit 2012.
Problem Space vs Solution Space
Some startups may code things as they are just plain cool. They are building a solution without necessarily identifying a customer problem first. When you are really clear on the problem space it will help identify a solution, it will also help identify any competitors.
Question from the audience: Isn’t it true that in the real world a founder may have had a cleaver idea and their solution in search of a problem can hit it right?
Dan responds with:
Perhaps, but I would think they did a good job understanding the needs of the customer. People, media gloss over that aspect and just focus on the winners (not the many that didn’t make it). Alternatively the founder is scratching their own itch, as they know that it is their problem and they are building a solution to it.
Dan uses the analogy of a submarine with a homing torpedo – as long as you get it in the right product vector you can listen and respond to customers. Same with a product, if a founder with a strong product vision launches something that is kind of in the vicinity of the customer problem they can then respond to customer feedback and hone in.
Question from the audience: Can you create a pain point where there wasn’t one already?
Dan responds with:
Can you turn a vitamin into a pain killer? This is called anchoring – people have a perception and you can educate the market.
How does one assess customer value?
As product managers we want to order or prioritise benefits and features based on customer value. One pattern you see in different frameworks is importance vs satisfaction – importance of user need vs satisfaction with how the product meets that need.
One framework that focuses on importance vs satisfaction is the Kano model. The Kano Model talks about
Performance (more is better)
Must Have (table stakes)
Things that used to be delighters (GPS in a car, for instance) migrate down to must have over time.
You can also assess your competitors using the Kano model and use their placement on the model to identify where you want to compete.
Survey your customers with existing features to learn where you should focus energy (development effort). Conduct an assessment of the existing product to identify opportunities for improvement in the next release. One thing that wasn’t mentioned here in the talk was Innovation Games.
Once you have all this information it leads to your value proposition:
how are you better than competitors?
which user benefits are you providing?
If you can’t answer this, then why would the customer buy your product?
How does one validate ideas with customers?
Building wireframes and/or mockups is a great way to validate your ideas, features and value proposition. This sounds very similar to the Build, Measure, Learn loop from The Lean Startup.
Customers can not articulate the problem space – however, customers can react to the solution space. Use a wireframe / mockup for validation of the solution space hypothesis.
wireframe – low to medium fidelity, greyscale, not pixel perfect
mockups – high fidelity, fonts, colours, etc
prototype – not actual product, to be thrown away, interactive
For product managers that want to get into wireframing you should look at Balsamiq (see recommended reading below). You should be able to take it to a point and then hand off to a designer.
There is no need to go the whole way to high fidelity. Good startup teams can go from whiteboard to implementation.
How do you bridge the gulf from Problem space to solution space?
The product manager should own solution space thinking. In some startups there isn’t anybody to be a product manager so the engineer has to figure it out.
Ideally you have product manager, designer and engineer.
How do we learn from customers?
As product managers we want to obtain feedback on UI design, UX, messaging, the feature set and more. Here are some thoughts:
Dan calls this approach the “Ramen” User Feedback for Startups:
Anyone can do it.
Have the solution space for the product or a mockup to test
1 customer, get them to bring their laptop (so they know how to use it and they are not distracted by a new machine)
1 person to conduct the session
pen and paper
optional note-taker and observers
If you’re doing usability testing make the engineers attend in person, don’t just record it and let them watch later.
Typical format for Customer Session
5 – 10 mins: ask questions to understand user needs and their current solutions and workarounds
30 – 50 mins: user feedback, show the user the product/mockup, non-directed questions
5 – 10 mins: answer questions, point out explain features, ask them if they would use it
Explain to the user that their feedback will help the product, explain to them by saying ” we want to get your feedback so the more honest you are the better”. If they are reserved and don’t express themselves very well say “as your thinking of things just say what you are doing it as you do it” to get them to explain as they walkthrough the test.
Be a fly on the wall, let them do what they would do at home, don’t guide them through it. For instance, don’t say “that was easy, wasn’t it?”.
Don’t help or explain the UI – may be painful to watch, be patient and watch. Finally, don’t get defensive or blame the user.
If you are conducting a Private Beta then a usability test is the price of admission – you must come to usability testing to get in on the private beta.
An alternative is to conduct “Starbucks Testing”. Rock up at Starbucks and ask for a persons time in exchange for a gift card. Take a landing page (paper), put it down for five seconds and take it away – “now, what do you remember from that page?”.
- Reach out to people that help the people who you are trying to reach (i.e., suppliers for local businesses).
When do you have enough feedback?
You’ll see patterns.
Use metrics such as NPS or a conversion rate. From Eric Ries: “don’t use vanity metrics”.
Again, optimise through iteration. Build Measure Learn.
It is important to note that different companies use different terms for this role, as we said at the start it is an area of responsibility rather a position. When looking for a job you don’t need to focus only on those with a “Product Management” title.
Bigger companies usually divide product management into inbound (Product Manager) and outbound (Product Marketing Manager). Some will also add Product Owners or Technical Product Managers to address the more tactical aspects such as building and ordering the backlog (in essence owning the backlog in an agile project management tool like GreenHopper). Further, in larger companies you will likely also see a VP of Product Management on the executive team.
In smaller companies or startups there will ordinarily be one person that wears all of these hats, and no doubt many more.
If you are unable to wireframe learn how. Dan says:
Product Managers should be able to wireframe – it helps move the progress along from problem space to solution space, towards a real product.
Further, when looking for a job in Product Management Think about your own Kano model:
the Must Have’s now include being able to wireframe or mockup
the Delighter may be the ability to actually code a prototype