Paper and Pen

Shift your brain from good-idea mode, to get-it-done mode.

Today I signed a contract to purchase land and build a house.

The very act of signing a contract, putting pen to paper, creates a mental shift. The brain shifts from good-idea mode, to get-it-done mode. Putting a commitment in ink creates a sense of imminence.

Writing it down makes it real.

Digital roadmaps and PDF contracts don’t quite cut it. If we are committed to shipping our Products, then we must find a blank piece of paper, then write down our goals and responsibilities.

What mid-to-long term project, sprint, or deadline are you working toward?

Sign it, date it, and frame it.

What next?

Your Product is built, your audience is engaged, and everything is sailing smoothly. What next?

We’ve all heard the pithy maxim “Do one thing, and do it well”.

This “Unix Philosophy” was invented by Ken Thompson in the context of modular software development. Later it was famously repurposed by Steve Jobs with a broader application.

Today, we apply this principle to lean Product Management. We aim to create Products that do one thing, really well.

So, when our Product is built, and our audience is engaged, and everything is sailing smoothly, we can be left wondering… “What next?”

One answer is to keep building more and more features, leaving our original lean intent behind. Another option:

Do the same thing, do it well, for someone else.

Take out your Business Model Canvas, and rethink your Customer Segment. You can repurpose your existing work, leverage your success, and create a whole new revenue stream with very little investment.

What are the use cases for your Product that you’ve intentionally avoided, which could open new revenue opportunities? Who are the people you have yet to reach?

Momentum

How do you transform an idea into a product? Open your calendar.

I had a conversation with a close friend today. While we talked, a product idea surfaced. The more we explored the possibilities around this idea, the more excited we became.

This experience happens to everyone, frequently. But most of the time, that’s where the idea stops. Nobody is sure of the next steps, and even if you were, nobody thinks they have enough time, anyway.

So, what’s the next step for transforming an idea into a product?

Traditional Product Management might tell you to Validate your idea. That’s terrible advice. Validation this early only serves as a means of letting negativity and pessimism end your product before it started.

No! Trust your instinct. Back yourself. Worry about validation later.

A better first step is to open your calendar. Find just one day in which you can cancel all your other meetings, take the day off work, and create a prototype or MVP.

When that day is done, you’ll have a number of things: something visual, something usable, something to demo, something to validate. But more importantly, you’ll have momentum.

Colour and Meaning

The best names use metaphor to allow both colour and meaning.

Choosing a product name is hard. There are two schools of thought:

  1. Spend time finding the right name, it should be memorable, unique and descriptive. Your URL should be easy to remember.
  2. Name isn’t important. Your brand builds its own meaning over time. Choose the first random words that come to mind. Any domain will do.

I’d suggest that these are both right.

Your name is important. Your brand does build its own meaning over time. Your name should be memorable, but only needs to be unique in your niche. Finding a good URL can be helpful, but isn’t that important.

Should your brand be descriptive, like Meetup.com, GitHub, or iPhone?

Or, should your brand be random, like Gimlet, Apple, or Drupal?

I believe the best names are a mix of both. They use metaphor to allow both colour and meaning. Consider:

  • Google – A googol is a huge number, a metaphor for the amount of results.
  • Amazon – The largest river in the world, just like the online store.
  • Basecamp – An area used for staging a long climb, or your project.

Find a metaphor for your product, and from that, find a word which is short and memorable. You’ll figure out a domain name that works.

A Smile, and Nod

Creating community within our Products doesn’t need to be a fully fledged social chat. All you need is a smile.

One of my favourite ways to start the day is with a quick dip in the surf.

Every morning I’m on the beach I see the same people. We don’t really talk much, nothing more than a smile and a knowing nod, but seeing them there helps me feel like I’m part of a small community of early-morning beachgoers.

Likewise, creating communities for our Products doesn’t need to be a fully fledged forum or social chat. All it needs is a smile and a nod.

This might take the form of a high score list, featuring profile pictures in appropriate places, or simple emoji reactions.

How can you enable your users to cross paths?

Wouldn’t it be cool if…

It may, on the surface, seem a little unacademic, but I’ve found the expression to be very useful.

“Wouldn’t it be cool if…” is a phrase I hear myself saying quite a lot.

It may, on the surface, seem a little unacademic, but I’ve found the expression to be very useful.

Wouldn’t it be cool if…

… sets people at ease
… invites collaboration
… invites exploration
… encourages new thoughts and ideas
… is a starting point for User Stories

Wouldn’t it be cool if,
as <persona>,
I could <do something>,
so that <reason>.

How can you structure your user feedback into Wouldn’t It Be Cool Ifs?

When you do that, feedback like “Your Product needs an external service integration” becomes “Wouldn’t it be cool if your Product integrated with an external service?

Now you have a new idea which is exciting, explorable, and actionable.

Create a Café Culture

The secret to a great cup of coffee isn’t the tamp, the pressure, or the timing. It’s community.

I love coffee, and I adore my barista, Silas. He is a world championship winning barista, and runs one of the most celebrated boutique cafés in Australia.

Silas knows the secret to a great cup of coffee. He knows that it’s about more than the tamp, the pressure, the timing, or the latte art. The secret ingredient is community.

What makes Silas’ coffee so good isn’t the coffee itself, but the conversations that happen around every sip. Everything inside his café is setup just for you: So you can be inspired, laugh with friends, and create treasured memories.

Because what matters isn’t the product itself, but the experience that the product creates.

How can we create a cafe culture within our products?

What would a community sprint, rather than a development sprint, look like?

What if our people came for the community, instead of the product?

Shh…

Silence can be hard, but with a change in attitude, energy, identity, it’s easy.

Silence can be hard, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s like meeting new people, or pulling a bandaid, or writing. At first, it seems tough, daunting even. You (your lizard brain) questions whether or not you can actually do it. But, with a change in attitude, energy, identity, it’s easy.

Sound expert and conscious listening instructor, Julian Treasure, recommends spending just 10 minutes each day sitting in silence. Listening, and noticing the quiet.

Meditation helps you practice silence. It allows you to cultivate the skill to let thoughts and feelings bypass your brain. It teaches you how to regenerate and self heal.

Sabbath helps you practice silence. It doesn’t have to be religious, just one day a week set aside. No work, no habits, no phone, no internet. For an extra challenge: no writing. Just allow thoughts to germinate, settle, and maybe disappear. Just let them go.

We’re so busy continually sowing and harvesting, sowing and harvesting, that we never leave time for our thoughts to rest. They never have an opportunity to grow wild and drop their fruit and renew the soil, without being harvested.

The Illusion of Choice

I love a good card trick. We can apply the illusion of choice to user interactions within our Product.

I love a good card trick.

In one of my favourite trick endings, I’ll lay 6 cards out on the table, facedown. I secretly know the position of your chosen card. Then I’ll ask you to point to 3 of the cards.

If your card is one of the 3 you pointed at, I’ll take away the three you didn’t choose, letting you assume I was asking you which cards to keep. Otherwise, I’ll do the opposite, letting you assume I was asking you which cards to remove.

Repeat this step by pointing at 2 cards, and then again (if required) for the very last card. In the end, you feel like you’ve chosen exactly which card was left on the table.

We can apply this illusion of choice to the user interactions within our Product. We often see this when an app asks us for our review, either “Now”, or “Later”.

This can be implemented in any number of ways to influence the behaviour of our customers.

We just updated our platform with a new feature! Would you like a guided tour of the changes?

We had a problem processing your payment.

We received your request for a quote, but we need more information.

What user behaviour would you like to change? How can you use the illusion of choice, to help them make that change?

Data Means Nothing

Data can mean anything, therefore it means nothing. How, then, can we extract meaning from a dataset?

Two shoe salesmen were sent into “darkest Africa” to feel out the potential  shoe market. The first telegraphed home saying: it’s hopeless stop nobody here wears shoes. The second telegraphed back saying: it’s wonderful stop nobody has any shoes.

As Product Managers, we work with a lot of data. Sometimes we even hire a data scientist to go through our data and tell us what it means.

Framing is the lens through which we view data. Since we all have different brains (and hence different frames) the same data will always represent something different to different analysts. Data can be objective. Recommendations based on that data can never be.

Data can mean anything, therefore it means nothing.

How, then, can we extract meaning from a dataset? One very effective method is to look hidden assumptions.

Suppose your analytics show a temporary downtick in traffic during February. One might assume that this is simply a natural ebb, another may assume that February must be a low month in your industry, a third may assume that there was a technical error has since been resolved.

To extract meaning from these analytics, ask yourself:

What assumption am I making,
That I’m not aware I’m making,
That gives me what I see?

Challenging this assumption will help you learn something new about your product (a competitor launched, an industry event, a political influence), which you can then leverage to your advantage.

Props to Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander for inspiration.