Tag Archives: product management

3 Videos Every Product Manager Must Watch

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Being a product manager is tough work. You’re constantly balancing out the needs of the business, the needs of the users and the capabilities and bandwidth of engineering to move the product forward and to make it more successful. It takes a lot of smarts, enthusiasm, communication, persuasion, editorial skill and courage to do the job well. (There are other traits, but those strike me first.) Products need strong product managers to thrive and succeed. Product managers need to have a clear vision of where the product needs to go and what resonates with users to reach that success. The product manager truly is their brother’s keeper.

Over the last day and a half I’ve watched three impressive talks from some of the smartest product people in the world and I wanted to share them with you here.

Fred Wilson‘s 10 Principles of Successful Web Apps

This is a great talk where venture capitalist Fred Wilson (investor in Foursquare, Twitter, Delicious, others) outlines the 10 essentials to making a successful web application. Every product manager should be considering how their product stacks up to these ten things.  His ten essentials are:

  1. Speed
  2. Instant Utility
  3. Software as Media
  4. Less is More
  5. Make it Programmable
  6. Make it Personal
  7. RESTful
  8. Discoverability
  9. Clean
  10. Playful

http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=10510576&server=vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=0&show_portrait=0&color=00ff9d&fullscreen=1

Fred Wilson at the Future of Web Apps Miami 2010

Jack Dorsey: 3 Keys to Twitter’s Success

In this talk, Twitter co-founder talks about the four keys to Twitter’s success (he says 3 but then throws in a bonus fourth at the end.) They’re powerful tools for any product manager in the product design and definition phases as well as the ongoing evolution of the product itself.

His 4 keys to Twitter’s success are:

  1. Draw, get your ideas out of your head and in front of others.
  2. Luck, understand when the market is ready for your idea.
  3. Iterate, take tons of feedback, edit like crazy and refine your product.
  4. Know when to stop, know when a product is finished instead of adding feature after feature.

http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=11712774&server=vimeo.com&show_title=0&show_byline=0&show_portrait=0&color=fdbb29&fullscreen=1

Jack Dorsey: 3 Keys to Twitter’s Success from 99% on Vimeo.

Kathy Sierra on Creating Awesome Users

Kathy Sierra gives a great talk on how our focus can’t be on our product, service or company; but rather on our users and how we can move them from frustrated first-timers to passionate advocates who spread our product effortlessly to their social circles. Here’s her recipe for creating awesome users.

http://blip.tv/play/AYHNtX0C

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Hulu Wins in the Details

hulu logo

Hulu announced a new player for its popular online video site this morning and Eugene Wei, their VP of Product walks through the new functionality in a detailed blog post about the new features in the Hulu player.  If you take a few minutes to read it you’ll notice that most of the updates don’t feel “major,” or part of a “massive relaunch” as tech companies like to say when they version up on their platform. Instead they demonstrate an obsession with getting the details right. And this is where Hulu wins.

Because unlike other technology companies that ship big platform updates with lots of ballyhoo but often with “we’ll get that in the next release” rough edges, Hulu focuses on how to make the user experience the best it can be – by starting with the details.  Proving in product, it really is the little things that make a difference.

Look at some of the changes they’ve made – half of them you can’t even see, the others you’ll barely notice individually; but when you put them all together you see that Hulu is one step further out ahead of everyone else in video in delivering the world’s best online video experience.

Changes:

  • Color and background color of captions on videos
  • Ad audio level normalization
  • Variable bit-rate streaming
  • 25% increase in player size
  • Removing player controls from  the viewing area

If you’ve worked in product or with product management the level detail in these is rare.  I imagine in many technology companies these features would lose to the “edge case” argument and never get rolled in.

But when you start with the goal of creating the best online video viewing experience in the world and mean it, you see how all of these features are vital and not “edge cases” at all.  So kudos to the Hulu team for sweating the small stuff, because where you win is in the details.

Pardon the Dust « Hulu Blog.

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The Problem with Minimum Viable Product

If you work in the online space long enough you run across the idea of “minimum viable product” (MVP).  The MVP is the minimum product design/functionality that you can launch with that will give you the learning you need about your customers with the least amount of time and resources poured into the project. It’s an important concept that stresses speed to market, agile development, and iteration on the  learnings to build toward your ideal product.

Eric Ries (who I can’t recommend reading enough) has an excellent description of the MVP:

The idea of minimum viable product is useful because you can basically say: our vision is to build a product that solves this core problem for customers and we think that for the people who are early adopters for this kind of solution, they will be the most forgiving. And they will fill in their minds the features that aren’t quite there if we give them the core, tent-pole features that point the direction of where we’re trying to go.

So, the minimum viable product is that product which has just those features (and no more) that allows you to ship a product that resonates with early adopters; some of whom will pay you money or give you feedback.

The problem with the MVP is that too often companies launch the MVP and then don’t build the roadmap to come back and take it to the next level.  The business demands leave you with a string of unfinished, unpolished products. And while they meet the basic requirements of the early adpoting users they hamstring you trying to jump the chasm to the mainstream audience.

If you don’t have a road map in place to come back and continue to iterate on your MVPs you create a series of unpolished products which stop meeting the demands of your audience as more people outside the early adopting crowd try your product or service.

As you’re running you end up with an island of misfit toys which ultimately frustrate your customers.

While the MVP is a great concept, and keeps you from waiting too long to launch (and overdesigning for a non-existent audience) it can come back to bite you if you don’t consciously build a road map to improve it after the launch.    So if you’re launching a new online service or product and you’re using the MVP approach do you have the time line, road map and resources lined up to take it to the next level once you learn what your customers really want?

More on the MVP here, here, and here.

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Watering Down

Watering down.  It’s what happens to great concepts once they enter the beauracratic world of a corporation.  A concept goes from revolutionary and unlike anything other to just another boring product.

It’s what happens when you get too many cooks in the kitchen.  It’s what happens when every executive wants a piece of ownership in a project.  It’s what happens when your coworkers want safety, to be as close to the other market participants so that there isn’t a big miss.   Watering down is easy.  It also makes everyone feel good in the process. It makes the executives feel good to have their input come to life, it makes coworkers feel good that they won’t get fired for making a product that flops, it makes you feel good because everyone around you feels good; until the market gets it and hates it.

Or worse, yawns.

Then everyone doesn’t feel so good. Then they look to you as the product manager or project leader.  What happened? Why did you do this? Why didn’t you do that? Why isn’t it working? Why isn’t it selling?  What happened?

And the only real answer is that no one (you) fought hard enough for the original vision.

Thats your job as a product manager. Fight for the original vision.  Tell your coworkers no. Tell your executives no. Tell your suppliers no and customer service people no and operations people no.  Tell anyone that wants to water the idea down for the sake of making it easier on the status quo, no. Fight for the vision.

While people may dislike you in the process they’ll like you when it’s finished.  Because no matter how many ideas you reject, how many compromises you refuse to make, in the end people love bold, original ideas.  They’re exciting and inspiring.

And if they or the market don’t end up liking your idea? You stuck to what you believe in – and that’s something worth feeling good about any time.

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