All posts by Sean Feeney

Are We Oversimplifying Product Management at the Expense of our Customers?

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If you enjoy reading up on the latest practices and trends of product management as I do, you will probably notice a growing trend to simplify product management. You will see statements like:

  • Focus your product on doing one thing really well
  • Giving too many options increases complexity and reduces usability
  • Onboarding workflows should get the user to your products goal in as few steps as possible
  • The role of a Product Manager is to say no

It is easy to see why these are very attractive positions. The most valuable company in the world (Apple) positioned itself as prioritizing simple over complex. I am not advocating for making unnecessarily complex products, and in many cases, I would agree that simple is best; however, I would like to explore, is this right solution for everything?

Understanding your target audience

Assuming you have already identified your products goals/vision, when designing any product, you should always start with who is your target audience. Are you developing a health monitor for the elderly? Are you creating a tool for developers to manage product development roadmaps? These two questions are very different.

In the example of a health monitor for the elderly, we know that their past experiences in life and cognitive capabilities have not lent to being able to deal with complex technical devices very well (on average). Ever tried explaining a smartphone to your grandmother? I am going to guess explaining something like the difference between an app and a website or SMS and email, was quite complex for what you might consider to be mundane and obvious. Now, lets take this same health monitor and target it for elite athletes. I would imagine that if you told a strength and conditioning coach for the New England Patriots that you want one of their players to wear this monitor and we will only have it alert when there is an anomaly, they will tell you the device isn’t for them. Why is this the case? At these elite levels, they need to know everything from heart rate variability to hydration and from stress to sleep. This would be the only way they can tell if they should put the player out on that critical 4th down play!

In my second example, product managing a development roadmap can be extremely simple or extremely complex. For instance, planning a roadmap for a single purpose phone app is very different from creating a product which manages data for health care systems or processes hundreds of thousands of financial transactions every second. So, if you were to create an application which you believe is going to revolutionize product management, you are going to have to give some options and it is going to get complex quickly.

Not all Product Management strategies are created equal

Product management has become somewhat of a sexy role in the tech industry. The lure of creating a product that hundreds of thousands if not millions of people use is incredibly gratifying. To say you are able to make a difference in someone’s life is some of the best feedback you can get in any job. What has created this surge in job offerings? I suspect it has a lot to do with smart phone apps.

Apps are a revolutionary concept which has simplified interactions with digital products and services. Here you have a limited power device on limited real estate and a fairly consistent engine to run on. It is no surprise that doing one thing well, or limiting options for a user to select becomes very important. Focus can drive usability in a major way. However, there is a growing number of enterprise products, Kickstarter campaigns for hardware devices, raspberry pi projects, 3D Printing, etc. Are we to say that the digital app mentality will work with these products which are no longer limited to a fixed device standard? Are the digital product managers the vocal minority when sharing their experiences and strategy ideas?

Who are we really simplifying our product for?

Whenever I read about simplifying product management, I can’t help but get the sense that the PM is just trying to make their job easier. I am all for optimizing for maximum output, but we need to be honest with ourselves; by saying no, are we really doing it for the customers’ benefit or ours? Sometimes, to make something seamless and easy for a customer, you have to do some heavy lifting on the backend. Think about google, when you go to google.com, it is the most simple and basic form. One field, enter what you are looking for. Have you ever thought about how complex it must be to make something so simple give you thousands of results in under 1 second?

Companies like Apple and Google are not on top because they are basic, they are on top because they are extremely powerful and simple to use. They give you the flexibility to be as basic as you want or as advanced as you need. With power, comes complexity, deep thinking, and careful planning. Let’s look at Twitter for instance. When Twitter started, it was a simple SMS application for communicating with a large audience. Now, Twitter could probably stay relevant for a little while that way, but they have to continue to innovate and bring new features to keep the product fresh, compelling and competitive. Why do you think you are suddenly seeing more inline pictures, autoplaying videos, periscope, etc.? If it wasn’t for Facebook, Twitter might not have had to add these features.

Simplicity is great for launching a product, but let’s not act like you can sustain a long-term business with the “do one thing well” mentality.

Conclusion

I am not advocating that we should create unnecessarily complex and hard to use products. This leads to bugs, crashes, complex design strategies, difficult maintenance and unsustainable documentation needs. I do feel that we should be creating simple, easy to use products. What I would like to leave you with is the question, is simple, limited and small right for my customer or am I just trying to make my own life easier at the customer’s expense?

What are your thoughts on this matter? Let me know, I’d love to hear your experiences.

The Timing Is Never Right.

Here is an idea that has never been more true in my life than now! I’ve been saying this to friends for a little while now and I am glad to see it condoned elsewhere.

“I once asked my mom how she decided when to have her first child, little ol’ me. The answer was simple: “It was something we wanted, and we decided there was no point in putting it off. The timing is never right to have a baby.” And so it is.
For all of the most important things, the timing always sucks. Waiting for a good time to quit your job? The stars will never align and the traffic lights of life will never all be green at the same time. The universe doesn’t “conspire against you, but it doesn’t go out of its way to line up all the pins either. Conditions are never perfect. “Someday” is a disease that will take your dreams to the grave with you. Pro and con lists are just as bad. If it’s important to you and you want to do it “eventually,” just do it and correct course along the way.”

Excerpt From: Timothy, Ferriss. “The 4-Hour Workweek”

My Top Ten Companies / Services 2013

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Welcome to my top ten 2013 list of services and companies that I swear by!  These companies are all easy, intuitive, fun and get out of your way while providing you with great benefits.  I am certain there are other great products out there I haven’t been acquainted with, but these are certainly my favorites that are not super obvious, like my Samsung TV or my self-built computer which are some of my prized possessions.  After reading, I would love to hear your feedback and experiences below in the comments, don’t be shy!

IFTTT

https://ifttt.com/

IFTTT stands for If This Then That, this means that sole purpose of the service is to have one application take an action if something else is triggered… horrible explanation I know, but this is hands down my favorite service I’ve seen created in years.  Here is a real world scenario, if it is going to rain, send me a text telling me.  This is great for planning your trip home.  This is a very easy, consumable recipe (that’s what they call each automated task) in IFTTT.  It gets way more awesome than that.  Let’s say you have a Wemo (internet connected home automation device), you can have IFTTT turn the lights on if you arrive at home through the use of your cellphone and foursquare.  IFTTT is one the most amazing automation tools I have ever seen.  You can even have it save every photo you are tagged in on facebook to dropbox so you always have a copy for yourself.  I highly advise that if you haven’t tried this service to go out immediately and see what works for you. Oh, did I mention there is an iOS app?  Label an email in gmail and have it create an iOS reminder to follow up on it!

iPhone

http://www.apple.com/iphone/

I am a firm believer that technology should make your like easier. Tech, should never get in your way and it should just work.  For me, the phone has become a business tool instead of an entertainment device.  As a result, I can’t afford to have any issues.  While I am not a huge fan of Apple products in general, the iPhone has been a the conduit to some of the most amazing things in my life from taking high quality photos and video of my new baby girls to allowing me to work from just about anywhere I am.  So, if I have to run out for a family emergency and something goes awry at work, I know it is just going to work.  It wouldn’t be fair to talk about the iPhone without mentioning my favorite apps, it also wouldn’t be a top ten list if I listed them separately, so here is a quick list of some apps I can’t live with out (ok, I could probably live without them but they are still awesome).

  • Mailbox for iPhone – One of the biggest flaws with email clients is feasibility of following up with important emails and getting rid of the ones that don’t matter. Mailbox works with your gmail account to allow you to set a time to follow up with an email and the email will disappear until that time, so you know to follow up keeping your email clear, empty and consumable.
  • Waze – All the awesomeness of Google maps with real-time reports of cops, construction, and other road issues from other users on the road.
  • Cumberland Farms Smartpay – Do you go to cumberland farms for gas? Using this app, you can pay for items in the store by scanning a barcode on your phone, save 10 cents per gallon, and earn free drinks just for using the card.
  • RetailMeNot – Has all of the best coupon codes and lets you know where there are deals near you, what’s not to like?
  • Key Ring – Sure iOS has passbook, but unless you install an app that has a passbook extension, you still have to have those royalty cards on your key-chain. Also, what a waste of space installing apps for all of these services because the company is to lazy to create an intuitive responsive website. Not with this app, you can load all of your card’s bar codes and throw away the key chain cards!
  • Instagram – Not only is taking and sharing compelling photos and videos easy, they managed to create a vast social network of probably everyone you know.  I am a very visual guy, and I find myself checking it quite often.
  • Hootsuite – getting involved in social media marketing, is hard work.  Having the option to post once and send to many is a must if you don’t have the means to hire a whole team.  Additionally, the post scheduling is great so you can reach the largest possible audience at the right time without having to think about it.
  • Pandora – Free, high quality music that works by providing you with other music that matches a similar audio signature to the songs you like makes it my favorite for discovering new music.  Also, the ability to shuffle all of your loaded stations helps keep it in check and cycle through the actual songs you want to hear.
  • Pocket – Find a longer article that you don’t have time to read?  How about an article on a website that is very distracting? Want to keep a collection of articles to refer to later because you are researching something?  This app does all of this.  It imports the articles for later viewing in a very clean and distraction free zone. And, if you want, here is a productivity tip for turning text articles into a podcast with pocket!
  • Feedly – follow a lot of websites and don’t like going to all of them individually? Feedly is the best feed reader hands down.
  • Words with Friends – I am addicted. I play all the time and don’t know why.  Probably the longest game I’ve played on the phone.
  • Moves – Want to track your movements, but don’t want to shell out $100 for a fitbit or jawbone? This app does a great job at showing how much you move in a very distraction free way.  It also lets you know if it stopped tracking for any reason.
  • Commercial Break – This app just works.  There are some limitations on the stations it supports, but for important things like football games, knowing when the game comes back from commercial is such a valuable tool to have.  Especially if you have kids or other responsibilities that keep you from keeping your full attention on the game.

Whoosh!

http://whooshscreenshine.com/

Whoosh! is a disinfecting screen cleaner that is safe. How safe?  You can spray it in your mouth and not have to call poison control.  That doesn’t make it weak by any means. It is proven to kill more bacteria than harsh chemical cleaners and does an amazing job of cleaning screens, glasses or anything glass really and actually helps to prevent further smudging.

Google

http://google.com

Google is like a drug, once you start using the services, you are instantly hooked into digging deeper and deeper into it’s ecosystem.  For much of Google there is a feeling of, it’s great and convenient, but they leave much to be desired; however, when they do it right, they provide services that are just what you need.

    • Voice – A bit over a year ago, I got a new iPhone through work.  I already had an Andriod, but no longer needed two smartphones.  I wanted to get rid of my phone, but wasn’t willing to give up my number and use a work provided number that could theoretically be taken away at anytime with little notice. For $20, I ported my number into Google Voice and am able to keep my old number and even route the calls to my new phone.  What I didn’t suspect was how awesome it would be to have email sent of transcripts of voicemails and running two numbers on one phone.  Now, with the integration into hangouts, calling people from my laptop makes things all the more convenient. Finally, having the option to setup a dedicated business line for free is another plus for me!
    • Gmail – Well, I use Gmail for everything except EMC.  I interface with it hundreds of times a week and rarely ever have a complaint.  It just works and works well.  Plus, having google searching of my email at my finger tips makes labeling a thing of the past.
    • Chrome – Not only does Chrome have an extensive library of addons, developing websites on it is just enjoyable.  Then, you add the google syncing of passwords, history, and the fact that chrome for the iPhone is better than safari I will have a very hard time switching back to firefox or anything else.

Podcasts

It rather surprises me that podcasts are still somewhat of a mystery to a lot of people.  The amount I have learned form podcasts is mind blowing.  Hell, I learned how to photoshop with Pixel Perfect.  This leads me to Revision3.  I owe a lot to Revision3.  I’ve learned so many things, kept up with consumer tech or learned how to make films.  Now, I am not a filmmaker, but you can learn a lot about creativity and the hard work that goes into being creative.  Then, don’t get me started about TED talks.  All of the most groundbreaking research gets mentioned at TED talks and it really helps you to think differently about things.  The open forum for discussion where nothing is off limits allows for some of the most compelling discussions you can have.  I’ve placed some good shows above for you to check out at your convenience.

Humble Bundle

https://www.humblebundle.com

The Humble Bundle is the fastest way to grow your steam and origin libraries.  I’ve probably purchased well over $200 in games for under $20 and the money I did spend, went to good charities.  The best part, you get to pick how the money is distributed.

Microsoft OneNote

http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/onenote/

I know what you are thinking, “what no Evernote?”  I’ll get to that in a second but, I started using OneNote at work when I found out I could send meetings and emails from outlook to OneNote then go to OneNote and take all the notes I needed on those topics.  I’ve never felt more organized.  The fun didn’t stop there; to my surprise, I noticed that I once took a screenshot of a slide deck that was on a screen share and added it to OneNote only to find out that it converts text in pictures into searchable metadata.  Then, I can create many notebooks, one for work, one for the side business, one for personal, and one for family then allow access to each of those to parties that need it.  Then you can collaborate in near real-time.  For instance, I can create a shopping list and have my wife and I split up at the store and each check off the items we find.  Now, I don’t actually do that, but the option is there.  I have had my wife care for the kids at home update the list while I pickup the items on it at the store.  So back to Evernote, I used to use it all the time and I really like the application; however, I am so intertwined with Microsoft Office, that it makes sense for me to use OneNote.  If you don’t use Office, then you will probably be happier with Evernote.

Target

http://www.target.com/

The first day I stepped into Target after shopping at Walmart for a while was so relieving.  At Walmart, most of the items on the shelf were tampered with or broken, the isles were crowded and the people were well, the people of Walmart.  Target was super clean all the time and the prices were just as good if not better.  It makes me want to shop there all the time… in fact, I am actually there multiple times a week. What really makes Target a great place to shop is the services it provides on top of the already pleasant experience.

  • Cartwheel – Now I just started playing with Cartwheel, but it holds a lot of promise.  An extra 20% off of an item I was already planning on purchasing? Yes, please!
  • Rebate cards – Buy two packages of paper towels and get a $10 gift card, I can’t say how many times I taken this deal.  It’s like getting free money for purchasing items you already needed.
  • Red Card – When I first heard about the Target Red Card Debit Card I put it off for a while because I thought there had to be a catch.  5% off every purchase you make without having to put it on a credit card? Why the hell not?  The other plus, is that if you always use that card, you never have to save receipts because you can always have them look up your purchase on the card every-time you need to return an item.

Starbucks

http://www.starbucksstore.com

Aside from the amazing coffee, excellent customer service and the fact that every-time they make the littlest of mistakes, you get a free coffee next time, they have the best rewards program I have ever used.  Every twelve coffees you purchase you get a free coffee or food item.  It is simple and effective.  On top of that, every now and then, they throw in a little extra or offer challenges you almost want to try completing.  Then the app, I use it all the time to locate an open Starbucks because I am a late coffee drinker, but it gets better, free songs and apps?  Don’t mind if I do!

Waveapps

 https://www.waveapps.com/

Starting Pixel Precise LLC I searched for a good, free, invoicing and accounting system with the ability to accept credit cards.  I tried a few things and ended up with wave apps.  Interesting things is, I was introduced to Wave by it’s receipts app.  Take a picture of a receipt and it automatically reads the date, price and place of purchase for archiving and checkbook balancing needs.  All in all, this is a great service that just works.  Also, the customer service is excellent and helpful.

Conclusion

Phew, that was a lot, but I hope you found it useful.  If you haven’t tried any of these services or companies, I highly recommend that you do.

I would love to hear some of your favorites or if you have any stories about trying any of these services.  Please comment below and let me know what you think!

Proper Design In a Nutshell

It took me a long time to really grasp this concept, but design isn’t just about making something look pretty or trying to cram as much stuff into as little space as possible to show how many concepts you know. Design is far more than that. Aside from the fact the following graphic is centered around PowerPoint, the concept remains the same for all aspects of design. Whether you are creating a website, writing a blog post or decorating a house, your goal should always be, how can I make the most impact without losing your message with as few details as possible. Sounds easy right? You might be surprised to know that this takes practice and patience, but most of all, the ability to constantly review your work and think to yourself, what else can I remove without taking away my core message.

Graphic Design

A great example of this is Apple. By no means am I an apple fanboy and I often dislike many technical decisions Apple makes, but the one thing that very few people can argue against is that their products look attractive. One of the reasons for this is that they are constantly looking at their products and thinking, how can I remove something without decreasing its abilities. It is the reason why their products have very few buttons. From the mouse to the iPhone, they have managed to make 1 button accomplish many tasks. When products and services are simple, they become more attractive, easy to use and easy to maintain. Why do you think I redesigned this website?

The Résumé of You is… YOU!

I have seen it again and again, people who start searching for jobs begin censoring their Facebook profiles, creating/updating LinkedIn, and adding new content to their résumé. If you do this, you have already failed! In a time where employers are asking what your klout scores are or recruiters are offering jobs over LinkedIn my previous statement may seem a little harsh, but often times people try to sell themselves and it is too little too late. Here are a few ways successful people take the “résumé of you” to a whole new level!

 

Embrace Social Networking

I am sure many of you have heard the horror stories of people losing job opportunities because they had an embarrassing picture on Facebook. This is entirely possible; however, there are many ways you can deal with this situation and create an environment worthy of public visibility without hoping you set your privacy settings up correctly.

Create your social ecosystem by being open, positive, and share successes when you meet personal goals. If you post to social networks like minded people flock to the items you post. Think about it, people will like, retweet and share items that are relevant to them. If you are negative, people who relate and are having a bad day may also feed into it creating more exposure to your negativity. If you post that photo of you drunk at a party, some of your friends and acquaintances will think it is ok and the next time you may find that they think it is ok to do the same. On the flip side, if you are positive and share information about an interest or career goal, people who are also positive will very likely engage with you in just this way. YOU create your social ecosystem.

 

Become the “Expert” – Prove your Knowledge

Your résumé shows you know a bunch of bullet points on what you know and what you have done, right? Prove it!

Share your knowledge. One of the best ways to viewed as if you know what you are talking about is to write about it. With WordPress, starting a blog is free. Get out there and become passionate about topics you find interesting. Spend a few minutes reading about topics in your industry and provide some commentary about them. YOU don’t have to write a lot, you don’t have to be the expert, you just have to be passionate and engaging.

 

Every Social Opportunity is a Networking Opportunity

Has a hiring manager ever walked you out or a boss just “had a chat” in the hallway? What you probably didn’t realize, this is their way to try getting to know you in a personal, unguarded way.

Treat every social interaction as an interview. Formal interviews are often structured based on a company’s template for running effective interviews. Here, they will pull you into an office or conference room and drill you with questions about your experience and previous education and job related activities. You, will be prepared and answer those questions with the utmost professionalism. What you may not realize is that they have already narrowed the list of potential candidates to 10 or fewer people who all say on paper they can do the job; however, when they walk you out or your current boss follows you down the hall after a 1-on-1, you may find them asking questions like, do you have kids, where do you live, or what do you think of the local football team this year? Often times they are actually giving you a second interview to catch you when your guard is down and see how you handle informal interactions, to see how you are different from the rest or to see what level of risk you will be to them. Not interviewing? What you may not realize is that your current boss may have two excellent employees and HR is only allowing one promotion this year. These informal talks may just be a way to see who is more professional and best suited for the promotion. YOU, need to stand out from the crowd as being better than the other candidate.

 

90% of Reqs are Filled Before Being Posted

I know what you are thinking, how can that be possible? If it was filled, why would they even post it?” The interesting thing is, this is one of the more memorable quotes I’ve ever heard come from a director and up of a major fortune 500 company.

The Power of Doing The Job You Want, Not Waiting For It. This is the title of another post I wrote in detail. I am with you, if someone told me this a few years ago I would have told them they are crazy; however, last year I got to experience it for myself. In short, I was working as a support engineer and was actively working on side projects for the company, while I was always hoping for the next growth opportunity. It was the end of 2011 and I was tapped on the shoulder by a Senior Director and was asked to join a new venture within the company to start a new team. At the start, the team was an experiment and was told there would be no official title change or promotion because there were no reqs, but when there is one posted you can apply to it and get the job officially. Strange, huh? This sort of thing happens fairly frequently. Another example is a friend of mine recently changed jobs. The interesting part to note was that he already did the bulk of the negotiations before there was a req and even before the interview. How is this possible? He maintained a great relationship with the hiring manager at his previous position. The rest was just a formality for tracking purposes. YOU, just might be applying for a job, before you even know it!

 

Final Thoughts

If there is anything you take away from this post remember, in a sea of sameness, YOU need to show how YOU stand out from the crowd. No one else or no one application can do this for you. It becomes increasingly important to find ways to make you unique and stand out from the crowd. Just think of the impact it will be when you are shooting for your next job and when the hiring manager ask why you should be considered for the role, you can just point them to one of the many outlets you use to demonstrate how YOU actually know/do the job, and don’t rely on a few bullet points and a smile to sell the “résumé of you!”

I don’t presume to have all the answers, so please comment below!  I would love to hear your stories and feedback!