Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

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The workforce is changing, is your leadership ready?

We see changes around us all the time. Some things change so often we become blissfully unaware. One of those areas of rapid change is the people making up the workforce. With the challenges facing the economy, and Baby Boomers retiring in record numbers, leaders face challenges in the next decade. What changes do you need to make? How do you transition to a younger workforce? Why are Millennials important to your business?

Millennial bridge Continue reading

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How do you win the war for talent?

Guest post by Sarah Sladek

About 40 years ago, shortly after the Baby Boomers (1946-1964) were born, demographers and industry leaders realized that someday this generation of 78 million Americans would retire and the nation would experience a shortage of experienced and knowledgeable talent.

Alas, the time has come. Continue reading

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One Compelling Question for Innovators

Guest post by David Sturt for Lead on Purpose blog

I recently came across a story in Wired magazine about a radically new technology being developed for heating and cooling. Aside from the exciting product idea to heat and cool a person rather than a place, I was intrigued by this statement about how the idea germinated:

At a point when humans need to take a sober look at our energy use, we’re poised to use a devastating amount of it keeping our homes and offices at the right temperatures in years to come. A team of students at MIT, however, is busy working on a prototype device that could eliminate much of that demand, and they’re doing it by asking one compelling question: “Why not just heat and cool our bodies instead?” (emphasis added).

Asking the right question is one of five key skills that predict great work, as identified from a sample of 1.7 million instances of award-winning work. Continue reading

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How do you reduce the customer churn rate?

Guest post by Ryan Harrison

SaaS (software as a service) sales teams often focus on bringing in new clients; however, they often miss the key fact that existing clients pay more dividends in the long run. The blog ForEntrepreneurs.com reports that 5-30 percent of a business’ revenue comes from the initial sale. Renewals and upsells account for the other 70-95 percent. Businesses that struggle with a high churn rate lose out on these compound dividends.

Churn rate measures the number of customers leaving a business over a specified period of time. For any business with a subscriber-based service model, churn rate can mean the difference between profit and bankruptcy. Continue reading

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Technology is not enough

Just because you port or transition your product (software, hardware, etc.) to a model that is new/up-and-coming/exciting/proven/<fill in the blank>/ you have no guarantee it will succeed; technology is not enough to make a mediocre idea succeed. You must understand the market. If your product or idea is not what potential customers are looking it does not matter what technology you use to roll it out. If the market you are seeking to service has no need for what you are rolling out, the technology irrelevant.

Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) is now a proven way of providing software to companies. SaaS is gaining increasing acceptance and viability for many software companies, and customers appreciate the fact that much of the work and worry of software management  is now handled by the vendor. However (and this is a BIG however), if the ideas you are promoting and selling as software are not needed in the market — i.e. if the software is not market-driven — porting it to SaaS (or any other model/technology) will not save it; in fact it will complicate it.

Last year Steve Johnson wrote an excellent article called Stop Perfuming the Pig that goes in-depth on this topic. Steve says: “No amount of perfume can overcome the stench of a technology product that people don’t need.” Amen. You have to understand the market and make sure the market needs what you are building.

The Product Management Perspective: These ideas fit squarely in the realm of product management; after all, the product manager is the voice of the market. One of (if not THE) most important responsibilities of a product manager is to have a profound understanding of the market, customers and potential customers his or her software targets. If you are not spending time doing market sensing, take a close look at where you are spending your time, clear up your calendar, and schedule time to understand the market. There are many effective ways to do this and they vary by industry, so you will need to figure out what works.The important thing is that you do it.

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Communicating product vision

Communication has changed significantly in the past several years. Twitter, Facebook and other social media have driven personal interaction to short, succinct statements that force us to be brief and to the point. One of my colleagues on the engineering team recently told me “if you can’t write your spec in 140 characters, I can’t implement it.” Though I’m sure he said it in jest, he got me to thinking about effective communication. Effective communication is the key to creating great products (and services).

One of the best books on creating great products is Inspired: How to Create Products Customers Love by Marty Cagan. He covers pretty much every aspect of product management with compelling stories and examples. One of my favorite chapters is Reinventing the Product Spec; the subtitle is R.I.P. PRD (product requirements document). Cagan points out that “most specs take too long to write, they are seldom read, and they don’t provide the necessary detail, don’t address the difficult questions, nor contain the critical information they need to.” He further states that a product spec (specification) can serve as a false indicator to management and the product team that everything is proceeding to plan.

Cagan states (and I agree) that “the central responsibility of the product manager is to make sure that you deliver to the engineering team a product spec that describes a product that will be successful.” The spec must not only communicate the product vision but also the details of how to build the successful product. Cagan asserts that the only form of ‘spec’ that can deliver everything required is a high-fidelity prototype. While I agree that a high-fidelity prototype is the preferred method to communicate the product vision, most product teams do not have the time or resources to create complete, high-fidelity prototypes for every product.

Recognizing that the old-style PRD is largely ineffective in today’s agile world, but that a prototype is also out of reach for most product teams, here are four attributes that will help you communicate product vision in your specs:

  1. Visual: In the absence of a high-fidelity prototype, at a minimum your product spec must have high-resolution images (mock-ups or screen shots) of how the pages in the product will look. These images need to be written in a way that UI developers can create “pixel perfect” pages in the product that identically match the spec images. The ideal scenario is to have a user experience (UX) designer (or team of designers) that creates these images.
  2. Clear: Your product spec should link the visual representations to descriptions that detail what needs to happen. The spec needs to tell a story. I’ve started using a simple HTML template that shows the descriptions on the left pane with an indicator that points to the high-res images on the right. I attach the spec(s) to the applicable story in the dev sprint.
  3. Simple: Keep to the main points. Never add elements in your product spec that are not necessary to creating your product. Be clear and concise in your descriptions and visuals.
  4. Complete: Your spec needs to completely describe the new product (or version) the engineering team will build. It needs to describe the full user experience. It needs to represent the behavior of the software your engineering team will build. Keep it clear and simple, but make sure it’s complete.

Creating effective product specs requires a lot of work. You will have to iterate frequently and keep an open line of communication with the team. If you keep your specs visual, clear, simple and complete, you can communicate your product vision effectively and create great products.

The Product Management Perspective: Cagan makes the following statement: “The central responsibility of the product manager is to make sure that you deliver to the engineering team a product spec that describes the product that will be successful.” Take a look at your current processes and determine what you can do to improve the way you communicate your successful product to the engineering team.