Saturday, June 13, 2009

How could eTailers revolutionize the Product Business?

I spent a day this week with a very large etail company (who happens to be a customer so I won't name them). I am really impressed with the initiatives that this company is working on. They clearly know their strengths and are focused on things like analytics as they understand its key to building competitive barriers to less pure clicks-and-bricks competitors. That being said, I think etail could dial up their game a bit on game-changing initiatives. Amazon with their Kindle (which I love by the way) is a clear difference. But how are they really game-changing how they sell things?

I really believe etail is under-leveraging their online nature. Etail partnering with more sophisticated PMs could engage customers with prototype concepts and develop a much deeper relationship in the process. For example, all the product pages that I have seen on the big etail sites are of actual products with "Buy" being the key focus. What about concept pages with "Definitely Would Buy" on them? Most etail customers are highly-involved folks who love products and would love to scout out for the latest and greatest "New Thing". Keep the discussions underneath the product, the price (perhaps even do some interesting pricing models on the page?) and everything else. If a concept gets adequate interest, make it and provide it perhaps at a discount to the initial folks who showed interest.

The trade-off for product companies would obviously be awareness by competition of new concepts (though this could be obviated through IP protection and speed-to-market). But the pros vis-a-vis in-depth concept testing with involved consumers could be strong. And you could build product pipelines at earlier on in the product lifecycle to assist with monetization.

For etail, concept selling could be incredibly potent. It leverges significant competitive advantages against brick-and-mortar, drives people to your site to see what's new and builds a sales pipeline BEFORE the product is on the market. Pretty darn cool if you ask me.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Using P&G's 3E Leadership Model for Interviews

When I was at P&G, they had an ingenious framework for looking at leadership that they called the 3E model. I've been using this model as a lens through which to evaluate new hires and I find it quite effective.

Let me first layout the model. The 3Es stand for Envision, Energize and Enable. Envisioning is about setting a vision for the business -- and one that can ideally change the game for your company. Energizing is about rallying a team to stand behind that vision. Enabling is about providing the team with the capabilities to accomplish that vision once they are enthusiastic about doing it.

I am always amazed at what a comprehensive leadership model the 3Es model is. I know that GE has a variant on the model (see Jack Welch and The 4 E's of Leadership: How to Put GE's Leadership Formula to Work in Your Organization). GE's 4Es are: positive Energy; the ability to Energize others; Edge, or the ability to make tough decisions; and, Execution, the ability to get the job done. GE's model covers some aspects that P&Gs does not, namely Execution. And I do think this is a very important area to dive into that P&G misses in their leadership model (though it is captured in their "What Counts" Factors). By contrast, I believe that P&G's Envision is sorely missing from the GE model.

As I said, I use the 3E model as an interview lens. This is mostly because by the time a candidate is in front of you, if they haven't spent a lifetime of practicing Leadership, I do not believe that they are not likely going to get good enough at it to make a difference to your team. I have found that my strongest folks had very clear stories about how they had Envisioned, Energized and Enabled well before they came to the interview. In most cases, in fact, my top performers had these skillsets in high school or elementary school.

GE's missing "Envisioning" criteria is a particularly stunning difference between my star performers and my average performers. My star Product Managers can quickly tell you how they created a long-lasting transformative vision for organizations that they were a part of. Oftentimes from a very early age. My average performers have that missing. What also makes questions about this so powerful is that they can be heard and fairly accurately assessed in an interview, as opposed to other skill-sets (such as the vital skill of coaching) which are really difficult to assess except through observation and in-depth reference interviews where oftentimes the interviewees are guarded and biased.

So I would highly recommend giving a question to your next interviewee about their history of having envisioned something great for a team or organization or business that they were a part of. And for more fun, ask it again and again. The great folks shine in these situations and have so many that they come off their finger tips in seconds. Snatch them up because, based on my experience, they are absolute gems.

Monday, June 8, 2009

3 email suggestions to possibly make yourself a more productive PM

I am a "clean inbox" adherent. This has done wonders for me. But it has also become addictive and created a new email-driven attention deficit disorder. A few of the following tips have helped:

1. In general, the bcc: field is in my opinion the most underutilized email feature. When asking for feedback on a product, process or feature, ask more than one person at a time using the bcc: field. If you don't, you get immediately 3x the email volume.

On a side note, should you want to kill a product, process or feature, ask many people and put it in the to: field. In this latter case, also mark it urgent and tell them feedback is a day late. (Just kidding... kinda'.)

2. Sort all of your "not sent directly to you" emails to a different folder and read it once a day.

3. Make liberal use of "Out of office" notification. "Out of office" sets expectations on wait time and lets you focus on your work. It thus immediately reduces your email load. And if someone really wants to chat, they can pick up the phone.

I have multitasked to my Outlook inbox at least three times in writing this post, so I can't tell you that the above will work. But I can at least suggest it. May you avoid my fate!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Differentiate or Neutralize?: A core first product decision

An early decision of utmost importance to a product development effort is whether a new product's strategic intent is differentiation or neutralization. Some people believe that neutralization is never a strong product objective. Let's for a second put aside that argument and look at why the decision is so important.

When you are making a decision on a portfolio level, or on a feature level, to neutralize, you are essentially looking to match competition on particular feature or specification. Key in this decision is to minimize your spend and to make certain that you don't overinvest. Potential overinvestment can result from development functions wanting to add value to the feature and take it beyond its requirements. To clarify this, I believe it helps to consistently and emphatically state the neutralizing strategic purpose of the product or feature.

Differentiation, on the other hand,oftentimes can yield a more troubling failure -- that of underinvestment in time and / or resources. Interestingly, when you see underinvestment in time and / or resources on your supposedly differentiated products, I believe it can also be because of the overinvestment in neutralizing products. Making people aware of these trade-offs is essential to driving strong focus from development functions and ensuring that the portfolio mix matches your business needs.

So, is there ever a need for neutralization? I would contend that few companies do not do some amount of neutralization. The iPod was not the first MP3 player in the market. And it did not differentiate on what would have been the obvious criteria: sound quality. Rather, Apple choice music distribution, user experience and design as its differentiating features.

Based on reading about Steve Jobs, it appears that Mr. Jobs has an incredible intuitive sense of what consumers care about but think their existing products already deliver, what consumers care about but don't think their existing products already deliver and what consumers just don't care about. I would suggest that Apple focuses its efforts on the things that consumers care about and don't think existing products deliver. This is usually centered upon making technology easier to deal with and addressing the softer challenges, while being "good enough" on the basics. Apple, in other words, has a crystal clear sense of not only when to differentiate but also of when to neutralize. This seems to me to be an essential decision of any good PM.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Less = More for Features

I'm a big fan of 37signals. Admittedly, I don't use any of their products (I'm in a company dominated by Agile and other of Oracle's user-unfriendly products). But if I could, I would.

The reason I like 37signals is that they make products that do things well. And that means a product that does one thing well. Not a product that tries to do many things well and fails.

The folks at 37signals have written a book. My favorite quote from any business book in the past year: "Underdo the Competition." I love it. Now just need to live it.

Getting Real: Build Less (by 37signals)

PS 37signals also underdid the competition by failing to provide a Kindle version. Wonder if they consider that a feature add? Maybe in perfect keeping with their underlying mission, but I can still gripe that I have to read their darn thing via PDF!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


The RACI / DACI or RASIC model is something I picked up from my Program Manager that is a wonderful tool for outlining the steps of a process and who will own them. RASIC stands for (R)esponsible, (A)ccountable, (S)upport, (I)nform and (C)onsult. This model is a little more complex than (D)river, (A)ccountable, (C)onsult and (I)nform model that is used in other places to equal effect.

The idea with this is that for every task there should be one person responsible for the task, one person accountable for its results (often these two are the same person), people who will support the task, people who need to be informed about a task and people who you consult in the completion of the task. By taking a project and walking its component tasks through this model, you can quickly get to understand who owns what and when.

Usually, the ownership of a RASIC belongs to Program Manager, but if you don't happen to have one (either at all or on a particular project), it's an incredible tool. I like it for laying out research projects to ensure that deliverables are clear up-front so that back-end follow-up is kept to the least amount possible while still ensuring that the task is delivered.

RASIC Model Excel Template

Monday, June 1, 2009

Google AdWords for Concept Testing / Consumer Research?

One of the most frequent complaints I hear from Product Managers is about the lack of available dollars for consumer research. Here's one potential option that may have value to you if you're nearing release of a product and need to fine-tune your market positioning: Use Google AdWords!

The idea is simple: Create a landing page for your new product, along with an option for users to sign-up to hear more information when the product is available. Throw together several ads which test several different product positioning options. Use Google's relevant keywords to quickly define who might be looking for your product. Then horse-race the ads.

I know this is not representative and may yield issues when confidentiality is critical. But I really think the potential for AdWords for research is pretty interesting. You can learn a lot from click-through of the ads itself. You can have the ad not shown in geographies where your competition is based. You can even have your landing page change for folks coming from competitive websites if competition is an issue. Furthermore, I suspect with some solid work on this methodology by some intelligent market research people that it could be made representative and operational norms could eventually be developed.

Bigger benefits: Set-up time and costs are low and it can be as expensive or as inexpensive as you desire. And so long as you don't mislead (no "buy-now" stuff), you could use your landing page to develop a community of loyal users before the product is even launched. So long as you listen to them of course!

So far, my use of this methodology has only been as one tool to test a product name on a product improvement, though I think it has broader merit. Thoughts?

Sunday, May 31, 2009

10 Quick Tips to Make Business Travel Easier

I travel a fair bit in my job (73k miles according to TripIt), so I thought a few of the following tips might be helpful for those of you just starting to get into the same routine for my Monday productivity article:

1. Forward your agenda to TripIt. I love TripIt. It is particularly good, I've found, when you're traveling overseas and your very competent travel assistant has to book tickets through an external agency. But I also love how easy it makes to share travel plans. I have my Tripit calendar added to my wife's Google Calendar so that she knows where I am at any point in time. This helps her get a hold of me in the event that something were to happen while I was away (particularly, when I'm overseas).

2. Go to your itinerary on TripIt 24 hours before to print off your e-ticket. Use their "Get seating advice" to find the best seat on the plane. This will cut your airport wait down AND potentially make you more comfortable. Make sure you have your frequent flyer number on the e-ticket.

3. Keep a standard voicemail out-of-office notification script written out in an email, Evernote or a file on your computer that's easy to get to. The day before you leave, record your message. I use this script:

Hi, you've reached Jamie at x. I will be away for the next x days on business, returning the morning of x. If you have any urgent matters, please contact x at x regarding x issues or x at x regarding x issues. Otherwise, leave your name and number after the tone and I will get back to you when I return. Thank you.

I use Google Voice and keep a message with a return for each day of the week, which works superbly well. This basically takes my out-of-office notification time down to zero.

4. Book your cab with RideCharge. RideCharge will automatically notify you as your cab gets closer. It will allow you to pay your fare via your mobile phone which for some reason saves me at least 3 minutes on validation with most of my local cab companies. Finally, it provides you with an e-Receipt for expenses. (If TripIt got together with RideCharge for automatic cab booking options, they would be super-powerful... just my quick plug.) The extra $1.50 in fare for e-payment is to me a savings given time loss reductions from expense processing and validation.

5. Wear slip-on shoes. Shoe laces are for the TSA-inept. Don't know what I mean? Travel on a Friday in the summer and watch the running shoe crowd hold up the line for 15 minutes.

6. Put your keys and coins in your briefcase / computer bag as soon as you get in the cab. This will reduce time in the security line.

7. Keep a separate envelope for travel receipts. My company uses Concur for expense submission. I know that it gets some bad press, but I have to tell you that it beats the heck out of everything I've used before. So long as you register all of your frequent flyer, hotel and rental car club memberships, MOST of your expenses can be automatically handled by Concur. For those of you not so lucky to use Concur, the separate travel receipt envelope becomes even more essential. I have also tried Shoeboxed to reduce expense processing time and used their envelope to carry my receipts. In this case, I put all the receipts in my Shoeboxed envelope and drop it in my mailbox as soon as I arrive back at my house. Unfortunately, though I love the service, I am on a fiscal diet right now. Either way, put your receipts in your envelope as soon as you get them.

8. Pre-program your Blackberry (use Notes in Outlook) or other smart phone with all of your frequent flyer, hotel and rental car membership numbers. Leave your cards at home. Unless you have some sort of attachment to having a Costanza wallet, that is.

9. Keep a list in Evernote of "Things to do when in..." Use City, State and Country as tags. Then start hoarding restaurant, hotel and sightseeing tips. I actually find that airline magazines have some great restaurant tips, for example. And whenever I'm in a town and out with one of my reps, I'll develop a list of local digs. Unfortunately, this travel tip requires a little bit of time investment, but has good long-term payoff. By the way, I put good airport restaurants in my Evernote list to. (Try Cantina Laredo in DFW Terminal D, for example.)

10. If you really become an avid traveler, get a Zuca Pro Complete Set with Black Insert Bag, Black Travel Cover and Pro Silver Frame. I love this thing more than I can say. It is like having a portable dresser. It requires that you spend some time learning how to properly pack your clothes. It also gets weird looks sometimes (a few weeks ago, I got pulled off the plane because they thought it was dangerous.. yes, seriously). But it makes you wickedly organized and fast when you're at your destination.

By the way, I also use Remember the Milk. To make all of the above much easier, I have put a list of the above tasks, along with my packing list, into an email that I send to my Remember the Milk import email address when I need to go traveling. I use a separate list in RTM to send it to (I call mine "Quick Lists") to enable rapid entry of due dates. I delete irrelevant tasks before sending and the way I formatted it also allows the due date entry to be fast using "Multiple edit". In case you're interested, I put it as a text file in docstoc her:

Travel Routine

Hope that helps and happy traveling!

How to use Marine Corps leadership principles in the workplace

Few institutions are as focused on learning and development as military ones. Lives literally depend upon it. One institution with a particularly strong reputation for personal development (in fact, I would suggest that it is core to their brand) is the United States Marine Corps. The Marine Corps has perhaps unsurprisingly produced a number of very successful business leaders. Fred Smith of FedEx, Russell Meyer of Cessna and Robert Lutz of Chrysler (ok, perhaps a bad example right now) are but a few.

Of the first things learned by Marine Corps Officers are the "Marine Corps Leadership Principles". I believe they are an unbelievable teaching tool for managers. They are:

Know yourself and seek self-improvement.
Be technically and tactically proficient.
Develop a sense of responsibility among your subordinates.
Make sound and timely decisions.
Set the example.
Know your Marines and look out for their welfare.
Keep your Marines informed.
Seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions.
Ensure assigned tasks are understood, supervised, and accomplished.
Train your Marines as a team.
Employ your command in accordance with its capabilities.

Consider just a few of these concepts:

Know yourself and seek self-improvement. Are we aware of our weaknesses and strengths? How do we leverage the latter and compensate for the former? And if we are not seeking self-improvement, who is modeling it for the employees we supervise?

Be technically and tactically proficient. How are our basic skills in our chosen profession? We gain our authority in part on the basis of expertise. If this is brought into question, our authority can be brought into question.

Develop a sense of responsibility among your Marines.
Journalist Thomas Ricks, who has covered the military for quite some time, states in his book Making the Corps that one of the big differences when he interacted with Marines versus soldiers and sailors from other branches of the US military is that Marines have a much greater sense of confidence when dealing with journalists. Marines are empowered and entrusted with upholding the brand of the Marine Corps. Not just officers, but every Marine. As business leaders, can we say that we have the same feelings of trust and empowerment among our employees?

Make sound and timely decisions. This is also one of the Es of GE's famous leadership model as well. Indecisive managers can cause work and rework for employees and be a huge morale hurt.

Know your Marines and look out for their welfare. Note that two apparently different principles are tied together in this aspect "Know your Marines" and "look out for their welfare". This underscores a great institutional learning that I certainly need to spend more time on. We can say that we are concerned for our employees, but if we don't know them, it is hard to understand what their real welfare needs are.

Keep your Marines informed. Do we make it a high priority to quickly communicate what's going on in our organizations to the people who work for us?

Train your Marines as a team. This is an interesting institutional learning of the Marine Corps that I have only recently started focusing on. I would love to understand its origins but I am definitely benefiting by practicing it. Training folks as a team rather than individually has some amazing effects. Those who are faster to learn a concept can assist those who are more slow, which fosters teamwork. When a concept is poorly taught, feedback is more readily available to the leader about their teaching. And because the entire team is taught a concept, it enables them all to practice it in the same way which has a mutual reinforcement effect.

Employ your command in accordance with its capabilities. Are we asking to achieve objectives for which they do not have the capabilities? Are we overreaching and thus overstretching the people who work for us?

Translating the Marine Corps leadership principles into daily practice as a manager is incredibly easy. In my experience, it can also serve as a tremendous self-evaluation technique when utilized in 360 feedback surveys.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Business Case: TiVo

One of the articles I plan to write every week is a business case. In these business cases is to, albeit with little data, I will take a look at a business and assess what I would do with its product portfolio. By doing so, I hope to be able to look back a year later and assess how my direction differed from the company's actual direction, hopefully garnering some learning for it. My first choice for one of these business cases is TiVo.

TiVo (TIVO) reported Q1 2010 earnings on the 27th, showing a revenue decline along with a 4 cent a share profit loss. TiVo is a maker of digital video recorders and has the best-recognized brand in the category. Despite brand presence, the company competes against DVRs integrated into set-top boxes. As of August 2008, TiVo's share of the DVR market was 6.54%. FY2009 revenue for TiVo was $250MM with net income of $103MM. Its brightest prospects rest with an upcoming roll-out by cable provider Comcast in Chicago and a patent lawsuit against competitor EchoStar which, if successful, may provide ammunition with which TiVo can pursue other makers of DVRs.

Company Product Strategy
TiVo's core product strategy elements are as follows: it manufactures its own DVRs for retail distribution; it distributes TiVo service via cable and satellite TV providers; it sells DVR-based advertising; and, it provides audience research.

1) Drive to being a software company as quickly as possible. TiVo needs to define a path that allows for expansion without the burden of high user acquisition costs and the distraction of the heavy distraction that user acquisition and retention represents. If TiVo has managed to port its DVR technology to a set-top platform for Comcast in a way that allows it to quickly port it to other set-tops, and if it has few restrictions on roll-outs in its Comcast agreement, it should quickly move toward other such agreements. If TiVo's porting was very model- and provider-specific, TiVo should prioritize porting to an inexpensive widely-available portal as quickly as possible. TiVo should seek the fastest possible exit path away from being a retail DVR manufacturer.

2) Focus feature development efforts on getting users more quickly to their desired content.
TiVo needs to be the Google of entertainment: not a landing site but a transit point. TiVo's strong brand derives from a loyal following that spawned from the initial platform. TiVo delivered the TV you wanted when you wanted it in a way that was not matched by any competitor, and still is not even today. That strength has not been improved upon, however. TiVo has instead been distracted by features which, though interesting, are impeded in usefulness by slow performance for most users and do little to make the company's platform attractive to cable and telephone companies who can rapidly expand TiVo's user base and provide funding for a proper extension of TiVo's functionality.

It takes a novice user at least 4 screens and almost as many seconds for them to get from one show to another (3 for a more experienced user). Finding your TV shows in long menus is even worse. My first priority for TiVo would be to decrease this time which will affect every user and may provide patent opportunities.

My second priority for TiVo would be to continue to leverage its best-in-class set-to-record features to make it even faster to set a "Season's Pass" or other options without disrupting the viewing experience.

My third priority would be to leverage the recommendation engine to make TiVo discover and propose content for the user from the very first use through an initial by-passable personalization routine. This could help make TiVo more attractive for users by reducing poor experiences with TiVo recommendations which results in users ceasing to use it, while driving potential ARPU for the content distributors by making TiVo a powerful tool in the broadcast customer's arsenal to increase content awareness.

Implicit in my priorities above is that I would be focused on reducing overhead on the TiVo platform, thereby making it much easier to port and move to cheaper and cheaper platforms. I would help this by making a choice to cease support of internet-based content distribution that is not pre-fetched (e.g., photos, Domino's pizza ordering, etc), which is underutilized and makes the device seem slow and inelegant. TiVo can be an internet interface after it has retained DVR market leadership but should not do so until then.

I would transition user acquisition efforts to partners as soon as possible and focus selling and customer retention efforts on brand, targeting potential TiVo customer points-of-entry (such as when consumers move and have to switch cable companies) to keep the advertising spend as efficient as possible. I would be highly focused on figuring out how to enable TiVo's advertising delivery and research capabilities to co-exist peacefully as a revenue source for TiVo with the needs of cable companies. I would offload TiVo customer support to partners, but under strict service level agreement conditions to protect the brand.

Implicit in the above recommendations is my belief that TiVo is trying to do too much for this stage of its business. By becoming very focused on what it does best and reigning in feature creep, TiVo may actually expand its strategic options (e.g., distribution through cable companies or retail via hardware partners) and enable the company to better leverage its powerful brand.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Is and Is Not Lists in Product Requirements

I love this tip for improving the definition of your products. If you want a really clear idea of what your product is, articulate what it is not with an "Is not" list.

The "Is Not" list does not exist to spell out a bunch of irrelevant and silly product features that would be unlikely to find their way into your product. Instead, it is confined to the close call features that might exist in future products and that cause a great deal of debate. The "Is Not" list quickly also focuses on the most difficult product definition decision, which is not what to do but what not to do.

I have seen this used to tremendous success in more design-oriented product briefs to really help provide a vivid picture of a product before it's created. It can narrow very clearly the range within which a team further defines and executes the product.

An Is / Is Not list....

- Does provide contrasts but does not list opposites.
- Is about making features apparent, but not about listing apparent features.

I think you get the picture!

Source: Results Without Authority: Controlling a Project When the Team Doesn't Report to You -- A Project Manager's Guide

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Herfindahl-Hirschman Index: A tool for competitive analysis in scoping opportunities

Scoping is one of the most important roles that we play as Product Managers in terms of defining the value of an opportunity in a given market. Scoping's key activity is defining the addressable market opportunity. The challenge with this activity description is that "addressable" is a subjective term. One of the key questions I pose in determining market addressability is the industry structure in terms of the competitive market share.

The Herfindahl-Hirschman Index is an interesting tool to make determinations with regard to market competitiveness. The Index is calculated by adding the sum of the squares of the percentage market shares of the firms within the industry. The answer can range from 0 to 10,000. What this Index can help do is a few things:

1) If a market shows a high HHI, it is useful to quickly look for barriers to entry of some sort among the market leader. These could be IP barriers, manufacturing scale efficiencies or relationships. This quick look can identify the challenges that your new product concept must overcome to succeed int he marketplace.
2) Where the HHI is high but you cannot readily identify barriers, besides acting as a caution to dig deeper, it may suggest a huge potential opportunity as the space has not yet attracted sufficient competitive pressure.
3) If HHI is low, it is useful to try and gauge profitability of the market given a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation of costs with your Operations group to see if you could make money in the market. It could be that the market is so highly competitive that there is little to be gained by your entry. On the other hand, a highly profitable market with low HHI could be an opportunity for market consolidation.
4) HHI is also useful for pinpointing target market segments to attack if your objective is to assault a competitors line as a wedge versus a typical flanking maneouver if you lack the agility or versus a direct assault if you lack the cash flow or institutional strength.

Some companies build HHI into their early Scoping gate reviews. This may be ok as one variable in an equation, but I find that it tends to oversimplify a complex figure. The real value is in its interpretation.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Basic Volume Model Understanding as a Mental Framework

One of the wonderful things that CPG companies have that is largely missing outside that industry is the prevalence of relatively accurate volume models. I am no market research expert by far, but the little I have learned about volume models has helped me a fair deal in building my mental model of how and why things sell.

Building a volume model of a new product in CPG, you quickly get focused on two key elements: trial and repeat. Trial is influenced by a number of factors, but these boil down to the purchase intent that your concept shows in early Concept and Use Testing and awareness, which can be driven by distribution, advertising, word-of-mouth and merchandising (including any good packaging). Repeat is driven by how quickly an item is consumed, the after-use purchase intent and awareness, which keeps repeaters buying your product in the category versus someone else's.

Just as the Stage-Gate process provides pretty solid guidance on how to bring one's product through an organization from inception to launch, the volume model provides a framework for understanding what the key levers to success are. The first question as a PM that I look to answer is: what is the consumption rate of the product your managing and how quickly will users look to repeat their purchase? For hardware and software, this is probably best answered with "few repeats, lots of trial". Though for services and some software where they have successfully forced obsolescence (Quicken, for example), repeat is indeed a big variable.

After identifying whether repeat matters, the key levers available are distribution, advertising, concept purchase intent and merchandising. My most recent experience suggests that few technology companies devote the resources to meaningfully drive awareness through advertising. The media budget I controlled in my first year at P&G probably equalled 3 years' media budget of my entire current company (and I am being optimistic). Just the shear lack of know-how about the costs and success criteria of media points the PM in other directions. Namely, toward purchase intent, distribution and merchandising (mostly, packaging).

A compelling concept can very often drive strong purchase intent. With a strong salesman (oftentimes, the PM him or herself), distribution can readily follow. So both concept work and selling are important skills that I will discuss in this blog.

Where I have struggled most in my recent experience has been in merchandising. The "first moment of truth" in a consumers' experience with a brand is as they approach a shelf and see your products. In those few instances, you need to communicate what you're about, how you deliver that and convincingly compel your user to try the product. I will be examining multiple tools to improve merchandising, including but not limited to, variants of packaging creative briefs, superior in-store display vehicles and packaging structure itself.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Keyboard Shortcuts at Work

As part of my blog, I am going to write a weekly post on things I do to enhance my productivity at work. I am doing this to both start to formulate these tools into a single "work productivity" toolbox that I can provide the folks who work for me and - perhaps - to enable feedback from more savvy readers that can help to make me more productive.

One of the items that I believe has the greatest effect on my personal productivity at work is my use of keyboard shortcuts. The ability to not use the mouse and always have my hands on the keyboard probably saves me on the order of a second for every email, every task I add to my task list and every file that I open up. The cumulative time gain is substantial as I get a substantial number of emails.

The core to my use of keyboard shortcuts has been memorizing a basic set of them for my core work tools. I put this set into a Cheat Sheet which I have published on In essence, the programs I use most often are in the sheet. This includes Windows, Outlook, Firefox (or IE as they tend to have the same shortcuts), File Explorer and several web tools (Remember the Milk, Gmail and Google Reader).

One of the other time savers that I use religiously is Launchy. Launchy will scan your documents and programs to enable you to hit [Alt]+[Space] which brings up a bar in which you can quickly type the name of a file and hit [Enter] to open it. This has a huge impact in terms of reducing the need to go through huge directory trees in order to open a file and takes little training.

I am sure I am missing a host of shortcuts in my Cheat Sheet. Because I use Outlook so much more than the other parts of the Microsoft Office suite (Excel, Word and PowerPoint), I know very few of the shortcuts for that software. I would deeply appreciate suggestions on keyboard shortcuts to learn in these applications. I am also starting to use MindManager a lot more, and have not gotten around yet to putting these shortcuts into my Cheat Sheet just yet.

I firmly believe that keyboard shortcut knowledge, along with good keyboarding skills, are becoming essential to PM work today. I have met few strong PMs who "hunt and peck". It is simply to hard to handle the volume of information and communicate back effectively without a solid knowledge of how to get around a computer.

Keyboard Shortcuts Cheat Sheet

Sunday, May 24, 2009


One technique that I have found to be very useful that I have "imported" from my brand management training at P&G is OGSM. OGSM stands for Objectives, Goals, Strategies and Measures. OGSM is a pretty terrific way of aligning an organization. Here's how it works:

Your Objective and Goals are the very paramount items that you are trying to attain. Objectives and Goals should be very selective, few in number and, in my opinion, memorable and motivating. A business objective could be "Attain market leadership in all markets within x space by x". The goal is the numeric measurement that will determine whether you have succeeded in attaining your objective. For example, "x% dollar share by x" or, even better, it can be a chart of dollar share by quarter for the next year.

Strategies and Measures are the (ideally 4-5) strategies that you will undertake to achieve your objective. These may include "Drive awareness of product x among x target market through targeted direct mail" and the measure would be "Brand awareness of x% by x date".

The utility of this process is as follows:
1. OGSMs can cascade down through the organization. A company can articulate its entire vision as an OGSM (for example, x% top-line growth and x% profit through the strategies of: expansion into x developing markets, launch of x new brands and implementation of lean manufacturing). Once this OGSM is outlined, folks within the business can create their own OGSMs to match the strategies articulated by management. At the individual level, this cascades down to work levels.
2. The OGSM should be 1-2 pages MAXIMUM. This ensures that you are being subjective and that you are able to effectively communicate your objectives and goals throughout the organization.
3. Reviewing the OGSM for strategic consistency is facilitated by the format and shortness of this methodology.

How do you review an OGSM? This is where I apply the 5S test.

The Synchronization test is the first and easiest test to apply. Review your Objectives and Goals here to see if they are aligned to your management's specific Strategies and Measures (not necessarily all of them, but at least one of them). If they are not, you do not likely have strategic alignment.

The Sufficiency test is applied by rigorously assessing whether the strategies and measures outlines within the OGSM, if attained, are sufficient to achieve your objectives.

The Selective test is applied by reviewing the strategies to see if it clearly lays out what you are NOT going to do as much as it lays out what you are going to do. It should be clear within your selected strategies that you have adequate manpower to achieve them and it should establish to the rest of the organization parameters around dealing with requests that come to your team. (I will not do x because it is not aligned with strategy y.)

The Sustainable test I apply asks "Does this set of strategies offer my company/business/product a barrier to entry versus competition?" (Competition), "Does it meet a real consumer need?" (Consumer), "Does it address customer profitability needs?" (Customer) and "Does it meet my company's financial needs?" (Company).

I am starting to implement OGSM in my current position. I have to say that I regret waiting as long as I have. If done at the start of any job, it is clear what the benefits are. OGSM is a phenomenal business tool.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

An overview of New Product Introduction

The Gate process is a great way to view a product design effort and to uncover the roles of a PM within it.

Robert Cooper in Winning at New Products: Accelerating the Process from Idea to Launch, Third Edition outlines a typical Stage-Gate model as comprising the following stages:
1) Discovery
2) Scoping
3) Business Case (I will call this Planning)
4) Development
5) Testing and Validation
6) Launch

Walking through these phases can provide a quick overview of what's broadly expected of a PM.

1) Discovery
Discovery is the phase through which new ideas are uncovered. Discovery phases can be as simple as conducting team brainstorms - or can be more elaborate, including the use of in-depth consumer insights work to uncover unmet functional needs or the use of metaphors to re-position existing product concepts to address unmet emotional needs. At the end of this phase, a basic list of ideas is developed and put through some sort of idea screen to limit the idea list to a palatable number for the Product team at the Scoping stage.

2) Scoping
At the Scoping phase, PM conducts basic analysis to determine the addressable market for the screened product concepts of the previous phase. Scoping may involve looking at many different variables, but one technique I particularly like is to subject a product concept to two lenses: 5S and 4C. 5S refers to synchronized (is it aligned with my company / team direction?), sustainable (is there something in this concept that can withstand the test of time - e.g., competitive pressures, technology change, etc.?), sufficient (is the idea in conjunction with the other parts of the portfolio adequate to attain the company's strategic objectives?), selective (does the idea say what it won't do as well as it says what it will?) and scalable (is the idea feasible to roll out broadly?). 4C refers to the lens of consumer, customer, company and competition. Scoping through these lenses provides a way to quickly understand a market's size, whether you have any right to participate in that market and how aligned the market is with your company's direction. Some companies use a Marketing Requirements Document (MRD) to align the organization at this phase.

3) Planning
The Planning phase of the Stage-Gate process (called by Cooper the "Business Case") involves expanded resource use coordinated by PM and Program Managers to clarify the concept, assess more deeply the technical feasibility and costs (both unit costs and development costs) of creating the product and more thoroughly validate the market opportunity. The more thoroughly validated market opportunity assessment can include, in more mature industries where norms are available, volume models based on preliminary concept tests or, in less mature industries, validation of volumes from sales and customer-facing teams. The market opportunity assessment, technical feasibility and cost analysis should provide the core tools by which to conduct a more thorough financial analysis of the product concept, providing NPV and company cash-flow impacts of the development. Some companies use a Product Requirements Document (PRD) to align the organization at this phase.

4) Development
In my experience, Program Managers usually take over the Development phase of the Stage-Gate process. At this stage, the Program Manager will work with Product Development to coordinate the creation of a product that meets the requirements laid out by PM in the marketing and product requirements. Detailed specifications will be developed to enable product performance that meets requirements and these specifications will be used by engineering to assess whether they can be attained within the cost constraints laid out in the financials.

5) Testing and Validation
In this phase, a Quality organization may take over. Having been involved in-depth usually in the Development phase, Quality will test the product against the specifications and requirements to ensure execution. This phase may also include Packaging and Advertising testing to ensure the package is "intrusive" and drives the necessary awareness to fulfill the needs of the business model.

6) Launch
Here, a product is moved from NPI to sustaining and the sustaining plans are activated. This may include Customer Service support, Technical Support, etc. At this stage, Sales will focus on product placement and Marketing will drive product trial through advertising (both conventional and word-of-mouth), sampling and merchandising.

I will focus in most of my posts on in-depth looks at tools that may be applied at each of these different phases.


Welcome to Towards A Better Product. I am writing Towards A Better Product to improve my own capabilities as a product manager. In the process, I hope to be able to take some others along the journey with me. My process for improving my PM capabilities is based roughly on the concepts elucidated in the book Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else:
1. Skill-specific Practice
I am trying to learn how to be a better coach. By explaining Product Manager concepts on this blog, I am practicing explaining them to the people who work for me.
2. Simulations
I will be conducting business cases on-line and making recommendations as to what I would do if I managed a particular business. My written record of this will help me to compare and contrast my decisions and decision-making process to the reality of the business world.
3. Process Improvement
I will be explaining the ways that I manage my product lines / business. By doing so to become a better coach, I also hope to gain feedback on better ways of doing my job so that I am continuously improving my best practices.

Who are you?
My name is Jamie and I am a Product Manager at a technology company. I have about 10 years of experience. Before becoming a Product Manager, I started my career as an Assistant Brand Manager at Procter and Gamble - a related position, but more focused on product delivery versus product design (which is, frankly, more my passion). I manage one of my company's largest businesses and lead a team of between 10 and 20 PMs and Program Manager.

Who do you work for?
Although I am certain that some quick sleuthing will uncover my identity and that of my employer, I am going to keep this information confidential, at least at the beginning, to make certain that in no way I compromise my business.