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?