Sunday, December 21, 2008

ProductCamp Austin Winter 2009

You may know that Austin led the global product management community in holding the first ProductCamp. About ninety product management and other professionals spent a Saturday in June in the air conditioned comfort of the St. Edwards Professional Education Center. ProductCamp is like BarCamp, an informal conference in which professionals meet to share ideas about technologies, tools, and practices.

I'm pleased to announce that Austin's second ProductCamp is taking place in January. We are expecting over 175 of Austin's most talented product management, marketing, and product development professionals to attend. This time the event will be at the UT College of Communications building.

WHAT: ProductCamp Austin
WHEN: January 24, 2009
WHERE: University of Texas, College of Communications CMB Building (Studios 4B-4E)
201 W. Dean Keeton St.
Austin, Texas 78712

For more information on the event, or to sign up to lead a session, visit the wiki. Register for free here.

Pragmatic Marketing, Austin Ventures, UT, NetQoS, and Troux Technologies have already signed on as sponsors. If your company is interested in being a sponsor, please contact Bertrand Hazard.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Brands and Categories

Laura Ries makes two primary points in her recent blog entry:
  1. If your product is innovative or the established brand leader, it should own not just a word or idea in the mind of the customer, but should also "own" the category itself. I.e., customers and prospects should equate or strongly associate the category with the product.
  2. If your product owns a dying category and you introduce a new product in new or healthy category, don't put the new product under the same brand umbrella. Instead, create an entirely new brand.
Some choice quotes:
[L]eaders many times become the generic for that category. The brand becomes a short-hand device for talking about and asking for a particular category.

Kodak is not in trouble because people don't love the Kodak brand anymore. Kodak is in trouble because people don't use conventional film cameras anymore. Moving Kodak to the digital category makes no sense at all.

When your brand owns a category in the mind and your category is in trouble, you need to launch a new brand. You can't save your brand by moving it to a new category.
Ries' entry, as usual, contains many examples to demonstrate her points.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Seth Godin on Paying for Logos

In August of 2005, I pondered, "Why Pay for a Logo?" Logos can be important, but it doesn't require deep thought to create them. It's just a matter of following certain simple (albeit counterintuitive) guidelines.

Now Seth Godin recommends:
[T]ake the time and money and effort you'd put into an expensive logo and put them into creating a product and experience and story that people remember instead.
But when you do choose a logo, keep in mind that your impulse to create one with "meaning" is probably a bad idea.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Solution Management

Solution selling is a sales approach in which the sales person probes into the prospect's pain points and puts together a package of offerings to address them. Rather than selling a single offering, the sales person combines several offerings for the specific customer. (For a comprehensive introduction to solution selling, I recommend SPIN Selling.)

Just as sales people should consider solution selling, product managers should consider solution management.

Consider how some companies structure their product marketing. A friend of mine works for a company that sells hardware, software, and services. Each hardware, software, or service offering is a "product" in this company's terminology. The company's product managers manage these individual offerings. They determine the roadmap for each product, communicate the requirements to developers, and govern the marketing of each product.

The company's business clients, however, almost never buy any individual product. A combination of hardware, software, and services is necessary to address their problems. Since the product managers operate at the level of individual pieces of the solutions, they are detached from the customer.

Sales people at the company are confused about how and what to sell. Product managers have prepared collateral and strategy for marketing and selling individual offerings, but have provided little or no guidance on how to package them into a sale that comprehensively addresses customer needs.

Fortunately, business development and sales support folks have helped fill this gap. They have worked to understand the top problems that customers face and to prepare materials that help sales recognize them and sell the appropriate combination of offerings. These business development and sales support folks are playing the solution management role, albeit informally.

Have you thought about what constitutes a "product" at your company? Does your company sell solutions, or parts of solutions? Is it possible to combine these parts into comprehensive solutions? Consider transforming product management into solution management, or at least formalizing some sort of solution management role.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Scott Sehlhorst on SaaS

On his Tyner Blain blog, Scott Sehlhorst has a richly informative entry on software as a service (SaaS). What makes his treatment of the topic noteworthy is his focus on practical customer benefit rather than on the hype that typically surrounds SaaS.

Based on Scott's entry, here is how I boil down the problems with licensed software that SaaS solves for customers:
  1. Deployment time and expense. When a new version of the software comes out, it can take considerable time and money to roll the software out, especially in an enterprise environment. With SaaS, upgrades require little or no deployment time or expense for the customer.
  2. Administration time and expense. Typically, when software is installed at an enterprise site, administrators monitor and manage the installation to ensure it is functioning properly. With SaaS, the provider handles site administration.
  3. Lack of accessibility. If the software is installed locally on individual computers, and a customer needs to use software when she is traveling, she must bring a computer with the software installed or rely on installation on other computers. With SaaS, the service is available remotely via the web or another mechanism.
There are other subtle benefits to SaaS. Yet perhaps I've also omitted some major ones?

UPDATE: Paul Young has some additional thoughts.

Friday, July 25, 2008

iPhone Predictions: A Post-Mortem

Now that we have had more than a year to assess the success of Apple's iPhone, let's see how the predictions of the marketing gurus panned out.

Laura Ries predicted that Apple would initially sell a lot of iPhones, but that ultimately the product would flop. I think it's safe to say that the iPhone has not flopped. Apple sold four million of them in a recent six month period. Ries has recently revisited her prediction.

Seth Godin predicted that the iPhone would be successful, and that Apple would sell more than two million of them in 2007. I suspect he was right about the 2007 sales.

From a marketing perspective, the most important observation about the iPhone is that it has not turned out to be so much of a convergence device. While much of Apple's initial marketing touted the iPhone's merging of music, Internet, and phone capabilities, that perception in the mind of the consumer has not taken hold. In fact, 51% of iPhone purchasers say they will use an iPod in addition to an iPhone.

If you look at the comments by Brandon and Thomas on a previous entry on iPhone predictions, you'll see that they pretty much hit the nail on the head.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Pearls of Wisdom from Stacey Weber

Are you an executive who has recently adopted Scrum or another agile approach to product management and development?

If so, Pragmatic Marketing's Stacey Weber has some important observations that will help you understand the roles and skills you'll need on your team. (See my concise description of Scrum first.)

First, your product manager (often equated, unfortunately, with the product owner in Scrum) should focus on the problems to be solved, not features:
How often have you already envisioned the solution before you’ve stated the problem? Begin with the problem-oriented requirement: “Every [frequency], [persona] has [problem] with [result].” Then work with a user interaction designer or business analyst to define the solution.
Take a look at your team’s backlog. Is it features? Or, even finer-grained tasks than that?

A Product Manager’s primary responsibility is to know the market – to discover urgent, pervasive problems that people are willing to pay to have solved.

We are generally not trained or necessarily skilled in the area of design.
Second, you need an interaction designer on your team:
The designer should be in charge of the translation of market requirements into features. In an agile environment, that means that the designer must work with the Product Manager to understand the market requirements and their priority –and then lead the team to turning the problems into features and sprints that make sense. This must be done in close conjunction with the project manager, to ensure that the product that comes out the back-end makes sense, and provides maximum impact in the target market segment.
Third, be careful with your product backlog. If the backlog contains requirements (i.e. problems to be solved), the product manager prioritizes them. If the backlog contains features, a designer works with the product manager to prioritize them. If it contains development tasks, then perhaps the project manager should help prioritize them.
In an agile environment, that means that the designer must work with the Product Manager to understand the market requirements and their priority –and then lead the team to turning the problems into features and sprints that make sense. This must be done in close conjunction with the project manager.
Bottom line: don't let process obscure the focus on delivering real user benefit, and make sure you have the right skill sets on your team.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

What is Scrum?

Scrum is an agile approach to product development that is centered around brief, informal stand-up meetings.

The term "scrum" originated in the game of rugby. A rugby scrum is a way of resuming a game that has paused due to an accidental foul or the ball having gone out of play. Opposing players engage head-to-head and compete for possession of the ball, which is thrown into the fray.

A "media scrum" is an impromptu press conference in which the media gather around a political figure and bombard her with questions.

Thus "scrum" has come to refer more generally to a short, informal gathering.

In the Scrum approach to product development, scrums are frequent (often daily) stand-up meetings in which each member of the product team states his immediate goal and any risks or obstacles he is facing. The scrums typically start at precisely the same time every day and are often time-boxed to 15-20 minutes.

Other Scrum practices include:
  • Iterations ("sprints") with a maximum duration of thirty days.
  • No changes during a sprint to the planned set of deliverables within it.
  • Demo to external stakeholders at the end of each iteration.
  • On-going measurement of progress and re-estimation of remaining scope.
Roles in Scrum include:
  • Product owner is the voice of the customer and determines and prioritizes what will go in the product.
  • Scrum master facilitates the planning, sprint, and meeting processes. The emphasis is on removing obstacles rather than dictating how individuals achieve goals.
  • Team is composed of the designers, developers, and testers that build the product.
  • Users sometimes attend meetings and give feedback on demos.
  • Stakeholders are not users but may be buyers or vendors.
  • Managers set up the environment for the team.
Artifacts in Scrum include:
  • Product backlog is a prioritized list of requirements or features planned for the product.
  • Sprint backlog is a prioritized, detailed list of requirements, features, or tasks planned for a sprint.
  • Burn down chart depicts the number of backlog items (or the estimated task hours) remaining in a sprint or for the product as a whole.
Executives and product managers are concerned mostly with product backlogs and high-level visibility into the team's progress.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Dancer Test

Are you left-brained or right-brained? Supposedly, your brain lateralization determines how you view this animation.

Some people see her rotating clockwise. Others see her rotating counter-clockwise. Some see her unpredictably changing the direction of her rotation.

Supposedly, people who see clockwise rotation are right brained. People who see counter-clockwise rotation are left brained.

I originally came across this animation here.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Brand Tags

If you haven't already seen Seth Godin's blog entry on it and checked out Brand Tags, take a look now.

A brand is not just a name or a logo. It's a set of associations imprinted in the mind of a customer. At the Brand Tags site, you can say what various popular brands mean to you. You can also see what words other people have associated with brand names. Best of all, you can view a set of these "brand tags" and guess the associated brand name.

Friday, May 09, 2008

What Dimensions Are Best for a Logo?

You're choosing a logo for your company. In all likelihood, you either:
  1. Have some creative folks on your team design it.
  2. Hire a creative marketing firm to design it.
Then, of course, your team sits down, reviews a bunch of candidate logos, and each one of you spews out a bunch of thoroughly unscientific, personal opinions about which one is "better".

Fans of this blog know (because I have beaten them over the head with it) that the best logos are blank slates (where the non-name portion of the logo conveys little or nothing about your company or product). And you generally should choose a logo with a single color that is the opposite of a major competitor's.

But how tall, and how wide, should your logo be?

Al Ries tells us logotype should fit your eyes: 1 unit high and 2 1/4 units wide.

Thursday, May 01, 2008


You may have heard of BarCamp, informal conferences in which developers meet to share ideas about technologies, tools, and practices.

Spurred by Paul Young (of Product Beautiful fame), a group of product managers in Austin is organizing ProductCampAustin, which is a similar event for product managers.

WHAT: ProductCampAustin
WHEN: June 14, 2008
WHERE: St. Edwards University's Professional Education Center (PEC)
9420 Research Blvd
Echelon III Building
Austin, Texas 78759

Sponsors include Pragmatic Marketing, NetStreams, AIPMM, and AustinPMM Forum, Seilevel, and Austin Ventures.

There are two ways you can get more info or get involved:
  1. Go to the wiki (collaborative web site) and sign up as a participant.
  2. Join the planning group on Google.
Everyone interested in product management, marketing, and development processes is invited, but we encourage attendees to participate (volunteer for setup/teardown, speak, lead a roundtable, set up wifi, etc.) in some fashion.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Focus vs. Innovation?

Idris Mootee recently blogged a response to an AdAge article (paid subscription required) by Al Ries.

Here are some excerpts from the Ries article:
  • "What makes a powerful automobile brand today is not innovation, but a narrow focus on an attribute or a segment of the market."
  • "Innovations outside of a brand’s core position can undermine a brand."
  • "Most brands don't need innovations; they need focus. They need to figure out what they stand for and then what they need to sacrifice to get there."
Yep, sounds like vintage Ries. But Mootee disagrees:
Mr. Ries is so wrong on this one.
Mootee counters:
What the automobile industry needs today is NOT a narrow focus or an attribute or another brand. They have been doing that for decades and look at Detroit today.
Really? When I ponder the Detroit automobile industry, I think "scattered", not "focused". This counterexample from Mootee is not convincing. As a matter of fact, it tends to support Ries's point.

Next, Mootee cites Samsung as an example of company that innovated outside its focus and thereby established a powerful brand:
The company focused on product innovation that was not limited by their brand, and saw a meteoric rise in sales and brand value in just a few years and is not a serious threat to big boys like Sony.
Maybe. I don't know much about Samsung.

But I don't think you measure the power of a brand by the success of the company. A company can be hugely successful despite a weak brand, and vice-versa. I don't think you measure the power of a brand by mere recognition, either. Brand recognition is only one ingredient of a brand's power.

How many people go out and buy a Samsung as a result of their perceptions of the brand? The Samsung brand means nothing to me; I buy Samsung products only when their commoditized products come out on top in my feature and price comparisons.

Finally, Mootee avers:
Brand strategy and marketing can only give them a Botox, innovation brings new life.
But Ries hasn't argued against innovation. He has merely argued that innovation is most effective when it establishes or reinforces a focused brand position.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Enable Your Product Manager to Be Strategic

Pragmatic Marketing's Steve Johnson has written an e-book, The Strategic Role of Product Management. In it, Steve argues that strong product management is key to the success of a company when it is strategic and focuses on identifying and solving market problems.

A key graph from the book is:
Increasingly we see companies creating a VP of Product Management, a department at the same level in the company as the other major departments. This VP focuses the product management group on the business of the product. The product management group interviews existing and potential customers, articulates and quantifies market problems in the business case and market requirements, defines standard procedures for product delivery and launch, supports the creation of collateral and sales tools by Marketing Communications, and trains the sales teams on the market and product. Product Management looks at the needs of the entire business and the entire market.
What can you, as a corporate executive, do to enable the strategic product management that will contribute to your company's success?
  1. Create a product management department in your company.
  2. Ask your product managers to lead the company's positioning efforts.
  3. Hire interaction designers and user interface designers that free your product managers to focus on documenting market requirements.
  4. Support your product managers' efforts to call and visit both prospective and existing customers.
  5. Make sure your QA team tests not just against technical specifications, but also tests that your products solve the problems your product managers identify in the market.
  6. Make sure your product managers are experts in the principles governing positioning, pricing, and naming.
Above all, stand up for the strategic recommendations of your product managers. In the face of interdepartmental paralysis, effective product management requires strong executive support.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

"Jewelry Central": A Good Brand Name?


Seth Godin rants on generic brand names that append a bland word ("central") to a descriptive word ("jewelry"):
Jewelry Central is a really bad brand name. So are Party Land, Computer World, Modem Village, House of Socks and Toupee Town.

It's a bad brand name because Central or Land or World are meaningless. They add absolutely no value to your story, they mean nothing and they are interchangeable. "Here honey, I bought you these cheap earrings at Diamond World!" Not only are they bland, but you can't even remember one over the other. This is the absolute last refuge of a marketer who has absolutely nothing to say and can't even find the guts to stand for what they do. It's just generic.
In the past, Godin has recommended names that yield very few Google search results. Such names are almost never descriptive or generic.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Innovation Games Class in Austin

Innovation and agilist extraordinare, Luke Hohmann, will be teaching a two-day class on innovation games in Austin.

I have a copy of Luke's book, Innovation Games: Creating Breakthrough Products Through Collaborative Play. It contains the "rules" for a dozen games that you can play with your customers and design team to better understand your market and create innovative solutions to their problems.

Here are some of the details of the event:
When: March 18th-19th, 2008 (Tues/Weds)
Where: Renaissance Hotel, 9721 Arboretum Boulevard, Austin TX,
Price: $1695/person

Luke Hohmann, author of “Innovation Games: Creating Breakthrough Products
Through Collaborative Play” will be teaching an intensive, two-day class based
on the material found in the book of the same name. Used by corporations such as
SAP, Rally Software Development, QUALCOMM, Emerson Climate Technologies,
Genesyslabs, HP, Aladdin Knowledge Systems, Innovation Games® have been featured
in Software Development Magazine and Soft*Letter, numerous blogs and

Designed by Enthiosys, the leading provider of agile product management
consulting services, this course will provide you with the tools to plan, play,
and post-process the results of the games. We’ll also provide you with
comprehensive notes, worksheets, templates, and books to help you your
learning’s into practice.

You can register for the event here.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Vodka Delusions

Sorry, but Grey Goose is mediocre. Ditto for Ketel One. At least according to a tasting panel at the New York Times.

The tasting panel sampled 21 unflavored vodkas, mostly on the high end. But for kicks, they decided to include lowly Smirnoff in the mix. The results?
[A]t the end of our tasting it was Smirnoff at the top of our list, ahead of many other names that are no doubt of higher status in stylish bars and lounges. Some of those names did not even make our Top 10. Grey Goose from France, one of the most popular vodkas, was felt to lack balance and seemed to have more than a touch of sweetness. Ketel One from the Netherlands, another top name, was felt to be routine and sharp, although Mr. Klemm did describe it as "a good mixer."
Here were the top ten:
  1. Smirnoff United States Grain
  2. Wyborowa Poland Single Estate Rye
  3. Belvedere Poland Rye
  4. Absolut Sweden Level Grain
  5. Hangar 1 United States Straight Wheat and Grain
  6. Vox Netherlands Wheat
  7. Olifant Netherlands Grain
  8. 42 Below New Zealand Wheat
  9. Skyy United States Grain
  10. Teton Glacier United States Potato
The placebo affect [sic] is alive and well.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Interaction Design: the Neglected Skill

Your product development organization has a big, gaping hole in it. (Be prepared to feel defensive as you continue reading.)

One of the most important roles in product development is the role of interaction designer. An interaction designer designs how the users will interact with the product and conceptualize the tasks they perform. He decides whether, for example, the user interface will be command driven, object oriented (clicking on objects then specifying what to do with them), or wizard based. The interaction designer decides the individual steps in the use cases.

Every company has one or more people that play the interaction designer role. Usually, those people have little or no expertise in interaction design. Sadly, they typically don't even realize how unqualified they are.

Let's see who typically plays the role at companies.
  • Engineer. An engineer is an expert on building what is designed. Yes, an engineer may know how to design the internal structure of the hardware or software, but such skills don't guarantee any expertise in interaction design.
  • SME. A subject matter expert is an expert on the concepts in the domain. What about such expertise entails any knowledge of what it takes to maximize a product's usability? In fact, SMEs often have a skewed perception of usability, as they are expert users, not typical users.
  • UI designer. User interface designers know how to lay out a screen. They know the best place to put the buttons, what size font to use, whether to use a drop-down menu or a list, and how to make it all look sharp. But interaction and sequencing is a different matter.
  • Product manager. A properly-cast product manager is an expert on the problems, users, and buyers in the market. Understanding users is important, even essential, but it doesn't by itself entail any expertise in designing a product to be usable to them. A product manager frames the usability metrics, but doesn't necessarily know how to achieve them.

It's certainly possible that a person playing one of these roles just happens to possess user interaction design skills. And in a healthy, productive organization, some people are flexible and play multiple roles. But realize that, to the extent people playing these roles are qualified user interaction designers, it is a coincidence.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Jeff Lash on Qualitative Research

I had the pleasure of meeting Jeff Lash when he visited Austin a couple of weeks ago. Jeff authors the How to Be a Good Product Manager blog. Not to put words in his mouth, but I think Jeff and I share an affinity for the more strategic aspects of product management.

I was happy but not surprised to read Jeff's recent entry on qualitative and quantitative research. It looks like he and I agree on the importance of qualitative research and the complementarity of both types of research.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Are Expensive Wines Better?

Researchers at the California Institute of Technology have confirmed the notion that the price tag on a wine affects people's perception of it. In fact, they genuinely experience more pleasure drinking wines they believe are more expensive:
The part of the brain that reacts to a pleasant experience responded more strongly to pricey wines than cheap ones — even when tasters were given the same vintage in disguise.
A $90 wine was provided marked with its real price and again marked $10, while another was presented at its real price of $5 and also marked $45.The testers' brains showed more pleasure at the higher price than the lower one, even for the same wine . . . .
If someone else on the executive team urges you to lower the price on your product, be careful.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Limitations of "The system shall . . . ."

Is your product manager composing documents with hundreds of sentences beginning with "The system shall . . . ." or "The product shall . . . ."? If so, she should consider a different approach.

Back in 2004, Mike Cohn wrote an interesting article on requirements and agile development. Here is an interesting excerpt from the article:
[C]onsider the following requirements:

3.4) The product shall have a gasoline-powered engine.
3.5) The product shall have four wheels.
3.5.1) The product shall have a rubber tire mounted to each wheel.
3.6) The product shall have a steering wheel.
3.7) The product shall have a steel body.

By this point, I suppose images of an automobile are floating around your head. Of course, an automobile satisfies all of the requirements listed above. The one in your head may be a bright red convertible, while I might envision a blue pickup. Presumably the differences between your convertible and my pickup are covered in additional requirements statements.

But suppose that instead of writing an IEEE 830–style requirements specification, the customer told us her goals for the product:

* The product makes it easy and fast for me to mow my lawn.
* I am comfortable while using the product.

By looking at goals, we get a completely different view of the product: the customer really wants a riding lawnmower, not an automobile. These goals are not user stories, but where IEEE 830 documents are a list of requirements, stories describe a user’s goals. By focusing on the user’s goals for the new product, rather than a list of attributes of the new product, we can design a better solution to the user’s needs.
It's revealing that a product satisfying the first alleged "requirements" specification (the series of "The product shall . . . ." statements) likely would fail miserably at addressing the user's real needs. The real requirements are to mow the user's lawn, and for it to be fast, easy, and comfortable for the user.

Via Jonathan Babcock.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Positioning the Democratic Presidential Candidates

I watched the New Hampshire debates last night. What struck me on the Democratic side was the extent to which the candidates stuck to their positioning. Three of the candidates have clearly staked out their territory in the mind of the voter.

What do the Democratic candidates stand for in the mind of the voter?

Barack Obama stands for "hope" in the mind of the voter. Last night, he repeatedly used words like "empowerment", "getting beyond cynicism", and "bringing people together". The notion that he is an agent of change is an undercurrent of this theme. He wants voters to think he can change the divisive nature of decision-making in Washington into a more inclusive one. His being a fresh face strengthens this message. Voters perceive the usual faces as partisan squabblers that can't accomplish great things.

John Edwards embodies a "fight the power" mentality. He is the populist of the group, and he spoke of battling special interests, lobbyists, multi-national corporations, and "forces of the status quo". The story of his blue-collar father and grandparents working in the mills, and his fighting insurance companies as a trial lawyer, supports this theme.

Hillary Clinton has projected "strength" as a candidate. Her more muscular stances on foreign policy, her statesmanship and experience, and her claims to be a doer and not just a sayer all contribute to this theme. She did not consistently stay true to her positioning in the debate. There were moments in which she responded forcefully to Obama and Edwards with a "let's get back to the real world" message, but she also tried to claim to be an agent of change. This claim distracts from, and may actually undermine, her "strength" theme.

What single idea does Bill Richardson stand for in the mind of the voter? It was difficult to tell from last night's debate, and I suspect his poor standing among the remaining candidates has a lot to do with his failure to position himself clearly.