Monthly Archives: July 2008

Interrupting our thread in progress…

One thing that’s definitely interruptible is a comment thread on the blog.

Andrew, an APC Product Manager, has kindly and professionally taken the time to respond to everyone’s comments about the Big Red Button. He says:

As a product manager, I can tell you that every feature we include on our UPSs represents a trade off, a compromise between user needs and ease of use, between cost and functionality, complexity vs aesthetics. In order to be as competitive as possible in this marketplace, we strive to please the maximum amount of people with the minimum number of products. This probably holds true for most of the companies people reading this post work for.

It’s hard to argue with that kind of logic. Often what we dyed-in-the-wool technologists see as a “simple fix” can make a product hard to use for many people. However…

Please keep in mind that any changes critical to user interface, like this one, have to be reviewed and pass a series of “hurdles”, any of which having the potential to guide us towards (or away from) keeping this switch just as it is now. (Incidentally, testing new ideas like this is one of the best parts of my job).

The ugly truth comes out. Review process which exist to make sure that bad ideas don’t get to market have a tendancy to simply reduce the number of new ideas in general, leading to situations where changes that actually are quite simple never make it out the door because no one is willing or able to fight for them. Many companies like to pay lip service to testing new ideas, but the hard truth is that if you’re serious about testing you’re going to “waste” a lot of money testing ideas that will never get out the door. And since companies don’t like to waste money, you only test ideas that have a good chance of passing. And that happens via a very subtle kind of social pressure that prevent employees from putting forward weak or controversial ideas.

I think you need to take a few more risks Andrew. I agree completely that adding a molly guard has tradeoffs but they might just be worth it. And don’t take it personally – you are not alone! I have seen this kind of logic squash a lot of good product and feature ideas. Very few companies have a process that isn’t a mixture of help and hindrance.

(And a note for readers: although Saeed writes 99% of this blog, this is the other 1%)

The Big Red Button

OK, so I know I said the post “How to LOSE customers!” would be the final one related to the APC UPS saga, but someone forwarded this link to me today and I had to share it with you.

http://thedailywtf.com/Articles/The_Big_Red_Button.aspx

Perhaps Kevin and APC and other UPS manufacturers should read this, along with the 241 comments. Altogether, they paint a clear picture of what looks like an endemic problem.

Also, the following comment on the article has a very interesting story related to a certain model of APC UPS.

http://thedailywtf.com/Comments/The_Big_Red_Button.aspx#112612

OK…I promise, no more APC or UPS posts for a while…at least not unless something funnier comes along. :-)

Saeed

P.S. If you like pressing red buttons, try this link.

P.P.S. Please vote for us on the ComputerWeekly IT Blog awards.

How to LOSE customers!


One final installment in the APC UPS saga.

Read these two posts if you want to get caught up.

In short, Bad Design on a UPS describes a problem with my UPS. There is a prominent power button on the front of the device that my 2 year-old son likes to depress. Depressing that button INSTANTLY turns off power to the UPS and thus all device connected to it. Not a good thing.

A reader of this blog posted a link to that post on the APC discussion forums.

How NOT to talk to customers looks at the initial response given by an APC forum admin named Kevin. Kevin’s response ignored the core issue of the UPS becoming a single point of failure and relied on faulty logic, irrelevant examples and odd solutions — duct tape! — to address the problem.

A link in the same APC forum was posted by a reader to my How NOT to talk to customers post, suggesting a response was needed.

Kevin responded with the following:

My responsibility is as a forum admin on this board. Therefore, no further comments will be made based off of what was replied to in the other forum.

I suggest he take it up with other UPS manufacturers as well, who’re going to tell him almost the exact same thing.

[NOTE: Kevin has since edited his response on the APC forum with a much more contrite statement and passing the word up to an APC PM. Here's a screenshot of the original comment. See the PM's comment here]

I agree with the first sentence. His job is to focus on the discussion board, so I don’t blame him for not wanting to reply to my blog post. Doing that for every similar post on the Web could be an incredible time sink.

But the second sentence is amazing. I will absolutely take this up with other UPS manufacturers. I doubt they’ll tell me to address the problem using “duct tape”. I doubt they’ll insult my child as Kevin did. I doubt they’ll use faulty logic and irrelevant examples.

Thanks for the advice Kevin. Tell your bosses you’ve not only lost a customer, but also that hundreds of people now know why.

Saeed

P.S. Please vote for us on the ComputerWeekly IT Blog awards.

What's in a name? A PM by any other name…

The Cranky PM has gotten herself into a big snit over a Business Week article about a day in the life of a “Product Manager” at Microsoft. Among other things, the PM, Scott Buchanan, a recent grad of the Kellogg MBA Program, says that he’s “not technical“, and that it took him “30 minutes just to find the latch” to open his laptop. He also describes his role as “all about unlocking the value” in MS products, specifically Office which is his area of responsibility. He states:

My job is to develop strategies and tools that make the job of deploying and adopting our software as clear, simple, and inexpensive as possible.

Cranky takes this poor soul to task, decrying at the end of her post “They call this guy a Product Manager?“:

The Cranky Product Manager calls bullshit. This guy is in post-sales, not PM. What, do they give out Product Manager titles like they are soy sauce packets in Redmond? To fist-pumping morons who can’t even open their laptops? Something tells me he wouldn’t make it through the Google interview process…

So a couple of things. While the CPM has the right (in fact an obligation given her persona) to be Cranky — she once wrote on this very blog – “the CPM’s blog is ‘The CRANKY Product Manager’, not the ‘I-Love-Everyone-And-Everything Product Manager.’ — this time, it’s not really warranted.

As some of the comments by readers of her post have stated, Product Management at Microsoft is really more outbound and marketing focussed. In fact, Microsoft defines Product Management on their website:

As a Product Manager, you have the freedom to run your own business and the resources to make a global impact. The ideal candidate possesses excellent marketing and business analysis skills, well-developed strategic thinking, and the ability to communicate and coordinate with a variety of product development, marketing, sales, and business development teams.

Note the complete lack of any need for “technical” skills.

Now contrast this to Program Management at Microsoft, which is probably more like what Cranky views a Product Manager should be:

Program managers are customer focused, working to ensure that the products Microsoft produces will delight users and enable them to do their best. Program management is also an opportunity to flex technical muscles: your technical decisions and direction are what drive products and features through to completion.

Note that they are “customer focused”, and their work and products should “delight customers”. Seems more like the traditional Product Management role, though more technically focused than in some companies. I think that MS’s Program Managers are really Technical Product Managers, and their Product Managers are more like Product Marketing Managers (in my view of what TPMs and PMMs do).

Regardless of the names, Microsoft has defined and used these roles for many years in their organization. Google, as another example, has a different view of the PM role.

In the end, unlike in the movie Highlander, there can never “be only one” definition of a product manager in a technology company. Some will be more business focused, some more technical. The objective for the larger PM community is to ensure that the business community understands the role and value of the Product Management function and for us to continue to define and hone our profession.

On that note, take a look at this series of articles that I wrote on the subject, and Adam Bullied’s post entitled “The Product Management Manifesto“.

Saeed

P.S. Oh yeah, please vote for us on the ComputerWeekly IT Blog awards.

How NOT to communicate with customers

I had a post a couple of weeks back entitled Bad Design on a UPS, describing what I see as a problem with the UPS I bought last year. One of the readers posted an excerpt and a link to my article on the APC-forums. A couple of days later a response was posted by APC.

I have to say, I can’t imagine a worse response that could have been given. While I’m sure the response was well intentioned, it clearly was written by someone who didn’t understand the broader context of the issue and the implications of writing what they wrote on a public internet forum.

Let me make a few points clear:

  1. I am a customer of APC. I bought their product and currently use it in my house
  2. In general the UPC addresses my needs for my home office
  3. I gave the product credit for the things it does well
  4. My main issue with the product is the very prominent and easy to depress power button on the front of the unit that, when depressed, virtually instantly shuts the unit down along with all devices connected to it

Now, let’s look at the communication from APC and what we can learn from it.

The response from APC was posted by Kevin AKA “The Notorious K.M.P.” If you click on the link, you’ll notice that Kevin has a status of Silver Platinum Medalist. I’m assuming this means he’s a relatively experienced employee at APC. But there are a number of mistakes in his response. Here’s how NOT to communicate with customers.

NOTE: The original response that Kevin posted, and which I quote from below, was altered on or around July 30, 2008 (i.e. 9 days after I originally posted this article). Thus some of the sentences below, may not read exactly like what is currently posted on the APC forum. Click here for a screenshot of the original response – thanks Google cache!

1. Misquote the customer

Kevin starts out his response with this statement:

I had a discussion with a couple of APC Escalation folks yesterday, and in no way shape or form can this be defined as a “fatal design flaw.”

Kevin uses quotes around the words “fatal design flaw”, implying that is what I said. I did not use the word “design”. I actually said:

Now, this is a great device except for one fatal flaw.

This may be a small point, but when quoting customers, it’s important to actually quote exactly what they said in the response. And if you have the full text of what the customer said — in this case my blog post — then misquoting it is simply unacceptable and diminishes the credibility of the rest of the response.

2. Use faulty logic when trying to support arguments

In the second sentence Kevin states:

If it were, obviously OTHER UPS companies wouldn’t use this design and try something different to give them an upper hand. But since they do – that becomes negated.

Here, Kevin uses a logical fallacy to support the design of the power button. i.e. because other UPS vendors do it, it can’t be a bad thing.

Let me say that bad design is everywhere, and just because a number of companies use a certain design, it doesn’t make the design a good one. How many cars have cup holders that when holding a tall cup, either end up blocking the central console in the car (e.g. block access to car stereo controls) or aren’t deep enough to hold the tall cup properly? I’ve seen this in several models of cars, but no one could claim that because many companies do it, the cupholders are well designed.

Additionally, this argument, that because others do it, it must be OK, is a sign of stagnation in a market, and an opportunity for someone to change the situation and either innovate or change the game. This certainly happened in the MP3 player market, when Apple changed the rules in that market with the iPod and iTunes music store.

3. Use irrelevant examples to support your position

Kevin then continues with the following paragraph:

The other side of this is that a 2-year old can also turn off your TV or other electrical equipment that requires a push of a button to turn off. If you have a $2000 LCD HDTV on a surge protector with a DVR and Blu-ray player and the 2-year old turns that off, and blows the HDTV because it doesn’t have the time to cool down, now what’re you more frustrated about? The fact that your PC shut down because your 2-Year old turned it off and you have to do work over again (that raises the question of why autosave wouldn’t be enabled), or that you now have to spend over $500 to fix your HDTV because well, your 2 year old saw a light and wanted to turn it off.

So let me see if I understand what he’s saying. First, states that a 2-year old can also turn off other electric devices such as televisions. Yes, that is true. Then he uses the example of a $2000 LCD HDTV that could be turned off by a 2 year old, and possibly damaged because it doesn’t have have time to cool down. Then he asks what’s worse, a damaged TV or some lost files.

First of all, the issue here is about the APC unit and not random electrical devices. And the fact that a TV could sustain damage simply by being turned off would be a “fatal design flaw” by any standard. So the example is weak at best and basically irrelevant to the point of the original post.

4. Insult the customer and/or his/her family

Kevin continues in his post, referring to my son as “a menacing child that tampers with things“. Now I don’t think he meant it directly personally, but there is no place in his response for that kind of assertion or language. It does show a lack of professionalism and understanding when that is the kind of language that is used in a customer response.

5. Offer pointless solutions that don’t address the problem

Kevin finishes his response with the following suggested solution:

…put electrical or duct tape over the button and the child won’t wonder what’s behind the tape.

Honestly, I had to chuckle when I read this last line. Ah yes, electrical tape, the solution to almost everything. So, let’s see….if I put electrical tape over the power button what will happen? Does Kevin think that somehow the tape will be less interesting to my son than the button? Would a 2-year old not wonder what happened to the button? Is this really the best solution APC can provide?

As a Product Manager, I can’t help but look at this response and think, “What a missed opportunity!”

Instead of responding the way he did, Kevin should have either escalated this to a Product Manager or Product Marketing manager, or had the insight to understand that for a customer, the most important letter in UPS is U for UNINTERRUPTIBLE. And whether due to a power failure or a lightning strike or a curious 2-year old, APC should be making sure that their product only cuts power to the devices attached to it, if and only if it is absolutely necessary.

The soft, single touch power button, with an almost instantaneous shutdown on the UPS may not be a problem for office use, but is a clear problem for home use. I’m sure I’m not the only person who has experienced this. If there is a Product Manager or Product Marketing Manager at APC reading this, I’d appreciate a response. Everyone else, what are your thoughts?

Saeed

See the next part of this sage:
How to LOSE customers!

ProductCamp Toronto

Hey Everyone. A little shout out about an upcoming event for Product Managers and Product Marketers, and product people in general. I’m helping organize the first ever Product Camp here in Toronto.

The home page for ProductCamp Toronto is here.

Staging this will of course be a group effort, and a few of the early enthusiasts are Chris Gurney, Chris Hebert, Lee Garrison and the Toronto Product Management Association.

The exact date and location are not 100% confirmed, but we’re targeted a Saturday in October (after Thanksgiving and before Halloween), in a downtown Toronto location if possible.

If you want to help sponsor the event, please contact Lee.

If you want to speak or attend, go to the ProductCamp Toronto page and register etc.

We’ll be leveraging the insight gained by two previous similar camps: ProductCamp Austin, and the infamously named, P-Camp in Silicon Valley.

Will post updates on the blog once things are firmed up.

Saeed

P.S. Please vote for our blog in the Computer Weekly IT Blog awards. Read more here.

Vote for us…3 easy steps

Hey readers…

I’m going to make one really earnest request of all of you.

Please vote for our blog in the ComputerWeekly.com IT Blog Awards 08.

  1. Click the “VOTE FOR ME” image on the right (or click here).
  2. Scroll down the page and select our blog ( On Product Management ) from the IT Project Management blogs category (see image below)

    (click to enlarge)

  3. Press Submit

Yes, it’s that easy. Feel free to vote for other deserving blogs in the other categories as well, but please vote for us. I’m not sure what we’ll do if we win, but we’ll think of some way of thanking you. And if you have a suggestion for that…feel free to leave a comment.

Saeed, Alan, Ethan