Monthly Archives: June 2009

The value of simplicity

We have 3 different types of food blenders in our house. They are pictured below. I’ve tried to show them roughly to scale with one another.


The first is a “traditional” blender with a base, a large 56 oz. (1.75 L) pitcher-style container and several speed settings for the blades.

The second is an immersion blender with a number of attachments for mixing, blending, chopping etc.

The third is known as the Magic Bullet blender. It has a small 16 oz.  (.45 L)  container for the contents being blended and a simple on/off mechanism for the blades.

While they all have benefits and are clearly different, guess which one gets the most use in our household? Given the title of this post, it should be pretty obvious.

Yes, it’s blender #3, the Magic Bullet. And why?

Simplicity in all aspects of usage. Most blending jobs are very simple quick tasks. e.g. making a smoothie, or blending some sauce or something similar. The usage scenario goes something like this:

  1. Place the contents to be blended into the blending  container
  2. Blend for 10-15 seconds (maybe 20 seconds in extreme cases)
  3. Pour the contents out of the container

There’s not much more than that. In *most* cases, the amounts are small (< 16 oz) so I don’t need the large blender which is both heavy and a bit of pain to clean. Also the immersion blender is pretty good for a lot of tasks, but I find it inefficient unless I truly have to immerse it into a pot or other container for “in place” blending.

In short, for the majority of my blending tasks, the Magic Bullet addresses the needs well. There is a lesson here for software and technology PMs, and I think you know what that is:

A simple solution that addresses a use case well is likely to be used often by your target audience.

Of course, most technology products do a lot more than a blender, but that doesn’t mean they have to be complex to use.


(How) do you measure customer satisfaction?

Dear Readers,

I will be writing an article on how to measure customer satisfaction in B2B software. To prepare for that article I would like to hear your experiences or read articles that you find useful.

If you have a useful article on the topic, or personal experience measuring customer satisfaction, I would love to hear from you. Please email me directly at

Here are some focusing questions:

Do you measure customer satisfaction?

  • Simple question: do you measure it?

What to measure

  • what are your “leading indicators” of customer satisfaction?
  • is customer satisfaction the right thing to measure? what about customer success?
  • how do you measure for referenceability?
  • how do you measure for customer’s liklihood of re-purchasing?

How do you take the measurements?

  • Do you use quantitative measurements? If so, how do you administer these? Direct calls? Web surveys?
  • What kind of response rates do you get to your web surveys? To your phone calls?
  • Have you ever used an external agency? If so, which one(s)?

Have you read any good articles or books on this topic?

Thank you. I appreciate your responses.

- Alan

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Embracing New Media

I’ve written about the CBC radio show “The Age of Persuasion” before. A recent episode entitled Embracing New Media is worth listening to.

By looking at how people reacted to and dealt with successive versions of “new” media (like the telephone and television) when they first came out, the host, Terry O’Reilly, teaches us some lessons about how to deal with the current slew of new social media in our lives. Enjoy.


So why do we undermine ourselves?

My recent post about Tom Grant and Rick Chapman got me thinking. Is Rick alone in his misunderstanding of Product Management? To be honest, I knew what the answer would be, but I was rather surprised by what I found within the Product Management community itself!

And not to pick on the following people specifically, but here’s some of what I found:

In an article entitled “What is a Product Manager for?” written by Jacques Murphy and published on the Pragmatic Marketing site, Jacques states:

A Product Manager fills in the gaps between different functions and departments in order to make sure that the product develops and makes progress, with the aim of making the product perform better relative to the competition.

I later saw Jacques being quoted by Chris Cummings (author of the excellent Product Management Meets Pop Culture blog) in slide 2 of this deck on SlideShare.

And on slide 12 of the same deck, Cummings writes the following:

The Product Manager is the glue that binds the team together and the grease that keeps the product moving in the right direction.

And finally,this deck was the basis of a presentation that was given this past November on the Product Management View.

Now I must say that both Jacques and Chris gave a lot more detail to better explain the gaps, grease and glue, but what organization in business would define itself that way?

  • We’re Marketing. We’re the grease that enables Sales to do it’s job efficiently.
  • We’re Support. We fill the gaps left by Development, Documentation and Training.
  • We’re Project Management. We’re the glue that ensure Development and QA stay synchronized.

Do any of those sound like ways those groups would describe themselves? Not to me! So why should we refer to ourselves that way? Particularly when we believe we deliver a critical function within the business. Not only do the grease, glue and gap definitions diminish the value of Product Management, but they are fundamentally wrong.

As Nick Coster of Brainmates wrote in a comment on Chris Cummings blog,

Hey Chris, I used to see the role of the product manager as “the glue that binds teams together” but have now come to think that description grossly understates the imporance of product management.

By referring to the role as a binding or lubricating function, we acknowledge the dysfunction of other teams and accept the burden of resolving their inability to work together. If instead we lead the teams and focus their outputs then we, as the leaders for our products, can drive better outcomes for the business, our customers and ourselves.

I completely agree with Nick.

It’s time to stop describing Product Management as something that fills the gaps or greases the wheel etc. and start describing it consistently as a business critical role that helps optimize R&D investments, aligns teams across departmental silos and helps drive business success for the products under management.

Product Management is a critical enabler of business success, and like other departments such as Sales, Marketing and Finance, must be structured, staffed and directed in a deliberate manner to maximize opportunity for success.


Tom Grant Kicks Some SaaS

Forrester’s Tom Grant has written 2 excellent pieces rebutting some rather uninformed blog posts and comments made by Rick Chapman over at Many people, myself included, left comments directly against Rick’s blog post, to many of which Rick responded. But Tom wrote his posts to share his thoughts on the issue.

Tom maintains two blogs. His official Forrester Blog on Product Management, and a personal blog called The Heretech, and has posted SaaS Backwards and Making a SaaS of Yourself on The Heretech site.

A bit of background info

Rick Chapman posted this piece entitled:  SaaS Company? Thinking of Sending Your Product Managers for Formal Product Management Training and Certification? Don’t Waste Your Money on his blog.

Yes, that’s the title. Now, to be objective, the point I think Rick was trying to make was that existing Product Management training classes are best suited for more traditional packaged software companies, and there are important specifics about SaaS companies and their products that are not addressed by these classes.

Now if that truly was what Rick had argued, that wouldn’t have been too controversial. Training in general is a good thing, but not always critical.  PM Certification?…well, the value there is dubious.

But Rick very quickly started digging a hole for himself by completely misunderstanding or misrepresenting Product Management. For example, he writes:

The most important job traditionally performed by product managers is managing the tick list, that is the, the list of new features and abilities that will be added to new releases of the product (and ticked out as the latest and greatest in marketing collateral)

This statement alone shows that Rick really doesn’t understand what Product Management is.  I’ve written about this exact issue on this blog previously — Feature Prioritization doesn’t equal Product Management.

Later, Rick talks about MRDs (Market Requirements Documents) and states that they are becoming irrelevant to SaaS vendors because SaaS vendors typically have  releases many times per year. He writes:

The MRD is designed to provide a high-level business and marketing overview of a software product and tied closely to a product’s release cycle.

The issue here is that Rick (erroneously) assumes that MRDs are documents that must be tied to releases. The reality is that MRDs are tied to business objectives and market dynamics. They are not product planning documents. If a company’s release cycle is long (i.e. 1 year or more) then there might be a relationship between the release and the MRD.

But simply because an application has a short release cycle (several times per year), it doesn’t remove the need for an MRD (or equivalent business analysis document) on an annual or as needed basis, depending on market changes, business issues etc.

Rick also touted a SaaS company that manages approx. 100,000 feature requests “with no Product Managers”, as if this is a model to follow or that managing enormous lists of inbound feature requests is the only responsibility of PMs.

Anyway, you get the point here of the kinds of flaws in Rick Chapman’s understanding of Product Management.

So go read Tom’s posts — Making a SaaS of Yourself and Saas Backwards — and read Rick’s original article as well and let me know what you think.


Guest Post: 5 Things That PMs Should Do To Get Their Products Noticed

NOTE: The following is a guest post by Dr. Jim Anderson of the Accidental Product Manager blog. Enjoy. And if you feel inspired to write a guest post of your own, click here to find out how to submit it to us.

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Just how many ads for products do you get hit with each day? 10? 100? 500? No matter what the number is, the end result is the same – you shut down.

Something in your brain switches off and you stop “seeing” ads because you are in overload. This is bad news for a product manager who wants to get his / her product noticed. Is there anything that can be done to get your customers to notice your product’s advertising?

What Doesn’t Work?

You are the CEO for your product and so you’re going to have to find a solution to this problem. Dr. Sridhar Balasubramanian and Dr. Pradeep Bhardwaj are marketing professors at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and they’ve been studying this problem of how to reach customers that have tuned traditional product advertising out. The professors point out that most product managers take the aggressive approach and attempt to get their products noticed by simply TALKING LOUDER (remember those TV ads with “Crazy Larry”?) This simply doesn’t work.

Things You Should Be Doing

There are 5 things that as a product manager you can do in order to ensure that the advertising for your product is actually working for you. Here’s what you need to be doing today in order to get your product noticed tomorrow:

  • Pick The Right Time: You know your (potential) customers better than anyone else. When will they NOT be getting hit with too many ads – when they get their postal mail at work? Via Twitter? Via FedEx box? Find your customer’s quiet time and seize it to get your message across.

Examples: the in-flight magazine that everyone reads is a great opportunity to reach the right type of customer when they are “locked in” and have nothing else to read. Also, adding your product to those videos that they are starting to show in elevators would be a great way to reach your target customers in their building.

  • Arouse Curiosity: Ads that just talk about how great a product is are boring. Ads that trigger your customer’s curiosity are something special. Is there a puzzle that you can create that they have to solve? Once they solve it can they go to your product’s web site and claim a reward? Talk about a great way to get your message across!

Example: Google did this when they were hiring – they created billboards with math problems and a URL where you could go to type in the answer.

  • Piggyback On Another Brand: If your product is new, you are going to be fighting for your potential customer’s attention because they don’t know anything about your product. However, if you can join forces with an existing brand, then both brands can benefit from combined advertising.

Example: you see this all the time – summer movies do cross promotions with McDonald’s and Burger King.

  • Physically Move Into Your Customer’s World: Where does your customer spend most of their day? In days of old, companies sent out calendars to their potential customers (Pirelli’s is world famous) because they knew that they would be on the wall for a year.

Example: Today providing your customers with a browser widget might be the best way to promote your product.

  • Trigger All 5 Human Senses: Ok, so maybe you can’t hit all five senses but can you at least do one better than sight? A clever tune or a pleasant scent that becomes associated with your product could help it stand out from all of the other ads that your customer encounters.

Example: The Coke “jingle” and the Southwest “ding” sound are both audible sounds that we all now associate with the brands. If we hear the sounds, then we automatically think of the brand!

Final Thoughts

As though being a product manager was not hard enough, now we have to be advertising experts? Well, no. However, you are the one person who is ultimately responsible for the success of your product. You need to be thinking about these 5 actions so that you can steer the advertising for your product, and so that in the end, it works to make your product fantastically successful.


Dr. Jim Anderson has been a product manager for individual products at small start-ups as well as entire products lines for some of the world’s largest IT shops. His popular blog, “The Accidental Product Manager“, is where he shares the product management secrets that he’s discovered along the way.

New Ideas: Are we masturbating here?

I haven’t cleared this topic with my co-bloggers, so please let me say up-front: I take full responsibility for this post.  - Alan Armstrong

Twice on the phone today the topic of masturbation came up (sorry) with senior, well-respected colleagues in the tech business. I won’t say exactly which companies we were talking about, but I think the question should be asked whenever we talk about doing something new: Are we masturbating?

Think about it:

  • How many marketing campaigns have you seen that sounded great in the creative room, but got no traction with buyers?
  • How many product ideas sounded so cool when you first talked about them, but when they were launched, no one cared?
  • How many product releases were supposed to radically alter the company’s future by introducing killer features, and sales remained relatively flat.
  • How many acquisitions looked great to the executive team, yet failed to be accretive within their lifetime?
  • How many of those failed acquisitions are dumped 2-3 years after endlessly frustrating attempts to resuscitate?

And perhaps more to the point, what does this have to do with masturbation?

Well here’s the thing: All of these initiatives feel really great – REALLY great – to the people thinking them up, but really, buyers will not pay actual money for the product.

So I suggest you adopt the question whenever you hear a new idea that claims to save a company: Are we masturbating here, or will someone pay for this?

The antidote to this kind of thinking is something I call Buyer Intelligence. Understand the buyer’s world, not what they are asking for, but what they are really trying to accomplish. If you understand that world, you will be far ahead of most competitors and far more likely to get real satisfaction.

- Alan

Happy (belated) birthday to us (again)!

Well, just like last year, we did it again and forgot our own birthday.

It was June 1, 2007 that the first item was posted on this blog. Now, two years and 280+ posts later, life on the blog is thriving. That’s about 1 blog post every 2 1/2 days for the past 2 years!

I’ve met a number of really great people through this blog — other bloggers as well as readers. It still amazes me when I go somewhere and meet someone who recognizes my name from the blog.

Here are some highlights from the past couple of years. We wrote a several series of articles on:

How to be a Great Product Manager

Conducting Win/Loss Analysis

Discussing Social Media

  • The Lowdown on Social Media Parts 1, 2 , 3 and 4

Contrasting Product Managers with Product Management

  • Product Manager vs. Product Management Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

We were nominated for awards…

But we didn’t win anything :-(

A simple post on an uninterruptible power supply…

Became an important lesson for APC on the perils of social media

There was a LOT of talk about Agile/Scrum this past year

We held our first ProductCamp here in Toronto

We (macro)blogged about Twitter

We Discussed Organizational Structures

And US Politics

We oversaw a few kerfuffles

Wrote some Haiku

Parodied some songs

And had some sympathy for the Devil’s Dictionary

It’s been a good couple of years. Thanks to the ever growing audience to this blog for reading and commenting, and soon guest blogging.

Maybe next year, we’ll remember June 1 as the anniversary. Here’s to another 140 posts for the next 12 months.