How much does self-interest play in your decision making process?

By Saeed Khan

Back in 2008, I wrote a post entitled “Self interest always wins out…”.

wiifmI was reminded of it again recently during a conversation with a PM friend of mine.  Believe it or not, we were talking about how releases were planned at our companies. She said that she keeps a spreadsheet with each planned feature that also has several columns with weighted values for categories such as Strategic Fit, Customer Satisfaction, Competitive etc.

i.e. this gives a semblance of an analytic approach to her decision making and she can always open the spreadsheet in a meeting if anyone wants to debate prioritizing one thing over another.

I’ve seen this kind of spreadsheet many times in my years, but what reminded me of my old post was that she said she always wanted to add a hidden column in the spreadsheet that factored in a “pain in my butt” value for a given feature.

e.g. how much personal pain she had to endure with customers, salespeople etc. because of he missing capability.

I’m sure we can all empathize with her. I thought I’d written a post on the topic years ago, but had to search to find it. So here is an updated version of that article for your reading pleasure.

But don’t just read the article, please comment on whether self-interest (at any level) plays a role in the product decisions you’ve been involved in. Be honest. :-)

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Deep down, every single one of us is driven by self-interest.  From acquiring the most basic necessities of life, to how we deal with others, to the multitude of decisions we make each and everyday, self-interest plays a strong role.  Self-interest is not a bad thing and I’m not demonizing it at all. I’m simply stating an obvious fact. We do what will help us achieve OUR personal goals first and foremost.

And as much as we would like to think that’s not true; that we can look beyond ourselves and do what is in the common good, the fact is, more times than not, we will do what will benefit ourselves. Or at minimum, leverage the decisions we make to benefit our self interest.

keep calm honestWhen deciding what should and shouldn’t go into a product release, we try to look at the market needs, at the competition, at the strategic direction of the company etc. etc. But when push comes to shove, and we have to make a hard call on including something or not, our subconscious will have a significant impact.

In a conversation about prioritizing some requirements, I had to make a choice between two important items of roughly equal effort. When another PM asked me why I chose one instead of the other, I said that if we implemented the one I selected, it would get a lot of people off my butt. And that I was tired of hearing people complain about the issue. The other one wasn’t causing the same stink to be raised, but was clearly needed and valuable.

As I said it, it surprised me somewhat. I told the other PM, “I’m being honest here.”

I like to think that I focus on what will help drive revenue, better position us against competitors, help strengthen relationships with key strategic partners and all that good stuff. But seriously, when a hard decision needed to be made, my reasons were none of those.

It’s not as if that functionality wasn’t needed or that it wasn’t something we should add to the product. Don’t get me wrong. People were complaining about it because it was a gap in the product and customers needed it. But, the primary reason for my choice was driven by immediate self-interest.

So let me ask you a question. Have you ever been in that situation and made a decision for similar reasons? In retrospect, any thoughts on whether that was the right decision?

Saeed

Tweet this: How much does self-interest play in your decision making process? http://wp.me/pXBON-4qk #prodmgmt #productmanagement

About the Author

saeed-headshot-colourSaeed Khan is a founder and Managing Editor of On Product Management, and has worked for the last 20 years in high-technology companies building and managing market leading products. He also speaks regularly at events on the topic of product management and product leadership. You can contact him via Twitter @saeedwkhan or via the Contact Us page on this blog.

Cloud and the Changing Role of Product Management

by  Felicia Anderson

cloud changeIncreasingly, customers want and need cloud-based products.  The drivers behind this trend are varied, including the desire to lower costs, conserve capital, reduce the burden on in-house IT resources, and increase agility.

Delivering Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) products changes the product manager’s role by redefining what it means to launch a product.  As Figure 1 shows, for on-premises products, the product manager is responsible for leading the product team from the time the product or release is defined until it is built and fully tested.

In a SaaS model, however, the product manager must continue to lead the product-related activities until that product is deployed in the production environment and available for customer use.

Figure 1.  Product Management Responsibility Expands for SaaS Products (click to enlarge)

PM-responsibilities-cloud

If you are preparing your products for deployment in a SaaS delivery model or developing new SaaS applications, there’s much more to SaaS-ready products than architecting the solutions to be multi-tenant.  Here are 3 things you’ll want to consider to increase the success of your SaaS solutions:

1. Before you start development, understand the effects of deploying and operating the product.

Now that your company will operate the product on behalf of your customers, it’s more important than ever that your product be easy and cost effective to deploy and operate.

If it is difficult or expensive to operate, either your price will be too high or your margins will suffer.   After a detailed review with the operations team, you may find that you need to switch out higher-cost components in your tech stack for lower-cost alternatives or make other product changes to enable automation of operations activities.

You’ll want to perform this analysis before you start development so you can include these requirements in the release planning process.

One product manager had a successful on-premise product that had gained significant market traction over several years.  Now, he wanted to extend that product to also offer it in a SaaS model.  Market demand was robust for both deployment models, and it was technically feasible to extend the product architecture to support multi-tenancy, increased self-service capabilities, and other cloud-enabling features.

As he began to examine the costs of operating it in the cloud, however, he was dismayed to discover the operating costs would drive the price of the SaaS solution to be twice that of competing SaaS offers—basically ruining the SaaS business case.  With further analysis of the key cost drivers, the product team determined that by modifying the product to run on Linux with a PostgreSQL database instead of the higher-cost OS and database originally used, they could reduce their operating costs significantly and could, therefore, bring the SaaS offer to market at a competitive price.

2. Get cross-functional awareness, buy-in, and active participation from all functions

Starting at the beginning of the project. Cross-functional dependencies increase significantly with SaaS deployments because more functional areas are involved in and affected by the product launch.  If you don’t already have a formal process to communicate your plans, solicit inputs, and gain approval from the senior leaders in all the pertinent functions, put a process in place as you begin to “SaaS-ify” your products.

You probably already involve product development, QA, documentation, and marketing in the planning of on-premise products.  For SaaS products, however, IT operations, customer support, and professional services take center stage in advancing the release into the production environment and in onboarding customers.  To ensure a successful launch, you’ll want to secure input from, commitment to, and ownership of their pieces of the project from these critical stakeholders as well.

3. Develop an investment plan

Many SaaS applications require significant capital and operational expenditures for the equipment and network capacity to get the SaaS solution up and running or to expand to support customer growth.  Since most companies follow an annual budgeting process, be sure to determine your investment needs far enough in advance for funds to be allocated as part of the fiscal budgeting process in your company.

The move to a cloud deployment model provides a great opportunity to reach new customers and deliver more customer value.  Because the SaaS provider assumes the responsibility of deploying and operating the application for the customer, the definition of product launch expands.  So too do the responsibilities, scope, and influence of product managers.

Felicia

Tweet this: Cloud and the Changing Role of Product Management http://wp.me/pXBON-4q5 #prodmgmt #cloud

About the Author

felicia-anderson-headshotFelicia Anderson is Director of Program Management, Cloud Services at OpenText.  She helps product teams improve product investment decisions and increase launch success of cloud-based products.

 

Are Your Users Seeing What You Think They Are Seeing?

by Saeed Khan

colour-dress-meme-smallA couple of days ago, my daughters, who are also my reference point for Internet memes, showed me the picture in this link — a shrunken version is to the right — and asked me to describe the colours of the stripes in the dress.

I looked at the picture and then gave my answer.

My younger daughter, nodding in agreement,  look at her older sister somewhat gleefully and said “See, I told you so.”

My older daughter, appearing both disappointed and flustered, looked at me and said “No. You’re wrong.”

At this point, I was rather confused. “What do you mean I’m wrong?” I asked.

They explained the issue to me. My older daughter said, “You should blog about this.”

So what is the issue?

You may  have already read about this dress and it’s colours. It started with this post and it has spread across the web at lightning speed.  Regardless, look at the dress carefully, and answer the question below.

Without giving away the surprise, there are at least 2, and possibly 3 correct answers to the question.

NOTE:  If you want to know more about the answers, it’s easy to find more on the web, but finish reading this post first. :-)

But trust me when I say that 2 people can look at this dress and see COMPLETELY different colours. In fact, ever since my daughters showed me the dress, asked the question and revealed the answer, I’ve been a bit obsessed with the issue.

So…I ran an experiment (spoilers ahead)

On Friday, I opened up this page in my browser and left the browser tab open during the day. Periodically, I would look at the image to see what colour the stripes were.

For most of the day, the stripes were white and gold. But towards the end of the day, I looked at it, and they were now black and blue.

Yes, they had changed colour. And not a subtle change I might say.

I double checked to make sure I hadn’t opened a different window by accident. I hadn’t. The dress HAD changed colour.

My daughter was home from school by that time, and I told her what had happened. She laughed and said she was surprised I had seen both sets of colours.

I then left the house, to pick up my son from school. When I came home, about 20-25 minutes later, I went back into my office and looked at the browser.

The dress was white and gold again. I started laughing out of amazement. I didn’t know what to think.

How could  I look at the SAME image within such a short time span and see such different things?

It’s not an optical illusion; not in any traditional sense.

And then I remembered my daughter’s suggestion to blog about this. So I did some research to understand what was happening.

The answer is context

I’ll let you delve into the mysteries of the colour-changing dress, but it has to do with how your eyes and brain perceive dominant colours. i.e. what your eyes and brain focus on and what is deemed is important.  The same principle  is at play in any application interface that you create.

The context is the job at hand. When a user looks at an interface, they are interpreting it with the context of the actions they need to perform, the goals of those actions and what they know or understand about the interface. i.e. assumed user interface conventions, actions etc.

The interpretations by different user may not be as stark as seeing the same dress in completely different colours, but nonetheless, don’t underestimate the ways people interpret what they see.  What are they focusing on? What are they thinking about? How do they approach the task at hand? These are all questions you need to understand, interpret and embed in the user interface.

And, unlike the women with the dress, your users won’t post on Tumblr or Pinterest or Instagram or elsewhere if they don’t understand how to use your product. In most cases, after a few frustrating minutes — particularly if they’re using a free trial — they’ll move on to one of your competitors, and you’ve lost them for good.

Saeed

Tweet this: Are Your Users Seeing What You Think They Are Seeing http://wp.me/pXBON-4pI  #UX, #prodmgmt #productmanagement

About the Author

saeed-headshot-colourSaeed Khan is a founder and Managing Editor of On Product Management, and has worked for the last 20 years in high-technology companies building and managing market leading products. He also speaks regularly at events on the topic of product management and product leadership. You can contact him via Twitter @saeedwkhan or via the Contact Us page on this blog.

The Top 5 Benefits of Hosting a Customer Advisory Board

By Rob Jensen

council meetingAs a Product Management professional, are you confident the products or services you have planned (or already under development) will be accepted – i.e. purchased – by your market?

If so, how did you obtain this confidence? Hopefully, formally engaging with – and soliciting feedback from – your existing customers to vet your product roadmap is the answer to this question. If not, read on.

For Product Managers, customer advisory boards (CABs) can be an efficient, effective method to gather customer insight and feedback to your current and planned offerings.

For the uninitiated, customer advisory boards (also known as a customer advisory councils) are forums to review industry trends, address mutual challenges or opportunities, and offer unvarnished insights and guidance.

For vendors, these councils are ideal for validating corporate strategies, gathering input on product development, and deepening relationships with key customers. In turn, there is just as much to be gained by the participating customers. (CIO Insight recently ranked the top 10 here)

A customer advisory board is perhaps most often associated with providing feedback and desired direction on the host company’s offerings. Indeed, in querying customer advisory board practitioners, our own survey shows that product direction is the top benefit host companies derive from customer advisory boards. But this benefit is only one of many.

Other research points to the ROI of such executive customer engagements. According to a recent Gallup poll:

 “A typical B2B company has an optimal relationship with fewer than one in seven of its customers… and only 13% of B2B customers are fully engaged.”

However, such “fully engaged customers deliver a 23% premium over average customers in share of wallet, profitability, revenue, and relationship growth.”

Top 5 Benefits of CABs

Here then are the top 5 benefits product managers can get from a well-run customer advisory board program.

1. Feedback to the Product Roadmap

A customer advisory board is ideal for providing feedback and desired direction on the host company’s offerings. Your advisory council can offer an insider’s view of what your target buyer needs and wants from your products and/or services. A council also serves as a great platform for securing beta testers of your new offerings, helping you introduce your solutions and providing immediate validation – before you go to market.

Tweet this: The Top 5 Benefits to Customer Advisory Boards http://wp.me/pXBON-4pq #prodmgmt #customer #research

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Why you need an innovation team

By Steve Johnson

Every organization has to prepare for the abandonment of everything it does.

—Peter F. Drucker, American management consultant.

innovation-team

How does a pack of wolves take down a bear? They attack from all sides. While the bear is dealing with a frontal attack, another wolf is attacking from behind. Ultimately, the bear gets exhausted from turning and turning and turning to address each attack.

Sound familiar?

Maybe you’re the biggest vendor in your space but you’re being attacked by upstarts. After all, with today’s technology, a new player can go from idea to execution in weeks—less time than it takes for you to get a business plan defined and approved.

Maybe you’re the biggest vendor in your space but you have more ideas than you can execute. And as soon as you decide on a set of priorities, a big sale or executive pet project comes in that de-rails the plan.

To survive attacks from too many internal ideas and too many external threats, you need a nimble planning process to move (quickly) from idea to execution. You need to evaluate a new idea, test your hypotheses, and come up with a plan—before your competitors do.

That’s why I recommend an internal innovation team. A team dedicated to a single product idea. A team without a thousand meetings and phone calls and emails related to existing products. A team that is able to ignore “what is” in favor of what could be. Should you deliver via the cloud? Should you do a subscription? Should you sell over the web? Just because your company hasn’t in the past doesn’t mean you can’t in the future.

You can build a business concept and deliver it to market in only 90 days.Who is on the team? A business expert, a market expert, and a technology expert. (Notice I didn’t use titles here. The key is not the title but the expertise.)

And how responsive could this team be if it didn’t have to train everyone in the sales and marketing and support and services teams? Instead you build a small launch team focused on a small group of representative customers.

With a small team of experts, you can build a business concept and deliver it to market in only 90 days. It’s possible! After all, it’s what your competitors are doing.

Interested in the types of expertise in product management? Read my free ebook “Expertise in Product Management.”

About the author

Steve Johnson is a recognized thought leader and storyteller within the technology product management community. At Under10 Consulting, he helps product teams implement product management in an agile world. Sign up for his inspirational newsletter.