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.


Tweet this: Are Your Users Seeing What You Think They Are Seeing  #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 #prodmgmt #customer #research



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.


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.

4 lessons Product Managers can learn from Target’s failure in Canada

by Saeed Khan

target-no-heart-canadaTarget is a retail giant in the United States, with about $75 Billion in revenue and over 1,800 stores nationwide. In 2012, Target announced it would open stores in Canada; it’s first international expansion beyond the United States.

In March 2013 Target opened it’s first stores in Canada, quickly expanding to over 130 stores across the country within the first year.

And then, less than 2 years after opening it’s first stores in Canada, Target announced that they were closing ALL Canadians stores, and laying off all 17,000+ employees including some at their Minneapolis headquarters who were hired to oversee the Canadian operations.

The state of the failure is significant, with almost $5 billion to be written off by Target.

How did Target fail so miserably and what can we learn from this fiasco?

1. Understand and meet market expectations


disappointment valley  right-arrow-small

First, it’s important to understand Canadian consumers. We loved shopping in Target stores in the US. They have good prices, good merchandise selection (many items not available in Canada) and very helpful staff. When shopping at a large retail store, what else could one want?

When Target announced they were going to open stores in Canada, many Canadians expected those same attributes — price, selection, service — to be part of the Target experience in Canada. Sadly, that was not the case. Prices were mediocre, selection was poor and the service was nowhere near what it was in the US.

Great Customer Service (in the US)

For example, I was once in a Target store in Sunnyvale California. I asked one of the  staff where I could find a clothing item, and the person literally walked me across the store and pointed out exactly where that item was and made sure it was what I was looking for. He then walked back across the store, I’m assuming to resume what he was doing.

This level of service  was nowhere to be found in the Target stores in Canada. The staff were competent, but competent is not memorable, and certainly didn’t meet expectations set by their American coworkers.

Tweet this: 4 lessons Product Managers can learn from Target’s failure in Canada #prodmgmt #target



Product Management and the Consolidation Curve

by Rivi Aspler

When I saw the following image in in the latest Forrester Wave™: B2C Commerce Suites, I realized both the intensity as well as the inevitability of the consolidation phenomenon in the industry.


I also came across the article The Consolidation Curve,  by Graeme K. Deans, Fritz Kroeger and Stefan Zeisel, which describes the four stages of industry and market consolidation. Just like product maturity phases, markets have their own maturity cycle and phases, and it’s important for product managers to understand the dynamics of markets as they mature.

Stages of Market Maturity

Stage 1 – Opening

“The first stage generally begins with a single start-up or with a monopoly just emerging from a newly deregulated or privatized industry. But this 100% industry concentration quickly drops off. Soon, the combined market share of the three largest companies drops to between 30% and 10%, as competitors quickly arise to create the frontier of industry consolidation.”

If you are a product manager that is trying to introduce a new product to the market, you in for a tough fight. Innovation is indeed disruptive, and people don’t like disruptions. You are probably investing as much time into the definition of the new product as to the proving its advantages over the existing substitutes.

Stage 2 – Scale

“This stage is all about building scale. Major players begin to emerge, buying up competitors and forming empires. The top three players in a stage 2 industry will own 15% to 45% of their market, as the industry consolidates rapidly.”

If you are a product manager that is working in a scaling market, you face the harsh competition of the veterans and the new players that are starting to catch up.  It’s time to make sure that your competitive advantage is clear. This advantage will determine if your company will be bought or left behind as a follower after the big ones ….

Stage 3- Focus

“After the ferocious consolidation of stage 2, stage 3 companies focus on expanding their core business and continuing to aggressively outgrow the competition. The top three industry players will now control between 35% and 70%of the market. By this time, there are still generally five to 12 major players.”

If you are a product manager who is working in a market that is in the process of focusing, you are probably not working as hard as you did before :-) (compared to the opening and scaling stages). You are still required to make sure that your value proposition is well perceived by the market and that your competitive advantage is indeed stable (don’t rest!), but now, sales people are the ones that are front and center, trying to get as much as possible market share.

Stage 4 – Balance and Alliance stage

“Here the titans of industry reign, from tobacco to soft drinks to defense. The industry concentration rate plateaus and can even dip a bit as, at this stage, the top three companies claim as much as 70% to 90% of the market. Large companies may form alliances with their peers because growth is now more challenging. Companies don’t move through stage 4; they stay in it.”

If you are a product manager who is working in a stage 4 market, you are probably a bit bored… incremental additions to the product will do just fine…. Until that new start-up arrives, knocking at your door, that will open up the market once again.


Tweet this: Product Management and the Consolidation Curve  #prodmgmt #productmanagement 

About the Author

Rivi-colorRivi is a product manager with over 15 years of product life-cycle management experience, at enterprise sized companies (SAP), as well as with small to medium-sized companies. Practicing product management for years, Rivi now feels she has amassed thoughts and experiences that are worth sharing.