Category Archives: Product Management

Why thinking lean means focusing on very few personas

 

Typically “lean” is used to describe how to develop products. But you can also look at it from a service point of view. If you aim at delivering a world class service to your clients, it makes sense to have a very clear picture of your customer in mind. A customer is playing a vital role in service delivery, she/he needs to contribute to the process – otherwise the result won´t be as expected for both sides.

What do I mean with this? Let’s take an example: every car hire customer is rewarded a certain level of attention by the front line employee. Who wouldn’t know those customers who are very demanding and seem to be eager to get as much attention as possible? The car hire company might decide not to serve this type of customer. It could be that this means not generating revenue from e.g. VIP like customers at all. This would then allow a higher level of standardization and a would then result in a more equal share of resources and attention respectively.

Personas serve as a proxy for behaviors of real world users. You could see this a typology. So, if you create (and try to serve) too many of them, you won’t be able to a) satisfy them all well enough and b) streamline the product you build. Less is more: have ONE problem and ONE persona in mind when you are building great products.

Thinking lean = standardizing = appealing only to a few or only one persona

Seeing Facebook, Google & Co as pure service providers impacts how we design internet products

 

When thinking about the role of technology or “digital” (as many people would prefer to call it), we have learnt during the Services major @HEC in Phoenix, Arizona that it can replace so called front line employees. A service is been delivered to the customer. Almost like the process of car rental or sleeping in a hotel.

At first sight, this sounds pretty trivial, doesn’t it? But, please think twice: if we design websites, apps etc. with the mindset of delivering a service to our customers (not users ;-) ) this might have an heavy impact. One impact can be the the value we deliver to the customer isn´t worth mentioning because it might have become a commodity. Another one could be that we will focus more and align our efforts with much more rigor. We need to focus on delivering on the promise we make to our customer.

So, please take a moment to think about the promise a service like Google is making to its customers. And then think about potential solutions. And finally compare your ideas with the real solution that Google have built. Any gaps here?

We have been told about the “moments of truth” concept. Do we deliver to our customers when it counts or do we fail? It might be worth considering either making the promise smaller or focusing on a more specific target audience. But you will better deliver in a moment of truth or your customers will look for alternatives or substitutes respectively.

A 19yr old explains Top Level Executives how the digital world works

 

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Yesterday I stumbled upon a book with the title Wer wir sind und was wir wollen – Ein Digital Native erklärt seine Generation by Philipp Riederle (@Phipz). In English this means “Who we are and what we want – a digital native explains his generation”. This is an amazing book for a “Digital Immigrant” like me, I can only recommend it. Unfortunately it is in German only, and I don’t know whether there is plan to publish an English version soon. Could also imagine German Execs needing a book like this more than US Execs.

Philipp portraits the “Digital Natives” in a very comprehensible way, and I am absolutely sure many Designers will use his descriptions to describe their personas even better.

And for those who are still reluctant to listen to a 19yr old man: if you don’t seize this opportunities, I am sure, others will…

 

Why We Need Storytellers at the Heart of Product Development | UX Magazine

 

Why We Need Storytellers at the Heart of Product Development | UX Magazine.

Amazing article by @sarahdoody. I particularly liked the right-brain thinker idea and the concept of story telling.

“… and figure out how to distill a vision or idea into a product story.” 

This might also explain, why many companies need a product CEO at their top.

Is a Product Manager sitting between all chairs or leading?

 

If you want to formulate it positively, you might describe the role of a Product Manager as a central one. Working at the intersection of many disciplines. Making sure, the products of your company are viable, feasible and desirable.

But: a Product Manager can very quickly be in a situation where she/he has no real decision power. All the stakeholders expect certain things and one doesn´t have the time to think through everything. And not only that: a Product Manager needs to show the way into uncertainty. And is speaking a foreign language. Lost in translation so to say…

There are also other roles that are pretty central and where people are involved into kind of everything that is going on in a company: project managers, executive assistants etc. Would you see them as the leaders into uncertain areas? You might, but this is not what you will think about first when talking about this type of roles.

So, as a Product Manager you need to assume your leadership role. You need to feel comfortable with showing the way. And especially also to executives. In case this works out, you are in the pole position for an executive role yourself…

Digital blurs the distinction between product and service

 

For my preparation for the Services Major @HEC I have read some interesting stuff about service blueprinting. What I find really interesting is the fact that digital can be seen as the replacement of front line employees. Or, in other words: the “physical” product is kind of “dissolved” into a service. And this fits very well into the product management concept of finding solutions for user problems on the one hand side and on the other hand side the border between marketing / branding (e.g. intangible assets) is becoming more and more unclear…

In some circumstances, it makes sense to modify the traditional blueprint. For example, when blueprinting an Internet or kiosk-based service that does not have any onstage contact employee activities, it could be beneficial to remove the onstage contact employee action row and replace it with an onstage technology row that would capture how customers interact with the company’s technology (p. 12 “Service Blueprinting: A Practical Technique for Service Innovation” by Bitner, Ostrom & Morgan).

If a company is really serious about providing great service, everything needs to be thought from the customer. In Bitner & Co. framework, this would be Physical Evidence / Customer Interactions layer. This is very close to design thinking. There are also interesting case studies to be read about companies who have become successful due to a radical change in their thinking: from executive level to frontline employees. It is great, not to feel too lonely as a Product Manager and to get support from academic folks in the US (https://twitter.com/WPCCSL) with great reputation. In that sense, I am really looking forward to our Services Major @ The Center for Services Leadership (CSL) in Phoenix, Arizona next month!

About the gap between hands-on product management and company strategy

 

During the last couple of months I have been asking myself again and again why there is such a big gap between a product owner and the company strategy. You might say: “wait, there is no gap there. How can you claim this?” I have had a couple of interesting discussions with people on different levels (from a startup CEO to C-Level executives). In many cases one gets to hear: “our company vision, strategy, business plan & top level product roadmap are done already. Now we need a CPO to execute it.” Well, at this point, I ask how did you guys come to this roadmap? Here are typical answers:

  • We have identified our competitors so we know what features we need
  • Don´t worry about this. Just make sure to execute
  • We need to achieve our business KPIs and this is what needs to be done to achieve them
  • We don´t want you to restart this discussion. We have no time to lose!
  • etc. etc.

So either these companies already have great product management (and therefore won´t need senior level support) or they need senior product management (but aren´t aware of it). In my opinion this comes back to a misperception of the Product Manager´s role. If we believe that there is a shortcut to understanding the problems of our users by iteratively building and testing potential solutions we are wrong.

Just read today an interesting chapter of the book “Services Marketing” by Zeithaml, Bitner & Gremler. It also discussed the impact on technology on services (along with their framework of four customer to provider gaps). The paths to get closer to what matters most to customers have changed fundamentally. Please keep in mind that technology is not an end in itself.

Therefore the Product Manager is definitely not the “tech guy” (I have already received this feedback after a discussion: “you are a very technical person” - those engineers who know me will be surprised about this kind of feedback, I am sure). A Product Manager should be the “glue” between all of these aspects.

As @BrianSolis has put it in a 60 second video (SXSW in 60 seconds): 2013 is all about making technology serve us instead of technology chase us. This is the moment of great product management. And believe me, these requirements will push companies to undergo transformation. Believing the Product Managers will only have impact on their nice little “feature sandboxes” would be like perceiving them as harmless paper tigers. If they are like that, it is time to fire them!