Blog – Product Focus World class product management training Fri, 14 Jun 2019 14:05:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Using the 5 Whys to Stop Firefighting and Become Proactive Fri, 07 Jun 2019 18:07:52 +0000 Many product managers spend too much of their time sorting out issues and putting out fires.

This blog helps you reduce your firefighting by changing perceptions, having a stronger focus on prioritization and addressing the root cause of issues.

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As a Product Manager, you will know that demands on your time are high. New projects are constantly landing in your inbox and it can be easy to spend a lot of time on tactical activities and fixing issues – often known as firefighting.

Firefighting is a common practice in product management. It’s a topic we have covered before (see our blog from 2016 here). Since then, the problem seems to have increased. Our most recent industry survey shows that respondents felt that 52% of their time is spent firefighting.

When you’re firefighting, in many respects, what you are actually doing is ‘papering over the cracks’ of an inefficient organization. In an ideal world, there would be processes and teams that deal with any ‘business as usual’ issues. This would allow product management to focus on the more strategic challenges of understanding customers and crafting the product vision for the future.

Firefighting has the potential to monopolize the majority of your time. At its worst, it can consume most of the resources from the entire product team and create a culture where firefighting becomes the assumed and accepted norm.

Firefighting vs planned activities

Over 50% of the average product manager’s time is spent firefighting. Product Focus Survey 2019

So, what can you do to break the firefighting cycle and become a more proactive product management function? In this blog, I will examine some of the tools that will help you to stop firefighting.

Changing Perceptions

While firefighting is particularly prevalent in new product functions, where the role of product management is not clearly defined, it can affect more mature teams too.  As product teams, we work with lots of other functions across the business. If those functions aren’t clear about what product management does, they can view any incoming issues that touch on the product as being the responsibility of the Product Manager to sort out. This is very attractive to them, as it gets the issue off their plate!

Often, the very act of firefighting perpetuates this perception! If product managers are seen to be firefighters, that’s what others assume their job is. And, occasionally we make life worse for ourselves because we want to be seen as the hero – the one who rides to the rescue to sort out any issue. It makes us feel good, yet, this again perpetuates an incorrect perception of the function.

So, how can we change this perception?  The best way to start is to say “no” more often. This sounds simple but saying no is often harder in real life – particularly where a firefighting culture is deeply embedded, or when we’re trying to create a good impression in a new job.

If someone says to you, ‘any product issue – the product manager should sort out’, maybe your response should be, ‘any product issue – the product manager should sort out who sorts it out’.  Yes, we need to make sure it’s fixed – but only by finding its most appropriate home so that when it happens again someone else deals with it.

I don’t think you can ever eliminate firefighting from product management, but you can minimize it by evangelizing what product management’s role is and the value it brings when working more strategic activities. See our thoughts on this – Selling the value of product management.

As a Product Manager, I was once accused of having ‘slopey shoulders’. At the time, I’m pretty sure it was not meant as a compliment! But changing perceptions will encounter some resistance at first. I certainly didn’t feel like I was ‘passing the buck’. I felt that I was placing the issue in the most appropriate place.

In hindsight, this ensured that I was utilizing my time effectively while allowing the relevant expert to fix the issue. This was good product management instincts. Chances are, in a cross-functional environment, it will be far more appropriate for another team to pick up the corrective action.

The 5 Whys

Finding the most appropriate person to resolve the issue becomes more apparent when you understand the root cause. A famous technique for establishing the root cause of any problem is the ‘5 Whys’.

The 5 Whys is a bit like the technique that small children use to understand the world. Children keep asking ‘why’ until you reach exasperation point and say, “Because I said so!”

At its most basic level, it’s about asking why until you drill down the levels to the core issue. 5 levels always seem to be enough to reach this root cause. The classic example given to illustrate this technique is to consider why a monument in Washington DC was deteriorating. The stonework was crumbling and, as a major tourist attraction, lots of money was being spent to keep it looking good.

Washington Monument

The Washington Monument

The 1st why – Why was the monument deteriorating? Harsh chemicals were repeatedly used to clean the monument.

The 2nd why – Why were harsh chemicals needed? They were needed to clean off the large number of bird droppings plastered over the monument.

It would be easy to stop here and come to the conclusion that some form of bird-scaring device was needed. But if we continue through the process we can find another option which addresses the true root cause.

The 3rd why – Why were there a large number of bird droppings on the monument? There was a large population of spiders in and around the monument. These were extremely tasty and abundant for the birds to eat.

The 4th Why – Why was there a large population of spiders? Vast swarms of insects, on which the spiders feed, were drawn to the monument at dusk.

The final and 5th why – Why were swarms of insects drawn to the monument at dusk? The answer, the lighting of the monument in the evening attracted the local insects.

So, the solution was to change how the monument was lit-up in the evening to prevent swarms of insects.

From this example, we can see why it’s important to drill down to the root cause and not the first cause we come across. When stuck in a cycle of firefighting, the temptation can be to put in a sticking plaster solution so the immediate problem is off your desk, but that may not stop it coming back again in the future


Just as we know not all projects that will pass over our desks are created equal, we should also realize that it’s the same with problems. Not all problems are deserving of your time and attention.

When a new issue or request comes to you, do you have a process for deciding how you should act? A little mental checklist that you go through to try and avoid ‘knee-jerk’ reactions and ‘time sinks’.

Particularly if you are new to product management, the temptation is to think, “It’s to do with my product, so it must be my responsibility.” By having a quick method of analyzing incoming requests it will help you avoid this trap.

The following method allows you to analyze incoming issues and make decisions on how to prioritize them.

Analyzing diamond

How to prioritize

When the problem arises, first think if you are you the right person to handle this, or is it better sat somewhere more appropriate, with the specialist skills to resolve?

If it should sit with you, is it the right time to deal with it? Sometimes you can wait on a problem and it will go away or resolve itself. But, if it doesn’t go away, you can plan an appropriate time to devote your attention to the problem.

Another key thing to consider is whether you have enough info to progress it. Often you will need to do research before you can fix something. This could be reading up on possible solutions, but often it will involve bringing others into this discussion. Even if it is most appropriate that the problem sits with you, it should not stop you leveraging the skills of others to resolve it. You should always be thinking ‘how are we going to solve it’ rather than ‘how am I going to solve it’.

A final thought on prioritization is to make sure to organize your daily activity. Knowing whether you have adequate time to devote to fixing an issue, depends on you knowing what your output for each day should look like.

One thing I do at the end of each day is to create a to-do list of the things I want to get done tomorrow – the things that will help me achieve my important goals. During the next day when I break for a coffee and return to my desk, I review it and ask myself if what I’m going to work on next is really the best option. This is a great habit to get in to and will allow you to make better decisions on prioritizing your time.


So, how do you leave the firefighting behind and become more proactive and strategic? Firstly, it is important that we educate the business and change perceptions around what a product management team does.

Then we need some tools that will help us find the root cause of a problem, what the solution should be, and where that corrective action should sit. The 5 Whys will help you find a home for it, giving you more time to concentrate on your strategic activities.

Finally, becoming more proactive and strategic in your work makes it a more rewarding job. It feels much better than constantly being reactive – cleaning up the messes left by others. And you’ll be providing more value to the business and, in turn, making yourself worth more to the business!

Ian Lunn
Director, Product Focus

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Portfolio Management for Dummies Thu, 09 May 2019 13:36:56 +0000 Portfolio planning is essential to help your organization decide how it’s going to meet its objectives - get it wrong and you’ll miss targets, waste resources and frustrate stakeholders.

Whether you’re a product manager wanting to position your product with the senior team or a team leader involved in the portfolio planning process this blog provides some insights to the tools you can use to get a robust, transparent process.

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Portfolio management is one of those topics that some product managers never worry about – whilst they might have heard of it, they don’t get involved.

Even those that manage a set of products might treat each as a discrete product and not worry too much about how to share their company’s resources between them.

But it does matter.

Let’s say you have a £10m budget and 10 products, should each be given £1m?

Clearly not, so how do you decide which product gets what?

Having a defined, systematic process for deciding where a company is going to make investments helps avoid wasting resources through a scattergun approach and helps limit the time wasted on knee-jerk reactions to short-term demands.

If you’re a product manager, looking after a single product then it matters to you because it impacts on the resources you’re going to get to spend on improving your product.

If you manage a portfolio then it provides a mechanism for you to make or to recommend investment decisions with your senior management team.

Standard tools

If you’re new to portfolio planning, then it can be tough knowing where to start.

But there are many tools that can help you think through what matters, give you clues about the investment that might be needed and to know where to focus your efforts. They also help you communicate your thinking and decisions to senior leaders in the business.

Product Lifecycles

We recently ran a webinar on lifecycles and have a new infographic that talks about decisions and areas of focus at different points in the lifecycle.

There’s a generic view of what matters at each point in the lifecycle. It’s worth understanding this even though your product and context may not be the same.

Targets commonly change during the lifecycle

Targets commonly change during the lifecycle

The red text on the graph points to possible business objectives at different stages of the product lifecycle. In the earliest stages of product introduction, market penetration and market share growth are usually key. There’s evidence that establishing a market leadership position in your target niche helps deliver higher profits as you are achieving benefits from scale and higher pricing.

As a product moves out of early introduction, the focus might shift to a different metric of value. For a commercial business, this is likely to be revenue as you seek to monetize your customers. For internal product managers or those who work in not-for-profit or open source businesses, other measures of business value would be used (e.g. number of users, number of clients, impact on the brand, pull through of other products…)

And finally, commercially oriented businesses will, at some point, shift the focus to profits – maximizing the value of the product by changing pricing or costs or some combination of the two.

There is a balance to be made in the portfolio. Early growth is expensive, with high investment in the product, and it’s only usually as things ramp into steady growth that there’s payback from the initial investment. When you think as a portfolio manager, you’ll need to balance the needs for investment in early-stage products with the profits that come from products that are more mature.


Another point of balance is between long term bets and in-life products. A useful model to help visualize and communicate this is 3 horizons from McKinsey.

Balance investment in today's products with plans for the mid and longer term

Balance investment in today’s products with plans for the mid and longer term

In the McKinsey model, as companies mature, they often face declining growth as innovation gives way to inertia. In order to achieve consistent levels of growth throughout their corporate lifetimes, companies must work on existing businesses while still considering areas they can grow in the future.

Horizon 1 is about maintaining and defending the core business (around 70% of investment goes here)

Horizon 2 is about nurturing emerging business (around 20% of investment goes here)

Horizon 3 is about creating genuinely new business – these are your moonshots (around 10% of investment goes here)

This model can be applied at both a strategic level but can also be used at a product level, e.g. as a roadmap approach with Horizon 1 becoming “Now”, Horizon 2 “Next” and Horizon 3 “Future”.

The timescales of each horizon can vary considerably. In some companies we’ve worked in, Horizon 1 looks out a year or less, horizon 2 goes out up to 3 years whereas in others Horizon 1 looks forward 3-5 years and Horizon 2 looks out 7-10 years. It all depends on their context – are they in a new industry, a fast-moving industry or something that’s more stable and mature?

The reality of investment is also often different from the McKinsey model. In some businesses with whom we’ve worked, innovation investment (horizon 2 and 3) is in the single digits.

There’s a reason this happens.

When an organization becomes successful at something, they tend to do more of it. That means they shift from what happened in their earliest days when they experimented and explored product and market opportunities to focusing more resources on things they know will work. It’s easy to get internal approval to exploit what is working well because it’s low-risk high-reward.

In some cases, the organization stagnates and dies because more innovative, disruptive businesses come and take the market away from them.

In other businesses, there’s often a wake-up call for the senior management as they recognize the lack of innovation and the pendulum of investment swings wildly from the short term to the long term. Then, some months later, existing customers start complaining and the pendulum swings back again to sort out in-life problems… and then the lack of forward planning gets recognized once more…and so the pendulum continues to cycle between the long and short term and back again. It’s not a great experience for those people working in these businesses!

Ideally, you’ll want to agree on a balance of investment for in-life products and their roadmap and longer-term initiatives.

Focused investment

So far, we’ve thought about positions in the lifecycle and balancing investment between in-life and future ideas.

These are useful perspectives but there’s really a need to consider the strengths of our business and our alignment with attractive markets.

That’s where another tool, the McKinsey  / General Electric Matrix comes into play.

You can use this to map your portfolio of products to see which play to your company’s strengths and which are playing in attractive markets.

Plot your products on the GE Matrix to visualize how things really are

Plot your products on the GE Matrix to visualize how things really are

Each blob on this graph represents a product. The size of the bubble shows revenue (or could be used to show profit) and the slice of the pie shows market share. The arrow shows our current forecast for how things are changing.

Where things aren’t quite right, the matrix gives guidance on where to focus.

potential and challenges of each product.

Align your plans with the potential and challenges of each product.

You can use this to help facilitate your internal discussions. For example, if we’re in the central box at the bottom, Manage & Earn, you’ll probably want to spend time identifying attractive market segments and how sales, marketing and development efforts can be focused to drive growth in those segments and find similar alternates to target.

If a product is in the Leader: Protect box in the top right, then you’ll probably ramp up your efforts to maximize the return on products.

The measurement of business strength and market attractiveness are not mandated. There are various factors that you might want to consider.

For example, an assessment of business strength might consider current market share, reputation, technology, competencies, quality, cost structure, key assets or other factors.

The assessment of markets might consider size and growth rate, profit potential, competitive intensity or other factors.

Assessing investment risk

The scoring used for the General Electric matrix might consider the risk associated with either the market place or product space. For example, the risk will increase if we’re moving into a completely new market.

However, a better tool to discuss risk is often the Ansoff matrix.

Ansoff has been around for decades but it’s proven to be a really useful model to help think through and to discuss risk.

It has two axes, Products, and Markets.

Use the Ansoff matrix to think about risk

Use the Ansoff matrix to think about risk

To use the tool, plot your ideas onto the matrix: enhancements to existing products in existing markets go in the bottom left; new market opportunities for existing products go in the top left; new product ideas to existing customer segments go in the bottom right whilst new products for new markets go in the top right.

Those in the bottom left are really low risk (but potentially low reward – they’re often simple extensions of existing products) whilst those in the top right are very high risk (but with potentially high reward – for example, by entering a rapidly growing market with high-profit potential).

One example to illustrate the value of Ansoff came from a client of ours. They had been phenomenally successful with near 100% penetration of their home market. They took the same products to remote markets and failed badly. They didn’t recognize the risks inherent in moving to a different market and so they failed to invest in the market research needed to understand the market differences and adapt their product and marketing to ensure these were addressed. A rapid recall and more thoughtful approach have seen them get back on track for success.

Putting it together

Portfolio planning is not something that most of us do every day. But, as a business, including it as part of six-monthly reviews or annual planning helps keep a focus on what’s important.

To get a robust, realistic view of the potential from products and innovative ideas there are a few things that need to be put in place.

  • Agreement on the tools that will be used (e.g. 3 horizons and GE Matrix).
  • Establishing a systematic process (with sufficient time) to gather input from senior leaders and from the product team helps create a set of initial recommendations for investment.
  • Including a peer review of the assumptions and drivers for growth to get a consistent view of the market.

Whether you’re a product manager or team leader, taking part in the process is a great opportunity to get senior buy-in to your ideas.

And an opportunity to show that you know what you’re talking about!

Andrew Dickenson
Product Focus Director

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Top 25 inventions of the last 25 years Fri, 26 Apr 2019 12:34:52 +0000 REVEALED: The UK’s most popular inventions

A new survey of 2,000 adults commissioned by Product Focus has revealed the UK’s favourite inventions of the past 25 years.

The survey, which explores what Product Management means for our day-to-day lives, turned up some surprising findings, including that the product most people would like invented next is the flying car!

The post Top 25 inventions of the last 25 years appeared first on Product Focus.

REVEALED: The UK’s most popular inventions

A new survey of 2,000 adults commissioned by Product Focus has revealed the UK’s favourite inventions of the past 25 years.

The survey, which explores what Product Management means for our day-to-day lives, turned up some surprising findings.

For example, the product that most people would like invented next is a flying car!

WiFi, smartphones and online banking

These have been named the top three inventions of the last 25 years.

For the products and developments which have impressed us most over the last quarter of a century and made the biggest impact on our lives:

    • 48% chose WiFi as their favourite and most impactful invention
    • 41% chose smartphone technology
    • 35% considered online banking a major development

These were followed by the Google search engine and the development of online shopping platforms like Amazon.

What else?

The last 25 years have seen an explosion in technical development and creativity which has improved our quality of life.

In the last couple of decades, we have planted our feet firmly in the digital age, and innovations like WiFi, online banking and search engines are great examples of products that as a result of hard work and continuous development have become vital and beneficial parts of everyday life.

The other key inventions from the last 25 years we hold in high regard were:

    • Stem cell technology
    • GPS
    • contactless payment
    • flat-screen TVs

What makes a succesful invention?

In order to be considered a successful invention:

    • three in five people believe a product needs to fill a gap in the market
    • 54% think the invention needs to improve lives in order to go down in history
    • a third think the design has to ‘break the mould’ of what has come before

Interestingly, 43% of people polled in the survey, conducted by, thought their favourite invention of the last 25 years took a number of iterations to perfect. And 54% agree that hard work and teamwork make a product happen.

Who are the most visionary inventors?

In the survey, people were asked who they thought were the most visionary inventors of the last 25 years.

    • 1st – Steve Jobs, Apple co-founder
    • 2nd – Sir Tim Berners-Lee, World Wide Web inventor
    • 3rd – Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook co-founder

And charisma is important in a creator, as a third of Brits said they would be more likely to buy the product of an inventor they liked personally.

The future of inventing

Nearly one in two of us want to see further product developments in the area of transport to help make our lives easier and the number 1 product we want is flying cars!

    • 25% would like a visionary inventor to tackle the food and drink industry
    • three in five think the health sector should be prioritised and 46% think the biggest new innovations of the near future will come from medical technology
    • 25% are looking forward to the next leap in artificial intelligence to make the world better

Secret ideas for world-changing inventions!

Finally, one in 10 Brits think they currently have an idea for a world-changing invention – but wouldn’t be willing to share their idea in case someone stole it.

What next?

We can’t wait to see what the future of technology development has in store for the UK.

While it’s great to see larger-than-life characters like Steve Jobs held in such regard by the British public, it’s important to remember that these amazing inventions are the result of multiple companies with teams of product developers, product managers and designers all working hard for a shared vision, rather than being shouldered by the singular efforts of a particular inventor.

The top 25 inventions of the last 25 years

1. WiFi
2. Smartphones
3. Online banking
4. Online search, e.g. Google
5. Online shopping, e.g. Amazon
6. Stem cell technology
7. GPS
8. Flat-screen TVs
9. Contactless payment
10. Tablets
11. YouTube
12. 3D printers
13. Netflix
14. Data encryption
15. Skype
16. Modern electric cars, e.g. Tesla model S
17. Kindle
18. Bluetooth
19. Facebook
20. Wireless headphones
21. Ancestry DNA kits
22. Sony games consoles (PlayStation line)
23. Amazon Echo
24. Spotify
25. Fitbit



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The fight over the customer Mon, 15 Apr 2019 12:29:56 +0000 Historically there was a battle between Sales and Product Management. Sales, having more contact with customers, felt they had a better understanding of customer needs than product managers (and sometimes they were right). But I think today the bigger fight is between User Experience (UX) practitioners and product managers.

Product Managers and User Experience professionals are increasingly working together to deliver products. In some cases this relationship is highly productive, leading to outstanding products, but in others, it can be a bit dysfunctional.

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At our Leadership Forum last year, I heard about a battle going on in some companies today. A battle over who understands the customer best and is, therefore, best equipped to answer the questions about what they want or need.

This battle used to be between Sales and Product Management. Sales, having more contact with customers, felt they had a better understanding of customer needs than product managers (and sometimes they were right). But I think today the bigger fight is between User Experience (UX) practitioners and product managers.

To help explore this, I had a discussion with Dr. Rebecca Gill, Director at Bunnyfoot, a leading UX consultancy and training organization.

Remember your goals

Product managers and UX practitioners each have a slightly different goal; the differences are subtle but might be one of the sources of conflict.

Anyone who has been in product for a while knows that the role of Product Manager varies from company to company, but in all cases, I believe that the role is:

to seek to maximize business and customer value through offering products and services that they value and can be delivered in a targeted, scalable and profitable way

Product Management is about balance across all areas of the business built on a broad and deep market understanding. This understanding is typically established through customer and internal discussions as well as extensive market research and analysis.

UX practitioners, including Designers and User Researchers, on the other hand are:

seeking to ensure that they are solving real user problems in an effective and efficient way

They try to understand users (as well as other business stakeholders) to match the problems and needs they have with solutions the business can offer. They do this through research and by taking an evidence-based approach with a wide array of methods – including observation.

Solving similar problems

I think in reality UX practitioners and product managers are trying to achieve similar outcomes, but use different tools and techniques while approaching from slightly different perspectives.

Originally the product management function aimed to efficiently deliver what management wanted, an ivory tower approach of “if we build it, they will buy”. Over time this changed to define and build target products based on industry and subject matter knowledge to hit customer needs, all hidden behind the phrase “voice of the market”. More recently product managers have started applying principles such as Lean Startup; running experiments to find out what customers want – something that is often much easier to do with software products. They seek to find Problem-Solution Fit, Product-Market Fit, and Business Model Fit; through this, they ensure they understand the customer problem and can solve it in a way customers’ value, the market will accept and will be profitable.

Similarly, many design teams that now contain UX practitioners were historically limited to working in the User Interface (UI) world. Simply all they would have been asked to do would be “make it look pretty”. This is sometimes known as “putting lipstick on a pig” based on it being something that was applied after the fundamentally ugly product has been created. These activities were not applying UX principles at all. The principles of human-centered design (HCD) are fundamentally what UX practitioners apply these days. They involve users throughout with observation and iterative testing that drives design. We often currently see Design Thinking as an example of the application of these principles.

The development community brought us Agile in a similar way to encourage us to build small elements incrementally and get them in the hands of customers to iteratively learn.

With the growing awareness that many products fail and a desire to reduce this risk by better understanding customers, many approaches have been developed. They are all a little different because they have come from different starting points, but they are all aiming for essentially the same outcome.

Don’t get lost in the language

There are a lot of terms around, and I think half the confusion comes from the terminology. For example, what is the difference between a Customer, User and Buyer? What is the difference between Customer Experience (CX), User Experience (UX), Service Design and Experience Design (XD)?

I’m not going to answer those questions here, as the point is not the definitions but how we best understand how to build products customers want. Sometimes the different definitions can be useful, but often they simply lead to a semantic discussion instead of delivering anything constructive. So, in my experience, don’t get hung up on the terminology.

It’s all about humans

It is usually people (humans) that are using our products, so taking a human-centered approach to understanding and design makes a lot of sense. There are many tools used to help understand the people using and buying our products. One of the most common is Personas. Lots of product managers use them in both their marketing and development activities.

I’ll let you into a secret… you probably have terrible personas. Product managers in my experience are not very good at creating them; often people with too little exposure to customers without a deep understanding of how to craft a persona simply write down what they think is a reasonable persona, a.k.a. they make them up! Those bad Personas then become accepted as facts in the organization and are used to make decisions, despite being based on little more than fresh air.

UX practitioners despair of personas that are not based on research, as they give personas a bad name. They know better than to do that; they develop them based on evidence. They develop truly representative Personas that help understand users’ behaviours, needs, attitudes, etc. They allow you to get “under the skin” of a user or buyer and provide powerful tools for the entire team to use.

Evidence is critical

Product and UX are typically looking for evidence, or facts, as without them there is no way to overcome the HiPPOs or ZEBRAs in the organization. The fundamental goal is not to make mistakes and then correct them but instead to make the correct informed choices from day one. There is still a chance that we get things wrong, but the open and learning mindset that modern teams embrace means that the learning will be consolidated and the next iteration will be better.

One of my favourite philosophies is that of Paul Saffo of having “strong opinions, weakly held”. This might sound a bit odd, but the reality is that we all know if we are honest (and think about it) that many of our opinions are based on very little. As a Product Manager, you are often expected to make decisions, quickly and with minimal information.

I don’t think you will ever get away from this and so in many organizations having a strong point of view as a Product Manager is a critical skill. But having evidence behind your beliefs is even better. When evidence presents itself that goes against the point of view you hold, you should be open (possibly also seeking) to learn and to change your perspective. Obviously, this should be after considering all of the other evidence that your previous position was based on. Don’t just be a flag in the wind and change your opinion whenever the wind changes direction.

Build up an awareness

Once you solidify your skills in product management, you should spend some time gaining more appreciation of what is involved in UX activities. Perhaps by attending some training? That is precisely what I did; I attended a foundation course run by Bunnyfoot back in 2016. This exposure gave me some great insights, and enough learning to know that I could be dangerous if I pretended to be an expert myself!

The same is also likely to be true for UX practitioners. Over the last year, I have had several people with UX related roles in product management training courses that I have run. Some were considering a shift into product management and others were learning to work more closely with their colleagues. I think this is a great idea – as increased empathy and understanding can only lead to better collaboration.

Done right the partnership is powerful

Done right the partnership is powerful

As anyone who has attended a Product Focus training course will know, we emphasize the need for Product Managers, Designers and Tech Leads to work closely together to develop the best requirements. Marty Cagan says something very similar in his book Inspired and when he talks about Dual-Track Agile.

I am sure many other teams could be included, but these three form the core that should always be involved. While product managers should always be focussing on the “why” they often get distracted by being pulled into the “what”. Designers bring an open and questioning mind that forces the team to get to the “why” in all aspects of the product and in this way they are great partners.

On a recent training course, I had an Experience Designer in the room who commented that he felt designers were typically more open and less biased. This was on the basis that Product Managers often have to make decisions on technical solutions and then own them. To me, best practice is not for the Product Manager to decide on solutions, which is in the domain of the technology team, but sometimes we do inevitably cross that line. Product Managers do tend to have in-depth domain knowledge that may lead to this sort of bias. We certainly have to live with the solution. Great product managers don’t show this bias, but many good (and not so good) ones do.

Ultimately we all want the same thing!

We all want to deliver products (and services) that customers love and buy, by solving problems they really have and care about in a way that works for users, and scale profitability wise for the business.

Work together, use whichever tools and approaches fit your situation, empower and trust each other. As a product manager take the insights from UX to help make better product decisions. As a UX practitioner take the insights that product brings from the broader market and business context to help shape the user experience. Together you might just have a chance of having a major impact on your market and taking your business to the next level!

Phil Hornby
Product Focus  Senior Consultant and Independent Consultant

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Data is essential for Product Managers Mon, 11 Mar 2019 16:17:04 +0000 Data is a big trend so as a product manager it’s likely you'll need to get to grips with it.

Our advice is to make sure you’ve got at least basic Excel skills and don’t hesitate to pull in the data scientists if you need help with more complex challenges.

The post Data is essential for Product Managers appeared first on Product Focus.

In today’s Product Management and Product Marketing world data is an increasingly important element. Understanding it, using it, processing it, protecting it or even selling it are all potentially important. Data can be used to make decisions about your product’s strategy, design, and marketing as well as within your product to provide more insights for your users.

This post focuses mainly on the use of data by product managers to make decisions. It can be a minefield as for many product managers it’s difficult to know where to start. In this blog, there are some essential and advanced data skills that as a product manager, you might want to consider.

Data is the new oil

Just before Christmas, I spotted an image doing the rounds on LinkedIn. It showed the level of maths skills that we have throughout our lives. It peaked at College age with “Advanced Calculus” and then plummeted to “Spreadsheet” in the working world. It made me think about my mathematical ability these days and by extension my data skills.

People often talk about “data as the new oil.” It is considered one of the most valuable business resources there are. However, scandals such as Cambridge Analytica and the introduction of legislation like GDPR means it is a “hot” space, and you have to take some care. For Product Managers to thrive in this new environment, they need to expand their skills and knowledge.

Build some relationships

You might say, what have relationships got to do with data skills? Directly they have little to do with working with data, but you can only work with data once you have it! One of the critical challenges in many organizations can be getting the data in the first place. Much of the data you might need will be hidden away in business systems like SAP.

Anyone who has been on our flagship 3-day training course knows that we recommend that product managers have a dashboard in place for their products to help to manage them in-life. For example, this monthly report will have key data like product revenue and sales numbers to allow product managers to spot trends and have reliable data on which to base decisions. When I found my team without this several years ago I was not happy – so I asked one of my team, Keith Bailey, to take the lead.

We wanted to put dashboards together so that every Product Manager could make decisions supported by performance data for their product and we wanted to make sure that everyone would be able to access them.

Keith had to spend a lot of time working with our Finance Team to work out what reports we could get from SAP and to get their buy-in to providing the data. The relationship-work he did behind these scenes paid off though, and we got what we needed every month. When senior leaders saw the dashboards, they loved them, because they informed and empowered them and us to be more data-driven.

Become an Excel Power User

Most of the time when Product Managers get data it’s in some raw format, e.g. a time series or list of values. This data needs cleaning, sorting, and processing. Luckily enough virtually everyone has a tool that can do this on their PC: Excel.

Excel is pretty powerful; there is a reason why it is used so much in business. When it came to the dashboards that Keith was building, we selected Excel as the tool of choice because everyone had it and could use it.

We also accepted a simple truth; you have to take the data in whatever source it is available and then do any calculations, sorting or other manipulations. Keith was an expert in Excel, so despite there being four or five different SAP reports behind our dashboards all we had to do was copy and paste the latest data in each month, and everything else just worked like magic under-the-hood.

Some people will go so far as to write macros using the built-in programming language. But I’ll be honest; I have not found a need to do this for nearly ten years now. You can do a lot in formulas. With some thought, a little work and a few power tricks you can handle most things.

The good news is that Excel has lots of built-in functions that can help you with everyday tasks and the internet is full of examples where people have solved complex problems. Use your Googling skills, and you will overcome most challenges.

Maybe learn some statistics

It wouldn’t be right to talk about data without mentioning statistics. Statistics is one of those subjects that everyone was scared of back at school. Interestingly, even on the left-hand side of the image at the start, there is no mention of statistics!

I’ll let you into a secret; statistics are merely a way of getting a view of a dataset, they describe the dataset in a smaller number of points. Instead of looking at 1,000, 10,000, 1,000,000, or more data points you might look at measures such as the average, minimum and maximum. These can tell you everything you need to know.

You need to understand some basic terms though. For example, everyone talks about the “average,” but there are three averages: Mean, Median and Mode. The one that everyone uses is the Mean, but the Median and Mode can be handy when looking at datasets.

I would recommend either getting a book or signing up to an online course to understand the basics. I have Beginning Statistics on my bookshelf, and I know my colleague has Statistics for Dummies and has used Statistics and Probability on Khan Academy in the past.

Distributions are not always normal

The Bathtub Curve

The Bathtub Curve

Another useful thing to understand is distribution curves. Most people will have heard of a “normal” distribution or bell curve, but there are lots of other common distribution curves. When dealing with physical products, for example, the Bathtub Curve is useful to understand. It’s useful because it is the shape of the graph you would expect to see for product failures. Don’t assume everything follows the same distribution!

Have a plan to build the right skills

One of Harvard Business Review’s Tip of the Day recently started by saying “Figure Out Which Data Skills You Need for Your Job.” It landed just days after I saw the image at the start of the post and got me thinking about the essential data skills for a Product Manager.

The reality is that you can’t learn everything, and somethings will be more useful than others as well as some being harder to determine. HBR recommends using a 2×2 matrix to help you understand and prioritize. Look at your role, look at the team around you, look at your products. Map out the relevant skills.

I am lucky enough that in the team I used to lead I recruited Immanuel Schweizer. He went on to be Head of Data Science at Merck (and now AI Research), so when it came to the question of data skills for Product Managers, I asked him for advice. As he knows Product Management and Data Science I consider him to be an expert in the overlap.

Visualize like a designer

Visual Vocabulary by the FT

Visual Vocabulary by the FT

Immanuel reminded me that while getting and manipulating data are one thing, that is only half the battle. You then need to use it. Visualizing data in a way that helps tell a story and support decisions or discussions is not as simple a saying “Insert Graph.” You need to consider using the right visual for the dataset.

I have found the Visual Vocabulary chart from the Financial Times to be useful in selecting the right type of graph. I also have another great book on my bookshelf that is full of guidance: Information Dashboard Design.

Visualization tip

One power tip that has stuck with me over the years is to colour code your data appropriately. For example, if there is one line or bar or slice that is most important make it a bit thicker or a vibrant colour. If the other data is less important maybe show it all in different shades of grey. That way the data point you want people to look at will “pop” off of the page or screen, and attention will be focused there. Remember that colour also carries a subtext, anything coloured Red will likely be interpreted as bad, and Green as good!

Know what you are allowed to do with it

Just because you have the data doesn’t mean that you can or should use it in the way you imagine. You need to consider the legalities of that use. In particular, if you are dealing with any personal data, you will find that there are strict restrictions.

If you are looking at product or customer data, you might find that you need to only work with anonymized or aggregated data to avoid some of the issues. And the data might only be allowed to be accessed in specific data centers or by certain people.

You should plan for any data usage from within your product and cover it in the contract, terms and conditions or user agreement. At the same time check this with a data privacy expert to make sure you are not breaking any industry norms or laws.

Throw in some Business Intelligence or Analytics skills

If you are lucky, you might find that all the data you want is just sitting there waiting to be accessed. It might be already in a Business Intelligence (BI) system or stored in a system to which an analytics package can connect. Tools like Tableau or Power BI allow you to connect to data sources, analyze and visualize the data. In discussions with more and more of our customers on training courses, I keep hearing that their businesses are experimenting with BI systems, which is great to hear.

These systems present a great opportunity and can be a powerful way to implement product dashboards, but they have a learning curve that you need to go through to be effective when using them. However, once they are up and running, it is often much easier to get to the information you need.

How about some Python or R?

Programming to analyse data

Programming to analyze data

When Excel runs out of steam, and eventually it always does, the brave ones out there might consider a programming language to help them process the data that they have. There are lots to choose from, but Data Scientists certainly seem to have two favorites: Python and R. The good news is that the tools you need to work with them are free and they are some of the best beginner languages as well! There are even free online introductory courses available on Datacamp for both Python and R.

Using a programming language like this can be very powerful but it’s not for a beginner. Use one in which you can also start to build models that allow prediction and give you the ability to do some nice visualizations too.

If you are brave, consider Machine Learning

Analyzing lots of data and finding patterns in it can be hard work and time-consuming. Especially if you aren’t an expert. Searching for something meaningful in an ocean of data – finding a signal in the noise – takes real skill. However, Machine Learning uses algorithms that are designed to do just that. You will hear lots of concepts such as supervised or unsupervised learning, reinforced learning and many more.

I was lucky enough to have Immanuel to brief me on this in the past. I know that at this level I would want to make sure I have a good partner who has a real data science background. If the data usage in your business is getting this serious, it is probably a good idea to look at building a team with the capabilities to lead your efforts.

Design your products with data in mind

With the increasing importance of data, I consider it to be best practice to think about the data uses related to your product from day one. Set the product up to capture the data and store it in a way to easily access it for analysis. It might make sense to build an analysis and dashboard capability directly into the product.

In our experience, internal product requirements like data reports often drop down the priority list when compared with customer-facing functionality. Try not to let this happen; otherwise, you lose a vital tool to help your decision making. But don’t forget that some data may come from inside your product. Tools like Google Analytics can provide a lot of insights into how your web-based product is performing as well as simply what brings customers to your website. Don’t overlook these other sources.

Look at your data regularly

Don’t forget to monitor your data regularly. Having it available and using it are two different things. For digital Product Managers, in particular, it is quite common to check daily performance data every morning, to be in a position to make decisions that day. But when we talk to those same Product Managers, they often say that this task is one of the first to slip when fires start.

This might be a valid choice, as there is only so much time in the day, and sometimes fires can get out of hand if not handled quickly. But they also reflected that it then took time and effort to “catch-up” with how their product had been performing; so try not to neglect this activity.

Don’t forget the Why

One of the risks with data is just collecting it for the sake of it. Ending up with too much data. Ending up with useless data. Maybe the wrong data? Simply being unable to find the value in your data because of data overload and the “noise” this creates.

When discussing this post, Immanuel reminded me of the importance of understanding the “why.” Why are you collecting the data? Why are you analyzing the data? In general, for Product Management, this might be to help you make product decisions, but there are likely to be many more benefits to be had.

You might want to see how a feature is used or performing. Or you might be looking at how users are interacting with your product. Or maybe to see how a system is scaling under real customer usage. There are lots of questions you can answer with the right data so take some time out to understand the problem before you dive into the data.

Start your data journey

Data is a big trend so as a product manager it’s likely you’ll need to get to grips with it. My advice is to make sure you’ve got at least basic Excel skills and don’t hesitate to pull in the data scientists if you need help with more complex challenges.

Phil Hornby
Product Focus Associate and Independent Consultant

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Product Management in sport – is that a thing? Mon, 14 Jan 2019 10:43:35 +0000 Product management and sport.

Is this the perfect marriage between the disciplines and skills of product management and the emotion and professionalism of sport?

The post Product Management in sport – is that a thing? appeared first on Product Focus.

We were recently surprised to be able to welcome some people from the world’s top football clubs (according to one of our instructors!) to one of our public training courses.

Someone from a football club attending a technology product management training course – why were they there?

Unsurprisingly it’s because they looked after some of the technologies and products that underpin the modern game.

But it got us thinking… is there a link between sport and product management? And, about the same time we got into a discussion with Steven Bonner. Steven has worked on technologies at FIFA, UEFA and The FA – he’s steeped in the world of sport and he provided the ideas behind this blog post and a mountain of evidence to back up the claims.

When you think about the numbers of people involved in sport… it’s incredible. Sport is the activity that engages more people than anything else around the world. And interest keeps on rising.

And sport is getting more and more professional plus there is more and more money involved. So, clubs and governing bodies are using new technology and developing new products to bring entertainment and information to fans.

The game is changing

Just like many technology industries, professional sports are subject to increasing disruption. For sports the impact is seen in the way media gets consumed, increased democratisation through social media, increased globalisation and an ever-widening range of sports that are clamouring for our attention.

Disruption in the sporting world

Disruption in the sporting world

The reality is that many people in clubs and governing bodies started out as volunteers, fans or players. They were enthusiastic amateurs keen to get involved or ex professionals who knew about the sport but had little business background. They then moved into trying to make a living out of what they loved.

And that’s great.

But, that background doesn’t necessarily provide the skills and knowledge to manage products in a business or deal with disruption.

A cultural change and a more professional approach are needed. That means having people skilled at knowing how to develop product strategy, how to identify and understand how to target market segments, how to develop product plans and to grind out delivery, how to keep stakeholders informed and the myriad of other things that need to happen to make a product successful.

The industry needs the insights of product management and product marketing to work out their best opportunities, how to deliver and how to market effectively.

Product Focus’ Product Activities Framework is a key tool to help the discussion on who does what.

And, speed matters because there’s a constant stream of new sports, new ways of viewing sports and new forms of engagement between clubs and their fans. And the changes are getting faster.

Because of the need for speed, having the skills to manage the product lifecycle is becoming more important. Product Focus’ Product Management Lifecycle is a ‘playbook’ that can be used to think through and optimise activities and decision points for products.

Give the fans what they want

Look after the fans

Look after the fans

Whilst there are technology companies, such as Apple and Amazon that have their fans, few come anywhere close to achieving the emotional attachment that a sports team can.

Until recently, many sports clubs have taken the loyalty of their fans for granted. They’ve done little to understand their fans and done little to reward their loyalty.

Today, that attitude doesn’t work. Simply sending out emails or flyers to ‘renew your season ticket’ or ‘buy a ticket for the next game’ aren’t good enough. Fans have too many other distractions clamouring for their attention and for their money.

Product managers and marketers understand the value of market research, insights and targeting propositions based on insights to customers and the alternatives where they might choose to spend their money.

Technology product management and product marketing skills help deliver the products that engage fans and keep them interested in coming back for more.

Measure what matters

Interestingly, for professional sports teams, fans don’t bring in the bulk of the money: broadcast rights and sponsorship do that.

Fans are still important because they provide the atmosphere at events and many of the stories on which broadcasting (and therefore sponsorship) thrives.

So, aside from fans, what are the other things that matter? What are the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that should be measured?

Sport can learn a lot from digital marketing techniques with which SaaS (Software as a Service) product marketing and digital marketing teams will be familiar. They know that content can be delivered through multiple channels and that feedback and engagement can be measured in a multitude of ways. Instagram engagement, tweets, texts, viewers, merchandise sales, etc.

A sound product approach will provide the analysis needed to guide senior management on what products to build for which audience to achieve success.

Continuous evolution of sports entertainment

Continuous evolution of sports entertainment

Change is happening

It certainly seems that the disciplines of professional product management and product marketing could be beneficial in the sports world.

Is it happening?

Yes, it is, in pockets.

F1 has been transformed since its acquisition by Liberty Media and launched their F1 TV Pro service that gives fans unprecedented access to all on-board cameras and other goodies. Their My F1 crowd-sourcing competition is an innovative development. And, in the US, a shift in focus to packaged products and digital marketing helped San Francisco based basket-ball team Golden State Warriors generate nearly as much engagement as the football world-leaders Real Madrid and Barcelona, increasing sponsorship revenue by 300%.

These examples show world class product management delivering vital insights about products and markets. This enables their companies to deliver the right products at the right time to the diverse markets their sports serve.

So, not only will being a great product manager or product marketer be a route to the top in your own technology-product business, maybe it can also get you a role with your favourite sports club! 😊


Andrew Dickenson, Director, Product Focus
Steven Bonner, Executive Product Manager, BBC

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The 4++ times Product Managers meet B2B customers Sun, 02 Dec 2018 15:25:33 +0000 When do you get the opportunity to meet customers? And are these the right type of meeting to get the insights you really need?

The post The 4++ times Product Managers meet B2B customers appeared first on Product Focus.

As a product manager for a Business to Business (B2B) product there are at least 4 times that you get to speak to customers. But why would you bother?

We believe Product Managers need to talk to customers.

There is nothing else more important. Without meeting and talking to customers how can you understand them?

Without understanding them how can you deliver value to them? If you manage to be succesful without talking to customers you are just very lucky.

The First Three Meeting Types

Meeting customers is only the beginning, as not all customer conversations are created equally.There are several times when Product Managers meet customers. The three most common ones are:

  • #1: Selling – Product Management often supports the Sales team in the sales process. In B2B companies with complex products and few customers, this is sometimes inevitable, as we are the people who know the most about the product. Product teams should ideally be involved in the later stages of selling though, not too early – and not all the time – otherwise, it can be a high burden. Hopefully, you have a pre-sales team who can help keep this activity to a manageable level. And, you can make sure you empower the sales team with tools and resources that will help them in the early stages so they don’t need to rely on you.
  • #2: Supporting – In many businesses, there are times when the Support team have to give up and pass the customer over to Product Management. I have even known a case where the product team was 2nd line support! I definately don’t recommend this level of day-to-day involvement, as it can easily suck up all your time on fire-fighting. But sometimes it is inevitable that things will end up on your desk.
  • #3: Apologising or saying ‘No’ – This can happen when something has gone wrong or you’re not giving the customer what they really want. Maybe you’re going to deliver later than promised, not include a feature they need or retire something they care about. The Sales team don’t want to be the ones telling the customer the bad news because they want the customer to think of them as a friend, so they call in the Product Manager to be the ‘bad guy’.

While these are all opportunities for Product Managers to communicate with customers, they provide very limited opportunities for learning and creating real value.

When you are Selling, the customer is usually focused on quite a narrow domain, and is always wary of generating costs as after all you want them to pay for something! They are typically also looking for something that you have now and not what you are thinking about for the future. The discussion is a negotiation.

When you are Supporting, the customer has a problem and simply wants it solved so they can go back to their work. Your best course of action is to help them quickly then get out of the way.

And when you are Apologising, the customer often just wants someone to shout at or metaphorically ‘kick’. You are already on the back foot because the customer is unhappy and maybe even angry. It’s certainly not a good basis for an exploratory and collaborative discussion.

The Most Important Meeting Type

None of these scenarios puts the customer in an open mindset. That is why the 4th time that Product Managers meet customers is the most important!

  • #4: Discovery – This means time talking to customers purely to understand what needs and problems they have. There is no expectation of a sale or direct outcome. The purpose is to learn. I have found this the hardest type of meeting to arrange but it’s by far the most useful.

It doesn’t matter what your methodology is. You might apply lean startup, dual-track Agile, continuous discovery or simply have ‘analyse’ and ‘specify’ phases in your stage-gate process. All of these include discovery activities.

To get the most out of these opportunities, you want your customer (or potential customer) to be open and collaborative. There are many approaches that can be used here: checkout our previous post on the subject here. You want them to talk about the problems they have, that you might be able to solve for them. You want to hear about how they have tried to solve such problems in the past and how important this is to them.

Make the Time

One example of this type of meeting that I had included a less than 24-hour trip to the USA from the UK for a 4-hour meeting. That might sound expensive and time-consuming to some people. But picture this: 11 senior people representing all functions for the single biggest customer in your industry spending that much time with you.

I’m sure you can imagine how many insights I got from that discussion. Insights that supported or helped steer my strategy for the next year. They spent the entire time in the room with me (apart from the few minutes that one of them took to ask a question of one of their team to clarify something).

That was the single best session for getting customer insights I have ever had. In real terms, it cost in the region of £5,000, but in support of a multiple million dollar development programme there can be no questions about the ROI.

Sales as the Gatekeeper

One of the biggest challenges can be that Sales own the customer relationship, so they often have to organise the meetings. This can complicate things as customers may assume that the sales team wants to come to see them to sell something, meaning that the customers will not be open to the meeting, or will arrive in a defensive frame of mind. And for Product Managers, they can often find the only way they can meet the customer is when ‘holding the hand’ of a Sales person.

Remember there is no rule that says you can’t meet customers without Sales, although they will often insist on attending the meeting as well. If you are not careful to keep them on track they may well try to turn the session into a sales opportunity as soon as they hear the customer is interested in something; even if you don’t have it available yet! Then you will find the customer will ‘shut down’ partway through the session.

I am not really criticising Sales here though, as it is their job after all to sell the products we make. But long-term and bigger success comes from high-quality Discovery. Getting agreement in advance with Sales on the rules of engagement is key to keeping things on track.

BONUS Meetings

While there are 4 main times Product Management meet customers, there are a few other BONUS occasions when you might also be able to get customer time:

  • BONUS #1: Regular Business Reviews – Many companies will have regular reviews with key customers or big accounts. Sales or Account Management usually run these. Product Management are often not included in reviews, but it can be a great opportunity for you. In my first product role, we had QBRs (Quarterly Business Reviews) with our key customers, and I was typically invited (even when they were in other countries). It came as a shock to me in my next role that this was not standard practice as I always got lots of value from such meetings. So, after some negotiation with my new Sales team, I was added to their customer reviews.
  • BONUS #2: Win/Loss Reviews – Many companies conduct win/loss analysis purely internally. But the most enlightened ones get customers to come along to such reviews. Without this, the risk is that Sales will always say you lost because “We were too expensive” or “We have a bad product”, while if you win they will say it was all down to the “relationship”. Sometimes these statements are true, but often it is convenient for them to say that they were the source of the win and Product Management were the source of the loss. Words directly from the customer can be far more insightful here.

Always be on the Look-out

Many Product Managers find themselves travelling a lot; it’s ‘part of the job’. We visit customers, suppliers, partners, other teams, attend conferences and many more events. Let me let you into a little secret: so do your customers!

  • HIDDEN BONUS: In the Street – Chances are when you are sitting on that plane or train there is a customer not far away from you, maybe even right next to you! Many Product Managers are reasonably out-going, but there still seems to be some resistance to striking up a conversation with the stranger they find them themselves sitting next to. I have been lucky enough to have some great conversations with people I met in transit that have led to some great insights and future customers.

This obviously has to be done with some care and respect. I am not suggesting you go and strike up a conversation with every person you walk past, but especially on planes and trains, a quick introduction can make the journey more pleasant. If the other person seems disinterested, then simply leave them alone. Chances are from just the initial exchange of names and the business you are in you will soon know if there is any benefit to talking further, and they will make a similar quick judgement.

So good luck with your meetings and get out there and find more opportunities for discovery.

Phil Hornby
Product Focus Associate and Independent Consultant

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What’s all the hype about? Mon, 19 Nov 2018 16:14:42 +0000 I am sure many of you will have seen the Gartner Hype Cycle at some point.

Have you wondered what it's all about and whether it can help your business?

The post What’s all the hype about? appeared first on Product Focus.

I am sure many of you will have seen the Gartner Hype Cycle at some point. Have you wondered what it’s all about and whether it can help you?

Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies, 2018

Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies, 2018

The first time I came across the Hype Cycle, it was a bit of a mystery to me. But I kept going with it and now find it a very helpful and insightful source. It is published annually, so it is not something you need to look at very often, but each year there are new and interesting entrants on the Cycle while others make progress along it. It is worth mentioning that there are different versions for different audiences, but I tend to look at the ‘Emerging Technologies’ version, which is shown.

What technologies will change your industry?

If you think about the technology space today, you will no doubt come up with a number of emerging technologies that everyone is talking about. Will any of them change your industry? Perhaps you consider that many are fads that you can choose to ignore because you know your industry and you know how it works.

I have to tell you that type of thinking is of the past. Remember, Kodak had that perspective about digital photography; they thought it would never catch on. Now it is the new mainstream, and film photography is a tiny niche market. The introduction of that technology enabled many more services and capabilities that they just didn’t imagine.

As I write this in 2018, there are many technologies that everyone is talking about. Blockchain (and the Bitcoin that it enables) is one of the most highly discussed. There is a lot of hype around it; with many people exploring how it might be used in different industries.

A hyped-up listening post

The reality is that the Hype Cycle is just a ‘listening post’. As anyone who has attended our flagship 3-day Product Management and Product Marketing course will know, we believe that Product people need to set up a network of listening posts. Through setting these up, you can establish a flow of useful market insights.

These insights will form the basis of your market analysis and allow you to stay ahead of your competition. And a crucial part of doing that in the technology space is to keep up-to-date on what new and emerging technologies there are, and what they can do.

Technology is not the driver, it’s an enabler

Don’t misunderstand; I certainly do not advocate using new technology for its own sake. That will lead to what I call ‘science projects’ – projects that are technically impressive but that no one wants. But every once in a while, you will find a new technology that offers the basis for delivering more value to your customers. Maybe by overcoming a limitation that was there before. Or allowing things to be done quicker and easier. Or breaking through to new customer groups.

To take advantage of this relies firstly on knowing that the technology is there, and understanding its capabilities. Secondly, it relies on you having the insight into how that can change the way you address customer problems, enabled by that new technology.

Have better discussions with technology teams

I should reassure you at this point, I am not advocating that Product Management should be defining the technology to use. But wouldn’t it be nice to have an idea of what you are talking about with your development team? Wouldn’t it be nice to be a step ahead of them for a change (or at least not playing catch-up)? Having that awareness puts you in a position where you can have much more open and constructive conversations about your technology options.

Working collaboratively with a senior (or lead) developer to understand the art of the possible for new technologies can actually strengthen your relationship. They will enjoy the opportunity to discuss new things, and you will gain the much-needed knowledge of how it can help. Then, when it is time to use this new technology, you are already on the same page.

Invest in learning

You might need to invest in experiments or throw-away prototypes to truly understand. It may even be multiple years from when you spot the potential to the point that you can take advantage of it because technology takes time to mature. Potentially in some cases it might never mature!

For example, I worked on a number of Mixed and Augmented Reality concept projects in the automotive service and repair space when the technology was not quite mature enough to deliver what we wanted.

The potential was obvious though, and the industry interest was huge when we showed our concepts publicly. I hired interns and funded Masters theses to help understand better. I also cultivated relationships with industry leaders and potential partners.

In late 2017, after I had left the industry, I spotted that Porsche had launched a tool for their technicians just like some of the concepts we prototyped.

Spend some time understanding the Cycle

Like any tool, the Hype Cycle needs some knowledge to interpret it. Gartner provide guidance on that so you can check that out directly here.

Gartner Hype Cycle Overview

Gartner Hype Cycle Overview

What does it mean to Product Management?

However, as you will want to consider the phases of the cycle from a Product Management perspective, I propose the following advice.

Innovation Trigger

For most Product people this will be a point to start watching and listening. There won’t be enough detail about the art of the possible yet, so it will be hard to judge if the technology has potential.

Some visionaries and trailblazers (typically with deep pockets) may experiment with the technology here, but this is mostly the domain of technologists. Businesses joining at this point need to be ready for a long journey but have the potential to learn lots, enabling them to be better at using the technology and maybe even influence its evolution.

Peak of Inflated Expectations

This is the time when most Product people will start to take notice. Leave it too long though, and you might miss an opportunity to lead the market. At this point typically the technology is not mature enough to do what you ‘really’ want it to do, but it might be ‘good enough’ for some applications.

Those early applications might help establish your business as thought leaders in the field, which can be a powerful sales tool later. But beware – people who join at this point are likely to have some failures on the road to success, and the costs will still be quite high.

Trough of Disillusionment

At this point, many businesses who jumped on the bandwagon with all the hype will give up. It has proven to be too hard, too expensive and not delivered the benefits that were promised. This is the critical phase for success, however.

Early market winners and losers are made now, as those who make products that fulfil early adopter needs will emerge as market leaders. You don’t find many new companies coming to the technology at this point, even though it may actually be one of the best times as the kinks are likely to be worked out shortly.

Slope of Enlightenment

If your business is conservative, this is probably when you will start to engage with the technology. You might have been watching for some time and been declaring it is ‘not fit for your purpose’, but now it is turning that corner.

You can now start to deliver on the benefits that your customers want. If you can execute well and fast, you may still be able to position yourself as a leader, but this is your last chance. Maybe you can use the ‘failures’ of the trailblazers against them and you can come across as the people who timed it ‘perfectly’.

Plateau of Productivity

If you are joining the technology journey here, then you are likely to be labelled as a ‘me-too’ product or follower. The market leaders will probably have established themselves, and through competitive pressure on older products aimed at the same space, you will have been forced to bring it into your portfolio. This is precisely how some businesses prefer to operate: they are not positioned to be known for innovation, but instead perhaps for reliability. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just a different approach.

Decide when to act

Your organisation’s approach to technology adoption will influence when is the right time to get involved. Some businesses will always want to be at the forefront and will have the research budgets to match, probably led by a technology or innovation team. In such cases, Product Management should make sure they are plugged into those activities, mostly in a listening mode so that they can spot when it makes sense to get properly involved. Others will be more conservative, letting other companies do a lot of the heavy lifting in the early phases of evolution of the technology, only to swoop in and take advantage when it is ready. Such companies may be second to market but are hoping to out-execute those who were first.

There is no ‘right’ way globally, but without knowing your organisation and what technology options are out there, you won’t be able to make the right choice for your business.

Look for other sources

The Hype Cycle is just one of many possible sources that can be used to monitor the technology space, but because it is backed by Gartner’s reputation it carries a certain level of credibility with senior leaders, which can help your case. Another one that I have found useful is the ThoughtWorks Technology Radar, but there are many more out there. If there are any others you use to monitor the technology, please post them below in the comments.

Start listening to the hype to turn it into insights and customer value.


Phil Hornby
Product Focus Associate and Independent Consultant

The post What’s all the hype about? appeared first on Product Focus.

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Lean Requirements – an in-depth guide Tue, 16 Oct 2018 17:45:30 +0000 Learn from this excellent case study how to use a lean requirements process to quickly and efficiently gather software requirements.

The post Lean Requirements – an in-depth guide appeared first on Product Focus.

This blog on Lean Requirements has kindly been provided to us by Devbridge Group. It describes the process they use to gather software requirements.

They call it Lean Requirements as the process is about gathering requirements as quickly and effectively as possible. We think this provides a great case study and guide for what you could do if you find yourself with a similar challenge.

It’s written by Raymond King, Managing Director, Devbridge Group. And as we publish they are on the lookout for product managers – you can see their careers page here.

Over to Raymond…

We’ve written before about how we use Lean Requirements to accelerate software development by shortening the cycle time to gather requirements. Since then, we’ve continued to iterate and grow this approach. I want to share what we’ve learned over the past few years and explain how we use Lean Requirements in more detail.

When clients first approach us to help them build a solution, we start each engagement with a Lean Requirements workshop. It’s called Lean Requirements because we invest the least amount of effort to generate the right amount of requirements at the right time. The goal of this workshop is to get alignment through conversation and visualization. It’s not just about capturing requirements; it’s also about having the right conversations among the right people to create an atmosphere of shared understanding. It’s only once we’ve reached this point that products can be created successfully. This atmosphere is not something traditional requirement gathering processes can achieve, and it’s why we’ve adopted Lean Requirements.

Like Agile, Lean Requirements are more like a recipe than a prescriptive process—while certain steps are crucial to achieving the results you need, some ingredients can be added, substituted, or removed based on the situation. Each time we use Lean Requirements, the approach is tweaked to accommodate each client’s problems, constraints, and appetite. To understand how this recipe works, we need to understand the people, tools, and processes that go into Lean Requirements.

The People

“Start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.”
Jim Collins, Author, “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t”

The workshop starts by assembling a cross-functional team of Devbridge and client resources. We not only need client stakeholders from business and technology departments, but all levels: executive sponsors, project managers, subject matter experts, and users. We typically don’t recommend more than 10 attendees in the workshop. This keeps the conversation focused and ensures that everyone has a chance to speak. Attendees are expected to make decisions on scope and priorities, so it’s crucial to have the right decision makers in the session. Most importantly, no matter where everyone is located, the workshop is always performed face to face. The activities are highly interactive, and remote attendees simply can’t engage and collaborate as effectively as when everyone is in the same room.

The Tools

“Don’t let your tools become your process.”

Lean Requirements - simple tools

Lean Requirements – simple tools

Once we have the right people in the room, we need to ensure we have the right tools. The goal here is to use tools that encourage the flow of conversation and visualization, so we use whiteboards, Post-it notes, markers, and stickers. These materials simplify the process of generating and organizing ideas by reducing the effort to iterate and improve. Post-it notes are small and markers are fat; this forces participants to keep ideas short, simple, and self-contained so that they can be easily reorganized. Tom Wujec has an excellent TED Talk that describes how to achieve alignment with large groups. In his talk, he shares that the most effective means of achieving shared understanding in a group is by breaking ideas down into individual nodes or cards, then creating conversations around those cards. We embrace this idea in Lean Requirements by using simple tools that don’t get in the way.

The Process

“Do the least amount of work you need to achieve the outcomes you want.”
-Milton Friedman (paraphrased)

Lean Requirements - pain points

Lean Requirements – pain points

When we have the right people and the right tools in the same room, we then focus on creating the right conversations. We start by asking, “why?” Why are we here? Is there a problem we’re trying to solve, or an opportunity to explore? Whatever the reason, the goal of the first conversation is to build awareness and context. As the conversation flows and participants start to engage, we write topics down on individual Post-it notes, then put them on the board for everyone in the room to see. This reinforces understanding of each topic and encourages engagement. You can see a quick video of the process in action here.

For example, let’s say you’re an airline company that wants to rebuild your existing online booking experience. The first conversation we have focuses on the reasons behind why a rebuild is needed. What pain points do you currently have? Focus on everything from the customer experience to the business processes and put these on the board.

Lean Requirements - vision and success metrics

Lean Requirements – vision and success metrics

Next, we focus on the outcomes we want to achieve by asking, “what does success look like?” How do we know we’re on the right track, and how do we measure success? We are looking for specific results we want to achieve. If we want to improve customer satisfaction, how do we measure customer satisfaction today, and what goal should we set for ourselves? As discussed in Results-driven Development, a clearly defined vision and set of success metrics help ensure we’re creating the right product and producing the right results. In our example, we’ll identify both the outcomes we want, as well as how we plan to measure those outcomes.

Once we’ve established our vision and success metrics, we shift focus to learn about our users. We identify any users that might engage with the solution and explore their goals and needs by asking about their motivations and pain points. Why would a user interact with this solution? What need do they have that this solution solves? What would they do if this solution didn’t exist? The goal here is to create empathy for our users by leveraging user-centered design practices to create products users love. We then group these users into roles to simplify how we talk about them. We’ll use these roles later in our user story acceptance criteria to ensure our products maintain a user focus. In our example, we can identify goals for each role by understanding the context around each user.

Lean Requirements - roles, users, context and goals

Lean Requirements – roles, users, context and goals

With our users in mind, we start brainstorming solutions and feature ideas. To do this, we give each participant a stack of Post-it notes, a marker, and 10 minutes to generate new ideas. To keep ideas concise and actionable, we suggest they be structured as a verb and a noun pair. For example: “view reports,” “export list,” or “update profile.” We also encourage silence so that participants aren’t distracted with side conversation and don’t shoot down ideas. This is a time for divergent, free-flow thinking. The golden rule is that no idea is a bad idea.

Lean Requirements - brainstorming ideas

Lean Requirements – brainstorm ideas

One at a time, each participant approaches the board and presents their ideas to the group. Having each individual share their ideas with the group creates engagement and a sense of ownership. The goal is to ensure everyone understands each idea. Team members are encouraged to piggyback on ideas. Again, here the focus is not to discredit ideas, but to instead understand each idea—no matter how far-fetched it is.

Once all ideas have been shared, it’s time to organize the ideas into an affinity map. We start by grouping similar stories into features and similar features into epics. This helps get ideas ready to be arranged into a story map.

Once the ideas have been affinity mapped, we rearrange the epics, features, and stories into a story map. Epics and features flow from left to right in a logical user path. For example searching, checkout, and then booking. The stories under each feature are also arranged in a logical flow. We are now able to visualize the entire scope of our ideas.

Lean Requirements - affinity mapping

Lean Requirements – affinity mapping

At this point, it’s time to move from divergent thinking to convergent thinking. We start by defining release goals: What outcomes do we want to focus on first? In our example, the goal for V1 is to be able to book a ticket, in V2 we will improve searching, and in V3 we will make the user experience more enjoyable. The release goals you identify should focus on solving the business problems identified at the beginning of the workshop. Once the release goals are identified, we walk through the story map and identify which items support each release goal.

We tag epics, features, and stories with the appropriate release color, and identify any ideas that might need to be added to the story map to complete the release goal. Once we have a prioritized story map, we can start to discuss timeline, technical feasibility, risks, and impediments. The goal here is to build awareness around what it will take to get this solution into production.

Lean Requirements - defining releases

Lean Requirements – defining releases

The Outcomes

A Lean Requirements workshop typically takes a full day, depending on the size and complexity of the problem. In that short period of time, you will be able to define a solution, get cross-functional alignment on scope and priorities, and create a level of shared understanding not possible in traditional requirement methods. This shared understanding is a crucial step to ensure you build the right product the right way.

Over the past few years, we’ve used Lean Requirements to help our clients build the look of new products and companies. We continuously look for ways to improve and evolve the approach.

Raymond King, Managing Director, Devbridge Group

To read further articles on this topic from Devbridge, click here.


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Unique Value Proposition Explained Mon, 17 Sep 2018 10:25:31 +0000 UVP - level 3 is an approach created by one of our clients as a way to define and manage the value they deliver to customers. Learn about this approach and how it can help you.

The post Unique Value Proposition Explained appeared first on Product Focus.

On a recent training course with a client, I heard about an interesting concept that they apply within their business. They call it Unique Value Proposition – Level 3.

I am sure many of you have come across the concept of a USP, or Unique Selling Proposition, and are all familiar with the concept of a Value Proposition. Well, surely you would want to have a Unique Value Proposition (UVP) to stand you apart from your competition?

On this subject in a discussion between Richard Law (former CEO of GBG) and Michael Porter they came to the following conclusion:

If your product or service is significantly better (+20%), in the eyes of buyers, than the next nearest competitor, your proposition will be so compelling that the buyer will choose your product or service, not only as an alternative, but as a replacement.

If you think the name Michael Porter sounds familiar, that would not be a surprise. He is a famous academic considered a business thought leader. His books like Competitive Strategy, Competitive Advantage and On Competition as well as his models such as 5-Forces Analysis, Value Chain and Generic Strategies are staples of any business education. The chances are even if you haven’t heard of him as a Product Manager you have used a tool, technique or concept he created. It’s a great stamp of approval in my book!

The resulting model identified three levels of Unique Value Proposition (UVP).

Alt text: •UVP3 - Always win head to head and displace an incumbent supplier consistently and in volume • UVP2 - Win head to head in new opportunities and occasionally displace existing suppliers • UVP1 - Lose head to head in new opportunities and at risk of being displaced as incumbent

3 levels of Unique Value Proposition

I found the concept very interesting. The idea that you can have a Unique Value Proposition, but it is still not enough to win or retain business is insightful. After all, you might miss all the things that customers care about, but you can still be unique!

To get more insights into the approach I had a short interview with David Aitken Head of Group Projects at GBG…

PHIL: How does UVP3 work in practice?

DAVID: We start by identifying our competitors, then assess the size and respective shares of the market. We then move on to a SWOT analysis for both ourselves and our competitors. After that, we identify the key buying criteria of our customers and assign a weighting to each. We then score our products against these criteria.

PHIL: What sort of elements would you typically identify as key buying criteria and how do you weight them?

DAVID: Typical generic examples might be the feature set, usability, speed and reliability as well as things like the business model and support elements, very much the sort of things that you cover in the Proposition module of your course. The weighting we apply then tells us what the score of each element is out of, with more important factors having a higher weighting.

PHIL: How do you assess that you have achieved UVP3?

DAVID: It’s quite simple – we take the score for each element and add them up. In practice, it is quite similar to the sort of list you might have on the axis of a blue ocean strategy canvas, but instead of having a common scale it depends on how important each element is to our customers. We do the same exercise for our competitors and then compare. Ultimately, we are looking to have a score that is 20%+ more than our closest competitor to consider we have achieved UVP3.

PHIL: How often do you track your UVP level?

DAVID: At a minimum, we track annually, but on some products it is more frequent. Sometimes we reassess triggered by an updated release from our competitors to see how that impacts us, and other times we project our assessment based on the value we are working on to see where that will position us after release.

PHIL: How do you share the UVP status?

DAVID: We have a dashboard that we maintain that includes all the key information about how our product stacks up, including how we assess our competitor status. It is a powerful management tool as our senior managers are now very familiar with reviewing our products in this simple and visual way. Getting all of the data for the dashboard initially was hard work, and it takes some effort to maintain it, but it delivers lots of value, so it is well worth it.

PHIL: How is this dashboard different from a typical product dashboard?

DAVID: Our UVP3 dashboard focuses on how we assess that we deliver value versus our competition instead of focusing on in-life performance metrics like revenue or subscribers. It is all about how our product proposition stacks up so that we can deliver value to our customers, which then ultimately translates into more customers that helps drive other metrics.

PHIL: Why do you use UVP3?

DAVID: UVP3 provides us with a powerful tool that helps us align with and underpin our product strategy at GBG, supporting our Vision, Objectives and Strategy. At its heart, it gives us a clear and consistent approach to measure and manage how we provide stand-out value to our customers. It builds on fundamentals that every Product person should be doing and gives us a clear picture of our differentiation.

PHIL: Any final comments?

DAVID: One valuable lesson we learned in applying the approach was that it is essential to wear an “honesty hat” when determining buying criteria, even more so when scoring. You can’t just choose things you know that you’re good at as the buying criteria. You need to figure out what is important to your customer. If you can incorporate feedback, either via sales or better direct from your customers, it is very powerful. In some cases, the buying criteria will be different for different market sectors, it is possible to have different UVP3 scores for the same product! When it comes to scoring, you shouldn’t give yourself a generous rating each time. Look for evidence to support your scoring? Getting an external viewpoint can be useful here too.

Thanks, David for your insights, from what I have seen and heard about UVP3 it sounds like a great and mature approach to assessing customer value versus the competition! Measuring value is hard but establishing a mature and systematic approach like this is a great way to go and sharing that information with stakeholders in a consistent manner is powerful.

Phil Hornby
Product Focus Associate and Independent Consultant

The post Unique Value Proposition Explained appeared first on Product Focus.

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