Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Packaging strategies can break or make your business

How you package the offering is the most important aspect of  any business.

I explain packaging with two successful product. I follow dropbox and dropcam from their beginning stage, I use dropbox regularly. These products package things to make it more attractive though their core offering is not entirely unique.

When dropbox came, there are many products out in market to store your data to the external server and cloud. But seamless integration across devices, free plans to go and simplicity makes Dropbox, a compelling product. In case of Dropcam, many products were selling monitoring video product, but packaging things like connecting to WiFi, live streaming, cloud storage and ecosystem make it a compelling product. How you package your core service with other things matter most to make the product successful.

Packaging is not limited to digital world, it applies to all type of business. You may run a physical store, a gas station. Now, to make your business distinct from the crowd and to make it successful you need to think and work on your packaging part along with your core service.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Tweaking Agile/Scrum

I'm working with agile/scrum methodologies for quite some years. Generally I like Agile/Scrum , but I think some of its aspects can be tweaked to suit better.

First, I share the problems I see with agile. Especially, this is very important when you are doing a new product (or) development

1) Free thinking, experimenting environment and sharing ideas can become limited as individuals concentrate more on their current user story and tasks on hand.

2) May not fit everyone's working style.  I will explain the "working style" what I'm talking about.

Take, Person A, Person B working on your project. Now, the way they approach a same problem may be different

Person  A   -   do research --> read through API's --> do the coding--> quality deliverables.

Person B    -   do some dirty coding --> read API's --> make something works --> do the coding --> iteratively improves --> quality deliverables

Here we are more concerned about the output rather than their working style, the last step "quality deliverable" is important than anything else. We need  to see how we can make the agile/scrum fit with the different working style's like this.

3) Problems in Time sheet. I have explained about this in detail below.  Though, Time-sheet may not be tied with Agile/Scrum entirely, I'm sharing as a general perspective of product management.

4) Visibility to big picture related with company, product, vision .etc are limited to selected few who do the tasks like sprint planning.

What we can do?

I have put few suggestions to address these problems

Sprint Planning

Macro thinking, Big Picture, Overall Business/product objectives has to be part of every sprint planning meeting. Tell them where this sprint  fit in overall business/product goals. In this way, everyone get motivated towards the task in hand thinking the big picture.  It also encourages innovation, new ideas and out of box thinking from team members.

Daily Sprint Call

Daily sprint call  need not be a place to discuss only about your current sprint and work. Don't make mandatory for team members to share the status of their current work unless there is a real dependency with other team members (or) something important to share. Again, creating daily dependency between project members is not a good project planning.  Daily sprint call can also be just a causal greeting and discussion with coffee.

Time sheet

Time-sheet may be needed to see the effort spent by project members which may be needed for some  metrics (or) to raise invoice (or) for other organizational needs.

This is my take on time-sheet

1) Time-sheet need not be a daily task of the project members.

2) Encourage developers to track the things they are working daily which helps to fill time-sheet end of sprint (Most sprints are fortnightly). So in a way,  it fit's everyone's working style I was talking about. Also, it will not make them to fill just for the sake of filling.

3) Don't put micro tasks with micro time which are trivial. For example, from software development perspective, don't create a task like 'Installing xyz software' and put 1 hour for that .  Idea is overall output from a project member is important  rather than tasks in daily time-sheet.

4) Let the project lead/manger and team member sit together and fill time-sheet at the end of every sprint.  By doing so, it helps to get consistency and uniformity. It also helps in getting useful metrics and  make things more readable,manageable for future references.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Pattern Mining - The crucial link for your product alignment

Patterns emerge from the way consumer interacts with your product.  These patterns tells how users use the product  to do what they want.

Now, do your product stick to the existing patterns? (or) you go and seek for new patterns and trends?

The product has to evolve with new patterns and possibilities. Sticking to a pattern may make your company/product complacent. For this, You have to hunt and mine for new patterns. Based  upon the new patterns, you can alter your existing offering (or) you can give entirely a new offering.  How fast you align the product with external circumstances and audience sentiment is more crucial than ever before.

Now, how you can mine a new pattern?. Some of the possible ways you can to do this are...

See your customers - Data Analytics

See your customers. See how they are using your app.  For this, Data Analytics has to be part of your product development and management. For efficient data analytics, you need to have a good data set
and customer actions has to be captured with efficient logging .etc . So Data Analytics has to be factored out in product design and development.

Talk to your customer

Go and just talk to some random customers. You'll be surprised to get more insights by knowing how they are using your app and the suggestions they give. It would be even better if you able to segregate your customer segment something like - customer discarded your product, customer actively using your product, new customers, customers from different locality.. etc. and talk to them. You can do this as an monthly exercise.

Mine the pattern from the outside world 

Seek the pattern in the outside world.  This can be general consumption of information in your space (or) through a proper  research conducted by surveys and feedback.

Follow your competitors

Another way of doing this by following your competitor (or) the companies in your space.  If you see some trends, you can also align with the that.

For example, Facebook introduced places which is similar to Foursquare Checkin, Facebook introduced hashtags which is from twitter

Crunch data to get insights

Crunching and combining the above data points helps you to mine new patterns which guides your overall product alignment.

Apart from these data points, your ability to foresee the things and your intuition also helps here.

Why we need?

New trends and patterns are emerging very fast and your product/offering may become obsolete sooner than before.

Who needs this?

  • Even if you are a start-up (or) an established player, you have to do this.
  • Do this even if your business is doing good (or) you are a leader in your space.  At times, you miss the changing tide and things may change very fast.
  • Do this if your business is not doing good. Even a small change in your offering may work in your favour.
  • Also mining new patterns is not something restricted with product development (or) product management alone.  For example, digital marketing is becoming more dynamic. Your strategy for last month may not work this month. You may need to sell entirely in a new Platform. So you have to mine the patterns and see the trends here as well.

May be,  BBM could have achieved what WhatsApp did. (or)  Nokia could have capitalized the smart phone market if they aligned their product strategy and offering at the right time by mining the new patterns and see the trends.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Proposing - Context Intelligence System(CIS)

Website/App has to adapt and behave in accordance with the Context. I'm sharing a design  idea of  a software component to achieve this context aware behavior. For now, I name this component as "Context Intelligence System(CIS)".

What is Context?

User may be a registered user (or) who visits your site without signing in which can be identified by a cookie.  User's are mapped to location , device,  time stamp, social media data, interests etc. to form a context.

Context can also be any other circumstantial data relevant to the product. For example,
- User Affinity to the product  like first time user, active user can be a context
-  Data from outside circumstances and surroundings which are relevant to your business.  For example, weather data, stock market data etc. can also be part of a context.


You can see from above picture, CIS has two components - CIS - Data Store and  CIS -Engine.

CIS - Data Store

CIS will be the central location for all context related data.  Below I have listed down the various types of data that can go into this CIS datastore.

This is a sample data set, selection of this data are highly specific to your business.
1) User location, device, time-stamp data are stored and manged here.
2) Data from your third party data stores like Janrain(user social media data) are pulled and stored here.
3) External available data like weather information, stock market data.etc can be stored here.
4) User actions, User Product affinity are aggregated and stored here.
We can use Hadoop or any other big data solution to collect, crunch and store this data.

CIS also captures and mange the data real time when user interacts with your app. Real time data can be device info, location info .etc

CIS datastore has very good data-set, so this data can be used by other components in your system like recommendation engine, BI.

Point to consider  - Data Duplication.  Make careful decision when you have a requirement to duplicate the data from original data store.

CIS - Engine

CIS Engine is the core component of CIS System.  It performs the below operations

Context specific API Facade

CIS Engine add context specific parameters to your API call via API facade layer. CIS gives personalized context aware behavior to the API.  ( You can read this eBook to know about API facade -

For example,

We can pass the context like device, location to the API call  to make your API context aware.
Search API call for the default search page can have items related with the context.
Notification API call can get the context (device =mobile and location) to display context aware notification

Context Rules

CIS Engine have context rules to perform context specific decision making.

For example,

Rule1 - If the context = (device=mobile) --->send notification about the nearest store offer.
Rule2 - If the context = (location=Boston,weather=raining) ---> run the Google Adwords campaign in this locality for a product/food that people like in rainy days.
Rule3 - If the context = (action=discarded shopping cart) ---> send the mail and run the re-marketing campaign
Rule4 -  If the context = (user affinity=first time user) ---> display the notifications for first time users
Rule 5-  If the context = (user affinity=active user, location=Los Angeles) ---> roll out a new feature (This helps to roll out a new feature for selective audience.)

Rule2 talks about Google Adwords. Google Adwords provides API's to manage campaigns. Here depending on a context, you can pause or restart a campaign.  Campaign management can be automated to a extent to be in-line with the context. ( Other marketing platform like facebook, twitter works in similar way.)

Adaptive User Interface(AUI)

Adaptive UI/ website itself is a broad topic with separate design patterns and principle, so I didn't put the adaptive UI design in this CIS scope. As CIS stores and manages all context information, I believe it can also manage the functionality/code for adaptive website. 

What's new about CIS?

Having the context aware system at the center place helps to better mange, have control and visualize the things. CIS gather all useful information about users, actions, context at one place for better decision making and applying rules. Like any other development, you can build CIS iteratively and improve.

This is the initial design of CIS and there may be scope of improvement.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A simple solution for better product development and management

I'm coming to my point straight, the simple solution I mentioned in the title is "Right Metrics". Having-  "Right Metrics" results in better product development and management  It may look obvious, but many didn't get this right. . We all have some type of metrics to track our product development and  progress. But whether our metrics are in-line with the product goals?  Does it reflects the actual reality?.

To explain this, let's take an example that you are going to develop a youtube style app for kids called "KidsVid" and assuming you have enough resources to start your project.

I'm giving you some fictional situation to explain what could be a Right Metrics in this product life-cycle.

Situation 1:  Product Development Metrics

Suppose if you are taking the metrics after first month to track the progress on the product development of this KidsVid app, the metrics has to reflect the progress on core aspects of product development like.

1)  API  Delivery ( All product functionality are exposed as API)
2)  Product Spec Delivery
3)  Zeroing of Minimum viable product
4)  Wireframes, Design documents and delivery for UI
5)  Product Technical Framework
6)  Core Technical  block of  the project like adaptive website, video streaming .etc
7)  Delivery of workflows and modules which are in-line with your spec (or) minimum viable product.
8)  Implementation of best practices like product management tools, test driven development, continuous integration.etc

These metrics are highly specific to your project and business. But the core idea here is get the metrics that matter.

Situation 2:  User Adoption Metrics

Now assuming you have successfully launched your product  and you want to see the user adoption for your product. Metrics which talks only about  user visits (or) sign up with your site is not saying the entire story. Your metrics has to reflect - how many users actually using your product , what actions they performed .etc so that you can track the real user adoption. Basically your metric has to see from different dimesionsions

Situation 3:  Analytic Metrics

You may want to see the analytics of videos in your site. Here, Video Retention Rate is the right metrics to have rather than  just tracking how many user clicking the video.

Having a right metric helps to track the actual progress and adoption of your product.  A Right Metric has to tell the truth in simple terms.

Sharing some tips on having right metrics.

Dimensions and View Point

We have to see from different dimensions and view points to have a right metric..

Dimesions - Dimension covers all aspects of a situation/problem. Product Development Metrics cited above covers different dimensions of product development.
View Point-  We have to see from the view point of customer, developer, product owner, business .etc.

Time Period for Metrics

Preparing the metrics may not be a day-today activity for all use cases. For marketing, it may be daily. For Product development metrics, you can have it monthly . This time period  also plays an important role in having a right metrics.

Accept the Shortcomings

If your  are not satisfactory with the metrics, just accept the shortcomings. Especially this is very important if you are at a higher level of your organization like investor, advisor, cxo, co-founder, product manager. etc.

Improve Iteratively

Good if you are not satisfied with the metrics.  Now go-ahead and create appropriate tasks for your team to achieve a satisfactory metric, thus you are iteratively improving to build a better product.

Get your metrics right to build a successful product with a wonderful customer experience!.