Turning singles into doubles

I vividly remember a saying from my youth from Detroit Tigers' Hall of Famer Al Kaline: you make doubles between home and 1st base, not 1st and 2nd base. His point was clear: you can't ever make up ground on a slow start.

I see project teams try the equivalent all the time. They do not build the discipline, the know-how, the process into their project up front. Instead, they take a lacadaisical approach, thinking they have a lot of time, and thus not fully utilizing their time to develop the right processes. Suddenly, scope creeps in, things change, they get behind on their project, and all of a sudden they are in a crisis - there is no way they are going to hit their date. The next action is usually to "sprint real fast to second base" hoping to beat the throw - working long hours, scrutinizing the plan, cutting scope, etc. I have yet to see that work.

You need to develop the right culture, the right discipline, and the right process as the first phase of your project. There are going to be problems, there are going to be corrections. That's ok. Pay your dues early. When it's time to sprint to second, you'll be way ahead of the throw.


My definition of a stupid question

Stupid questions should not be confused with simple questions.

If a question has only one logical (or possible) answer, that can be deduced by the asker, then it is a stupid question.

I get these types of questions a lot as a Product Manager. I view my job as making things less ambigious. If there are multiple ways to do something, my job is to pick that way. Beyond that, the team should be able to find their own way. This creates engagement, makes their jobs more interesting and meaningful, and can help drive innovation (input from many instead of input from one).

One way I accomplish this is by a) clearly defining the customer segment and their behaviors/values, and b) setting up prioritized design guidelines. Both give program managers, developers, designers, etc the tools they need to make decisions for themselves. I've watched some very impressive decisions made by the team, simply based on their understand of our customers and how they behave.

My job is not to document the obvious. That's inefficent.

Then again, maybe that is why I am changing jobs.


Jeff Bezos' presentation at Startup School 08

View it here. Very nice introduction into all of Amazon's Web Services offerings.

What makes a good product manager?


Yes, I'm jumping right to the point. What makes a good product manager is understanding reality.

Your product is not as good as leadership thinks it will be.

It is not as bad as sales says it is.

It is not as well-positioned in the customer's mind as marketing says it is.

It is not as difficult to support as customer support says it is.

What you have to do is be the one without the filtered glasses, and see things from a realistic perpective. Only then will you be able to prioritize your features and get your roadmap right.

Those stakeholders will milk you for everything you have to get their requests in. You need to be pragmatic. Nobody else will.

Seth says it much better than I do

That's why I read his blog every day.

Here is his guidance on customer service. I especially like the point on responding to customers who have taken time out of their very busy lives to contact you. That's a free marketing touchpoint, and it shocks me the number of companies that blow it. Perhaps its time that those touchpoints go to the marketing department instead of the so-called customer service department.

I wonder if Fathead is reading it :)

Smart positioning by iRobot

I've bought three iRobot products in the past, and I love them. Two Roombas and a Scooba. Even though the Scooba is broken, and I've had to replace one Roomba, they are great. Keeping my eye out for a deal on a Scooba.

Anyway, I got an email today inviting me to be part of the iRobot Advisory Panel. Sounds cool! Turns out to simply be an opt-in to receive survey invites, but so what... "Advisory Panel" sounds much more engaging than "surveys."

I signed up. Nice job iRobot.

What can I do to make you happy?

This is a common statement that companies use when they've screwed up with their customers. Maybe its a good line, but it doesn't work for me. Then again, I'm an INTJ type that is all about efficiency and optimization, and also we are less than 1% of the population.

Why doesn't it work for me? Because in my experience companies that truly care about their customers and giving them a great experience already answer that question. They don't ask you, they offer. Audi, Coach, my favorite restaurants, etc all take care of me without asking. Sears, that crappy pizza joint in Michigan City, Lincoln, GM, all have to ask, probably because they truly don't know what custmoers care about.


People still don't get viral marketing

Let your customers do your marketing for you. PLEASE!

I went to the Chicago White Sox web site. I expected to find a widget that I could put on my blog, showing what place they were in, their latest game results, and their next game. No such luck!

They are missing out on free promotion, and worse yet, letting others take up that valuable real estate on the web.

The web is real estate, you have to grab it now.

What marketing opportunities are you missing?

Don't assume you understand what your customers want

When I worked at Whirlpool, we spent a lot of time developing concepts and solutions that would help our target customer segments automate their tasks and activities. There was only one problem... that's not what our customers valued. We assumed that anyone would like to have things done for them. Bzzt! Wrong.

No, instead what we learned was that our customers were cravers of information, and that they still wanted to be in control. Don't manage their energy consumption for them; instead, give them information on where their energy usage goes, and they will manage their energy based on that information.

I had an experience on Saturday that left a bad taste in my mouth. In our typical "plan what we are doing Saturday night on Saturday afternoon," Amy and I started calling around for other families that didn't have anything going on. Turns out our neighbors would be around and would love to join us for pizza and socializing. So our menu consisted of gourmet Chicago-style pizza for the adults, and take-n-bake pizza for the kids (no sense letting the kids have our pizza!).

So, at about 5:45pm, 15 minutes before our guests arrive, I fire up the oven and head into town (Snoqualmie Ridge) to pick up a couple pizzas for the kids. I like Nick-n-Willy's because they have the pizzas pre-made - just grab and go. So I grab a couple pizzas and give them my discount card. The lady gives me an explanation that while she will honor our card I am supposed to buy a pizza from the menu that's not pre-made. The problem is she took about 5 minutes to explain this to me. Or at least she made it feel like five minutes. At that moment in time, I wasn't worried about saving a couple bucks, I was worried about getting back home to meet our guests and finish prepping the house. If she would have just said "we don't honor this because of this statement on the back" I would have been fine with it. Instead, she spent a lot of time explaining to me how much she was helping me by honoring the card. Problem is... she wasn't helping me, she was frustrating me.

I am not sure why, but this little hiccup during my day bothered me. I mean it really bothered me to the point where they did damage to their brand.

Never assume you understand what your customers want.


Motley Crue debuts song on Rockband

The marketing game is changing. Here's yet another example - Motley Crue to debut new song on Rock Band. Awesome!

Fathead and poor customer service

Several months back (like September), we purchased a Fathead for our play room redecoration project. It was a Purdue football helment and fit in nicely in our football themed room, painted in Old Gold (Purdue's official shade of gold).

We got the product, layed it flat, painted the room, and waited two months to put it up so that the paint dried right. We put it up, and while we had some problems with it, overall it stayed up with some minor peeling. After a month or so, it came tumbling down and we could not re-attach it to the wall.

We are busy people, so it took us a while to contact Fathead about it. I was quite surprised at their response. They said they were sorry for the defective product, but that we were outside the 60 day warranty window. They would however be more than happy to sell us a Fathead at 25% off retail price.

I was stunned. Fathead doesn't have a product if it doesn't do the only thing it is supposed to do - STICK TO THE WALL.

I had planned on buying other Fatheads - for starters Detroit Red Wings for my bedroom and Star Wars figures for the kids' Lego room. Clearly, if Fathead doesn't think that their product will work for more than 60 days, and if they won't take care of "defective products" (their words), it doesn't make sense for me to drop $100 on each of these Fatheads.

With the cost of one replacement product and shipping Fathead had the opportunity to sell us more Fatheads. Not to mention the viral marketing opportunity lost by people now not asking "Cool where did you get THAT?"

Are you intentionally chasing away your customers?


Attaching a Google document to a Gmail message

So of all the things I figured I would be able to do with Google Documents, attaching a Google doc to a Gmail message I figured would be a no-brainer.

I can't figure it out. I looked, I Googled, I searched help, no such luck. I had to save the Google Doc to a file on my computer and then attach it to my message.

This seems like an obvious use case, and a trivial implementation. What's the deal?

This is an example of what I am talking about when I say "you need more than raw brainpower" to companies that claim to hire really smart people. Sometimes really smart people don't see the forest through the trees.


Conducting online surveys

My first rule of online surveys: don't make it harder for the respondents than it has to be.

I have yet to see an online survey that does it right. Amazing. Every time I'm asked to perform many extra, unnecessary clicks just because the survey company can't figure out how to put more than one question on a page.

One of the great things about the web is that we can get very detailed data and metrics on web usage. If you mail a survey out, you don't know why it wasn't filled out an returned. If you email a survey, while you may not learn why it isn't completed, you can at least learn where in the process the participant abandoned. And you can use that data to improve your survey tool.

I understand it is the job of these companies to find candidates for surveys, and no question they deliver value there. But they are overlooking an opportunity to improve their response rate for their customers at little or no cost.

Seth Godin hits the nail on the head

We discovered and practiced this at Whirlpool several years back: your inbound customer calls to your call center are a perfect way to market to your customers. Whirlpool changed from "avoid phone calls at all costs," to "invest in the call center to drive customer loyalty."

Marketing at the customer service level does not mean sell the customer something. It means deliver value for the customer (via help) so the customer perceives greater value from your brand or product. In turn, they spread word of mouth and become repeat customers.

By the way, trying to chit chat with your customers and "be nice" is NOT necessarily delivering value. I become irrated when I call a company only to have the person on the other end take 30 seconds out of my busy day to ask me how I am doing. A simply "how many I help you?" suffices.

Are you taking advantage of ALL of your customer touchpoints?


Exactly what I've been waiting for

Google announced Google App Engine today, and while I haven't used it yet I am on the waiting list and I took a look at their docs. They announced it at CampFire One last night, and its already gotten good reviews.

It appears to be the integrated web development and hosting environment I've been looking for (I don't do a lot of development anymore but I always have a need for doing a little development). To date I have yet to set up a dev/hosting environment; every time I've tried something has gotten in the way relative to usability or functionally working. Hopefully Google App Engine works :)