Sochi Fails: Why Product Managers Need to Travel Abroad

It’s amusing to hear all the reactions of the visitors to the Sochi Winter Olympics. All the fails, from hotel lobbies that are not complete, broken elevators, no hot water, door knobs falling off, brown tap water, unusual bathroom rules, or sidewalks that may not be complete. How is all this good for a product manager to experience? It changes your way of thinking. You grow up thinking there is only one way to do something.

As a person who was born and raised in America, this is what I thought growing up:

  • Stuff is bought with dollars
  • Sidewalks and construction areas are made safe with construction zone yellow tape
  • Public Bathrooms offered private stalls and toilet paper
  • Everyone drives on the right side of the road
  • Toilet paper goes in the toilet bowl after you use it
  • You don’t cook the head of the animal you are eating

After living in China and having traveled to over 18 countries, I realize there is more than one way to do things. It’s the same with product management. I know product managers for consumer products are a little different, but when dealing with Enterprise hardware or software there are a lot of things to keep in mind. User experience, features, and price are at the forefront of everyone’s thoughts, but you may be surprised to find out a white paper, a managed service, or sales education can dramatically improve customer adoption.

I like the book Thinking for a change by John Maxwell. In his “Skill 8: Question the Acceptance of Popular Thinking.”, he encourages you to question popular thinking. In everyone’s mind, popular thinking is the way of thinking you grew up with. It’s popular because your parents thought that way, your professors thought that way, and maybe even your executives think that way. A product manager is as good as his or her ability to think and solve problems. Take the opportunity to think differently and it opens the new doors and opportunities. Just remember, even though it may be the right decision, doesn’t mean it will be the popular decision.

Here are some thoughts on popular thinking by some famous people.

“There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home.”
-Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), in a talk given to a 1977 World Future Society meeting in Boston

“Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?”
– Harry M. Warner, co-founder of Warner Brothers, 1926

“There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable. It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will.”
– Albert Einstein, 1932

“Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value.”
– French military leader Ferdinand Foch, 1911

“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”
— Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943

“This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.”
— Western Union internal memo, 1876

The next time you get a chance to travel to a foreign country, don’t miss the opportunity to challenge your thinking as well as learn from your experiences. For more reactions of popular thinking on the way things must be, just watch social media for the reactions to the Sochi Olympics.

6 Leadership Lessons From Pete Carroll

As a long time Seattle Seahawks fan, a dream came true when they won the Super Bowl.  As a student of leadership, I took some time to reflect on the leadership of Pete Carroll.

Here are 6 things I learned from Pete Carroll about leadership.

1. Age is a state of mind. Pete Carroll is 62 years old. He is the 3rd oldest coach in Super Bowl history. Yet, he jumps around and has the energy of a 20 year old. His mind is active, he is relaxed, and he is sharp. Ageism (also spelled “agism”) is stereotyping and discriminating against individuals or groups on the basis of their age. Whether it’s a study out of Princeton or Yale, an NBC News or NY Times article, or any number of papers on the subject, Pete Carroll shows the world that old people still rock. His players love him, and he has showed he has one of the best football minds in the game. A leader always keeps sharp and focused.

2. Optimism works. Pete Carroll is known for his optimism. Optimism from the leader when spoken into the life of a player or employee, when used correctly can help that person believe in themselves. If the leader can correctly recognize the talents of his or her team and create an environment for that person to succeed, amazing things can happen.  A note of caution though, it doesn’t guarantee success, it just makes your chances better. As a leader, always be optimistic.

3. Make it fun! There are many examples where great workplaces produce outstanding results. If you listen to the Seattle Seahawks they talk about how much fun they are having. It’s clear that people perform better when they are having fun. Silicon Valley takes this to a whole new level. If you visit companies like Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, or Apple you will find employees having fun. It’s not unusual to see ping pong tables, foosball tables, or other games where employees can have some fun with their colleagues. As a leader be sure to bring some fun to the table.

4. Success comes after failure. One thing that can be learned from Pete Carroll’s success at Seattle is that it was after he was fired from both the New England Patriots and the New York Jets. He points back to that time in life as to the time that gave him the focus for his success. As a leader understand failure is a great opportunity to learn and grow and is very often a precursor to success.

5. Always get better. Win everyday is a philosophy that was born out of Pete’s failure. http://www.winforever.com/petes-story While reading a book by John Wooden (another great coach), he changed his philosophy to being the best he can be. That’s the fundamental philosophy around the Seahawks team. If every player can be the best he can be with a focus on continuous improvement, the results follow. As a leader, we need to always get better to strive to be the best we can be in addition to helping those around us to do the same. The leader can create an environment where everyone gets better.

6. It’s all about the players. So often teams get caught up in a particular offense or a defense. Teams in the corporate world do much the same in focusing on Agile or the latest and greatest technology. The focus is taken off the person and put on the process or technology. In Pete’s system the focus is on a vision for each player and coach. To help each person be the best person they can be. As a leader in today’s fast paced technology driver world, we need to focus on each team members success.

“It’s about being the very best you can be. Nothing else matters as long as you’re working and striving to be your best. Always compete. It’s truly that simple. Find the way to do your best. Compete in everything you do.” -Pete Carroll

“It’s about us getting ready to play. It’s not about the other team. We’ll beat ourselves before they beat us. That’s always our approach.” -Pete Carol

The winforever approach to Seattle Seahawks football:

Three rules:

  1. Always protect the team;
  2. No whining, no complaining, no excuses;
  3. Be early.

Style: Great effort, great enthusiasm, great toughness, play smart.

Beliefs: It’s all about the ball. … Everything counts. … Respect everyone.

Philosophy: Do things better than they have ever been done before.

Everything rises and falls on leadership. If there is a single skill required for a good product manager, it is leadership. As a leader, let’s follow the example of Pete Carroll and be the best leader we can be.

Productivity and the Product Manager

Being a product manager in todays crazy environment can be like juggling a chainsaw, a bowling ball, and a sword. It’s crazy at best. Marketing wants those new release features, engineering wants more detail on a requirement, the UX team can’t agree on a design, management wants a development checkpoint presentation and you are speaking at a conference next week. How in the world can you keep everything moving forward?

I have found that I needed a system to keep track of everything. As a product manager, it’s important to be action oriented, so I needed a system to keep track of my actions.  After reading “Getting Things Done” by David Allen, I began for formulate my system. What I like about his book is that it doesn’t prescribe a tool, but rather it describes a system.  And after you get a system in place, you can revise and improve that system. I have been improving my system for several years now. It is amazing how having a personal system that is tailored to your needs helps you in so many ways.

“Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.” 
― David Allen

Now I capture these ideas and formulate a plan for accomplishing the tasks related to the idea. Having a system that captures all the actions required in the role of a product manager is essential. It’s also something you have to continually revise and improve. There are always new tools on the market to help you with your system. I typically set aside some time twice a year to see if there are any new tools that I can leverage. The most important thing is your system, often there are many tools that can assist in your system.

For more of the latest from David Allen visit http://www.gtdtimes.com/

And finally, here is a little humor from Rob Cottingham on the subject of getting things done.

RobCottinghamSequels1

What I learned from Steve Jobs as a Product Manager

I recently watched the movie Jobs. While in China, I read the book “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson and it brought back many thoughts about Steve Jobs as a product manager.

Steve Jobs movie

Steve Jobs is a great case study of a product manager. His passion was unparalleled, his drive for perfection amazing, and his attention to detail would impress any engineer. In the end, he is known as someone who changed the world.

“We’re here to put a dent in the universe.” -Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs was certainly on the forefront of some great products and his personality helped him to thrive in that environment. Of course, as with anyone he had his setbacks; the Lisa computer, the NeXT computer, and being fired from Apple to name a few. But he didn’t give up and learned from those failures to ultimately create some amazing products like the iPod, iPad, and iPhone. As well, the iTunes store and the innovative Apple Stores that changed the way we buy products.

As a product manager, here are 5 things that I learned from Steve Jobs. There are obviously many lessons about health, personal relationships, and running a business, but these are limited to being a product manager.

1. Passion is the most important ingredient. It was his passion that brought the best talent together. His passion drove him to only want the best people to work on his products. It was his passion that drove him to perfection and always innovating. It was his passion that defined who he was.

2. Always be innovating. While Steve Jobs was at Apple, you could always count on new innovative products being released. While Steve Jobs was away that innovation was not there. And when he came back the innovation came back. In his early days at Apple there was the Macintosh, and when he came back there was the iPod, iPhone, iPad, iTunes and the new Apple stores. Each of these products changed the way people bought and used devices and applications.

3. Never rely on past successes. As Apple became profitable again when Steve Jobs came back, he could have very easily been happy with the iPod and iTunes, but he continued to press forward with the iPhone, iPad and Apples stores.

4. Focus on fewer game changing products rather than many average products. One of the first things Steve Jobs did when he came back as interim CEO was to cut projects and only focus on a few key projects. That allowed Apple to improve the quality of their products and make sure they hit the mark with customers. So many times, businesses try to hit every market and please everyone that in the end the product suffers. It’s important to be laser focused on key winning products. As a product manager, your products need to be one of those winning products.

5. Know your customer. Do you remember the first time you picked up an iPhone or iPod? It felt natural and interacting with it was intuitive and it was easy to use. Steve Jobs knew what people wanted. He knew what his customer wanted. Since his products were new and innovative, he knew what they wanted better than the customer. He knew his customer.

As a product manager, there is a lot we can learn from Steve Jobs. For more detail, be sure to read his biography. I think it’s a must read for every product manager.

Planning and Reflection of a Product Manager

As we near the end of the year, I like to reflect on the past year and plan for the next year. I believe it is that reflection that helps me learn from last year and do better in the coming year. I like the quote from Oscar Wilde.

“With age comes wisdom, but sometimes age comes alone.”

We all get a year older, but not everyone gets a year wiser. As a product manager, it’s vital to reflect on your past year, your past release, your past project, or your past day. It’s reflection that helps us to improve and process new data we may have overlooked to lead us toward wisdom. I also like to follow a mental process for my reflection.

Is the outcome as I expected it? Did everything finish in the time I expected? Did my process work for me? Were there any key players that I didn’t include in the planning? What went well? What did not go so well? What strengths did the team exhibit? What weaknesses did the team exhibit? Were there any communication gaps? Who did a great job? Who could have done better? Was there conflict? If so, was it handled appropriately? Did the development process work? Were there unneeded steps in the process? Can those steps be removed?


I have my own personal list that I used for reflection. I have a daily list, a weekly list, and a annual list. I add and delete from the list as appropriate.  One of my favorite books of all time was “Thinking for a change” by John Maxwell. Especially chapter 3, “Master the process of Intentional Thinking” where it talks about finding a good place to think, surrounding yourself with other thinkers, and act on your good thoughts. I like to practice the skills of good thinking and this time of year gives me a great opportunity to exercise those skills.

I make notes on my reflective process so I can improve my plan for the coming year. I start out my plan with my goals for the coming year. I typically like to have 3-5 big goals for the next year and go from there. Each of those goals will have at least daily or weekly steps to achieve a particular goal. Breaking down your big goals into smaller steps will help lay out the actions needed to achieve your goals. There are many books about goals but the book that got me going was Think and Grow Rich, by Napoleon Hill. There is so much more to the book, but it puts the value of goals into the big picture.

Most everyone focuses on spending time with friends and family over the Holidays. I certainly believe it’s important to connect with those people who support you, but as a product manager, be sure to also spend time reflecting on the past year and planning for the next.

The Secret to Your Success as a Product Manager? -Get passionate about your product.

Let’s face it, the product manager job can be hard. There can be many competing priorities as well as key stakeholders that all believe their feature is the most important. As the product manager, you will have to say no to a lot of people. In addition, you still have to see the big picture, know you customer well, and understand what is most important. Working on a product that you believe in makes all the difference.

I would often think about the number of people my product would impact around the world. My purpose in life is to ‘add value’. Plain and simple as that. In addition to adding value to those around me, I believe I add value to the people that use the product that I am responsible for. Since my product ran across the entire eServer line as well as some storage, there was no reliable way to guess the average number of users per server but at 500 users on 300,000 servers it quickly adds up to 150,000,000 users. With that kind of impact, it was easy to be passionate about it.

If your not passionate about the product your managing, either get passionate or find another product. It’s makes all the difference in the world.

 

 

 

Toastmasters; an Essential Component of a Product Manager’s Personal Growth Plan

As a product manager, I have found Toastmasters to be a vital component of my personal growth plan. This blog post will explain why I think it’s the perfect training for a product manager. I remember when I first joined Toastmasters. I thought I just wanted to improve my public speaking skills. As a product manager you are often called upon to do a demo or presentation about your product. As well, you are often called to report to executives the progress of your product.

I think my club was getting tired of hearing so much about my product, but I noticed a marked improvement in my ability to present. Whether it was customers, field staff, or executives, I was seeing a significant better response from my audiences. I would share short sections of a longer presentation to my club and made improvements based on the feedback. The photo below is me presenting at a “customer day” in Aukland, New Zealand.

P1050267

 

At one point, one of my peers told me that he knew Toastmasters was working for me when I told a VP “no” and in the end the VP was glad I told him no. When fielding questions from VP’s about your product, the Toastmasters Tabletopics practice is extremely valuable. Being able to think on your feet and communicate effectively in your 2-3 minute response is critical. You don’t always get a lot of time in front of executives and you want to make the most of it.

The other thing that Toastmaster’s can help is in your listening skills. By giving speech evaluations, you learn to listen beyond the words to fully understand what the speaker is talking about. This practice of evaluations in Toastmasters meetings can improve your listening skills. Whether your listening to a customer, an engineer, or a VP, listening is a vital skill to a product manager.

Even with improving your presentation skills, your impromptu speaking for that important meeting with a VP, or your listening skills for hearing really what that customer is saying. I believe the biggest benefit Toastmasters can provide a product manager is in your leadership skills. Typically product managers have to lead marketing, engineering, & sales in their product. You will have to lead engineering to make sure they are building the right product. You will have to lead marketing to make sure they are communicating the benefits effectively. You will have to lead sales to make sure they have the materials to effectively sell your product. Leading in a nonprofit like Toastmasters is in many ways like leading as a product manager. Even if you have employees the leadership skills gained will help you be more effective across the entire company.

If you don’t have Toastmasters in your personal growth plan, be sure to consider it going forward.

Achievement and Vulnerability; Living With Both.

I’ll admit it, I’m a guy that get’s things done. I’ve always been driven to achievement or accomplishment. I typically think my way through things. When given a tough problem to solve, I look at the problem from several angles and plan my course of action. There may be a few detours along the way, but typically, I get to my destination.

I recently got back from China. It was both a detour and a destination. I always wanted to live abroad, but it was consulting that took me there and not product management. I learned a lot from my consulting work in China. Not only did I learn about the Chinese, about how the they conduct business, but most importantly, I learned a lot about myself. After living in China for over a year, I decided to return to the US and to Silicon Valley.

I had known from previous experiences that once you achieve a major goal, there is usually a period of reflection and adjustment. As I reflect on my career, I realized how much I love product management. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my time in China and wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. I achieved a life-long dream of living abroad, meeting new friends, and experiencing the other side of the world.

Now back to my thoughts about reflection and achievement. My daughter Amanda Haataia recommended I watch a few Ted Talks. Today, I watched Brené Brown: The Power of Vulnerability. I realized that I have been so driven toward achievement that I was having a difficult time returning to the US and being just another guy.  I’m learning lessons about how I think and know that it will make me a better product manager.

I will still strive to achieve and get things done, but I have to realize the impact on those around me. Whether it’s the development team, marketing, your friends or family, just because things don’t get done as fast as you would like it, continue to think about better and fasters ways to get it done, but have peace with yourself and those around you in the process.  It’s a much better way.

Free Game?

Is it a free game? In my quest to learn more about mobile apps, I installed the mobile app game DeerHunter 2014. I grew up deer hunting in southwest Washington state so I thought I could pickup the game fairly quickly.  As well, the game was free so what did I have to lose? In general the game challenges you to hunt different animals in different regions around the world and your ability to accomplish that goal depends on the equipment you have or you earn.

Everything started out good and I got into the game, but very quickly I found that the game got harder.  At each level I was offered to use game tokens to upgrade my equipment or use in-app purchases to upgrade my equipment for cash. I found a few times when a particular hunt got hard, I wanted to simply upgrade my equipment using in-app purchases.  I was extremely tempted to purchase the shortcut.

These games are generating significant revenue. They entice you with their free price, but very quickly get you hooked into the game and are quickly tempted to spend $5.00 or the cost of a Starbucks coffee to upgrade your equipment or $20.00 to save the most money on a specific upgrade or future upgrades.

After a little searching, my experience was supported by a blog by distimo.com. In-app purchases are popular way for people to spend their money. Especially when you get to a hard part in the game and for only a few dollars you can simplify the game.

As well, thinkgaming.com estimates that DeerHunter 2014 makes a little over $121,000 in daily revenue! Not a bad return for a free game…

Health and performance as a product manager

The life of a product manager can be hectic. The deadlines, engineering delays, product quality issues, customer complaints, marketing promotions, sales commitments and all the other challenges that face a product manager. This blog post is going to focus on an often neglected part of the discussion; health. If you think about it, your heath, your energy level, and your mental wellbeing is one of the biggest factors that contribute to poor performance.

See the embedded video on longevity. As I watched this video, I thought about eating right, being active, good relationships, and an active lifestyle.  These principles are not only good for living longer, they are good for performing at your best.

He has narrowed it down to Move Naturally, Having the Right Outlook, Eat Wisely and Connect with Others. Sounds like some good advice to keep your performance at an optimal level.

Let’s hear your comments as to your health impacts on your performance. I’m not just talking about being sick and not being there at all, but I’m talking about energy levels, lack of good sleep, relationship challenges and how it impacts your overall performance.