“MVP: Minimum Viable vs Maximum Value” – my recap of Adam RT Smith’s FITC Screens Talk

Pie-chart-for-Adam-Smith-blog-post-300x224FITC has posted my latest guest blog on their site, a recap of a talk where Adam RT Smith points out the pitfalls of the Minimum Viable Product methodology.

Let me know what you think once you’ve read it on FITC’s Blog
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Is Your App Really Solving a Problem? Recap of a talk by Anthony Ilukwe at FITC Screens 2013

ilukwe-2-smI recently guest blogged again for FITC, this time at their Screens 2013 mobile and tablet development conference. Anthony Ilukwe gave an interesting talk to the developer attendees on how to decide which apps to devote time to and which ones to set aside.

Check it out on FITC’s blog.

Why schoolgirls are not interested in studying IT

Why schoolgirls are not interested in studying IT

This is a very insight filled piece, written by a 13 yr old girl.

Even she is exceptional, in that she attended a tech workshop and cares enough to write a piece like this, but isn’t interested in a hands-on tech career and she confirms many of the factors we’ve suspected keep girls from going into tech.

I think there’s a lot we can do with her insights to change both the optics and the realities that keep girls like Lottie from pursuing tech.

And to think I was just shortening links…

One of my clients is moving out of beta today and boy, have I learned a lot working with them.

Like most people, since Twitter became so important for business communications, I was shortening links to get the most from my 140 characters. But until I started working with the team at @SqueezeCMM, I was missing a big opportunity – I was just shortening my links with whatever tool I happened to think of in the moment – bit.ly, tinyurl, etc. They did the job, I figured, and what more could I ask for? As it turns out, I could have asked for a LOT more.

My client, SqueezeCMM shortens links but they do a lot more. The founder, Jen Evans, is a content marketing pioneer, which means she was using blogs, whitepapers, infographics, slide decks and more to drive her customers’ businesses since before the term “content marketing” was coined. And to measure how well the content was doing the job, she used many different tools, like web analytics, social media analytics, email analytics… But she noticed a gap. The tools all measured how well a certain platform was performing (like a website or Twitter) but the customer’s content was hosted on many platforms and they were using many tools to promote it, so putting together meaningful data was a nightmare. Showing the value of the content and figuring out how to optimize it was impossible. There was no data for that. And many tools focus on when people SEE your content, not when they ACT on it by clicking links and signing up.

So Jen’s team invented SqueezeCMM. It’s a really powerful tool for marketers, especially those who promote a lot of links to a lot of platforms, but it’s pretty useful for bloggers and casual tweeters, too. For example, my SqueezeCMM reports show me which content resonates most with my audience on Twitter vs. my blog or Facebook and what’s most popular across all those. (Definitely #womenintech!) And it tells me which channels give me the best engagement (still Twitter, but with the detailed data I can figure out what to post to the others to get more action).

sandi-channels-assets

SqueezeCMM even tells me what day of the week is best for me to promote to each platform if I want people to click my links – and it’s not the same for my audience as the generic advice you can get online. I can even tell what day is best to promote different blogs based on when people are more likely to click thorough. Here’s a comparison of two blogs I’ve posted to frequently – one gets the most clicks on Mondays, the other on Tuesdays, regardless of when I post.

sandi-dayofweek-compare

Here’s where it got really cool, though. When I guest blogged for a conference, I squeezed the links within my blog that they uploaded to their own site. I included links to their information page, some YouTube videos, and the conference presenter’s bio. As soon as they posted my blog to their site, SqueezeCMM started reporting to me when people were clicking on those links. I have no access to that website, so even if they have Google Analytics or Omniture, I wouldn’t get those reports, but I could still see that my post was generating user engagement and demonstrate that to the people who asked me to write for them. I also built “paths” on Squeeze so I could see how many people who clicked from their site to my site continued on to click through my calls to action. It’s easy to see how valuable this would be to someone spending a lot of money on generating and promoting content.

The marketers we’re supporting use a lot of channels – dozens, even hundreds of Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn… Then there are paid ads, sponsored posts, 3rd party directories, even printed brochures. And they can all link to the same content assets on several different sites with links in the asset to other sites and assets. Their needs are much more complex than mine, so what SqueezeCMM does for them is even cooler.

Over the past few months, I’ve talked to a lot of users and incorporated their feedback into the new features we’re launching when we move out of beta today. So now it’s time to sit back, applaud the SqueezeCMM team on a job well done, and wait to see if the users love the new features as much as they love the core product. It’s been a wild ride, and there’s nothing quite like a launch. Happy Launch Day, Squeezers!

(You can try SqueezeCMM for free by signing up for Casual Squeezer plan at http://www.squeezecmm.com. Let me know what you think.)

Engineering Toys for Girls!

One of the common themes I’ve noticed in discussions about getting more girls to choose tech as a career is that boys more often like to tinker with tech for its own sake, while girls like to solve problems. A female engineer from Stanford has invented a toy that addresses this, along with her own observation that little girls like to read.

Take a look at her pitch video for GoldieBlox engineering  toys for girls:

This is the kind of toy that would have appealed to me even more than the puzzles and block sets that I played with while the other girls were pretending to be princesses or dressing up their Barbies. I enjoyed “boys toys” but wish I’d had stuff like this to play with too. Maybe I’d have come to my tech career through a more direct path if I’d had GoldieBlox. And maybe some of my friends who didn’t end up in tech might have been my colleagues if they’d played with GoldieBlox.

What do you think of this approach?

P.S. I love, love, love this promo video featuring some little girls letting their inner geek come out to play.

Product Management: What distinguishes the top 1% of product managers from the top 10%?

Product Management: What distinguishes the top 1% of product managers from the top 10%?
A really great answer to what makes for a truly outstanding Product Manager, written by Amazon’s Ian McAllister.

2 Things BlackBerry is Doing Right

Full disclosure, I’ve had some kind of BlackBerry in my hand pretty much constantly since 1999. Every time I try to embrace another device, I find it slowly relegated to the desk drawer. So I want Blackberry to survive and thrive. And based on what I’ve seen with the BlackBerry 10 (BB10)  launch, I think they will.

Two reasons:

1) Building on their strengths
2) Embracing developers

Sure, they’ve built lots of cool functionality into the device, but that’s the price of entry when launching a handset. These two aspects of how they’ve done it are what I think will make the difference.

Building on their strengths

BlackBerry has always been a great communication platform. That’s what has kept millions of us loyal despite other features we’ve missed out on, and it’s made us immune to the teasing about how uncool we are. BlackBerry recognized that this is their core value and built the new platform around it. Key features in BB10 – Hub, Flow, Peek, Share – are centred around making an already great experience even better, and more appealing to non-BB users.

I’ve long counted on having most of my comms in one place, my BlackBerry Inbox. It already houses 9 email accounts, my SMS texts, BBM and Windows and G+ and Yahoo messages, PINs, incoming and outgoing phone calls and voicemail alerts, DMs and @’s from Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook notifications…

Frankly, I had trouble getting excited by early reports of Hub because it sounded like what BB already had. But Hub takes it up a notch, a more elegant way of doing what they already did well with features like pulling recent interactions with a contact together in one place. I already had some of this with “recent activity” in Contacts but BB10 expands it. Very nice.

Similarly, while multitasking isn’t new to BlackBerry – I frequently jump between multiple open apps – Flow makes it even easier, smoother.  The new stuff will appeal to Apple and Android users but it preserves and enhances what we BlackBerry die hards count on.

Another area where Blackberry has always excelled is the corporate  enterprise. The new Balance feature plays to that and helps IT managers  deal with bring-your-own-device (BYOD) challenges. By separating the  platform into “work” and “play”, BB10 lets users add what they want while  letting IT managers protect the corporate environment, adding value for their enterprise base while giving users the freedom they want. Brilliant.

And of course, the keyboard – BlackBerry listened to us and built a device with the physical keyboard I love, but by all reports they’ve also built one of the best touchscreen keyboards ever. That’s essential for a communication device but also for apps and web surfing in this interactive era.

Embracing developers 

One of the criticisms from Apple and Android users has been the dearth of  Blackberry apps. Blackberry recognized the problem and attacked it from all  sides to make sure they would not only have a solid base of apps at launch but also a credible promise of many more to come.

They supported Alec Saunders’ drive to  seed developers with devices, embraced open source, created SDK’s for  C++/Qt Cascade, C/C++ Native SDK, HTML5 BB WebWorks, ActionScript Adobe AIR  & Java Android Runtime, and blanketed the developer community with resources to support and communicate with those who were willing to work with them.

Application Development Consultants (like @garettbeukeboom who spoke before the launch at DevTO to fill us in on what was coming) were all over the developer community making sure developers had what they needed. I heard as much about BB10 in 2012 from developers playing with it as I did from the media.

And then there were the portathons. BlackBerry hosted events where developers took advantage of the SDK’s to quickly port Apple and Android apps over to BB10, offering cash and prize incentives. The January portathon delivered 15,000 apps in only 2 days. That not only sets BB10 up with a lot of great apps (approximately 70,000 at launch) but it shows developers just how easy BlackBerry has made it to port apps over. That will encourage more to take the plunge and let the ecosystem grow quickly as customers want more apps.

The easy porting of apps is a critical element of making it easy to switch. The best device ever won’t attract customers if they have to give up their favorite apps. But BB10 is launching with a lot of the most popular ones either on board or committed – Skype,  Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Amazon, Kindle, WhatsApp and Angry Birds, along with business apps like WebEx, SAP, and Citrix. But most apps not yet on board can be ported over quickly and easily to respond to market demand, which means users can be confident that if they switch in large numbers, the apps will follow. BlackBerry removed the technical and economic barriers to app conversion.

So here’s hoping users do jump on the BlackBerry train, if only so that I can continue to buy the products I love!

What does it mean to be “technical”?

Hardly a week goes by that I don’t hear myself referred to like this: “She’s VERY technical.”

And sure, it’s accurate. I’ve designed and built complex networks, developed tech products and services,  spent much of the past couple years testing crazy underground wireless gear.  I’ve never shied away from getting into the nitty gritty, even when managing or selling things I don’t do hands-on, like software development. And it’s certainly technical  when I explain tech products to customers and answer their questions about  features or integration challenges, or guide a team of developers to make the best choices for the product we’re building.

jeckyll-hyde2

Which pic shows me doing technical work?
(Trick question – they both do.)

But what’s interesting is that I’m often called “very technical”  in situations where I’m not doing anything particularly technical. I hear it when I’m just using technology.

Many say that today’s young people are “very technical” based on the fact that they use smartphones and computers, Twitter and Facebook,and video games but if that’s technical then I’m an auto mechanic because I drive my car. There’s really nothing technical about tweeting. But it’s tech-enabled, and to those who aren’t comfortable with tech, it probably seems like it must be technical. A lot of people who say, “I can’t do X because I’m not technical” really COULD do X if they weren’t scared. So maybe there’s an element of just not being scared to work with things that are technical.

Even in the realm of deeply technical work, it’s interesting what different communities view as “technical”.  In some circles, only those with an Engineering Ph.D  who are creating brand new tech in the lab are real techs. In others, you’e only tech if you can write code and create an app or a website. With others, “tech” means you can make stuff work when things go wrong.

TechTypes

Techs can be expert in hardware, software, radio signals, network, storage, security, databases, you name it. And the thing is, many of those who are the very best at their particular brand of tech are completely unfamiliar with the others. Ask an amazing middleware architect to get a wireless signal working and it’s hit and miss whether they will even know where to start.

It’s not just different types of technology, though, it’s also different phases. I’ve seen some brilliant R&D engineers who solved problems nobody else in the world could solve but struggled trying to build a product around their invention. I’ve seen coding whizzes rattle off working applications in mere hours then flounder helplessly when their laptop couldn’t connect to wifi. We all have different skills and expertise, and that’s part of what makes the world of tech so exciting. It’s also what makes tech hiring so difficult. How many times have you seen someone with dazzling technical skills fail miserably in a role that requires a different type of technical skill?

The bottom line is that “technical” means many things, and the better we each become at communicating what exactly we’re good at technically, the more successful we, our employers and our clients will be.

So, if you’re “technical”, what kind of “technical” are you? And whether you’re technical or not, what kind of technical people do you have trouble finding when you need them? What does “technical” mean to you?

Challenging conventional wisdom in product development

This article from the May 2012 Harvard Business Review looks at 6 myths of product development and they are right on the money.

Six Myths of Product Development

Two of the myths especially resonate with my experience:

Fallacy 3: Our development plan is great; we just need to stick to it.
In all our consulting work and research, we’ve never come across a single product-development project whose requirements remained stable throughout the design process. Yet many organizations place inordinate faith in their plans. They attribute any deviations to poor management and execution and, to minimize them, carefully track every step against intermediate targets and milestones. Such thinking is fine for highly repetitive activities in established manufacturing processes. But it can lead to poor results in product innovation, where new insights are generated daily and conditions are constantly changing.”

And

Fallacy 5: The more features we put into a product, the more customers will like it.
Product-development teams seem to believe that adding features creates value for customers and subtracting them destroys value. This attitude explains why products are so complicated: Remote controls seem impossible to use, computers take hours to set up, cars have so many switches and knobs that they resemble airplane cockpits, and even the humble toaster now comes with a manual and LCD displays.”

These two myths are responsible for a lot of the PD I’ve seen go wrong.

To combat Fallacy #3, we have to recognize that we can never know everything we need to from the start, and keep reviewing what we know at every stage. A lot of people tout the Agile development method as the fix for this, and it can help but Agile alone won’t do it. Without strong leadership from the Product Development team and continuous review of customer and market requirements, technical expert feedback, and the competitive landscape, Agile alone will just get you to an ineffective product quicker. With that said, it is also critical that PD not change requirements without very good reason, as the changes usually add time and cost (and drive the tech team crazy!) It’s a balancing act.

Fallacy #5 is a very popular belief but it doesn’t take much examination of the products we enjoy using to realize that too much complexity for the customer can prevent adoption and too much complexity “under the hood” can add costs and potential for things to break. Here again, a balance is essential. Consider designing for features but not implementing until/unless the market really wants them – advance planning so they can be added later without going back to the drawing board. And consider your target user. If most of your market wants simplicity, make sure they get it. Hide advanced options if you want to make them available for power users, but keep in mind – we don’t always care about every feature we think we might want. Research, market test and evaluate carefully before committing to too many features. Elegant simplicity can be a big winner.

Check out the Harvard article for more advice on these and other product development myths.

UPDATE DECEMBER 6 2012

Here’s an interesting example of the need to keep it simple from ProfitGuide.com:

Founded in 1999, ClearFit originally catered to large multinationals, selling sophisticated applicant-screening software to their HR departments. After a few years, the partners decided to adapt their system to small businesses. But the resulting product, loaded with features, made explaining it to prospective clients feel like “a slow ache,” Baldwin recounts.

One day, an outspoken customer said to the owners, “Guys, you need to change your game.” The system simply had too many bells and whistles for small firms to navigate. It was an aha moment. “The harder you work on a product, the easier it is to get away from your customer,” reflects Baldwin today. “The technology doesn’t matter if the patient doesn’t desire the medicine.”

(ClearFit is a Toronto-based company that helps employers find the right applicant to hire.)

Same goes for getting tech products to market

Community organizing is all about building grassroots support. It’s about identifying the people around you with whom you can create a common, passionate cause. And it’s about ignoring the conventional wisdom of company politics and instead playing the game by very different rules.  – Tom Peters