Archive for October 2014
Managing product development and management in general are ripe with clichés. By definition of course a cliché is something that is true, but unoriginal. I like a good cliché because it reminds you that much of management practice boils down to things you need to do but often forget or fail to do often enough.
The following 15 clichés might prove helpful and worth making sure you’re really doing the things in product development that need to get done on a daily basis. Some of these are my own wording of other’s thoughts expressed differently. There’s definitely a personal story behind each of these
Promise and deliver. People love to play expectations games and that is always bad for collaboration internal to a team, with your manager, or externally with customers. The cliché “under promise and over deliver” is one that people often use with pride. If you’re working with another group or with customers, the work of “setting expectations” should not be a game. It is a commitment. Tell folks what you believe, with the best of intentions, what you will do and do everything to deliver that. Over time this is far more valuable to everyone to be known as someone that gets done what you say.
Make sure bad news travels fast. Things will absolutely go wrong. In a healthy team as soon as things go wrong that information should be surfaced. Trying to hide or obscure bad news creates an environment of distrust or lack of transparency. This is especially noticeable on team when the good news is always visible but for some reason less good news lacks visibility. Avoid “crying wolf” of course by making sure you are broadly transparent in the work you do.
Writing is thinking. We’re all faced with complex choices in what to do or how to go about what will get done. While some people are great at spontaneously debating, most people are not and most people are not great at contributing in a structured way on the fly. So when faced with something complex, spend the time to think about some structure write down sentences, think about it some more, and then share it. Even if you don’t send around the writing, almost everyone achieves more clarity by writing. If you don’t then don’t blame writer’s block, but consider that maybe you haven’t formulated your point of view, yet.
Practice transparency within your team. There’s really no reason to keep something from everyone on the team. If you know something and know others want to know, either you can share what you know or others will just make up their own idea of what is going on. Sharing this broad base of knowledge within a team creates a shared context which is incredibly valuable.
Without a point of view there is no point. In our world of A/B testing, MVPs, and iteration we can sometimes lose sight of why a product and company can/should exist. The reason is that a company brings together people to go after a problem space with a unique point of view. Companies are not built to simply take requests and get those implemented or to throw out a couple of ideas and move forward with the ones that get traction. You can do that as work for hire or consulting, but not if you’re building a new product. It is important to maintain a unique point of view as a “north star” when deciding what to do, when, and why.
Know your dilithium crystals. Closely related to your point of view as a team is knowing what makes your team unique relative to competition or other related efforts. Apple uses the term “magic” a lot and what is fascinating is how with magic you can never quite identify the specifics but there is a general feeling about what is great. In Star Trek the magic was dilithium crystals–if you ever needed to call out the ingredient that made things work, that was it. What is your secret (or as Thiel says, what do you believe that no one else does)? It could be branding, implementation, business model, or more.
Don’t ask for information or reports unless they help those you ask to do their jobs. If you’re a manager you have the authority to ask your team for all sorts of reports, slides, analysis, and more. Strong managers don’t exercise that authority. Instead, lead your team to figure out what information helps them to do their job and use that information. As a manager your job isn’t a superset of your team, but the reflection of your team.
Don’t keep two sets of books. We keep track of lots of things in product development: features, budgets, traffic, revenue, dev schedules, to do lists, and more. Never keep two versions of a tracking list or of some report/analysis. If you’re talking with the team about something and you have a different view of things than they do, then you’ll spend all your time reconciling and debating which data is correct. Keeping a separate set of books is also an exercise in opacity which never helps the broader team collaboration.
Showdowns are boring and nobody wins. People on teams will disagree. The worst thing for a team dynamic is to get to a major confrontation. When that happens and things become a win/lose situation, no one wins and everyone loses. Once it starts to look like battle lines are being draw, the strongest members of the team will start to find ways to avoid what seems like an inevitable showdown. (Source: This is a line from the film “Wall Street”.)
Never vote on anything. On paper, when a team has to make a decision it seems great to have a vote. If you’re doing anything at all interesting then there’s almost certainty that at least one person will have a different view. So the question is if you’re voting do you expect a majority rule, 2/3rds, consensus, are some votes more equal? Ultimately once you have a vote then the choice is one where the people that disagree are not singled out and probably isolated. My own history is that any choice that was ever voted on didn’t even stick. Leadership is about anticipating and bringing people along to avoid these binary moments. It is also about taking a stand and having a point of view if you happen to reach such a point.
When presenting the boss with n alternatives he/she will always choose option n+1. If you’re asked to come up with a solution to a problem or you run across a problem you have to solve but need buy in from others, you’re taking a huge risk by presenting alternatives. My view is that you present a solution and everything else is an alternative–whether you put it down on paper or not. A table of pros/cons or a list of options like a menu almost universally gets a response of trying to create an alternative that combines attributes that can’t be combined. I love choices that are cost/quality, cheap/profitable, small/fast and then the meeting concludes in search of the alternative that delivers both.
Nothing is ever decided at a meeting so don’t try. If you reach a point where you’re going to decide a big controversial thing at a meeting then there’s a good chance you’re not really going to decide. Even if you do decide you’re likely to end up with an alliterative you didn’t think of beforehand and thus is not as thought through or as possible as you believed it to be by the end of the meeting. At the very least you’re not going to enroll everyone in the decision which means there is more work to do be done. The best thing to do is not to avoid a decision making meeting but figure out how you can keep things moving forward every day to avoid these moments of truth.
Work on things that are important not urgent. Because of mobile tools like email, twitter, SMS, and notifications of all kinds from all sorts of apps have a way of dominating your attention. In times of stress or uncertainty, we all gravitate to working on what we think we can accomplish. It is easier to work towards inbox zero than to actually dive in and talk to everyone on the team about how they are handling things or to walk into that customer situation. President Eisenhower and later Stephen Covey developed amazing tools for helping you to isolate work that is important rather than urgent.
Products don’t ship with a list of features you thought you’d do but didn’t. The most stressful list of any product development effort is the list of things you have to cut because you’re running out of time or resources. I don’t like to keep that list and never did, for two reasons. First, it just makes you feel bad. The list of things you’re not doing is infinitely long–it is literally everything else. There’s no reason to remind yourself of that. Second, whatever you think you will do as soon as you can will change dramatically once customers start using the product you do end up delivering to them. When you do deliver a product it is what you made and you’re not obligated to market or communicate all the things you thought of but didn’t get done!
If you’re interesting someone won’t agree with what you said. Whether you’re writing a blog, internal email, talking to a group, or speaking to the press you are under pressure. You have to get across a unique point of view and be heard. The challenge is that if you only say things everyone believes to already be the case, then you’re not furthering the dialog. The reality is that if you are trying to change things or move a dialog forward, some will not agree with you. Of course you will learn and there’s a good chance you we wrong and that gives you a chance be interesting in new ways. Being interesting is not the same as being offensive, contrarian, cynical, or just negative. It is about articulating a point of view that acknowledges a complex and dynamic environment that does not lend itself to simple truths. Do make sure you have the right mechanisms in place to learn just how wrong you were and with how many people.
Like for example, if you write a post of 15 management tips, most people won’t agree with all of them :)
–Steven Sinofsky (@stevesi)
More products are being created and developed faster today than ever before. Every day new services, sites, and apps are introduced. But with this surge in products, it’s become more difficult to get noticed and connect with users. In late 2013, Ryan Hoover founded Product Hunt to provide a daily view of new products that brings together an engaged community of product users with product makers. Today marks the next step in the growth of the company.
Interconnecting a Community
When you first meet Ryan it becomes immediately clear he has a passion for entrepreneurship and its surrounding ecosystem. Well before starting Product Hunt, he hosted intimate brunches to bring founders together. This came out of another email-based experiment named Startup Edition, where he assembled a weekly newsletter of founder essays on topics of marketing, product development, fundraising, and other challenges company builders face. This enthusiasm is prevalent on Twitter where he shares new products and regularly interacts with fellow enthusiasts in the startup community.
Ryan’s background comes from games, an ecosystem that is regarded as one of the most connected. Gamers love to stay on top of the latest products. Game makers love to connect with gamers. There’s an even larger community of game enthusiasts who value being observers in this dialog. Ryan grew up in the midst of a family-owned video game store so it’s no surprise that he has an incredibly strong sense of community. That’s why after college, he got involved in the gaming industry, first at InstantAction and then at PlayHaven. Each of these roles allowed Ryan to build the skills to foster both the product and community engagement sides of gaming, while also creating successful business opportunities for the whole community.
Spending time in the heart of gaming, between gamers and game makers, Ryan saw how those makers that fostered a strong sense of community around their game had stronger engagement and improved chances of future growth. Along the way he saw a wide variety of ways to build communities — and most importantly to maintain an open and constructive environment where praise, criticism, and wishes could be discussed between makers and enthusiasts.
About a year ago, Ryan launched, in his words, “an experiment” — a daily email of the latest products. After a short time, interest and subscribers to the mail list grew. So with a lot of hustle, the email list turned into a site. Product Hunt was launched.
Product Hunt started with a passion for products and has grown into a community of people passionate to explore and discuss new products with likeminded enthusiasts and makers of those products.
Product Hunt: More Than a Site
Product Hunt has become something of a habit for many since its debut. Today hundreds of thousands of “product hunters” visit the site plus more through the mobile apps, the daily email, and the platform API. Every month, millions of visits to product trial, app stores, and download sites are generated. And nearly half of all product discussions include the product maker, from independent hackers to high-profile veteran founders.
Product Hunt is used by enthusiasts to learn about new products, colored with an unfiltered conversation with its makers. It servers the industry as a source for new and trending product areas. For many, Product Hunt is or will evolve to be the place you go to discover products in the context of similar products along with a useful dialog with a community.
Product Hunt is much more than a site. Product Hunt is a community. In fact, Ryan and the team spend most of their energy creating, curating, and crafting a unique approach to building a community. His own experience as a participant and a maker led him to believe deeply in the role of community and engagement not just in building products, but also in launching new products and connecting with customers.
This led the team to create a platform for products, starting with the products they know best — mobile and desktop apps and sites.
The challenge they see is that today’s internet and app stores are overwhelmed with new products, as we all know. The stores limit interaction to one-way communication and reviews. If you want to connect with the product makers, there’s no way to do so. Ironically, makers themselves are anxious to connect but do so in an ad hoc manner that often lacks the context of the product or community. Product Hunt allows this type of community to be a normal part of interaction and not just limited to tech products.
Product Hunt is just getting started, but the enthusiasm is incredible. A quick Twitter search for “addicted to product hunt” shows in just a short time how many folks are making the search for what’s new a part of a routine. The morning email with the latest news is now a must-read and Ryan is seeing the technology industry use this as a source for the most up to date launches.
Product Hunt’s uniqueness comes from the full breadth of activity around new products and those enthusiastic about them:
Launch. Product Hunt is a place where products are announced and discovered for the first time. Most new products today don’t start with marketing or advertising, but simply “show up”. Makers know how hard it is to get noticed. They upload an app to a store or set up a new site and just wait. Gaining awareness or traction is challenging. Since the first people to use most new products are themselves involved in making products, they love to know about and experience the latest creations. New product links come from a variety of sources and already Product Hunt is becoming the go-to place for early adopters.
Learn. Learning about what’s new is just as challenging for enthusiasts. Most new products launched do not yet have full-blown marketing, white papers, or other information. In fact, in today’s world of launching-to-learn more about how to refine products, there are often more questions than answers. Community members submit just a short tagline and link to the product. Then the dialog begins. There are robust discussions around choices in the product, comparisons to other products, and more. Nearly half of the products include the makers in the discussion, sharing their stories and directly interacting with people. And these discussions are also happening in the real world, as members of the community organize meetups across the globe from Tokyo to Canada.
Share. Early adopters love to share their opinions and engage with others. On Product Hunt, the people determine which products surface as enthusiasts upvote their favorite discoveries and share their perspective in the comments. Openness, authenticity, and constructive sharing are all part of the Product Hunt experience, and naturally this enthusiasm spills outside the community itself.
Curate. With the help of the community, the team is constantly curating collections of products into themes that are dynamic and changing. This helps raise awareness of emerging product categories and gives consumers a way to find great products for specific needs. Recent lists have included GIF apps, tools used by product managers, and productivity apps. One favorite that shows the timeliness of Product Hunt was a list of iOS 8 keyboards the day after iOS 8’s launch.
One attribute of all products that serve an enthusiastic community is the availability of a platform to extend and customize the product. Product Hunt recently announced the Product Hunt API and already has apps and services that present useful information gathered from Product Hunt, such as the leaderboard and analytics platform.
Product Hunt + a16z
When I first hung out with Ryan outside of a conference room, he brought me to The Grove coffee shop on Mission St. We sat outside and began to talk about products, enthusiasts, and community. It was immediately clear Ryan sees the world or products in a unique way — he sees a world of innovation, openness to new ideas, and unfiltered communication between makers and consumers. As founder, Ryan embodies the mission-oriented founders a16z loves to work with and he’s built a team that shares that passion and mission.
Andreessen Horowitz could not be more excited to lead this next round of investing, and I am thrilled to serve on the board. Please check out Product Hunt for yourself onthe web, download its iOS app, or sign up for the email digest.
Note: This post originally appeared on a16z.com.