Sunday, February 28, 2010

How Much Is Enough? How Much Is Too Much?

How much content do you need to communicate? A book? A journal? An article? A post? An email? A paragraph? Four, three, or two sentences? 140 characters?

I want you to communicate status about the project every week.

Our relationship needs more communication.

I can't seem to communicate with my kids.

I don't understand what he's trying to say.

Why can't I seem to get my point accross?

Now, again, how much do you need to communicate? That is utterly and completely the wrong question to ask.

Make sure when you are looking for productivity tips, you are optimizing the right behavior!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Are you a Maven, Connector, or Salesperson Results

  • Maven: 62.5%
  • Connector: 12.5%
  • Salesperson: 0
  • Maven & Connector: 18.75%
  • Connector & Salesperson: 0
  • None of the Above: 6.25%

That is almost exactly how I would have predicted the numbers to come out. I also bet that they are wrong. I would bet every one of your who selected just Maven has far more Connector in you than you gave yourself credit for. I also think it is important to develop our inner-Connector and inner-Salesperson, because, of the three, the Maven is first that will be outsourced.

My Search for Scrum Tools

I've been spending time over the last couple of weeks looking at agile tools. Of course, you can't have a development philosophy take hold like agile has without varying level of tool support. I started looking at several tools and doing some research because I have several projects that I am product owner for.

A very good resource is Mangrove Weblog's On-line Scrum Tools Review. His list is VERY much worth looking at but is a little bit out of date..
I added to that list the following. You will notice that I included PangoScrum and ScrumEdge in the process as well, as they seemed very promising and felt it was worth double checking.
I'm going to focus quickly on the list I looked at. Kudos to Mangrove for the detail he gave; I'm not going to be quite as detailed. :)

PangoScrum

I like the simplicity and feature set of PangoScrum a lot. While it did elicit this tweet:
It has themes that not only make life tolerable but are actually quite attractive.

PangoScrum supports sprint and project backlogs. It is weird in that they seem to be completely separate. I can't move an item from the product backlog into the sprint backlog. I always thought that process was sequential: anything not currently working in the sprint backlog goes into product backlog which eventually gets shifted into the sprint backlog.

The fact is that I like a lot pieces of PangoScrum, but the backlog/sprint management is just flat out weird. To this point, I cannot figure out how to take an item in my backlog and add it to a sprint. In my mind, that is a completely broken feature.

If I am wrong in this, I'd like to know, because I like PangoScrum otherwise. However, if I can't shift things from product to sprint backlogs, it won't work.

Target Process

Having "Process" in the name is revealing. I think if you had a significant process that you needed to follow, Target Process would be a good bet. I would expect significant training of your Scrum Masters and your conributors to get it running smoothly.

This sounds painful for a small company. On the plus side, it does support multiple projects well.

ScrumEdge

ScrumEdge received a notable hit in the previous review as being under-developed. I spent some time playing around with it and found that it is much more solid than the previous review indicted.

I like ScrumEdge. Simple, minimal functionality, fairly elegant, and, did I mention, simple! The setup is fairly straightforward. It seems to revolve around the notion of time tracking (almost to the level of Base Camp) rather than what I would consider agile task tracking.

Supporting multiple projects is also a critical feature for my needs and it does support them. If you need detailed time tracking, this isn't a bad way to go, but managing iterations as a product owner is painful. When I can more easily manage my backlog and sprints using ScrumEdit, it will be a serious contender.

Keep a sharp eye on this one if you are looking for agile tools in the future. Four to six months may be enough to put this at, or at least very near, the top..

AgileFant

AgileFant seems to be so much more than a small company needs. I would say it is to agile tools waht a company like @task for project management tools (when I need something more like Base Camp). If you have people sitting around waiting to do your scrum management, this could be a great tool. It is not for the small companies I am working with.

Agile42

Agile42 provides a software solution to back up their training company. It is built on top of the open source issue management project Trac.

Two issues: First, personally, Trac is one of my least-favorite issue management systems out there. In the build versus buy decision, I think they made the wrong decision.

Second (and perhaps related to the first), you can only supply tasks to user stories. That makes validating how mch work someone is accomplishing over time more difficult (but not impossible).

Scrum Ninja

I really like Scrum Ninja. Maybe it just fits how I see managing managing scrum. Projects flow into sprints automatically by determining story points and prioritization. Very clean and fast.

Developers are given a simple "white board" that gives them the ability to update their status (estimate your time left or drag it to the &quote;Completed" list). Burndown reports and other reports are straight-forward. Multiple projects are supported, which is critical for me.

This is, by far, my favorite of the six that I looked at.

The Three Sentence Versions

Not everybody can afford large licensing fees and there is a wide range here. Rather than go into details of their licensing models, which can change on a whim, we'll do Free, Small Biz, Enterprise, and On Premise..

Free

Agile42 has a free version that, while it takes some set up to get to to, is a reasonable tool. You can upgrade using a freemium model if you need more functionality. You trade off time tacking details so you can spend more time coding and less time on managment.. Seems likde the rght trade-off to me.

Small Biz

This is a tough category as there are so many potential options and needs. In the end, my preference is Scrum Ninja. $50/month for 5 users and $140/month for 20 users is a good deal for a tool that, for the most part, just gets out of the way.

Enterprise

Ralley and AgileFant both seem like good options here, but you are trading off developer efficiency for more detail in your data. If you don't need those details, I'd look elsewhere.

On Premise

If you need to keep data behind the corporate firewall, Scrum Ninja is still my favorite. Agile42 is a good choice (paid or free); it seems like a solid application and you control the install.

My Choice

Ending quickly, let me just say that I'm going to continue using Scrum Ninja. Trust me, you'll know if things go wrong!

Photograph by Andreas Borutta

Monday, February 22, 2010

From the Intrawebs - February 22

Yay for being on time this week! Shot but sweet. Enjoy the list.

You can subscribe to the live feed of this list in your choice of feed readers. You can also follow @FromTheIntraWeb to get instant gratification.

If you find something that you think belongs on this list, send it to me via @SoftwareMaven on Twitter.
  • No Accounting For Startups: I've said it many times, but Steve Blank is much better at saying these things than I am. Figure out what you need to measure, then measure it. A number just for the sake of a number is worthless (and this counts for mature products, too!).>
  • Yammer: The Story Behind Their SaaS Traction: While Yammer is interesting, the concepts of space between giants and KISS are the key concepts to take away from this one.
  • Emulating Empathy: This can be such a difficult thing for people in engineering to learn, but it is critical if you want to interact with more than the computer. I hope Steve dives deeper into this concept in the future.
Disclaimer: Unless otherwise noted, I have no affiliation with linked properties other than being an interested reader, a happy user, or a potential customer: Nobody pays to receive a link. Any opinions of linked properties are theirs, not mine. I may or may not agree, but to be on this list I think their opinion is at least interesting.

How the Search for Extra Terrestrial Life Can Help Product Development

The Drake Equation was first presented in 1961 as a method of pondering the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence in the galaxy. Very quickly, the equation looks like this:

The Drake Equation

where:
  • N = the number of civilizations in our galaxy with which communication might be possible;
  • R* = the average rate of star formation per year in our galaxy
  • fp = the fraction of those stars that have planets
  • ne = the average number of planets that can potentially support life per star that has planets
  • f = the fraction of the above that actually go on to develop life at some point
  • fi = the fraction of the above that actually go on to develop intelligent life
  • fc = the fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space
  • L = the length of time such civilizations release detectable signals into space.

    Quote from Wikipedia
The bigger N is, the more likely we should have encountered civilization. But we haven't. And what does that have to do with product management, anyway?

The problem with the Drake equation is that there are too many unknowns. How many planets support habitable systems. How many lives grow into sentient beings, and on and on. The number could be 1 (we humans) or trillions. As such, the trying to compute the equation is meaningless.

Applied to Product Development


Whether a start up or a well established company, new product development comes with a business plan and every business plan has a section that talks about how your product is going to take the world to storm. Unfortunately, it usually looks like the the Drake Equation with nearly as many unknowns.

This is a real working hypothesis I saw once upon time:

where:
  • R = The elusive revenue number
  • Cx = The masses who used email
  • fe = The percentage of people relying on e-mail for a critical tools.
  • fu = The fraction of those people that really had this problem.
  • fc = The fraction of people who would pay for a solution
  • i = The number of people who would convert from a free to a premium model.
  • pu = The retention rate of the of the software.

Making It All Up

As you can see there are lots of probabilistic variables. It is bad enough to have a single probabilistic variable in an equation, but to have the question be full of them; well, that goes well beyond bad. In fact, you could argue the equation is meaningless. My argument is that the outcome of the equation (the vaunted R value) is completely meaningless. There is too much noise going into the equation to get anything valuable out. In the Drake Equation, depending on the values you "assume", you either get a universe teaming with intelligent life or you get a fluke where no intelligent life exists and we are the sad figments of a cat's imagination. As business leaders, we really need something a little more repeatable.

Using Your Equation Instead of Solving Your Equation

On the other had, the inputs to the equation are very interesting and worth knowing. Drake originally formulated the equation to give an agenda for what needed to be talked about, not as a way to arrive at an answer. If you can discover your equation: the equation that drives your businesses, you can then identify the areas you don't understand or the changes you need to make in order to succeed. Knowing your equation isn't about knowing how big R or N values are, it is about truly know what the inputs are that drive those values and, if all goes well, knowing how to positively modify those values.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Career Change: The Presentation

This is the fifth and final part in the career change series. It has taken a while to get to this one because, frankly, it is the most difficult of the series. You need to realize that unless things fall magically into your hands, this part requires patience and perseverance. It requires networking and getting out of your comfort zone. Finally, it requires ensuring your resume says product manager and not developer or analyst or wherever else you are coming from.

Remember, your best bet is going to be going into product management in your current company. I want to be very clear that, especially in the current economic environment, you are very unlikely to change companies into a product management position. A company is taking a risk just by hiring you. Product management is such a pivotal role that you would be asking a company to take on three risks: you, your ability to manage a product, and the product itself. Still, it can be done.

To get there, start with reworking your resume. As I go through specifics, I want you to keep one thing in mind: every item on your resume should be tailored to show how you benefited the company from a product management perspective. You closed more sales, you caused costs to go down, you reached better compliance, whatever. You want the hiring company thinking about how they could use those benefits in their company.

Show your customer interaction


It is extremely critical that you show how much successful customer interaction you've had. "Personally caused an additional $3M in sales to close due to my assistance in sales process" is gold, but even saying "Provided technical expertise on eight failing sales, leading to three unexpected closes." is good. Product managers don't need to be sales people, but they need to understand the sales process and they have to have customer empathy. You have to show that on your resume.

Show your data gathering


Product management is data intensive. The more you can show you know how to gather that data and that you've used it, the better. "Ran UI focus group, identified product weaknesses, worked with UX to improve, and saw support incidents go down 10% as a result." There is a lot there, but it shows the cross-functional nature of the position and a solid benefit to the company. This could also be done with win/loss analysis, support forum monitoring, and any number of other areas.

Show cross functional skills


I alluded to it before, but you need to show how you understand the cross-functional nature of the position and can succeed at it. Most projects have a cross-functional project meeting. This is a good time to volunteer to be the secretary. Take note and do follow up. That can end up on your resume as "Ensured cross-functional team understood and met objectives for biweekly coordination meetings."

What to leave off


Leave off the technology specifics. Showing that you re-implemented the UI in Python is not going to win you points. Showing that you understood the customer concerns with the current interface and caused them to be addressed successfully (you can leave out the "addressed by you" part) will win points.

Network, network, network

As I mentioned, in the current economic climate, it is unlikely you will have a job fall in your lap. You need to have a finely tuned resume and you need to be talk with people. I am on the board of the local product management association and I attend start-up group meetings. Find out what is in your area and get out there. Things won't change by themselves. It will take work, but it can be done.

Good luck!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Just a few days left on the poll

Just wanted to point out that there are only a couple of days left on the poll about whether you are a Maven, a Connector, a Salesperson, or some combination thereof. The poll is sitting tot he right of this post below the subscription widget if you haven't taken it yet.

If you are reading via RSS or e-mail, come to the site to vote.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

From the Intrawebs - February 16

Happy late President's Day for those of you in the US. I got a little behind this week due to the site redesign. I still have things I want to do, but I felt compelled to get this week's From the Intrawebs up first.

You can subscribe to the live feed of this list in your choice of feed readers. You can also follow @FromTheIntraWeb to get instant gratification.

If you find something that you think belongs on this list, send it to me via @SoftwareMaven on Twitter.
  • Emulating Empathy: This can be such a difficult thing for people in engineering to learn, but it is critical if you want to interact with more than the computer. I hope Steve dives deeper into this concept in the future.
  • Hey Customer: Would You Like Some Time With That Product?: Making your offering more time efficient is a great way to differentiate, and there are so many places you can "shave time": making your product information cleaner, simplifying your offerings, streamlining installation, automating features, and optimizing your interface, just to name a few.
  • Facebook's fatal attraction: It is common, as a product and company matures, to start looking at other pastures and think how green they are. Products and companies need to grow and evolve, but they need to do it in a way that doesn't risk causing the current pasture to dry up underneath them.
  • A Story Culture: "How much will you consume and how much will you create?" I certainly hope to be a creator, but understanding the relationship between consuming and creating is important.
Disclaimer: Unless otherwise noted, I have no affiliation with linked properties other than being an interested reader, a happy user, or a potential customer: Nobody pays to receive a link. Any opinions of linked properties are theirs, not mine. I may or may not agree, but to be on this list I think their opinion is at least interesting.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The New Look is Here!

After spending a few weeks trying to decide the new look for the blog, it is obviously live now. If you run into any problems or have any comments, please let me know. I will be adding new features as time goes on. Part of the redesign is to support that moving forward.

Happy President's Day for those in the US! :)

Monday, February 8, 2010

Product Managers, are you a Maven, Connector, or Salesperson


I think it is probably fair to say that most product managers would like to have our products "tip". I'm going to pursue this a bit more in the future, but first I'd like to get a little data.

To the right, I've added a little poll: are you a Maven, a Connector, or a Salesperson? From the Wikipedia article on the book, here are descriptions of each:
Mavens

Mavens are "information specialists", or "people we rely upon to connect us with new information." They accumulate knowledge, especially about the marketplace, and know how to share it with others. Gladwell cites Mark Alpert as a prototypical Maven who is "almost pathologically helpful", further adding, "he can't help himself". In this vein, Alpert himself concedes, "A Maven is someone who wants to solve other people's problems, generally by solving his own". According to Gladwell, Mavens start "word-of-mouth epidemics" due to their knowledge, social skills, and ability to communicate. As Gladwell states, "Mavens are really information brokers, sharing and trading what they know".

Connectors

Connectors are the people who "link us up with the world ... people with a special gift for bringing the world together." They are "a handful of people with a truly extraordinary knack [... for] making friends and acquaintances". He characterizes these individuals as having social networks of over one hundred people. To illustrate, Gladwell cites the following examples: the midnight ride of Paul Revere, Milgram's experiments in the small world problem, the "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" trivia game, Dallas businessman Roger Horchow, and Chicagoan Lois Weisberg, a person who understands the concept of the weak tie. Gladwell attributes the social success of Connectors to "their ability to span many different worlds [... as] a function of something intrinsic to their personality, some combination of curiosity, self-confidence, sociability, and energy."

Salespeople

Salespeople are "persuaders", charismatic people with powerful negotiation skills. They tend to have an indefinable trait that goes beyond what they say, which makes others want to agree with them. Gladwell's examples include California businessman Tom Gau and news anchor Peter Jennings, and he cites several studies about the persuasive implications of non-verbal cues, including a headphone nod study (conducted by Gary Wells of the University of Alberta and Richard Petty of the University of Missouri) and William Condon's cultural microrhythms study.

After gathering the data for a couple of weeks, I'll follow up. Thanks for your input!

Monday, February 1, 2010

From the Intrawebs - February 1

I'm always happy to see the back side of January. I'm no fan of winter, and getting into February always feels like a major step towards spring.

You can subscribe to the live feed of this list in your choice of feed readers. You can also follow @FromTheIntraWeb to get instant gratification.

If you find something that you think belongs on this list, send it to me via @SoftwareMaven on Twitter.

Disclaimer: Unless otherwise noted, I have no affiliation with linked properties other than being an interested reader, a happy user, or a potential customer: Nobody pays to receive a link. Any opinions of linked properties are theirs, not mine. I may or may not agree, but to be on this list I think their opinion is at least interesting.