Ever since I’ve had a wife – my only one – from the advertising arena, I’ve developed a keen eye for commercials & hoardings. If you’ve been in Mumbai in the last month or so, there is no way you have missed the myriad of Housing.com banners extending for miles. Touching emotions is the magic bullet to successful campaigns in the Indian market. Housing did just that, and I feel it succeeded. But when I visited the portal, I felt it lacked the means to realize the dreams the hoardings had shown me, albeit a slick user interface.
Here is what I thought would’ve helped kick-start the #LOOKUP journey and rationalize the emotional appeal.
a.k.a. Why & How Product Managers must assess, account & groom technical debt
When I started conceptualizing a new product 5 years back, the concept of technical debt only existed in theory. Over a period, the pressure of time & customers, drove features cuts, compromises, and unfortunately, some quick-and-dirty solutions. Post the short-term wins, its not too long before technical debt surfaces and forces a resolution.
Technical debt is taken up for short-term advantages such as shorter time-to-market, and preserving capital. But in the long run, it reduces productivity, time available for new feature development and, God forbid, might keep you from crossing the chasm.
While Product Managers balance out the short and long term benefits/impact of every product decision, it is important that they keep track of the debt that is being baked in with every story. At the same time, having some framework to preempt the debt that is inadvertently introduced and proactively manage it as a roadmap item.
The Debt Assessment Framework
Fowler categorizes debt as Reckless v/s Prudent, or Deliberate v/s Inadvertent. While this classification answers the ‘how’, it doesn’t provide visibility into ‘what’ and ‘where’ of debt is added. Without further classification, accounting debt is like having a balance sheet with just one account for liabilities. I would like to further categorize all the debt that is deliberately added and assess its risk upfront. Here’s how:
|Type||Potentially lacks..||User Visible||Sales Risk||Ops Risk|
|Business value||Comprehensiveness in all business scenarios, Browser/Language support, Super admin rights, etc.||Y||Y||N|
|User Experience||Simple task flows, help cues, consistent design, mobility, Usability or A/B testing||Y||Y||N|
|Performance||Quick response, High availability, Clustering, CDN, Load/Stress test suite||Y||Y||Y|
|Maintainability||Data redundancy, Recovery, Migration, Configuration management, Sizing estimates, Documentation||N||N||Y|
|Design/Architectural||Portability, Modularity, Coding standards, & styles, Web services, Latest component versions; Has glue or duplicate code||N||Y||Y|
|Test Automation||Comprehensive coverage of functional/unit tests, either brittle or missing||N||N||Y|
If you’re wondering why (missing) features and defects don’t show in the list, that’s because they are the fundamental work units for development and not actually debt.
Using the above framework as checklist for all new feature development, even non-technical Product managers can easily assess Continue reading Technical Debt Assessment framework for Product Managers
Everyone in the software industry, has at some point of the other, been part of a delayed project. The result is often a war room where all the big shots put their heads together to save face. Imagine one such meeting where everyone is focussed on crashing time. Management is willing to compromise margins and the project manager has been given the authority to do anything it takes to deliver the project sooner.
All eyes are on the development team to see what they can do to expedite. Desperate, the project manager thinks he has an offer the Dev manager can’t refuse. He takes pride in offering to add more resources to the project. The Dev manager, however sane otherwise, goes ballistic on hearing this and yells out: ‘9 Women Can’t Make a Baby in a Month’. There is a moment of silence. Then, the noobs giggle, the big shots calm down and the PM walks out of the room.
This is Brooks’s law, and every software engineer gets exposed to this mantra/joke – whichever way you take it – in the very first years on the job. If Pressman was as bold as Fred Brooks, he would’ve added it to his Software engineering bible. This is 100% true Continue reading Don’t be desperate to crash time
As discussed in my previous post about responsibilities of a product manager, product management continues to remain the less spoken about profiles in the otherwise large Indian IT industry. With the growing number of products in the Indian webspace, the demand for experienced PMs is likely to peak in 2012-13. But there’s still time! For now, Product management in India is less concrete (in terms of the role), and holds huge potential as precisely summarized by Gopal Shenoy here. That post echoes the thoughts of quite a few Indian product managers. Here are my comments to few of the points:
@ #2:They manage products sold in the US
This seems quite obvious given the fact that a lot of product companies in India are either outsourced product development or developing enterprise products for global top companies and US/Europe are their biggest markets. Thus, most young PMs there will report to account managers or senior PMs posted on-site. Having said this, one cannot ignore the outburst of internet product companies catering to the local market, mainly into eCommerce & social.
@ #3: Too many titles for the same profile
Totally agree! Quite a few of us are left out of the product management mainstream because of varying titles conferred upon us: program managers, business analysts, software consultants, and what not. But no matter what how they’re referred to, they’re all doing the same thing – and some don’t even know they’re developing products (more on this, coming soon).
@ #4:Engineering & Proj Mgmt folks moving into Prod Mgmt
There’s more to it. Not just development folks, but there are freshers, folks from quality and even some from business who are keen to move in. Those who have understood the challenge & responsibility want to get at it on account of passion & enthusiasm, and not just a career ladder or salary booster.
@ #5: “They are confident, fearless and hungry“
When I think of Gopal saying that to me, my reaction is not other than that of crayon Shin Chan when he says, ‘Don’t praise me so much’ (which sounds funnier in the Hindi dubbing when he says, ‘Itni taarif bhi mat karo!‘) But that goes without saying for all of us – we are all way too passionate about our products!
Read the original post by Gopal Shenoy and some very interesting comments here: http://productmanagementtips.com/2011/02/09/india-product-management/
Following, appreciating & criticizing change is so important in this fast moving world. Changes, especially those to internet products, is what Product managers should be keen about. One should spend time understanding 3 aspects about any product: changes, what’s good & what’s not. When it comes to internet banking, there are a ton of players out there and I know that you can’t get a sneak peak into all. And looking over the shoulder when someone’s using Net Banking is criminal. But you can always ask your friends for a tour of internet banking account (what are friends for?) with greater focus on features & design, and lesser on the numbers $$$!
Anyway, the point is that I’ve had the chance to look at quite a few online banking portals, of which AXIS stood out and had something to be written about. Somewhere around Diwali last year, AXIS Bank introduced a great new feature called NetSecure that ties your account to a computer via a special password (over and above your login & transaction passwords) which has remained unmatched. In December, they revamped their internet banking website which was otherwise constant since the UTI Bank era (Until mid 2007 AXIS Bank was called UTI or Unit Trust of India Bank). Trust me, when compared to a host of competitors (see below), this portal is a unique blend of style & a de-cluttered interface; an overall WIN in terms of the features, usability & design. Here’s what I loved, with some suggestions at the bottom.
1. A clean header that is in line with the branding (unlike the ICICI website that can be confused with the RSS portal). Another bank with excellent, consistent branding is Saraswat Bank: pleasant colors that looks great everywhere: from leaflets to hoardings to their website.
2. The landing page shows a neat summary of all your accounts Continue reading Why I love internet banking with AXIS Bank
Is that an amusing title? If yes, then product management (PM) has retained its title of being one of the most esoteric functions in IT. And this has reasons: compared to the epic number of service organizations, there exist only a few product companies, implying a fewer number of product managers – a breed that can’t be found in herds. Despite of a severe need for PMs within the chamber, the absolute demand compared to other profiles is minuscule, causing the profile to remain unexplored even by recruiters. Whether or not that makes PM a big deal, the ones that have tasted it will agree that it demands a unique mix of aptitude, attitude & innovation – that can’t be taught in class. And above everything else, it demands hell-a-lot of responsibility.
Most people destroy the niche status of product management (PM) by confusing it with project management. I would say, planning, execution & reporting is only a minuscule part of the PM profile. PM is everything about the product from vision to release which is not a simple 1-step transition. At least, it involves:
- Envisioning a product that solves a problem or improves some productivity parameter
- Understanding the market for the product & preparing a market requirement document (MRD)
- Creating a concept to get management buy-in; At senior levels with P&L responsibility, it may accompany projecting numbers
- Detailing the product functionality & behavior through prototypes & product requirement document (PRD)
- Maintaining a prioritized feature roadmap Continue reading A responsible species called product manager
Disruptive innovation describe innovations that tend to get competitors jump out of their seats. This is something – highly desirable – that the market has never seen before. Wikipedia gives the example of lowering price, but undercutting is a relatively common phenomenon. However, ‘designing for a different set of consumers’ is quite apt.
It is every product manager’s dream to conceptualize a product, or at least a feature that does creates such a wave in the market! And if you ever happen to be at the receiving end of a product demo – like the one that I usually deliver – this is the best compliment you would give. Cheers!
In the current age of On-Demand & SaaS combined with multi-tenant hosting, we are likely to generate tons of activity data every hour. For this data to be useful to administration & support teams, IT has to plan for its conversion to information. The strategy to implement information logging should be built right into the development process.
However, to most people, that I have communicated with while developing systems,
- the terms Audit log, server log, audit trail, time-stamping, change history are synonymous
- implementing ‘soft-delete’ probably appears a development overhead
I don’t know if it is because of exposure to ERP or otherwise, but unlike these people, I am overly sensitive to recording audit trails. Are you one of these? Are you not convinced about implementing a logging strategy? Then this post was written thinking about you. Continue reading The Need to Log & Retain Activity Data