Category Archives: Product Management

Hard learned lessons from 10 years of creating and marketing new products

Software is Eating the News: Are you in the in the Entertainment or Work business?

work-vs-entertainmentRight now, news organizations still haven’t really clarified what business they are in and/or what their audience is really looking for, as a result they often measure and focus on the wrong things.

Information technology businesses fall into two primary categories:

  1. Entertainment: The goal here is to help people have “fun,” to spend their downtime with you. And the more time spent with you the better. It doesn’t really matter whether that time spent makes them a better or worse human being, helps the planet, it’s fundamentally about entertaining people. Think Facebook, Pinterest, movies, gaming, etc.
  2. Work: The goal here is to help people take action and solve problems, whether pay their bills, stock their pantries, lose weight, learn new skills, influence public policies. In this case, the goal is to often spend the least time possible, as the primary thing you care about is the outcome. Traditional B2B software and Google search falls primarily into this category; you’re not using it for fun but to get the task done as efficiently and effectively as possible, and the less time spent the better.

So are journalists and news organizations primarily in the entertainment or work business?

Traditionally, they have straddled both worlds and as a result have muddied their value proposition, measure the wrong things and apply the wrong business models.

Additionally, what one segment of the audience and what journalists’ often think of as entertainment, others often think of as work, politics being one of them.


In the entertainment world, your goal is to get people to spend as much time with you as possible, since the whole point of your existence is to fill people’s free time. In this scenario, display advertising as a revenue stream and products that encourage spending time make sense.

In the work world, your goal is to minimize the amount of time people spend with you and instead give them the answers to their problems, or eliminate their problems all together. In this case, the less time spent on your site/application is often better, since the goal is to increase their time. In this scenario, display advertising makes absolutely no sense and products that don’t solve problems are bad.


So should news organizations focus on delivering more entertainment value or more work value?

And that will be a question for another day. 🙂

Event Calendars: A Key to Community Engagement & Winning the Content Wars

Providing local residents an online event calendar is one of the most basic yet poorly executed components of community journalism.

So this morning, I went to the site on my tablet in search of events, and I couldn’t find it,  so finally I grabbed my laptop and after much searching found it buried in the entertainment section and then proceeded to get further frustrated with the search and overall usability. And then I went to see how I could submit an event, and the experience deteriorated even further as the site passed me off to a 3rd party to create the event.

I’m sorry but if news organizations can’t execute their local events calendar with any quality, then they have no right to survive – and honestly won’t and here’s why:

  1. Events are the ceremonies that help communities come together. Whether they be city council meetings, PTSA meetings, volunteer opportunities, community concerts, athletics events, TED Talks, you name it, community events are key to community life. And by not leveraging modern technology to help foster community, you are failing in your public-service mission.
  2. Event information validates, excites and engages your audiences. If you are hosting information about my event and helping me market it, then it gives me a reason to engage with your site and for me to market your site. And unlike Facebook, having your event “featured” on a news site provides validation as well, building a sense of connection to your organization.
  3. Content costs are nearly zero. Since the event organizer is entering the information, news organizations only need to screen for quality and not actually write up the events. This is the reason why Facebook is so profitable because they just provide the platform while others provide the content.
  4. Local events are a key to competing for a local audience. Today there is no single site or source for local event information, both pre and post event. Since so much of what news organizations are all about, this represents a perfect opportunity for news organizations to combine their brand equity, editorial skills and technology to differentiate themselves.


So what makes a great online event calendar?

  1. Comprehensive: Instead of forcing people to go to multiple places, allow them to go to one place for everything. It’s not just an entertainment calendar. It feature’s every local event for every type of local organization, neighborhood associations, school events, city council meetings, city planning meetings, sports events, meetups, chamber meetings, afterschool events, you name it.
  2. Intelligent: Users shouldn’t have to work very hard or at all to find the events and information they are looking for. Users need to be able to easily filter and find events that matter to them so the categorization options need to make sense to the users and offer a mix of open ended and fixed filters.
  3. Lazy: Help people be lazy and successful. Users should have information pushed to them on a regular basis and the option to have reminders embedded in their calendars so they don’t have to constantly search for options.
  4. Interactive: Ask users for feedback about the events they attended as a way to deepen the user engagement and transform the site into just a calendar into a conversation and drive engagement.

In order to succeed, news organizations will have to think of themselves first as  civic intelligence and engagement platforms that combine traditional journalism with design thinking and technology product management to develop new ways of informing and empowering their communities.


Naiveté Key to Starting any Project

At work I was recently asked, “Kevin, What’s was the secret to get your project funded?”

So I looked in the mirror, and quickly realized it wasn’t based on looks, and instead after much thought replied, “Naiveté, creativity, persistence & luck!” which frankly are the key ingredients for any successful project.

Why Naiveté?

In the beginning I thought it would take a few months to sell the project, and then someone told me it would most likely take six to 12 months, which both relieved me and frustrated me at the time. Ultimately it took more like 24-36 months before the project went from concept to funding

Honestly, I probably would have never tackled the project if I had known it would take two, almost three years before it was finally prioritized and funded. The reality is that you have to be naïve and overly optimistic about how long it will take otherwise you’d most likely give up before you start.

Why persistence?

Because while we all start out naively, success ultimately requires persistence, otherwise we’d give up before crossing the finish line, especially when the finish line seems to just keep moving further away. The challenge is to figure out the difference between persistence and stupidity, as success is never guaranteed.

Why creativity?

While persistence is critical, you need to keep coming up with different sales pitches and throwing them against the wall to see what sticks. And we came up with stories based on fear, greed, greatness, customer experience, you name it with all sorts of different charts that showing how we’d save money, save time, make money, grab new markets and so on and so forth as we drafted presentation after presentation. And each time our story became a little crisper, gained us new advocates and helped us slowly crawl up the prioritization list.

Just like any other types of sales, when you are asking for people to part with their money and resources, it’s rare that you create the perfect pitch the first time. Instead you need to view every pitch as an experiment, where you are making as many observations and potentially asking as many questions as you are answering, otherwise you are wasting time. So identify what went well and modify what didn’t – and keep selling until someone bites!

So what was the final ingredient required for funding?

Luck! Without luck, I don’t know that we ever would have gotten the required nor the desired funding, but part of luck is being ready at the right place and right time when the opportunity arises. And while most of us would love to credit our brilliance for success, and blame bad luck for our failures, the reality is that lady luck is equally present in both.

But without the naiveté to start, the persistence to keep going when it seems hopeless & the creativity to keep coming up with new pitches, you will rarely be in a position to enjoy lady luck’s sunshine.

So put on those rose-colored glasses, but with flexible titanium frames that will hold up to the abuse, and get started pitching!

Bad UX! Bad product management! Bad RIM! Or, why does my BlackBerry have a flashing light?

Want to know why the RIM management team should be fired and BlackBerry has gone from cool to crap?

The green flashing light!

Anyone who’s owned a BlackBerry knows what I’m talking about. In the top right corner there exists a mysterious flashing light – sometimes it’s green; sometimes it’s red. What it does and why it’s flashing no one knows and no one cares as far as I can tell.

Instead, it just irritates! At night if I want to use the alarm function or want to leave my phone next to my bed I have to cover it with a shirt or something else so it doesn’t bother me. I finally managed to figure out how to turn off the green light but now an orange one appears…. sigh 😦

I’m sure I can find out how to turn that one off as well but my point here is: How many tens of millions of dollars has RIM wasted on a feature that adds limited to no value – or even negative value over the years?

Just because a feature may have made sense in version 1.0 doesn’t mean it makes sense in version 2.0! As a product manager you have to be ruthless about what features to include and which you exclude.

Products are just like art – whether music, writing or photography – what you exclude is just as important as what you include. There’s a classic scene from the Movie Amadeus where the king tells Mozart, “It was good there are just too many notes. Just cut a few and it will be perfect!”

Take that too heart! It will save you money from developing drivel that few people use and frustrates even more users.  Even better, it will focus your efforts on polishing the key pieces your customers really care about.

Just imagine all the wasted engineering and design efforts that have gone into enabling the flashing lights. I can just imagine being in design reviews where they’re trying to increase their screen size but can’t because of the flashing light.

RIM wake up! Eliminate the flashing light and focus your efforts on what we really want: Touch screens, bigger screens and more apps! Until then I’ll wish I had an Android or iPhone.

Am I right? Let me know what you think.

Why I hate the term product manager

Product managers are supposed to be the voice of the customer and the market, but in most companies that’s a lie. Why? Because a product manager by definition is first and foremost responsible for their product – which is inherently internally focused. As a result, when they look at the outside world it’s almost always through the lens of their specific product.

Instead of looking at how their product fits into the customers’ ecosystem, processes, etc… they look at how their customers fit into their product – and then can’t figure out why adoption rates are so low.

And since in larger organizations each PM typically looks at the world through their product silo, it’s difficult to figure out how each of the pieces fits together.

So what can organizations do?

Create market, customer, persona or process advocates

Organizations need customer or persona advocates that aren’t tied to a specific product but instead responsible for becoming the subject matter expert on the markets, customers, personas or processes served by the company.

In some companies the UX department handles this but oftentimes the UX group is more focused on the screen design usability without understanding the larger context.

By making individual PMs responsible for being customer advocates it should help force the product managers to be more customer centric and drive collaboration across the organization.

Map the customers’ customers journey

I’ve read a lot about customer journey mapping but for the most part it’s always been in the context of the customer’s journey with your company. For B2B companies, mapping the customers’ customers journey may be even more helpful as it forces you to understand what your customers’ processes are and how you potentially fit or don’t fit into their processes as your number one goal is to help your customers be more successful.

By mapping the customers’ customer journey you should be able to spot opportunities to develop new products or better position your existing products to meet your customers’ goals.

Tell me what you think.

Newspapers: Problem child or cash cow?

I still remember my first day at the Orange County Register back in July 1994.

I assumed, now that I was going to work at a real paper, I’d have access to the latest and greatest technology and could use my hard-earned statistical analysis and computer cartography skills to do some Pulitzer-prize winning computer assisted reporting.

Then I saw my workstation, a PC XT with 4 MHz of computing power and no floppy drive – incredibly archaic even by 1994 standards.

The next two years were both thrilling and demoralizing, as I tried to make sense of the contradictions between newspapers’ huge profits and their almost complete lack of investment in technology, training and adequate news resources.

It was always a source of grousing amongst us reporters, as we couldn’t understand why such a profitable industry paid so poorly and invested so little in new initiatives.

Then, I left the newspaper industry, became a product manager and learned about the “Boston Box.” And suddenly, I understood why such a profitable industry invested so little in its people and products.

The Boston Box, also known as product lifecycle management, divides products into four basic categories.

Boston Box

  • Problem child/Question Marks: A new product that requires significant investment to grow and become profitable, e.g. new Internet initiatives.
  • Star: Assuming the product crosses the chasm, it becomes a star – characterized by high profits and growth. A star needs to be carefully nurtured and given the investment required to continue growing.
  • Cash Cow: At a certain point the product reaches maturity and is no longer growing in market share and or revenue stagnates and begins declining. At this point the goal is to maximize profitability and milk the cow for as much cash as possible.
  • Dog: Finally, the decline steepens and the goal is to profitably retire the product before it begins sucking resources from new replacement products.

Can you guess which category traditionally newspapers belong in?

You guessed it. The cash cow. Lets see stagnate revenues and gradual declines in market share over the last 20 years as circulation declines. So what does a “smart” manager do? Minimize investments and maximize profitability. They focus primarily on cost reduction to maximize efficiency, instead of investing for growth.

Whenever possible they merge with thecompetition to create a monopoly (product quality isn’t as much of an issue) and eliminate “redundancies.”

The problem with this thinking is that if they focus primarily on cost cutting, the quality of their product deteriorates and the customer base flees, resulting in yet more cost cuts and lost customers, accelerating the downward cycle.

On the other hand, if investors view the business as a cash cow and are expecting it to deliver 20% net profit margins, it’s hard to make significant investments without upsetting the “street.”

The problem newspapers and local TV news face now is that in order for them to make the transition from the old to the new, they need to invest heavily in new ventures that will initially take away from their profitability. And not only that, but now newcomers are using market shrink strategies to grab market share, e.g. Craigslist, and stealing revenue from newspapers.

So are newspapers cash cows, problem children – or dogs? And what’s going to happen next?

Your thoughts?

Product Adoption: Lessons on how to maximize product adoption and avoid common pitfalls

Imagine developing a product that encapsulated the best practices from the best minds in the business. A product that could increase your customer’s revenue by anywhere from $50,000 to $250,000 annually for only a few hundred dollars a month?

And best of all, it only took a couple of additional steps to use and could save time in the long run.

Given that type of ROI and rave reviews from early adopters, I figured marketing and selling the product would be a “no brainer.” So envisioning myself semi-retired and swirling Mai Tais on the Mexican Riviera, I signed on the dotted line, taking equity and deferred compensation in lieu of salary.

Two years later, my bank account is now a blank account—but while certainly not wealthier, I’m much wiser. So what happened? Why didn’t a “proven” product with a great ROI spread like wildfire—and instead just smoldered? There are many reasons, but the biggest reason was that the product required extra work to receive the extra benefits—and most people won’t do extra work no matter how big the potential future benefit is.

In this article, I’ll explain how you can incorporate that fundamental tenet of human nature into your product planning and marketing to increase adoption and sales.

The problem: The road to hell is paved with good intentions

We all agree exercise is good. In fact, it’s critical to our health, yet the majority of us don’t exercise enough or at all. Why? Because for most of us, it requires taking additional time and effort.

However, given the right support structures, e.g. a personal trainer, child care to watch the kids, etc. the probabilities of us adopting and maintaining an exercise ritual will increase dramatically. And soon, what was considered the “extreme” soon becomes the norm.

So what does this have to do with software?

Simple, no matter how good a new product is, if it requires the user to change their routine, it may meet resistance. And if you expect the user to take extra steps to get the extra benefit, then you must expect a large percentage of users will be unwilling to do the extra work, no matter how big the end gain.

And even if they want to change, many won’t unless you provide additional, and often seemingly irrelevant, services. So it’s critical to incorporate this knowledge into the business plan, product design, marketing and implementation process in order to increase your probabilities of success.

Technology adoption

Technology moves blindingly fast. Adoption is another story altogether.

Every product manager is familiar with the product adoption lifecycle and crossing the chasm. While the steps are the same regardless of the product, what varies dramatically is the time frame. And since time is money, the most important thing is to figure out how to shorten the adoption lifecycle.

The Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) is a great first step to understand why people adopt (or not) new software. Wikipedia ® states:

“The Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) is an information systems theory ( ) that models how users come to accept and use a technology. The model suggests that when users are presented with a new software package, a number of factors influence their decision about how and when they will use it, notably:

  • Perceived usefulness (PU) – This was defined by Fred Davis as “the degree to which a person believes that using a particular system would enhance his or her job performance.”
  • Perceived ease-of-use (EOU) Davis defined this as “the degree to which a person believes that using a particular system would be free from effort” (Davis, 1989).”

In other words, what’s the benefit and how easy is it to use? Traditionally ease-of-use has always played second fiddle to more features, but per the TAM, ease of use is just as critical to adoption as usefulness—so the first lesson is keep it simple.

In fact, less is often more from a user’s perspective. While some will want all sorts of “cool” features, most people just want to get their job done quicker and more easily.

We don’t need no stinkin “Best Practices”!

Best practices can take decades to adopt. Invariably, best practices means doing things right, which usually requires more work up front, and since most of us are busy and are used to doing things the way we’ve always done them, consistently following best practices is a challenge at best.

For example, CRM/sales-force automation systems promise all sorts of benefits to the sales person and organization, but it has taken two decades and billions of dollars in failed implementations to get to a state where most sales people are comfortable with them and willing to enter their sales information into the system.

Management systems in the collision shop market are another example. Despite the proven benefits of using a management system, reducing cycle time, increasing productivity, profits, etc., it’s taken nearly two decades to achieve a 50% penetration rate.

Why? Because mass adoption has required dramatic economic and cultural/generational changes in the industry. The best practices encapsulated in the management systems had to move from the extreme into the mainstream. And for the most part, that meant people literally changing jobs and bringing the new tools and ideas with them.

In many cases, those new ideas and tools were rejected. But over time as more and more people were exposed to the new technologies and ideas, and a new generation of employees never knew that there was another way to do business, management systems have become standard equipment in the majority of the better shops.

On the other hand, think about the Web. In many cases it simplifies and eliminates the need to physically search for something, e.g. when was the last time you went to the library for a research project? As a result, the adoption curve has been incredibly dramatic.

So remember, if your solution requires significant extra work for extra benefits, know that the adoption lifecycle will most likely be long and arduous. Do anything possible to simplify the workflow and/or be absolutely indispensable.

Understand the market

How often have you heard or said “How can we go wrong, it’s a virtually untapped $X billion market?”

I know I’m guilty of that and have personally paid the price. The real question is, what percentage of the market is realistically likely to adopt your product? And are you automating the exceptions or the norm?

For example, you’ve created a great new window-washing tool that can clean windows 50% faster and 200% better than your standard squeegee!

Every house in America has windows so just imagine the incredible market! But how many Americans regularly clean their home windows? Not many. You really have two markets.

  1. The window washers of the world: They already believe in the virtue of clean windows and regularly spend time cleaning them. For this group, you’re subtracting from their work and therefore giving them the gift of time and delivering better results in the process.
  2. The rest of us: I know I should probably clean my windows more often but heck they’re going to get dirty anyway. (Yes I’m married and drive my wife nuts with this kind of logic.) First, you have to persuade me of the value of sparkling clean windows and then you’ve got to convince me your product is the best for the job. And finally, you’ll most likely need to cajole me into actually using the product since it will require “extra” work on my behalf.

And that was the problem we ran into with our product. For the 1% of the shops that regularly double-checked their work, the product both simplified and improved their processes.

For the other 99%, it was a much more challenging sales and implementation/adoption process. In some cases, the users took to it like fish to water and now can’t imagine not having the product. But for a large percentage it took endless cajoling and handholding, and then as soon as we left, they stopped using it.

Better versus good enough

Growing up, I thought whip cream only came out of a can. Then I tasted homemade. One creamy spoonful and I swore I’d never go back to the can.

Now, three kids later I still love fresh homemade whipped cream, but sadly 80% of the time I rely on the can because it’s quick and easy and lasts forever in the fridge. I know my pie or hot fudge sundae would taste better with the “real” stuff, but I usually don’t want to take the extra five or ten minutes to make it and clean up. Besides, my kids, the primary consumers, don’t even notice the difference.

Even though the stuff that comes out of the can is clearly inferior to the homemade, I use it because it’s good enough and requires virtually no effort to use. And, since it’s a should have (some would even claim a nice-to have) I’ll often skip the extra benefit altogether rather than take the extra time and effort.

The same is true with software. Users will often choose “sub-optimal” solutions because they’re easier or not use anything at all because they don’t like the extra work –even if it makes the difference between just okay and great.

Product design

The most successful software combines extra benefits and eliminates steps. The spellchecker in Microsoft ® Office Word is a great example. Why? Because the product highlights the errors as I’m writing so I don’t have to take the extra step to run the spellchecker.

The lesson is to eliminate as many steps as possible and provide the tightest, most seamless integration possible that delivers benefits sooner than later. One of the most common errors is the creation of yet another application that the user has to launch.

This is especially true in the business intelligence/management reporting space. All too often, these companies expect the users to launch the application and then spend their time querying the system to get the value they paid for.

What typically happens is that the software sits unused like countless pieces of gym equipment gathering dust in homes across America. As one user remarked after we showed him our reporting software:

“I’m busy. I’ve got ten things I absolutely need to do. Twenty I really should do – and at the end of the day, I’ve only done three or four of them. So just email me a report that tells me what’s on fire today and how to fix it. And if you can eventually tell me what’s going to catch fire tomorrow and what I can do to prevent it, great! If not, I don’t want it and I’m not going to use it.”

Whenever possible, push the information directly into an existing application so the user doesn’t have to actually do anything to receive the benefits, e.g. instead of forcing the user to launch a separate reporting application, deliver the reports right into their email.

Sometimes what people want is really a service rather than a product. So if you can convince people of the end value, but you can’t get them to actually do the work required, you may have more success bundling it into a service. After all, isn’t that why people hire window washers?

Piggyback marketing

Once you’ve built the product, focus your marketing and sales efforts on the most likely early adopters. The best way to do that is to find prospects that are already practicing what you preach. Otherwise, you’re going to waste a lot of money and time on unqualified prospects who even if they buy your product may actually never use it.

I recently had this challenge with a client that has a really great product for analyzing open-ended feedback. The company believed we should try to convince everybody of the value of collecting customer feedback and then why open-ended comments were more valuable than closed-ended structured data. Under that scenario, a sales person would spend a lot of valuable time convincing a prospect why they should implement best practices in customer feedback—and then how our tool could improve the process. Talk about a long and arduous sales cycle!

My recommendation was that the company should identify companies that had already adopted best practices and focus their efforts on selling how the solution could simplify and improve what they’re already doing. Instead of trying to create an entirely new initiative, the company could piggyback upon an existing corporate project that already has executive sponsorship, corporate buy in and committed resources.

So whenever possible, identify “hot” best practices methodologies that already have significant traction and integrate your product and marketing into that existing market. Now instead of competing for attention with Six Sigma ® or NetPromoter, you’re an enabler that can feed into the larger ecosystem.

It may take you years and decades to focus on marketing “best practices” to industry influencers and thought leaders in order to grow the potential market for your product.


While it would be wonderful to sell only to incredibly motivated customers and users that don’t need any assistance, the reality is a large percentage of your customers will both be implementing your software and best practices for the first time.

It’s not enough to train users how to use the software—you need to show its value and get their buy in.

In fact, I learned a very painful but important lesson during my first product management job:

Success of product/project = quality of the product/plan x the % buy in

So if you’re going to force change on an organization or users, here are a few suggestions:

  • Get the buy in at both the top and the bottom. It’s not enough to think that getting the CEO to buy in will lead to user buy in. If enough users squawk and the CEO begins viewing your product as too disruptive, the product will usually be ejected.
  • Start slowly. Don’t overwhelm the users with too much in the beginning. Help them get comfortable with the basics. It’s important that they feel they’re getting as much pain-free value as possible.
  • Move the cheese. Talk is cheap, compensation is golden. If you want your users to do something different, compensate them for the perceived extra work. Nothing guarantees failure faster than when an employee is told to do one thing and rewarded for something entirely different.
  • Change the org chart. New technologies require new processes and positions to leverage and support the new infrastructure.
  • Create standard operating procedures. Work with the users to create new standard operating procedures that they agree to and can easily follow. Don’t expect them to magically figure out how best to incorporate the new technology into their organization.
  • Be there. People hire personal trainers because they know that particularly in the beginning, a little extra push and encouragement to overcome their inertia is needed.


I’ve worked in seven different verticals at four different companies, and I always hear the same complaint from product managers and engineers. “Our users aren’t like other customers. They’re technologically unsophisticated laggards.”

As a result, I’ve come to the conclusion that our users aren’t the ones who are different, we just happen to be in love with computers and our products. So every time I hear complaints about our users’ IQ and how easy our product is to use, I ask, “Can you explain how to forward a phone call?”

In all my years, I’ve only met a handful of people who actually know how to forward a phone call. Most of us just tell the caller, “Uh, I’ll try, but if I lose you, call his direct line.” and then we press some buttons and hope the call went through.

So remember for product success, have empathy for your users and don’t expect them to be as enthusiastic as you are about your product and willing to go the extra mile (or inch) to make it work.

The bottom line

Just because something is good for you, doesn’t mean people will do it. Don’t get blinded by the potential ROI of your product. Get out from behind your spreadsheet and start thinking like a typical user who’s got a thousand things to do and just wants to get home to see their kids.

And remember:

  • The Road to Hell is paved with good intentions which is why people often say one thing and do something entirely different.
  • Understand whether you’re automating an existing standard or enabling a yet-to-be-widely-adopted process to accurately identify the size of your market.
  • Subtract, don’t add to your user’s work, otherwise you’ll increase your implementation costs and reduce your adoption rate.
  • Piggyback your marketing and sales efforts on existing methodologies and markets instead of trying to position your product as something entirely new.
  • Change takes effort above and beyond just teaching people what buttons to press, so be prepared to provide professional services.
  • Be empathetic. Try to imagine yourself in your customer’s shoes and ask yourself, “How can I make their life easier?”

And finally, while it’s hard to be dispassionate about the benefits of fresh whipped cream, realize that for most people “fresh” from the can is good enough–and as a result better generally loses to easier in the marketplace.

Check out the presentation for a few laughs and more tips!

Let me know what you think! Drop me an email at kevin@myrepresentatives dot com or a tweet @kevinjmireles