Bravery, Sacrifice & Dignity in the Face of Death and Displacement: What I learned from my Lyft Driver

Mukesh, my Lyft driver to La Guardia, taught me what it really means to be a journalist, along with the meaning of bravery, integrity, passion, sacrifice and dignity in the face of violence and separation from family and country.

“If you fight for freedom for the people, If you see the bad in front of and you fight you are a journalist. If you avoid, you are not a journalist! I’m a fighter.”

Over the course of an hour he told me how he’d been a journalist in India, had attempted to expose a corrupt politician which led to his being followed, beaten and threatened with death, before he paid smugglers $50k to get to the US where he applied for asylum 4 years ago.

Now he drives people around New York, while working long distance to expose corruption back in his home country. In order to keep his kids safe and ensure they get a good education, he’s put them in a military-type school where no one can enter, the kids can’t leave and students can only talking to their parents once a month.

“They only have one phone between the 80 students so me an my wife spend all day trying to call, and then whoever gets through first, calls the other one.”

He shared his belief that this was all god’s plan and that he needed to pursue justice as that is his mission. And that while, he may have had to sacrifice and struggle, he is happy because he’s making a difference and can look at himself on the mirror with pride every day.

As I listened to his stories, I thought about how lucky many of us are here in the United States. And how important it is for us welcome refugees and asylum seekers, not just because it’s critical for their well being, or that it’s part of what makes us admired around the world, but because of the ferocious spirit and drive these people have.

Thank you Mukesh and to everyone else willing to risk everything to fight for freedom and social justice.

#journalism #asylum # India #inspired #Lyft

Customers are Like Spouses

Customers are like spouses, just because you are married to them doesn’t mean you know what they want or need.

So why do we imbue product owners and managers with the mystical power of being able to say with certainty that their customers will or will not like something?

While product owners and managers do their best to think like customers and users, think of them as husbands and wives trying to make their lovers happy. If you’re in a relationship, think of all the times you thought you had the perfect gift and discovered that while you thought it was great, your significant other just thought you were an idiot.

No matter how intimate you are with your customer, heck even if you spend time under their roof conducting ethnographic studies to the point you are sleeping with them, the only way to determine whether you built the right thing is to give it to them. And while sometimes, they may immediately know they hate or love it, oftentimes they need to try it on and wear it before they decide whether it truly fits their needs.

Sometimes, they may think their new gift, e.g. new pair of leather boots, is a little uncomfortable at first and don’t initially like them as they are not as comfortable as their old almost worn out shoes, but after awhile they grow to love their new footwear.

If they trust you enough either because they are madly in love with you at the beginning of the relationship or because you’ve done right by them enough times, they may make the extra effort to try things that require some initial discomfort or changes. Or they may not, and all your hard work may be for nought.

Making the situation even more challenging is product owners/managers are rarely in monogamous relationships, instead they have multiple spouses, each with their own distinct tastes and relationship, so good luck keeping all of them happy!

So while product demos to product owners and a small group of customer representatives is a step in the right direction versus nothing and usability tests will go a long way toward discovering whether your users will love, just tolerate or hate your product, you can’t be completely certain until your users actually begin using it.

So if you’re a product owner/manager be humble about your abilities to accurately forecast your users reactions. And for others, cut the PO/PM some slack and stop saying things like,”But I thought you represented the customer.” And for everyone stop relying on a product demo to truly validate user acceptance.

The only way to truly validate user acceptance is through more rigorous usability, alpha and beta testing, so add a new status of validated to every feature/release to determine whether your work is actually complete, not just released.

So good luck keeping all of your relationships’ love tanks full!

Getting Divorced After Four Years – From My Work Wife That is :)

I’m getting divorced.

After 4 years of ups and downs, laughter and arguments, whiteboard sessions and bridge calls, near application-death experiences and the birth of a new product, I’m splitting up with my work wife and leaving my project family of 40-or-so team members.

While I love my current work family, I confess my eyes and heart have been straying for a while. And then another manager seduced me with promises of being able to pursue some ideas I’ve been dreaming of for a while.

While I’d been eyeing promotion opportunities, the chance to use the FedEx paintbrush to paint on a blank canvas was too juicy to pass up.

But while I may be separating from my work wife, it doesn’t mean I don’t still love her. (Just not as much as my life wife, who I’m definitely staying with.)

Like so many work-spouse relationships, it was an arranged marriage. We were brought together by a sick foster-child application that needed some serious TLC, and Deana, the new IT manager, knew just who to give it to, Judy!

And Judy being the good mom she is, took it under her wing and nursed it from near death to a mostly healthy state. It was a friendship forged by fire and crisis as we worked together to get the app out of the ICU.

Not content with just having an adopted child, I talked her and the extended FedEx-management family into birthing a new business intelligence application. I talked about how our new child would be even smarter and prettier than our current child with a global outlook on life that would make it’s parents proud.

Judy, being the more down to earth IT partner, listened dubiously as I spewed my visions of a fantastical future.

“What’s wrong with our current child. He just needs some more love and he can be better than ever. Besides where are we going to get the money for a new child. So stop gallivanting around and focus on what we need to do today and stop spending all your time dreaming about the future. You need to learn how to be more practical and focus.”

It wouldn’t be the last time I’d hear that I’d need to stop dreaming.

Amazingly, my dreaming paid off and we were blessed with funding for a new child.

But the funding came with strings attached, “Your child needs to be born in 9 months or else. And while you’re at it, it needs to support both Freight and Parcel.”

“No problemo,” I assured as I dreamed about my soon to be born prodigy. Meanwhile, Judy stared daggers at me.

“Honey, how can you make promises like that when we have no idea how much work it will take?”

Neither of us had any idea just how much work it would take but Judy had a much better idea than I ever did that it would take much longer than nine months.

So under penalty of death or at least bad employee reviews, we started working with our small extended family of developers, UXers and testers.

Not surprising, our love and tolerance took a beating, as did I, while we tried to turn my dream into reality.

“Kevin focus! I need you to make a decision now!”

“But I need some more time.”

“Time’s up. I need an answer now”

“But Judy….”


Gulp…”Okay if we have to, then how about X”

The romance was over. Instead of passionate design sessions envisioning endless possibilities, it was one hard conversation after another, about finances, resources, timelines, roles and responsibilities, hard choices about enhancements vs migration, while our ever growing family looked to us for answers.

Anger replaced amor as we battled about everything. Only occasionally, relaxing over dinner and wine to ponder our future and upcoming features together.

Over time we grew to respect each other’s positions and learned to appreciate our different strengths while brushing off the things that bothered us.

In Judy, I saw a brilliant woman who reminded me of my life wife, incisive, always thinking and moving a million miles an hour with little tolerance for delay and dithering. She, I think, grew to overlook my many failings and grew to appreciate my few strengths, most of which involve cracking jokes and making people laugh.

I have to confess, it was never strictly a monogamous relationship, since it was a largely female-dominated project populated with strong brilliant women. Tiffany, “I’ll do it my way” who tried to force simplicity and clarity onto the complexity and opacity of the project. Camille, who initially scared the hell out of me, with her outspoken demands for order and voice of the customer. Leanne, more soft-spoken but equally persistent advocate for design and usability. Andrea with her hearty laugh and brilliant smile helping with the detailed requirements. Sarita, with her photographic memory, luminescent smile and unfailing patience. Radha, Judy’s right arm who would humor me while I tried to act like I actually knew something about software development. Monica with her attempts to bring order to the chaos by forcing deadlines and process on me.

And of course there was Tammie, who deserves a whole paragraph to herself. Our seemingly five-armed Shiva and mother figure who did her best to keep the wheels on the bus and the bus on the road as we careened through the jungle on unmapped tracks while we all shouted directions at each other. Tammie’s ability to engage in five IMs, manage a conference call, draft an email, and talk to me somewhat calmly at her desk while I munched on her Cheetos as she also filled out some mandatory CYA form always amazed me.

But Judy was the partner I was closest to and for that I will forever be grateful for her insights, brilliance, flexibility and occasional patience. And even if we’re now officially separated, whatever you do, don’t ever let me hear you say how women can’t code or can’t be great engineers, as I’ll still beat the snot out of you.

Now I’ve left her and the rest of the FedEx Reporting Online family to gallivant around as a product bachelor, with no application kids to worry about.

So even though we’re getting divorced, I hope she’ll forgive me and we can still be friends.

Who knows, maybe we’ll even get back together again? Regardless, I’ll always remember our relationship with great fondness and I hope we can still be friends, and she’ll still take my calls.

Writing this has made me realize how much I miss her already. Hmmm… Maybe I’ll call her?!

What! She’s already blocked my number! ;=(


PS If you’re interested in adopting my FRO child, the product-manager position is open to qualified FedExers looking for a high-profile leadership position. Ping me and I’ll be happy to share more insights into the position.  You can read more about it on LinkedIn

Diversity: What Makes Teams, FedEx and America Great!

After five years of blood, sweat and tears the FedEx Customer Reporting team finally launched the new FedEx Reporting Online, where customers can track and analyze their spend.

Developing the concept took just a few months, selling the concept took a few years and finally building the application took a few more years to get to a minimum viable replacement.

As I look back at the learning journey and my team, what stands out most to me is how a disparate group of individuals can transform into an extended family. Yes, we fight and fuss. (My work spouse even jokingly threatened to divorce me and sue for custody of the application after one recent disagreement.)  But we also laugh, share bags of Cheetos, swap family stories and get a lot done together.

In the beginning, we found each other’s styles frustrating as we stormed and formed. Over time we’ve learned how to embrace the things in others that drive us nuts as we’ve realized we need that diversity to succeed.

While homogeneity makes relationships easier, diversity makes us stronger. It would have been easier to be surrounded by people who always agree with my crazy ideas and approaches, but I need people who call BS on me and force me out of my comfort zone.

I remember one particularly strong exchange of views with my work wife, which while challenging at the time, afterwards resulted in a better result for both of us. I forced her to think more strategically while she made me think about the details required to achieve the strategy.

And as I read about and remember other companies I’ve worked at, I’ve come to realize one of Fedex’s core strengths is its inclusiveness. While FedEx still has a ways to go in diversifying its senior leadership ranks, the professional through director level highlights the opportunities available for talented people regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation or ethnicity. While that diversity thins out at the top, you still have women and people of color all the way up to the EVP level.

And our project reflected FedEx’s embrace of diversity. For much of the time, I was one of the few guys on both the IT and marketing side. I was, and am, surrounded by strong brilliant women of various races and ethnicities who transformed my marketing BS into UX designs, user stories, project plans, architecture designs, Java, JavaScript, SQL, load plans and ultimately into a live production application.

The team represented the founding fathers’ maxim, “E pluribus unum” from many one; a salad bar of styles, origins, races, ages and ethnicities. And together we stormed and formed as we worked to figure out how to build a high performing team on a pressure-cooker project.

And trust me when I say the process has been messy, filled with lots of fighting and frustration, as it’s much easier to miscommunicate than it is to communicate.

But eventually we learned to embrace each other’s various quirks as being the flip sides of our strengths, and to tailor our approaches to meet our teammates’ needs.

And that to me is what makes America great!

Men and women, young and old, native born and immigrants of different backgrounds, creeds, races and ethnicities learning to leverage both our similarities and differences to build an even stronger, more perfect union.

So I just wanted to say thanks to the FedEx leadership for building such an inclusive culture. And to my team members, family and management who helped me learn, grow and truly appreciate the power that diversity brings.

Disclaimer: This is my personal and contains my own views, thoughts and opinions. It is not endorsed by  FedEx and is not an official communication of FedEx.

MVP versus MVR: Minimum Viable Product vs. Minimum Viable Replacement

sEffort vs. Usage.pngIn the world of agile everyone talks about minimum viable products, that smallest set of capabilities required to meet a segment of your customers’ needs.

What doesn’t get talked about is an MVR, minimum viable replacement for existing products. The MVR is much more challenging as your goal is to replace your existing technology and not just grab an underserved market segment.

And as in the case of everything else in life, the first 20% of the effort delivers 80% of the most used capabilities while the other 20% requires 80% of the effort. The challenge is that your most valuable customers generally have the most complex requirements.

And while you can segment your customers such that you can build and potentially take an MVP to market for a specific segment, for the majority you need to deliver much greater capabilities if you want them to transition. And hardest of all, for your largest and most entrenched customers, you may need to build a ton more otherwise they won’t move and/or may defect if you force them to move.

After having been through multiple replatforming initiatives, i.e. from DOS to Windows, Windows to Web, Web to mobile, some of the key questions you want to ask as you plot your replacement strategy are:;

  1. Can you segment your customer base by capability requirement? If so then identify your MVR requirements for each segment.
  2. Are there new underserved segments that would be happy with a true MVP?  Oftentimes there are large markets that don’t currently use your existing product because they can’t afford it, implementation complexity or because it’s not available on X platform, e.g. mobile, that you can target with a lesser-featured lower-price point product which enables you to extract value sooner than just focusing on replacing everything for your existing customers.
  3. Is the new product an extension of the old and should be initially sold as an add on or is it a true replacement? Sometimes you can start by offering an enhancement which can be sold as an add on and then later integrate core replacement functionality. Again, you can deliver and extract value sooner rather than later.
  4. Are you willing to take two or three times as long to replace everything as originally estimated? No matter how long you think it will take to replace all your existing capabilities, it will almost always take much longer. So as you plan your strategy, double the transition time period as you will discover all sorts of unexpected and undocumented features and use cases. Transitioning customers always takes longer and involves a lot more pain than you expect, especially for enterprise systems where integration with existing systems is a key part of the value proposition.
  5. Is it better to frustrate your existing user base or potential users? Oftentimes, we build functionality for a specific niche or customer and have to make hard choices about whether it’s worth supporting existing customers vs. serving a broader set of new customers. Just be prepared for the blow back as what makes sense on paper to you may not make sense to the VP of sales or customer service dealing with irate customers or trying to hit their quarterly targets.  What you want to avoid at all costs is be held hostage by a vocal user base that is invested in a feature that prevents you from expanding your customer base, like Twitter and its 140-character limitation.
  6. How much do you want to invest in replacing vs reinventing? On one hand you want to make transitioning easy and avoid critical functionality gaps, but at the same time you want to take advantage of the new and different capabilities new technologies provide. Less visible change will reduce transition challenges but may limit the benefits of the new technology and prevent you from grabbing an even larger opportunity. Again, your always going to frustrate someone, it’s just a question of whom.

So have fun as you try to figure out how to get to a minimum viable replacement. And whatever you do stop calling it an MVP.

Dear banks, Please Protect my Parents From Being Robbed by Con Men

Dear banks,

Are you listening?

I need a partner to help me and millions like me take care of our aging parents or mentally challenged loved ones, so that they avoid getting scammed by con artists and salespeople looking for suckers.

My parents are old and getting older, but they’re still fairly independent and want to stay that way as long as possible, but they’re also vulnerable to financial abuse and easily avoided mishaps because their eyesight and BS detectors are fading. Like 11 million other Americans over 60, my dad suffers from macular degeneration and requires a 50-inch monitor so he can read his email. And my mom has mental health issues and Parkinsonisms. But despite, or because of, their handicaps, they work together to pay the bills. My mom acts as the eyes and my dad the finance brains, as they try to independently manage their finances.

The problem is they can’t really see the individual line items on the credit card statements, and sometimes get confused about which bill they are supposed to pay. So occasionally, bills go unpaid, or extra charges go unnoticed. However, if dementia begins to set in, inevitably bills will be forgotten but so far that’s not an issue, yet.

But what is a major issue are the fraudsters and hucksters who target my parents with scams and worthless crap.

“Your son is in jail! You need to wire a thousand dollars to bail him out but don’t tell anyone as we don’t want people to know he was in jail.”

“Yes! We can take care of the termites in your house for a measly $1835. We’ll use non-toxic orange oil” but what we’re not going to tell you is we’re not licensed, orange oil isn’t an effective treatment and you could have had your whole house tented for less. ;-(

And every time, my dad says he won’t fall for “that scam again!” No, instead he or my mom will fall for another scam instead. They’re not alone as millions of seniors lose billions ($36 billion according to True Link Financial) each year to greedy relatives and scam artists.

So as a good son, I’ve researched what options exist that enable my parents to both be independent and protected. Unfortunately, there are none. Bank of America allows me to get alerts after payments are made and the money is gone, but not prior to approval.

What I really want is the ability, like in a commercial account, to set specific limits and rules that require checks or withdrawals over a certain size to unapproved recipients be approved by a 3rd party, either me or my siblings. We should be able to create a:

  • Whitelist of standard payees, e.g. mortgage or insurance, that automatically get approved.
  • Blacklist of payees that automatically require additional approvals. The blacklist can be of hand-selected businesses and people, or of a compiled list of known individuals and companies suspected of abusive practices

Ultimately, the entire family should be able to have visibility so no one can begin siphoning off money without the rest of us knowing. The goal is leave my parents in control of the day-to-day finances, but with controls that prevent them from losing their life savings, or to raise alerts when bills fail to get paid or other warnings signs arise.

I would gladly pay extra for this service, but no one offers it. Why banks?

Considering seniors over 65 have about 30% of the wealth in the country, and that almost everyone of us with older parents have stories of strangers and/or relatives taking advantage of their loved ones, why haven’t you risen to your fiduciary duty and tackled the issue?

Many of us would gladly pay extra and shift our money to you, as it would give us peace of mind and save us money. I’d gladly pay $600 a year as that would already have prevented at least $4,000 in monetary losses, not to mention lost sleep from worrying. But you offer nothing. Nothing but excuses when you should be offering solutions to solve the problem, and make money in the process!

So become a financial Fido, friendly to your families, ferocious to the con men coming after your customers’ money. Do it, and I’ll toss you more than a bone, I’ll give you my family’s entire life savings to take care of.



Civic Intelligence: How news organizations can use BI & AI to Move Beyond the Static Infographic & Make Millions in the Process

Infographics are great to clearly and concisely communicate often complex concepts visually. And while a well-crafted static visualization is truly worth a thousand words, an Interactive infographic/dashboard is worth 10,000!

Unfortunately, today:

  • Data journalism tends to be the province of the few self-trained geeks in the news rooms comfortable with Excel, Access & Tableau.
  • The overwhelming majority of infographics are static charts and maps that lack drill-down or other interactive/personalization capabilities so users can’t easily explore and understand how the issue impacts them.

The good news is, the ultra-competitive $18-billion-and-growing-analytics market:

  1. Is bringing more powerful and easier to use tools to the market to help transform data into visual stories.
  2. Is making it easier to deploy not just static charts but interactive applications to the cloud so that users can both see high-level trends and drill-down/explore to find personalized insights.
  3. Needs new marketing channels to highlight the capabilities of their solutions and differentiate themselves against the competition.

These three trends present huge opportunities for news organizations to:

  1. Leverage business intelligence tools that incorporate artificial intelligence, smart data discovery and natural language generation to deliver better insights/civic intelligence to their audience with less work and training required.
  2. Drive audience engagement with their brand because users can explore and personalize the information themselves instead of just viewing a static image.
  3. Avoid your text being copied and monetized elsewhere, since users have to come to their site to interact with the application.
  4. Accelerate their journey toward becoming software/solution providers instead of just content providers.
  5. Potentially reap tens of millions of dollars and get assistance from software companies interested in showing off their products’ capabilities to millions of potential customers.

Delivering civic intelligence

The BI Bakeoff at the Gartner Analytics summit this March really highlighted the opportunity to apply artificial-intelligence and business- intelligence software to deliver civic intelligence.

Cindi Howson, the BI Bakeoff  & Scorecard queen, had the software vendors analyze Department of Transportation data to understand what’s drove the spike in 2016 traffic accident deaths.

The demos demonstrated the ability of how data journalists can use today’s BI tools to create and publish interactive visualizations and stories. And how artificial intelligence will enable even non analysts to identify key correlations and outliers with very limited training and work.

Check out Cindi’s blog for links to either videos or actual “dashboards” to explore the different capabilities and insights each provider discovered.

While all of the dashboards could have been more user friendly, they all gave great insight and the ability to personalize the information by state or other variable that might be of interest. The two that you can actually play with are:

  • Tableau: They created the most intuitive and visually pleasing story
  • Microsoft’s Power BI: I really liked how they embedded an Interactive car Infographic as part of the overall story.

For large organizations looking to figure out who to partner with and understand market trends, Cindi’s incredibly detailed knowledge of all the major’s vendors platforms, is probably worth the cost of the Gartner subscription alone. For those on a budget, you can always find a free version of the Gartner BI scorecard to get some insights about the different players in the market.

Show me the money!

The conference also highlighted how competitive the fast growing the $18 billion market is, and the potential opportunities news organizations have to partner with different vendors looking to show off their products’ capabilities.

After all, what better advertisement is their than for vendor’s potential customers to interact with an online information app on their favorite news site that is powered by IBM, Microsoft, Tableau, SAS, etc.. Today IT vendors pay millions of dollars to sponsor sports and other events that don’t even show off their capabilities. Imagine, what it would be worth for them to put their product in the hands of tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands or even millions of users.

My guess is that for organizations like CNN, the New York Times or the Washington Post, this could be worth tens of millions of dollars annually. And for news organizations, it’s a way to deliver better value to your advertisers and audience. In fact, I bounced this idea off a few vendors and their eyes lit up at the potential.

The future is so bright

But in order to take advantage of it, news organizations and journalists will need to think differently and:

  1. Embrace their roles as technology companies providing civic intelligence and engagement solutions.
  2. Leverage the cloud and modern BI tools to move beyond the static infographic.
  3. Partner with cash-rich software companies for money and expertise to improve their value proposition and bottom line.