My New Year’s Resolutions

By | self-improvement, starting, vision | No Comments

I don’t set New Year’s Resolutions anymore. I used to and like most everyone else a few weeks into the new year they would be forgotten and I’d be back to my old ways. So I’ve changed resolutions to goals.

And rather than New Year’s day, I like setting the trigger for my year on my birthday. It’s my personal day and the start of my personal year.

I take off work. I start the day by exercising followed by breakfast with my family. I spent my last birthday cooking a brisket and I’ll probably do that again this year. It’s an all day affair, and while it’s cooking I relax with movies or binge watching a show. Before all this goodness I use the weeks leading up to it to set my goals for the year.

The day you start or reset your year doesn’t matter. If New Year’s day is a trigger for you, then go for it and leave all those people with unachieved resolutions in the dust. Start by thinking about them as goals, instead of resolutions, and not just for this year, but for the next 5-10 years and then break down from there.

I have a vision of where I’d like to be by the time I’m 40 (in two short years) and how the work I do now will help catapult me to where I want to be by the time I turn 45. Honestly, I’ve only started taking this seriously in the past 2 years. Before that I had grand visions of what I wanted my life to be like, but was moving towards them in a very haphazard way. I have an amazing life that I’m very grateful for and even though I’ve achieved a lot, it wasn’t until I started writing down my goals and tracking my progress that I started to see much more rapid growth. And more rapid growth is not necessarily fast…but it’s focused, and that’s the key. Creating focus and moving forward, a bit at a time.


Stream of Consciousness

By | design, self-analysis, starting | No Comments

Stream of consciousness writing is a technique I use to open my mind and allow my thoughts spill out on the paper. With fiction writing it’s often used to explore a character or a scene without worrying about grammar or punctuation. It’s about getting into a state of flow with writing and diving into your subconscious mind.

This practice of free writing has been extremely beneficial for me in a few different aspects of my life.

I use stream of consciousness writing for working through a problem and I’vd it is the best way to be able to organize my thoughts quickly. If I’m stuck on how to organize a team or an intricacy in a design I’m working on. I sit at my computer, open up Evernote and write out the problem. Then I start to break down the problem and write as many details around it that I can, then break those down even further. I keep going until I feel I’ve covered the topic fully or have an epiphany. Sometimes it happens after a few minutes and at other times it takes significantly longer.

I’ll then take these thoughts, get rid of the unimportant parts and organize the rest. Sometimes in bullet points, sometimes in a full outline or others just a plan of attack to move on immediately. It depends on the complexity of the problem.

I also use stream of consciousness writing to analyze my own personal thoughts. I wrote about my practice of writing what I’m grateful for every day. For that practice I set a timer for five minutes and start by choosing an event that happened during the day and expounding on why it was a positive part of my life.  Finding a unique event from the day helps make it part journal as well, rather than rehashing all of the standard things I’m grateful for, and by that I mean, my family, my home, my work, and my good fortune. It is more interesting for me to consider the fact that I met someone new that day and put my appreciation towards that event. Or, even more challenging is taking something bad and considering what, if anything, could be the positive part of that experience.

As far as the best way to approach stream of consciousness writing, some people say it’s better to put pen to paper rather than using a computer, but for me I can type a lot faster than I can write in my notebook and part of the process is getting my fingers moving without my brain guiding the words on the page. I’ve also read, be in a nice quiet place without distractions, but I’ve found some of my best episodes are at my local coffee shop listening to music. I say do whatever works for you, as long as you do it.

Product Lessons from Mark Zukerberg’s Home AI Challenge

By | product, starting, strategy | No Comments

A few days ago Mark Zukerberg posted to his Facebook page about his experience working on building a simple AI to run his home, which he aptly named Jarvis after Tony Stark’s AI from Iron Man. And the same day Fast Company wrote an article on it. You may have heard about it.  

I also discovered that Mark Zukerberg sets a yearly challenge for himself. So, in addition to being CEO of Facebook and having a family he makes it a priority to continue to learn and grow. 

Throughout his update, there were lessons on the right way to build products. He used creative problem solving, iteration and existing software rather than building from scratch to get to his vision as quickly as possible.

From the very onset of the project he faced challenges because there is currently no common API for the home appliances. As home automation AI becomes more prevalent (and it will happen quickly) this is gap that will need to be filled.

He had particular trouble finding a toaster that would allow you to push the bread down without having it turned on. “I ended up finding an old toaster from the 1950s and rigging it up with a connected switch.”

This is an example of taking a problem and turning it on it’s head. There were probably other more complicated solutions, like reengineering a present day toaster, but he took the problem and broke it down to its smallest parts and attacked it from a new angle. This type of creative problem solving is necessary as we navigate building products.

Another hurdle was allowing Jarvis to understand voice commands. As we should when building any new product he took an iterative approach by first communicating with Jarvis via text message and later using that as a springboard to allow for voice commands.

I was particularly interested by his discovery that he often prefers to communicate with Jarvis via text rather than using voice commands. And based on this observation he determined that as we build out AI, we need to recognize that they will also need messaging interfaces in addition to voice.

Building iteratively and real world experimentation and discovery at work.  

In order to create the messaging interface he could have built an app from scratch, but chose instead to build a Messenger bot.  Why? Because it was easier. There are open source APIs to build these bots, which allowed for a strong base to start with. When building towards MVP it’s important to move as quickly as possible and often that can be done through retrofitting your ideas into existing solutions, even if it’s not as sexy as you imagine it to be when you’re dreaming of the final version.  

Beyond his iterative approach, creative problem solving, and building on top of existing work it’s important to acknowledge the very fact that he challenged himself to do this. If he had never put pen to paper and challenged himself at the beginning of the year there’s little chance that he would now have a kick ass home AI, not to mention the knowledge gained, including learnings he wasn’t expecting at the beginning, which is common in taking on big challenges. You just don’t know what you don’t know yet.

As I’ve been saying from my very first post. Start. 

Then, make small iterative progress towards whatever it is you’re looking to do. Set a goal and break it down into bite sized chunks and then break it down some more.  Make it so easy that you’d be hard pressed not to make a little progress every day.  

From beginning to end it took Zuckerberg a little over 100 hours to get to the current version of Jarvis.  Think about what you could do in 100 hours over the course of this coming year.  

What challenge do you want to tackle in 2017? Let me know in the comments below.

How To Define Your Product Vision

By | implementation, product, starting, vision | No Comments

All the way back on Day 2 of my 31 days of blog posts, I asserted that to build great products you needed to Know Your Vision, inside and out. Understand your why and shout it from the rooftops, or at least be able to spit out an elevator pitch.

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” – Simon Sinek, Start With Why

I’ll expand that for the product managers out there to say that you can’t expect your team to blindly support what you’re building, but they will bend over backwards if they believe in why they are building it.

One of the most important responsibilities for a product manager is to inspire and lead their teams towards a common goal. No matter the size of the company or the size of your product, you need an overarching goal in order to create a strategy on how to get there. On top of that, your vision is the thing you point to in moments of doubt or to justify changes in strategy.

This goes beyond product and engineering. It should also guide marketing, sales and the team that will have to support your product before, during and after launch.

The way that I like to think about it is that you’re painting a version of the future that is better because of what you’re building. A future where what you’re building is delivering value to both your business and your customer and they’ve got big smiles on their faces.

For SpaceX, their vision is enabling human life on Mars.

Talk about a vision. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that the product you’re building is not quite as grandiose in scope, but in this case size doesn’t matter. You should have the same passion and ambition behind your vision.

Before you can truly define your product vision you have to understand your product. As the product manager, that’s your job. You need to understand all aspects of your product, beyond the features to include:

  • Key Product Goals
  • Target Customers
  • Competition
  • Differentiation

One way to go about creating a vision is to follow the template from Geoffrey Moore’s book Crossing the Chasm.  All you have to do is fill in the blanks:

  • For (target customer)
  • Who (statement of the need or opportunity)
  • (Product name) is a (product category)
  • That provides (key benefit)
  • Unlike (the product alternatives)
  • Our product (statement of primary differentiation)

You’ll end up with a vision statement like this one I made up for
For the bill-paying member of the family who also manages the budget and is tired of tracking multiple accounts in order to have a clear financial overview. is a web-based program that automatically ties in to all financial institutions and automatically updates in real time. It is optimized specifically for the everyman budgeter and is free to use.

It’s a fine vision statement but, it doesn’t get me jazzed and quite frankly it’s way to long. You want to shoot for short and sweet. Could I use it to point to and support my product decisions.  Sure, but getting engineers and salesmen to recollect it and follow it is a stretch. Plus, it’s just not cool.

It’s a good starting point, and in fact is a great exercise to go through with your team and make sure that the foundation of the vision is solid throughout your organization. As the product owner it is your responsibility to create the vision statement, but along the way you should take the time to include everyone else that has a stake in the product and get their input. Involving your partners early and often will ensure that everyone is on the same page even before you distribute the clean, concise, dare I say, sexy final version.

Now, take that statement and break it down to it’s most essential pieces. What’s the heart of the product that you’re trying to create for your target customers. How will their lives be better and different in the future? Break that out and craft a statement or two.  Then take another pass and see if it gets you excited.

“If you are working on something exciting that you really care about, you don’t have to be pushed.  The vision pulls you.” – Steve Jobs

Is what you have now pulling you? Is it ambitious? Will it engage the troops when it’s time to kick it into high gear? Is it short and sweet? And most importantly, does it make sense?

If not, rework it until it does.  When you’ve got a vision that excites you and paints that better version of the future, then communicate it throughout your organization and ensure that everyone is inline, from the C-level down to your entry-level engineers.

With this, you’ve set the direction and everyone is moving together towards the higher purpose and a full understanding of your why, which ultimately makes your team more of a team.

Here’s a few examples that I like:

To build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.

To inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.

To create a better everyday life for the many people.

Toys ‘R Us:
Put joy in kids’ hearts and a smile on parent’s faces.

Final thought:
One thing I liked about SpaceX’s mission is that before stating the goal they also said this “SpaceX was founded under the belief that a future where humanity is out exploring the stars is fundamentally more exciting than one where we are not.”

That is heart and passion and raw, real, truth.  So when you’re looking to create your vision, think about SpaceX and let it be a little raw.

31 Posts in December

By | starting, strategy | One Comment

This is my first post.

This is the first post of 31 posts in December.  One a day.


Because this is the start, today is the start. And starting is the part a lot of people don’t do.

But the part that even more people fail to do is to keep going. Over the past few years I’ve learned a lesson that I wish I would have learned when I was much younger. More than anything, consistency delivers results. Diet, exercise, starting a business, following your dreams, or colonizing Mars. Do a little bit at a time, change your habits, create new ones, and those little things change your life.

I’m starting today and posting every day in December, because I know that will start the boulder rolling down the hill. Consistency turns into momentum and with momentum the things that were once hard just become what they are…the things you do.

What does all this have to do with building products or creating solid designs (oh is that what this blog is all about?), honestly it has everything to do with that and I hope over the next 30 days to tie it all together, but today is just the start.

I know (as of this writing anyway) that the site is a WordPress template, with no personal style or design, and I have no logo and there’s not even an About page up yet. I have no tracking, I have no traffic, and I have no intention of sending out an email and driving traffic today.  But tomorrow I hope to.  And that’s how I can start, right now.  That’s the tiny step I can make and the promise that I keep to myself (which I happen to be very good at, following through when I decide to do something), is that for the next 30 days I’ll keep posting, and sharing and building and we’ll see where I’m at come the new year. The only thing for sure is that it will be more than it is today.