Understanding Where The Finish Line Really Is

By | product, vision | No Comments

I’ve worked on far too many projects that were treated as if the feature launch were the end of the project. Hooray, the feature is live and now we can get onto the next thing on our list. It’s the way it was done for a long time and truthfully it’s the way a lot of companies still build products today.

Just like many things, the first step towards fixing a problem is admitting you have a problem.

Over the next few days I’m going to be writing a series on usability testing, the what, when and how of it all, but as I was planning out those posts it got me to thinking about this issue that I know is still plaguing companies. Teams are agile and scrumming and running sprints, all towards this illusion of being done.  But when do you really know that you’re done?

The definition I use for done is when the customer is happy and the most important metric I’ve been tracking towards has been hit. Those two things tell me I’m done, not a feature release date. I like to think of the feature release date as a baton handoff in a relay race. If all has gone well this is the second such handoff. The first such handoff should happen after testing and experimenting during the design phase as I shift over to the development phase with the engineering team. That is not to say that all teams shouldn’t be involved during all phases of the process, in fact UX, design and engineering should be communicating all along the way, rather it’s just the phase of the project you’re in.

After the release of a feature you should be checking your data to make sure that it’s in line with the hypothesis you made prior to launch and allocating proper resources in order to make changes necessary in order to move the needle towards your goal. The resources used during this step should be greatly diminished from the major push which was just completed, but the problem is that many companies allocate no more time on the completed feature. That is why there is no true learning and features that are not contributing the way they should to the overall product.

It could take you months to drive the numbers in the way you need them to go, but keep making small tweaks and changes and follow the data. Once you feel like the feature is performing as expected and adding the value you originally intended, then it is time to move it over to maintenance mode.

Maintenance mode is a point at which further investment into improving your numbers will be a waste of resources, delivering diminishing returns, so at this point you set a goal (maintenance goal) in order to verify that the feature is staying the course and not dropping, but with little support.

Would you like to know more on how to have these conversations and begin to create a culture of learning? Let me know in the comments below.

Five Things I Learned from 31 Days of Blogging

By | blog, mindfulness, self-analysis, vision | No Comments

I made a commitment to myself sometime in November that I was going to start my blog on December 1st. I’d been thinking about it for months. I knew what it was going to be about and I knew what the URL was going to be and I was ready. I just needed to get everything set up to pull the trigger on December one.

As November creeped along I kept thinking about what I needed to do in order to launch and I kept not doing it. It’s not that I didn’t want to, it’s just that I found other priorities that were “more important”. Were they really? Probably not, but the mind is a devious trickster.

And then it was December 1st and I wasn’t ready. I didn’t have WordPress set up, and now felt unsure about the topic and the URL, but I said I was going to launch, and so launch I did. I spent the first few hours of the morning trying to convince myself that the original URL and name I had was right even though I felt like it wasn’t.  Finally I settled on in order to let the blog grow and be whatever it was going to be, which in the past month it has.  

This brings me to the first thing I learned (or rather re-learned).

Learning #1: Start.

I’ve said it multiple times over the first 31 posts, but it’s crucial, so I’m repeating it again. If I hadn’t started I wouldn’t be writing this post right now. I’d probably be playing Clash Royale or scrolling through Instagram.

By starting the ball rolling it created momentum just as I predicted it would. And by committing in writing to posting every day in December it jedi-mind-tricked me into feeling obligated to fulfill that promise.  In the book Influence, Robert Cialdini talks about an addicted smoker handing out cards to the people she respected most in order to give herself the push she needed to quit. This was my way of committing to the task.

Learning #2 – It was harder than I thought it was going to be.

It was hard to post every day. Or rather, it was hard to post something I felt good about every day. I care about what I’m putting out into the world. 

At the beginning I had planned to write a few posts a day and have a backlog ready so I could take a day off here or there. That didn’t happen. I had other work come in which became a priority and on the days I did have extra time I would perfect one post rather than write several.

I got sick twice and I had to create “filler” posts. From Boxy To Curvy and Rapid Prototyping were those posts. Not bad, but short and sweet. I had Rapid Prototyping in my back pocket from day 1, but From Boxy To Curvy was something I had read the day before and in my feverish haze threw it onto the page in order to get back into bed.

There were days where I didn’t know what I was going to write, I had worked all day, put the kids in bed, worked some more, and then it was 10 or 11 at night. “I don’t want to post today.” I would say to my wife and she would nod knowingly without a word. It’s the kind of torture I like to put myself through, the only person marking the scorecard was myself but fulfilling that promise of a post a day mattered and so I sat down and wrote.

Learning #3 – There are different types of posts.

My expectation at the onset was that I would write a lot of posts on building products, setting vision, strategizing, ideation, roadmaps, etc. And I wrote a few good posts on those topics and would reference back to them whenever fitting, but the majority of the posts ended up being about the process of writing the blog itself and personal challenges I was having on a given day or reflecting on a challenge of the past.

I also created three of my favorite posts from the month in a three day period: What Makes a Good Culture, Amazon Go, and Product Lessons from Mark Zukerberg’s Home AI Challenge. Two of them were unexpected pieces about technology that I felt compelled to write after they came up in my news feed. Moving forward I intend to do more of these types of posts. 

Learning #4 – I failed at promotion.

My goal was to get 100 subscribers in December. I got 10. I know I could have gotten more and applied more tactics in order to try to get them but I didn’t. I focused on the writing and I avoided promotion. I promoted 3 posts the entire month and I even forgot to include Google Analytics until about day 10. Moving into January I’ll start experimenting with different promotion techniques and include traffic goals as well as pushing my subscription of 100 users.  What I did learn here is that direct email outreach worked better than any other form thus far and sometimes I need to ask in person, “Hey, can I add you to my list?” and then just do it myself.

Learning #5 – Spillover.

Committing to working on this blog has engaged me in ways that I wasn’t expecting. I dug into articles that I would only skim before and stopped audiobooks to take notes in order to reference it in a post. As hard as it was to post every day I’m very glad that I did.

An unexpected result was something I’ve called spillover. My commitment to doing the blog has triggered other positive habits to rise to the surface of my life. I’m getting up earlier, exercising more often, eating better and finding that I’m more focused. In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg talks about keystone habits which when triggered create a domino effect towards other good habits. I believe the act of working on this, achieving something daily and stepping towards my larger goals have has made this a keystone habit in my life.

Minor Learnings

Along the way I discovered how to set up an Amazon Affiliates account, got MailChimp set up, posted on LinkedIn, posted on Twitter, created a content calendar, dug around in WordPress and more in order to get this all up and running. These are all things which took time and will pay dividends moving forward into January.

Bonus Learning

I did make progress on figuring out what this whole thing is all about and what I want to put out into the world. I’m not ready to lay it out in all it’s glory just yet, but I’m jazzed about where it’s going. It was always my intention to use this as a jumping off point to writing a book called “Reduce User Friction” so there will be posts centered around this concept from time to time, but there’s a bigger overarching theme as well which I’ve just started to outline. 

As promised on day 1, the site improved throughout the month, there’s an about page and a contact page now, the theme is a little less obnoxious than the first one I used, there’s some custom colors. It still has a long way to go to fulfill my vision, but the writing has (and will continue to) take priority.

On December 1 I wrote, “The only thing I know for sure is that I’ll be further than I am today.” It’s very true. 

For January I’ve set another goal, but given myself a little bit of leeway: 20 posts  // 100 subscribers.  That gives me 10 days off, which I have already eaten through 4 of.

Upcoming Posts in January:

  • Understanding the Finish Line for Your Product
  • Sleep Part 2
  • Elon Musk Implemented a Product Suggestion in 6 Days
  • The simple thing I do at the start and end of the day with my kids
  • Tracking your learnings
  • Breakdown of a usability study
  • Ordering Pizza Online

There’s a bunch more, but that’s a taste for you. What would you like to see me write about? Leave me a comment below.

A Smattering of New Year Advice

By | self-improvement, suggested-reading, vision | No Comments

Happy New Year! It’s been a few days since my last post and the challenge of posting every day in December. I took a few days off because quite honestly it was harder than I thought it was going to be. On top of that, I took time to connect with my family and then had to catch up on all the work from the downtime.

But I’m back…and it’s a new year!

With a new year comes a lot of people telling us how you should reinvent yourself or “make it your year!”  There’s a lot of chatter out there on the old interwebs. Here’s some of the articles I enjoyed:

5 New Year’s Resolutions for Busy Entrepreneurs in 2017
This is good advice for everyone, not just entrepreneurs.

Take care of your physical health. Practice empathy. Take a vacation. Set firm time limits. Disconnect from work when away from the office.

These are valuable pieces of advice and will ultimately make you happier. Taking care of yourself first and making time for life outside of work are two big things that make for better employees. As I shared in the post on making solid teams, psychological safety and empathy are keys to being successful in the work place.

Why You Should be Planning for 2018, Not 2017
“Everything you do is positioning.” This mirrors what I wrote in my blog post Your Future Life. You want to set up for what’s next. This article does an excellent job of going deeper and focuses on your responsibility for the choices you make and how you react to events that happen in your life.  

10 Expert Tips To Make 2017 Your Most Productive Year Yet
They aren’t all home run suggestions but a few spoke to me.

Pick your most important thing and make a one item to do list every day. The book The One Thing was one of my favorite books of 2015 so in your day as well as in your products you should be focusing on one metric for success at a time.

Action triggers have helped me to get work done at times when I would normally be wasting time and or lounging about, like when I get the kids in bed I’m going to finish this blog post…yes this one that I’m writing right now.

And finally, and most importantly, say no to more things, what things are you not going to NOT do this year? Set hard fast rules about what you won’t do and it will add amazing clarity to what you will do.

And not a 2017 article, but it was sent to my email this week: 

Why You Need a Word for Your Year
I like this concept. I don’t agree with doing it before you set your annual goals, as I believe the word should be informed by your direction, but to each his/her own. I like the way that Mark Zuckerberg set every yearly challenge to a theme, 2016’s being invention. Treat the word as your theme for the year. My word for the year will be creation.

Tomorrow’s post will be a retrospective on December and the plan for January moving forward with a sneak peek at some of the topics I’m going to be writing about.  I’ve been working on the content calendar for the past few days and have a clear direction moving into the first six months of the year that I’m going to build upon. Stay tuned.

Got any articles from the first week of the year that you think I should read? Let me know in the comments.

Your Future Life

By | strategy, vision | No Comments

I had the idea to treat my life as I would a product that I own. I have set my vision and started breaking down the steps I think I need to take to make that vision a reality, a little bit at a time, experimenting, testing and iterating through my learnings. A part of the grand vision includes working on this blog and putting these posts out into the world.

Just as you wouldn’t go on a grand expedition without a destination, you shouldn’t allow yourself to move through your life journey without setting a true north. I wrote about setting your true north in my post about how to set your product vision. Make it big, make it so big that it’s a little bit scary. It’s your life, so why not shoot for something that gets your heart racing? Do you want a big house or to retire in 10 years or to visit all 7 continents? What’s that life you’ve always wanted for yourself?

Now write it down at the top of a piece of paper (or Google doc). This is your personal vision statement. This is where you start. Make it specific and add depth. If you’re more of a visual person, consider making a vision board. Jen Sincero is a big fan of this and suggests making it as precise as possible. The exact house you want, how you want to dress, the job you want to have, gather images and stick them all up there. A Pinterest board is fine, but having an actual physical version that you have on your wall and you can look at every day is better.

My future life includes making a certain amount of money per year, taking 2 “big” vacations every year, competing in 3 physical events per year (like the Savage Race I have coming up in April), living more sustainably with a small farm (we already have the chickens), and continuing work on building this blog with the vision I shared in my previous post. There are several others which I am keeping to myself, focused on my wife and family.  The key is there is a balance between work and life, in fact it’s tipping more towards the life side of things.  As I wrote in my Christmas day post, that balance is very important.

It all has to start with a vision of your future life, just like building a product. Take all the ideas about how you can get there and start to make assumptions or hypotheses and write those down to. This blog has been an experiment and I’ve learned a lot in a short period of time. I had certain goals set out, some I achieved, and some which I didn’t. At the end of the month I’ll share a retrospective of 2016 and at the beginning of the New Year I’ll share a look back at this experiment and all the learnings that came along with it.  I also have some cool posts lined up for January and I’ll lay out my plan forward.

Want more clarity on how to take those visions and turn them into actionable strategies. Michael Hyatt, Ruth Soukup, and Seanwes all offer different perspectives. In future posts I’ll be sharing the experiments, iterations and pivots that I believe will help guide me as I move through the unknown, just like I do when I’m building a product.

What’s your vision? Share it with me in the comments.

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.


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.

Know Your Vision

By | strategy, vision | No Comments

I recently put a deck together to help explain my philosophy and execution around building great products. (Want a copy? Send me a note.) The first section is entitled “Clear Vision”.

You can not build great products without a clear product vision.  Beyond products, the same goes for anything else you’re hoping to achieve, whether it’s losing 10 lbs or getting up the nerve to finally get that promotion you know deep down that you deserve.

In Start With Why, Simon Sinek, very concisely states that people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it, and then he goes on to explain that concept in glorious detail. I highly recommend picking up a copy. I even made a nice link for you, but if you don’t feel like reading a whole book, at least check out his Ted Talk.  (Then come back and tell me how inspiring it was in the comments.)

You need to understand your why and use this as the backbone for your vision.

This vision (your why) is what you will use to inspire your team and guide them. This is what you will use to pitch your company to investors or yourself to your boss.  This is what you can hold on to when you’re not quite sure what you’re building is the right thing, and it’s your first filter for whether or not what you’re building is the right thing. Does it align with your vision? Is it getting you closer to the future you envision?

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, this is a build from the ground up situation, and in that spirit it’s only fitting to share my vision of what I’d like to see this become.  My reason behind spending any time on this.  My why.

I could be tempted to list out all the things that I intend to do here, like starting an email list, and creating a course or a book or both.  I could go on about how I’d like to build a community and launch a podcast, but none of that is why.  That’s all what and how.  That’s all strategy and that’s what tomorrow’s post will be all about.

My vision for this site is to help people build better things, specifically creative based products, but I feel these lessons can be applied more broadly.

Oh, and one more thing…

That Start With Why link up there is an affiliate link. Basically if you click on it and buy that book, I get some pennies…I’m not even sure how many pennies…but it’s part of the way I intend to monetize this blog, so if you read my last post, then you know this is another step towards making things a little bit better than they were yesterday.  Included in that are setting up the email address ( and starting (but not quit finishing) the about us page.  Maybe tomorrow.  If you want to set up your own affiliate links on your own blog or site, sign up over here.