How to set effective goals for your product

This is a good write-up of Alice Newton-Rex’s talk on Setting Goals for Product Success. She explains some of the key principles for effective goal-setting from a product perspective. One section I found particularly useful is her point that metrics and goals are very different depending on the phase a company is in. For example, for a brand new product, she advises not to create traditional “growth” metrics:

But, in my experience, these goals aren’t so useful for new products. It’s a lot harder to put numbers against your goals when you don’t have anything to dial up or down, and achieving some business outcome at all costs is less important than learning. I suggest adopting more hypothesis-style goals, in which success looks like proving or disproving that hypothesis. Don’t default to aiming to gain sign-ups, users or revenue for your new product. Aim instead at proving your riskiest hypothesis.

Guy Raz: Innovation lessons from famous entrepreneurs

My kids are obsessed with the podcast Wow in the World (and, to be fair, it’s really good). Guy Raz is such a goofball on that show that it was a little weird to see the headline Guy Raz: Five Lessons PMs Can Take From Famous Entrepreneurs. But I thoroughly enjoyed Laura Baverman’s write-up of one his recent talks at the first ProductCraft conference. He gives several recommendations for PMs on how to run successful products, including “Focus on What’s Different, Special, or Better Than Anything out There”:

Advisors to Allbirds were concerned that launching just a single shoe design in only four colors was a recipe for failure. To succeed in the direct-to-consumer retail market, they’d need to provide options for shoppers, those experts said.

But founders and co-CEOs Tim Brown and Joey Zwillinger were most concerned with creating a superior product—an environmentally-friendly shoe made of superfine Merino wool. They were convinced that getting these values right would help them sell the shoes, and expansion into other types of shoes or products would happen from there.

They were right. Within 30 days of launch, they sold out of a year’s worth of inventory. Three years later, the company is valued at $1.4B, and according to Raz, still offers something better than anything else comparable. Allbirds ignored what the competition was doing and create a truly differentiated product.

There are some great lessons in these stories.

How mental models can make us blind to innovative product solutions

I really enjoyed Heart-Centered Innovation — a short, from-the-heart essay by Sari Harrison. She talks about how hard it is to see problems from a neutral point of view:

Most people have a center from which they see the problems around them. A sun that everything revolves around. This leaves it up to the person who has the problem to do a lot of filtering among solutions, often with no way of knowing which option is best.

What if we didn’t do that? Instead, looking at all possibilities for generating the outcome we are hoping for?

It’s a good reminder about the value of getting out of our own heads, and into those of our customers to make sure we understand problems and use cases from their point of view.

A helpful guide for new product managers

Lenny Rachitsky wrote a helpful and comprehensive guide on How To Get Into Product Management (And Thrive). This is a really good resource for any new product manager. I especially liked his section on seven core skills, and how to get better at each of them. One could certainly argue the validity and importance of each skill, but there are lots of good insights here. For example, on “Leadership through influence”:

In order to succeed you need to be able to build trust with your teammates, make decisions but also give everyone a voice, and keep morale up no matter what’s going on. The best PMs quickly become the de-facto leaders of the team, not because of any actual authority, but because they help everyone on the team do the best work of their lives.

🎉 Elezea turns 10! Introducing memberships and a revamped newsletter.

The first article I published on Elezea was called The dangers of “test and learn”. It was about A/B testing, it was badly written, and it went live on August 3rd, 2009. Since then I’ve posted 1,282 links and articles on this site (that’s an average of 2-3 posts per week).

It’s ridiculous to think that Elezea is coming up on being 10 years old. It is not an exaggeration to say that it sparked most of my career development and helped me meet countless people who I now consider friends. Starting this site was one of the best decisions I ever made. I wish I could go back in time and choose a less impossible-to-remember URL, but such is life.

So what do I do now, after all this time? On reflection I realized all I really want to do is keep writing. I took a couple of breaks over the years, but for the most part, this has been one of the few constants in my life. And I’d like to keep that going in a sustainable way.

So today I’m announcing two things to help set this in motion.

The Elezea Newsletter

For the past few years, the Elezea Newsletter has been simply a list of the articles that went on the site that week. That’s useful as a Twitter/RSS replacement, but not much else. Since my interests extend beyond the product management world into the broader impact of technology on our work and our lives, I am relaunching the Newsletter this Friday to include a wider variety of topics:

  • Useful articles and resources about product management and software development.
  • Resources for leading teams, and working better together.
  • Industry-wide product and technology news you should know about.
  • Book and tool recommendations.

If that sounds interesting to you, please sign up!

Monthly memberships

On the “sustainability” side of things, I decided to launch memberships to help cover the ongoing costs of running a site (and newsletter) like this. I have no ambitions for this to become my main job — I like my job! But I would very much like for the site to at least pay for itself in terms of domain, hosting, and subscription costs.

So if you’ve been reading Elezea for a while and have found it valuable, please consider becoming a member. It costs $4/month, and will help keep Elezea independent and free from advertising.

Whether you’ve been with me from the start, or if this is the second post you’ve ever read, I want to say thank you, thank you, thank you. Elezea is a small part of the internet, but it’s a big part of my life. And it’s your encouragement and support over the years that make it so.

Here’s to the next decade 🤘

(Now go become a member!)

How to effectively onboard additional team members on a customer’s primary account

This is a helpful article from Jeff Vincent about the “nth user problem”. This is a not-so-great term for a very real problem: how to make sure you’re able to effectively onboard additional team members on a customer’s primary account. From SaaS has an nth user problem:

A huge driver of churn in the most successful SaaS businesses is loss of champion churn — or when your product’s greatest advocate within a customer company moves on to another job or department and the replacement admin abandons your product in favor of a new platform. This is the end result of the nth user problem at work.

Jeff shares lots of good advice on how to take care of additional account users and make sure they become engaged users and advocates.

Using “Feature/Product Fit” to assess the value of a new feature

Casey Winters takes the product/market fit model further in his post Feature/Product Fit:

Every product team tries to make their core product better over time. But sadly, at most companies, the process for this is launching new features and hoping or assuming they are useful to your existing customers. Companies don’t have a great rubric for understanding if that feature is actually valuable for the existing product. This process should be similar to finding product/market fit, but there are some differences. I call this process feature/product fit, and I’ll explain how to find it.

This is a great way to approach ongoing, consistent improvements to our products. Casey’s practical checklists and advice are worth reading and bookmarking.

Looking for product inspiration? Look way beyond your own industry.

I always love reading about IDEO’s process. In his post To Transform Your Industry, Look at Someone Else’s Owen Sanderson explains the concept of analogous research: a form of exploration that takes a team outside of its industry to find inspiration in the ways others have tackled similar challenges. He explains how they took some hospital staff to an airport to observe the customer experience:

We started at check-in. The hospital team was issued mock boarding passes and asked to check-in for their upcoming flights. They had the option of using a kiosk, their phone, or speaking to a real, live person.

Almost immediately the team began to discover parallels between the patient experience and the traveler experience. The surgeons on the team quickly noted how many different pathways there were for customers—options for families, those with disabilities, and frequent fliers. “We only have one option for our patients, but patients aren’t all the same,” one surgeon said.

I’ve found this type of research useful for digital products outside the service industry as well. The field of architecture, for example, can teach us so much about things like designing for permanence. This article is a good reminder that as product managers we shouldn’t just look at our competitors for inspiration. We should also study products in industries that might not look anything like ours, but aim to solve similar problems than we do.

Inside Twitter’s research and development process for their new public prototype

The Buzzfeed News article Behind Twitter’s Plan To Get People To Stop Yelling At Each Other is not the kind of thing I usually link to here, but I found it really fascinating from a product management perspective. Author Nicole Nguyen goes deep into the research and development process of the team responsible for “twttr” — an external, public prototype to experiment with new features. The sections that give us insight into the thinking of Sara Haider (Director of Product Management) and Lisa Ding (Senior Product Designer) are particularly interesting:

Haider and her twttr team are hoping to “nudge” people’s behavior in another way. Their hypothesis: Making the design for replies as minimal as possible, in addition to revealing how the conversation’s participants are related to you, may encourage people to read the entire back-and-forth before they react.

“We have this opportunity to learn about how not having likes and retweets could potentially change how people read things,” said senior product designer Lisa Ding. “Does it make you read something that you maybe would have guessed to be popular but actually isn’t that popular? How does that change the way you interact in a conversation? That’s super interesting.”

I also love Lisa’s sketches of the layout of twttr, and wish I could see more of that notebook!

Product growth relies on the right balance between optimization and innovation

Andy Johns wrote a 4-part series on product growth that is worth digging into. In Part 1: A Single-Minded Perspective on Growth he points out the trap many product companies fall into:

The point I’m making is that today’s startups very quickly fall into the optimization trap where they think future growth will largely come from optimizing their existing product. The better approach is finding the right balance between optimization and innovation since both methods can produce future growth.

This is why I am still, after all these years, such a big fan of the Kano model. It forces teams to think about these two questions separately: (1) what can we do to make our existing product better (optimization), and (2) what can we add to or change about our product to create unexpected value for customers (innovation).


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