Sprint: Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas

I’m a huge fan of the Lean UX methodology when it comes to solving problems and building better products. Another book that takes the whole Lean UX methodology to the next level is Sprint by Google Ventures. The book offers the same themed day approach where a five-day process leads to answering crucial questions through prototyping and testing ideas with customers. A typical week using the Sprint approach looks like the following:

Source: Sprint Book
Source: Sprint Book

 

The following playlist goes over each day of a Sprint week and what makes the process special:

 

Lean UX: Writing Hypothesis Statements

In Lean UX, the starting point is having a clearly written hypothesis statement. This gives your entire team a clear focus for their work. It keeps everyone aligned and sets the right constraints. In order to arrive to a well written hypothesis statement here are some of the steps:

  1. Declare Assumptions – A high-level declaration of what is believed to be true.
  2. Hypothesis – Specific descriptions of assumptions that target your product
  3. Outcomes – Metrics that can help validate your hypothesis. These can be both qualitative and quantitative
  4. Personas – Users for whom we are trying to solve the problem
  5. Features – The product changes or improvements that may solve our problem

First, based on specific user and business assumptions you want to write a problem statement using the follow template:

[Our service/product] was designed to achieve [these goals]. We have observed that the product/service isn’t meeting [these goals], which is causing [this adverse effect] to our business. How might we improve [service/product] so that our customers are more successful based [these measurable criteria]

Next, you want to come up with some user assumptions by asking the following questions along with your team:

  1. Who is the user?
  2. Where does our product fit in hi work or life?
  3. What problems does our product solve?
  4. When and how is our product used?
  5. What features are important?
  6. How should our product look and behave?

After stating the assumption for both your users and prioritizing them based on level of risk. The final step is to write a hypothesis statement using the following format:

We believe [this statement is true].

We will know we’re [right/wrong] when we see the following feedback from the market:

[qualitative feedback] and/or [quantitative feedback] and/or [key performance indicator change].

Most of the time the main hypothesis can be hard to test when building out specific features. To break the hypothesis down further, you can create sub-hypothesis to test specific features using the following format:

We believe that 

[doing this/building this feature/ creating this experience]

for [these people/ personas]

will achieve [this outcome].

We will know this is true when we see

[this market feedback, quantitative measures, or qualitative insights].

Once your hypothesis statements are written. The next step includes deciding on the Key Performance Indicators that can validate your hypothesis for each feature build. This should again be done collaboratively. I’ll talk more about how to determine the right KPI to measure success in the next post. Stay tuned!

High Output Management

Andy’s Grove’s High Output Management was first recommended to me by Aaron Levy when I met him at WWDC14 and has influenced the management styles of tech entrepreneurs like Ben Horowitz, Mark Zuckerberg and many others. The book teaches entrepreneurs the importance of systems design when we’re dealing with a system of human beings in a technology organization. Andy introduces management in the following equation:

A manager’s output = the output of his organization + the output of the neighboring organizations under his influence.

The reason it’s an essential book for product managers is because it provides the principles to manage through an output mindset rather than authority (which PM don’t have). Ultimately the book teaches that the key to survival of a company as well as your own career is by learning how to provide more value. Especially in a globalized world Andy encourages that you ask yourself the following questions when thinking about your career:

  • Are you adding real value or merely passing information along? How do you add more value?
  • Are you plugged into what’s happening around you? Or do you wait for supervisor or others to interpret whatever is happening?
  • Are you trying new ideas, new techniques, and new technologies and not just reading about them? 

The following tribute by Ben Horowitz talks more about the impact Andy Grove has made in Silicon Valley as a result of his writing in High Output Management:

The Man Who Built Silicon Valley: A Tribute to Andy Grove from Andreessen Horowitz on Vimeo.

 

My 2016 Reading List

Last year was about exploring what my core strength was. Coming from both a design and development background I realized that I was not the greatest at either. What I was really good at was combining my skills in design and development with my business acumen. I was able to discover the discipline of Product Development. A discipline that combines my three core passions: design, technology and entrepreneurship.

2016 will be about me further honing my Product Management practice and following are the books that will help me do that this year. These are book recommended by product leaders like Ken Norton & Simon Cross.

My 2016 Reading List:

Positioning by Al Ries and Jack Trout

High Output Management by Andy Grove

The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz

Meaningful: the Story of Ideas that Fly by Bernadette Jiwa

The Innovator’s Dilemma and The Innovator’s Solution by Clayton Christensen

Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely

The Lean Product Playbook by Dan Olsen

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman

The Mythical Man-Month by Frederick Brooks

Crossing the Chasm and Inside the Tornado by Geoffrey Moore

Sprint by Jake Knapp

Work Rules! by Laszlo Bock

Inspired by Marty Cagan

Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein

Getting To Yes by Roger Fisher and William Ury

Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug

On Writing by Steven King

Quiet: The Power of Introverts by Susan Cain,

How To Measure Anything by Douglas W. Hubbard

Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

Understanding Media (aka ‘The medium is the message’) by Marshall McLuhan

Where Wizards Stay Up Late by Katie Hafner

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

The Martian by Andy Weir

What Every BODY Is Saying by Joe Navarro

The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs

Thunder Below by Eugene Fluckey

Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely

Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

Getting Past NO by William Ury

Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath

It’s Your Ship: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy by Michael Abrashoff

The Score Takes Care of Itself by Bill Walsh, Steve Jamison & Craig Walsh

The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces by William H. Whyte

The Timeless Way of Building by Christopher Alexander

Algorithms of the Intelligent Web by Haralambos Marmanis and Dmitry Babenko

An Essay on Typography by Eric Gill

These are not in any particular order and I will share my learnings on this blog.

Stay tuned and have a truly epic 2016!

Interviewing Lewis Howes on CreativeLive

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend Lewis Howes’s CreativeLive Course called “Start Your Profitable Podcast & Build a Brand“. Lewis himself is the host of “The School of Greatness”, a podcast I’ve been listening for a couple of years. He interviews renowned athletes, authors and people who have already achieved some level of greatness in life. By being a part of the in-studio audience on CreativeLive I got the opportunity to sit in a hotseat and get direct feedback from Lewis himself on my interviewing skills. Here’s the video below:

I consider Lewis a mentor of mine. I’ve learned a lot about building an online business through his podcast and the content he has shared. He recently also came out with the The School of Greatness BookIt’s a great playbook for making your vision into a reality.

In the book he goes over the following 8 Steps for living a life of greatness:

  1. Create A Vision
  2. Turn Adversity into Advantage
  3. Cultivate A Champion’s Mindset
  4. Develop Hustle
  5. Master Your Body
  6. Practice Positive Habits
  7. Build a Winning Team
  8. Live a Life of Service

The book is filled with stories of how Lewis himself was able to use the above steps to change his life from living on his sister’s couch to becoming a successful entrepreneur. It’s a highly practical book that I highly recommend you check out!

How to deliver ideas that stick!

You’ve probably noticed that I’m a framework junkie. I look for frameworks I can apply to pretty much every area of my life and work. Below are some principles/framework I use for coming up for new product ideas adapted from the book: Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Other Die:

Principle 1 – Simple
Simplicity isn’t about dumbing down, it’s about prioritizing. What’s the core of your message? Can you communicate it with an analogy or high-concept pitch?

Principle 2 – Unexpected 
To get attention, violate a schema. To hold attention, use curiosity gaps. Before your audience has to want it.

Principle 3 – Concrete
To be concrete, use sensory language. Remember the Velero theory of memory – try to hook into multiple types of memory.

Principle 4 – Credible 
Ideas can get credibility from outside or from within, using human-scale statistics or vivid details. Let people “try before they.”

Principle 5 – Emotional
People care about people, not numbers. Don’t forget the WIIFY (What’s In It For You). But identity appeals can often trump self-interest.

Principle 6 – Stories 
Stories drive action through simulation (what to do) and inspiration (the motivation to do it).

Here’s a great summary of the book:

 

Flow

Creativity is a drug I cannot live without. ~Cecil DeMile

I’ve been fascinated by the work of Steven Kotler on the state of “flow”. It is the state of ultimate human performance. We have all experienced it. It’s that feeling of being in the zone where we lose track of time and produce our best work. The following is a great playlist that covers flow really well: