How to become indispensable

In Linchpin, Seth Godin talks about becoming a indispensable. If you’re an employee Seth gives you the tools to stop being just a cog in the system. If you’re an entrepreneur he enlightens you on how you can take your work and transform it into art that deeply connects with your customers/users.

Seth Godin talks more about how to make yourself irreplaceable in the video blow:

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!

Applying Principles of Lean UX to Product Management

All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make, the better. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

As an entrepreneur, majority of my time is spent doing “product management”. It is also an area I’m really passionate about. Product management is a bit of a vague role and it really varies company to company. In smaller startups usually the founder is also the product guy. As companies grow and their product becomes more complex, Product Managers are hired to make sure that the team ships a great product by determining customer needs and building product features around those needs.

A lot of my own product managment process is adaped from the Lean UX methodology. It’s a process that promotes collaboration, experimentation and constant iteration.

Lean UX works really well if your team is agile and follows the four core principles of agile software development:

  1. Individuals and interactions over process and tools
  2. Working software over comprehensive documentation
  3. Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  4. Responding to change over following a plan

Here are the core principles of Lean UX and how they can be applied to your own product management process.

    1. Cross Functional Teams – the process behind lean UX is a highly collaborative one and usually requires people from various disciplines to be involved including: Software engineers, product managers, interaction designers, visual designers, copy writers, marketers and QA.
    2. Small, Dedicated, Co-located – To keep things efficient teams should not be more than 10 people. For me, I prefer a team size of no more than 4 – 6 people.
    3. Outcomes, Not Output – Results are measured based on business outcomes not features
    4. Problem-Focused Teams – As a continuation of “Outcomes, Not Output”, the entire team should be focused on coming up with solutions around a particular business problem and not a requested feature set.
    5. Removing Waste – Any activity that does not help achieve our desired outcome should be eliminated.
    6. Small Batch Size – Focusing on designs that can be implemented to move forward with the desired outcome.
    7. Continuous Discovery – Throughout the product development process, keeping the users involved and getting feedback is a crucial in discovering new ideas and staying focused towards achieving the desired outcome.
    8. “Getting out of the building” – This builds on top the previous principle. While getting feedback with your internal team is important. “Getting out of the building” as Steve Blank says it, allows you to get direct customer feedback.
    9. Shared Understanding – Making sure that whole team is onboard and understand what outcomes are being allows less confusion down the road.
    10. Anti-Pattern: Rockstars, Gurus and Ninjas – Team cohesion is critical throughout the product development process. Rockstars don’t share – neither their ideas nor the spotlight.
    11. Externalize Your Work – The product development process should be all done externally through Whiteboards, foam-core boards, artifact walls, printouts, and sticky notes so that the work is exposed and progress is seen by teamates, collegues and customers.
    12. Making over Analysis – Prototyping and getting direct feedback instead of over analyzing if something should be built or not.
    13. Learning over Growth – Scaling before determining if an idea has validated can be risky and also waste a lot of time. Learning and iterating should be the focus throughout the process.
    14. Permission to Fail – Permission to fail breeds a culture of experimentation. Experimentation breeds creativity. Creativity, in turn, yield innovative solutions.
    15. Getting out of the Deliverables Business – Documents don’t solve customer problems – good products do. The process is focused shipping product that users can interact with rather than documents filled with feature ideas.

If you want to learn more about this process I highly recommend you check out Jeff Gothelf’s Lean UX Book. Here’s a short video that further highlights the advantages of using Lean UX:

 

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:

 

Antifragile

“Few understand that procrastination is our natural defense, letting things take care of themselves and exercise their antifragility; it results from some ecological or naturalistic wisdom, and is not always bad — at an existential level, it is my body rebelling against its entrapment. It is my soul fighting the Procrustean bed of modernity.” ~Nasim Taleb