Product Management

2015 Annual Report (Mid-Year Report)

Dear Grad Techers, Alumni, Friends, and Supporters:

A few months ago, in our 2014 Annual Report, I wrote about the Grad Tech Club’s activities throughout the fall.  While that writing feels just moments ago, much has occurred in the interim, including my walking the field at Alumni Stadium alongside the Class of 2015 just three days ago.  We began the year with an ambitious agenda to equip members with the knowledge and skills necessary for success in the tech industry, to raise the overall profile of the BC MBA program within Tech, and to get our members hired.  With the year behind us, it’s time to reflect on how we did. (more…)

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Catching Up with the Product Team: Wireframes, Requirements, and MVPs…Oh My!

When last we saw the Product Team, we were in the midst of testing various concepts to determine the right product direction.  Since that time, we have made a lot of progress and we are excited to report that we are on track for an April release!

Choosing a Concept

After testing a few different concepts and determining market viability, we were left with three that we felt were worth pursuing.  At this point, we weighed the various choices against the criteria of indication of interest, ease of implementation, requirements for outside help, time to impact, and cost.  This helped us to determine which of the concepts made the most sense to pursue.  The one that won out was a crowd-sourced and curated resource about sharing economy opportunities.  The win was driven primarily by the fact that it would need little development effort as it could be done with WordPress and the majority of the effort was in content generation.  However, since our primary purpose is learning and we like a challenge, we decided to go after our second choice concept instead.  The ForgetMeNot concept is an app that uses RFID chips to track your items so you don’t leave without them.  It will be the most complicated and require the most outside help to pull off but hey, we are nothing if not ambitious!  As it received the highest score on market interest, we also felt we were justified in our efforts.

weight

Feature Definition (and Bloat)

Once we had decided on the concept we wanted to pursue, we began writing use cases and creating a MoSCoW list of Must Haves, Should Haves, Could Haves, and Won’t Haves.  Before long, the list became pretty lengthy and we still lacked developer talent…yikes!  Realizing that we were getting carried away, we reoriented ourselves to a Minimum Viable Product approach instead.  Asking the question, what is the absolute smallest amount of effort and features we can create to make something that works well enough to start testing?  Once we had that, we could see how users respond and adapt our roadmap from there.  This produced a much smaller (and more manageable) list and we began writing requirements docs for the MVP and creating wireframes using myBalsamiq.  For most of our members, this was their first exposure to wireframing, reinforcing our raison d’etre, to gain hands on skills and experience in product management!

wireframes

Finding Development Talent

While many of us spend our Friday afternoons learning Python, we have not yet developed the coding chops to build this on our own.  Operating on a shoestring budget, none of which can be used for direct compensation, we knew we had to find talent aligned with or primary goal of learning through experience.  Using contacts made through a number of cohosted events with the undergrad tech groups we put out the word and received a few responses from some super impressive undergrad programmers.  Luck was with us as the three students we have working with us each have a different core competency spanning Python, Java, and Objective C.  These just happen to cover servers, Android, and iOS, giving us flexibility in what we can develop and release!  More importantly, our new collaborators bring an excitement and great attitude that has provided a new spark of energy to our whole team!  We cannot wait to get moving and get something awesome out there ASAP!

Next Steps

As I write, we are working on getting our MVP planned and built so we can start testing with real users.  One complication we ran into was sourcing the RFID strips.  With a myriad of options, we are tapping expert resources to determine the right choice for our product.  Concurrently, we are testing non-functional prototypes to determine the right look and feel of the actual tags.  Exciting Stuff!

 

David LoVerme is a 2nd Year MBA at Boston College and the President of the Grad Tech Club

BC Visits BU for TechConnect 2015!

techconnect-website

Big props to our friends at BU for putting on an awesome TechConnect Conference this year!  The theme was Digital Crossroads: Products and Ideas and featured an awesome array of speakers that really complemented each other and meshed with the conference theme.  It is a ton of work to pull something like this off so my hat is off to Jaymie and her team for a job well done!  A single post is not enough to do justice to the amazing amount I learned, but I’ll do my best to share a couple thoughts from each speaker I saw.

Bruce McCarthy-Effective Product Roadmapping

I have seen Bruce speak several times now at various Boston Product Management Association events and I am always struck by his enthusiasm and desire to help others.  It’s always a pleasure and I always learn something new.  In this case, Bruce emphasized the importance of your product road map telling a story about the value of the product.  He went into detail and shared a lot of knowledge but I will sum it all up by listing the Dirty (Bakers) Dozen common pitfalls of Product Roadmaps:

  1. Being Too Agile
  2. Planning Based on Your Gut
  3. Over or Under Estimating
  4. Not Having Strategic Goals
  5. Inside out Thinking
  6. Trying too Hard to Please
  7. Focusing on Features
  8. Not having a Buffer
  9. Playing Catch-Up (to competitors)
  10. Not Getting Buy-in
  11. Being too Secretive
  12. One Size Fits All
  13. Not having a Story

Want to hear more?  Check out Bruce at ProductPowers.com

Meghan Keaney Anderson-Product Launches

Like Bruce, I have met Meghan a few times before.  Not only is she Hubspot’s Director of Product Marketing, but she is also a BC Alum!  Meghan combined her deck on product launches with real examples from Hubspot to demonstrate her points in a highly effective and meaningful way.  She summarized the role of Product Marketing as coaxing the meaning out of the Product.  She shared with us her Golden Rule of Product Marketing: It’s never about the product, it’s about the person using the product.

Meghan

While I won’t share everything Meghan talked about, one of the biggest take home messages for me was how thorough and methodical an approach good product marketing requires.  Meghan follows a step by step process, ensuring that each necessary element is taken care of, tested, and resonates with customers.  She maintains a product marketing menu of all the different tasks, tactics, and channels they could use for a launch or activity and then selects which are the best for any given time.  Likewise, for a launch event, Meghan and her team actually have everything planned down to the minute or even the word of a keynote.  They maintain a command room at the event to facilitate a smooth launch!  All this effort and preparation can seem overwhelming, but it is crucial.  While there is certainly a lot there, according to Meghan, not all product marketing was created equal.  “The key is good positioning.  If you get that right, everything else is easy.”

C. Todd Lombardo-Ideas Lifecycle

C. Todd runs the InnoLoft at Constant Contact and had both an awesome presentation and a superbly aesthetically pleasing deck.  Most people are familiar with the concept of an MVP or Minimum Viable Product from the Lean Startup approach.  C. Todd suggested that before and MVP, you should pursue an MVC or Minimum Viable Concept.  Unlike an MVP, this doesnt even have to work, only to do a good enough job demonstrating the concept to get a sense of what it does.  He used IDEO’s Elmo Monster Maker prototype as an example. At this point you can test with 5 to 7 customers to get a sense of whether it is worth pursuing an MVP.  C. Todd suggested doing design sprints, or few day deep dives into a problem using the Define, Understand, Ideate, Build, Test cycle repeatedly.  He talked about the importance of being a “Designtist,” a creative designer that nonetheless approaches their design using the scientific method of testing hypotheses over and over to arrive at the right ends.  It’s a messy process and certainly not too straightforward.  C. Todd suggested that it is more like the design squiggle than a straight line.  “If it feels too linear, you are probably not doing it right!”

Ctodd

The other thing I really liked about C. Todd’s presentation was the concept of Job Stories.  We are all familiar with user stories and the amount of Jira tickets I have written stating “As a salesperson, I need to be able to…” could fill up more than a few Excel spreadsheets.  Job stories are different in that they lend context to the request and are thus more powerful.  They take the form “When (situation) happens, I want/need to (action), so I can (benefit).”  This format forces you to think about whether you are really addressing the pain point and makes it hard for anyone to misinterpret intent.

C. Todd left us with a few key take-aways that I will reproduce here:

  • Your opinion doesn’t matter
  • Talk to customers. Listen.
  • Check your assumptions. Again.
  • Think like a designtist.
  • It’s not failure if you learn.
  • F*** It, Test it.

Allen Murray-Agile Methodology

Allen is an SVP at Mobile Device Management company Apperian and his session was perhaps the most fun all day, not only because he is charismatic and approachable and I learned a ton about small aircraft flight, but also because we did the marshmallow challenge.  For those unfamiliar, it involves working in groups to form the tallest possible tower using spaghetti, tape, string, and a marshmallow on top.  MBAs typically perform terribly at this, while kindergartners do much better because the task lends itself well to trial and error and iteration and not advanced planning giving the time limits and lack of expertise in most participants (architects as the exception do quite well when planning).  Happily, we outperformed most MBAs and even kindergartners but learned that most of our assumptions were ill founded.  Allen used the activity as a jumping off point to talk about effective teams and Agile product development.

Marshmallow

Key Take-Aways from Allen’s Session:

  • Diversity in Teams matters, need leadership, facilitation, and specialization.
  • Incentives magnify outcomes.  With the right team, great things are possible but incentivizing a team without the right skills will only magnify the failure
  • The crowning moment in your professional career is when you see your customers truly satisfied with something you have given them.
  • If you can manage four things you will be successful using Agile:
    • Visibility
    • Adaptability
    • Business Value
    • Risk
  • Declaring work done is crucial to a successful scrum cycle.
  • You are not working on a technology, you are working on a business problem.
  • Must create dynamic on teams to want to improve.

Dan Cobb-Creating a Culture of Innovation

The final keynote of the day came from EMC SVP Dan Cobb who was slated to talk about creating a culture of innovation.  To be honest, to me his talk was a bit of a let down.  Dan spent the majority of the time educating the audience about EMC and essentially making a pitch for the company.  As a BC MBA, I am very familiar with EMC as they are a top recruiter on campus.  Nonetheless, Dan did hit on some points that I found very interesting.

Key Take-Aways:

  • Big companies must balance innovation and disruption
  • Innovate through internal R&D and aquisitions
  • When you aquihire you must empower the talent to stay on.  EMC does this by involving its acquisitions in future M&A decisions.
  • 3 Major Keys to Innovating Successfully:
    • Develop a brutally candid view of the world.
    • Align innovation agenda with strategy
    • Institutionalize feedback loops and then step back to listen, partner, engage, and measure.
  • EMC is “absolutely, positively, the most paranoid place in the world” and that is a good thing.
  • Innovation is a strategic means to an end.

David LoVerme is a 2nd Year MBA at Boston College and the President of the Grad Tech Club

2014 Annual Report

Dear Grad Techers, Alumni, Friends, and Supporters:

It is with pride that I look back at the past semester for the Grad Tech Club.  In less than four months, we have accomplished a ton, always toward furthering our mission of equipping our members with the knowledge and skills necessary for success in the tech industry, raising the overall profile of the BC MBA program within Tech, and getting our members hired!

Toward the first goal of building hands on skills we have had several initiatives.  Each Friday, MBAs led by GradTech VP Kori Kenerson, plug away at CodeAcademy’s Python course for Code & Coffee.  Likewise, on Thursday evenings, the Product Team gets together to ideate, test, and release a real tech product.  We are currently in the proof of concept phase with a few very interesting ideas.  You can check out our progress here and here.  Finally, each month we take on a new Digital Marketing Channel to explore its options.  So far we have tried Facebook and Linkedin and we are currently exploring promoted tweets on Twitter.  In addition to these, GradTech members are gaining html and web development skills from using WordPress and A/B marketing skills from experimenting with Mailchimp.  We will continue these initiatives as we move forward so that BC MBAs won’t just graduate having done case analyses with hypothetical solutions but will also have applied the skills we learn to real tools and real products in the Technology space.

Our biggest initiative to raise the profile of the MBA program in Tech has been our website and social programs.  We do lots of cool things and then we blog, Facebook, and Tweet about them. From a previous best year of just over 200 visitors, we now get hundreds per month and we hope to break 1000 MAUs in 2015. Among our members we enjoy a sky high Net Promoter Score of 75 and we have had alumni express interest in getting involved, companies reach out to partner with us, and prospect students cite our club as one of the main reasons they are interested in BC for an MBA.  All of these are indications that we are pushing forward but the biggest differences will come from placing our people in meaningful Tech jobs and helping out future Eagles.

To that goal, we continue to push forward.  We have attended job fairs and industry events put on by Microsoft, the Boston Product Management Association, and even sponsored the Startup Job Fair.  We have visited the Cambridge offices or Microsoft and Facebook by ourselves and many more including Spotify and Paypal in conjunction with the Undergrad IS Academy through the TechTrek Boston program.  Furthermore, on campus we hosted Alum Arnie Sookram from XBox and four MBA Alumni from Google, LogMeIn, Hubspot, and Wayfair to talk about the different careers and cultures within the Tech space.  Well attended and highly praised, the Careers in Tech Panel has already led to a number of connections and we hope to hold a similar event featuring even more functional areas in the spring.  Finally, we continue to drive alumni to help our cause through our Alumni Central and Hire an Eagle Page.  We already know of some jobs coming out of these initiatives and we hope for many more.

As we move into the spring we will continue to move forward towards the three pillars of our mission.  Off campus we will visit as many industry events, offices, and career fairs as we can, and on campus we will host another Careers in Tech Panel, an event on What Every Manager Needs to Know About IT, a discussion on Women in Tech, and a Digital Marketing Dinner.  We will continue to develop our product and hope to host a rousing Launch Party in April.

I thank you for all your support thus far and look forward to a fantastic 2015!

Sincerely,

David LoVerme

President, BC Grad Tech Club

David LoVerme is a 2nd Year MBA at Boston College and the President of the Grad Tech Club

Catching up with the Product Team: Failing Forward

One of the Tech Club’s three goals is to build the key skills that will make our members successful in the Tech sector.  Since many of our members are interested in Product Management and Start-Ups, we decided to start our own Product Team.  The goal?  Go through the entire product development process from identifying pain points to testing hypotheses to prototyping to launching a product.  In our last update, we had arrived at five different hypotheses to address two different pain points.  Since we don’t have the resources to build all of them, we needed to figure out how to test the concepts for user acceptance early on in the game.

The First Concept

Our first concept was a service you could check before leaving the house that would remind you of what you needed to bring with you.  It would adapt to your preferences and to current trends.  This would address the pain points of being unprepared as well as forgetting things when you come home since you could cross-reference the list to see what you brought before leaving your location.  We felt very good about the value and confident that people would be interested but wanted to make sure.

Defining Success

While we were confident that people would see value in a product like this, it would not be enough for them to be interested, we would need them to demonstrate a willingness to take meaningful action.  Ultimately, we determined that users could demonstrate this by adding their emails to the Beta list so they could be the first to try the app when it was ready.  If we could get even a few people to give their emails, we determined, that would be enough of a token of interest to be worth pursuing a minimum viable product.

Testing the Concept

In order to collect email addresses, we built a simple landing page on our website explaining that “ForgetMeNot” is an app currently under development that reminds you of what you need and learns your preferences so you never leave the house unprepared.  It contained an embedded Google form to collect emails.  While we have seen a substantial increase in web traffic, it would not provide enough organic traffic to give us a good indication of interest.  As a result, we ran a $25 Facebook ad campaign to drive young urbanites to our page.  The ad would run for five days.

ForgetMeNot

Interpreting the Results

After a little over 5000 impressions we had a click through rate of 0.55%, representing a cost per click of $0.86.  While this is not up to par for agency ads, the CTR is actually above the average for external site ads, but the CPC is more costly.  Still however, taken alone, these results seemed to suggest that ForgetMeNot had similar appeal to existing and successful applications currently on the market.  There was one more step though, would people take action by adding themselves to the Beta list?  Of the 29 people who clicked our ad, only one took this action.  That represents just 3.5% of our clicks and a miserly .02% of impressions.  Viewed in this light, the foundation for pursuing this idea further simply does not exist.

Failing Forward

While the results were disappointing to a degree, they are also extremely exciting.  For $25 and no development, we were able to get a good handle on user demand and pivot to the next idea without wasting time or money.  With 4 more ideas left to test, we will continue to move fast and fail forward!

 

David LoVerme is a 2nd Year MBA at Boston College and the President of the Grad Tech Club

 

Product Team Kicks Off!

One of the Tech Club’s three goals is to build the key skills that will make our members successful in the Tech sector.  Since many of our members are interested in Product Management and Start-Ups, we decided to start our own Product Team.  The goal?  Go through the entire product development process from identifying pain points to testing hypotheses to prototyping to launching a product.  Ambitious?  Yes.  Doable?  We think so.  Fun?  Absolutely!

So where are we now?

With a small group of 7 MBAs from backgrounds as diverse as travel, finance, sales, history, and engineering, we have a diversity of talent, opinions, and skills.  We meet weekly and started at the very beginning.  Our first task was to frame our thinking by talking about apps or websites that we like and why.  Among the apps we liked were Opentable and Box and we noted that we liked them because of ease of use and because they allow us to control things like when we pay a bill that we could not control before.  Empowering users though an easy and beautiful user experience emerged as the key to impressing us and a guidepost for us to strive toward.

Listing Pain Points

Our next step was to identify and prioritize pain points in our lives that we could consider addressing.  We came up with 18 different areas and the each chose the five we were most interested in addressing.  Finally we chose all the pain points that received multiple votes and began hypothesizing ways to address them.  The ones we chose to address were Real Time Networking and Company Visibility, Forgetting Accessories, Grocery Price Info, Unsustainable Class Reading Amounts, MBA Shared Calendar, Car Valuations, Funding for Higher Ed, and Network Dead Zones.

Whiteboard of Pain Points

Whiteboard of Pain Points

Hypothesizing

Our next step was to begin hypothesizing different ways we might be able to address these pain points and brainstorming how we could test them to see which are worth green-lighting to the prototype phase.  To date we have only focused on the Forgetting Accessories pain point and came up with three approaches, each focused on a different dimension of the issues.

  • Reminder app to make sure you don’t leave the house without what you need.  You would specify what you are doing and depending on the response the app would serve up a list of what you should bring.  Future iterations could learn your preferences and adapt recommendations.
  • RFID chips clipped to important items that communicate with phone and let you know in real time if they are separated.
  • A pick-up service that will retrieve your lost items from bars or restaurants the next day and deliver back to you.

Testing the Concepts

As a group, we were most excited about the RFID chips and team members were quick to start browsing for chips.  The keeper of our (very limited) finances, however, I had to lay down the law saying I won’t spend any money until I have evidence that there is a strong desire for the product.  Understanding this, we felt that surveys were the best way to test the market for RFID and the pick-up service.  For the reminder app, we felt that survey’s may not be the best choice but are going to run a FB add to see if people would add emails to a waitlist.

Next Steps

At present, we are still in the hypothesis testing face.  We will address a few other pain points and then use the results of our tests to determine which ideas to pursue further.  Check back in a couple of weeks to see where we stand!

-David LoVerme is a 2nd Year MBA at Boston College and the President of the Grad Tech Club

Talking Shop with Facebook PMs

Earlier this week, members of the BC Grad Tech Club had the fantastic opportunity to visit Facebook’s Cambridge office to breakfast with Facebookers involved with the Rotational Product Manager Program.  We learned about the opportunities at Facebook and generally talked shop about what Product Management means at Facebook and how a company with 1.3 billion monthly active users can create a product that can be pushed out globally and still feels incredibly personal and tailored to the individual.  The RPM program is a fantastic opportunity and we are incredibly grateful to Facebookers Ashley Chinn, Greg Marra, and Layla Amjadi for sharing their morning, their insights, and their breakfast with us!

Grad Techers David LoVerme, Nicole Gonzalez, and Marin Rowe in Facebook's Cambridge office

Grad Techers David LoVerme, Nicole Gonzalez, and Marin Rowe in Facebook’s Cambridge office

Even as an experienced product manager myself, I learned a great deal in just a few minutes talking with our friends from Facebook and they were kind enough to allow me to share what I learned here on BCGradTechClub.net.  Over the last year I have talked to hundreds of product managers and gotten a myriad of different answers when I asked what a PM does.  One of the best and most accessible descriptions I have heard came during the breakfast from Facebooker Greg Marra.  “A Product Manager is like a conductor of an orchestra,” he said, even though the conductor doesn’t actually play any of the individual instruments, he or she brings everyone together and coordinates each individual part so that the end result is better than it would be otherwise.  Likewise, a product manager’s job is to synthesize the team so that each individual member can focus on putting their best foot forward.  While some companies have their PM team sit together, at Facebook, each PM is assigned to a Product Team consisting of about 10 engineers, a product designer, an analyst, and a product manager.  Within the team, the PM’s role varies throughout the life cycle of the product but is always related to defining the course and keeping the team on track. At Facebook, product teams follow an iterative cycle of Understand–>Explore–>Execute.  While the team operates as a whole, responsibility for identifying the problem to solve, identifying possible approaches and narrowing in on one, and working with engineering to build it lives with the Product Manager.  Along the way, the PM must plan, set milestones, define goals, and define success.

Interestingly, however, while it really seems like the PM is the leader of the team (after all manager is in the job title!) he or she has no direct reports.  I’ve often heard said, a PM has a lot of influence but no real authority.  Direct reports or not, a PM must deliver and therefore, setting the right vision and rallying everyone to the cause is crucial.  PM’s must be able to adapt their language and mannerisms to their audience, speaking the language of business with executives, technology with engineers, and data with analysts.  Regardless of background, Layla joked, business people are going to think you are tech geeks and engineers are going to think you are business only but if you recognize and accept this and can prove yourself as just a little more savvy than the average bear you will win the respect of everyone and gain the influence you need.  Flexibility, intellectual curiosity, and “strong opinions loosely held” are key to the success in the role.

Grad Tech President David LoVerme at Facebook's Menlo Park headquarters on Grad TechTrek West 2014

Grad Tech President David LoVerme at Facebook’s Menlo Park headquarters on Grad TechTrek West 2014

One of the most eye opening things about our visit was getting a glimpse into the culture of Facebook the company.  With 1.3 Billion users, Facebook is ubiquitous.  Everyone knows the social network and everyone has an opinion.  Lost sometimes, however, is the fact that it is a real company led by incredibly talented and passionate people.  The company’s mission is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.  They have a poster on the wall asking the question “Are we a tech company?” without a definite answer but rather as a means to stimulate real self-examination.  Everything the company does is to fulfill the goal of helping people connect to each other and it is the Product Manager’s role to ensure that every product or feature serves this purpose.  The company seeks people with a curiosity about the world who love to learn, are highly proactive, have a high energy level, and who are positive and yet maintain a healthy dissatisfaction about the status quo.

After spending the morning with Greg, Layla, and Ashley, it is no surprise that Facebook is such a highly sought after and successful company.  Having met them and knowing the other BC Eagles and friends of the Grad Tech Club we have in Cambridge, Austin, and of course Menlo Park the company is ripe with highly talented and passionate people and I am very excited to see what the future holds!

-David LoVerme is a 2nd Year MBA at Boston College and the President of the Grad Tech Club