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Archive for the ‘Product Management Learnings’ Category

A good friend who is an excellent architect with years of experience hit anomie (want to read my post on PMs and anomie go here) and  I actively encouraged him to investigate options beyond his comfort zone. He decided to give Product Management a go and I think he loves it with caveats…as I warned him and a number of my other friends — Being a PM is an extremely rewarding job, yet you need patience and you need the will to last the grind ( something that over the years I seem to be losing)…at the end whatever career you choose, ask yourself the question : is this something both my head and my heart wants me to do?

Life has been a good teacher in general but over the past 5 years so has my son. My son reminds me every day of the following things :

(A) Prioritize  : K2 is ruthless about what matters in his life – it is his playtime, his ipad time and then parents time… I have learnt from K2 whether it is a backlog plan or my meal plan at home, it is critical that I get to first things first…one of them is weekly meals for my family…I came up with a grandiose weekly plan, haven’t yet gotten around to executing 100% to plan — hey but it is prioritized.

(B) Communicate : whether it is a “small” question to letting us know he needs to use the bathroom, to he is hungry, sleepy or grumpy…K2 communicates…it is annoying at times but useful most times…I would rather he tell me he has a tummy ache to me second guessing it. Similarly whether it is to Development, Sales, Customers, peers or Management – I believe in appropriate data and information sharing. Every quarter after revenue was posted – I did an all-hands with the development team to walk them through revenues, wins-losses, roadmap snapshots and the next 3 month outlook …I think these communications helped serve the purpose of Establishing Direction and there was no alienation from the product (remember Karl Marx).

(C) Simplify : Man tends to overcomplicate, overthink life…K2 breaks things down to the basics (classic Maslow) – “When you learn how to say yes to the things you want in your life and no to the things you don’t want in your life – your life becomes simpler.”

(D) Think Win-Win : As we grew up in India our life was very competitive — we learnt to base our self-worth on comparisons and competition. We thought about succeeding in terms of someone else failing–i.e.,  if I win, you lose; or if you win, I lose. Life almost became a zero-sum game.– however, with K2 I see that he is in a frame of mind and heart that constantly seeks mutual benefit in all human interactions — he wants to share, his attitude is “there is plenty for all

This weekend – I conquered my fear of heights to help Krish conquer his…we watched Madagascar 3…strolled the farmer’s market and splurged on the healthy (beans,brocolli, brinjal) and the not-so-healthy (pies and brownies)…we stared at the Golden Gate bridge in awe and explored Sausalito (for the first time)…ready for Monday and the rest of the week. As my Ma and Bapa tell it – sometimes it just about changing the perspective and life falls into place….how has life been treating you?

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Here is an inspiring email forward from my dad

Success is not a secret. It is a choice that is made over and over again.
Success is not something that can be denied to you.
It is something that you can always choose to accept.
How do you accept success? You accept success by making the effort instead of making excuses.
You accept success by taking responsibility instead of counting on someone else to do it for you.
You accept success by being truthful with others and, just as importantly, with yourself.
You accept success when things get tough, by being positive and innovative
instead of becoming despondent.
You accept success by being who you are and by contributing what you can,
rather than pretending to be someone else.
Every day you can choose either to accept success or to just let it pass you by.
With each thought, each word, each action, choose to accept success

————————————————————————————————————
I used to read CK Prahalad’s writings : we had his book Competing for the Future as a mandatory read, and it is a book that I  occasionally go back to even today…I loved his key insight :  “Billions of consumers await at the “bottom of the pyramid”

And my dad had the chance to debate with CKP on State and Industry issues…while I was feeling self-important launching (in my mind) cutting edge services…he was running a state….so brings home the point to me :

Success is a state of mind,
Success is a choice made by you,
It doesn’t come with dollars, dividends or a title,
It is self-generated….

                                                                                                         —A Note to Self

On this positive uplifting note and no actual recipes….I hope you have a wonderful Turkey Day…I know I am planning to with the 2K’s.

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It was a quiet moment tonight as K2 and I were walking Jinx…the full moon was shining softly down and K2 in his super high pitch (wonder where he gets that from 😉 ) asked me…Ma, do you know what I want to be when I grow up? I pretend to think for a minute and say Pilot (ask me for the long version sometime)…then silence for a minute and he asks me – what will you be when you growed up? I think for  a moment and say – K2’s mom…I get a puzzled stare and then of course with the propensity of a chronic ADD child moves on to another topic…I think it was monsters.

Brand Identity is a complex thing and it is critical to both individuals and businesses to figure oneself out in one case for peace of mind and for the other profitability,survivability and bottomline. This hit me this weekend as I was visiting my  favorite indian joint – Curry Up Now. I was a little under the weather and nothing that a cup of cardamom chai couldn’t cure…but I was stuck by how clear CUN’s value proposition was – Indian Street Food. The menu was short, consistent and clear, a few new adds every week (I did a little jig everytime it was goat curry, so much for me going vegetarian)…not confusing and in software terms very WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get)…love that !!!
What I have been exposed to is companies that don’t know if they want to play to consumers or enterprises while others don’t know if they want to sell devices or services…they play the field vs. sharpen the focus.

What I learnt in Kotler almost sixteen years back still stays clear in my head in terms of marketing mantras
(A) Come in Under the Radar – The key to brand-building is to have something good that you roll-out in a very intelligent way. Maybe even invisibly for a while because you want to be under the radar screen of competitors.
(B) Know your customer
(C) Own your branding – know what appeals to your customer, the emotional trigger and play to it
(D) Make it an experience

The critical question to ask is – To Be or Not to Be…

So has your Monday been Manic…I seem to be on a Bollywood roll this past week having watched – 7 Khoon Maaf, Rakta Charitra 2, Break ke Baad, I Hate Luv Storys…still to go – Robot (Enthiran – I have the tamil version), the flat (supposed to be a horror film) and Chalo Delhi

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The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a heaven of Hell,or a hell of Heaven.

                                                                                        —John Milton, Paradise Lost

I  finished reading the book “A Whole New Mind” last month…truth be told I am not as sold on it as K1 who gave me this book with a solemn “here is the book that made me think”. I do agree with some of the concepts outlined by the author- the world has evolved from Agricultural (farmers) to Industrial (factory workers) to Computer (information worker) and is now evolving into a Conceptual Society with focus on Creators and Emphathizers. Daniel Pink, the author talks about three trends that are pointers to this evolution – Abundance (consumers have too many choices), Asia (things are getting outsourced) and Automation ( repeatable things can be done by machines). Basic Premise is that if something can be automated or outsourced then the differentiator is “Human Creativity and Initiative”…I was wondering – if  with Product Management software tools like One Desk , would the  Product Manager become redundant? If you see yourself as a scrum master, bug prioritizer , revenue forecaster or a PRD writer – then you better be ready for software to do your role. However, if you see yourself as a service owner, decision maker, influencer, team builder, creative chief, the adjectives go on….you are in luck – you will survive the conceptual age… 
Pink talks about 6 essential senses

  1. Design – Moving beyond function to engage the sense.
  2. Story – Narrative added to products and services – not just argument. Best of the six senses.
  3. Symphony – Adding invention and big picture thinking (not just detail focus).
  4. Empathy – Going beyond logic and engaging emotion and intuition.
  5. Play – Bringing humor and light-heartedness to business and products.
  6. Meaning – the purpose is the journey, give meaning to life from inside yourself

As Lao Zu says – A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step
Yet to begin that journey, it is key to understand that it is an evolving process, no need to predict the ending, no need to try and write the middle…just look within to see if this journey makes you happy.
And though I am not 100% sold on the book, it did give me a lot of room for thinking and reality be told, it made me feel good about some of the career skills that I believe I have honed over the past decade and a half – a lot of it has to do with creativity and thinking outside the box, Empathy, Humor  and Being able to tell a story…and the author says that the value on these will not get commodotized.
Highlight of the evening was a 100 piece puzzle that K2 completed…his first 100 piece ever.WTG K2 !!!

How is the middle of the week rocking and rolling for you?

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Almost two decades ago, I used to worship idolize the book “The fifth discipline” and the concept of a “Learning Organization” popularized by Peter Senge. I did enjoy some one-way exchanges with above mentioned author – email was not a preferred mode of communication, so you can imagine how painstakingly I composed and wrote and mailed my “snail mail” — on all topics Learning Organization. These were organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together.Senge familiarized us with five key concepts –
(A) Personal Mastery : How to effectively align personal vision & energies to the shared organizational vision. People with a high level of personal mastery live in a continual learning mode. They never ‘arrive’
(B) Mental Models : How our personal vision is shaped by our  – assumptions and our scaled down blue print of reality. The discipline of mental models starts with turning the mirror inward; learning to unearth our internal pictures of the world, to bring them to the surface and hold them rigorously to scrutiny. It also includes the ability to carry on ‘learningful’ conversations that balance inquiry and advocacy, where people expose their own thinking effectively and make that thinking open to the influence of others.
(C) Shared Vision : How we integrate our individual (A) and (B) to create (C) which helps us scale the organization and move it forward successfully
(D) Team Learning : the sum is larger than the parts and focusing on the we vs. me
(E) Systems Thinking  is a summation of A-D and the process of understanding how things influence one another within a whole
Systems thinking also needs the disciplines of building shared vision, mental models, team learning, and personal mastery to realize its potential. Building shared vision fosters a commitment to the long term. Mental models focus on the openness needed to unearth shortcomings in our present ways of seeing the corporation and its goals. Team learning develops the skills of groups of people to look for the larger picture beyond individual perspectives. And personal mastery fosters the personal motivation to continually learn how our actions affect our corporation.
What I have realized in the past 2 decades is that all of the above is BS the following few truths –
(A) Theories are lovely but without an actual process/blue-print of “How To” what it remains is just that – a theory…it sounded wonderful but all too vague and difficult to implement
(B) Corporations in today’s world have very clear mandates – Financial Survivability, Market Share and Competitiveness…training and investing in personnel  is ancillary. The simple logic would then be that personal goals need to be aligned to one’s success.
(C) In reality few people can voice their opinions/views in all honesty in a corporation – their exists a web of politics and power structure with norms and rules that they need to play within…
Apple has a lot of things going for it but essentially one person’s vision for the company drove the company’s success. Yes, yes and they got their customers and their user experience kicked some serious ass — but so does that of a lot of the Hi-Tech companies out there.
Dilbert was onto something when he said – For every person who thinks up a magnificent breakthrough idea, there are a hundred who are nothing more than mindless and unimportant implementers of the idea. The reason for the imbalance in numbers is that the implementers tend to kill the people with the great ideas in order to cut down on the workload.

And it is way too late on a Friday evening to be thinking mundane things like a Learning Organization…I am going to go down and pour myself a glass of cold chill beer (Ginger Beer I mean 🙂 )

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Do you know what a typical Product Manager does –

  1. Creates a kick-ass product road map
  2. Prays hard that all ducks line up
  3. Creates a back-up plan
  4. Creates a back-up plan for the back-up plan

Having spent about a dozen years in product management, I let my tendency to create backup plans at work creep into my personal life too…when we were buying our home, even though we had a solid mortgage broker, I talked to a second mortgage broker and lined up a second approval…and guess what! the first loan fell through and it was the backup plan that came through for us. One thing is obvious though, as much as the idea of planning and over-planning (think financial goals, personal goals, grocery lists, to-do lists, meal plans, etc.) was comforting — there comes a stage in life when one wants to kick the habit – live for the moment as they say and damn the consequences. We will see how this thought process conceptualizes in my head and actions.

Today was a long and rainy sort of a day and to perk up the sniffling K2 I served him homemade mini-pizza (with Turkey Pastrami and Mozzarella Cheese with a baby carrot in an orange plate to cheer him up for dinner. For myself,  I made a quick broccoli fried rice which will also serve as lunch for K2 tomorrow…in the background my mac book was playing Karen Carpenter’s Rainy Days and Mondays

Sending out my Easy Broccoli Fried Rice to “Vardhini’s Kitchen” for the event  Healthy Lunch Box Ideas : Broccoli and this event was concepted by Kalyani from the blog “Its Not Madrasi

Truth be told 50% of the time the lunch box comes back half eaten – K2 does not relish his broccoli as much as he does Amy’s Toaster Cheese Pizza or the Blue Horizon Salmon sticks  (or sour cream or cup cakes 😦 )….but hey! I have learnt which are the important battles to fight with a 4 year old and I try to let him have his occasional sugar rushes.

Easy Broccoli Fried Rice

You need :

  1. 1 cup (or two) Cooked Brown Rice (I cheated, I had a carton lying from the Thai take-out)
  2. 1 Head Chopped Broccoli (I use the stems too) – from my local farmer’s market
  3. Soft Tofu (add as much or as little as per taste)
  4. Red Onions, Garlic and Ginger (all finely chopped)
  5. Vegetable Oil
  6. Soy Sauce to taste, Rice Wine Vinegar to taste

Add the oil to a wok…when it’s shimmering hot – Add in the Onions, Ginger and Garlic (if you want it spicy now is the time to add in your Jalapeno, Serrano, Habenaro…as per your taste. I was making this for the kiddo, so I added the Habenaro Hot Sauce from the top later on). When the Onion Garlic and Ginger mixture is cooked through, I added in the chopped brocolli, when it is half way cooked I added in the soft tofu and scrambled it up with the brocolli – the mixture resembles scrambled green eggs 🙂
Now add in the Brown Rice and season with soy sauce and rice wine vinegar.

This is a kid friendly version and lacks the normal kicked up spices- like an overdose of Sriracha or Sambal…yet in some ways this is a very satisfying one pot meal.

Did you do anything fun this weekend? We saw huge life-size dinosaurs on Saturday that scared K2 speechless…ate Ethiopian food — it was almost like a race to the last morsel.On Sunday, A left for India and we will miss him but as K2 says but Ma his plans are back and forth (meaning he will be going back and forth between US and India). After we dropped A in the airport, we picked up grilled chicken burgers and a Ham and Cheese Croissant for the little guy and sat by the waters and had an impromptu picnic….the simple pleasures in life are the most memorable ones…so what’s your backup plan…wait a minute…you are smarter than me …you don’t have one…do you?

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Am I fixated on the number Seven…looks like it and according to my enlightened sis-in-law and her friend Dan Millman who wrote the book ” The Life you were born to live” , it is one of my lucky numbers. Anyway, I was reading this interesting article by Geoffrey James (GJ) today and what caught me was the title of the article “Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective Managers“. Without much ado let me share the gyan aka Cliff Notes edition of the article with you –
The world has changed. Things are different than they were. Nothing is the same, except some things like: bad management, which is as eternal as death and taxes.Our problems and pain are universal, which is why we need universal, timeless, self-evident principles common to every management team throughout history. GJ did not invent them and takes no credit for them. GJ simply identified and organized them into a coherent framework…a framework that I have conveniently shared with you for greater good 😉
Habit #1 : Be a Know-it-All : Make sure that EVERYONE in your team ALWAYS knows that you’re a cut above the hoi polloi that tremble at your feet. That way they won’t get uppity.
Habit #2 : Manage Numbers and Deliverables not People : Make sure EVERYONE in your team ALWAYS knows that they are replaceable…Follow this habit religiously, and you’ll always have wonderful Powerpoint decks to present to the bigwigs in board room. After all, what those guys care about are the numbers, right? Employees? Screw ’em.
Habit #3 : Embrace the Status Quo : Forget about all that crap about innovation. If something ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Habit #4 : Divide and Conquer : The best way to manage a team is to make sure that one half hates the other half. Ideally, you want the entire group to be a seething swamp of resentment and pique — all of it aimed at co-workers rather than you! Most importantly, make certain that you’re always the person to put the finishing touches on a successful project, if only to “keep peace in the family.” That way, you can take the lion’s share of credit while throwing some crumbs on the floor for your underlings to fight over.
Habit #5 : Do it Yourself : Don’t believe any of that BS about the importance of delegating. Delegating is for sissies who can’t think strategically. Think about all those books you’ve read by top CEOs like Jack Welch! Did they delegate? Of course not! They captained the ship and keel-hauled the flunkies.You are the Hero who swoops right in and does the job right!
Habit #6: Expect Mind reading: The best way to keep employees on their toes is to make sure that they never know exactly what you’re thinking.If you’re asked your opinion on something, always say: “Well, that depends.” If you’re asked for a decision, always say: “I have it under consideration” or (if you’re feeling particularly frisky that day) “I have it under active consideration.”
Remember: Your ability to remain in power is directly dependent upon your ability to keep your employees confused and disoriented. After all, if they know what they’re supposed to be doing, why would they need a manager?
Habit #7 : Sharpen the Axe : One way to “sharpen the axe” is to read plenty of Ayn Rand, whose philosophy of business is tantamount a “soul-ectomy.” After you’ve read enough Rand, you’ll find it impossible to care about all those moochers and losers who aren’t as successful as you. Finally, if all else fails, you can “sharpen the axe” simply by remembering the motto immortalized in The Sopranos: “It’s not personal… it’s just business.”

Haven’t had enough yet of this delightful article – to read the article in all its gory and glorious details go here. GJ definitely made my day today and got a couple chuckles out of me and a few omigods! I need to stop doing that…the beauty of such reads is light-hearted as they are – they do make you search deep within yourself to answer questions and in someways refine your actions in a conscious manner.

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