Notes on “User Science is Product Management”

The focus of the User Science is Product Management episode is on User Science. It covers what User Science means, the tools involved and advice around implementing it. The guest is Brent Tworetzky, the Executive Vice President of Product at XO Group. Brent is on Twitter and Medium.

User Science is the study of users. It’s the combination of user research and user analytics. This directly aligns itself with interests that I have. Throughout my career and personal time, I have continuously sought to get closer to the end users of technological solutions. Through the power of enjoyable yet easy to use technology, I like to empower and enrich the lives of others. So, the topic of User Science is an area of deep fascination.

The rest of this blog post contains pretty much raw notes. The notes contain a mixture of direct quotes from the podcast, my own thoughts, and sometimes ideas that came to mind while listening.

Notes

Brent started as an engineer. He didn’t like the day-to-day of programming. So, he got involved in strategy oriented careers such as management consulting. However, he felt “removed from the action.” Product Management lets him put all the things he loves together into one role. As a side note, Brent goes into detail about the Product Management role in his article What Does a Product Manager Do?

Brent has his roots in Product Management from working with others who used to work for eBay, Netflix, and Google. With philosophies that came from those places combined, he has been exposed to different approaches that cover being business case driven, user research oriented, and the use of quick iterations. This all has been foundational to how he applies User Science.

Applying User Science at his organization answers the question of whether to continue to iterate on a product or to go a completely different direction. User Science is a combination of understanding the users’ intent and their user behavior.

Intent vs Action (Behavioral)

The tools involved with Intent vs Action can be expressed in this 2 x 2 grid that Brent provides in his article titled A Product Manager’s Superpower: User Science.

Product User Science Grid

Product User Science Grid

Intent

The purpose of exploring a users intent is to understand what problems the users are trying to solve. Using the intent tools, one is trying to nail down the important problems to solve.

Action / User Behavioral

Once you have the problem to solve, it’s time to switch to the User Behavioral side of things. This is where you can do things like prototype and do usability testing. You can do A/B testing or bucket testing. You can also do aggregate analytics.

From these tools you learn things like:

  • Do we have something that still works for what the user wants to do?
  • Should we iterate on this or is there stuff to throw away?

Diary Study, A Special User Science Tool

The Diary Study uncovers actual user behavior over an extended period of time. To do the study, they collect a small group of users that agree to share their thoughts and challenges. For example, wedding planning. They check-in every week or every two weeks over a two to twelve month period. The diary captures the needs and challenges of the user each week.

Through this tool, they learn what tools the user uses, what problems they have, and maybe what ideas they might have. Through all of this, the Product Manager can discover whether or not the user has experienced the kind of problem that is being looked for. In other words, if the users are experiencing the same problem again and again, that’s an interesting thing to learn and maybe you’ve found a problem to solve.

Implementation Challenges of User Science

User Science is a field that needs to be learned. It doesn’t come naturally or by accident. When new Product Management team members join their team, they explain and walk through the related philosophies. They ask them to put the tools into their hands and practice right away on practice tests. These new members also get tutorials.

The new team member gets tutorials from the User Research or Product Analytics team. For A/B testing, they use Optimizely. For usability testing, they use UserTesting. They run practice tests and get feedback about those tests. This lets the new team member get familiar with the tools and gain muscle memory about those tools.

On top of all that, their company also brings in guest speakers. The speakers show the capabilities of new tools and how to use the new tools to make “magical” things happen.

Some User Science Tools Need Others to Support

Using some tools requires help from others. For example, diary tests is something that takes a lot of time. His company has a special team to implement those kinds of things.

The trick thing about the tools is that we can’t just tell people about the tools. User Science is a field that needs to be learned. There are four learning curves / stages to User Science.

Four Learning Curves for User Science

One needs to learn:

  1. The tools themselves. For example, surveys, one on ones, A/B tests and more.
  2. How to do quality tests; Rookie mistakes are common. It’s easy to accidentally bias a test.
  3. What test to apply where. Is this the right test for a specific situation?
  4. How to use tests in a valuable way. How to gain value from the tests you do. For example, some beginning Product Managers will always use an A/B test for a new idea. That’s their go-to. Brent encourages the Product Managers to use tests to be more “provocative”. Since it’s a test on a small subgroup, the gain is so much greater than the risk.

For Those Getting Started

The User Science Field is advancing quickly. So his advice consists of:

  • Hire fantastic people. Help make people great and create an environment to succeed.
  • Share a clear vision and mission so all are moving in the same direction.
  • Make it clear what success looks like. He recommends Daniel Pink’s book Drive. It covers autonomy, the opportunity for mastery and a rich sense of purpose. From this, one can create a great team environment.
  • Focus on outcomes. Make things that matter.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. There’s no such thing as over communicating especially when companies grow.

Summary

As you can see above, the User Science is Product Management podcast episode is filled with great insight on what makes up User Science, the related tools, and some practical tips on its implementation. I highly recommend you listen to the podcast episode as well as the other episodes at This is Product Management.

 

 

POWN? Communication Technique

Listing out Pros and Cons is a tried and true approach for deciding whether or not to go with an approach. However, sometimes it’s not enough. For example, a long list of cons that a group comes up with compared to a short pros list may make it seem like it’s something the group shouldn’t do. Yet, the items listed are trivial. In dealing with such situations where something more elaborate is needed, I have come up with the “POWN?” communication technique.

POWN? stands for Positives Observations Weights Negatives Question. The Positives are like the pros in the pros / cons. The Negatives are the cons. The Observations are what people perceive, but it’s not really a Positive or Negative about the item under consideration. The Weights and Question take more explaining.

Every item that is listed in a Positives or Negatives column is weighted according to an agreed upon scale. For example, it could just be high / medium / low. So, a little ‘H’, ‘M’, or ‘L’ can be next to the item. The Question signifies that any group member can request a question mark be placed next to a Positive or Negative item. This is useful so that the group can quickly list out all the Positives and Negatives without stopping to debate each item as it is listed. This brings us to the process of using this communciation tool.

The process of using the communication tool is up to you. However, one can apply it in the following way:

  1. Columns with labels are made on a white board. Positives, Negatives, Observations. Ensure enough room is between the columns for the Weights and Question marks.
  2. The group is asked for all the Positives and Negatives. They are listed. If someone challenges or wishes a deep understanding of a Positive or Negative, a question mark is placed next to the item and the group moves on. A quick question / answer is allowed. Speed is the name of the game at this point.
  3. All the items with Question marks are resolved by the group. Speed is not the point anymore. The point is understanding. If the group decides to keep an item listed under the Positive or Negative, a Weight is placed next to the item.
  4. Throughout this whole process, observations are listed under Observations. For example, “We gained a 20% increase in productivity when we applied our last experiment.”

There you have it. A slightly more elaborate pros / cons like technique that allows for deeper clarity into a situation. I hope it serves you well.

Notes on “Mentorship is Product Management”

The focus of the Mentorship is Product Management podcast episode is on how to form valuable mentorship relationships between a product manager and a mentor. The guest is Ben Foster, author of Most Product Managers Suck.

Throughout my life, I have sought out different ways of empowering people through knowledge sharing. Among other things, I founded a Technology Mentor Program at CARFAX  So, this podcast was of particular interest to me.

The rest of this blog post contains pretty much raw notes. The notes contain a mixture of direct quotes from the podcast, my own thoughts, and sometimes ideas that came to mind while listening.

Notes

Ben had a statistics degree. He got a job doing QA, filed bugs, and got some enhancement requests. The product managers at his company invited him to become a product manager. That was in 1998 in San Francisco.

He joined eBay in 2001. The company grew fast. Ben rose in the ranks of Product Management. (How did he do that?) At eBay, he was in charge of merchandising which is all about “Would you like fries with that?”

He later became VP of product management at CoPower, an energy efficiency company for about four years. They took the company public in 2014.

Now, Ben helps founders and product managers. Every product manager can benefit from having a mentor. Decision making is what a product manager does. They have backlogs.They have strategies. They have to decide how far out to communicate a roadmap. They need good judgement and wisdom. Mentors help with the wisdom part. Mentors have:

  • Prior experience
  • Functional know how
  • Domain expertise

What’s Better, a Formal or Informal Relationship?

There are many different types of relationships. Paid vs. not-paid. Where the mentor is extremely senior or a peer. It depends on the needs of the mentee and the needs of the mentor. What are they trying to get from the relationship?

For the mentee, are they looking to do a current job better or take that next step in the career? Do they want formal or informal? Do they want a really good peer or someone more senior? Do they want someone in the same organization or outside of the company?

If you get a mentor that is inside the same company, the mentor has the context and is already familiar with what’s going on. If the mentor is outside of the company, they can offer benchmarks on what you are doing well or not based on comparisons to other companies.

Common Use Cases for Mentees:

  • Some have laser focus. They want a promotion.
  • Others are brand new. How can I do my current job better?
  • Some just want to learn from other people’s failures and their successes.

Mentors

Usually, you don’t go from not being a mentor to being one. It’s a progression. Someone asks 1, 2, or 3 questions and then the relationship evolves into a mentor / mentee relationship. Mentors can sometimes “pattern match” meaning that they can apply solutions that they have learned through other contacts. Mentors can create a general solution framework. The more the mentor can create those kinds of things the more people will want to reach out to you. It’s important to make it clear to the mentee what it is you want out of the relationship. Otherwise, it’s a one sided relationship. Both parties must understand each other’s reasons so it is win / win.

Not all mentors are the same. The good mentors will actively reach out to their mentees. It’s on the mentor to provide actionable and real world information. Theory needs to be backed up with practicality. How they communicate and how often can be dictated by what is currently going on for the mentee. The example given is around stakeholder communication. That might require frequent phone calls from the mentor. The communication should be constructive and direct.

Good mentors have a network. They proactively send out articles to the mentees that may serve them well. They can tap their network for answers they don’t know.

Best Mentor / Mentees Matches And Linking Up

An ideal mentor has worked with many employees that went from career spot A to career spot B just like the mentee wants to do. So, how can a product manager connect to a mentor?

Can start small. LinkedIn and other sources of groups. (User groups in town or online groups?) If you are seeking UX, Behance or other sources are discussed on Quora.

How To Approach The Mentor?

Say you are impressed by what they are doing. Tell them it would be helpful for you if they could advise you on this one specific problem.

People are sometimes happy to do a 20 minute phone call. Offering a free lunch can be good.

Good Questions To Ask

Good example of a specific question to ask is something tangible. Something like you are faced with a specific challenge. For example, you want to communicate the roadmap to the sales team better. Right now, there is a mismatch. What are some best practices in this specific situation?

An example of a bad question is like “What are the three most important things for a product manager”? It’s not actionable because people work with different constraints and issues.

In Ben’s career, he got mentors that helped fill gaps that he had. His “council” of people that he could go to consisted of CEOs, VPs, VCs, investors, and so on.

Stay in touch with your network. Over time, it’s amazing the value the network will provide.

If Ben Could Change Something

A mistake he made: He spent a couple of years making incremental improvements. He looked back two years later and asked himself “what did I really build?” “Where’s the innovation?” Getting leapfrogged by someone else is bad. The specific example is eBay vs Amazon. It’s like they “Won the battles and lost the war”

Ben is Reading

Summary

As you can see above, the Mentorship is Product Management podcast episode is filled with great advice when it comes to understanding, defining, and establishing mentor / mentee relationships. I highly recommend you listen to the podcast as well as the other podcasts at This is Product Management.

Anxiety? How Does One Start To Meditate?

Let’s say you feel anxiety. It’s a natural state of being that almost everyone experiences sometime in their life. Sometimes one feels it daily. How does one start to meditate and where does anxiety fit into the picture?

Good questions. It took me years to find the answers which you can have in mere minutes.

It depends if you want to start alone or with someone who can cover some common questions. Let’s start with a basic focus concept.

From Meditation Yields a Better Brain:

Is it that easy for adults to get started meditating? Yes, one can practice the vipassana, a mindfulness meditation. As described in the Huffington Post article by Sam Harris, one can meditate by focusing on the breath, recognizing distractions, and reverting ones attention back to the breath.

It’s a simple instruction. That’s all you need to start alone.

Yet, it’s often not easy to do and questions arise. So, there are people who are happy to share what they know. The two instructive meditation solutions that have resonated most strongly with me are the Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics by 10% Happier and Headspace.

In my opinion, 10% Happier does a great job with instructing a person how to meditate. Yet, Headspace does a great job of sharing certain concepts through animation. Let’s start with a Headspace concept and then move on to instruction.

An important concept was introduced to me originally as Blue Sky. Technically, the title of the following video is “Underlying calm”:

Once you understand the concept of Blue Sky, you can apply it within the context of anxiety or other dominant thoughts and feelings. Here is a Headspace video about anxiety from a meditation instructor, Andy:

Andy knows what he’s talking about. As seen on this TED Talk, he began this meditation journey due to his experiences with anxiety.

So, you have been introduced to some concepts. It’s okay if not everything in those videos make sense right away. We’re laying the foundation. Now it’s time to move on to the basic instruction of meditating. Here we shift our focus to 10% Happier.

If you have an iPhone, great. You can download the 10% Happier app for free. If you can, I suggest downloading right now.

If you can’t download the iPhone app, you can access the starting 10% Happier course material on the web for free. When you start, you will hear Dan Harris (ABC News anchor) and meditation instructor and Joseph Goldstein go over the initial ideas and first steps. If you need it, the front door to the 10% Happier website is http://www.10percenthappier.com

So, there you go. Hopefully, this helps you get started down a path of less suffering and more freedom in life. All I ask is that you share these concepts and resources with others. Together we can make life better for us all.

Motivated Through Frog Eggs

When one wants to leap into an area of interest, but feels overwhelmed and unmotivated what can one do? Creative Gamification to the rescue!

For awhile, I have wanted to grow my skill set in several new areas. However, the areas felt vague and thus I wasn’t strongly motivated to leap in without being able to identify and measure my progress. Puzzled how to proceed, I created a document titled “Skills Progress Puzzle.” It has about twenty-five specific items that fall into six themes.

The trick now is to turn this into a motivational tool. A traditional skills percentages approach could work. For each skill, I could assign a percentage and then the overall theme percentage would reflect how the specific skills are rated.

Although that approach is a good foundation that helps things feel real, the downside is that it’s not visual and thus non-motivating.

Bubbles?

Although graph bars might work, I am leaning towards a filling-in-the-bubbles approach. Baby bubbles would work together to fill bigger bubbles. In a more organic way, I am filling myself up with the knowledge and experience I need to succeed.

So, bubbles it is. Now, I need a way to express the bubbles.

Items to Consider

  • Must be digital
  • Must be visually displayed as bubbles
  • Must be accessible

After seeking amongst the tool options, excel seems the best choice for this data / visual approach. This leads me to using a circle within a circle approach. The inner circle represents what percentage has been learned so far for a theme and the outer circle is the end goal. Acronyms are used to keep things manageable. Looking at the result, each circle pair kind of reminds me of a frog egg.

Circle in a Circle

Summary

So, there we have it! The circles help me know where to grow-in at a glance. The narrative theme of frog eggs helps along the natural good feeling that learning gives me in life. The percentages provide the data to support the intuitive gut feels about each theme. All that’s left to do now is to grow, grow, grow in knowledge and wisdom!

Update: A wise friend by the name of Dr. Wayne Buckhanan pointed out something. Once I conquer a theme, I have eaten the frog, Brian Tracy style. Clever!

10% Happier Meditation App Is 100% Satisfying

Just Meditate Screen

10% Happier iPhone App

The 10% Happier iPhone app has always had a strong foundation in sharing meditation knowledge and providing insightful guided meditations. With its latest new update, it provides so much more.

Through its humorous Q & A interview style, Dan Harris asks the questions and meditation teachers share their insights, personal experiences, and wisdom. Even though it has been a year, that successful approach hasn’t changed since when I wrote Meditating on Meditation Mobile Apps. To this day, Dan Harris and Joseph Goldstein continue to enlighten people as they did a year ago. With the updates to the app over the last year, there are now seven courses with three additional instructors.

Using each of their decades of experience, the instructors in the courses share specific areas of expertise. Sharon Salzberg shares Lovingkindness and what to do with distractions. Dr. Judson Brewer shares mindfulness around eating. Oren J. Sofer focuses on mindful communication. Joseph teaches the fundamentals, focus techniques, open awareness meditation, and answers practical questions every meditator has had at one point or another. All of them share personal stories and have caused me to laugh or have moved me deeply.

All of this course material is excellent for the beginner, satisfying for the experienced meditator, and yet entertaining due to Dan’s experience as a “skeptical newsman” using the Q & A format.

With the latest update, there’s even more than just the courses! The team behind the 10% Happier app has solved the riddles of “what do I do after finishing all the courses?” and “How do I integrate what I learned into facing my day to day challenges and aspirations?” In addition to the “Courses” section, there is a “Just Meditate” section which contains new content grouped in three sections along with an additional teacher, Alexis Santos.

With the idea of integrating mindfulness into your life, the three sections are titled as “Lightly Guided”, “On The Go”, and “Exploring.. (Stress, Self Judgement, and so on).” Since the update has come out just days ago, I have not yet checked out every single new meditation out of the 21 new ones that are available. However, I have marked “Lovingkindness + Walking”, “Self Judgement” and “Open Awareness” as favorites already. They did a great job in making it easy to add and remove favorites.

In fact, I think the 10% Happier meditation app should win an award overall. It’s a great example of an app that has gotten so many things right. The deference to content, its sharp look, proper use of user interface components and the overall app organization is just fantastic. As the app has grown, it has even avoided inserting the controversial hamburger menu. As an iPhone software developer at CARFAX that works on the CARFAX – Find Used Cars for Sale iPhone app, I can tell you that it’s not easy to avoid having the hamburger menu in a mobile app. Although admittedly, sometimes it might be the right thing to do.

To sum up, 10% Happier was already a wonderful app rich in instructive yet humorous meditation content. It began its life with a solid foundation and focused purpose. They’ve added to that foundation a rich “Just Meditate” section that’s fun to explore and will serve a person throughout the day. I encourage you to check out the app yourself and enjoy the experience.

Seeking Inner Peace

You’re in a plane. There has been an accident and suddenly you and a loved one can’t breathe. The oxygen masks drop down in front of both of your faces. What was it that the flight attendant said? Oh! Put my own oxygen mask on first. Now you can help your loved one with a clear mind.

That’s one example where having a clear mind is a great foundation that supports you and those around you. Even when people sometimes do things that seem unwise, unhelpful, and potentially manipulative, you can choose to respond in a skillful way as opposed to reacting and then later regretting. In other words, what I do with relationships and stormy situations is that I first support my inner stability then I interact or choose to not interact as seems wise.

Recently, I got this concept from Andy Puddicombe of Headspace: There’s a storm outside and you’re inside a house looking at the storm outside through the window. If you can stabilize yourself internally, the violent storm of humanity that normally swallows you up is on the other side of the window.

So, that sounds good. Let’s seek peace within ourselves and have a foundation of balance with which to interact with others.

Seek Inner Peace:

How to do that? How to have inner peace and be balanced?

Some suggest jogging, watching a movie, or some other external activity. These can be great suggestions for some people some of the time. However, Andy of Headspace shares a good point in one of his meditation recordings: you don’t always have the opportunity to jog, but you always have your breath. Meditation is always available.

Mindful Meditation

So, is practicing meditation complex? It doesn’t have to be. Meditation can be as straight forward as focusing on your breath. See the 9 steps listed here under the section titled “Meditation Instructions” in How to Meditate. You don’t even need anything special and trying it out alone is certainly doable.

As briefly covered in “When and Why Did I Start Meditating?“, I was driven decades ago by my quest for excellence in all things including the mind. I meditated alone for years. However, having guidance with meditation can make a huge difference, save you from some confusion down the road, and enrich your meditation journey.

Luckily, there are resources out there. Two iPhone apps I use are the Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics by 10% Happier and Headspace. I also listen to the 10% Happier with Dan Harris podcast which is excellent. As covered in Meditating on Meditation Mobile Apps, I suggest starting with the iPhone app Meditation for Skeptics by 10% Happier if you can. Otherwise, I see that you can access the 10% Happier course material on the web. Alternatively, Headspace supports iPhone, Android and desktop.

Back to Basics

Beyond learning meditation, living in inner peace is also based on eating well, sleeping long enough, and exercise. None of this has to be perfect, but it has to be good enough most of the time.

If you value having a balanced mind, support it through meditation, and cover all the basics of healthy living, you will land on the spectrum of inner peace that has been explored for thousands of years. I wish you peace and hope you enjoy the adventure!

Adding Swift Initializers Through Extensions

While watching the Stack Views with Enums by objc.io, I learned an interesting little tidbit. You can add a convenience constructor aka convenience initializer by extending a class. The benefit of doing such is that you don’t have to subclass the class. In hindsight, the availability of that feature seems obvious. The Swift reference even has a section called “Initializers”. However, this ability may be news to others as well.

Similar to what they show at 7:45 in the video, one can write the following:

Next, you can call this new init like any other initializer:

I highly recommend you watch the entire Stack Views with Enums video. Enjoy!

RxSwift and Squishing the Pyramid of Doom

Say, you just learned RxSwift and all about subscribeNext. You have a series of Harry Potter related service calls to make and they affect each other. Let’s also say they all return the same type of Observable<Person>. So, you start to call these services one after another using subscribeNext.

The indention of calls is known as the Pyramid of Doom. This is a case of not using all of the power that RxSwift offers. If we inject flatMapLatest into the mix instead of all subscribeNext calls, we get the following:

Not only is the flatMapLatest approach easier to read, but one can see easily where the addDisposableTo(disposeBag) should be added at the end to manage the memory.

This concept is also covered in the RxSwift Tips document. Enjoy all that RxSwift has to offer!

Meow Mix Mantra

In my life, one of the meditation related challenges has been helping my son meditate. More specifically, helping him make meditation part of his daily routine.

We came up with the Mindful Minecraft Meditation plan together. That worked great for awhile. We’ve meditated together. He understands and has felt the benefits.

We’re even still making discoveries together. Here’s one. When he was really wound up last time, hugging him and having him focus on our slow and steady breathing helped him feel calm. It’s a technique similar to focusing on a stuffed animal as described in the video in Meditation Yields a Better Brain. In regards to focus and happiness, he has discovered a Meow Mix Mantra.

Coming at you with a disco ball and cats dancing, this remix of the old Meow Mix commercial is funny and hypnotic. With its cat theme, up-beat music, and occasional lasers coming from a cat’s eyes, the Meow Mix song [10 hours] YouTube video is something he has really latched on to.  Unless you suffer from photosensitive epilepsy, you will want to play it to fully understand [warning: lots of flashing and scene changes]:

As a family, we agreed to not play it at the dinner table. However, that brings up a challenge that has not been figured out quite yet with any of his meditative practices, schedule.

Due to school and what not, kids schedules are pretty full. When not using his small allotment of iPad time, he prefers to play with toys over meditating.

I feel certain that if we used something that provided tangible feedback such as the “brain sensing headband” called Muse, the idea of meditating would be even more attractive. With the cost being in the triple digits, that’s not a gamble we want to take though.

After a family discussion, our kid decided to not meditate at this time. That of course is fine. It is a decision that many adults make. Was it because he felt something else was threatened on the schedule though?

Regardless, he is sold on the Meow Mix Mantra and it’s good enough for him meow (now). May you find your happiness too.