Applying a ‘Time-To-Market’ KPI in product

Gabriel Dan on Mind the Product:

It’s a KPI—used mostly by the business—to measure the time required to move a product or service from conception to market (until it is available to be purchased). The process is the combined efforts of all stakeholders, product management, marketing, and so on. It includes workflow steps and strategies involved throughout the process. It’s usually calculated in days/weeks/months/years but it can be met in other forms too depending on how the different organizations will want to implement this.

This is simply amazing and important especially when you are constantly trying to beat your competition to get out in the market to capture your audience.

The shorter the time to market is, the quicker the return on investment (ROI) can be realized, therefore you can imagine why it’s important for businesses.

The quicker the product gets on the market, the bigger market share the company will get especially in an unaddressed segment facing less competition and thus enjoys better profit margins. Getting fresh and relevant products to market quickly attracts customers.

Exactly. It is very common to get into the phase of doing more before releasing to the market. The TTM metric forces you to be frugal about your MVP.

Gabriel Dan does a great job setting the premise and goes on the explain how the TTM should be calculated. Highly recommended.

Your Product is already obsolete – How to Survive

Des Traynor speaking at Mind the Product San Francisco Keynote:

All startups go through three distinct phases – birth, growth, and survival. You start by making the product work, then you have to grow the product, and then, crucially, you have to focus on survival – on keeping it relevant.

Relevant till date.
One of the best session I ever attended.

One more gadget: The Ember Mug 2

Coffee is probably one of the most ubiquitous and social products in the world. I’m sure tea is also somewhere right up there. So it doesn’t hurt to say a Hot Beverage.

I have seen messy desks (I have one) and extremely clean ones and a mug for a hot beverage is ubiquitous. One of the things that drives me nuts is the rate at which my beverage goes from pipping hot to stone cold. It’s not that I am lazy to get up and heat it – its the fact that every time I wake up i have the urge to make a fresh cup of hot beverage to replace my cold one. I hate wasting food.

I’m sure there are studies that would say Coffee/Tea is good or bad for your health. For me apart from Coffee being a fuel it helps me be alert (especially when you are in those long and boring meetings), it has certainly helped me improve productivity (also proved by this MIT study).

Earlier this year I was diagnosed with Cervical Radiculitis – a pathological condition of the spine and one of the reason for this was my sitting posture. It’s hard to maintain a good posture when you work in front of a screen for more than 12 hours a day. It’s even harder to correct a habit that is ~30+ years old. A hot beverage allows me to stretch back, straighten my poster and take a nice hot sip. Doing this every 20-30 minutes helps tremendously.

So when Ember came out with their temperature control mug, it was a no brainer to get one of these.

Ember has a travel mug and a regular mug. Personally I prefer the mug.

They come in 2 sizes, 10 oz and 14 oz. To put it in perspective, the 10 oz although small looks like a normal mug that’s available in the market. The 14 oz mug – although they do have that extra 4 oz; stand out cause the shape and size is not like any other normal cup available in the market.

Also remember these mugs come with a batter – which is typically heavy, so the more bigger you cup, the much heavier it gets. I went with the Black Ember Mug2 10 oz size.

I generally prefer the black color, but when it comes to utilities, I do prefer white. There was one reason I chose the Black Mug – Coffee Stains. These mugs are made of durable stainless-steel with a ceramic reinforced coating (presumably food grade) which gives these mugs the nice matt finish. And this finish will retain coffee stains. I’m sure the black mugs also retains coffee stains, but they are barely visible.

The App

The Ember Mug comes with an app. Following the instructions and I was able to pair this mug with my phone in less than 30 seconds. That was awesome.

It also walked me through to create a profile that allows me to choose a coffee brand, brew style, and my desired temperate. They suggest 135 F to being with; after setting this temperate for a week, i reduced mine to 132. Personalization is a great thing. The app also comes with multiple presets for different kinds of coffee brews.

The overall app is OK. Not the best usable app. The main screen is basically a screen with a single color and a number that shows your current coffee temperature in the middle and at the very bottom an animation showing how far off it is from your desired temperature and your profile if it’s selected one.

The ^ right below the animation suggests more options, and every time instead of tapping it, i swipe up and close the app. When you get there, you can select a coffee preset, or add/remove presets; a Tea timer if you need one, and some coffee recipes. I have never used this page after the first setup.

Settings
The settings screen allows you to:
1. change the color of your LED – I set mine to green
2. Adjust brightness (of the LED maybe?)
3. shows the Battery level
4. Change Temperature – I have mine setup at Fahrenheit
5. Notifications – I turned mine on to notify me when my coffee reaches the right temperature.

Menu
The menu has a lot more options. I enabled Ember X Health and every once in a while when I’m thinking what exactly this app does, I venture into insights.

The LED Indicator
One of the things that has always confused me is the LED indicator on the mug. It flashes Red when the battery is running low or out of charge. Most of the time it is white; and I’m have seen it go Green only when its on my charging plate. Basically IO have absolutely no idea what these indicators mean. For now I think or it as the mug has battery and its working.

Conclusion

So far its the best $99 that I have spent this year.

It keeps my coffee at my desired temperature. The battery on this lasts long enough for me to take my mug and walk around or go to a hour long meeting. Because of the ceramic coating, they do feel fragile, but I’m assuming the stainless-steel makes it durable. The confusing LED indicator – try and tune out of this and think of the white light as the mug’s working.

Dropbox: Rewriting the heart of our sync engine

Sujay Jaykar for Dropbox:

Shipping any change to sync behavior required an arduous rollout, and we’d still find complex inconsistencies in production. The team would have to drop everything, diagnose the issue, fix it, and then spend time getting their apps back into a good state. Even though we had a strong team of experts, onboarding new engineers to the system took years. Finally, we poured time into incremental performance wins but failed to appreciably scale the total number of files the sync engine could manage.

Once you have a successful product at your hand; things start to get complex. It’s not that the world has got complex problems; adding features and at times making this simple add complexity. Also, in today world, technology is so ingrained that anything you build should have the ability to scale almost instantly. But predicting how much to scale is hard. At a given point in time you do have to make a decision to build something again. The approach that you take makes or breaks your new shiny product.

I loved Dropbox’s approach here. They created a “rewrite” checklist.
I understand that one needs to refactor, optimize constantly. But at a certain time and due to resource constraints, this stops happening.

Can you deliver incremental value?

A PM is typically delivering value to their customers every release. I feel this is a very important checklist item; rewrites are slow and the teams needs to come together to pull this off.

They followed this up with a “can you pull off a rewrite” checklist

It’s much easier to write new code than fully understand existing code. So, before embarking on a rewrite, you must deeply understand and respect the “Classic” system.

This comes back to bite you hard. This I feel is the single most important item for a developer and a PM to understand how your existing product works.

Do you have the domain experts who understand the current system?

This is important. If you don’t have some; hire a contractor.

I have been involved in a couple of rewrites myself and things did not go as planned. This checklist made me realized how easy it would have been for me to apply this to every single aspect of the product and then move forward.

Documenting UX

A lot of companies today implement an agile process and the remaining ones like to call themselves agile. A few years back any designer (UX/IX) would pull out their hair because turning around design details wasn’t easy given the amount of time a sprint would end. Years go by and processes have evolved. Processes like LeanUX and staggered sprints or design and R&D sprints in parallel have more or less solved this issue. However these processes have reduced the amount of documentation.

We have user research data, but never used it to create personas. We have analytics data but never exported them out of their software/databases. There are a list of scenarios or stories that are important or have a higher priority, but they never made it to the official todo list or backlog. All, I see is wireframes, trolls of em. Some of them make sense like login screens and forgot passwords; the others I have no idea. Today wireframes have become one of the most important means of documentation. I even see scanned sketches, photographed whiteboards and clickable wireframes. One change in the use case or workflow, and you are back to square one.

It does capture details; however, chances are when I see someone else’s wires, I may not like a solution. How do you support your solution? 

And I have made them all; mistakes. The fact that the requirements or priorities are in my head and not anywhere else does not do good for me to convince someone why these things need to be done the way I intend to. 

Over the last couple of months I started maintaining a combination of few documents that has helped me transition stuff and propose design easily. Here is a short run down of these documents and processes: 

We all do our bit by venturing out and talking to users. We capture notes and lot of em. When you do so, try to capture them as quotes. There are two important advantages in doing so. One, Its faster to write them while you are interviewing/talking to them and Two, it preserves the context. 

“I have to apply the same filter every fucking time I visit this page” 

“See I like this pages concept in OneNote. This way I can just have multiple notebooks and go and write down in pages within them…”

One of the important thing is to digitize these notes. It could be in a notepad or Evernote; I found excel helpful (yeah!). I was able to create buckets/categories and then write the quotes in these specific buckets. Also, when I digitized these notes; I was able to add attributes to them; like screen resolution, position, firm, interview date, system usage, type of user, etc. These become important when I really wanted to narrow down to specific kind of users.  Apart from that I color codeed these quotes – for example. Red for negative, Blue for positive and Greens for opportunities; this gave me an idea on the state of the existing software.  

I haven’t created any personas (and I might not for the time being) for my work. But when I was working on a specific problem, I was able to filter down to a handful of target users in my excel sheet then parsing through notebooks of research data. Once I have narrowed it down to a bunch of users, it is easier for me to identify patterns in their quotes (colors added value). Those attributes that you add now allows you to see how much is in common between these users.

After looking at my excel, I note down tasks/use cases/stories. I maintain a list in a todo list. Apple reminders does the job for me. Nothing fancy. This allows me to scope out, prioritize stuff. Anything that is high priority gets a date and bubbles up, rest of them just remain at the bottom. Simple.

Analytics – If you have it, great. This comes in use when you really want to see what users are doing with existing systems. How are they using it. Export them and keep them handy. Don’t rely on your system that you did log in and get data. Historic data is fine. Patterns are not going to change overnight. Export them because you can quickly pivot data. That is important to figure out supporting numbers for your uses cases. 

This accompanying my wireframes/sketches is a good combination. I try to ensure my wireframes are also not too elaborate. Stick to the specific workflow or use case and thats good enough. 

Trying to Keeping iSimple and Stupid. So far it has worked for me. Maybe over the next few months or a year I will know if it was effective enough.

Please leave your comments and suggestions or any of the processes you personally follow or send an email to get in touch.

Please add “AI” to your Ads…

By now I’m immune to the ads that show up on the website and thanks to Readability, I don’t have to look at them constantly. 

When these ads started, they were irrelevant, some non-sensical ad would just show up randomly on the webpage. However the business model worked. Intelligence got built in and now ads are relevant. You search for something that you are looking to buy, invest and they would follow you all over the web like a ghost for the next few months. 

Well this was a welcome change for business. 

Last year around Thanksgiving I decided to upgrade my Canon DSLR camera. I had been using my existing 50D for about 5 years now, and the urge to get a full frame camera had been on my mind. So sometime in the first week of September I search for a Canon 50D on 3 sites. BHPhotoVideo.com, Amazon.com and for some odd reason Google.com. Apart form the camera I also did a couple of searches for lenses and a camera bag. If I was upgrading, I was upgrading a whole lot of things.

For the next 12 weeks until Thanksgiving week, where ever I went, I could see ads for Canon 5D Mark III, Camera bags every where. BHPhotoVideo.com was the primary contender followed by Adorma and other places where a Canon 5D Mark III was available. I was not bothered by these add, but I would observe them from the corner of my eye when I would be checking my mails, or reading something. 

Finally in November 3rd week I took the plunge and upgraded my self. The camera was delivered to me in 2 business days and Google with all its smart identified the tracking number in my mail box and of course there was the Google now card as well. Thanksgiving was good, the new camera was even awesome. I had a cool new later messenger bag for my new gear.  The Christmas tree went up and celebrations were all around.

After Thanksgiving I log back in and the first ad I see on the browser is for a Canon 5D Mark III from BHPhotoVideo.com.  These ad did not change. They were still there.

So basically,

  1. Google knew what I was looking for and they started showing me ads.
  2. Google scans my email to highlight any tracking numbers and also show me a Google Now card with the tracking number and the product tin transit. 

So why the hell am I seeing this ad now? Why are they so dumb? I bought an item that I was looking for; they scan my mails and the know what have I bought; heck they would even know if I returned something.

So instead of seeing ‘RELEVANT’ ads like accessories for my camera, Lenses that my go well with my camera or even a cool Vacation package; I still see an ad for a Canon 5D Mark III from BHPhotoVideo.com.

Graphic Recording for Documentation

As a Product Designer, wireframes, sketches act as a medium where I can think, explore, validate on a problem space. Be it a wire framing tool or just paper and pen, it works and I’m almost certain a lot of designers do. But the trouble is not there. That’s a great approach; however the problem lies when it comes to documenting this. In the last few years, the amount of documentation that I find for existing products or my own design is almost nil. I see wireframes; big fat wireframes. The bigger the system, the more. 

I don’t see a summary, or a workflow of the problem that someone is trying to solve. Wireframe is not a great tool to deliver that message; forget about a workflow. 

According to Will Evans

A picture is worth a thousand words; an interface is worth a thousand pictures; a theory is worth a thousand interfaces.

Earlier this month I got to attend LeanUX conference in Brooklyn. One of the best things at the conference was the Graphics Recording by Dean Meyers (@deanmeistr). His job although very creative was extremely important – record all the talks in a graphical way. Brilliant. I did not have to take down notes. All I had to do was once the talk was over and during a break walk over to the wall and snap a picture.

I came back to work with a solution to my cumbersome documenting issues. I quickly scribbled down workflows and summarized them in a graphical way. It was awesome. It was one of the best way to communicate the idea as to what exactly I’m trying to solve. I shared it with my team, bingo they got it right away. 

I shared it with someone else with no context to my project to bring them on board; they came back with 100 questions.

What went wrong? I thought I had nailed it. I thought it was simple and intuitive. Everyone understand the diagrams I came up with. I shared the LeanUX conference graphic recordings with my colleagues, and I realized, that a narration was also important. It was easier for me and my team to understand these diagrams because we have a great context around it.

So to solve that issue, what I did was come up with a story line – one liners (and explanation when I had to explain a concept) with bit sized graphics. This was perfect it explained the workflow bit by bit and then zoomed out to show the big picture. Something like what Prezi does and thats exactly what I did. 

If you have the patience to draw and scan, Prezi has been an excellent tool.

Moment Lens – The saga behind buying one.

I have been toying around the idea of getting one of those snap on lenses for my iPhone for a while now. I use my phone for photography a lot and you can see my snaps on Instagram and some of them on Flickr. 

One of the things I have always missed while clicking on iPhone is that extra bit of zoom. The digital zoom absolutely destroys the picture and you don’t not want to use that. I did some research and came across a few snap on zoom lenses for the iPhone, of which Moment Lens and Olloclip. Both of these are great products. While Olloclip is endorsed by a few photographers I know; Austin Mann is one of them.  

So, before I put any money in them, I wanted to see if I could try these out. A friend lend me his Olloclip lens and the performance was good.

The Olloclip is a 4-in-1 system that has 4 lenses – a fisheye, wide angle, 10x macro and a 15x macro. Olloclip is like a snap on lens that you clip it on your iPhone and remove it when you don’t want them. The two lenses that are fish eye and wide angle; you flip them and they become macro lenses. The same way you would reverse a lens on any DSLR camera to make it a macro lens. These are great lenses, however I’m not a big fan of the fish eye, and the iPhones current lens is wide enough to take great pictures (there is always panorama mode). I was intrigued with macro, but somehow I wasn’t impressed with what I clicked.

I tried the Moment lens as well and I was impressed with its performance.  With moment lens it’s a different story. To use these lenses you have to glue its sense holder on to your phone around the camera (they are well designed and don’t look ugly) which allows the moment lens to snap on, much like those DSLR cameras and that’s where the quality and sharpness is amazing. So if you are not serious about these lenses, or you like the aesthetics of your phone; you probably should not be investing in moment lenses. 

Both these products are really great, however the Moment Lens impressed me the most. It takes a while for you to get used to attaching that lens to your phone but once you get the knack of it its easy. Every product has a learning curve, this one its not that long.

No doubt the product is great. But you need to have the same experience when you are selling one. 

I was going on a vacation in about 5 days time and I wanted to make sure I got the lens before Friday evening. For the time being the express shipping option was disabled on their site since they were working with the shipping guys to make sure everything is in place.  

I sent a mail to the team at Moment Lens in Seattle and I got a reply in about 20 minutes with a solution. The team at Moment Lens came back to me saying I could place my order and then call them on a number with my order number and they would ship it to me using FedEx and they would charge me the shipping cost. Not a problem. I was all set to place my order, however my gut feeling was no. So, I borrow my friends lens for my upcoming vacation and place the order once I’m back. 

I place my order for my lens on April 10. Immediately I get a confirmation mail with my order number and an invoice. Since I wasn’t in a hurry now I was ok with their 10 day shipping option. Three days later I get an email that my order has been shipped and something in that email confirmation caught my eye. 

Your Order has been shipped via HongKong POST.
Tracking #XXXXXXXXXXXXX
Click HERE to track your shipment.

Why is my lens being shipped by HongKong POST and where the heck is this coming from? Not that it surprised me that the lens was manufactured and assembled in China (of course), but what surprised me was it was also being shipped from there and not from Seattle. In any case as long as it gets shipped and delivered to me in 10 days I was ok.

When I tried to track my shipment, all it said was “Destination – United States of America”. I waited for a week and mailed the team at Moment Lens and sure enough within a few hours I got an email apologizing for the delay and finally the status on shipment had changed. Now it said:

Destination – United States of America
The item (XXXXXXXXXXXX) left Hong Kong for its destination on 20-Apr-2015

That was great, finally it was shipped after 10 days of me placing this order. I wait.  I wait for another week and yet again Is end another email to the team at Moment Lens on April 27 talking to them about my frustration and the fact that it was supposed to be shipped in 10 days. And there it was in a hours time I had a response with an apology and this time with a link to USPS where I could track the progress of my shipment now that it was shipped to the United States.

I’m not sure if I should consider this to be helpful or not. However this was the status on April 27 and it remains to be the same status on May 1. If you have a great product, make sure you give a great service. At this point in time I’m looking for options on Moment Lens website to see how do I go about canceling my order. 

And the worst; after talking to Moment Lens about my frustration I get an email form them:

There is a certain threshold when even the most patient person would loose it. When this post makes it way to twitter and other social network sites; I won’t be surprised to receive an explanation on the delay or the fact that it does take such a looooooong time to ship something out. It doesn’t matter; my experience buying this product wasn’t great and it does not motivate me at all to go ahead and use it and enjoy my post buying experience.

Outlook for iOS – job well done!

Acompli released an Outlook like app last year and Microsoft did not waste much of a time in snapping up this company. The result, Microsoft official Outlook for iOS app and in quick time.

Microsoft launched Office for iOS and Android sometime last year.  The lack of Outlook as an app was one of the issue that the company face and turns out, with Acompli, they managed to fill that annoying gap. 

After installing the app, it just feels like I’m using the Acompli app. For now it feels that Microsoft has just rebranded this app to Outlook, made a few updates and launched it. Most of the updates are integrations with Microsoft’s own offerings (OneDrive is now available as an integration). Hopefully Microsoft continues to support Dropbox and Google Drive or other external cloud storage services in the future.

Microsoft’s general manage of Office, told the Verge, “We have been and we’ll continue to update the app weekly”.

Some time back I wrote about the Acompli app while I was on the look out for a decent Calendar app. My feedback still stands the same for the Microsoft Outlook app, however after the rebranding, my perspective for the app changed. I’m looking at this app more from an email client perspective and less from a calendar app perspective. And so far as an email client, it does a great job and at the moment I can comfortably say its one of the best email clients for the iOS – yup, time to replace that slow and weird Gmail app on your phones.

I still continue to use Mailbox simply because I use this app on all my drives – iPhone, iPad, MacBook. With Microsoft Outlook available for all these platform as well, I’m still not sure about their Desktop app. I’m keeping my options open. 

With the launch of Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft has been pushing its Office productivity software to iOS. There is a “preview” version for Android available for now and this only confirms that “iOS first” still holds true.