Saturday, January 12, 2013

Product Management: What do I do to be a PM of my own idea? (Part 2)

This is a continuation of my yesterday's post.

Let me pick up from where I left off.  I laid out the steps to be a product manager (PM) for your own project.  If you are not sure how to get your foot in the door as a product manager, these steps will help you get product management experience.  In fact these are the steps that many successful startups use to launch their own business.

1. Pick an expensive problem to solve in your life.
2. Come up with a product idea that you can use yourself.
3. Write down how you are solving the problem without the product today.
4. Spell out how you want to interact with your product.
5. Fake the product to your potential customer.
6. Remove an interaction one at a time until you cannot remove any more without becoming useless.
7. Write down your finding.

Let's pick up from Step #4.

4. Spell out how you want to interact with your product.

Go get a stack of 3x5 index cards.  If you are cheap like me and don't want to go out and get cards, make cards on your own by cutting up a piece of letter-size paper into 8 pieces (one vertical cut and three horizontal cuts of equal length).  The reason why I recommend index cards is that it's easy to rearrange them and see how the flow changes.  Small card size also forces you to be brief.

Your mindset should be one of telling a story.  You are telling a story of how you would use a product that you are about to define to solve the problem.  Write a story based on your experience of interacting with other products.  Think of each card representing a scene in the story.

For example, my content discovery product will interact with me like so:
  • Create a new account
  • Login to the system
  • Connect with Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook accounts (similar to Zite or Flipboard)
  • Wait for the magic happens (I'll have to come back to this)
  • User starts to get interesting content on the home page similar to Facebook
If you are unable to fill out how the magic happens, i.e. what the system does to come up with interesting content, that's ok.  It's obvious in this example that we are leaving the core piece of our system to reader's imagination.  Sometimes we might not realize that there are missing steps until we act out the system as you will see later.

Keep in mind that defining the product behavior is an iterative process.  It's not something that you wake up one day and start writing it down.  It takes continual revision through clarifying the behavior, testing it with users and tweaking it.  In fact, the step that forces you revise is the next two steps.

5. Fake the product to your potential customer.

Now that you've written down the story scene by scene, you are ready to implement the product.  How?  Unless you have years of programming experience, you may feel that it's impossible to create a system that does something for you.  You have to pick up a book on programming, get yourself a nice laptop to write the code, needs the visual designer to design your user interface, etc., etc.

Yes, it is true.  In order to launch the real product, you will first go through all those steps or have enough money to hire engineers to do them for you.  But we are not there yet.  What we are after is to validate our product idea.  Whether it runs on your fancy MacBook Air or your Nexus 10 tablet is not the requirement.

So what do we do?  You simulate the product.  Pretend that you are the guy inside a ATM machine who processes the customer transaction.  What you need is to write down the set of step-by-step instructions that you need to do when the user comes to your site and submits the request.  Think of yourself creating how-to recipe for other guys to do the same job of being the product.

That looks awfully crammed.
You don't have to be this literal.
Going back to my example, I would write down the following:

  • Ask for registration, if first time user.
  • Upon registration, write down the user name and password on the notepad.
  • Ask for login, if already registered.
  • When user logs on, match the user name and password and if correct, display the next screen.  If not, display the login page with an error message.
  • Ask user to connect with Twitter account.
  • When user connects Twitter account, do the think that other websites do to get access to the user's Twitter account.
  • Now the product is in action.
    • Go fetch the Twitter accounts that the user follows.
    • Find out the most influential authors (by seeing its Klout scores) out of those who the user follows.
    • Get the yesterday tweets with links from these authors.
    • Display the articles referenced by the links to the user.

Good.  Now if I were to recruit someone off the street to be my product, I can do that. (I've essentially programmed a human using English language!)

Now the fun begins.  It's time to go meet your friend and ask for his feedback.

Let's pick up from here later.

UPDATE (1/15/2013): The part 1 and part 3 are online.  If you have question or comment to improve this guide, please let me know via comment.

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