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Archive for January, 2009

Turning Product Development into a Process

January 13, 2009 1 comment

A product manager’s best friend is data. Without data you are left with opinion and predjudice. With data you can have great discussions about tradeoffs, impacts and data forces people to deal in the ‘real’ versus ‘what if’ world. Digging into my product management roots, I thought I would share one of the tools we used to track project releases, release contents and keep product development on the same page with marketing. This tool is called the ‘Product Calendar‘ and it is an Excel spreadsheet. Pretty innovative, no?

How much simpler can managing releases via an excel spreadsheet be? Take a look below.

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How It Works

  • Each release bucket is represented as a column and features are represented as rows. 
  • Columns are designated with a release date and an overall status at the top: Planning, Development, Released, etc… If a feature does not look like it will make the release, it moves to the right into the next column i.e. next  release. 
  • Based on the readiness of the feature it moves up or down the colum. To get above the bold black line the feature has to be defined somehow in the form of a PRD, spec, wiki page to the point where engineering knows what is being built. To move above the thick gray bar, QA must sign off on having tested the feature.

The magic of this method: everything that goes on the spreasheet must fit on an 8.5 x 11 in. piece of paper. It doesn’t matter how small the font is and you can’t roll over to a second page. What does this accomplish? It forces the organization to make tradeoffs with features/resources/time and it gives a very simple format for marketing, engineering and QA on which to base that discussion. It is very easy to over-commit on features and delay releases, especially in start-up world.

Updating the Calendar

Every week we would have a Product Calendar meeting with the product managers and engineering and QA managers. Everyone is expected to come prepared on the status of how the features are doing, if the feature is ready for QA, completed testing, etc… The features would move up/down or right/left In reality not everyone came on time, but that changed over time as peer pressure kicked in.

In Summary

Here are a few reasons on why I found this to be such a helpful tool. 

1. It is basically a very well organized excel sheet. Most people are allergic to overly complex project management tools but everyone knows how to use excel.

2. Everything fits on one page making it easy to get a complete picture of the product details going out 6-9 months.

3. It forces great discussions on resources, priorities and product strategies.

Finally, I was introduced to the Product Calendar and this process by Dr. Russell while we worked together at GigaFin. It takes a little time to get everyone use to the process, but then it becomes second nature.

G1 Android Wishlist for 2009

January 2, 2009 2 comments

Potential

2009 is the year of Android and G1, at least that is my hope. There is a lot of potential in this product, but potential doesn’t get you success or superbowl rings, just ask Tony Romo, T.O. and the Dallas Cowboys. I found a post talking about a Top 10 G1 wishlist which covered the most important feature missing in the G1, the on-screen keyboard. With the upcoming ‘cupcake’ release that will hopefully be remedied. Unfortunately as of Jan.1 in CA, there is no more texting and driving so my #1 reason for wanting the on-screen keyboard is no longer valid. Not to worry there are a few other reasons for wanting the on-screen kb which I will not bore everyone with unless you really want to hear it.

Continuing on with the G1 Android wishlist, here are a few that I think can take this product from just a smartphone to my most favorite gadget EVER!! At this moment, that spot is being held by the Flip Mino HD, which I got a few weeks ago and absolutely cannot live without.

SIDEBAR When I was growing up one of my responsibilities was family video recorder. I had to lug around these giant video cameras to record family vacations and social events on VHS tapes. The weight of this on my shoulder alone cost me any shot at a professional sports career. The fact that I had no hops, just average speed and was 5’6″ didn’t help either. Fast forward 15 years and the video recorder is the size of a cell phone, records in HD and is as easy as pushing a little red button. If I had this when I was growing up, then my mom or dad could have been the one recording and I would have been able to protect my shoulder for football, basketball or baseball. I guess these things happen for a reason. 

Back to the G1 Android list, here are a few things that I think will continue to fully exploit the G1’s potential. (In no particular order)

1. Better integration with the accelerometer and screen rotation in all apps. It is already integrated into the video player and Steel showed that you can do this with the web browser, what about other apps like fBook, WikiNotes, photos?

2. More battery life. I am tempted to buy the higher capacity battery. Power Meter is a very cool utility that takes on managing the battery for me, but I need to be able to go longer between charges.

3. More apps that integrate camera with context like shopsavy and wikitude. Augmented Reality is not a future innovation, it is here and getting integrated in many places. There are a ton of opportunities to blend context into the camera that will make people happier, more aware of their surroundings, save them money and connect them to the world among other things. We are just scratching the surface of what is possible and I would love to see the G1 be the device to bring AR into the hands of consumers. Read my earlier post about AR for other uses.

4. Mario Kart + accelerometer integrated would be killer. This is a personal wish based on the cravings of my innerchild. But it would be cool, no?

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Hope you enjoyed my take on the G1’s potential.

Photo Credits: Cheryl Syverson