Posts on Product Design



January 15, 2016

The Future of Competence: Don't Be Generic

My competence seems to cycle from back and forth leading-edge to generic.

I started as a specialist, with a PhD in robotics, head-hunted by the robotics department of the UK Nuclear industry.

A few years later, I was a technology manager delivering solutions to customers in the nuclear, aerospace, pharmaceutical, and financial industries. A generalist

Then, I was CEO. Raising finance, recruiting, designing departments, objectives, process, operations. The ultimate generalist

Then, as the dot-com bombed, I stopped having a job.

I joined 100,000 other business managers who were out of work.

That was the end of a cycle

You have a Choice

The choice of a specialist skill or a generic skill is hard.

The choice, like any investment, is a compromise between risk and reward.

For both people and companies. We either choose or it is chosen for us.

Often we don't seem to have a choice. It just happens

The Lure of Generic Skills

Learning excel or outlook are good investments. They are low risk choices, most likely to pay off

Lawyer, manager, accountant, salesman, marketing are also low risk choices.

Job boards always have openings for good managers and salesman.

A manager, salesman or accountant can work anywhere.

Business is about managing people. If you can manage people, you can manage any business.

Managing Human Capital, Harvard Business School

Generalist skills provide structure, certainty and choice. Established education, clear career path, wide choice of employers and customers.

It is the sensible, reputable choice.

Why be different?

Global Markets: Commoditization of Skills

Globalization and technology have increased the supply of skills and services

Generic skills and services are the first to be replicated by competitors in different geographies.

In the world of Google, and online job search, your competition is just one click away

Being the best at a generic skill no longer guarantees a job.

You can no longer compete by simply being better

The Need to Be Different

To compete, you need a service and skills that are not replicated easily

I dont want to be the best. I want to be the only.

Marty Neumeier

Your skills need to be special, different

If you are not different, you have no identity.

You're just a commodity

To have an identity, you need a point of difference

And if you don't have one, you need to create one

Dave Trott

Differentiation: You Have to Choose

Making yourself different involves choosing. You have to choose a focus. You have to choose your difference.

Persisting with your focus involves saying "no" to jobs, requests and clients outside of that focus

Acquiring a specialism, a differentiation requires a sacrifice. Requires an investment

The greater your focus, the greater the possible reward, the more risky the investment.

Increasingly, without risk, there is no reward. It is the nature of the current market.

You will have to take some risk.

Focus is the Hardest Thing

Most of us like being generalists.

I like being versatile. Give me a problem, I will fix it.

I don't have to make choices. I just serve.

I like diverse problems. I like learning new things.

Variety, is it not the smart thing?

No

Focus is the hardest thing.

Rules of Focus: The One Thing

First choose your focus. Your domain of expertise.

The generic skills are the functional axis, horizontal rows, in an organization chart.

The specialist skills are the product or project columns, the verticals.

The specialist skills, product or client know-how, provide the competitiveness, the differential of the company.

Specialist skills are always domain specific. Highly dependent on context.

You are unique because you know the context that matters.

Pick a narrow specialist skill. How many people claim to be experts in your domain?

The harder the competition, the narrower, the more focus you need.

Conclusion: How Your Company Values You

A company is as competitive as its differentiation in the market

Companies value the people that create the difference

All companies can hire generic skill staff. Therefore, that can't provide the company's differentiation.

The staff with skills specific to the company create the differential. They focus on the company's specific domain, its context, its products.

Computer science purists love the art of coding, “if the algorithm is cool, if the integration is pretty, they’re happy.”

“For me, it’s all about the end product, not how I got there.”

Rasmus Lerdorf

Are you loyal to your products, or to your generic skill?

You can measure Domain Specific competence

How much do you know of the company's specific context?

Do you know the customer? the product users? the specific technology? the product? the competition?

The highest scorer in Domain Specific competence is the company founder, always

If you score high on Domain Specific competence, you make a difference

If you want to make a difference, don't be generic

References:

- College and Business Will Never Be The Same - End of Silo'd Careers, Steve Blank

- Knocking Down Walls, Marty Cagan

- The Internal Agency Model, Marty Cagan

- The Refragmentation, the demise of the corporate class, and rise of creative classes, Paul Graham

- How Google Works, Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg

- Developing Strong Product Owners, Marty Cagan

- The Role of Domain Experience, Marty Cagan

- Product vs IT Mindset, Marty Cagan

- Finding Your Edge, Alice Bentinck, Entrepreneur First

- So You Want to Manager?, Julie Zhuo, Facebook

- The Zag, Marty Neumeier

- The Brand Flip, Marty Neumeier

- The Linchpin, Seth Godin

- Theory of Efficient Markets, where return is proportionate to risk

- The no.1 Reason to Focus, Seth Godin

- No is Essential, Seth Godin

- Reductio Ad Absurdum - The One Thing, Dave Trott

- "T-Shaped People", Tim Brown, IDEO

- Understanding UX Skills, Irene Au

- Advice for Thriving in a World of Change, Joi Ito

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January 11, 2016

Product First

What Comes First? Sales, Branding or the Product

What comes first? I have had this argument regularly for the last 25 years.

With sales, marketing, technical, and services departments. In fact, with every department director I can think of.

As a junior engineer, my sales director gave me my first "commercial awareness" ticking off; "first, you sell it".

The 21st Century - Your Product is Your Branding

Not long ago, you could create a brand with advertising. Pure Brand Advertising.

Now, you can only create a brand with people, with a community. With a crowd of people that say your stuff is good.

You need buyers on ebay voting you as good. Good reviewers on Amazon. 5 star feedback, social media likes, up ticks, votes

What you think and say no longer matters.

Your brand is what the customers say it is. The crowd uses your product, and they decide

The product creates the experience,

The experience creates the reputation,

The reputation creates the brand

Dave Trott

Your product must do your advertising, your sales and your branding

I know sales and marketing directors who are confused and saddened by this new age

Think of it as an oyster,

You start with a piece of grit, and build a pearl round it,

People buy the pearl, they don't buy the grit,

But no grit, no pearl

Dave Trott

So, please. Product first.

References:

- Death of Salesman, Marty Cagan

- "How to empower the customers who will drive your success", The Brand Flip, Marty Neumeier

- "Is advertising a Con?", Creative Mischief, Dave Trott

- Product Trumps Distribution, Nic Brisbourne

- Positioning, Eric & Laura Ries

- Red Hat Community Branding, Chris Grams

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June 10, 2015

Product Style

In the Beginning, I was an Engineer

I engineered solutions to problems. I built things. By training, by aptitude, by inclination. I did the maths. I ensured bridges built did not fall in the river. Style was an alien word to me. I did not do colours. I engineered.

My First Client

I delivered a product to my first client. A tele-robotics upgrade. A robot and a fancy joystick. Great tele-presence robotics. For cutting up radioactive boxes. High end gear. Superb function and utility.

But the operators did not like it.

  1. "I have to think about it"
  2. "It is distracting"
  3. "Gets in the way"
  4. "Makes me nervous"
  5. "Too much funny business"

My first product ended in my bin. Client was annoyed. "It is about my operators and their job, not about your product".

Great engineering failed my users

Always Develop with Style

That moment, I became a stylist. A product Stylist. Styling my products for ease of use. Where the operator retains his train of thought, his flow, his focus, his concentration, his attention. My product designs must be invisible to the user, while he works.

Always style for your user, and the user's task.

Elements of Style - circa 1900

My first style lesson was - please write clearly

  • Write to and for your audience
  • Do not say more than is necessary;
    confine yourself to what the user needs, to understand what is happening
  • Omit Needless Words
    Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should have no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unncecessary sentences. Every word must tell.

To improve styling skills, practice, practice, practice

Develop a Personal Style

My favorite style is minimalism. I favour brevity. I keep things simple. I am simplicity driven. In writing, taking pictures, coding, building websites, apps or even fashion. Minimalism is a most effective style.

Nevertheless, always style with a purpose. Style for your User and his tasks

Product Style Pyramid

First rule of product style - please be useful

  1. First comes content and utility, of course,
  2. Style for readability and usability even when developing
  3. Remember the product's identity, narrative and iconography
  4. Finally, focus on the aesthetics to shape a personality, an affect, an emotion Don’t open a shop unless you like to smile - Chinese Proverb

Style basics have not changed in 100 years. The human eye and the hand are a constant. Style has evolved though, check Kathy Sierra's Cognitive Seduction.


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