Categories
Experiences

Ethan Hunt and product development

What am I talking about?

Every Mission Impossible movie is incomplete without a formidable villain. Similarly, product development in many large organisations is incomplete without delays. Weird comparison, I know. While there is an entire industry dedicated to making stuff agile, we aren’t nearly there. Watch a great talk on this subject, by Dave Thomas.

I have been talking to a few friends across industries. They agree that the most important metric of product development is how fast you ship. Having great ideas is ok. However, if you don’t ship code fast enough, there is no point. Some people pride themselves on shipping code daily. However, others are lucky if they manage shipping it monthly.

What makes fast product development so difficult?

People use JIRA, DevOps, automation, but speed still underwhelms. I tried to analyse why that is the case. In summary, I list 3 key areas where improvements can be made.They are mainly to do with people. People are everything.

De-layer ruthlessly until you get to a performing product development function.

There are simply too many functions and teams involved. Its not unusual to find that the product owner works in one team, while the developers sit elsewhere. The project manager is borrowed from another function. The BA double hats across projects. The scrum masters are roped in like para-troopers. The product owner never sees the developers. Those are recipes of disaster. It is not always possible for teams to be co-located. However, we cannot allow too many layers between the product, engineering and experience. Moreover, you don’t need to “mobilise” every time.

Make sure that the product manager is technical, and has a good sense of experience design.

A Product manager should be able to converse in technical language. In Tech industry, you wouldn’t find non-technical product managers. A product manager should also understand how software engineering works. This allows a product manager to challenge the right assumptions. It also allows him / her to be empathetic towards the team.

Everyone needs “digital” skills. Period.

Digital for many is a discipline. People proudly say they are a digital product manager. There is no such thing as pure digital skill-set. Have you seen a digital department at Google? The product skills are necessary. However, Digital skills are a must have. You can hire a “Digital PM” but rest assured, it will slow you down. To be clear, Digital functions are immensely valuable. However, pure play digital skills are a thing of the past.

It is a hard to make generalisations. These are just some tips. Some of my suggestions are radical. They will take time to implement. However, for mission impossible you do need an Ethan Hunt. Charm. Wit and Charsima with patience.

Categories
Experiences

Of “Ethan Hunt” and product development

Every “Mission-Impossible” movie is incomplete without a formidable villain in it. In a similar manner, product development in many large organisations is incomplete without the utter disillusionment of stakeholders. Weird comparison, I know. Firstly, there is an entire industry now dedicated to making development agile. Its full of buzzwords that many people pretend to understand. Scrum, Sprint, Gollum, Yoda (you get the point). Watch a great talk on this subject below by Dave Thomas.

Secondly, I have been talking to a few friends working in product development across industries. Most agree that the single most important metric to measure effectiveness of product development in a company is how fast you ship code. Having great ideas matters but if you don’t ship code fast enough, you might as well not do it. Some people pride themselves on releasing on a daily basis some weekly and in case of many companies its their lucky day if they manage to make it to the designated release in a given month.

So what is going on? People use JIRA, Dev Ops, test automation, and all kinds of ninja kit, but when it comes to how fast they ship code, the speed still underwhelms. I tried to analyse why that is the case. Without going into problems too much, I list 3 key areas where improvements can be made.

  1. De-layer ruthlessly until you get to a performing product management function

There are simply too many functions and teams involved. Its not unusual to find that the product owner works in a different team while the developers sit in a different team. The project manager is borrowed from another function while the BA double hats across 3 projects. The scrum masters are roped in like para-troopers and the product owner never even gets to see the developers. Those are recipes of disaster. While it is not always possible for teams to be co-located, we cannot allow too many layers between the product, engineering and experience. Bringing them together within a single coherent structure will be a great start. Moreover, you do away with additional effort of having to “mobilise” a delivery every time and go through a budgeting exercise at the start and end of the development effort.

2. Make sure that the product manager is technical and has a good sense of experience  design

While it is not necessary for him or her to code, he or she absolutely needs to be able to converse and work with development team without feeling like they are talking to aliens. As most industries begin competing with tech industry they need to get this right. In tech organisations you wouldn’t, even by exception, find product managers that do not understand technology. Today’s products are technology products, and not being technical at all is not the luxury the companies can afford for long.

3. Everyone needs “digital” skills. Period.

Digital for many is a discipline and people proudly say that they are a “digital product manager” or a “digital BA” or a “digital user experience designer”. Given most products in question here are digital, the nuances of digital expertise are not materially different skill sets. Have you seen a digital department at Google? The product skills are necessary sure, but digital skills are a must when all of our products are digital. Yes, if you have lots of money you can hire a “Digital PM” but rest assured, it will slow you down. Just to be absolutely clear, the digital functions are immensely valuable and probably engines of growth for many organisations, however, “pure play digital” or “pure play product” skills will be a thing of the past soon.

It is a hard to make generalisations and I appreciate that these many not apply to many organisations. These also may not be exhaustive list of remedies, it is for now just a starter for 10. At the end of the day, these are quite radical changes, and they will not happen overnight. But for every tall order and a “Mission Impossible” you always need charm, wit and courage of an “Ethan Hunt” 🙂

@abhinandanshah

 

Categories
Learnings

3 reasons we are unknowingly addicted to social media 

The biggest source of courage for the fearful is someone else’s fear. (Source : Narcos, Netflix)

Now that I have your attention, let me give 3 actual reasons.

# 1 By the way if it wasn’t clear, first reason is human beings are not as rational as you think they are, they easily fall to cognitive bias 

Ok let’s draw a parallel. Did you know what is common between Gambling and Facebook? In gambling, you play a hand, and almost immediately you have a random set of results, this result “always” has a possibility of you winning. Best thing is, sometimes you might even win big. However those who play long enough realise that most people lose more than they win. People are still willing to put more bets, making gambling dangerously addictive. Facebook and some other social networks on the other hand, rely on a different kind of reward – Social validity and likeability. Studies after studies have proven that what matter to us the most is our relationships, the closeness, and quality of our relationships. The busy lives we lead often mean we cannot give enough time to many of those relationships that matter. We came up with a solution, we digitised it. Whatsapp, Facebook have become more like religions. You upload a picture or a status update on Facebook. The network effect ensures that a set of random outcomes start showing immediately. People “like” you and people comment. The odds of that happening are easily higher than you winning on a slot machine. It’s harder to be liked in real life than on Facebook, and many have found a convenient shortcut. I’m just saying! 

#2 social networks are skilfully designed as habit forming products

A business insider article cites this book and explains further. The book “how to build habit forming products” explains how Facebook or the likes thereof create associations with human behaviour. Facebook has created association with boredom. Whoever gets bored can alleviate the itch by scrolling through their newsfeed. There you are, Hooked. Every now and then, when you feel bored you come back, you like, you scroll and you comment. When you invest that effort, you “load a trigger”, the trigger fires when someone else likes, comments and you receive an external trigger and “pop”! that push notification takes you straight in! Isn’t that really smart and habit forming? you bet!

#3 studies have proven that social networks can be somewhat as addictive as substance abuse  – it’s worth clarifying that they are also different in many ways

Researcher Turel explains further. The Facebook “addicts” showed greater activation of their amygdala and striatum, brain regions that are involved in impulsive behavior. But unlike in the brains of cocaine addicts, for instance, the Facebook users showed no quieting of the brain systems responsible for inhibition in the prefrontal cortex.

That could be because Facebook “addiction” is fundamentally unlike substance addiction, or it could be that the study only looked at people whose daily lives weren’t much impaired by their desire to be on Facebook. 

Trick as usual folks is moderation. 

Categories
Experiences

Technology Trends in 2015

2015 felt like a year, that was in a hurry to deliver. Why? firstly, boy it flew. I heard this amazing phrase at work the other day that seems so true as I reflect on the year past. Very nicely said.

The days are long, but the years are shorter

However as I recollect my thoughts, I do believe there were many developments that stood out for me. I would like to share them with you.

#1 Fin-tech technology trends are as much hype as an actual disruption.

I have read much about it. Also, I have heard a lot about it from “experts”. I have been experiencing it first hand as well. To put it in a nutshell, there is much more hype to fin-tech than meets the eye. I love bitcoin, blockchain and many other financial technology platforms that hold great promise for the future of financial services. However, lately there has been a steady rise in the fin-tech coverage by all kinds of media. This is amplified by social media where fin-tech influencers are constantly shaping opinion, sharing articles and providing opinions. Many times I have been disappointed by collection of logos, and predictions and articles. These can only be described as clickbait. I sense a hype machine. Perhaps no conspiracy, but that seems to be the hot topic right now.

Tech is not new to financial services.

However, the likes of Google, Facebook have brought massive scale computing to the use of masses. They have done so in a way that puts customers at the centre. It is true that banks haven’t been quick to catch up. Traditionally, what makes the banks so long lived is the customer trust and relationships. These must be extended into the digital world. Fin-tech are clearly trying to capitalise the digital experience differential.

There are some technologies such as blockchain that are capable of fundamentally disrupting money and the business of money. Blockchain de-centralises the transactions and verification of transactions thereby vastly improving integrity of permanence and authenticity. However the technology has failed to garner widespread “trust” so far from the general public. People do not care whether its blockchain or a donkey that carries their FX transaction across the border. What they care about is the trust, speed, convenience. This is not a problem that technology can solve. Building a brand that people can trust can take time, and the new players operating within our industry must be patient, while the established ones should be capitalising their existing “right to play”.

Another key observation I have is that while the fin-tech startups claim to “unbundle” the banks and create a great seamless experience, commercial longevity of such a model could be questioned. The lacklustre revenue growth in many fin-tech startups is a testament to this fact. There is lots of room for innovation however the capital and risk heavy nature of the business isn’t going to change overnight. Its generally been very hard for FinTech to chase profitability.

One thing is granted though, any kind of disruption, perceived or real will force incumbents and new players to think ultimately about the customer. Therefore, in any case the customer will win! that is the best thing about all this.

# 2 Drones, artificial intelligence, and information security have shown  paradigm changing potential as technology trends

Sheer number of drone related products this year has been extraordinary. The regulatory and safety chaos and response that ensued is quite natural as well. While I have struggled to see a real world, highly scaled out and commercial application beyond aerial videos and some gimmickry around drone deliveries, I believe this is one of the technology trends that holds promise in the medium term and we might begin to see some differentiated applications in 2016.

Artificial intelligence has come of age. Granted, there is no “fundamental” progress in terms of solving for the true AI, however deep learning and massive scale distributed computing has opened applications not possible before. Right from Tesla’s auto pilot mode, to google’s translation app (I used it a lot while I was in Brazil) are a proof. The amount of investment and attention that AI will get in 2016 will only go up. I do believe in some doomsday scenarios presented by some luminaries, I think we really need to be careful while dealing with true machine intelligence; human beings could certainly become a casualty here.

Thirdly, can you even recall how many businesses got hacked in 2015? My god, the notion that your information is never truly secure on the internet should be a forgone conclusion! This year I saw a couple startups claiming to offer IT security solutions that even “quantum computers” won’t be able to break. While it may be easy to ridicule the premise of quantum computers breaking the encryption codes; it is not completely outlandish and we all know instinctively that the day is not far away when someone figures out how to break the stuff that has not been broken yet. The industry needs renewed focus on IT security needs to invest in this or be ready to be vulnerable in future.

#3 There are still doubts lingering around the sharing economy model

AirBnB and the issues it has faced with revenue growth & occupancy of the properties on its platform, or Uber and its legal problems galore highlight that the advantage “digital platforms” provide is not necessarily a panacea. You cannot deny the amount of cash the platforms are drawing in, both as investments and revenue. I do worry though as to whats next for these businesses, competition is emerging already like mushrooms, and all over the place. Can competing on price help? how do you differentiate or maintain competitive advantage in the digital age? Everybody seems to be believing in “winner takes all” philosophy; I wonder if that’s the right attitude. This is one of the technology trends I am not really sure about!

#4 Digital music streaming has gone mainstream, finally!

I can’t seem to meet anybody who still sync’s their songs from iTunes. Tale of the times. Hey, despite impressive performance and arrival to the party of Apple Music (Apple’s latest streaming music service), I still prefer the intuitive design of Spotify. Sorry Apple!!

#5 We are all heading “Back to the future”!

It almost seems like we are fast forwarding to the future at an unprecedented rate and scale. Genetics (did you know there are a few high profile startups working on age reversing), food engineering (have you tried synthetic beef yet?), all pervasive fitness trackers (there is one in your iPhone you know), discovery of higgs boson (although scientists are still confused between supersymmetry and parallel universes), rockets that go to space and land back on earth, I mean come on! All this within a year?

I think I will never finish this blog post, but you will agree with me that 2015 has been an amazing year for technology trends and advancement of science. Remember,  Maslow’s pyramid talks about self-actualisation. I believe the world is segmented into people who have achieved, all the lower layers of the pyramid and are now trying to push the envelope and there are others who are still dealing with perils of our civilization.

We still have massive problems such as terrorism (is anyone thinking about a tech solution to terrorism?) ; there is global climate change, inequality and disease all over the world. While we have taken some decisive steps in the direction of lasting peace and stemming our climate from boiling over, much more needs doing. I want to leave you with a beautiful picture from one of my travels this year. Look at the serenity and beauty of our world, we need to do more for our mother nature give back more than we take from her.

Wishing everyone a very happy and prosperous 2016!

Categories
Experiences

2015, a year so incredible!

2015 felt like a year, that was in a hurry to deliver. Why? firstly, boy it flew. I heard this amazing phrase at work the other day that seems so true as I reflect on the year past. Very nicely said.

“The days are long, but the years are shorter”

However as I recollect my thoughts, I do believe there were many developments that stood out for me. I would like to share them with you, as I re-start my blog after a good 7 year break.

#1 Fin-tech is as much hype as it is actual disruption

I have read much about it, I have heard a lot about it from “experts” and I have been experiencing it first hand as well. To put it in a nutshell, while you cannot deny the fervour of activity going on in this space, there is much more hype to fin-tech than meets the eye. I love bitcoin, blockchain and many other financial technology platforms that hold great promise for the future of financial services. However, lately there has been a steady rise in the fin-tech coverage by all kinds of media. This is amplified by social media where fin-tech influencers are constantly shaping opinion, sharing articles and providing opinions. Many times I have been disappointed by collection of logos, and predictions and articles that can only be described as clickbait. I sense a hype machine, perhaps no conspiracy but more so because that seems to be the hot topic right now.

Tech is not new to financial services, however the likes of Google, Facebook have brought massive scale computing to the use of masses and have done so in a way that puts customers at the centre. It is true that banks haven’t been quick to catch up. Traditionally however, what makes the banks so successful and long lived is the very customer trust and relationships that must be extended into the digital world. Fin-tech are clearly trying to capitalise the digital experience differential.

There are some technologies such as blockchain that are capable of fundamentally disrupting money and the business of money. Blockchain de-centralises the transactions and verification of transactions thereby vastly improving integrity of permanence and authenticity. However the technology has failed to garner widespread “trust” so far from the general public. People do not care whether its blockchain or a donkey that carries their FX transaction across the border. What they care about is the trust, speed, convenience. This is not a problem that technology can solve. Building a brand that people can trust can take time, and the new players operating within our industry must be patient, while the established ones should be capitalising their existing “right to play”.

Another key observation I have is that while the fin-tech startups claim to “unbundle” the banks and create a great seamless experience, commercial longevity of such a model could be questioned. The lacklustre revenue growth in many fin-tech startups is a testament to this fact. There is lots of room for innovation however the capital and risk heavy nature of the business isn’t going to change overnight. Its generally been very hard for FinTech to chase profitability.

One thing is granted though, any kind of disruption, perceived or real will force incumbents and new players to think ultimately about the customer. Therefore, in any case the customer will win! that is the best thing about all this.

# 2 Drones, artificial intelligence, and information security have shown  paradigm changing potential.

Sheer number of drone related products this year has been extraordinary. The regulatory and safety chaos and response that ensued is quite natural as well. While I have struggled to see a real world, highly scaled out and commercial application beyond aerial videos and some gimmickry around drone deliveries, I believe the technology holds promise in the medium term and we might begin to see some differentiated applications in 2016.

Artificial intelligence has come of age. Granted, there is no “fundamental” progress in terms of solving for the true AI, however deep learning and massive scale distributed computing has opened applications not possible before. Right from Tesla’s auto pilot mode, to google’s translation app (I used it a lot while I was in Brazil) are a proof. The amount of investment and attention that AI will get in 2016 will only go up. I do believe in some doomsday scenarios presented by some luminaries, I think we really need to be careful while dealing with true machine intelligence; human beings could certainly become a casualty here.

Thirdly, can you even recall how many businesses got hacked in 2015? My god, the notion that your information is never truly secure on the internet should be a forgone conclusion! This year I saw a couple startups claiming to offer IT security solutions that even “quantum computers” won’t be able to break. While it may be easy to ridicule the premise of quantum computers breaking the encryption codes; it is not completely outlandish and we all know instinctively that the day is not far away when someone figures out how to break the stuff that has not been broken yet. The industry needs renewed focus on IT security needs to invest in this or be ready to be vulnerable in future.

#3 There are still doubts lingering around the sharing economy model

AirBnB and the issues it has faced with revenue growth & occupancy of the properties on its platform, or Uber and its legal problems galore highlight that the advantage “digital platforms” provide is not necessarily a panacea. You cannot deny the amount of cash the platforms are drawing in, both as investments and revenue. I do worry though as to whats next for these businesses, competition is emerging already like mushrooms, and all over the place. Can competing on price help? how do you differentiate or maintain competitive advantage in the digital age? Everybody seems to be believing in “winner takes all” philosophy; I wonder if that’s the right attitude. 

#4 Digital music streaming has gone mainstream, finally!

I can’t seem to meet anybody who still sync’s their songs from iTunes. Tale of the times. Hey, despite impressive performance and arrival to the party of Apple Music (Apple’s latest streaming music service), I still prefer the intuitive design of Spotify. Sorry Apple!!

#5 We are all heading “Back to the future”!

It almost seems like we are fast forwarding to the future at an unprecedented rate and scale. Genetics (did you know there are a few high profile startups working on age reversing), food engineering (have you tried synthetic beef yet?), all pervasive fitness trackers (there is one in your iPhone you know), discovery of higgs boson (although scientists are still confused between supersymmetry and parallel universes), rockets that go to space and land back on earth, I mean come on! All this within a year? I think I will never finish this blog post, but you will agree with me that 2015 has been an amazing year for technology and advancement of science. Remember,  Maslow’s pyramid talks about self-actualisation. I believe the world is segmented into people who have achieved, all the lower layers of the pyramid and are now trying to push the envelope and there are others who are still dealing with perils of our civilization.

We still have massive problems such as terrorism (is anyone thinking about a tech solution to terrorism?) ; there is global climate change, inequality and disease all over the world. While we have taken some decisive steps in the direction of lasting peace and stemming our climate from boiling over, much more needs to be done. and I want to leave you with a beautiful picture from one of my travels this year. Look at the serenity and beauty of our world, we need to do more for our mother nature give back more than we take from her.

Wishing everyone a very happy and prosperous 2016!