The new role of Product Manager

Having been in the field of Product Management for the better part of 10 years now, I couldn’t help but appreciate this article on the evolving role of Product Manager in the work place posted by SVPG almost a year ago. While there is a certain inference to the start-up world in their post, it still has much relevance for any Product Manager (especially one that is in a technology sector such as myself). In fact, I enjoyed it so much I wanted to share my revision of their Old versus New Product Manager, I hope you enjoy:

  “Old” Product Manager “New” Product Manager
Where they fit in the Organization:  Marketing  Product (Product Management plus User Experience Design), a Peer to Technology and Marketing
Education:  MBA  Computer Science or User Experience Design
Spends Days:  Writing Requirements Documents  Product Discovery / Pursuing Minimum Viable Product
Learns About Customer Behavior:  With Focus Groups  With User Testing and A/B Testing
Makes Case For Project Funding Based On:  A Business Case  Customer and Product Discovery
Reads:  The Wall Street Journal  TechCrunch, GigaOM, Reddit, and a hundred other blogs
Deep Knowledge In:  How To Use Excel  Customers
Loves:  To Be The Boss  To Apply Technology To Solve Problems
Sits With:  “The Business”  Product Team (Designers and Developers)
When Things Don’t Go Well:  Blames The Developers  Blames Himself
Strives To Please: Stakeholders Customers
Makes Decisions Based On: Opinions Data
Communicates With Stakeholders: With PowerPoint With Prototypes
Attitude: Believes His Ideas Are Great Knows At Least Half of Ideas Won’t Work or will require change in order to work
Worries About: Competitors Taking Care Of Customers
Secret Weapon: Killer Features User Experience / Usability of product
Strives To Create: Profits Value (because it’s the best path to sustained profits)

Almost all of this list is borrowed from the SVPG post, but I did take liberties to throw my own additions where I felt it was most appropriate. I also don’t want to give any misconceptions here; this is not about a right versus wrong approach. This is about showing how the position has changed and is being viewed in up and coming organization. On a personal level I feel I am more of a hybrid of the two types, with an emphasis on the newer values. I feel I have successfully adapted to the old approach (perhaps more to conform than anything), but deep down it is hard to ignore the newer values that are so heavily rooted in customer experience.

Bye Bye Bret….

I know I am a few days late posting this now, but Bret Bielema is gone from Wisconsin. I think my delay has more to do with my being in shock, cause I didn’t see it coming. Let me go on record that I don’t dislike Bret as many in Wisconsin do, however I have been as skeptical as anyone. One of the most frequent questions was why was Bret not loved by so many in Wisconsin? It is purely opinion, but I think I know:

  • We were spoiled by Barry. Wisconsin is the house that Barry built and Bret didn’t like being in his constant shadow.
  • The record when it counts… he was 2-4 in 6 bowl games, with one of those wins in his first year as head coach, coaching a team of players Barry was primarily responsible. (Barry was 8-3 in bowl games, including 3-0 in the Rose Bowl)
  • His record as a closer. As a die-hard Badger fan one of the greatest sources of frustration came into play in games when it felt like we should have won, but didn’t due to play calling. Falling into the same bucket is the consistent criticism of Bret’s clock management skills.
  •  I think there is a sense that he never earned Badger fan’s respect as head coach. Many were shocked by his assignment as head coach in the first place. When he came into the program as a Defensive Coordinator I don’t remember there really being any animosity, but when out of nowhere he was given the Head Coaching job just a few short years later I think it shocked many people.

Overall I appreciated the effort the team under Bret brought. He was responsible for bringing in some of my favorite players, such as JJ Watt, Montee Ball, and Russell Wilson. I think he was under rated overall and the Hogs should be proud to have him as a coach.

I just wrote to my congressman

I just did something I have never done before. I wrote to my House Representative. Sure I have submitted online support forms before, but never have I taken the time to formulate my own message and ask a request for myself. You see there are evil people out there trying to destroy the very essence of what has made the Internet something that I very much care about. These bad people are out there trying to restrict online rights that embody creativity and communication. I am all for online security and being safe online but I am not for agencies like MPAA and RIAA controlling everything that we see and do and create online. There are some people standing up to stop these abuses in power. Here is what I wrote to my Congressman:

I would like to bring to your attention an issue that I strongly feel deserves your support. Congresswoman, Zoe Lofgren of California, has introduced two bills to the U.S. House of Representatives designed to protect the free and open Internet. These bills purpose the expansion of protections granted in the Fourth Amendment to cover digital communications and protect against the introduction of any further SOPA-like bills. Specifically the bills are: ECPA 2.0 and the Global Free Internet Act. I would like to request that you consider working with Rep. Lofgren in support these initiatives.

Control an Apple TV with a Directv Remote

Well, not surprisingly, one of my kids lost the micro remote that comes with the Apple TV. I looked everywhere and just couldn’t find it. So I started looking online for options and remembered back in the day that I programmed a Harmony Remote to work with the Apple TV. I got it up and running and then found that I could program my default directv remote to work with it! I did have to look online and found the following steps worked best for me:

    1. On the Directv remote change to an unused AV spot (I used AV1)
    2. On the Directv remote hold Select & Mute until the AV light flashes twice
    3. On the Directv remote press the following numbers in order 9-6-3 and then press channel up
    4. On the Apple TV (you’ll need to do this with a remote already working on the Apple TV) go to Settings > General > Remotes.
    5. Choose Learn Remote.
    6. Apple TV will display icons that represent the six buttons on the Apple Remote with the “Up” or “+” button highlighted first. Like this:
    7. Using your Directv remote, press and hold the button you would like to use to control the “up” function until the blue progress bar is full, as shown below.
    8. Apple TV will then select the next button function. Repeat step 6 and 7 using a different button
    9. After you have programmed all six button functions, you can now use your Directv remote to control Apple TV.

    Optionally, you can set up specific playback buttons for fast-forward, rewind, next chapter, and more.

    Even if you don’t want to use this as the default remote for your Apple TV, I still encourage you to take the time to set it up as a backup.

Staining boring oak cabinets a rich dark color (with photos)

Ok. So for some of you who know me you’ll be happy to know that I am finished with this project and hopefully now that I am finished I’ll be able to shut up about it for a while. Heck it is just nice to be able to enjoy the work applied….

So anyways, here we go…

We had this boring builder-grade honey oak cabinetry in our kitchen. Both Marcia and I were not big fans but we lived with it because they were decent quality and they were functional. Anyways she told me about some Pintrest pictures she saw where they turned the honey oak into this “sultry, dark espresso”.  I am talking rich dark bown/black cabinets that looks really good. In the we were led to this blog post on simply a lifestyle that gave all the details we needed to get started.

How good does it look? Well you be the judge, here is a before and after of the cabinets (with the new appliances installed as well):

Now I have had experience both staining, and painting wood so I was pretty comfortable with all the standard prep work necessary. If you want a more detailed step-by-step check out the blog link above (seriously they deserve some of the credit), but here is my quick and dirty tutorial

Step 1: Equipment prep: Remove all pulls, hinges, screws, knobs or anything else stuck on the doors and drawers. Store them in a ziplock for safe keeping if you plan to reuse them.

Step 2: Area Prep. This is stain we are talking about, so add protection to nearby floors, ceilings, counters, walls, or any area that may get stain on it. I used painters tape all over but also laid down some roller paper on the floors and counter tops. Also if you have kids like I do and there were items protected behind doors that are now exposed, don’t forget to move that stuff to a less kid-accessible location.

Step 3: Clean everything first. I scrubbed the hell out of everything because of all the crud that ends up on there.

Step 4: Scruff sand everything. The linked tutorial says a basic sanding will work, but I prefer a more detailed sanding job. All in all I spent like 2 hours sanding.

Step 5: Stain. Dry. Stain. Dry. Stain. Dry. Seriously though I let a good day to dry between stainings. Also I am going to mention here because it came so highly recommended. The best stain to use on this type of project is General Finishes Java Gel Stain. This stuff is magic. It has the consistency of a hair gel, goes on like a paint, and when it dries, dries like a traditional liquid stain. It is so amazing. I will also say I preferred applying it with a sock (versus a foam brush). When applying it don’t be afraid to apply a thick coat of it. Also make sure to not rub it or massage it into the wood, it requires a bite of delicacy.
Step 6: Poly and let it dry. I ended up using 3 coats of poly with a day (to two day) dry time between coats.

All said and done this was very painless and well worth it improvement to our kitchen. We love the improved ambiance this change adds to the room. Here are a few additional shots of the new look (due to lighting some look more brown than they do in person, in person it is a rich dark coffee color), I hope you enjoy:

Confessions of someone who is not an Apple Fan Boy

I am not one who is afraid to admit when I was wrong and boy was I wrong when it came to the iPad. When Apple released the iPad back in early 2010 I thought there was no way people would pay $500+ for what I equated to a glorified web browser with some apps, but that is exactly what people wanted. They wanted something fast, portable, and multifunctional and iPad gave them all of that. If you look what people do online (check out this infographic for more info)  it is video watching, social network visiting, chatting, news and blog reading, and playing games.What I feel I most overlooked was the fact that the iPad is so user friendly and  easy to use that it is virtually impossible to screw up, which is a huge win for Apple.

Now about the not being an apple fan boy thing, keep in mind that I worked on support desks for the first 8 years of my career, Apple was a curse word for most of that time. So for a long time I almost loathed Apple products, no sir I am no Apple fan boy. In fact, the only Apple product I directly own is an Apple TV, which I bought for the sole purpose of hacking and running Boxee & XBMC on it. That being said I have bought iPads for both my wife and my oldest son, plus I also bought my wife a Mac Book Pro, so I have clearly started accepting Apple products.

Nest – Unboxing and Install

I am a total gadget nut; friends and regular readers can attest to that. I love the whole concept of the automated and connected home. One of the home automation items I have been watching is the smart thermostat. Late last year I first heard of Nest and just knew it was exactly what I was looking for. Almost as soon as I had heard about it I signed up on their waiting list and just this week was notified that I could order mine. Tuesday I got the email, Tuesday I placed my order, and today (Thursday) I received and installed my Nest!  Here is the unboxing of my Nest as well as some shots of the install process and and finished installation.

Nest in the Box

I couldn’t wait to open my Nest! The packaging is sleek and very Apple-esque.

Nest components out of the box

So I didn’t really get a worthwhile picture of the HUGE Honeywell old school thermostat, but after removing it (well actually first I shut off the power at the breaker) I was left with the following blank spot on the wall.

The old thermostat removed and I was left with a blank space

So after a little sanding, plaster patching, and painting I had a nice clean slate to work with. First task was to install the Nest wall mount, which I must say is a simply amazing design.

Nest Wall Mount close up (don’t worry I went in and leveled it up right)

Once the wall mount was on it was time to add the Nest controller. Literally the Nest controller clicked into the base and it was time to switch the breakers back on. All in all in about 1 hour (due mainly to the time to sand, plaster, and paint), I had a running Nest thermostat:

First shot of the Nest booting up

The Nest is super easy to setup; all in all I was done with setup in 5 minutes. It is so cool to have a thermostat that connects to the Internet and starts to modify my heating and cooling based on my usage habits! Here are a few additional shots of the Nest running, including some shots of the Nest in the dark…

Final shot of the Nest installed and running
A view of the Nest at an angle
Nest settings screen in the dark
Nest temperature in the dark

Battlefield 3 versus Modern Warfare 3

Let me start this post about Battlefield 3 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, two of the most popular first person shooters, with a few disclaimers. First off I am not a hardcore gamer (at least not any more). Second I am not one of those dudes who is gifted at first person shooters and is always at the tops of the leader boards when I play. Third, this review is completely based on my opinion, which means for someone my review is going to be totally wrong. Just so you know, I am totally OK with that.

Now that I have gotten that out of the way let me get into the games a little bit. I own both games on the Xbox 360. I know for many first person multi-player purists playing on a console is sacrilegious, but honestly I play for fun so deal with it. I got both games for the Xbox 360 because personally I find the multi-player the most enjoyable aspect of first person shooters and Xbox Live has like more players on its network than any of the others. Also, while I have played various first person shooter campaigns in the past, I never find them quite as enjoyable as multi-player. Se lets get to it….

VS 

Which game do I enjoy more? That is a tough one for me, but right now I need to give the edge to Battlefield 3. Whew, now that I got that out of the way let me explain why.

Things I love about Battlefield 3:

Game play is bad ass. Seriously it is a much more strategic and realistic feeling game than MW3. I really enjoy how much you can alter your play style while playing. You can zerg with shotguns, spam with rockets, sit back and snipe, play rogue or play with sophisticated team work.

Your actions determine your success much better in B3 than in MW3 in my opinion. It is much less about zerging to a certain kill streak to unlock some overpowered kill streak feature and more about strategically playing your character.

Things I don’t like about Battlefield 3:

Predictable spawn points suck. This is easily over come by good team work, but some of the predetermined spawning placements are too predictable and has led to some spawn camping.

Mismatches. As I mentioned I am not the best at first person shooters and it pisses me off when some much higher ranked player comes in and almost unfairly cleans up. Something else that pisses me off is when I join a match already partied with them and we are placed on opposite teams. As much as I like shooting my friends from time to time, I usually party up with them with the intend of playing with them, not against them!

The UI leaves much to be desired. The fact that you’re stuck between matches with a very underwhelming interface where you can’t do squat kind of sucks.

Things I like about Modern Warfare 3: (Keep in mind I have only had it for 1 day)

I really like some of the boards I have played so far and the game play is fun and quick paced. This game easily follows suit with the Call of Duty series of games.

I like how quickly one can level. B3 sometimes feels like a MMO watching your experience bar grow ever so slightly between matches. I don’t feel like that at all so far with MW3.

Things I don’t find so hot about Modern Warfare 3:

There only seems so be 2 play styles Zerging and Camping. While team work seems applicable it is more for the sake of overwhelming the enemy rather than truly offering support classes that can help protect, heal, and resupply your team mates.

Kill Streak weapons are over powered. I am not saying that helicopters, planes, missiles and tanks shouldn’t be powerful. I am saying the availability to use them in MW3 is too powerful. It is one of my biggest issues in general with the Call of Duty product line. I hate games that over reward the best skilled players with special perks that make them even more powerful. It’s like handicapping the less skilled players, which just doesn’t make sense. As someone who is not often at the top of the leader boards this frustrates me.

All of this may change as I continue to play both of these games. I give both very high ratings and really enjoy playing both.