Review of Lean Customer Development


In following suit with the other Lean books in the series, Lean Customer Developmentby Cindy Alvarez  gives companies a tangible and pragmatic approach to develop and validate product ideas through iterative and targeted customer development research. The premise of this book lies in providing a fast and flexible research methodology to understanding one’s customers, their behaviours, and most importantly, how to build insights that can give you more accurate assumptions.

Developing your product, whilst adding and augmenting your feature list, you want to be sure to have a valid hypothesis, and concurrently re-validating your hypothesis as you iterate your product, providing a layer of assurance that you are progressing in the right direction. This book is full of interviewing techniques, the types of questions to ask, mapping your customers (and how to even find your customers before the product is built, which the author goes into great detail in), what to ask the customers, what responses and subtexts to look for, and even maintaining a healthy skepticism.

The author in the later chapters guides you in building an audience-driven MVP (minimum valuable product), with chapter 7 outlining various case studies, which I found to be an excellent boilerplate that assisted me in conceptualising how to maintain a customer-focus whilst building the 1.0 features I wanted for my product.

Along with another of my favourite books, Lean Analytics, I highly recommend this book for anyone who is looking to create a new product, or even work on a major revision for an existing product, and rather rely on their own biased assertions, get valuable customer involvement and input earlier on in the researching stages. This book is easy to read, and for me I will tend to re-read this book a few times, and use it as a reference guid as well.

Concise: 5

Level: 2

Prior Knowledge: None. Made for marketing strategists and entrepreneurs.

My rating: 4.5

AuthorCindy Alvarez
TitleLean Customer Development
Publisher: O’Reilly Media
Date: May 2014

Review of Powerful Phrases for Successful Interviews | by @TonyBeshara


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This book is more about marketing yourself, to land that gig you want. All the other books I’ve reviewed dealt with building your technical proficiency, but is that last step, articulating yourself in the right way to land the job, highlighting all those skills you have learned. Powerful Phrases for Successful Interviews by @TonyBeshara provides you with the mental sustenance, and wisdom through the interview process, from approach to negotiating your offer. Whether you need to accentuate your personal qualities, or market your already established skills better, this book ties your qualities together, to effectively and concisely get you past the interviews. Filled with ready to use responses, the book is that friend you need to run you through the various scenarios to get through the most vigorous of questions. Making that impression is crucial, and the author does a succinct job of giving you the opening, middle and closing responses.

The book commences with the initial chapter getting you familiar with seeking referrals from people in your network, in order seek job openings. With templated statements, you will feel more comfortable on how to approach people for job feelers. People underestimate the potential from cold-calling, and rely only on what’s been publicly advertised.  The book then deals with how to uplift your resume and cover letter, as well as the email. The delivery of your interest is important, and this chapters ensures you deliver something that is digestible for the potential employer.

The third chapter prepares you for your opening and closing phrases, taking into account the initial impression you will give, as well as as the closing sentiment that will be left when you leave the interview room. Filled with ice-breakers, as well as how to structure your professional history into a logical sequence, you will make a strong start and finish. The following chapters sets the framework for how you handle the meat of the interview, ways of you articulating that you can do the job, and all those tricky questions such as “Describe a situation in which you made a mistake” and “Provide an example of when you had to make a difficult decision”.

Chapter 6 covers situations in which you have difficulty explaining some of your background history, and how to mitigate any risk concerns that may arise from the potential employer hiring you. The final chapter that I took to be especially interesting, is once you have received the offer, discussing money and negotiating the best deal for you. Whilst I won’t spoil the final chapter I dare say it’s a great summary of the entire book, with some extra information to give you the confidence and mindset to go through a great interview process.

I definitely recommend this book, and whenever I am switching employers, I’d dig this book out, go through the relevant chapters and customise responses based on the author’s template, in Evernote, as I get ready to meet the hiring manager.

Concise: 5

Level: 2

Prior Knowledge: None. You have your skills, this book will accentuate them for you, with an injection of confidence and charisma.

My rating : 4.5

Author: Tony Bersha (@TonyBeshara)
TitlePowerful Phrases for Successful Interviews
Publisher: O’Reilly Media
Date: February 2014

Review of Mobile Design Pattern Gallery | 2nd Edition

I’ve had the privilege of reviewing the first edition of Mobile Design Pattern Gallery (Early Release*) by Theresa Neil (@mobilepatterns | @oreillymedia) which was released way back in 2011, and with a lot happening in terms of UX design trends in three years, this book is long overdue. Having said that, the author has identified that of the 70 designs exhibited in the first edition, only a handful of new designs have been included, although those new inclusions are said to be quite significant.

Mobile Design Pattern Gallery by Theresa Neil (@mobilepatterns | @oreillymedia) is a book aimed at designers and developers looking to create mobile applications, and seeking some sort of visual inspiration, as well as ensuring his or her design fits within the acceptable design best practices.

Screenshot 2014-01-30 21.11.48I would consider this to be a sort of a cookbook-type composition, where Theresa divided the chapters into distinguishable mobile areas, starting with Navigation, Forms, Search, Charts/Graphs, Tutorials. The final chapter deals with Anti-Patterns or pit-falls many developers tend to fall into, with the appendix providing some useful resources.

Each chapter is quite graphic-intensive, showing screenshots of popular apps with some commentary from the author on the design choices. The book is extremely easy to follow, and as a developer, you can pick certain chapters that match what you are looking for, whether it would be navigation (which I believe is the design/UX element that evolves the most over time) or forms.

One thing to remember though, these are just best practices, and there are always exceptions to the design rule, so this book shouldn’t be taken verbatim. Good design is behaviour-driven, a composition of the application functional requirements and human interaction intuitiveness.

Other than that, I’m happy with the book, it does what it advertises, extremely concise and referential, which is Screenshot 2014-01-30 21.11.52what you look for in such of such a nature. I certainly recommend this book, especially for developers like me that likes to look at all the smorgasbord of common design elements and pick the best ones.

On a final note, I would like to see a similar book get published, that organises the chapters by type of app, such as Social Media Apps, Traveling Apps etc., sorted by the type and function of app, so you can compare and contrast designs conveniently, but hey, it’s not too much of a stretch to be able to get that sort of information myself.

 

 

 

[box type=”bio”]

Concise: [rating=5]

Level: [rating=4]

Prior Knowledge: Aimed at seasoned mobile developers, whether it is iOS, Android or Web.

My rating :[rating=4.25]

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AuthorTheresa Neil
TitleMobile Design Pattern Gallery
Publisher: O’Reilly Media
Year: JANUARY 2014

 

Review of Head First PMP | Jennifer Greene

Okay, not one of the most excited topics, PMP, and I’m probably not the ideal candidate to read this book, as I am not really a fully-fledged project manager. I have a masters in Management, which included a PMP component, and as a software developer, this topic is about as dry as it gets. That last unit of my management course certainly fit that case.

I thought I’d pick up Head First PMP, 3rd Edition by Jennifer Greene and @AndrewStellman just out of sadistic curiosity, but was pleasantly surprised. Whilst I have read a lot of ‘Head First’ books before, and have been a vocal critic of how cartoonish and counter-educational they have been, this book is completely the opposite. For a dry subject like PMP, Greene and Stellman have made the topic of Project Management and preparing for a PMP exam quite pellet-able.  I haven’t sat my PMP exam yet, for obvious reasons but many reviewers have pointed out that this book encompasses up to 90% of what was needed, so it’s not just about being able to digest all the PMP stuff in a cheekish book-style, but it’s practical and useful.

The book begins with sone information on what PMP is, why you should get certified, before embarking on the Process Frameworks and how things fit together and Project Integration Management. The various other management elements, Time Management, Scope Management, working with constraints, Risk Management, working with Stakeholders, all the topics and areas you would anticipate. Only the book is well written, and not for those of us who have an MBA already by the average joe looking to make that move to management, from an engineering background for instance.

The last chapter provides a checklist for preparing for the PMP test, to get you into the zone for the test. You probably would need a bit more than this book, and I would recommend another book just to cover all bases, but this book could also save you a lot of money in bootcamp and other training seminars that you probably won’t need.

Concise: [rating=4]

Level: [rating=3]

Prior Knowledge: None but you need to be a manager, unlike me

My rating :[rating=4.5]

 

AuthorJennifer Greene, Andrew Stellman

TitleHead First PMP, 3rd Edition

Publisher: O’Reilly Media

Year: DECEMBER 2013

Finding your one Metric that Matters (OMTM)

A while back I reviewed a lovely book , Lean Analytics, which was posted by Alistair, called Finding your One Metric That Matters. In paraphrasing the post, the author emphasises whilst t’s not wise to neglect all other analytical measures and pigeon-hole yourself on one, giving one metric a focus over another one allows you to derive meaning through sustained measurement. Alistair points out:

Communicating this focus to your employees, investors, and even the media will really help you concentrate your efforts.

Choosing the OMTM falls down to three factors, the industry you are in, the stage of your startup growth and your audience.

Industry you are in

Big businesses track a few vital Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) aligned primarily with the corporation’s main goal, based on  transactional, collaborative, SaaS-based, media, game, or app-centric.

Transactional

Someone buys something in return for something.

Transactional sites are about shopping cart conversion, cart size, and abandonment. This is the typical transaction funnel that anyone who’s used web analytics is familiar with. To be useful today, however, it should be a long funnel that includes sources, email metrics, and social media impact. Companies like Kissmetrics and Mixpanel are championing this plenty these days.

Collaborative

Someone votes, comments, or creates content for you.

Collaboration is about the amount of good content versus bad, and the percent of users that are lurkers versus creators. This is an engagement funnel, and we think it should look something like Charlene Li’s engagement pyramid.

Collaboration varies wildly by site. Consider two companies at opposite ends of the spectrum. Reddit probably has a very high percentage of users who log in: it’s required to upvote posts, and the login process doesn’t demand an email confirmation look, so anonymous accounts are permitted. On the other hand, an adult site likely has a low rate of sign-ins; the content is extremely personal, and nobody wants to share their email details with a site they may not trust.

On Reddit, there are several tiers of engagement: lurking, voting, commenting, submitting links, and creating subreddits. Each of these represents a degree of collaboration by a user, and each segment represents a different lifetime customer value. The key for the site is to move as many people into the more lucrative tiers as possible.

SaaS

Someone uses your system, and their productivity means they don’t churn or cancel their subscription.

SaaS is about time-to-complete-a-task, SLA, and recency of use; and maybe uptime and SLA refunds. Companies like Totango (which predicts churn and upsell for SaaS), as well as uptime transparency sites like Salesforce’s trust.salesforce.com, are examples of this. There are good studies that show a strong correlation between site performance and conversion rates, so startups ignore this stuff at their peril.

Media

Someone clicks on a banner, pay-per-click ad, or affiliate link.

Media is about time on page, pages per visit, and clickthrough rates. That might sound pretty standard, but the variety of revenue models can complicate things. For example, Pinterest’s affiliate URL rewriting model, which requires that the site take into account the likelihood someone will actually buy a thing as well as the percentage of clickthroughs (see also this WSJ piece on the subject.)

Game

Players pay for additional content, time savings, extra lives, in-game currencies, and so on.

Game startups care about Average Revenue Per User Per Month and Lifetime Average Revenue Per User (ARPUs). Companies like Flurry do a lot of work in this space, and many application developers roll their own code to suit the way their games are used.

Game developers walk a fine line between compelling content, and in-game purchases that bring in money. They need to solicit payments without spoiling gameplay, keeping users coming back while still extracting a pound of flesh each month.

App

Users buy and install your software on their device.

App is about number of users, percentage that have loaded the most recent version, uninstalls, sideloading-versus-appstore, ratings and reviews. Ben and I saw a lot of this with High Score House and Localmind while they were in Year One Labs. While similar to SaaS, there are enough differences that it deserves its own category.

App marketing is also fraught with grey-market promotional tools. A large number of downloads makes an application more prominent in the App Store. Because of this, some companies run campaigns to artificially inflate download numbers using mercenaries. This gets the application some visibility, which in turn gives them legitimate users.

Many businesses fall into more than one categories, as well as ‘blocking and tackling’ metrics common to all companies, which are captured in lists like Dave McClure’s Pirate Metrics.):

  • Viral coefficient (how well your users become your marketers.)
  • Traffic sources and campaign effectiveness (the SEO stuff, measuring how well you get attention.)
  • Signup rates (how often you get permission to contact people; and the related bounce rate, opt-out rate, and list churn.)
  • Engagement (how long since users last used the product) and churn (how fast does someone go away). Peter Yared did a great job explaining this in a recent post on “Little Data”
  • Infrastructure KPIs (cost of running the site; uptime; etc.) This is important because it has a big impact on conversion rates.

Second: what stage are you at?

A second way to split up the OMTM is to consider the stage that your startup is at, which includes generating attention to get people to focus on your product or service, through various media campaigns, as well as need discovery which is a qualitative method of finding out through surveys and interviews what fields aren’t being answered, different hot trending areas that are or aren’t being fulfilled. Finally, whether you are fulfilling the need, through tools such as metric amplification, (how much does someone tell their friends about it?), understanding whether your offering meets the entire need or is it a piecemeal.

Then there’s Feature optimization. As we figure out what to build, we need to look at things like how much a new feature is being used, and whether the addition of the feature to a particular cohort or segment changes something like signup rates, time on site, etc.

This is an experimentation metric—obviously, the business KPI is still the most important one—but the OMTM is the result of the test you’re running.

Another attribute is  to question whether your business model is correct, through business model optimization, calibrating the offer slightly, such as how you charge, how that affects the core KPIs, to determine how scalable you are for growth, and how your organic development is progressing.

Later, many of these KPIs become accounting inputs—stuff like sales, margins, and so on. Lean tends not to touch on these things, but they’re important for bigger, more established organizations who have found their product/market fit, and for intrapreneurs trying to convince more risk-averse stakeholders within their organization.

Third: who is your audience?

Who are you measuring the metrics for?  Understand the various stakeholders

For a startup, audiences may include:

  • Internal business groups, trying to decide on a pivot or a business model
  • Developers, prioritizing features and making experimental validation part of the “Lean QA” process
  • Marketers optimizing campaigns to generate traffic and leads
  • Investors, when we’re trying to raise money
  • Media, for things like infographics and blog posts (like what Massive Damage did.)

 

What makes a good metric?

Let’s say you’ve thought about your business model, the stage you’re at, and your audience. You’re still not done: you need to make sure it’s a good metric. Here are some rules of thumb for what makes a number that will produce the changes you’re looking for.

  • rate or a ratio rather than an absolute or cumulative value. New users per day is better than total users.
  • Comparative to other time periods, sites, or segments. Increased conversion from last week is better than “2% conversion.”
  • No more complicated than a golf handicap. Otherwise people won’t remember and discuss it.
  • For “accounting” metrics you use to report the business to the board, investors, and the media, something which, when entered into your spreadsheet, makes your predictions more accurate.
  • For “experimental” metrics you use to optimize the product, pricing, or market, choose something which, based on the answer, will significantly change your behaviour. Better yet, agree on what that change will be before you collect the data.

 

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