Project lifecycle

This chart from @maureenmcq does such a great job of describing the phases of a project for a software product manager that I had to share it.

http://maureenmcq.blogspot.in/2007/07/novel-episode-1-i-begin-anew.html

 

While it is written in the context of writing a book, medicine it is relevant for software projects and business ideas as well. Read her blog at:

 

Transitioning to a Product Management role from a software developer

Ok. I’ve done it. Here is how I went about it.

When I was working in the US as a programmer, I realized that most of the coding I was doing did not require a lot of technical chops. For every DSP/Algorithm guy, there were 3 UI/general app developers. I also missed not being in front of customers or not representing a company. I also want to make more important decisions for a business than which data structure to use when coding a particular feature. So.. as you can see, I did not really care for the art of programming and hence I was not very good at it.

I was however, very good with people and in front of customers. So.. I decided to move into a applications engineering position, which put me in front of customers who wanted to license technology from the company I worked for. I did this by:

  • Finding people in this role already.
  • Doing any project I could do for them – in my spare time
  • Finding a hiring manager and impressing my skills on him.

While this put me in front of people, this was still not a real business role. I decided to move back to India and started as a project manager at my current company. I interviewed for a programming position but I was not hired as a programmer, they offered me a program management position instead – luckily they saw something in me that I did not. And, frankly, I was just looking for a job to keep me busy. Moving back to India from the US is hard, especially if you are unable to find a fulfilling job back home.

I spent a lot of time learning in this role and saying “yes” to new things. I socialized over lunch with different team members. I filed bugs and feature requests, which very few program/project managers did and I wrote utilities in java and Konfabulator to track bug stats and shared these with other teams and PM. I also wrote scripts to batch process bugs in our bug data base that saved other program managers a lot of time. I eventually started to manage a team of program managers and new responsibilities kept coming to me. And, I started a customer advocacy program where I set up customer visits for the engineering teams to acquaint them with customer issues.

So… the lessons here are:

  • Share freely
  • Always be learning
  • Default to “yes” than “no”
  • Build relationships across teams and geos.
  • Expand your role at every opportunity you get
  • Present often – stand up in front of a group and present ideas and status often.

Around this time, I felt I was peaking and there was no where else to go. I did not have an MBA from IIM or an engineering degree from IIT and felt that I needed atleast one of these to succeed in India. You know – educational qualifications are the new class system in India. So.. since I was doing well at work and wanted to move into the business side of things, I decided to pursue a part time MBA from IIM Lucknow’s Noida campus. My experiences there are in captured in this blog.

The MBA was great. I learned new skills and developed greater confidence in my ability to analyze data and dissect strategic mumbo jumbo. I also made new friends. Its hard to make friends as you grow older.

I continued in my existing job but was eager to move into product management. All the relationships I had build over the years with colleagues in India and in the US came in handy as when I applied for an internal opportunity in a product that I was project managing. The MBA helped. The connections helped. My experience on the product helped. My experience with the product team and their votes helped. The customer advocacy program helped. The hiring manager in India was supportive once  he saw everyone else’s support. The lessons here are:

  • Develop business acumen. You dont have to do an MBA but it helps
  • Do more than your job demands
  • Demonstrate great communication skills.

I’ve been doing this for a while now and I believe that this is the best role for my skillset. Write to me if you have questions.

Ambition and Product Management

As a product manager, I meet a lot of interesting entrepreneurs and successful businessmen. I met a really interesting owner today. He has a really large penthouse on 5th Ave in New York and employed only 5 people. His company solves, what appears to be, a very simple problem. He has been doing this for the last 18 years and he is really good at it. So good that he is now solving completely different and far more profitable problems  for his customers.

Then I remembered a two week ago meeting with another successful friend and then another plug-in developer doing really well for himself.

These meetings make me feel inadequate. I often wonder if I would do better on my own as a business owner. These guys don’t seem any smarter. They are different because they are more ambitious. They are willing to take risks or were in a situation that they had to take a chance and make it work. And so they did. Then I remember “survivorship bias“. I’m meeting the best that have made it. I do not see the many that tried and failed. Just because I see folks hat ave made it… I believe I can do it to.

Its hard to throw a big paycheck away now in the hope of making a larger payoff. Plus, for me, now.. money is not in the equation as much as it was before.  Finding something really fulfilling. Starting a business just for the money does not seem that attractive. I’d rather work on something that I enjoy or believe in.

Anubhav

Public Transit and Ants Marching

There is perhaps nothing sadder than sitting in a morning commuter in a foreign land seeing people trying to make it to work. It’s especially sad in Tokyo as most “salary men” and “office ladies” look tired and jaded. It reminds me of the Dave Mathews Band song called “Ants marching“. It has poignant lyrics. His metaphor compares the working class to ants in a line.

All the little ants are marching,
Red and black antennae waving,
They all do it the same,
They all do it the same way.

Even more impressive at the simply spoken but deep lyrics in this verse.

Goes to visit his mommy
She feeds him – well, his concerns, he forgets them
And remembers being small
Playing under the table and dreaming.

I guess its depressing for me because I think that maybe I’m the ant and I dont even know it. Maybe I’m living someone else’s dream.

The salary men and office ladys often sleep with each other. I mean, on trains, without even knowing it. Leaning on each other yet silently pulling away as they realize they are invading someone’s personal space. I think Japanese salary men and women have Ninja powers to sleep at will and in any position. It is hilarious to see some of them type feverishly into their cellphone and the be completely asleep 2 minutes later.

Mass transit in the summer in Berlin is also worth talking about. Non-Airconditioned trains in and around Berlin remind me how hard life must have been in East Germany. Young and carefree germans drinking on these trains and their mannerism seems no different than a young and loud American in Brooklyn. They can make you feel old. Older than you feel before seeing them.

Buying an iPhone 5 on craigslist

I recently bought a used iPhone 5 on the SF Bay craigslist. I wanted it to be unlocked so that I could use it in India. I could not find a checklist of things to test online so here’s my list. Hopefully it will help your buying experience easier.

General guidance

  • Only search for factory unlocked phones. Buying locked phones and hoping you will be able to unlock them somehow just leads to stress and early death.
  • Reject low ball and high ball offers. As of today $450 seems like a reasonable after market price for a phone is reasonably good condition
  • Prefer postings that have photos so that you are not surprised by the appearance of the phone at the meet.
  • Meet in a public place, preferably an ATT or Verizon store so that you can get the phone working at the store before you buy. This guidance is only for folks that have a US number.

Checklist

  • Ensure that the phone is under warranty before you buy. This will save you a lot of hassle in case anything goes wrong. The phone I bought had a bad power off/sleep button. I found this out after the transaction was over. Luckily the phone was under warranty and apple gave me a brand new unit 🙂 So… the warranty is really valuable!
  • Ask the seller to send you the warranty status by sending you a screenshot from this page: https://selfsolve.apple.com/agreementWarrantyDynamic.do
  • You should also ensure warranty status by going to: https://selfsolve.apple.com/agreementWarrantyDynamic.do and entering the device serial number yourself.  You can find the serial number by going to Settings->General->About.
  • Check the phone is unlocked and that its IMEI number is not blocked. This ensures that the phone is not stolen by going to atleast two sites and confirming the status is the same on both. You can find the IMEI number by going to Settings->General->About. Here are the sites I used:
    • http://iphoneox.com
    • http://www.imei.info
  • Try to have your “nano sim” ready so that you can test it in the new phone. The iPhone 4S sim is a micro SIM and it will not work in the iPhone 5
  • Check the phone for defects by:
    • Making a call
    • Test the speaker during the call
    • Test the headphones
    • Test the mic if its built in to the headphones by voice the “Voice memo” app under utilities
    • Test the home button works
    • Test that the lock/sleep/switch off button works
    • Test that the charging cable works. This was not working for me and I was able to get $20 back from the seller. There are lots of “lightening” cables that are not legit. So, do check this before you buy.

Oh, before I forget, keep your fingers crossed. 🙂

Hope this helps

–Anubhav

 

Great day as a Product Manager

As a product manager based in India, its great when your product gets centre stage at a worldwide conference in the US. This happened to me last week and it made all the struggles over the last 8 months worth it. But the real heroes are the engineers on the product team. They put in the real work to realise, shape and rationalise management’s vision. It was gratifying to send pictures and emails to the team letting them know that their work mattered and is being showcased at the highest level.

It’s only after shipping that the real analytical work begins as we try to answer the following questions:

  1. Are people using the new features?
  2. If yes, how much are they using it?
  3. What amount of use makes an investment in a feature worthwhile?
  4. Are these features bringing new users to the product? – If this was a goal for the release.
  5. Are the new features usable?

I try to get question #5 answered via prerelease testing but all the other questions are truly answered only after the product reaches the customers hands. I know that #4 was not a goal for this release.

Q3 is always tricky. Sometimes you invest way more resources into a feature that you anticipated at the beginning of the cycle. This is just the engineering truth. You discover usability issues late or the engineering team discovers workflow issues that we did not think of before hand.

Sometimes you find a single bug or a performance issue that prevents you from shipping a feature that you worked on for 4-8 weeks. This is still not bad considering that only a few releases ago we would have wasted many more months of work since we were were following a waterfall approach. Every time I run into such situations I feel proud that we develop software incrementally and send it out to a set of users for testing every month. This validates our assumptions earlier and allows us to discover issues earlier. And, that is worth the pain the process changes bring with them.