Tuesday, November 30, 2010

My Answer To The Question - How to become a product manager?

I answered the question "How to become a product manager" in Quora. Here it what I wrote. Let me know what you think.

The primary responsibility of a product manager is to be the voice of the market. This requires experience in a domain, curiosity, empathy for people and their problems, skill to conduct market research, the ability articulate a product to the people who build it and the ability to articulate the meaning of the product to the people who buy it.

Engineers who have worked in a domain for a long time become product managers. They take the experience route. User Interaction designers or product designers who work with other product managers gain domain experience and go on to become product managers. Product designers, typically with interaction design or industrial design background can bring important skills such as user centric design and similar research methodologies to the table. Engineers and MBAs are not trained in such methodologies in college.

Companies hire MBAs right out of college to manage a product because of their quantitative market research skills. Such MBA's normally, though not always, tend to take the product to the market first and then slowly and steadily gain domain knowledge, gain ability to conduct customer research and, sometimes, the ability to appreciate good design. 

When I first interviewed for a product manager job, I got the interview because I had an MBA. MBA will open doors for you. But an MBA may not get you the job. I was hired because I had more than 15 years of domain knowledge in the field of human capital management.

The two day course "Practical Product Management" conducted by Pragmatic Marketing is a good course to attend to bolster your chances before applying for product management jobs. The course will give both engineers and product designers the edge they need.

The ideal way to step into product management is to find a product manager who is willing to mentor you, preferably on the job.

There is a school of thought now-a-days that says that the ability to design and the ability to make things with your hand are far more important than the ability to analyze, prioritize and manage. I believe thinkers need makers and vice versa. If you can think and make then you are in the Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates category.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Articulate The Connection Between Individual Contribution And Company Goals

I spoke to a very experienced people manager today about his management approach. He said that one of the most important things a manager needs to do is to articulate the connection between individual contribution and the goals of an organization.

He said that this articulation and the development of an employee, to help them contribute, should be the top priorities of a manager. He went on to say that only managers who achieved results using this approach, and demonstrated other company values, were promoted in his company. Managers who micromanaged to achieve results without articulating the connection between goals and contribution were not promoted.

Would you want to work for a manager who does not explain to you how your contribution helps your company achieve its goals?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Paint Program Using Google App Inventor

I created a simple paint program for Android using the Google App Inventor tool. I did not design the app. I just created it based on the tutorial. Even the act of recreating the app, as it was described, gave me a lot of insight into how the basic interactions of Touch and Slide are handled by the mobile operating systems.

Paint Program
I have developed E-Learning content for the web in the past. But I have not, written a paint program before. It was fun to explore the basics of designing a paint program for mobile devices.

I can already think of many simple fun and useful app ideas using the paint basics of Android. If you enjoy designing software, give Google App Inventor a try. It helps you make to think.

I believe that anyone who can think logically can use Google App Inventor to build very simple prototypes to visualize an application. That includes product managers and product designers. Google App Inventor provides you with a a drag and drop interface to build simple yet powerful apps. It does take some perseverance. But it is doable. The logic for the paint program I created based on the App Inventor tutorial is below.

It is all drag and drop. I did not write any code.

Google App Inventor  Visual App Development Tool

Saturday, November 27, 2010

What If Enterprise Applications Were Like Wooden Furniture

One of the real world  examples enterprise application designers could look at is wood furniture. The more you use it, the more character it gets and the more desirable and more valuable it becomes.

Enterprise software application designers should strive to build a framework that enables users to add their inputs to the tools they use. These inputs could be content, and at more advanced levels, functionality. It is possible. At least, this should be one of the design principles to strive for.

Software that gets better with time and usage is a delightful thing.

Don't Shrink Web Apps To Fit The Mobile Screen

I was testing the beta version of a mobile application last week and realized that the designers of the mobile application had provided all the features of the web version of the application in the mobile version, in the same layout as the web version of the software. They just shrunk the icons and screens to fit the smaller screen.

It don't think they took advantage of the interesting new possibilities of this mobile interface. That is a wasted opportunity to provide mobile users with a great user experience. Instead of striving to provide all features in the mobile version, which is clearly unnecessary, the designers could have focused on the features that users may want to use from the mobile device.

Image from : http://wireframes.linowski.ca
For some business reasons, if they must add all features in the mobile version, they could have buried the less important features behind a menu.

My recommendation to all mobile app designers is to be bold and provide only the features you think are absolutely necessary for the user in a mobile situation. Avoid the temptation to cram every feature available in the web version into the mobile version as well.

Friday, November 26, 2010

We Need Cup Cake Sized Software For The Enterprise

Enterprise Software today is a lot like large cakes. You order them. Your hire someone to design them. You alter the design. You wait. You panic. You pay a lot and then worry if the cake will be a hit with your guests. It is hard to consume all the cake. There is a lot of left overs and upset stomachs.

I think a lot of enterprise software can be built like cupcakes. Easy to make, easy to buy, less expensive and easy to consume. This makes a lot of sense when you realize a lot of software is going to be consumed on the go in the future.

Picture from Wired.com

I Have A Few Minutes. What Can I Do With My Smart Phone Other Than Check Email?

One of my friends who came to visit us at home last week shared an interesting observation about mobile devices with me. She uses the iPad and wonders if she can do something other than browsing or check email, when she has a few minutes to spare.

This is a very interesting opportunity for mobile application designers. I believe if your app enables people to consistently accomplish something meaningful in a clearly defined amount of time, your app may be used more often than the other comparable apps.

You may have to break down your apps into chunks of applications that can be used to accomplish something meaningful in a clearly defined period of time. For example, to take a picture, add a comment and tweet the same I know that it takes about 2 minutes or less.

It believe that most mobile application feature can be  consciously designed to be consumed in a certain amount of time.

A Third Type Of Innovation - Innovating Meanings

Radical innovation is pushed by technology. Incremental innovation is pulled by people who use the product. In the book Design Driven Innovation Roberto Verganti argues that there is a third way of competing via innovation. He calls it innovation by redefining the meaning of products. Some examples are the Nintendo Wii and the Apple iPod.

In the book he talks about how companies can systemtatically listen to, intepret and address the unknown and untold needs of customers.
Design Driven Innovation: Changing the Rules of Competition by Radically Innovating What Things Mean,

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Social Media and Paso Robles Wine Country Visit

My family and I spent a couple of days, visiting the city of El Paso de Robles in central California. This area is home for many fine California red wine producers and casual restaurants. We decided to avoid the formal travel guides and the official web sites and take a risk based on the recommendations of just one traveller in his Yelp post. We visted the vineyards he wrote about, sampled the wine and bought some bottles.

View of the Eberle vineyard from the winery.
In the first vineyard we visited, as the reviewer wrote in Yelp, the tasting room staff were very courteous and helpful. We even got a private tour of the cave, a 16000 square feet cellar underground where they store their wine barrels without expensive air conditioning.  In another small vineyard the owner opened a few bottles for us, minutes before he was joined by his family members for dinner, even though his tasting room was not open for the day.

I think relying on social media paid off for us and benefited those businesses. The owners of the vineyards were very social media savvy and said that they promote their products via Facebook and twitter. But they were not sure about the percentage of sales they got from such social media efforts.

Dinner was at Basil Thai. Yes. We researched the restaurant in Urbanspoon for reviews by actual people who ate there, before we went there.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Suggestion for New Airlines Advertising Slogan

I was booking my tickets today for a workshop and mentally preparing myself for the experience.
Given the new travel conditions and security checks, I came up with my own advertising slogan for United and American Airlines.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Thinking Mobile First with App Inventor

As a proponent of the Make-To-Think and the Thinking-Mobile-First philosophies, I have been creating mobile prototypes with html mockup tools such as Axure and wire-frame tools such as Balsamic. I have written about this in a previous post.

However, I wanted to create simple mobile apps to understand the new design possibilities and mobile usability. I researched App Inventor from Google a few weeks back. Today I created a few simple apps using App Inventor for Android.

The one that got me kudos from my wife, who is a mobile entrepreneur, is the one that I wrote for her. The app is named "CallHim". You guessed it. As soon as she launches the app, the app calls my mobile phone.  So I am literally one click away.

I am not a programmer. So I thought I will share the wealth with other designers and product managers and mobile enthusiasts who may not know or want to code, but like the idea of creating simple mobile apps.

App Inventor is a click and drag tool to write small yet very powerful mobile applications for the Android platform.

For example, to write the app that calls my phone as soon as my wife launches it, this is what I did.

I invoked the phone dialer components as soon as the app was launched and passed my phone number to it. Then I asked the dialer component to call that number. This is all done using drag and drop components. No coding. Because there is no coding, there is very little scope for error.

You can plug your Android phone to your computer while you are creating the app and see the app taking shape in the device as you are creating it. You can also test the app as you are creating it. I wrote the phone dialer app in about 15 minutes.

I think this is a great tool for designers and product managers to play around with, have some fun and understand how to think mobile first. Mobile apps force you to think simple and different. I recommend that you explore it. It will be worth your time. Go through the tutorials. They are very helpful.

I just read that there is book on App Inventor coming soon.

The Secret Templates Of Success

This one is dedicated to those who never fail to ask their colleagues about the secret templates of success. For example, such people usually come to you and say, "I heard your proposal got approved. Could you please share your Powerpoint template with me?"

A People Centric Approach To Data Security

Josh Bernoff in his book Empowered talks about how Web 2.0 tools make us think about security differently. He says that IT administrators are used to securing the network of the organization. They did not allow anyone without the right authorizations to access the network and did not let people in the organization access suspicious software or content outside the network.

With the advent of Web 2.0 tools and the subsequent adoption of Web 2.0 tools by businesses, IT leaders suddenly realize that a significant portion of  software usage and information exchange between employees and customers  is happening outside of what was traditionally considered the network of the organization.

For example, a customer service person may be directly interacting with a customer in twitter or in a discussion forum outside the network of the company. Two employees working from home may be using a web conferencing software hosted outside the network of the company and may be using hosted tools such as Box.Net or Evernote to exchange files.

In such situations, says Josh, focusing on the people in an organization and educating them about data security is the best approach to securing your organization's intellectual property and reputation. Locking down your organizations network is not only ineffective, but also not feasible.

Friday, November 19, 2010

What Is An Enterprise Software Company Saying When It Announces A Freemium Product?

I read today that Salesforce.com has announced a freemium version of its microblogging application Chatter.

Freemium is not new for software. Microsoft did this by bundling free Microsoft Works with new PCs. MS Works gave everyone a taste of  word processing, spreadsheets and database software in the 1980s. Macromedia did this when they gave away a limited version of Authorware free with every Creative Multimedia kit. So did hundreds of other personal productivity application vendors.

But freemium is relatively new in the enterprise software market. This is because end users never had a say in enterprise software purchase decisions. Enterprise software is never sold directly to end users. So Enterprise software vendors did not have to worry about usability of the software or the value the software provided to end-users as much as consumer application software developers did.  Enterprise software providers just had to convince the CEO, CFO or CIO. Companies then purchased the software and  rolled it out to all end users. Users were trained or forced to use the software whether they were happy about it or not.

All this changed with the advent of Web 2.0 tools. User participation is the main ingredient for success of Web 2.0 tools. Adoption needs participation and users will not participate if the usability is anything less than consumer-web-quality.

So when an enterprise software company opens up its product directly to the end user by announcing a freemium model, the company may be telling the world that it is confident about the usability of its product and the value its product brings to the end user. On the other hand, if an enterprise software company is against the freemium model, it might be because the company is not confident about the usability, acceptance and adoption of the product by end users and the value the product provides for end users.

I believe that this announcement by Salesforce.com may be a major turning point in the history of enterprise software. This may be a signal that the enterprise software providers have recognized the growing influence of end users.

Image Credit : http://josefemenias.infopista.com/

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Long Tail Of Ice Creams and Social Media Marketing

Chris Anderson in his book, The Long Tail talks about why the future is about selling less of more. He says that there will be a product, even if the market size is minuscule. This is made possible by the advent of social media. I experienced this recently while shopping for ice cream shopping. I had heard about an ice cream place called Nirvanaah from @Chirag_Mehta.

Nirvanaah sells exotic flavors of ice creams. You would think that with 31 choices Baskin Robbins would meet all your ice cream needs. No it does not. At Nirvanaah, there are flavors such as Paan, Seetaphal and so on. Many of these flavors make sense only to those who know the ingredients before.

The Paan flavored ice cream for example is made out of betel leaves, a leaf that is chewed by Indians after a meal to help with digestion. Some spike it with tobacco and other ingredients. I took a tub of icecream for a dinner party and it was a big hit with friends and neighbors.

Social media is a main reason why long tail products will survive. Nirvanaah does not have to invest in marketing heavily. I am blogging about this. My neighbors asked me to post the location info in our neighborhood community wiki, which I did. I also posted it in myeatingplaces wiki where a few friends and I share details of our favorite eating places with each other. Nirvanaah also have a facebook page where 11 people like them. The traditional word-of-mouth marketing is now-a-days amplified manyfold, by social media .

Here is the address if you are in the San Francisco bay area and want to try it.
1038 E El Camino Real
Sunnyvale, CA 94087
(408) 331-1788 http://www.nirvanaah.com/

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Now-A-Days, We Live In Isolation and Socialize At Work

Decades ago during the advent of the industrial age, we lived in close quarters and socialized with people in our community. We were forced to, because we had to walk out to buy things, do the laundry, get the kids, have a coffee, shop etc.

At work, we did our part in the assembly line, did not talk to anyone much during work hours and went home. Our bosses kept an eye on us to ensure that we did not engage in unnecessary chatter.
Now-a-days, we live in isolation in assembly line houses, drive straight out of our garages. We have scheduled time everday with family members. We politely nod at our neighbours because we forget their names. 

At work, we collaborate with others to satisfy our need to socialize. We demand open offices, arrange off-sites to get to know each other, have workshops to generate ideas, go for community service together, set up war rooms to deliver products faster, spend days together at conferences, hours together at airports and planes and call each other to handle exceptions.

Are you still not convinced that people and collaboration should be at the core of business software?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Observe before reflecting and designing

Daniel Pink in his book A Whole New Mind , shares his experience of going to portrait drawing school where he learned to draw a self portrait. After a few days and many lessons later, he said that he came away with the understanding that portrait drawing is not about putting on paper what you think your face looks like, but what you observe in the mirror.

This applies to product design as well. Keen observation is a prerequisite for reflection and creation. I really get scared when some one starts a design conversation with the phrase "I Think...". A better way to share a design thought might be to tell a story about a customer visit, a conversation, a book you read or a person you spoke to. This carries a lot more credibility than a personal thought, irrespective of how profound it is.

Think About The Time Of The Day, While Thinking Mobile-First

While thinking mobile first for your application, it will help to think about the time of the day when your app or a particular feature might be used by your users. Such thinking might be able to help you determine the features that you need to provide in a mobile app.

The picture below is an example of newpaper readership across smartphone, computers and tablets.

News readership across devices and time from WSJ

The time of the day may determine, the mood, the attention span and the expectations a person may have. In the morning, users may be looking to get quick updates and do things that help with planning the day. They may use their smart phone for this purpose.

During the day time, they may do things that require large chunks of time and a quiet and comfortable workspace. They may use the computer to do even minor tasks.

In the evening, they may be catching up on reading material, checking for some updates and closing out the day. They may use a tablet to do this.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Challenges While Creating Mobile Prototypes To Convey Concepts

I create mobile prototypes to convey the idea behind use cases. I explained why I do this in a previous post. How ever, I am facing a challenge for some time now.

No matter how many times I point out that the prototype is only to convey the concept and not to suggest that we should build a mobile version of the use case, I keep getting feedback such as "This may not be an appropriate mobile use case". 

So keep an eye out for such feedback and take apppropriate steps to communicate your intent.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Best Animation Scene Is The One That Does Not Look Like It Is Animated

The best animation scene is the one that does not look like it is animated.

Remember the scene from the movie Forest Gump, where Forest plays ping-pong. After I watched the movie I started wondering how they filmed it. Later, I listened to an interview by the animators from Industrial Light and Magic and they said that there was no ball in the scene. The ball was actually an animation that was meant to make Tom Hanks the actor look like a ping-pong virtuoso.

Similarly, The ultimate triumph of an interface design is when the interface and the elements of the interface are invisible and people don't realize that some interface is in place.

A good example is a chair. Such design was not prevalent in the software industry due to technology constraints. With the advent of touch interfaces, I am hopeful that we are getting there.

Thinking Mobile First Need Not Always Mean Creating A Mobile App

I was chatting with a friend the other day when he explained the mobile features of the travel management application he is leading the co-innovation for. His application enables users to take a picture of a receipt and email it to the expense report system.

That does not sound like anything fancy. Several applications can take a picture and send somewhere. But the beauty lies in the simplicity of the solution. In fact there is no app to download, there is no API to connect with and they don't have to worry about data connectivity issues, device compatibility issues and upgrade issues.

All the user has to do is to add an email address to his or her email system. When he has a recipt, he can take a picure using the mobile phone's camera and send the image using the email application in the mobile device.

When you can solve the problems of a mobile user without creating a mobile app of your own, consider it. In fact it is the first thing you should consider while thinking mobile first.

Friday, November 12, 2010

If You Want To Blog And Have Starting Trouble, Try Quora

My friend and colleague @Chirag_Mehta introduced Quora to me and explained that it is reverse blogging. I asked him what that means and he explained that rather than pick topics to write on, a person can look at the questions people are asking and write detailed answers, almost like a blog post, in areas where they have expertise and credibility. For example, Reed hastings the CEO of NetFlix answers questions about NetFlix strategy and financials. He is  obviously a credible source and people pay attention.

Since then I have suggested Quora to some colleagues who wanted to start writing on the topics where they have expertise. They like it. Give it a try. Quora.com

People I Follow To Keep Up With The Bleeding Edge Of Enterprise Collaboration

Josh Bernoff @JBernoff
Why: Josh always gives examples and talks about real world examples, and even mentions the failure of his earlier case studies. He co-authored two of the seminal books. Groundswell and Empowered. Josh also has deep insight into mobile strategy for businesses. He believes that all employee needs to be empowered with Web 2.0 technologies as well. Not just select customer facing folks.

Andrew McAfee @amcafee
Why? He coined the term Enterprise 2.0. Although some thought leaders have stopped using the word Enterprise 2.0.

Jeremiah Oywang @jowyang
Why? He is a doer. He shares his learnings at customer meetings like a fire hose and has a blog on web strategy where he posts his thoughts routinely. I subscribe to his blog. Not every post is useful for people focused on enterprise collaboration. But most are.

Charlene Li @charleneli
Why? She coauthored Groundswell and authored Open Leadership. Charlene does not share via blog and twitter as much as Jeremiah. May be because she is busy building a business.

Am I missing someone obvious. Any more suggestions?

I did not include the magazines and organizations I follow.

A Man And His Thoughts And His Smart Phone - Design To Help Sneak In Some Work

When we design for desktop browser delivery, we build features knowing that the user is at work, has a desk and is using accessories such as a mouse and a big monitor.

When we build an iPad version of the same application, we take into account the different interface and the different habits, the different requirements, and the different mindset that a person may have when they operate the iPad. For example, they may be outside, they may be standing somewhere, reading a document while having lunch at a restaurant and so on.

When we design for the smart phone we may even have to keep in mind that the user is sneaking in some work when he is not supposed to be doing it.

This e-trade advertisement always makes me smile.

Purpose and Strategy For Building Mobile Apps

Josh Bernoff in his book Empowered, has a good chapter on the purpose and strategy for designing mobile apps.

The purpose of building mobile apps is to increases sales, improve loyalty and reduce costs. He also points out an interesting aspect of mobile app design. You cannot have a single design for the Blackberry and the iPhone.

Companies have found out Blackberry users have different habits compared to iPhone users. The design of your mobile applications will depend on your user base. He even suggests that a company should build a mobile website first, analyse the devices used to access the mobile web site and then design and build native apps for specific devices and user habits.

Sounds like a good approach to me. How do you approach your mobile design strategy?

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Like Exercise In Daily Life, Collaboration Tools Should Be Embedded Into the Work Day

The Enterprise 2.0 conference is going on in San Jose and twitter is thick with talk about collaboration. I read about and saw the demos of several very well done collaboration tools that enable people-to-people conversation and document centric collaboration. Many of them claim to have one or more integration points with other business tools. This is very good and I am sure they worked hard to design and build these tools.

But this seems like how we treat exercise in our life. We are very busy with our work and life. So much so that our cholesterol and blood sugar levels have affected out ability to work. Our doctor advises us to exercise for 30 minutes a day. So we drive to the closest 24 hour fitness center, use the escalator to get to our tread mill fast and spend 30 minutes on the tread mill.  Some day we miss it or are too tired to do it, because we treat it like one more necessary evil.

We clearly know that there is something wrong with the picture above. Many communities and workplaces in the world such as my office are encouraging people to take the stairs, and build exercise into the fabric of their daily life.

Let me compare collaboration with exercise. As i pointed out in a previous post, collaboration had become the main framework of how we work today. Collaboration is not a necessary evil. It is not just what the Facebook generation does. It is how people from all generations get work done today.

Collaboration tools should enable people to embrace this fundamental shift in the work place. Collaboration tools should be embedded in the fabric of every day work.  The next generation systems must start with people-to-people collaboration tools and build business apps around them. The approach should not be to build stand-alone collaboration tools and boast about one or more integration points.

Great Picture. What Camera Do You Use?

I am sure this has happened to you. You show a picture you took to a friend or colleague and they appreciate it by asking you the camera you used to take the picture. I encounter a similar situation now-and-then at work. When I present a storyboard, a prototype or product to colleagues, some of them promptly send me an email asking me the tool or template I used. This is amusing and sometimes annoying. It is almost like saying, "Surely you are not an artist. You can't be hard-working or skilled. You got to have some secret tools in your closet."

Most of the time they are disappointed with my answer when I tell them that there is no special tool. You just have a pick a tool you like and apply your methods, your knowledge your skill and repeat until you get it right.

I suspect, this behavior is driven by the industrial era, mass manufacturing mind set where the goal was to dumb down the tasks so much that any unskilled or semi-skilled person can build generic meaningless products that sort of met your needs and do it at a very low cost. I believe that the industrial era and even the information era is over. If you are not an artist at what ever you do, automation, outsourcing and abundance will get you. There will always be a machine or a lower paid person to replace you.

If you are interested in this topic, I have three book suggestions. A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink. The Rise Of The Creative Class by Richard Florida and Linch Pin by Seth Godin.

I am pretty sure you are not going to ask me what tool I used to create the Cartoon strip above. :)

There are Four Types of Social Communication and Collaboration Products - Gartner

We tend to club all products that enable people to work together into one category called Collaboration.

I believe that products that enable people to people conversation serve a different purpose compare to products that enable document centric collaboration. I recently compared Yammer with Jive to explain my experience with tools that serve different purposes.

Gartner puts Social Communication and Collaboration into four categories

(1) Social networking —social profile management products, such as MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn and Friendster as well as social networking analysis (SNA) technologies that employ algorithms to understand and utilize human relationships for the discovery of people and expertise.
(2) Social collaboration —technologies, such as wikis, blogs, instant messaging, collaborative office, and crowdsourcing.
(3) Social publishing —technologies that assist communities in pooling individual content into a usable and community accessible content repository such as YouTube and flickr.
 (4) Social feedback - gaining feedback and opinion from the community on specific items as witnessed on YouTube, flickr, Digg, Del.icio.us, and Amazon.

Gartner predicts that by 2016, social technologies will be integrated with most business applications. This suggests that current collaboration products are not blended into business applications. I believe this will happen sooner then 2016.

Click here to read the other strategic technologies for 2011

Sunday, November 07, 2010

List of SAP Employee Personal Blogs

Chirag Mehta - Office of the CTO - On Cloud Computing
Timo Elliot - Business Objects - On BI Questions and Web 2.0
Enric Gili Fort - OnDemand Solution Management. Contributes to Blog Context Response
Jonathan Becher - CMO, EVP Marketing - Manage By Walking Around - Aligning Execution with Strategy
Ted Sapountzis - Social Media Marketing - Leadership and Social Media
Marilyn Pratt - Community Manager - Celebrating Innovation Community and Purpose http://greenshow.me/
Craig Cmehil - Community and Technology Evangelist- A Different View Before The Weekend 
Gavin Heaton - Director of Social Media Where branding and storytelling meet.
Gavin Heaton - Director of Social Media Communications in the age of social media
Moya Watson - Personal Blog
Richard Barrett - Financials Marketing CFOKnowledge Resources and perspectives for the CFO
Natascha Thomson - Social Media Audience Marketing - Social media B2B marketing
Matthias Steiner -  Development Architect - Day In the Life of an SAP Architect
Michael Brenner - Online Marketing and Social Media - Latest trends in demand generation and social media 
Srinivas Reddy  Personal Blog
Brian Rice - An Inside Look At Consumer Marketing And Trends
Brian Ellefritz - Marketing  - Social Media Marketing
Norman Marks - Governanance Risk Management And Internal Audit
Xiang Xu  Cloud Computing and Web 2.0

If you know of other work related blogs of SAP Employees (I am sure there are many) please add a comment or email me and I'll add them here. If your blog is listed here and you would like to suggest an edit, please email me.

And You Thought SAP Was Boring

Promote The Blogs of Your Employees On Your Recruiting Web Site

In the book Empowered by Josh Bernoff, the author talks about how the marketing funnel we all learned about in Marketing 101 has changed. People used to become aware of your company via your messages, consider your products and a few buy your products.
The new marketing funnel from the book "Empowered by Josh Bernoff"

But things have changed. Josh says that Mass Influencers among your customers are broad casting information about your products. Increasingly, new customers are listening to the voice of influencers who have already bought your product and not the listening to the your messages you spent millions to broadcast.

This suggest that sales is no longer the end point. You have to continue to delight your customers so that they broadcast your praises. You also have to empower your customers to broadcast their messages by enabling them with appropriate content and tools.

Most of what I said above is not news to anyone who understands the basics of Web 2.0.

How does this apply to recruiting people?
However I see the same situation applying to recruitment as well. Increasingly, new recruits have access to the voices of your employees and ex-employees via dedicated sites such as Glassdoor.com and LinkedIn. They also can quickly access the personal blogs of employees within the company. By following a company on LinkedIn, they get a remarkably accurate view of turnover in the company.

For example, if you want to know what is going on in the BusinessObjects division of SAP, you will get an accurate, timely and straight-from-the-hip information from Timo Elliot's blog. If you want to know what SAP is doing in the Web 2.0 area, you will get an accurate and indepth view from SAP Web 2.0 Blog run by Timo. In fact even SAP employees go there to get up-to-date information. Timo's content is a combination of original material he puts together and SAP official marketing messages he curates.

People executives, with some rare exceptions, think that their recruitment messages on their web sites are the only ones heard by potential recruits. Most recruitment web site content and messages are written by, let's face it, recruiters.

Here is what I suggest.
Why not list the top influencers who work for your company along with links to their blogs in the company's recruitment web site. Give them an incentive to share their personal blog there. List them by their area of work and encourage potential hires to visit the blogs and read them. Don't try stunts like ghost written blogs of executives. It takes 5 seconds to tell that a blog is not genuine. Do even think about hiring a traditional PR person to write a 'personal' blog. In fact if a blog is completely error free, I get suspicious.

How do I know who the top influences in my company are?
Most people who write about their work would have listed their blogs in their LinkedIn profile. Put some one on the job to collect these profiles and analyse them. If you are planning to hire a lot of engineers next year, reach out to your engineering bloggers. If you are planning to hire in Japan, find out if any of your Japanese colleagues blog.

So, Do I need to install a blogging software and hire a VP of Social Media?
No. you dont have to do that. You can do this without any IT investment. Don't force an tool chosen internal IT on your employee bloggers. Bloggers are using what they are using for a reason. You are going to them because they are the influencers while your recruiters are not. So, let your influencers make their technology choice.

By the way, you may want to keep such influencers from leaving your company. I guess you already knew that.

Lessons About Feedback From The Okra Salad Recipe

I cook South Indian dishes regularly. Last week I wanted to make Okra Salad and I looked up the recipe in the book Dakshin, by Chandra Padmanabhan. The author suggested that adding a bit of salt to the salad brings out the flavor and enhances the taste of the dish. But she cautioned that quantity and timing is everything. You have to sprinkle the salt over the dish at the end. If you add the salt in the beginning it will bring out the water in the okra and make the dish soggy, sticky and almost inedible. On the other hand, if you dump a spoon of salt after the dish is done and try to mix it, the okra crumbles into pieces and looks unappetizing.

There is a lot we can learn from this about giving feedback to a person about his or her performance. I have seen people, who in the name of feedback, pour cold water over every idea a person suggests. My colleagues do not open their mouth when such a person is around. Such people have good intentions. But they dampen the performance of everyone else around them.

The other extreme is managers who never give timely feedback and pour it all out during the annual performance review, leaving the employee wondering why the manager never shared his feedback throughout the year.

A good manager knows that the quantity and timing of feedback matters; very much like a good cook knowing when to add salt, how much to add and how to blend it in.

PS: In India the okra is called "ladies fingers". If you want to order Okra in a regular Indian restaurant in the US or Europe, look for "Bhindi Masala". Bhindi is the Hindi word for Okra. You will not find the Okra Salad that I make it any regular restaurant. I am afraid, it is a dish available only in South Indian house holds and select Indian vegetarian restaurants. Image Credit : Food.com

After I wrote this post, the Head of Customer Success at Rypple @dpriemer reached out to me via twitter and said that they have developed a suite of social software that enables managers to improve the performance of their team members by giving feedback. The Co-CEO of Rypple @ddebow liked the post as well.

I am not an active user of Rypple. But I have tried it. If you liked what I said and want a tool to engage your colleagues by giving them feedback, you may want to give Rypple a try. There is a free trial.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Shoot Two Rolls Of Film and Show Me The Pictures From The Second Roll

In my second year in design school, my product photography professor gave me two rolls of film and asked me to shoot pictures of products and develop the pictures. However, he did not want to see the pictures from the first film roll. He said, "Those are for you to see and learn. I have already learned everything one can learn from the mistakes one makes while shooting the first roll of film".

It was a great lesson of making something to learn, even if no one else other than the maker sees what he makes. Today, my colleagues and I do this while designing enterprise software products. We make prototypes to think. Some times only the person who make the prototype sees the first version. Sometimes, the first version is so basic, we hide it from others. Sometime we create mobile prototypes for products for which we have no plans to release a mobile version.

If you have a design problem, I suggest you try this. Make a prototype. Don't show the first two or three versions to others. Show them only after you have learned from the mistakes and have addressed all the things you can address.

PS: For those of you who are wondering what is a film roll and why someone shoots photos using film, I went to school in the late eighties when we went through this unimaginably slow process of shooting 36 pictures on a roll of film, developing it painstakingly in a studio where we inhaled a lot of chemical fumes. We also usually spent 30 minutes or so preparing for one shot, because we had only 36 frames in a roll.

Friday, November 05, 2010

How a customer uses HR Data to predict who will stay with the company

I visited a utilities customer yesterday. They are very concerned about the fact that more than 40 percent of their employees are becoming eligible to retire in the next two years. I asked them what they are doing about it. Among other things they shared some interesting insight.

They have information about the person's age, the age of an employee's dependents, their pension balance, the retirement saving balance and vacation balance. From this data they said that the are able to predict with remarkable accuracy, the year in which a person retires.

They did not talk much about similar data for their younger population. So I pointed out a few research findings to them.
  • A younger employee who has signed up for a retirement plan, such as the 401K plan in the US, indicates a willingness to stay longer with the company. If you are a manager, encouraging your team members to signup for 401K may make them more likely to stay.
  • Cognizant Technologies found out that an employee who blogs about his work inside or outside the company is more engaged, satisfied and hence is likely to stay longer with the company. Encourage your employees to blog about their work and expertise.
  • An employee who is connected with more colleagues and collaborates with many people is more likely to stay with the company for a longer time. Research shows that people who collaborate also make more money than those who do not. Encourage your employees to develop weak connections outside the team. Track them using enterprise social networking software if you can.
  • Google found out that talent employees quickly become unhappy if under-utilized. An employee who is involved in multiple activities within the company keeps herself busy and hence is less likely to feel under- utilized. You may need a tool to track people's activities. If there is no specialized tool, employees can at least provide simple short updates in your current collaboration tool. Such information, if  included in your employee performance management system, will give empirical evidence of activities or the lack of it. You should not wait until the annual performance review to find this out. It may be too late.
There is an interesting article in HBR on Talent Analytics if you are interested.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

When it comes to technology more seems to be less

It seems Mark Twain once said "I did not have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one instead". When it comes to technology products, a long letter does not seem to work well.

I am an early adopter of the  Tablet PC from Microsoft.I am also an early adopter of the iPad from Apple. I use the Tablet PC extensively for drawing my storyboards. The pen interface is wonderful for drawing. The tablet PC could also do everything a regular PC could do. So, for most of the time I ended up using the Tablet PC like a regular PC and I was not using it as it was supposed to be. In other words I could use it like a regular laptop and it worked fine. This abundance of usage choice, I suspect, was the reason for its demise.

The iPad on the other hand does very few things compared to the tablet PC. In fact it is very very limited when compared to a traditional laptop and yet, it redefined computing as we know it. I, and all those who use an iPad, use it in ways that we never imagined.The Apple designers, I am sure, worked very hard to eliminate functionality while making the product useful in new and compelling ways for users. In other words, they worked hard to write us a short letter. When it comes to technology products, more seems to be less now-a-days.

If you are interested in reading about the topic of choice more, there is a good book named The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

All Enterprise Applications Need a Discuss Button

A few days back I watched the video below where researchers from IBM and Enterprise 2.0 experts discuss collaboration in the enterprise. @SameerPatel says that most of our work today does not follow any pre-defined processes. Our work mostly is handling exceptions and so we need a "Discuss" button in our applications along with the routine "Submit" and "Cancel" buttons.

One of the most level headed and yet seminal discussions on Enterprise 2.0. I highly recommend it.

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