Monday, May 30, 2011

Prototyping is Rapid Experimentation

I recently got some questions on the prototyping tools and about the need for prototyping. So I decided to share some thoughts on that subject.

I have always relied on prototyping and have written many posts on that subject. However prototyping is not just about efficiency or cost savings. It is also about experimentation. Prototyping tools enable product managers to experiment with things directly and apply their thoughts to a tangible deliverable, without having to rely on another person.

No matter how senior a product manager becomes, he or she should not lose the ability and the urge to prototype. To prototype is to experiment. To experiment is to get feedback. To get feedback is to improve. To improve is to succeed.

If you think you are too senior to prototype, consider this. @guptathink, Vice President of Product Management at Groupon builds prototypes with @Axurerp. I heard it directly from him.

A Design Decision To Subvert Organizational Hierarchy

Recently, I was discussing the text formatting features we need to build in Career OnDemand with @enricgili and @mittweg. I recollected what I learned about the power of hyperlinks from the Cluetrain manifesto.

Hyperlinks create value by pointing to useful things. Hyperlinks do not follow organizational hierarchy. Hyperlinks don't ask for permission to point to something. Hyperlinks are not 'manageable'. Hyperlinked organizations are closer to the marker, act faster and acquire valuable survival skills of learning to swerve.

The decision was easy. Career OnDemand is going to have many features that enable creation of hyperlinks. The sinister plan to subvert authority and make organizations nimble, is on. 

Friday, May 27, 2011

Using Information Radiators As An Education Technique

When I was in 6th grade, my geography teacher realized that our knowledge of world geography was not up to the mark. So he came up with a master plan.

He asked all students in the class to keep their world atlases on the table. His logic was that there might be a sudden breeze which might open the atlas, students may glance at the maps inside the book, which might in turn pique their curiosity, which  might in turn lead them to talk about it, which might  impart some knowledge of world geography to the students in the class. We thought he was kidding. But he insisted, and we took our atlases out of our bags and left them on our desks. Surprisingly, after a few weeks we realized that world geography is actually a lot of fun. The entire class got better grades on geography after that.

Now-a-days i use this technique at work to share information with my colleagues. 
When I send a link to a wiki or a video, less than 10 percent of them actually open the link. (Yes. I have ways of tracking the clicks).

However, when I put things up on the wall or deliberately leave documents open on the table, I get the attention and input of people who I never thought would be interested in my work or had anything to say about my work. Putting things up on the wall leads to information radiation and very interesting conversations that lead to knowledge creation and knowledge exchange.

Recently, I heard the founder of refer to these pictures and documents posted on the wall as 'Information Radiators'. Give it a try. It works like a charm not only for projects plans but also for product design deliverables such as design principles, storyboards, presentations, and customers research results.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

To Work For A Big Company Or Start Your Own

Most people I talk to believe that entrepreneurship is a quick road to riches. Those who have taken the plunge know that it is anything but that. In fact if you are a good engineer or product manager working for a successful big company, you probably will end up making the same money as one of the three founders who start a company and sell the company for $50M in 6 years. Unlike the person working for a big company entrepreneurs take on the huge risk of failure and more than 90% of them fail.

I have tried to explain this to people before. I recently attended a talk by David Binetti - Founder and CEO, Votizen. He compares both the options 3.27 minutes into the video below. After a few seconds, you can skip the advertisement.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Using Twitter And Storify To Get Thoughts Clarified

I wanted some advise from the several customers and industry experts on Twitter on a product design issue that I was struggling with. I posted my question on Twitter and got some fantastic advise from the best of the best in the industry, all on a Sunday Afternoon. Here is the storify version of the conversation.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Invitation To Influence The Design Of The New SAP Enterprise Learning Portal

The SAP Enterprise Learning team lead by product owner Srinivasa "Srini" Raghavachar is renovating the Learning Portal to improve usability. Srini asked me to spread the word with SAP Enterprise Learning customers who are keen on influencing the design and usability of the Learning Portal.

This is an opportunity for you, if you are a current SAP Enterprise Learning customer, to influence or at least get a sneak peek into the design improvements made to the product months before the beta release.

For some reason, we force our customers to fill out a form when we ask them for their help. I apologize in advance for putting you through that process. Here is my offer to you. If you are interested email me at prashanth dot padmanabhan at sap dot com and I will fill out the form on your behalf.

If you would like to fill out the form yourself, to join the co-innovation program, you can do so from

A Glimpse Into Design Thinking By The Travel OnDemand Team

My colleagues in the Travel OnDemand product design team sit near me in Building 3 in Palo Alto, California. They follow the people centric and mobile first design principles. If you want to know more about their design thinking work, follow @rutasraju@Yvib and @calipidder on twitter.

Here is a snapshot of their work.

It Feels Like 1999 In Silicon Valley

I worked for a company called DigitalThink before joining SAP. DigitalThink was an E-Learning content provider with about $ 40 M in revenue and no profit. In the height of the Internet boom, DigitalThink was valued at about $2 Billion. The valuation was due to the naive belief that anything Internet is going to grow like crazy. Then came 2001 and after lingering along for a while, DigitalThink was sold to a division of Convergys for $120 Million. The reason for the fire sale was simple. The company was just not making any profit.

Some of my former colleagues went on to join other companies or start new companies. Some of them even joined companies such as SuccessFactors, CornerStone OnDemand and LinkedIn. Today I see a similar frenzy in the market where many companies which do not make any significant money and no profit are valued at billions of dollars only because they fall into the category of Cloud computing or Social Networking. Another reason is that there is practically no place else to invest your money.

I believe that the inevitable disappointment is not far away. What happens when there are other less risky investment options available for institutional investors. What happens when the insiders are allowed to sell their options. What happens when the visionaries who started these companies move on to become angel investors or venture capitalists. What happens when every shareholder realizes that there is no silver bullet. I hope reality sets in soon. I have seen this from the inside and I don't feel good about this.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Purpose Of Multiple InBoxes

I used to wonder about the purpose of multiple emails inboxes in multiple systems. For example your online back account has its own inbox. Your hospital's online account has one. I thought all we needed was just one universal personal email inbox provided by providers such as Google or Yahoo.

A message from my bank today gave me some insight into why my bank wants me to have a separate inbox, which has a higher level of online security. When there is a sensitive message to be shared, my bank posts the message to the inbox maintained by the bank, and only sends a notification to my personal email account. I am forced to go online into the more secure inbox to check my sensitive message. I think my hospital might do the same thing. Now I understand the purpose behind multiple inboxes.

Conversations Can Simplify, Even Eliminate Processes

When a loan officer in a big city bank wants to give you a loan, the officer follows an elaborate process to collect a lot of background information, does a significant amount of background check and uses sophisticated technology to evaluate your credit-worthiness. The decision making process lasts for days or weeks.

The Farmers and Merchants Union Bank
On the other hand, the loan officer in a small town bank will simply call someone in his or her network and verify your credentials in a matter of minutes and give you a decision within hours, not days or weeks.

The loan officer in a small town bank is able to avoid a long drawn process because he or she has a reliable network in place that can verify the reputation of a person, in a matter of minutes. In such communities, a person's reputation is transparent. So, when a good people network is in place, a simple conversation may be more reliable that a long drawn process.

This is the core belief of the product designers of Career OnDemand. Today we have technology in place that can surface a people network based on existing relationships within a company. Such transparency in relationships can help people have quick conversations with the right person to verify the reputation of a manager, verify the expertise of a professional or verify the reliability of an employee.

This technology is going to change the way organizations conduct their business. We plan to cater to this change, and hope to nudge organizations towards such simplicity and transparency, by putting conversation at the core of every business process.

Image Credit : Ann Althouse 

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

An Efficient Way To Search For Images Using Google

If you are a product manager or product designer, I am sure you use Google to search for images for your prototype and presentations. A very interesting feature is the ability of Google to search for images of a particular   dimension. For example, if you want an image of a book that is 60 pixels in width and 60 pixels in height, you can specify this in your search.

This feature speeds up my prototyping considerably. I get to focus on the design and flow rather than think about tools and image processing. I use MS Paint for processing images and Axure to build my prototypes.

Sunday, May 01, 2011 enables designers pick startups to join as founders

My friend and colleague Chirag Mehta introduced to me while we were discussing websites that elegantly integrate your LinkedIn profile with their web site.

You can log into using your LinkedIn profile.

Once you login using your LinkedIn credentials you see your profile information from LinkedIn displayed in a form. All you need to do is edit where needed and save the application. 

Once you create your profile, you see a list of potential founders and their ideas. 

You can click on one idea and go to the details page. I have displayed one such page below. Since you are logged in with Linked In, you can instantly see the people you and the potential founder know in common. has turned the talent acquisition model upside down. Instead of startup companies posting their jobs in the market and designers applying for those jobs, startups pitch their idea and designers pick the startups of their choice.

I hope they succeed in their endeavor. 
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