Tuesday, July 26, 2011

There is no wish list in Career OnDemand

While @enricgili and I were designing the Activities component of Career OnDemand, we had decided to categorize activities into a wishlist , ongoing activities and completed activities.

At the same time I started using the Instapaper service "Read Later" which enables you to save any web page from a browser and read it later. But there was a problem. Read later became "Read Never". We also noticed some people on twitter mentioned the same problem. This changed our mind and the design decision.

So there is no wish list of activities in Career OnDemand. You either do it right away or look it up later. There is no room for people who want to make a list and never get to it.

Image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/er3465/2280650380/

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Power Of Co-Innovation

We have been working with several customers to design Career OnDemand. For several months we listened carefully to several people, thought leaders and customers around the world and designed a solution which we think will help people manage their performance, development and career in the idea driven economy, where it is more important to move ideas from one person to another rather than move documents from one desk to another.
Co-Innovation is great way to design products.
But we had a problem. Most customers use people management practices that were designed for the industrial economy where the worker needed the factory and was loyal to the factory or workplace for decades. Times have changed. Now-a-days the factory needs the worker more then the worker needs the factory. There is little loyalty left in the worker-factory relationship.

We wanted to change the minds of our customers without any disrespect for their practices. So we involved them in our design process right from the design stage. Initially customers were very surprised that we went for a 3 hour workshop with nothing to sell to them and skeleton prototypes conveying our hypothesis. They greeted us with statements like "So you have nothing to sell and you will not have anything to sell for the next one year?". We had to explain to them that we are not from sales and we just wanted to design the product together with them. Many of them indulged us because we had crazy ideas and they were mildly amused about the fact that several people were willing to spend more than a year designing a product that they were not sure will ever be accepted by the market.

After a year and half of interaction, with constant updates to all customers who co-innovated with us, we showed the resulting design to them. To our surprise and delight we heard murmurs like "This is good. Why are we not doing things this way in our company" and "Sure. This does not fit what we do today. But may be what we are doing today need re-examination". When I heard such statements from customers who have been doing things in a certain way for decades, I realized the true potential of co-innovating with customers. It takes months, if not years of working with customers before you can earn their trust and the right to change their mind and the way they do things.

It is not easy. But it is worth the time and energy.

Image from http://www.medad-printing.com

Content In Your Prototypes Can Convey Significant Meaning and Design Intent

When @enricgili and I created the prototypes for Career OnDemand we learned an important lesson. The content we added to such prototypes can convey very significant meaning and design intent to customers. So we started obsessing over the right content for the right screens.

We discussed the right pictures to convey the right design intent for every screen. When ever we cut corners due to lack of time or laziness, we paid the price dearly and confused our colleagues and customers and wasted valuable time during presentations or workshops.

I am not talking about making your prototype pretty and colorful. Even in a skeleton black and white line drawing, I suggest you obsess over the right content in the right place.

We learned that we should rather display a place holder rectangle than put a dummy text or image in the prototype. If you don't have the time put a place holder. But avoid putting dummy content or incorrect content.

Image from www.fusionlab.com

Customer Conversations Make Product Managers Useful, Even Powerful

Today, I was talking to Christoph Kleeberg, a young product management intern working with us. He was hired to put Career OnDemand design through a millennial sanity check.

This week he sat through seven, two hour long customer co-innovations sessions with us and watched the Career OnDemand team listen, discuss, and at times challenge, the thoughts of our co-innovation customers.

Christoph is pondering his career path and asked me about what it takes to be a good product manager.

I told him that the principal job of a product manager is to be the voice of the market. Customer conversation is the oxygen a product manager needs to breathe life into a product. Every dialog with the customer is like a breath of air. Like breathing, you have to have an adequate amount of conversations in regular intervals. If you stay away from customers and do not engage in conversations with them, product managers will slowly lose perspective, lose their value and may be even lose their job.

I told him to grab every opportunity he gets to engage with a customer and talk to them. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Recruitment Software, Outdated Government Regulations and Reality

I have been talking to several thoughts leaders, practitioners and customers about recruitment software. HR professionals tell me that applicant tracking systems are a necessary evil and sourcing of talent is the real problem.

The tens of recruiters I spoke to told me that the recruitment systems they use, irrespective of the provider, serve as reporting systems for recruiting managers and do not help recruiters get better talent.

Recruitment software systems are not good repositories of talent information either. LinkedIn does that job much better than any other managed talent database, because any managed talent database starts decaying the moment the information is entered. The agency recruiters I spoke to told me this.

Hiring managers told me that they hide their application systems from high-potential hires as long as possible and only make them go through the pain of applying via the system just to meet the compliance requirements of their company.

A VP of HR-IT  I spoke to recently said that he had to follow useless recruitment process and procedures which are out of touch with reality just because his company does business with the government. He said that he was wasting money for no good reason because all this additional expenditure does not bring any new innovation or better talent to his company. Spending money on recruitment software is akin to a very expensive insurance policy.

Job seekers see online applications as nightmare situations, that they have to deal with to get a job. Meanwhile software providers make a ton of money selling software that just protects company executives from law suits.

Successful recruiters and hiring managers flout all rules and laws and do what ever it takes to get the best talent for the company. Recruitment laws and software have lost touch with reality.

Something is very wrong with this situation. Very ripe for some crazy thinking.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Dirty Girl Tomatoes Have More Flavor

My friend and colleague @LorenWoo is a fan of the flavorful tomatoes from Dirty Girl Produce. He explained to me that Dirty girl tomatoes are water starved to the point of stress. So their plants produce a lesser number of  tomatoes with much more flavor compared to the regular tomato plants that are well-fed with ample water.

I have a similar philosophy for product development. Contrary to popular practice, I ask for less capacity, not more - particularly during the early stages of a product. I believe that the smaller the team, the better the product. A small team has limited time and can produce less features compared to a large team. However, a small team will be forced to focus on the most important things because they are under some stress to produce a viable product in the given time with lesser resources than normal.

Also, in a small team, people will be forced to hold each other accountable. This makes the team a lot more efficient.

Image from http://dirtygirlproduce.com/. If you live in the San Francisco bay area and want to learn more about these tomatoes, here is some more info. Loren Woo shared the link with me.

The More Obvious It Is To You The Harder It Is To Convey It To Others

When I was in school, I had a physics tutor. He was a professor in my Dad's college. He was a brilliant physics scholar and could explain the complex concepts of physics with great ease. I enjoyed learning from him and did well in physics tests. But he could not teach basic mathematics such as addition and subtraction to his 6 year old son. He was frustrated with is son. So his wife, a home maker, had to take over tutoring their son.

I asked him about it and he said "Two plus Two is four. It is so obvious. How come that guy does not get it. I have no idea how to teach him that." This was a great lesson for me. The clearer a concept is to me, the harder it is to convey it to others.

Every time I discuss product concepts and features with my colleagues, I keep this in mind and it has served me well. But from time to time, I do get frustrated when explaining concepts that seem so obvious to me, to my colleagues. For example, where you start when  a person asks you "What is Facebook?".

Image from http://www.huffingtonpost.com

Friday, July 15, 2011

Some Of The Books That Influenced The Design Of Career OnDemand

India Unbound

India Unbound by Gurcharan Das is a fantastic book illustrating the time period between 1947, the year India became politically independent and 1991, the year India became economically independent. Since I grew up in India and experienced the effects of the economic mismanagement and later benefited from the economic liberalization, this book evokes deep emotions.

I highly recommend it for those who want to understand why central planning is a bad idea and free markets are the best way to prosperity.
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