Tuxera NTFS for Mac: a limited time offer!

Tuxera NTFS drivers for Mac OS X, on aktually.comAs a Mac user, I often find that I hook into Windows drives very frequently at work. Having NTFS compatibility is really important for sneaker-net-ing files, and otherwise making life easier for me. It is a shame that this sort of thing isn’t built into OS X, but the Tuxera drivers help a lot!

So for folks who work in a Mac/Win mixed environment, you can get 20% off the normal price. I received this offer in a newsletter email campaign, and I have had a great experience so far! The offer lasts until midnight on Wednesday, June 12th. Happy interoperability!

Workshops make geniuses out of ordinary people

Working on an affinity diagram as part of the KJ Method
Working on an affinity diagram as part of the KJ Method, picture from netmagazine.com.

Much of the literature that one encounters about moderating a workshop is dedicated to the technique and mechanics of conducting a workshop. The technique itself is useful to learn, and certainly becomes an important part of any person’s repertoire of communication tools. At the same time, I tend to think of technique as one side of a coin. The opposite side, progress, is much trickier to achieve, and is certainly worth equal, if not more attention.

I have helped a lot of different teams in the past grapple with difficult problems, and I started off being quite wooden in the approach. Laying out strict agendas, leaving time for food/drink breaks, and giving out homework was about the extent of it at first. I would learn later on that these efforts would result in very little progress, which I traced back to two factors:

  • Inspiration – some participants felt that the literal points of the agenda were met, but the experience did not stick to them or push them further in their everyday lives or responsibilities.
  • Urgency – others felt that not everyone had the same level of buy-in or commitment, or perhaps that the ideas thrown out were not important or high-value.

And so, even when utilizing my favored KJ method1 to elicit mutual understanding and ideas, there was a key nuance that I had to work in: refraining from injecting my personality into the process. This means putting aside my beliefs about the workshop’s objective, ignoring my notions of the “right” way(s) of doing things, and instead acting more like a scribe. If anything, the power of the workshop really comes from the attendees themselves; if you lead them to water, they won’t necessarily drink.

I have seen that groups will come up with all sorts of ideas, many of which have surprised me with their ingenuity or unexpectedness. And once the group comes to a consensus, then the moderator’s job becomes easier. He or she now has the idea that everyone cares about seeing succeed. And turning that idea into reality is far easier if the group is inspired by their work, and believes that it needs to have been done yesterday.

1. For points about how to conduct a KJ method workshop, see: this article at UIE.com by Jared Spool or this presentation by Vice Dean Karl Ulrich of Wharton, UPenn.

Ecommerce trends in 2013

Shopping via an app on a smartphone (from aktually.com)As a product manager working for a retailer that’s been around for more than 95 years, I face a daunting but intriguing task. Popular opinion says that retailers like mine are going to fall to Amazon. But, hope is not lost. These five themes are evolutionary ways that can help us compete, and even thrive against Amazon.

All hail the humble automated baggage tag

Picture of an ABT, courtesy of Samantha Brown

I just read a great article that dives into a fairly pedestrian kind of product: the automated baggage tag (a.k.a. the “ABT”) that almost anyone who’s travelled has probably gotten one wrapped around the handle of their luggage. Through the perspective of a product manger, I found it to be a great example of product design that touches upon so many areas. There’s plenty of good stuff about human factors, systems design/resilience, and iterating upon requirements. And despite the thought and design that’s gone into it, it’s such a simple product at first sight.

As a quick synopsis of the requirements that the teams developed for (eventually!):

  1. The tag label itself has to have the right, individualized information to guide the bag handlers and systems appropriately.
  2. The label has to hold up to temperature, moisture, oil, and light, to name a few elements.
  3. The label has to be useful in both modern and modest airports alike.
  4. The tag has to resist tearing, yet be easily removable by a traveller.
  5. The tag has to be cheap to produce, and disposable too.
  6. The tag adhesive needs to be weather and moisture resistant too.

That’s no easy order to fill. And the interesting thing is that the article notes early snafus such as “Old[er] tags were fastened with a string through a hole, but mechanized baggage systems eat these for breakfast.” and “early adhesives couldn’t cope with extreme cold, so snowy tarmacs would end up littered with detached tags”. Iteration and thoughtful design are illustrated very well here.

For more, Slate hosts the full article, and the accompanying slide show too!

Simple products, from the start

Coming up with a simple product is an extraordinarily difficult undertaking given the consideration and compromises that must be made in the process. However, even simple products are not guaranteed to be great products. That said, it’s far easier to read off a checklist and say “I want it to do everything.” The allure of incorporating more ideas, features, etc. only increases the likelihood that the finished result will just be crap.

Francisco Inchauste prompted me to think about this point with his post on getfinch.com where he writes:

Simple products can be more powerful than so called “easy to use”, shortcut, gimmicky products. Simple products are not overdesigned, and many might find them to appear limited or underdesigned.

I completely agree.

A Love Letter to my CSA

Image courtesy of saralittleyoga.wordpress.com

To my local community-sponsored agriculture group,

We have had an on-again/off-again relationship during the past two years. I know that I’ve just been dipping my toe in the waters, hiding behind friends while we did our little dance. It just hasn’t been easy committing to Thursday afternoon visits, despite the romantic atmosphere of the gardens. I suppose I was afraid at first, of what you might ask of me.

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A Field Review of the OneSimCard

I recently traveled to Europe for business, and wanted to stay connected with my family and friends in the US while I was over there. And since I have a smartphone, I also wanted to have affordable data access at good speeds. After a little research, I stumbled upon the OneSimCard as a possible solution. It’s a SIM card solution that gives you a Estonian phone number and utilizes roaming arrangements to keep costs down in a lot of different countries (according to their site, they cover more than 200!). It was a great solution to my needs, but watch that meter closely!
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A Review of “Practical Product Management”

I give "Practical Product Management" a 3.5 out of 5.When I mentioned that I was attending “Practical Product Management” presented by Pragmatic Marketing, many of my peers wondered about the value of the seminar itself. After all, product management is something I’ve been doing for several years now, so I’ve got some hands on experience about the topic. Based on my search through Quora and LinkedIn comments, I decided to give it a try this past January. Spoiler: good, but not great.
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Compromises and 2012 (or why I love my MacBook Air)

A profile shot of the MacBook Air, rev. late 2010.
Image courtesy of CNET Asia.

An article on TUAW about the history of the MacBook Air prompted me to think back in early 2010, when I was comparison shopping for a lightweight laptop. My search had come down to four choices:

  • the Toshiba Portégé M800,
  • the Panasonic Y5,
  • the Lenovo ThinkPad X301, and
  • the MacBook Air.

At the time, these light-weight machines were premium-priced products that were selling between $2000 and $3000. So only after painfully extended deliberation did I order the Lenovo X301 because of its inclusion of the DVD drive. However, Lenovo cancelled my order in the spring of 2010. And that has made all the difference.
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Nothing Comes for Free

Social networks are powered by you, paid for by advertisers.

I just don’t understand why the idea of web properties sponsored by advertising continues to be news. In fact, this quote from Alicia Eler from RWW sums it up pretty well:

If you pay for a product, you’re a customer. If you don’t, you’re the product. On Facebook, you are the product.

It’s applicable to just about any product or service you do not pay for. From a product management standpoint, every feature introduced is intended to maximize the value of the product. If the relationship is such that you’re paying, then the product is attempting to improve its value to you.

Conversely, if you are the product, then value is being squeezed from you. Incidentally, the advertisers are the consumer in this model. If you think that’s nefarious or shady, try an alternative. And if you find that hard to swallow, remember that the juice presser that’s squeezing you is deliberately very hard to leave.