Tagged: product development

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!

Discipline and the minimum viable product

With all due respect to Seth Godin, while he may be a marketing guru, his post about minimum viable product makes me think that he hasn’t participated in the product development process in a very long time, considering that his definition of minimum viable product is pretty coarse (and likely why it doesn’t work!).

As a product guy, minimum viable product is one important method with which to organize product development efforts, and to maximize the amount of benefit derived from scarce engineering, development, and management resources. In agile development circles, Product Owners work with the team to consciously choose to release “MVPs” frequently, or release a bunch of them together in an integrated package or manner. My take is that “minimum viable product” is the set of features that satisfy the core needs of your target champion audience and provides the team with the greatest return in both actionable feedback and revenue/revenue potential. More than one can go live at a time!

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ProductCampNYC 2011!

I’ve gone to ProductCampNYC for the past few years, and it’s always a great experience! This year was the first year that I submitted some ideas for speaking, and I was fortunate that folks were interested in HTML5 (or at least, as much as I am!). But my bigger takeaway this year was from the keynote speaker, Brian Fitzgerald of Knewton, and his very keen comments on a “Product Culture.” In short, I think of the culture as the thing that gets everyone pointed in the right direction, while his point about focus gets everyone moving quickly in that direction. I’ve seen situations where Product folks resist investing the time to contribute to the culture, and that’s a real shame. If anything, I believe that Product folks are responsible for motivating customers to engage with the product, as well as motivating the team to build, iterate, and innovate.

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HTML5 versus native: which way should you go?

Over the last few months, there’s been so much turmoil in the touchscreen tablet space! Consider:

  1. HP’s newest foray into tablet computing, not with a Windows OS but instead with WebOS, subsequently gets beheaded in under 2 months after the TouchPad’s launch.
  2. Android’s Honeycomb and Gingerbread tablets are growing in number, but not so much in market share.
  3. RIM’s launch of the Playbook is widely acknowledged as a flop.
  4. Apple’s iPad 2 launch in March is one of the most successful product launches in recent history.
  5. And last but not least (by a slim margin), Microsoft continues to plug away with its Windows 7 stopgap strategy while working on Windows 8.

As a product person who’s been working on a HTML5-based offline web application, it’s been an exciting ride! So far, the recent events underscore several key ideas that product folks should take into account: platform flexibility, platform longevity, and control over the platform. Continue reading

How PayPal and Google are laying out the red carpet for Apple

Image courtesy of ontask.caFrom Mike Issac at Wired, PayPal and Google have been making waves this year with the combination of NFC technology and innovations in the payments space. And to Mike’s point, “Silicon Valley wants you to do away with your old, beat-up leather wallet”. However, all of this tech is still reliant on your credit card as an intermediary to payment. This is where Apple comes in.
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FUD versus Innovation

The recent events surrounding Square have illustrated a key question in business relationships in any market: is it better to work with others, or against others? Verifone didn’t endear itself to the geek community or even other business partners when it decided to launch a smear campaign about Square’s product on March 9th, 2011. Its assertions that Square facilitates card skimming, a technique to copy a person’s credit card number for nefarious purposes, are completely bunk! The reason: a scammer must physically possess the person’s card. You, the consumer, are at the same level of risk whether the scammer has a Square device, or a pencil and paper pad!

In contrast, Visa and Square jointly took the high road and continued to build their positive brand image while pushing innovation in the payments space. While Square seems to have capitulated to Verifone’s claims, it is far more likely that implementing encryption was a part of Visa’s terms to publicly back Square. The monetary contribution certainly seems to be far less significant than the potential reduction of Square’s barrier to entry to the payments market. After these events, Verifone may have been better off just ignoring Square!

Conclusion: Innovate with newcomers in your space, and you’re bound to get some halo effect and drive benefits to both companies!

Google, go kill the URL bar!

From ConcievablyTech:

The idea is to eliminate the two line navigation layout which currently has tabs on top and the navigation buttons, menu and URL bar below. The compact navigation model would only have one line and place the navigation buttons, a search button, tabs and menus next to each other. The URL bar is gone and the URL of each tab is not visible at all times, but only displayed when a page is loading and when a tab is selected.

Go Google go!
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Stay on time with OnTime!


This is a fantastic innovation for such an everyday concept! We have so many different Web services and products at our disposal. And with the advent of smartphone devices, we can access these great Web services and products almost any time we need! Now it comes down to who plugs together the sensible connection of various components that make these tools indispensable to one’s personal workflow. It’s a fine example of product development: take a problem, connect existing and right pieces together, and offer value that’s greater than the sum of its parts!

Who would have guessed: Spending incentives drive spending!

In the spirit of the holiday season here in the US, this article from the Wall Street Journal seems particularly appropriate:

In many cases, rewards enticed people whose cards were dormant to start spending…[and] even small rewards can prompt people to spend more.

This useful study backs up the old management consulting adage of “you get what you measure.” In this case, financial services companies measure a customer’s spending and show a clear link to a nominal reward. And voilà, we shouldn’t be surprised that customers then immediately think about what they can get, as opposed to saving the money in the first place. Rewards programs are an ingenious way to acquire customers and encourage spending, but this can be to the detriment of the customers themselves.

My point is that customers need to really question their spending habits in the first place, as opposed to jumping at offers no matter how lucrative they may seem. There are plenty of savvy product managers out there, and their sole job in cases like these are to get you to spend money. Instead of watching your checking account go down for “rewards,” how about watching your savings account go up for a change?