Part 2 : Refining your vision, from mission statement to actionable intelligence

In Part 1, I introduced a set of “guiding questions” one can pose before embarking on a cycle of product development or as an aid to focus a project team on a specific goal. They’re useful questions to ask whenever one wants to challenge assumptions and shake the tree a bit to get at the truth of a given situation.

But sometimes one doesn’t have a clear solution in mind or one needs to overhaul an existing, underperforming product or service. Best to go back to basics to ground oneself by defining an overarching goal and supplement with some intelligence about how to achieve that goal.

Refining Our Vision 

  • What’s our vision?
    • E.g., our ultimate goal – the global leader in delivering amazing sport content anywhere, anytime
  • What’s our mission?
    • E.g., state broadly how we achieve the vision – e.g., “producing market-defining products to deliver our best of breed content to the world”
  • When will we know we’ve succeeded?
    • E.g., which metrics and KPIs will we use to measure progress toward our mission, fulfilling our vision? Increased subscription revenue? x% more page views or marketshare?
  • What will contribute to achieving our ambition ?
    • Core product or service
    • Who are our customers?
    • What “jobs to be done” do our customers want?
    • What makes us different from our competitors?

This technique works for commercial propositions as well as products and services – and prepares one for devising a concrete set of product requirements.

vision and mission development worksheet
A useful grid to help you refine your vision, supporting mission statement and to define specific products and “jobs to be done” to further your goals.

Continued in Part 3.

Part 2 : Refining your vision, from mission statement to actionable intelligence

Part 1 : So you want to build a successful and profitable web site, mobile or home devices app, service or platform?

Often when I tell newly met acquaintances how I make my living this statement/question arises – “I have an idea for an app (or website, etc) – tell me how do I make it?” Where to begin? Perhaps with a quick overview of my previous experience. Over the past 14 years I’ve made a wide array of products and services, monetised through advertising, subscription and mixed revenue models :

  • Streaming video portals
  • Screen savers
  • Advertising creatives
  • Flash-based games
  • Marketing microsites
  • Educational assessment
  • Breaking news, live video & video-on-demand sites and apps

Despite differences in scale and diversity, all of these products began by answering a series of “guiding questions”. These aren’t the classic “five whys”, but instead help lay the foundation for further development of your idea or proposition :

  • How would you describe this in 60 seconds?
  • What problem does it solve?
  • What is the service?
  • What is the opportunity?
  • Who are the competition?
  • What is our competitive advantage?
  • How will we monetise this?
  • What is required to deliver this?
  • What don’t we know and how will we find the answers?

If you’re able to quickly answer these questions, you’ll be well on your way toward making a commercially viable product or service.

This will be the first in a series of articles discussing how one conceives of, constructs, delivers and maintains a digital product. It’ll be a blend of commercial considerations, project management, product delivery and technical development.

Continued in Part 2, Part 3.

Part 1 : So you want to build a successful and profitable web site, mobile or home devices app, service or platform?

So how do you know if you’re doing a good job? After all, when you really look at what’s being decided on one end and produced on the other, it might look like a PM is doing nothing at all. In most cases, this invisibility is a good sign. There are a few other tells.

“A big one is that the founders ping you directly without CC’ing other people. They just trust you to follow through and they know your team trusts you to be a good channel of information back and forth,” Jackson says. Communication skills are paramount. ‘One sign of a great PM is that other people get quiet when they start talking. A lot of PMs talk too much and spend time on things that aren’t important until people start tuning them out. If you see a PM talking and everyone else stops talking and listens, you know they are pretty good.’

You’re also a good PM if your absence is noticed by the best engineers on your team. “You want them to ask ‘What would that PM do or say if she was here?’ You want the best people to value your opinion that much and know you have the technical prowess to meaningfully contribute.”

Top Hacks from a PM Behind Two of Tech’s Hottest Products – It’s exactly what I’ve always looked for in a project manager and what I bring to the projects and teams I’ve led directly.
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What every great project manager should know

In the course of giving advice to a recent graduate, he asked me to describe exactly what a great project manager does. My response was that a project manager always knows:

  • What is happening, always
  • Understands where we are on the overall project timeline
  • Communicates this regularly – and on demand – to any and every person connected to the project.

We make apps, sites and services that communicate messages on behalf of our clients and a great project manager must be exceptionally skilled at briefing stakeholders appropriate to the stakeholders’ level of knowledge and interest.

As I’ve written before, tell me the story of what’s going on, where we are and where we need to go in order to succeed.

What every great project manager should know

Working in Paris & London with only an iPad

For the past couple of months I’ve been travelling from London via Eurostar to meet with a client in Paris. I travel on a Monday, have a couple of hours of meetings and then the next day spend the morning and early afternoon working from the client’s office. Later in the afternoon I dash back to the Gare du Nord and return home to London.

At first I lugged along the standard-issue work laptop, a low-end Dell, but the 2.5 hour battery life and the paucity of power points on the Eurostar prevented me from making the most of the journey. I am a consultant and project-related activity fully saturates my working day. I simply cannot afford to be out of touch for hours and hours. For nearly all of my working life I’ve used Mac’s, so I decided to purchase a new iPad to keep everything flowing whilst I am hurtling along under the Channel or beneath Paris on the Métro.

Very quickly the iPad became my indispensable tool. This is going to sound a wee bit like something David Sparks might write, but here’s how I keep myself on track and in touch whilst wandering around the world.

The first thing I did was purchase a Zaggfolio Keyboard Case. Although the iPad soft-keyboard is surprisingly comfortable to use for short e-mails, I write at least a thousand words a day of specifications, instructions, random musings and the like, so a physical keyboard was essential. The battery life is amazing, though it would be nice if it was a wee bit more sturdy. The plastic just feels a bit budget on this premium-priced product.

So now that I can type more words than anyone ever would want to read, how do I keep everything together? Perhaps it’s my geek background on a Macintosh for so many years, but I am keenly aware of different file formats and flowing data from one application to another and from device to device. The only sane way to store notes is as plain text and then to flow the text out as needed. This keeps application specific cruft from doing crazy things later downstream (ah, the pleasures of Microsoft Word).

I haven’t explored the newer Markdown-enabled editors like Byword, but I have used Simplenote now for several years. The web editor is straightforward and stable and the iOS app, after a rough patch resulting in a draft not syncing properly, now works smoothly as I hop from 3G to Wi-Fi to being connectionless.

So I take exceedingly detailed notes in Simplenote and then often post those notes to Basecamp. The only frustration with this workflow that Basecamp isn’t particularly iOS-friendly. There’s no native app and the in-browser text editor doesn’t allow rich text formatting via mobile Safari.

I also use Good to access my work Exchange e-mail when offline. The e-mail client is bare bones, but it suffices for plain text e-mails. One frustration is that one cannot delete the quoted portions of HTML/Rich Text messages when replying or forwarding – so the whole e-mail thread gets transmitted. It’s an irritating quirk. Good enables access to behind the firewall apps such as JIRA and this is where Good becomes unusable. JIRA is a terrific issue tracking and Agile project-tracking system (though I’m intrigued by Trello – looks more mobile-friendly), but the crippled browser in Good causes the app to hard crash at random times when updating JIRA tickets. Frustrating and unacceptable. Good strikes me as the sort of awful ransomware that has infected corporate IT systems for decades. There must be a better secure environment in which to use Exchange on iOS devices.

To keep non-sensitive project documents with me everywhere, I use Dropbox and edit them with Docs to Go. Dropbox’s file synchronisation is perfect and Docs to Go provides adequate MS Word and Excel editing capabilities. The main inconvenience with this workflow is the inability to attach files to e-mails and Basecamp messages. To overcome this, I simply insert links to the file on Dropbox and this is fine the majority of the time. It also reduces problems that occasionally arise with e-mail attachments.

If I need to quickly generate a wireframe, iMockups works well and I occasionally use iThoughts HD for simple workflow visualisations.

To chat, I use Skype on my iPhone and often employ it on my iPad as a simple conference phone. It works, though the option set seems limited compared with the functionality on OS X (though both are an improvement compared with the UI abomination of Skype on Windows 7 – ugh).

For generating project plans on the go I use OmniPlan for iPad, but I’m extremely disappointed that one can’t import/export MS Project files. The same lack of flexibility prevents me from using OmniOutliner, an indispensable app on OS X.

If I had to do more heavy presentation work or edit very complex MS Office documents on the go, I suspect I’d bring a 13″ MacBook Air along but, all in all, the always-connected new iPad with 3/4G allows me to roam away from the office and get things done in cramped spaces. The battery lasts comfortably all day on a single charge even when using Bluetooth and Wi-Fi and the iPad still has enough juice for me to watch a film as I wind down at night in the hotel.

It’s essential to maintain flow when working on a project. At a moment’s notice, I need to gather together vital documents, designs and project plans and take them with me wherever I need to go – a café, home, on a train or in a boardroom. The iPad makes this possible and practically frictionless. Parfait.

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Working in Paris & London with only an iPad