Product Managers Need To Take Technical Debt Seriously

It was the day before our app was going to be featured on the Today Show. I was sitting in the conference room with our CEO, CMO, and COO. We had a few senior members of our development and design teams from our other office connected via Skype. The question was very simple: “Are we ready for tomorrow?” Our operations and design teams had all the content updated and ready to go. Marketing was ready to piggyback on the coverage. Our DevOps team had deployed additional servers, turned up throughput capacity, and configured new auto-scaling rules to handle the increased load we all anticipated. On the surface, we looked like a well-coordinated team of professionals that had spent months preparing for this moment.

But there was something lurking in the shadows. Something that we all knew about. Something we had discussed at length many times. Something that haunted our database developer day in and day out, knowing that one day, under the right circumstances, this design flaw was going to crash the system. And tomorrow, the circumstances were going to be perfect.

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Most Product Roadmaps are Rubbish

Several years ago I was working as the VP of Product at an early-stage startup. When I joined we had a relatively mature product and several new ones in development. One of my first tasks was to review and update the product roadmap. This was a daunting task, given the complexity of the product and the vision of the founder. I remember the process of pouring through technical documentation and the product backlog. I spent hours talking with stakeholders and sales people trying to figure out what commitments had been made and when they were expected. The revised roadmap was a compromise that had to balance previously set expectations with the current market reality.

I remember how disappointed I was by that roadmap. Ultimately my hands were tied because the product vision (and how we planned on getting there) had been miscommunicated many times over. Once the information is out there, it can be very difficult to take back. Over my career I have seen and created more product roadmaps than I care to remember. Below are a few things I’ve learned about roadmaps and how you might be able to avoid these common mistakes.

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Solve Your Own Problem…And You Have At Least One Customer

Last week I was deploying an app to AWS Lambda using Serverless and I accidentally misspelled a stage name. This resulted in deploying an entire CloudFormation stack with the wrong name, which wasted time and resources. I immediately realized that I spelled it wrong, so I was able to undeploy the stack quickly. I fully admit that misspelling the name was my fault, but since Serverless can deploy complex CloudFormation stacks that provision users, databases, SNS topics, etc., it seemed like there should be a better way to avoid this simple mistake.

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Building Team Consensus When Creating Products

As a product owner you have to make a lot of decisions. The only way to make good decisions is to gather information from your team members and other stakeholders. What you’ll quickly find is that not everyone is going to agree with each other, which means your decision isn’t going to sit well with some people. Here is how to deal with that situation: choose what is really important to you, then pick your battles.

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Guide Your Users to Increase Retention Rates

Quite some time ago, when Friendster was still a thing, the founder released a statement saying that they found having five friends was critical to keeping a user active. This meant that if a new user was unable to make at least five connections, the likelihood of them sticking around for more than the first week was dramatically reduced. What Friendster did was integrate a “Find your Facebook Friends” flow as part of their onboarding experience. Users were encouraged to use their Facebook login to sign in and then the system would find other Facebook friends using Friendster. The app would ask if they wanted to make theses same connections in Friendster. This was an easy way for them to reach that five person threshold that made user retention so successful.

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Minimize the User Interface to Maximize Engagement

When interacting with a product, there are very few things that need to be done on a regular basis. For example, it’s not often that you need to change your name on Facebook, or update your bio on Twitter. When you’re using Instagram, it is unlikely that you need to change your settings once a week so that your phone doesn’t use cellular data to upload photos. Many times product people think about ALL the things that a user MIGHT want to do in their app, and then clutter the UI with as many features as they can. This is a terrible idea because it makes the app much harder to use.

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Here’s Why Message Centers are Crucial for Mobile Engagement

Mobile messaging, especially tied to proximity, has become a very popular and effective means of engaging with consumers. The proliferation of smartphones and how users are embracing mobile commerce (see recent studies that support this) has created the perfect storm for marketers. You can now message your customers through various strategies, but given the ephemeral nature of push notifications, your customers could easily miss important messages. Strategies that employ more persistent messaging such as email and SMS have shown varying degrees of success, but those utilizing “message centers” have been the most effective by far. In this post, we’ll discuss the effectiveness of using in-app message centers and how ShopAdvisor has utilized this strategy to double mobile messaging open rates.

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Mobile Proximity Messaging Best Practices

The success of any mobile proximity campaign is highly dependent on user engagement. Messaging that doesn’t motivate a user to take action is a wasted impression and will effect your results negatively. ShopAdvisor has run several national proximity campaigns as well as many more smaller, regional ones. In this post, we will outline some messaging best practices and share some interesting metrics from ShopAdvisor client campaigns.

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Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal

Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir EyalA few years ago I was invited by a colleague to attend Nir Eyal‘s Hooked Workshop at Wentworth Institute of Technology. At the time I was still working as the CTO of Lifeables, and we were desperately trying to find strategies to keep our users engaged. Needless to say, the thought of being able to “hook” users and have their use of it turn into a habit was very appealing. The opportunity couldn’t have been more timely.

The workshop was a fantastic experience. I found Nir to be exceptionally well-versed in behavioral psychology and how it could be applied to the current technological landscape. I remember thinking at the time that his “hooked model” was a collection of common sense concepts simplified, organized and packaged in a way that made them actionable. I left that workshop excited and overflowing with ideas.

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