Tag Archives: start-ups

5S Tech Strategy

Giving some break to my Tech Hacks writing and getting back to strategy again ( it is about switching gears all the time !) .

I have been working through the years on many initiatives and they have varied in scale as well complexity but there are common pieces to the over-all strategy that are very critical for making Technology work towards delivering Growth.

I have put the tenants through a visual that will help connect the dots along side definitions which will help build the context. Let us go over the definitions one by one:

Technology

In today’s world this is bedrock for any industry and/or strategy. Be it pure play tech idea or tech enabled , the word tech seems to glue itself with firm roots into the foundation of any business model

Potential

Potential needs to exhibited by using technology has grounding principle. Unless we architect and design products , services and/or solutions in a manner that they can demonstrate potential value , the Technology lever does not effectively come into play.

Engagement

Producing endlessly products , services and/or solutions is not a great idea and hence engagement with potential users is of great value. The earlier they get integrated into feedback cycle the faster you are able to generate feedback to either go ahead or trash the concept. Sometimes , the potential users may get confused with the value proposition but showing persistence in providing answers to their relevant problems via engagement helps to solidify over a period of time the connect with the potential.

Growth

Without Growth there is nothing that can be achieved. The subtle difference between output and outcome lies in how well are you doing on your growth hypothesis. Engagement provides for evaluation of potential , Growth makes it real!

Scale

For growth to operate at stable levels and maintain a steady ship , it requires Scale which has to be provided by Technology. The Scale is driven by

  • Infrastructure
  • Inversion of Control(IOC)
  • Separation of Concerns(SOC)

Leave enough on table to help drive growth to next level without creating bottleneck.

With above explanations lets look at the 5S on how it connects the dots between these elements and create a feedback loop that can help drive right objectives for the Technology Strategy.

  • Technology needs to Show Potential
  • Potential needs to Steer Engagement
  • Engagement Shapes Growth
  • Technology Supports Scale
  • Scale Sustains Growth

Obvious Benefits For Teams

  • The connected 5S strategy becomes very self-explanatory in defining how we have to rally our teams to focus on creating value from the technology
  • The teams can be given clear goals that are aimed at working towards a more coherent strategy
  • Create iterable development model that can operate with constant feedback loops
  • From business or customer standpoint , the value drivers are clear on how potential can be monetized

I hope these insights are useful for the next big what you might be planning and as always for any feedback , questions or comments please leave it on the post!

No-Code Airtable Integration

I have been using Airtable for quite sometime now at RecipeDabba where I work as part-time co-founder and coder ! My wife Rakshita Dwivedi , is the actual consumer of my work.

Almost every feature that is described by Airtable helps to power light weight tech-support that for my wife’s 21-day challenges in multiple formats that helps promote her healthy eating philopshy for kids. This became ever more significant during pandemic as she shifted bulk of her work online.

The diagram which you see below has been architected is powered using Airtable to create a workflow based architecture:

Schematic flow – copyright – Recipedabba

Airtable is a versatile cloud based sheet / database solution that helps automate large part of light weight process through

  • Multiple data types
  • Formulae
  • Blocks
  • Forms

I use all of the above in combination to do multiple pieces in the workflow like

  • Basics
    • Table Creations
    • Views
  • Data Grouping
    • Use of filters , group by
  • Analytics & Derivations
    • Roll-up fields [ very power full feature ]
    • Formulae to derive new fields [ this was another awesome feature ]
  • Data Entry
    • Forms
  • Blocks
    • De-Dupe Checks
    • Charts
Chart Presentation of Data

You can see above how the table data is quickly transformed into a basic chart visulization.

De-dupe block to remove duplicate enteries

An awesome block to remove duplicate entries from the system , with few clicks and configurations.

Snippets from the form view

Form rendition on mobile and desktop is very nie . Since we started to use this , the mothers [ who are primary collector of informaiton on behalf of kids who particpate ] , have found it easy to fill information and send it back to us!

Formulae and Applications

We can work on top of the data and apply many conditioanlities , thus allowing a flexible viewing of data in real time. Some of these things can take coding effort while connecting with analytics but , first level aggregation and analytics on daily basis has been very easy to perform in Airtable.

Overall for a upcoming or very small set-up Airtable . If you want to know more about how to do things in Airtable , feel free to ping me via comments and I will see if I can help !

Reflections By Steven Sinofsky

I chanced to read following article Steven Sinofsky on Building Your Product Team  published on the MixPanel blog. It had some great insights  which , I  have captured for my readers and fellow companions who cross their path with product management.

From the above blog

Steven Sinofsky is known as one of product management’s earliest champions. In fact, he was at Microsoft when the company invented “v. 1.0” of the product manager career path.”

While I read through the article , I made this story come out more as my questions in mind as reflections followed by relevant portions from the blog as excerpts.

Why did product manager came into existence?

What is the world beyond developers , testers and marketers? , do they make the whole picture…The answers to that is “no” . We need people who can act as “Pivot” & iterate on the product instead of the marketers , who in turn should worry about demand generation.

Steven states that “Microsoft needed a role that helped making changes further upstream. That way, there would be people who could facilitate changing the code, and minimise big fights”

What value product managers add?

Product managers help achieve intersection between customer feedback and how it impacts the codebase. The role demands ability to glean data and generate focus to mobilise the group towards most high value generating activity.

Steven reflects as “product leadership to be deeply personal, something that must scale within the product manager as the product scales”

What can make a product manager successful?

It is very necessary for a product manager to have deep understanding of the product & more so if the product is a software , then technical acumen becomes very important. In addition to this having ability to manage people and channelise their thought process is a very relevant soft skill that they need to possess.

Steven mentions in the blog that “knowledge helps facilitate a discussion. It makes one run through higher-level strategic thinking. It is important to understand the argument being made and then have a healthy way to address that.”

In Steven’s words “Skills in technology, user experience, and empathy (with internal team members and customers) are prerequisites that can be honed and trained. While building your expertise as a PM requires a mastery of all three areas, it’s important to remember that you’re never “done” building your skill set”

“There can be millions of debates that need to be addressed but sensing the meta-level information about the conversation – is the best entry point for problem solving.”

I think that is what makes a transaction based mind-set differentiate from a strategic outlook.

Qualms Of Product-Awareness

Product is a very generic term and changes its meaning depending on the context. As various stakeholders working to deliver an experience it is important to know how interactions impact your consumer space. This is more-over important for product managers operating in different context :- marketing versus technical product ownership.

Every interaction with consumer in the physical world or online is an opportunity to inform about our products and services. With channels through which we approach consumers becoming so pervasive , it becomes difficult to keep pace with the whole idea of creating product awareness. Although we invest time in creating prototypes , making MVP to test the market and then going full blow to complete the product only to get restricted by how to create awareness for the same!

img1-775x512

flickr/creative commons

Product awareness has to be attributed to both external and internal stakeholders for us to impress upon the work that goes into building it. You would have often heard this phrase “Oh! I did not know this feature existed”  , reason being that we have not done enough to educate & make our stakeholders aware of the product & what it does.

Following are few pointers on how one could achieve a better product awareness index :-

  1. Information about the product:
    • Share your belief about the product and why you think it make an impact 
  2. Functionality & Quality
    • Talk about the applications that product can achieve for various customer segments
  3. Seek Consumer applications of your products
    • Consumers think of better applications of your products that allows you to create or disrupt the segment. These would generally be your evolved customer base , that understand the value you provide through the product.

Good Better Best – Quality of Decision

You might heard following phrases several times :

 “This is a wrong decision , we should not made this call”

“Why did you not inform us , otherwise we would have made right decision”

“I think if we would have collaborated , we could have made a right call on this issue”

Being a programmer at core , made me see these statements coming out with binary response : “Right” or “Wrong” , but as I travelled through the journey of being a manager and executing more responsibility with years gone by , it has started to make me feel that decisions in itself cannot be so binary in their outcome!

Quality of decision is always known post-facto unless we follow some mystical science of crystal ball gazing! You would have seen that I highlighted a particular term “Quality“. There is a reason to it , because I strongly feel post my experiences that we put lot of pressure on self and others by classifying decision in binary manner.

Man-thinking-by-Creative-Ignition-Creative-Commons

 Photo Credit : Creative Ignition ( Creative Commons )

 

We want to remain quick on decision making and at the same time we expect them to be always right , but that is not the case. According to me the spirit and context in which a decision is made , it starts with always being “good” . The intent with which we make decisions is always good , it can only be the case that we evaluate whether our decisions could have “better” and could we make it “best call every taken !

 

It is important that we constantly review out decision outcomes and rank them against this strategy to improve our decision quality.

Happy Decision Making!!

Choice of MVP : Evaluate Your Options

Many a times MVP(Minimum Viable Product) and what definition it carries get clouded with lot of factors. To start with , let me refresh couple of aspects of what a MVP(Minimum Viable Product) may stand for:

“It is a core artifact in an iterative process of idea generation, prototyping, presentation, data collection, analysis and learning. One seeks to minimise the total time spent on an iteration. The process is iterated until a desirable product/market fit is obtained, or until the product is deemed non-viable.”

Sometimes in doing above we tend to under-evaluate the cost of doing the MVP itself. Depending on what idea you are testing , there might be many things that might be involved in order to achieve the MVP state ( first iteration ) & although the software piece in itself might be easy or less time consuming , the offset of complexity does happen somewhere else. This leads to making choices of what the MVP should look like and more than often impacts the test results as well leading to premature conclusions about the MVP.

After observing and executing couple of MVP led designs , I have tried to put a simple way of looking at my MVP choices while working with the stakeholders. The spirit is to make stakeholders appreciate the choices they pick and how it can impact there test results.

In order to making evaluation of MVP choice more effective , I try to do following

  • Customer experience
  • Operational Complexity

The ideal state of an MVP would be to offer best customer experience with low operational complexity. But as everybody knows ideal state only nature provides and it is impossible for humans to achieve that ! Below graph is a representational state of making quick evaluation of your MVP proposal and seeing if the units within would face high level of operational complexity to achieve MVP state.

Some reading observations that you can get if you were to look at the graph are :

  • One of the biggest facts that this can help decipher is that if you are in a zone of delivering a good experience with high complexity , then it would be better advised to go for the best experience to improve outcome analysis as customCaptureer experience is determinant of the MVP state and its future outcomes.
  • The other outcome one can observe is that if high operational complexity does not bring about a notch above customer experience then rethinking the design is important
  • If you get best experience on low operational complexity then you might be operating very close to end state design and one should avoid iterating as it may lead you in over-engineering zone

Happy evaluation !

Startup Culture or something else …

We have & continue to observe numerous articles as well inspirational content on how one should have start-up culture , mindset or spirit. All in different dimension & context.

Irrespective of maturity business model & age of enterprise , it has become a fad to call oneself having a start-up mindset or calling the enterprise itself a startup. You might have seen in lot of interviews we do talk about this to prospective candidates  & as well the candidate would ask ” Are you a successful startup ”  ! Well if in first place it was successful then would it now be an enterprise that carries different set of goal & vision ? images

Bunch of like minded people come together , they put an idea into action and try to solve a problem. That is start-up. Passion drives them to solve the problem whilst they figure out other aspects that drive stability & security. For them to guarantee anything beyond themselves is very hard and in fact even for self , it is a challenged science. Over  a period of time they may be successful or may pivot to do something else.

The journey changes on being successful , problem statements change and there are other things to worry about but not the the core business model as such. They would have figured out how to make money , it is like a child growing and going through phases of life. Startups upon success grow to be enterprise and diversify in the way they operate finding niche in successful business model.

So how does then one address the question of passion in enterprise..according to me that has to do with three things ..Autonomous way of thinking creatively and executing in agile manner to discover edge in your business. 

Start-up to enterprise is a journey from survival to sustainability. Therefore it is only a stage in a journey taken up by individuals or bunch of passionate people.Subtle but important difference that can change your approach on how you tackle business problems.

Make Process The Winner!

We encounter problems statements everyday and there are ‘n’ number of ways to solve them. In addition to this there is no good or bad way of solving them !

Over a period of time I have come to see that we generally get into conflict due to internal workings and although we do arrive at solution but the journey does become painful for individuals who might be pivoting to solve it.

One of the things that I tried to experiment and improve upon was trying to make ‘process’ the winner & keeping ‘problem’ in centre of the ‘solution’ . Most of the time we make mistake of putting people in centre of the solution and try to solve for them whilst , it should be other way round where we focus on problem and make ultimately process the winner so that people then are able to scale themselves using a solution which was designed to support process.

Looks simple in the way I put it .. but honestly it becomes difficult and requires one to really sieve out various layers to iterate on solution that makes process the winner !

Start-Up Operations…What Works

While I was sitting back and enjoying a cup of coffee , I thought to reflect back on some of the exciting things that I have done in my previous roles…objective was to try and come up with common elements running across these experiences that enabled me to deliver successfully.

success-and-failure

Generally I have worked for start-up operations under flexible governance structure. Somewhere in between tried hands on two failed start-up concepts…one was a rock solid product but lacked marketing whilst other was a services idea , which lacked commitment of time from partners ( including me ) , anyway some of the other successful things which I did were in domain of start-up operations where I made strategy win with execution…

Broad themes of my start-up operations experience were / are linked to ( many more to come 🙂 ) :

  • Working on product architecture to take windows based software to web
  • Setting up IT services for a leading online company’s customer care software
  • Taking back control of new product development unit
  • Reviving a dead product roadmap and executing development strategy
  • Moving into new markets

My idea is not to get into specifics what I did in these but bring out what worked:

  • Be quick to list your customers ( internal / external ). Creating a business flow and pegging customers are various points , will allow you to identify your goals.
  • Create team structures relevant to that goal. Hiring and structuring a team is very important aspect of making a start-up operations successful.
  • Hire smart and few people to start with. Early in game you don’t know how things will pan out. Go for candidates that can adapt to change and multitask. Keep the team lean so that agility is not lost , even if the unit has to stretch in early days.
  • Goals will keep changing , but solve for it by reducing their time horizon. Start with weekly , moving to monthly , quarterly as things pan out. Keep it very closely knit with business goals and then pan it out as a balance between personal / business goals for individuals.
  • Focus is very important. At all times maintain focus at your level as well at team’s level. There will be distractions but , focus will allow one to beat the distractions and keep marching in forward direction.
  • Continuously Build – Measure – Learn , to allow for quick changes in system , people and process.

3P & Evernote

In one of my previous posts titled efficient collaboration , I had talked about using  Evernote and Dropbox for getting head start in agile collaboration.

I use a 3P model ( Progress , Priority , Problem ) limited to not more than 4 points per section as a note structure in Evernote for every team member to remain on top of their priorities and report effectively on the progress made on key items aligned towards over-all goal of the team on weekly basis. I have every team member create a note for themselves and report in this common format.This is shared across the team through a notebook using Evernote.

What this allows me to do is :

  • Creates transparency for all team members
  • Identify any prioritization conflicts across team resources
  • Quickly adjust our goals in-line with current targets
  • Collate and report to business in a concise manner
  • Attack and resolve problems to make way for progress and focus on the priorities

I try to keep things simple and frugal to extent possible. Hope folks reading this find it useful in managing their team interactions.