Category Archives: customer

Rasmus Skjoldan @ ‘The Three Questions for Product Manager’

Rasmus_webRasmus Skjoldan is the lead product manager of Magnolia, the CMS behind sites for the likes of Virgin America, Airbus, Al Arabiya and Atlassian. Before joining Magnolia, he was
the user experience lead of the open source content application framework,
Neos—a challenge that originated from his many years in the TYPO3 community. Besides his CMS work, he co-founded Cope, the first purely content strategy focused consultancy in Denmark.

We thank Rasmus for taking out time and be part of ‘Three Questions for Product Manager ‘ series.

Product Mantra: Reading you, it seems that user experience is always at the core of your thought process. From your experience, what are the critical aspects that a product manager must consider while defining user experience for a mobile application?

Rasmus Skjoldan: The best advice I can give is to largely disregard the device type and first return to the core of what user experience planning can give. The type of glass doesn’t matter much before you start thinking about the interaction design.

Before you get to that point of exploring possible user experiences within the application, I generally lean strongly on the practice of master planning from architecture. It tells you to strive for inclusiveness of unforeseen human behaviour. What that means is that I strive to enable as many use cases as possible rather than being obsessed with getting just one nailed—which is otherwise the typical idea when building mobile applications.

I’m skeptical when it comes to a narrow focus on key user goals as I prefer to think of mobile as just one piece in a larger holistic picture. Think about how many mobile applications there are out there—that have absolutely killer user experiences but completely fail in just being a valuable product. Focussing too strongly on key user goals can be a trap that limits the use of your application so much that it essentially excludes the user’s creativity. Urban planning teaches you to build an environment that leaves room for imagination.

As a product manager of a mobile application, you need to position yourself in the middle of the application’s larger purpose and it’s UX. Again, that’s where architectural master planning ideas come in handy because they force you to formulate the larger picture than the user’s journey within the app, what buttons to force-touch or the desired performance stats. Without that larger scope being set right, you can waste endless time coming up with wonderful user experience patterns that no one really cares about.

Product Mantra: We often get to hear from early startups that they struggle to make people use their product. Could you please share any insights which will help such early stage startups get people hooked to their product?

Rasmus Skjoldan: Most of the time, the problem lies not in the onboarding—but rather with the core product/market fit. I see so many products that are fundamentally screwed on such a grand level that not even the best marketing, community management or onboarding exercises will help.

Design thinking teaches us to quickly build a prototype and then go out into the world and place that prototype in front of the target audience, watch their reactions and change your prototype fast. Focus on such validation of your idea early on. If the idea is good enough, you will have an easier time getting past the noise.

I’m also a firm believer in reaching out to established experts in the early stages of product innovation. I have even paid experts to have coffee with me—just to ask them to try to kill my idea. It wasn’t about pitching my idea to them—but about tapping into their experience and their ability to see through all of my love for my own idea. It’s such a waste when startups spend life and money on creating a product that just plainly has no real product/market fit.

Product Mantra: What traits should one look for in a candidate while hiring for Product Manager Position for a CMS solution?

Rasmus Skjoldan: The CMS market is very mature. That automatically calls for disruption—which we’re seeing plenty of attempts at these years. If I were to set up product management for a new CMS, I would insist on having two product managers; one with domain experience and one being all about disruption and with zero domain experience.

Market maturity calls for the product manager with strong domain experience—because you will gain from their experience of having fallen down all those many pits, having painfully explored the dead-ends—and crawled up again to find the effective approaches that most CMS’s ultimately arrive at. A trait of such a person is the ability to bridge business with engineering. That product manager knows the dilemmas and challenges of content publishing inside-out, understand the technical complexity well and knows how to map business needs to what is technically viable.

At the same time, the potential for disruption in the very developed and optimized market of content management calls for another type of product manager; one that is blissfully ignorant of the content management learnings that only time and hard thinking brings. Such a product manager must be intelligent and ignorant at the same time. She should have no domain experience in the CMS field—but come with traits such as massive curiosity, a heartfelt desire to change the world of digital publishing and a knack for looking into other industries to uncover methods and ideas that are transportable to the content management scene.

If I were insane enough to start building a completely new CMS today, I would choose one of each product manager type and hope to gain from the dialogue they would enter when trying to discover a product/market fit in a saturated market.

Thanks Rasmus, it was great reading your thoughts. I am sure the community of product champions will like it as well.

Rasmus on web:

  1. Linkedin:
  2. Twitter:
  3. Blog:


Michelle L. Harper @ ‘The Three Questions for Product Manager’

Michelle L. Harper

Michelle is a Senior product management and product marketing leader with a proven record of accomplishments in leading and implementing product management programs in diverse organizations to create, develop and position successful award winning products.

Michelle has successfully led efforts to implement standard product management processes across teams, train product managers and product owners and coordinate product roadmapping for strategic planning.

She is widely recognized for analyzing market trends, devising innovative new product ideas, adding life to existing products, and recommending creative approaches to meet market demands to ensure profitability. Extensive experience with agile methodology.

We thank Michelle for taking out time and be part of ‘Three Questions for Product Manager ‘ series. Michelle picked up some of the most trending and interesting questions. I am confident that you will enjoy reading Michelle’s views.

Product Mantra: How do you see the role of product manager evolve in the world of Mobile Apps?

Michelle L. Harper: Product Manager or Product Marketer or Both? Product managers need to realize that apps are not just extensions of product but channels for growth and marketing.  In many ways I see the role of product manager and product marketer beginning to converge with the rise of mobile apps.   Developing a great mobile app requires increasing awareness of consumer marketing, how to best communicate to customers, and most importantly measure and increase customer adoption.

Greater Understanding of User Behavior and Beautiful Design

Apps require a much greater understanding of user behavior, not just in the user’s workplace but 24/7.  Become an expert in usability is often the key to success for mobile product managers.

Beautiful design is key.  People are much less forgiving when dealing with navigation challenges on their smartphones or tablets.  Expectations are high for ease of use.  Good story boarding depends on an intimate knowledge of your devices.  The best mobile product managers I know live with their devices on a daily basis and know them inside and out.

Linked Roadmaps

Your app’s roadmap will also be linked to the iOS or Android roadmap.  This is an adjustment and often an unpleasant surprise for new mobile product managers.  However, you need to ensure that you follow Apple or Google’s rules or your apps may not be approved for app stores.  You must know your device inside or out or  your app may be incompatible with device features.   It’s critical to take advantage of new APIs, features and developer tools in order to provide ongoing value to your customers.

Increased Focus on Metrics

Mobile product managers face increasing pressure to measure app success and to track metrics.  For example, the number of installs, number of quality of reviews and ratings, user retention, and session length etc.  It’s really worth digging into how you may measure the success of your app so that you can build a story around it. .  Conversely, you will also need to understand app marketing principles.  How can you market new features through your app?  Through the Google or Apple stores?  Again, this is one the ways that the product manager and product marketing roles converge in mobile app development.

Product Mantra: Is “data driven decision-making” killing the innovative thinking among product owners?

Michelle L. Harper: Absolutely not.  In fact, I think it leads to greater creativity with more certainty that you will add value with your product decisions. Data from a number of sources, especially from web analytics or other user metrics, can help prioritize customer needs, reveal trends and can inspire creative ideas that are offer a  return on investment.

In one of the most painful moments of my career, I recall a conversation with a CEO who gleefully quoted Steve Jobs while pooh pooing the need to do further market testing:  “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”   I’ve come to loathe that quote.  Often this quote is used as an excuse to avoid the hard work of truly evaluating a business solution in favor of being “innovative” because the organization/CEO is already in love with the idea.   Unfortunately, not everyone is Steve Jobs.  This type of thinking can lead to a dangerous course of action.

Product Mantra: You have actively been the VOC in your organization. Would you like to share, some of the techniques and methods by which you ensured that these customer inputs do not dilute on their way to leadership or decision making team?

Michelle L. Harper: There is nothing like the real voices of customers captured in their entirety to share with the leadership team and/or creating opportunities for the leadership team to interact with customers directly.  I am a huge believer in the value of customer site visits.

Site visits are best done without the company of a sales person because the feedback you receive as a product manager can be entirely different.   The customer has a relationship with the sales person and can be reticent in expressing their true opinions for fear of either getting the sales person into trouble and/or hurting their feelings.   They are more likely to express frustrations to you as owner of the product.

The key to VOC is establishing a regular practice of soliciting customer feedback and setting quantifiable goals.  For example, 1 customer site visit every quarter or 5 customer engagements (via phone interview, in person) every quarter.  It’s systematic practice.   Most importantly, make sure that these insights are circulated widely and regularly across stakeholders in the organization, including the leadership team.   I have also never been reticent in inviting a member of the leadership team to travel with me so they can hear the voice of the customer for themselves.

Thanks Michelle.

Michelle L. Harper on Social Media

  1. Follow Michelle on twitter @mlharper
  2. Get connected with Michelle on Linkedin
  3. Read her blogs



Questions to Answer before you take on a Problem

Problems are solved to make something easier for the user and financially beneficial to the organization. While it is challenging to quantify and thus measure user benefits (easy to communicate with friends), financial benefits are relatively easily measured in terms of impact on top and/or bottom line.

But before we talk of measuring output let us exclusively talk about the problem. Before you decide to put in efforts and money in solving a problem, let us be sure that the problem has undergone set of quality analysis and is proven worth addressing beyond any doubts.

Am I the right person to solve the problem? (Introspection)

So you have a problem in hand or you are given a problem to solve. The first parameter in the quality analysis metrics of a problem is that “am I the guy who solves this problem?” let us put down an example here.

The technology head who designed an in-flight entertainment system was called to solve a problem of many passengers not viewing the movies while flying. More and more passengers are shutting down the movie in less than 20 minutes. A primary survey results show that flyers did not enjoy the movie.

Airline is worried that these passengers may jump on to competition for simple reason that they do not like our entertainment system and get bored in our flight. So this problem must be addressed before it starts impacting business in serious manner.

The problem here could be related to poor collection of movies, streaming challenges, user interface of entertainment system, sound clarity, related to display quality of the screen or may be something else. Here it is important to appreciate the business challenge but at the same time if you are not the right guy you better make a case and pass it on. For example, what if the poor collection is the cause of this problem? Or even for that matter display screen which might have to be sourced from a vendor. Those being the case, get the screens replaced with better quality screens. Now if there are issues related to poor audio experience, user experience or streaming than the head of technology has a job in hand.

A passionate problem solver often gets carried away in such situations, consequences of which will cause further damage to the business. Here it is important to be wise than good. Identify the root cause, let the problem go to the right person (this is not passing on the buck). You may also end up finding more than one root cause on why passengers do not like the in-flight entertainment system. In such scenarios you may have a part of problem to solve and part may fall elsewhere.

 Do we have the right set of skills? If not can we acquire them? (Feasibility)

If there is a problem that it must be solved. And we you are the one who is expected to do so than it is important that you assess the feasibility aspect as well. In above case of in-flight entertainment system, suppose the root cause identified is “poor collection of movies” and you as a product manager is expected to solve the issue. It is important to understand that the solution here is non-technical (better collection of movies). Answer simple set of questions,

  1. What is preferred set of movies?
  2. Who are my typical customers (professionals, family on vacation, religious people etc)
  3. What will motivate my customers to watch a movie to its full length?
  4. Do I need to have more language options?

And many more such questions need to be answered. Typically a Behavioral science professional may be a better person to solve this puzzle (of collection of movies). So you as a product manager may end up hiring an expert of behavioral science or outsource this puzzle to agency. This is your contribution in solving this problem. Remember every issue is not a technical issue but most issues will have a solution related to human aspect. It is recommended not to stretch your-self to unknown territories but get someone who is familiar with such situations.

 Potential of the problem (scalability and profitability)

So how about measuring the impact of not solving or impact if the problem gets solved? So what if I get some games instead sourcing movies, may be getting games might be easier and cost effective alternate? And even if I source good movies considering the variety in taste is this a viable solution to implement in all the routers. Also, if it is movies the solution may say that we need to regularly update our collection. Can we think of alternates? Will my flyer pay for premium entertainment services like in-flight internet? What entertainment services are offered by my competitors?

The scalability and profitability aspect of a problem will talk about;

  1. Competing and complimentary services
  2. Market size and target market sizing
  3. Pocket size of buyer and their ability and willingness to make payments that suits your pricing
  4. Economics, solving this problem will help me enhance my top-line and / or my bottom line

To judge quality of problem it is important to assess all the four aspects (mentioned in bullet points above) of problem potential. Assess scalability and profitability critically. Challenge every aspect of possible solution, identify impact on top-line and bottom-line and never ever ignore assessing alternate approaches.

 Life cycle, available window of ROI

Well all sounds good, we a have problem for which we have right skill set, is definitely scalable and profitable, but this not where it ends. How about life of the problem? To make healthy returns out of your investment it becomes important that the problem stays for a longer duration and your investment in solution fetches you returns for a longer duration.

In our case study of in-flight entertainment system, what if root cause is seasonal turbulence which might ease out in next 15 days or so. Passengers may not be enjoying movie when the flight experiences turbulence. Or it may be a season where most of the passengers are business travelers who may not want to watch a movie but instead focus on intellectual reading or discussions, could it be season where foreign tourist occupies most seats that are not so keen to watch a movie.

So the point is, if the life of a problem is short it may not be a good idea (on most occasions) to invest (time and money) on such problems. Instead figure out problems that here to stay for long and you have market for longer duration.

To add, here is one more example, a software company was struggling to upgrade their software in a particular geography due to poor connectivity in that region. Company invested heavily on engineering and research activity to solve the problem and figure out light weight upgrades that would work even in low bandwidth conditions. Company took its time solve this puzzle, however in a very short time telecom companies upgraded their infrastructure in the region and bandwidth was at par with other regions in the geography. Now here, if the software company had done some research or if they had got in touch with service providers in the region they would have learned that this problem of low bandwidth is short lived and it is not wise to put our engineering resources in solving a puzzle that would eventually be solved by someone else.

So ensure to have answer to following question

  1. Do I have enough time to recover my investment and make profit? Problem should not get outdated or obsolete in short time.


A good problem is the problems that will help my business fetch more money by keeping my customers happy. A happy customer is one who believes (is convinced) that he/ she is getting what is they are paying for or are getting more than what they are paying for. A happy business owner is one who believes (is convinced) that he is selling his product or services at a better profit margins than competitors. And a good problem solver is one who makes both (customer and business owner) convince that they have a reason to be happy.

Hence it is of paramount importance for a problem solver to put the problem through a comprehensive quality analysis before jumping onto solving the problem. So when it comes to solving a problem, this is probably the only way to make both business owner and customer happy.


Product Manager as Sales enabler

One of the many key roles of a Product Manager is that of a ‘Sales enabler’. This means, helping sales to improvise on conversion ratio, conversion of a prospect to a paying customer. While there is nothing much that a product manager can teach sales about sales, however they can play a crucial role in influencing customer and by helping them in build trust and confidence in product sold to them.

Think of a product manager as a walking & talking “Sales-Solution-Guide”, may be something like a breathing wikipedia of the product. Sales should be able to take them to all potential large customers or even to an existing key customer.  Here product managers takes on greater responsibility of market success and such a shift typically happens largely in introduction and growth phase of the product wherein quick conversion is imperative to the success of the organization.

Here are few value adds that a product owner should focus on while working with sales or running a product demo with customer; remember it is product managers responsibility to be valued and not to be seen as liability:

  1. Know your product, functions and technicalities. Have a very good command of your product features and intricacies of user experience. It would not leave a good impression on customer if you repeat this too often ‘I shall get back to you on this’.
  2. Highlight customer benefits against each feature demonstrated, ensure you speak more of customer interest, few examples: how a particular feature impacts staff productivity or data security. May be even on reliability of data.
  3. Aspects that can be translated to monetary benefit like increase in top line or bottom line should be explained thoroughly. Question audience if they have any doubts over monitory benefits of the product. Typical example: lower cost of ownership for customer (in terms of hardware requirements and maintenance).
  4. Study competition well, as much as you can. Be prepared (or be honest) to answer questions on competition strengths and values that you are still trying to match.
  5. Customers often ask for more, more than what is offered or even required. Know well what level of customization is doable and in what time duration. It gives immense pleasure to customer when they convince a vendor for customization so please do not rob them off this pleasure, be prepared for taking some extra work for engineering.
  6. One of the most common question that I have faced is “how frequently do you upgrade your product and at what cost would we get it”. While on most occasions you will be able to pass on the question related to cost but ‘frequency of software upgrade’ is domain of product manager. You are expected to answer this but be sure that you neither exaggerate nor should you play too safe by being conservative.
  7. Towards the end, buy some time from customer to present technology road-map. Show customer the benefits of going with you, show them what they will miss if they go for alternate product or solution. This matters a lot to the customer and they expect you to present this to them.

I have always enjoyed the responsibility of ‘sales enabler’. I see this as an opportunity to meet and talk to customers whom I represent day-in and day-out in my organization. Perhaps I must say that, it is these opportunities that keeps me up-to-date with customer priorities and market demand, in-turn makes me more effective in my role as a product manager.



Backlog Elaboration: A Win-Win Proposition

As we all know, Product Managers are responsible for maintaining the Backlog such that it reflects the demands of the market. As market dynamics change, the backlog changes too. The Agile way of constantly prioritizing the backlog and keeping the most relevant features or stories at the top are key to ensuring that the product stays competitive in today’s dynamic market.

Many times, the Product Manager and the Product Development team go into Sprint Planning without enough clarity on some features or user stories. This causes the planning meeting to go in circles Continue reading

Who let the product die?

One evening, few products who registered to the Products Anonymous forum met at a local cafe to introduce themselves and share their experiences. They started off in a round robin fashion and we shamelessly listen in…

I died as I arrived as I did not serve any significant purpose for my users. People did not pay for me as they were convinced that I am not good as existing products they were using. Few who dared to risk by buying me but they did not like me. I am result of reactive product manager.

I made good sense to my buyers and they too fell in love with me but none took me home simply because they could not take me home. I did convince them about benefits that I can bring to them and they did agree to most however owning was not so cheap. Their hands did go in their pockets but only few could come out. I wish I could have been better priced but my over confident product manager thought otherwise.

I made success the moment I hit the stores and I was at all the places. I was talk of the town. This was 2 years back, the same people who rushed to shops 2 years back to buy me are the one who hate using me. It is not that I am a bad quality product but like all other products I too need some maintenance which my makers really did not bothered about. My buyers find it hard to repair me or replace my parts, my mechanics are difficult to reach and they simple do not live up to my buyer’s expectations and my product manager believes customer satisfaction is not his responsibility. I am suffering because my product manager never bothered about customer satisfaction.

People liked me and they want me. Few took me home but returned me to the store simply because they find me little too complex to set me up, forget using me. And for those who could configure me correctly found difficult to use me. I know I am a good quality product but at the same time I am difficult to use. My product manager could never appreciate importance of user experience and even though I am efficient I died premature death as I was made me so complex for my users.

I was created so well by makers that I never thought I will spend most of my life in warehouse. Somehow my product manager screwed up big time. He put me in the wrong shelf. He should have put me in the second from right shelf instead he put me in second from left shelf. Pathetic, people who came buying me could not understand my need to be on second from left shelf and those who went to shelf at second from right could never find me. This guy made me nice but could never understand my use. My product manager only had technical sense but marketing sense was missing big time.

I was born with bad luck or shall I say bad timing. The day I hit the shelf I was liked by buyers but most refrained from picking me for simple reason that they knew what my product manager did not knew. There was something new coming in few days and most anticipated that product to be better than me. As a result no one picked me and though I was at par with my competition I did not gain enough word of mouth and eventually lost the batter. My product manager’s ignorance killed me.

All went well for me but I still could not make it big. I was good but business leaders never believed in my potential or success. They always wanted a reason to shut me down and my product manager never bothered to advocate about me to executive team. I died slow with great pain. I could only wish that my product manager should have been stronger in advocating me.


Pilot your product to success

Pilot Project Improves Success Probability of ProductA comprehensive study of requirements, a well articulated requirement specification and a marvelous work of engineering may fall short of customer expectations. The fact that the product addresses the requirements does not necessarily mean that it meets market expectations. Poor success rate of new product launches worldwide is a clear indication that doing your homework right might not just be good enough for success. While the truth is that nothing can guarantee success, there are some simple steps that will help you increase your success probability. Continue reading