Category Archives: Product Management

The role of language

I was struck this week by the sharp contrast in language styles adopted by two of the world’s great tech leaders – Tim Cook and Elon Musk.

Tim Cook’s keynote at the WWDC¬† was full of the kind of language we have long associated with Apple – full of “incredible”, “great”, “changing the world” – all the while talking about new operating systems for the iPhone, Apple Watch, Apple TV and the Mac itself. While undoubtedly impressive, I’m not sure the epithets really fit the bill…

Elon Musk, on the other hand, seems to have invented a new language to deal with the highly experimental and ground-breaking work he is involved in. Take the goal of SpaceX to develop re-usable rockets. There is clearly a lot to learn as this has never been done before. Therefore every failure is a step on the path to learning how to achieve reliable reusability. With the Ironman allusions and fan worship it is nye-on impossible for social media, or indeed main stream media, to deal calmly with the failures as well as the successes. Hence this:

“Explosion” or “crash” smacks of failure. “RUD” speaks to a more reasoned, experimental and scientific approach.

This more measured approach to a complex world, as well as the humour, is surely worth adopting far more widely.

Why Musk will get it right with the Tesla 3

  Tesla made headlines last week when the launch of the much-awaited Tesla 3, the economy-priced electric car for the masses, garnered 325,000 pre-orders at $1,000 a pop in the very first week. Some are pointing out that Tesla has missed a lot of deadlines along the way and that the success of the 3 is by no means assured. 

But yesterday we saw the first successful landing of a Falcon 9 rocket at sea. The previous attempts all failed for one reason an another, but this was the point; Musk is a physicist by training and temperament and he knows that doing hard things needs a lot of experimentation. And experimentation means failure. And failure is good because it shows you want needs to change to succeed in the end. 

Tesla may have missed a lot of deadlines in the past but with each model the performance has been better. One thing is for sure; Tesla has been learning hard and fast about what it takes to make a successful mass market electric car. 

The Apple Watch challenge

The real challenge for those developers currently making their Apple Watch apps is to focus on the only things that matter in thapple watche context of the Watch. This seems obvious, but it is much, much harder than it sounds. It will require a really deep understanding of what functions customers value in the iPhone app on which the Watch app is based. And it will¬†need a profound understanding of the way in which the Watch itself is fitting into consumers’ lives – again difficult when these wearables are such a¬† new phenomenon.

To take an example. One of my current favourite apps on the Mac, iPhone and iPad is the Paprika recipe app. This is a clever app which allows you to search for and download recipies in a standard format which are then shared cross-platform. There are some neat functions like scaling – if you need to cook for more people just choose the amount to scale and the maths are done for you. Or timers – any time a specific time appears in the text it will be underlined and just clicking it will set an automatic timer to remind you when it’s time to move to the next step. Or shopping lists – the app can create a shopping list at the click of a button which can then be exported to Reminders on the iPhone.

The real question¬†when the Watch app appears is what will be included. I think in this case they could do a lot worse than offer just one function: the timer. After all, you are around the iPad or iPhone when you are cooking using the app. The time when you really need the Watch is when you’ve left the kitchen to do other things while the timer is running. It the Watch app did only that it would be a great boon. If it tries to do much more it risks being so irritating that it¬†won’t get installed.

There is a certain humility in being able to see your product through the eyes of consumers who necessarily don’t regard it as anywhere like as important as you do. Almost inevitably developers cram more and more functionality in because thinking these things up is how they spend their working lives. Paring down and focussing just on the very few things that are important in the context of a watch¬†is the real challenge of developing for the Watch.

Thoughts on The Watch

There are a couple of things that have occurred to me about Apple’s latest new product line. The first is that fashion and rapid technology upgrade cycles don’t really mix.

Thinking about the evolution of the iPhone (a product whose significance has been compared to the Apple Watch)

apple watcheach new iteration was thinner, more¬†powerful, and larger than the one before. In the case of the watch, I very much doubt the screen will become larger – wrists aren’t going to get any larger any time soon (though I suppose we could get a widescreen version at some point!) but undoubtedly they will be thinner and more powerful. With technology doubling in power every 12 to 18 months it would be remarkable if they didn’t.

That will be OK for those who paid ¬£300-¬£400 for their watches – Apple customers have shown themselves to be quite happy shelling out this kind of fee every couple of years for an upgrade. But what does this mean for those customers who paid ¬£10,000 for a gold watch? Will they be happy with a watch which is thicker and less powerful that the current model? Especially when a few years down the line it probably won’t even run with the latest version of iOS.

This could lead to some very dissatisfied customers – unless Apple comes up with a way to overcome this. One way might be to offer a technology upgrade service. Send in your ¬£10,000 watch and Apple will retrofit the latest innards, upgrading your family heirloom to the latest, greatest tech. There are all sorts of implications and challenges with this approach – logistical and manufacturing complexity, weakening the bond between this year’s shape and desirability and so on.

And I don’t think a trade-in will work – people current buy expensive watches to keep, not to exchange in two years.

The second observation is not so much that the launch of the watch is the first time online has been pushed ahead of the physical experience – though that is obviously true. It is that mobile was where Apple was most prepared and efficient. At 8.05am we were still waiting for the Apple online store to come back online (it was promising to be open for buisness at 8.01am). The iPhone app, though, was functioning smoothly and to plan. The combination of a physical Apple Store as a showcase for the physical product, and the Apple app as the way to purchase seems to be the ideal future for Apple. After I had bought via the app I was invited to take a survey of the experience by Apple which asked a large number of detailed questions about the online experience. It seems they are determined to get it very right.

Apple’s $10,000 watch

Apple is known for expensive technology. But for the extra money we have always received higher quality, better usability, superlative design. But with the announcement of a $10,000 solid gold watch today, I wonder if they have made a tactical mistake.

There is no way to argue that the watch itself (functionality, form, impact) is worth that amount of money. After all you can get exactly the same for under $400 – albeit in aluminium.

And, while buying an expensive mechanical watch is an investment is something with staying power – watches can be handed down across the generations – Apple’s version is going to be obsolete in a couple of years. It probably won’t even tell the time five or six years down the line when the software is updated.

Apple is the uncompromising, innovative guardians of good, user-let design is the model we have been used to. Apple as the flashy luxury brand pandering to the super-rich may not play quite as well.

Time will tell.

How to tell if design thinking has taken hold in your organisation

I am now on the fifth week of my Design Thinking course being run online by Dr Jeanne Liedtka. She summed up with some great advice for implementing design thinking:

  1. Pick the right challenge. Figure out who in the organisation cares about the problem you are thinking about. Pick a problem with urgency behind it. Frame your goals so they gel with what the organisation cares about.
  2. Think small. It’s easier to start small and scale over time that start big and risk a big failure
  3. Select and manage your team carefully. Diversity is the key. What you are after is collective wisdom and the more points of view you have, the better. You need all kinds of people – you need starters and you need finishers. 
  4. Manage your momentum. Speed is the number one momentum builder. Momentum runs on emotional highs. Speed doesn’t mean rushing a solution to the market before it is ready. What you are after is speed of learning – shortening the cycle times. 
  5. Be ready to ride the roller coaster of emotion (see above)
After all that, how can you tell if you have succeeded in creating a successful design thinking organisation? This was her answer…..
How to tell in design thinking has taken hold in your organisation
People talking about envisioning new possibilities together
Still debating their individual recommendations
Listening to understand other people’s perspectives and build on them
Listening for weaknesses in their opponents’ arguments
Sharing deep primary data gathered from those they wish to serve and mining this for new insights together
Compiling web-based surveys that reveal only superficial attitudes and opinions
Spending time in meetings figuring out how to start small and learn as they go
Trying to create the perfect plan before any action can be taken
Talking about designing marketplace experiments
Arguing theory in conference rooms
Actively searching for disconfirming data
Latching on to whatever data points supports their point of view

The boom in innovation

I’ve spent the past couple of hours going through my feed reader catching up on all the stories I’ve missed over the past week or so and I was struck by the enormous number and inventiveness of the new apps and hardware being reported on.

It strikes me there are several things happening at once which have come together to create this explosion of creativity:

  • The emergence and ubiquity of powerful smartphone platforms – mainly IOS and Android at the moment, it has to be said – packed with sensors
  • Cheap and scaleable cloud computing platforms which makes initial costs low and encourages experimentation and lowers the financial bar
  • The coming of age of funding platforms like Kickstarter which combine easy access to crowd-sourced funding coupled with the rapid feedback of a social network (if you don’t get to the target amount, it’s a powerful message from the market)
  • The emergence of cheap 3D printing which makes prototyping much, much simpler and cheaper. (You can buy 3D printers in Maplin, a sure sign the technology has arrived!)
It may feel a bit like the bubble in 2000, but these enablers make things very, very different this time.