The Product Mindset

The Product Mindset

Insight

The Product Mindset

Written by Jason Scherschligt
On December 17, 2020

Product is enjoying a moment. Twenty years ago, when I first landed a job with the title of “Product manager, interactive media,” not many people even knew what the job was. (Confession: I may not have even known what the job was!). Now every smart company is building up teams of product pros, and product manager was ranked 4th on Glassdoor’s recent list of 10 Best Jobs in America. The reason for the rise of product management is clear: product skills help companies satisfy customers, win markets, and build their business.

Consultants and bloggers (yeah, I’m both) have sprung up to help leaders and teams get better at “doing product.” We product folks often talk about “having a product orientation,” “becoming product-led,” or “adopting the product mindset” — but to do that, you first need to understand what a product even is.

[Product, defined]

Let’s start by defining product. I define product broadly:

A product is a response to a human need or desire that confers benefit to both the recipient and the provider of the response.

So if a company makes a thing that satisfies a person’s need, and the person is willing to do something that benefits the company, like give them money, well, that thing is a product. In some cases, the product is obvious. I need to open a can of soup, the Acme Can Opener Company makes a device that does just that, so I pay Acme for its can opener, its product.  The product is what connects Acme’s mission — “we shall leave no can unopened” to their customers’ need “I’d like some soup, but gosh darn it, it’s sealed up in this can.”

Software, including websites and mobile apps, complicates this a bit. In a world where every type of interaction, from banking to dating, is intermediated by software, human needs and desires are often best met by a digital experience  so those digital experiences are products too, just like the physical items are.

As a thought experiment, imagine other human needs that the Acme Can Opener Company might identify and respond to. 

Category User need or desire Response that meets that need or desire — in other words, product
Commerce “I need to buy a can opener.” E-commerce website
Service “I need to repair my can opener.” Customer support knowledgebase, repair services, scheduling tools
Business-to-business “I’m a can opener dealer. I need to maintain my inventory.” Portals and other systems for B2B users
Customization and configuration “I’d like to monogram my can opener.” Customization app integrated with manufacturing systems
Community “I’d enjoy meeting other can opening enthusiasts.” Forums, personal profiles, messaging, networking tools

All of the systems and experiences that address these needs, solve these problems, or satisfy these desires are products, as much as the can opener itself is. And they require vision, planning, execution, and sustenance: all of it is product work, done by product managers and product teams.

In a world where every type of interaction is intermediated by software, human needs and desires are often met by a digital experience  so those digital experiences are products too, just like the physical items are.

[Product as a mindset]

Once we understand product, it’s easier to understand the product mindset. It’s an organization’s behaviors and structures that are oriented towards making, delivering, and supporting great products  which again, are responses to the needs of humans.

Here’s an list of some of the most important of these behaviors and structures.

  • A near obsession with understanding the people who use your products​
  • Relentlessly delivering value​
  • Celebrating impact over celebrating output
  • Designing to solve problems​, not just as decoration
  • Accountabity to business goals​, even more than project plans
  • Organizing in cross-functional, relatively autonomous teams
  • Embracing, rather than resisting, change​

This mindset can supercharge business success. When you adopt a product mindset, your priorities become clearer. Your organization understands its customers. You become more innovative. You become more aligned as a team. People become more satisfied. 

Building this product mindset isn’t easy — what is? — but it’s the hallmark of many great products and teams. Do this, and the world will be your oyster. Oh, and those oysters come in a can.

Photo credits:

Rock cairn photo by Sean Stratton on Unsplash
Tablet photo by Leon Seibert on Unsplash
“Can Opener” by melmark44 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

What’s New With Microsoft in Autumn 2020

What’s New With Microsoft in Autumn 2020

What’s New With Microsoft in Autumn 2020

sdg logo for blog post author
Written by
on September 30, 2020

There are so many great things happening in the Microsoft space these days, it’s hard to keep track of them all. I for one continue to be amazed at the pace in which Microsoft releases new Azure products. With hundreds of available products surrounding compute, storage, data and IoT, there are many ways to take advantage of the cloud to become more efficient, effective and competitive.

Azure Migrate

One cloud technology that I continue to see solid improvements to is Azure Migrate. Azure Migrate is a centralized hub that allows customers to track discovery, assessment and migration of on-premises infrastructure, applications and data to Azure. At the last Inspire Partner conference, Microsoft released a new feature that allows customers to conduct much richer data center assessments. For those of you thinking about moving to the cloud, the Migrate hub will give you a great sense as to your readiness to do so and save you a lot of time and effort in the process.

I recently asked some of SDG’s senior engineers what Microsoft technologies they are excited about. Here’s what a few of them had to say:

.NET 5

I’m looking forward to the .NET 5 release this November the most. Since the .NET team announced .NET 5 in 2019, more details surrounding the capabilities and advantages of the new platform have since been shared with the community. For me, the most exciting news to emerge from these details is that the new platform will simplify and unify nearly all “core” categories of software development – mobile, web, desktop, IoT, cloud (to name a few) which allows accessibility to a multitude of platforms. With .NET 5, you can build anything for any platform using any major operating system with one set of tools.

“This will greatly simplify the development experience, as well as fine-tune the focus to one, open source .NET platform for the community to maintain, expand and enhance for years to come.”

– Steven Boniface

C# 9

Microsoft continues to do a good job of introducing new platforms and new versions of programming languages to improve software applications and allow developers to write code easier, faster, and more effective. I’m very excited about C# 9.0 as it will introduce a lot of new and improved features. According to devblogs.microsoft.com, “immutable representation of data shapes” will be presented in C# 9.0. This can be done at the individual property level using Init-only and at the whole object level using Records. Both of those will be useful for making an object to play like a value.

“I believe Microsoft will continue to introduce and improve more features in C# 9.0 after its release this November.”

– Anh Dong

Blazor

We’ve been hearing about Microsoft’s Blazor for a couple years now, but it has yet to be widely adopted. We are finally starting to hear a few of our customers mention this new framework when talking about front end work. Blazor looks to be very promising, as it is not immediately coming in and trying to directly replace a previous technology, mainly JavaScript. You can write front end code in C# and you will be able to reuse existing backend code within your project as well as other libraries. Blazor possesses the ability to run code customer-side directly in the browser and can also execute things on the server side as well. Blazor also adheres to the component UI design, so it will be reusable and help with consistency across your solution. Lastly you can still integrate with JavaScript, so integrating this into an existing solution should be more than doable.

“As with any new technology there are sure to be some gotcha’s, but it really does look exciting from what we’ve seen thus far. It will be interesting to see if this is widely adopted and if so, what the future will bring.”

– Brandon Fleahman

Visual Studio Code

This is rapidly becoming developers favorite IDE. A few things that set VS Code apart from other IDEs (including Visual Studio, my all-time favorite) include:

  • It’s cross platform. You can get VS Code on Linux, MacOS and Windows. I’ve used VS Code on all 3 platforms and can say that it works the same on all of them.
  • Extensions. There is an extremely active community writing extensions to VS Code, and each adds functionality to the base product. Want to connect to a database? Work with Docker commands in the IDE? View your Git branches and commit history right inside your IDE? Yep, there extensions for that and MANY more features.
  • Lots of different languages are supported. C#, JavaScript, TypeScript, NodeJS, PowerShell, Python, PHP, Java, SQL, Go, Less and HTML are all supported with intellisense, compilers and debuggers. What that means for a developer is that they can continue using the same IDE whenever they change languages, with the setup they are familiar with.
  • It’s lightweight. It just feels quick, both when loading and when running and debugging apps.

“It’s very customizable. From the color theming, to window placement, to fonts the developer can make VS Code their own. If you want to share your configuration you make by sharing the JSON config file, or by committing it to source control.”

– Dave Moen

These are just a few of the things our team at SDG is excited about happening at Microsoft. SDG continually monitors and protypes new offerings and capabilities in the Microsoft space so we can continue to deliver successful results to our customers.

 

If you would like to learn more about any of these specific technologies or discuss what solutions might help drive productivity in your business, let’s talk.

 

Thank you to the contributors: Steven Boniface, Ahn Dong, Brandon Fleahman and Dave Moen.

 

SDG Consultant Co-authors North Star Playbook

SDG Consultant Co-authors North Star Playbook

SDG Consultant Co-authors North Star Playbook

Written by
on September 10, 2020

Q&A with Jason Scherschligt, SDG consultant & co-author of The North Star Playbook

SDG’s Jason Scherschligt recently co-authored The North Star Playbookan e-book designed to help product leaders and teams make better decisions about priorities and planning by using the North Star Framework. The lead author of the book, John Cutler, is a well-known product development expert. The book was published by Amplitude, a Silicon Valley product analytics company. Jason recently answered a few questions about the e-book and the North Star Framework.

What led you to write this book?

Jason: The lead author, John Cutler, is a well-known product development expert. He and I had been connected on social media. About a year ago he posted about seeking a collaborator for a book project that his employer, Amplitude Corporation, was developing. Since I have a writing and editing background, in addition to product leadership experience, I contacted him. We chatted, we exchanged ideas, we chatted again, we started working together, and then we agreed to collaborate on The North Star Playbook, published by Amplitude.

 

What experiences shaped the North Star Framework?

Jason: It’s a framework similar to other metrics-based frameworks for product management and development, like the One Metric that Matters (OMM) or similar concepts. John, the lead author, had some interesting ideas about how to tie that to his work on nested bets and traceable impact. We combined that with some of my experiences with building product teams and strategic product leadership. It was a great experience.

 

When business leaders think about the shift from projects to products, what do they most often overlook?

Jason: I think systems for funding, measurement, and even employee incentives are often forgotten. Often, organizations say “we are excited to adopt a product mindset!,” but they’ve still funded quite specific projects and even put in place incentives for managers and technical staff to complete projects – I’m even talking about things like annual bonus targets that are tied to a project being completed, not an outcome being achieved. That can hinder the shift to a product mindset.

 

What do you get most excited about when working with a new customer or product?

Jason: Learning about new problems and opportunities with interesting groups of people. As a product leader, I’ve had the opportunity to learn about education, healthcare, manufacturing, and a host of other interesting disciplines that are helping to solve the world’s problems. I enjoy meeting the wise, good-hearted people who are working in these fields, and then thinking about how great products and experiences can help them do their work.

 

How does the work you do every day relate to the book?

Jason: As a product leader and consultant, I work daily to help organizations make their customers’ lives better by offering better responses to those customers’ needs. That’s the essence of product-making: determining what a human being will find beneficial and useful, and then determining how to deliver that to them. The North Star Framework’s theme is that there are tools, like the North Star Framework, to help you do this.

 

The technology world is always changing. Do you have any predictions of what will change or what will stay the same?

Jason: Even with amazing advancements in automation, artificial intelligence, machine learning, smart devices, we’ll still be people who seek meaning, who live in communities, who work best when we work well with each other. I see technology as a way of enabling that, not replacing it. Humans will always matter.

 

What’s one key takeaway you hope people get from the book?

Jason: This might sound counterintuitive, but I hope that people realize the North Star Framework isn’t about prescribing a single particular methodology. Instead, I hope people learn more about the importance of reflective conversations within teams, about inspecting and measuring the value of your work, and about meaningful collaboration in pursuit of a goal.

 

What’s is your favorite recent book you’ve recently read?

Jason: The best product development book I’ve recently read is Escaping the Build Trap, by Melissa Perri. My favorite recent novel is The Overstory, by the great Richard Powers. My favorite book of all time, if it’s possible to have just one, is Moby Dick. That novel contains the great themes of the universe, bound up in a seafaring adventure. But that’s a discussion for another day.

What a Technical-Minded Scrum Master Brings to the Table

What a Technical-Minded Scrum Master Brings to the Table

What a Technical-Minded Scrum Master Brings to the Table

Written by
on May 28, 2020

5 Advantages of a Technical-Minded Scrum Master

Each member of a scrum team has a role to play in contributing to the team’s success similar to any sports team. All successful teams need a coach to foster cohesion, remove barriers, and generally support the rest of the team enabling them to focus on their roles, be the best they can be, and help the team navigate the contest and deliver value. In Scrum, the Scrum Master has these same objectives as a sports coach.   

Whether their knowledge is acquired through playing or watching, good coaches develop a mindset about their sport that gives them an edge, allowing them to provide unique value to their team.  In today’s business world, where technology has seemingly permeated everything, and companies are at varying stages of their Agile transformation journey, a technical mindset can offer a similar edge to a Scrum Master.  

Better communication and empathy with the dev team

In many IT organizations, the dev teams feel like they aren’t being heard. Having a Scrum Master that can speak in their language and understand their challenges may build trust with the dev team, providing them advocacy and support and help to communicate more clearly with the business and management.  

Ability to help the Product Owner field and filter some technical questions and issues to the business

Sometimes business stakeholders have technical questions based on their own research. A technical minded Scrum Master can aid in translating information from the dev team to business stakeholders. They can also answer many technical questions presented by business stakeholders, saving time for the dev team by only pulling them in when they are truly needed.

Success in coordinating the removal of technical barriers

Occasionally, dev teams face technical barriers but need help from outside the team to resolve them.  It is helpful to have someone that can communicate technical issues at a high level and facilitate discussions to find resolutions.  

Enhanced communication of team technical accomplishments within the organization

Often the level of effort delivered by a Scrum team in overcoming technical complexity and risk are not adequately communicated to the organization, and therefore pass by without celebration.  A technical minded Scrum Master has the ability to elaborate more and translate the scope of these accomplishments to the stakeholders and organization as a whole in various higher-level meetings.

Adeptness to facilitate Scrum Team technical discussions

Sometimes technical resources have difficulty communicating within the team due to personalities, experience levels, and communication styles. A technical minded Scrum Master can more easily identify these issues, read the room, and serve as a translator or “the non-techie” ensuring clarification is provided to everyone on the team.  Additionally, a technical minded scrum master can also help identify the appropriate level of technical documentation – in the user stories or other documents – to provide clarity and efficiency for all team members in advance of those discussions and refinement sessions.

Two Pitfalls of the Technical-Minded Scrum Master

At the end of the day, a technical mindset does not guarantee Scrum Master success as the pitfalls above will prove. Through my work, I have found the technical mindset as a value to the customers that I’ve worked with even though the expectation of Scrum Master technical knowledge varies from organization to organization.  Applied appropriately, a broader technical knowledge can help to remove roadblocks and provide a higher level of support for the team, allowing the team to focus on what they need to – delivering technical solutions and innovation.

Beware of assuming a Tech Lead/Solution Architect role

With a technical mindset it is easy to assume a team Tech Lead role or Solution Architect role (in your own mind).  While a Scrum Master role is a leadership role – it is that of  servant leader in a team with  no hierarchy.  Your role is to support and advocate for the team and rely on their expertise. Architecting and developing the solution to meet the business need is the role of the dev team.

Know your technical limitations

With a technical mindset, a Scrum Master can be of service to the team by answering some general technical questions of business and management stakeholders.  This allows the team to maintain velocity by reducing interruption.  However, a Scrum Master can also “get in over their head” answering questions they are not qualified to answer, which in the end will result in more work for the team.

Header image courtesy of Unsplash.

What’s New and Interesting in SQL Server in 2020?

What’s New and Interesting in SQL Server in 2020?

What’s New and Interesting in SQL Server in 2020?

Written by
on May 07, 2020

There are several interesting or helpful and generally under-used SQL Server features that Microsoft added over time. In the future, I would like to dive somewhat deep into some of them. For now, here are some of the latest ones that I have found to be either currently helpful or potentially very useful:

T‐SQL Enhancements

Microsoft has been updating T-SQL over the years. Here are some of the best ones:

  • TRUNCATE TABLE WITH PARTITION– Allows data truncation based on partitions. That means you would add your data using a partition function and you would also be able TRUNCATE the data with the same partition function – a minimal logged operation and is generally much speedier than a regular DELETE.
    There are some new and handy string functions:
  • CONCAT_WS – Concatenates strings, with a specified separator.
  • STRING_AGG – Joins strings across multiple rows. This one is handy for creating single data fields from multiple rows of data, like an email list out of a column of email data.
  • TRANSLATE – Similar to REPLACE, but only does a one for one substitution.
  • TRIM – Finally! No more RTRIM(LTRIM(X)) crap. This one has been so obviously lacking in T-SQL for literally decades that it’s almost embarrassing it took so long to add it.
  • SELECT INTO…ON – Allows you to pick the filegroup for your newly created table. Prior to this, all SELECT…INTO tables have been on the PRIMARY filegroup. This can be used for arranging your data on disk and can be helpful in optimizing data reads and writes.

Security Features

SQL has added a lot of new security/encryption features recently:

Dynamic data masking – Limits exposure to sensitive data with masking. You can hide things like credit card or SSN data.
Row level security – Self-explanatory, but new in SQL Server 2016. Other RDBMS systems have had this for a while, so it’s basically keeping up with the times to have it.
Always Encrypted– Separates those who own the data frooud.m those who manage the data. Encryption keys are managed outside of the database. The keys are never revealed to SQL Server. It is somewhat complicated to implement, but it is very useful for data security. 

Stretch DB

Store portions of the database in the cloud (Azure). You can keep commonly used data on a local SQL Server, and less commonly used data is seamlessly stored and accessed in an Azure SQL database in the cloud.

Temporal Tables

Point in time data access. It is relatively straightforward to implement. Some simple schema considerations and a property set on the table. At that point as data is added or changed, copies are maintained based on the time. And from this you are able to query and get specific result based on a point in time.

Some of the most interesting (to me) are the Always Encrypted and the Temporal Tables. As new features are added and as the current features progress there is always something new to look forward to learning about SQL Server.

 

Save Money, Fire the Scrum Master?

Save Money, Fire the Scrum Master?

Save Money, Fire the Scrum Master?

Written by
on April 21, 2020

So, you did it

You’ve hit your goal and implemented agile at your company. You feel like you’ve checked off the box and now understand all the “things” you are supposed to do to be agile. So you ask yourself “Why keep the scrum master?”

It has crossed your mind and you know that you would get approval to switch out the scrum master with a developer. You think about how much more work could get accomplished if the team had one more developer coding. But wait, your team has been praising how awesome this scrum master was and how they were a coach and leader for everyone by removing obstacles so that they could get their work done. And then you think…if a pro sports team decided they wanted to save money on coaching staff and get more/better players to be more self-organized, it would be breaking news. Well that doesn’t seem to work, maybe we shouldn’t let the scrum team be self-organized. However, they are all smart humans, they can just pick up the work and get it done and that is what we pay them to do after all…I don’t know!

Often the internal conflict that businesses face while undergoing an agile transformation is about how to be effective and keep budgets on track. We understand how hard decision-making can be when you want to move forward. Asking the question about what a scrum master can bring to your team is not a silly one. After all, the Scrum Master has more soft skills and we are taught that success means having something to show, i.e. a fully coded feature, a detailed user story, or architectural specification document among other tangible deliverables. Trying to change this thinking can be very hard especially in the business world where changes take time and results orientated leaders may focus on deliverables and less on how the team be more effective and increase output. However, we must change our perspective if we are to fully invoke the power of agile.

To help with our new perspective it is handy to think of Scrum Masters as Coaches. The Scrum Master/Coach is the one who holds it all together. The Scrum Master/Coach removes roadblocks for the team including unnecessary distractions, needing equipment, creating a space for the team to do their best work, or removing obstacles for them to move faster. The Scrum Master/Coach has to know everything that is going on and consistently adjust so that the team isn’t impacted and is able to do their best work. And most importantly, the Scrum Master/Coach is there to make sure the team is meeting the expectations of the stakeholders.

Scrum-Master-as-Coach

When we think of Scrum Masters in terms of a coach their value is easy to see. This role becomes a necessity for success and not simply a temporary role to check off the agile box. After all, the Stanley Cup champions would never think of firing their coach the next season. The target is always moving and changing, and the best Scrum Masters and sports coaches make those changes unnoticeable while winning. What you will see is effective Scrum Masters make the projects go faster and smoother gaining the momentum and allowing the team to tackle more and more. If you want to know more about agile transformations and effective Scrum Masters, reach out to us. We hope we can ease those thoughts running through your mind and support your success.

Header image courtesy of Unsplash.