November Learning

I’m trying to give myself at least half an hour during the workdays (or at least blocking two hours or so a week at least) to learn something new – namely taking classes on Treehouse, which I still have a membership to, reading job related articles, and reading job-related books. Tracking notables here as a self commitment and to retain in memory.

Treehouse UX Basics: Modeling, Testing, and Executing the Experience:

  • Modeling a solution -> demonstrates to users, eg. axure that is not the interface. Design for the experience
  • Test interface with people likely to use your product
  • Learn to present to clients and sell your work
  • Success in UX is keeping mindful of all other players at all times and being a translator between engineering, qa, account management, project management, etc.
  • Context is about predicting the right information at the right time for the user

 

Treehouse UX Basics: How UXer’s Think

  • Think big in order to think small – system thinking – match any small feature to larger experience. All parts and processes should be part of a congruent narrative
  • Empathy is different from user-centered design -> do you know how the user actually feels. Be the user advocate of users needs, goals, and tasks
  • Be able to think beyond the end user. Eg. business stakeholders in the org, coders, etc. They are also “users”
  • Think of content beyond traditional sense – eg everything on site
  • Understand how site users will be, content available, and context – think of problems to solve just beyond surface level like articles, etc.

 

Treehouse UX Basics: Tools

  • Understand who you’re communicating with, what needs to be shared, and the context
  • Conducting User Interviews: Google Forms, Survey Monkey, Ethnio

 

Treehouse Javascript: AJAX Basics

  • Make sure property names are set properly and insert into divs
  • The jQuery method if handling errors in an AJAX response is .fail()
  • The .fail() method does not work when using the .load() method or when making requests to another site
  • Application Programming Interfaces provide a method for accessing certain content using a server-side programming language: defines what you can get and how you can get it. Some let you just get it with AJAX without server side programming
  • API key acts sort of like a password, when you connect to a server, you have to send along your API key

 

10 Steps for a Successful Wiki

  1. Link to only external files when necessary
  2. You need a well-defined structure off the bat because users build habits quickly
  3. Use good tagging for search

 

What Are Wikis, and Why Should You Use Them?

  1. Flexible access for editing
  2. Hyperlinking is the power – adding quickly and linking
  3. Key uses are having an easily searchable knowledgebase and training

 

Best practices for staging environments from increment mag

  1. Staging’s purpose is the validate the known-unknowns of your systems, eg. the dependencies, interactions, and edge cases that are foreseeable by people in the company.
  2. Tests don’t account for all the possibilities that staging can.
  3. Staging should be constructed the same way as production, eg. same load balancers, deployment tooling, security group settings, etc.

 

pm@olin Class 6

  1. Launch stages: alpha, friends & family, beta, public soft launch, traditional launch
  2. Launch communications: Internal thank you notes to team and individuals. Internal/External: customer support, blog posts, homepage announcements. External: Product Hunt Post, Press Release/PR, Help Documentation, FAQs
  3. People tend to anchor on first things you say – it can be hard to keep things general when you want to (in her class notes but applies a lot to other things)

 

pm@olin Class 7

  1. Goes without saying, but complement/criticism/complement is not a good tactic compared to specific feedback
  2. Mental model for feedback, it’s information you or a person can use if they like
  3. Johari Windows -> something useful to understand relationship with themselves and others

 

Five Levels of Communication

  1. Ritual: most simple form of conversation: eg. quick hello
  2. Extended Ritual: day to day pleasantries that may change day to day – but it’s at a safe level of no danger of being misinterpreted but are the foundation of building trust and safety in interpersonal relationships
  3. Surface: What people are in place of work, eg. receiving information at meetings and giving. Talking about basic life conversations such as politics, hobbies, families, etc.
  4. Feelings (about self in relation to content): Just below surface and sharing of riskful real feelings.
  5. Feels (about us and our relationship): Greatest level of risk and involves giving honest feedback

Organizations that are able to have four and five communication can increase potential dramatically. Companies that are just between one and three can lack harmony and cohesion and the weakness is clear in crisis situations.

 

Shipping is a Feature: Some Guiding Principles for People That Build Things

  1. The hardest part of PMing is achieving clarity and maintaining a POV and vision for a product when literally everything conspires against this
  2. Figure out how to do compromises without muddling the product
  3. 10% better can be 100% different – incremental improvements can have huge effects

 

Why Most Product Launches Fail

  1. Companies can’t support fast growth
  2. Products get released too early and aren’t ready (Windows Vista)
  3. Product limbo and positioning a product to leverage a fad is a mistake
  4. If customers don’t get it quickly – it’s toast
  5. There’s no market for it even if product is revolutionary – should answer the question “Who will buy this and at what price?”

 

Engineering Management from Yishan Wong: Hiring is number one

  1. “The quality of coworkers is the single greatest determinant of workplace happiness, and fully engaged participation by everyone is the primary way by which everyone exercises direct power over making their job experience better.”
  2. Are you hiring the best or just hiring the best people you were able to interview?
  3. Hiring good candidates ensures you have a strong internal pipeline for promotion

 

Engineering Management from Yishan Wong: Engineering Management – Process

  1. Processes should only be implemented if they are specifically wanted and by the people directly involve in using it versus management who are only really thinking about command, control, coordinating, or communicating -> true costs cannot be seen in this fashion and benefits maybe illusionary
  2. Managers can figure out how to coordinate and communicate without necessarily implementing more engineering process (eg. endless jira loops)
  3. “Managers may need to psychologically contend with more chaos than they are comfortable with, but there is a huge difference between chaos that makes one uncomfortable and chaos that actually threatens the business. Stepping as close to the latter as possible confers one of the greatest advantages in the technology business: execution speed.

    Process typically builds up at a regular and roughly constant rate. Shaping this rate is therefore key to long-term efficiency. If your company has a certain amount of process at size X and it’s less than other companies of size X, you’re faster, and when you’re much much larger you’ll have less comparative bureaucracy, and the same multipliers will apply: doing things twice as fast now while you’re small helps you get things done in two weeks while your competitor needs four weeks, but once you’re large you’ll be able to do something in two years while your competitor takes another two to catch up. Two additional years might just mean the end of them.”

 

Engineering Management from Yishan Wong: Internal Promotion

  1. “A successful manager needs to understand core elements of the company culture and values, including what makes the startup uniquely successful and what steps it needs to take next. An impressive resume or even the memory of their performance by others who worked with them in larger companies is not a reliable indicator of their ability to do this.”
  2. “Source management candidates who are willing to join as individual contributors. While the company remains below a certain size, it’s is eminently possible for highly talented technology managers to join as individual contributors and rapidly rise into positions of leadership, and they should be encouraged to do so.”
  3. People who join companies because “they’re great” tend to have very different orientations and motivations (money, security, conservatism) versus those who shared early core values in a start-up. Tread carefully and have a pipeline

 

Engineering Management from Yishan Wong: Tools Are Top Priority

  1. Internal tools shouldn’t be regulated to the back office, but rather have talented engineers work on them because there’s a direct impact on operational efficiency
  2. “The quality of your tools and your ability to continue to evolve them will allow you to suppress the need to hire for operational roles, allowing each front-line individual to do more, which simultaneously improving overall coordination (fewer people means coordination is easier) and keeps costs down.”
  3. You need a foster a culture in the organization that values internal tools so your best engineers will be willing to work on them

 

Engineering Management from Yishan Wong: Technical Leaders

  1. “All external management hires must be able to write code and show a high level of technical proficiency, up to and including the head of the technical department. If the company is a technology company, this should also include the CEO.”
  2. “Leaders are unable to tell when the technical staff is not performing up to snuff, because they cannot reliably differentiate between excuses for poor technical performance and true obstacles that arise when contending with difficult technical challenges. Performance management then becomes impossible, leading to mediocre work and eventually, outright and repeated project failures.” – > the more you understand the rules of the game, the better you can play it
  3. “Unfortunately, a non-technical leader has no personal ability to gauge the actual risk profile of overriding technical suggestions (i.e. shrewdly exceeding old limits in certain special situations) and is then prone to eventually overriding technical advice which should not be overridden.”

 

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PM Hack Panel Notes

Two weeks ago, I got to go PM Hack for a hot second, a hackathon for PMs and aspiring PMs put together by Jason Shen and Johanna Beyenbach and hosted by Wayup. I’m really bummed I actually only got to stay for maybe half the day because my actual PM job called me in on a Sunday, but it was definitely unique and one of the cooler initiatives I’ve seen to get people’s hands dirty on Product Management work. In a previous life, I’ve gone to hackathons as a developer, and there is something really inspiring, educational, and rewarding about working with a group of strangers to create something workable in a matter of hours or days.

One thing I did get to stay for an enjoy was a panel by some esteemed folks in the business so to speak – so I thought I’d put down my notes here to keep top of mind:

pmhackpanel.jpg

Some awesome Product Managers: Elan Miller (Midnight), Inga Chen (Squarespace), Lauren Ulmer (Dormify), and Joan Huang (Flatiron Health)

  • Emotional intelligence > IQ in PM roles
  • You need to understand yourself and your vision first
  • Constant tension at work between tending to firedrills v longer range thinking -> one key to working on this is working internal marketing for buy-in on longer term strategy
  • Good pms are always obsessing or communicating and good listening
  • Status update at right level of context – know how to communicate to junior level devs to executives
  • Saying no is a part of your job
  • Your job is to also bring the team and org together
  • Be cognizant of what step of the product life cycle are you able to work in and think about what is possible to change and is it possible
  • Team Cultures (build it out) + Users (joy)
  • Managing different dependencies across teams is key
  • Your job is to also define and interpret metrics correctly
  • The bigger the org the more stakeholder communication versus direct time to users
  • Be careful not to over optimize for the negative vocal batch of users versus the majority of users
  • As with everything, it’s right place right time with right skill set so you gotta angle to make to happen
  • GV Design Sprint can be a useful problem solving process
  • When you’re interviewing for a PM job: communicate you know a company’s business when you interview :
    • Mini deck to intro yourself, how you can solve company’s problem, and show you’ve done your hw and are more than your resume
    • Understand levers to business model (how does business makes money)
    • Apply to fewer jobs and make sure you’re interested in problems the product is trying to solve
    • Find side projects outside of your typical product development life cycle
    • Treat yourself as a product
    • Having a POV and being polarizing can be an advantage
    • Remember you can help them with particular problem you’re trying to solve even if you aren’t from that vertical – you could be bringing a fresh perspective to their problems

Oct Learning

Just my “three key points” notes from various reading I thought was work helpful this month:

PSFK Advertising Playbook Overview

  1. Experiential marketing now is the most critical tool
  2. Shift from ads to customer relationships and decline of online ads
  3. Emotional connections realign brands -> engineered enjoyment, contextual calibration, and third space communities are opportunities

 

Knowns vs Unknowns — Are you building a successful company or just typing?

  1. First known unknown is that you envision a product that solves a problem that a small group of users have
  2. Engineer’s primary job isn’t really writing code per se, but improving product for you users
  3. “What I often hear from CEOs is that “my CTO thinks we need to rebuild the backend so it’s scaleable.” The reality is that if you haven’t yet solved for the product’s scaleable and repeatable growth, you don’t know what the backend needs to be. If you’ve hired people that care more about the programming languages/frameworks and not the KPIs of your product, you’ll constantly have this internal battle. Remind them that writing software is the easy part. Building a company that scales isn’t.”

6 lessons learned about technical debts management in Silicon Valley

  1. Product always needs to be improved and have tech debts happening at once (80/20 rule)
  2. Top Down vision on the importance of these debts “It is not about the money you can make, it is about the money you won’t lose”
  3. Before you kill features, identify who are using it, find an alternative, and explain why you are killing a feature

IGNORE EVERYTHING BETWEEN THE CLOUDS AND DIRT

  • “This is because the vast majority of people tend to play the middle—they focus on the vague minutiae that doesn’t matter”
  • Two things happen when you’re too focused on the middle:
    • You’re only successful to a certain level and then hit a plateau
    • You get stuck in one of two extremes: you get stuck either because you become too romantic on ideals and neglect the skills you need to execute or you get tied up in minutiae or politics and lose sight of the bigger picture.

Unit Economics

  1. “Unit economics are the direct revenues and costs associated with a particular business model expressed on a per unit basis.” Eg Lifetime Value, Customer Acquisition Cost (CPA)
  2. What you want to do as a product manager is increase average rev per user (ARPU), increase customer lifetime, and drive expansion revenue from existing cusotmers
  3. Make sure you know what your most profitable segment is and what their composite is of the user base

pm@olin: Buildiing (Class 5)

  1. Understand your personal work and productivity style
  2. Understand the style of your team and tailor your project management to the team – being cognizant of your personal style
  3. Understand your software processes (eg. Waterfall or Agile) and bug triage

Offshore Development: Pluses and Minuses for Product Managers

  1. Hard part is to learn and understand the team and learn what makes them tick and how you can leverage all this and control for issues such as different work cultures and different accents over conference phones
  2. Get to know them and make sure they know you
  3. Keep them informed, establish routines (especially communicating with remote team lead and holding them accountable, hold all-team meetings semi-frequently), and leverage tools

How we develop great PM / Engineering relationships at Asana

  1. Semi-formalized way for sharing leadership and credit
  2. Remember mantra product owns the problems and engineering owns solutions
  3. ‘Clarify roles and reinforce them with mutual respect’

Learning Tracking September 2017

I’m trying to give myself at least half an hour during the workdays (or at least blocking two hours or so a week at least) to learn something new – namely taking classes on Treehouse, which I still have a membership to, reading job related articles, and reading job-related books. Tracking notables here as a self commitment and to retain in memory.

Treehouse

UX Basics Key Takeaways

  • Gather data about user behaviors, goals, and needs
    • Do this with user interviews, quant data (logs and analytics), and surveys
    • Be sure to analyze behavior types, and not just audience segments
  • Always answer the Q: “What is it the product we are working on provides for this behavior type?”
  • Manage content inventory: What exists (eg form values), gaps, and analyze

Ajax Handling Errors Key Takeaways

  • XHR request object contains important info about errors

Articles + Three Takeaways

Paying Down Your Technical Debt

  1. “If the debt grows large enough, eventually the company will spend more on servicing its debt than it invests in increasing the value of its other assets.”
  2. “Accumulated technical debt becomes a major disincentive to work on a project. It’s a collection of small but annoying things that you have to deal with every time you sit down to write code. But it’s exactly these small annoyances, this sand grinding away in the gears of your workday, that eventually causes you to stop enjoying the project.”
  3. Becomes a source of fear, dread, and loathing for teams so you should periodically service your debt

Evidence Based Scheduling

  1. Break tasks into hours (nothing longer than 16 hours) so it forces you to figure out what to do
  2. Keep timesheets tracking data for historical use
  3. Simulate the future

“But you can never get 4n from n, ever, and if you think you can, please email me the stock symbol for your company so I can short it.”

Reddit and Facebook Veteran On How to Troubleshoot Troublemakers aka “Debugging Coders”

  1. Job is not getting stuff to do people for you, it’s figuring out how to do something together.
  2. ‘The exact behaviors that make it so that the organization can stay alive, move fast, be scrappy can be exactly the same actions that cause a negative disruption later in the life of your company,” says Blount. “Troublemaking brings signs of large tectonic shifts, releasing pressure into the atmosphere. Specific rumblings are almost all borne fundamentally of some kind of frustration: moving too fast, not moving fast enough, taking too few or too many risks. These are signals — and opportunities — to assess underlying changes and growth in an organization.”’
  3. For nostalgia junkies (people who like the company that ‘way it use to be’), focus on the question: “What about next week bothers you?” and for the Trend Chasers – gotta measure the risks, what happens with this route over the next year, deploying it and rolling it out?

How do managers* get stuck?

  1. Failing to manage down: need to delegate, train team, pay attention to process, and say no
  2. Failing to manage sideways: build peer relationships, look for additional tasks, create a vision, become someone you’d like to report to
  3. Failing to manage up: attend to details, complains but doesn’t fix, drags outside of comfort zone, show yourself professionally to higher ups

How do individual contributors get stuck?

  1. “Everyone has at least one area that they tend to get stuck on. An activity that serves as an attractive sidetrack. A task they will do anything to avoid.”
  2. “When you know how people get stuck, you can plan your projects to rely on people for their strengths and provide them help or even completely side-step their weaknesses. You know who is good to ask for which kinds of help, and who hates that particular challenge just as much as you do.”
  3. “Knowing the ways that you get hung up is good because you can choose to either a) get over the fears that are sticking you (lack of knowledge, skills, or confidence), b) avoid such tasks as much as possible, and/or c) be aware of your habits and use extra diligence when faced with tackling these areas.”

Run Towards Something, Not Away. Learning from Talks Summary: C-Suite Meet with Jacki Kelley, COO, Bloomberg Media

I went to the C-Suite Meet with Jacki Kelley, Chief Operating Officer, Bloomberg Media with She Runs months ago in May, but I’ve thought a lot about her advice and carried these notes in my bag and mentally for the last few months.

The biggest takeaway, “Run towards something and not away.”  

This year, I had the opportunity to buy a dream co-op in NYC and job opportunities that would have paid more than I am making now. I walked away from those because deep down I knew it wasn’t the right thing to do, remembering these words and with the encouragement of friends and mentors. It was really difficult, especially as a daughter of immigrants and as someone who never thought I’d have what I have now and these opportunities. Sometimes the opportunities are wrong. Listen to your gut.

Much better opportunities and life paths have presented themselves to me in the interim, and I’m so glad I did the hard thing to walk away.

This piece by public intellectual Ta-Nehisi Coates resonates me with a lot:

Some people come up expecting to win. We came up hoping not to lose. Even in victory, the distance between expectation and results is dizzying for both. The old code remains a part of you, and with it comes a particular strain of impostor syndrome. You have learned another language, but your accent betrays you. And there are times when you wonder if the real you is not here among the professionals, but out there in the streets.

Obviously, I have to caveat that the specific experience he writes about has clear differences from mine, I’m from a much more privileged context, but it expresses the disorientation of how I feel in my circumstances now as Manhattan professional versus what my life could have easily been had I taken a few wrong turns and people didn’t intervene at key points in my life. (And to all the Women of Color who might be out there reading this, yes I still feel like I don’t fit in these spaces everyday, and probably never will. I still do it for the culture though).

My mentor told me in my moments of self-doubt this year, “There’s better for you. And you deserve it.”

I think most of us at least moderately-successful professionals will come upon these inflection points, where you can feel like you need to check-off certain life boxes (degree, house, ring, kids) or are presented with opportunities that are good for the money, but don’t feel right. Most people chose to do what they think should do because of societal or cultural expectations, because it’s hard to walk away from that. I’ve done that before, taken jobs to just to get away from a current situation, and and almost did all that again this year, but I’m glad I held out for the better even though it’s caused considerable existential dread, Asian guilt, and feeling of being ungrateful, especially in these sour times we live in politically and economically.

Some other key points from the talk/handwriting clarification:

  • She also mentioned “Life is not a to do list. Smell the roses.” Cliché, but at this phase of my life and career, I’m no longer in my frenetic twenties grasping at opportunity, but rather settling into a life and career that’s a marathon and not a sprint, and to enjoy the journey.
    • Also be there for the stuff that matters and plan out personal and professional life in tandem. She specifically mentioned planning out having kids (this isn’t something that’s a make or break for me), but we have all different milestones and wants to not be neglected
  • Sponsors v Mentors: need to find both. Sponsors are those people who advocate for you in your company or industry. Coaches/Mentors are your sounding boards and give advice, etc
  • Build cultures and processes to remove obstacles and allow people to do their best work
  • Understand people’s desires in a company and try to align with your goals and that of the organization
  • Ask yourself, how have you invested in someone you believe in?
  • Pick Learning > Promotion
  • Find work you love with people you love to work with
  • Connecting data, communication, and media is the key to survival for agencies (I’m not as bullish on this one and the agency model as it is, but it’s an insight worth thinking about)

Tableau Practice: Los Angeles Water Usage

Playing with a little Tableau using open data from Los Angeles Open Data on “Residential water use by month averaged for fiscal year. Numbers represent Hundred Cubic Feet (HCF) of water use.”

Couple of observations with the data:

  • Water usage seems to correlate with residential density, eg. the high water usage in Downtown and Central City that have more high-density apartment blocks versus suburban tract homes that make up most of Los Angeles.
  • Water usage dropped dramatically in Fiscal Year 12/13, I’m almost wondering if that data was never fully populated. Either way, there seems to be a good downward trend which is good because of the CA drought and just being a region where water is scarce.
  • Tableau’s sum filters can be puzzling for those who aren’t familar with the platform when you filter the data – eg suddenly the scale is off so you have to reduce that filter to see the values.

A few process notes

  • I had to pivot the raw data a bit before bringing it to Tableau
  • I imported a custom shape for the water drop effect
  • I used the area chart for trend overtime to kind of hit home the point the amount of water usage rather than a simple line to show time series.

Click here or on the visual below to take a look:

water.PNG

Weekly Data Decomposition: The Robot Rampage

Weekly data visualization decomps to keep a look out for technique and learning: The Robot Rampage from BloombergGadfly 

Decomposition of a Visualization:

  • What are the:
    • Variables (Data points, where they are, and how they’re represented):
      • Units of robots per country and by forecasted year
        • Bar chart
      • Jobs that could be automated by country, definite and theoretical
        • Stacked bar chart
      • Concentration of industrial robots per 10,000 manufacturing workers per country represented on cartogram
    • Data Types (Quantitative, Qualitative, Categorical, Continuous, etc.):
      • Quantitative, Categorical
    • Encodings (Shape, Color, Position, etc.):
      • Color hue for different forecasts on bar charts
      • Color hue for different regions
      • Sizing on cartogram and colors for region
  • What works well here?
    • Showing a narrative about the rates of robotization across different regions and the potential effect to workers
  • What does not work well and what would I improve?
    • I like these a lot – I think it would be cool to have more population charts proportional to the size of workforces in the middle graphs. It’s hard to see human impact there.
  • What is the data source?  Do I see any problems with how it’s cited/used?
    • International Federation of Robotics and the World Bank
  • Any other comments about what I learned?
    • I liked how different data sources were combined for a cohesive narrative