td;lr: Having a good understanding of the technology your company uses is crucial, but expecting your product manager to code is not.

I was viewing a recent job ad for a London-based startup which ended up pushing my buttons. They described a working week:

You will work on wireframing our latest product offerings and internal automation tools one day (using Balsamiq), implementing and testing the latest growth hacking theories the next (PHP), fine tune our KPI dash (React) whilst having a day to day responsibility of owning and maintaining the development backlog (Kanban).

Having worked in startups before, I’m used to getting my hands dirty: it’s part of the job of being a good product manager — you live and breathe the product, the technology and the business.

But requiring a developer with specific programming languages is a step too far.

Are you looking for a developer, or a product manager?

A quick Google for “Should a Product Manager be able to code”, didn’t really help:

Business - Product - Tech (with 'me?' in the center)
The three pillars of a startup — where does the PM fit?

Understanding is key — not coding

Clearly ‘pure’ product managers without any technical knowledge won’t cut it either. They won’t have a clear understanding of the technology and how to best utilise it. So how do you get the balance right?

  • Discuss technical challenges, rather than programming languages
  • What best practices and techniques does a PM use to reduce tech debt?
  • Look for collaboration and discussion between product and developers

My experience

I’ve had a love of tech ever since I started working and I moved from agency work to product 7 years ago. I’ve got broad experience in everything from SEO, UX practices, to automated testing and pair programming. Most importantly, I can work with development and business teams of any size to deliver customer value, despite limited resources.

As a product manager, my development knowledge hasn’t really been questioned, but I’ve noticed that this trend happening more often

Unless you need a developer, not a product manager, the question is moot.

My answer is a simple question:

Are you looking for a developer who knows product management, or a product manager who knows development?

(I’m the latter)

What are your thoughts and experiences on this?

Adding a caveat is rarely the right thing to do when talking about your product*.

It starts of with a good intention: you love the new feature your team has built (or maybe an old feature that people aren’t aware of) and want to tell current and potential customers about this new benefit. Simply describing the feature seems a little flat. A conversation with Marketing adds extra qualifiers, such as ‘real-time’ or ‘guaranteed’ to help reassure your customers.

Suddenly your feature unravels – it’s not necessarily real-time. Or guaranteed. Edge-cases, legacy systems and real life get in the way. All of a sudden, you’re questioning whether to put it in your collateral at all. What just happened?

Creating uncertainty with enthusiasm
Unfortunately, by adding an adjective to your innocent feature – you created this problem. Most features aren’t meant to cover 100% of all possibilities.

By adding an adjective or two, you’ve forced yourself to qualify the feature:

  • When doesn’t it work?
  • Are there cases when a customer might see or receive something unexpected?
  • What happens if you’re offline?
  • Is this now misleading?
  • Should these cases be ironed out before you talk about it at all?!

It’s a headache – and incredibly easy to get yourself into. I’ve been caught several times where edge-cases and good intentions dilute the strong message into a limp conversation.

Be confident about your feature
Relax – it’s a good feature, isn’t it?! You did your research and listened to customer and stakeholder feedback before you built it? Sure, maybe you hit a bump in the development road along the way, dealt with a software limitation or two, but your feature still delivers real customer value, right? If so, relax and be confident about it.

That little asterisk sows a seed of uncertainty that customers have been trained to question. If it looks too good to be true, it usually is, etc.
As soon as you add that symbol – you’re admitting that your statement wasn’t actually 100% true (even if it’s in a small and insignificant way). That’s the death knell to good, simple “quick wins” and the way to create a behemoth of a feature, which caters for everyone but pleases no-one.

Lose the adjectives
Why does your feature have to be advertised as the best, fastest, largest, guaranteed or your money back? Your customers are intelligent and are capable of making up their own minds whether your service is valuable to them or not. Leave it to them. The best services don’t need to claim they are the best in their collateral – people know it to be true (and stick around to become loyal customers).

Wait for customer feedback before you mess with it
If customer’s are confused, they will tell you.
Don’t preempt a question by adding a string of limitations or restrictions. Let them find it out as they use your service. If it really annoys them, they’ll say so – if not, you’ve just saved your feature looking weak (and possibly adding unnecessary edge cases to your backlog). Do measure everything though – knowing where customers are struggling is always valuable.

As you can tell, I think there are very few real reasons why a claim requires a star after it – if you find yourself doing it, stop and think if your description reasonably describes most (not all) users, and if so – leave it off.
What do you think? Are there cases when using a caveat is acceptable? Do you get frustrated when you find an advertised feature/price unavailable to you and hidden behind a pesky star? Let me know your thoughts.

*caveat/disclaimer/footnote/qualifier/condition – same difference! Did make you look for the the footnote didn’t I? Now do you see how significant a little * can be?

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For a long time, Apple have had a rather childish view of negative App store reviews: if it’s broken, fix it and release an update. Period.

This works perfectly, if the only feedback your customers provide is general feature requests. But what happens if you’ve fixed the bug? How do you let the customer know? If you’re Apple, they say the app update will be sufficient. Yeah, right.

What do you do if you had server issues? Or worse, if the feature a customer has complained about is already there?

Again, if you’re Apple – not a damn thing. This has made app reviews on iTunes a 2nd-class citizen to Google Play (and that’s not to mention how many fewer reviews happen on iTunes, due to their UI choices).

Apple have finally agreed to allow replies to reviews in latest iOS 10.3 beta. About time!

With Apple, as always, there is a catch. Fed up with the constant ‘rate our app’ prompts, Apple will now limit review prompts to three a year. Great idea in principle, but surely they could start with something softer? It might also dampen feedback if customers & developers feel they only have limited attempts to leave a review.

Another example of ‘Apple doing it their way’ is by creating a new Review API (which allows in-app ratings, but not feedback).  This seems like a simple plaster rather than fix the mess of the iTunes store.

5 ways app stores could get right

After several years of running apps on the app stores, I’ve learnt first-hand the cut-throat nature that is a bad review. Here’s five recommendations for how app stores could improve this further:

1. Change 5 stars to thumbs up/down – 90% of all ratings are either 1 or 5 anyway and this is easier to understand (and gather an opinion on).

2. If reviews include swearing they should be removed – I don’t give a **** if customers are frustrated, that’s not acceptable language and swearing never helps. No excuses.

3. Form a score that includes more than just reviews/rating. Customers have a huge power through reviews at the moment, but they aren’t a perfect measure of engagement or even customer satisfaction. Active use per month; number of uninstalls or even number of emoji’s used – find better success measures.

4. Manage app reviews like customer service. Add a ‘resolved’ flag and provide the ability to send a private message to the developer for a short period before posting.

5. Add profile pictures (photos of real people) to give even massive apps a personal/community feeling. Nothing wrong with putting a face to someone – just make it non-discrimatory and safe.

I hope you like my list – what are your thoughts?

This well known quote from manuals of etiquette is something that I try to live by, particularly on social media.

Twitter (and increasingly Facebook) seem too full of stories of hate and dismay, so I tend not to add to it. I’ve been busy with work for quite a long time, which explains why I’ve been so quiet on social media for a while now.

But there’s a problem – by not speaking up about positive things, it creates an echo chamber of negativity. I’ve spotted this same fact with app reviews for my day-job – if I’m not sharing my positive (or even somewhat neutral) news, then everyone sees more negativity.

With that in mind, you’ll be hearing a bit more from me going forward – the good along with the bad – I hope it won’t be too annoying!

I’d love to give my Grandma credit for this quote – but really is a paraphrasing of a wise old lady called Alice Roosevelt (daughter of Teddy) who said:

If you don’t have anything nice to say, come sit next to me.

I think the original quote is even better – I think I may start using that instead! 😀

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Yesterday I went for a 5k run around Willen Lake. It was cold but rewarding and while my time was OK, it would be fair to say that my training so far in January has just been maintenance, nothing more.

I need to do some 10k runs soon and up my training (work/stress permitting) – let me know if you want to join me! Annoyingly I managed to pull a muscle in my back after that, so I’ve been walking like an old man all weekend – very frustrating!

Aside from some Minecraft playing with Lara, Amy & I have had a quiet weekend recovering from our respective injuries.

While the weekend quickly receded, we watched an old Ridley Scott film, Legend, with a practically teenage Tom Cruise and the lovely Mia Sara – whom I definitely harbour a “dad crush” on. (Turns out she’s a writer now too). Not sure I’d recommend the film – Ridley Scott should have stuck with sci-fi.

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We managed to devour the 1st series of the Lemony Snicket reboot on Netflix in less than a week. It’s very good.

The acting is impeccable and the treatment is in-line with the film, if a little bit more heartfelt. You’re sure to love it.

Oh, and the theme music is awesome (and written by Neil Patrick Harris himself).

Just don’t expect it to be cheerful!

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Ok, today feels a little weird.

A pretty normal day: work, cold, family time and bed.

Elsewhere, someone moved into political office – a bit like the changing of the guard, but with more guns and smaller hats.

I get frustrated when I read the news – we have it on in the office, it’s a little distracting but makes us feel more connected to current affairs. 

Problem is, sometimes you’d rather not watch real life, but immerse yourself in fantasy. This is one of those days.

My suggestion, put the fire on, make a cuppa and immerse yourself in fantasy…

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I don’t really do New Year’s Resolutions, and we’re already well into January, but I came to a conclusion, much like Danny Wallace, to write a blog post on my website every day.

To be fair on myself, I’m no going to beat myself if I miss a day or two, the key is to stop waiting to write a masterpiece and start writing anything!

I’ve got other aims this year, which h I’ll talk about as I get there – but hopefully reading these pieces won’t be too laborious. I promise I won’t take it personally if you unfollow me on Facebook, if you find them dull or repetitive.

What are your aims for this year and why?

Preface: As I’m trying to blog each day (and have already missed one), I’m experimenting with sharing my thoughts on possibly controversial topics. Bear with me, and remember ‘opinions are like…’ *Ducks from ensuing firestorm*

So after months of bickering and waiting for the government, Teresa May announced her grand plan for how to execute Brexit.

She wants to have her cake and eat it. In fact, it’s pretty much what Johnson and Farage said, but without all the bleating about a time of past colonial glory. Or maybe it was there and I missed it.

Finally – some talk about the Single Market

Interestingly, there was talk about some specifics in May’s wishlist:

  • No to the Single Market
  • No to tariffs with Europe
  • No to EEA membership
  • Restrictions on European immigration
  • No ‘cliff-edge’ if talks aren’t concluded (and ratified) within the 2 year timeframe
  • The ability to pick and choose which EU programmes the UK is involved with
  • No ‘hard’ border between UK & Ireland

We’re going to have to fill in the gaps for the meantime – as details were in short supply. Remember – Brexit means Brexit.

The problem is, this is just a wishlist – nothing more. The reality is likely to be quite different:

  • Why would the EU actually provide preferential terms to the UK, rather than encourage us to stay in the EU?
  • Access to certain EU markets (particularly Euro financial ones) simply can’t be run by a non-EU country.
  • Even when we leave, it’s foolish to think that less integration will result in the UK being more attractive than the EU.

What does the EU think?

There’s an interesting opinion piece in the Guardian today from Guy Verhofstadt – the chief EU negotiator for Brexit – I’d recommend you give it a read. Here’s the tl;dr version:

…it is an illusion to suggest that the UK will be permitted to leave the EU but then be free to opt back into the best parts of the European project, for instance by asking for zero tariffs from the single market without accepting the obligations that come with it. I hope that British people will see from the perspective of an EU taxpayer how unreasonable this would be.

I’m not looking forward to the negotiations personally, but I am looking forward to the cake. You can get the recipe for it here.
I wonder if I can make a gluten-free version?

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Watched it for the first time last night. It was riotous and silly and a little obscene – and very funny!

I particularly loved the Ferris Bueller hommage after the end.

#spoilers #nsfw

P.S. As a rather geeky aside, this was the first time I streamed a film from my Plex server at home, over the internet, while Amy was watching it at home. Who needs Netflix, eh?!