4 Steps framework to cultivate Product Thinking

Product Thinking? You probably think that the answer is obvious but like the term “strategy”, the term “product thinking” is elastic. As an entrepreneur I often use this term and sub-consciously evaluate product thinking quotient of people I meet, only to find that most do not understand or still care.

What exactly is Product Thinking?

A product acknowledges that teams are really working to ensure superior experience. It encourages the delivery of small features, frequent releases, continuous flow and releases that cover more than one “project”.

Every product provides some sort of a service to its user. Facebook is a product but it provides communication, photo sharing as service. Mobile handset is a product but it provides ubiquitous communication as service.

Services have always been differentiated by its quality and customer experience e.g. Dell and Apple both are examples of fantastic service quality and customer experience respectively.

In order to ensure highest standard of service quality and customer experience, the organization structure, systems and processes need to be efficient, smooth and must have a feedback loop to feed improvisation, leading to a cheaper, faster and better output. The fact that the service design is now a never ending process brings it closer to product design process. The ability to apply product design framework is precisely the product thinking.

Confused? Read on.

How to cultivate Product Thinking?

More often, the cue comes from user experience by breaking it into as many distinct logical steps. Watch out for the 4 steps framework below to design better experience

  1. Optimize the time and motion in one or multiple steps
  2. Embrace obvious ergonomic convenience
  3. Eliminate dependencies on external agents
  4. Eliminate maximum possible manual effort

Let’s take the example of commonly used “hand soap” used for washing hands and try to break down its user experience in distinct logical steps with respective exit points.

S.No. Action Exit

1

Open the tap Water supply begins

2

Pick the soap Wet hands/soap

3

Rub the soap Soap layer between palms

4

Leave the soap n/a

5

Rub the palms Lather creation

6

Hands under water Lather washed

7

Close the tap Water supply seized

 Note

  • Soap has an ergonomic issue with multiple people using the same bar.
  • The external agent here is water.
  • User engages with the soap in steps 2, 3 and 4 and hence require manual effort.
  • Exit column identifies necessary outputs through sub-processes and it is this column that matters more than the Action column.

Now look at the picture below

soap-vs-dispenser

Think about it, isn’t it interesting how someone would have thought of replacing soap bar with the liquid soap in dispenser.

As a product thinker, we can safely begin with user experience and one could take varied approaches. Keeping the above 4 steps framework in mind, I came up with following questions

  1. Can the three steps (2, 3, 4) be reduced to one or two steps to optimize the time and motion?
  2. Can we remove dependency on the external agent (water) in 2nd step completely?
  3. Step 3rd requires specialized manual effort, can we completely eliminate it? If yes, then step 4 could possibly be eliminated, being an extension to step 3.
  4. Water supply begins in 1st step and seizes only at the end of process, hinting at the wastage of a potential resource.

While this is the way to think, actual insight can come through any of the above questions. Whosoever came up with the idea of liquid soap using dispenser achieved few important things

  1. It eliminates ergonomic problem associated with the soap bar, providing key mental convenience.
  2. External agent is eliminated in the early part and gets introduced later, ensuring efficient use of a resource.
  3. Eliminates step 3 completely, improving the time and motion.
  4. Overall manual effort reduced.

You can apply similar steps on existing systems and services around you and it is guaranteed that over a period of time you’ll start to conceive not only innovative but scalable product ideas.

An aspect that I have purposefully not covered is the cost-effectiveness of solution. This has got a lot to do with its market size and perception and the subject requires detailed discussion. I will probably write a separate post on it soon.

How to get Psychometric tests to help you?

Recently, I was interviewing people and it was averaging 3 Skype calls and 2 in person meetings every day. Quite crazy it was! Soon I drifted in a mode, where one would look at macro behaviors to conclude people’s personality but I can confidently say that it is dangerous! It is humanly impossible to make consistent conclusions in such a high pressure circumstance and your company runs the risk of limited understanding and personal biases of one person.

I immediately looked for psychometric solutions to save us from this menace and also provide scientific ways to understand people’s personality. Soon, an award-winning and well-known solution provider got in touch and their sales guy did a brilliant job of convincing me why they are best suited to us. Soon I got a demo account and as a natural step forward, I wanted to validate accuracy of results.

I attempted the test myself, the “Situation Judgment Test” score was quite impressive, so I din’t bother much but “Personality Test” result was not that straight forward. Since it was me, I could drive logical conclusions, which made the challenge of validating the accuracy of results even bigger.

  • Can the score be taken at its face value to make hiring decisions?
  • If not, how to drive logical conclusions for new people?

While I immediately got a senior colleague to take the test for the help but the confusion persisted; we had to still apply mind to make logical conclusions. What do you do in such a case?

And then I decided to take the test again, to check the degree of variation in my scores itself. The outcome is really interesting and helped me a lot in driving better conclusions for new hires. Here is what I found

Big-5 Model for Personality Assessment

E = Extraversion
C = Conscientiousness
ES = Emotional Stability
O = Openness
A = Agreeableness

Both the test show how I’m low on Extraversion (i.e. reclusive, shy, silent, introvert etc.) in both the cases. It actually depends on what kind of group I’m in but on a broad level I found it okay. I was also okay with three more trait scores such as ES, O and A in the first result but conscientiousness score improved in the second result. Below is the comparative analysis and conclusions that could be driven

  1. Top (O) and Bottom (E) traits came out constant sharply (although actual rating has some deviation). I concluded that the algorithm to compute both O & E score has some stability.
  2. Two Traits (ES and A) jumped one level each. Deviation in A is not high although it jumped a level being a boundary case. Therefore, approach to compute A’s score still seems fine.
  3. Deviation in ES score is significant. It definitely needs attention due to significant deviation.
  4. Conscientiousness is the only trait which jumped two levels with high deviation in score. This particular trait I feel is not properly computed and needs attention; for now I’m ignoring this trait for all the candidates being tested.

Having tested these tests over multiple hires and potential recruits, I absolutely understand that statistical models are not fool proof but they do provide some indicative personality traits. It is highly suggested that the tests be used for some time over a bigger sample of people to either understand their accuracy patterns or reject the solution for it to be any useful. Otherwise, it is highly likely that despite the availability of such scientific solutions, we will end up making incorrect conclusions.

Business Idea – Tool for HRs

For sometime, I’ve been organizing LIVE MS-Excel Proficiency Tests for potential recruits at Eko. It is an open test and candidates are allowed to use Google or any Excel reference material. While the test is very simple for someone who excels in basics of MS-Excel but unfortunately, no candidate has managed to complete even a single problem out of two.

We also setup the tests on a projector for live view. This is to capture entire approach to problem solving. It was easy till we had to interview a candidate remotely. While we used Google Spreadsheets but faced following challenges:

  1. Time Adherence – We had to manually keep track of duration and deactivate the link.
  2. Live View – We couldn’t observe how the person is approaching the problem and din’t have a quick/easy way of recording the screen and seeing it later.
  3. Communication Gap – Due to time pressure, remote people assume something in case of doubt while a physically close person would ask questions or express their concerns for such as asking for more time etc.

An obvious Solution is to get a screen sharing application running on candidate’s machine to see his entire activity live. We even tried it once but low acceleration of frame movement made it a very uncomfortable experience and of-course getting an application downloaded and installed on candidate’s maching is a tedious and time consuming process.

I’ve since been wondering about solving this problem because a solution to this could be generically used for organizing open skill assessment or psychometric tests remotely and record them for later consumption among team members.

I couldn’t find a ready solution in a quick search but definitely found tools which could be mashed up to create a solution. For example, Screenr is a great web based application to create a screencast and they have a simple API. While Google Spreadsheets already comes with an API. One could easily embed a widget to send SMS to HR in case of doubt for immediate response, irrespective of the fact whether HR is on move or not.

This mashup could help us record the activities of candidates and provide basic analytics like duration of test, number of attempts etc. HR team could see this screencast later and easily share it with the relevant team members if required.

I wish I could quickly create an application and use it. If someone can do it quickly, I’m willing to pay for the service and I genuinely hope that the platform could really be leveraged by so many HR consultants and corporate HR teams to automate their pre-employment assessment process for skill testing.

This is how success feels like!

Lifting the Tech AwardEko recently won Tech Awards, one of the world’s most prestigious award (often referred as the oscars for the social enterprise industry).

My colleague Anupam shared his experience from the event as, “It was a great experience at the tech awards gala, with a room full of silicon valley execs and VCs. The net worth of that room would be a couple of billion dollars! Their planning and organization was meticulous. There was a 150 ft long screen as the backdrop and Vinod Khosla himself was tweeting :)

This was the Oscars for the Social Enterprise space and all of us have worked through the past few years to have got here. But above all, lets thank God, our investors, destiny and providence”. What a splendid messaging!

The video below shows Abhishek sharing his experience and journey at Eko, while Abhinav candidly hearing him.

I probably watched this video 10 times, smiling and slowly forgetting all the mountainous  challenge that look ahead at Eko for a while. Abhishek looks so bright and full-of-emotions and probably that’s how success feels like.

A 30 something guy whom I met a few years ago as part of a small group, inspired each one in the group to nurture a billion dollar dream and to make this world a better place. Just 4 years and to be able to closely see how determination and hard work can make dreams come true is absolutely a pleasure that comes to a chosen few.

I feel proud for Eko and for the team. This achievement also forces us to think that, “It’s probably easy to make a buck, it’s a lot tougher to make a difference“.

Official release of Tech Awards video can be seen here.

Visit Eko CSP to get your next job

Today, Eko in partnership with Babajob has launched Job alerts service for blue collar workers through cellphone. In addition to the banking services, Eko’s customer service points (CSPs) are now empowered to connect job seekers in their vicinity with suitable employers. It is such a nice feeling to think about what great differences such simple service can bring to the common man.

Eko, Babajob, Job Alerts, Mobile, Retail

This launch is a reflection that Eko is truely an open platform and desires to extend an effective last-mile distribution in the form of across-the-counter interface integrated with an efficient and real-time payment gateway to more such services. This is just the beginning.

Many congratulations to Babajob team for developing such an interesting service. We hope that consumers find it interesting too.

Targetted Re-marketing – The Power of Network

Just a few days ago, I and Aditi went on to purchase a 32′ LCD TV at the SONY showroom in Lajpat Nagar market here in Delhi. The TV had an MRP of 49,999/- and their salesman gave us 20 dedicated minutes, explained about all the models very well and almost convinced us that it’s the best gadget in town.

Upon bargaining, the last price that he offered to us was 46,900/-, 0% Finance, No processing fee and a free subscription of Tata Sky for 2 months. Still at the end of our conversation I decided not to invest immediately coz we wanted to do research first on the options available in the market (one of those 10000 bad reasons that we give) and he just allowed us to go.

After that we checked out a few other outlets as part of our research. Later, we went on to buy other stuffs like washing machine, floor mat, water purifier etc. Bottomline is that we were still roaming in the Lajpat Nagar market for another 2-3 hours.

What I’m wondering is let’s say SONY wanted to offer further discount to me if I don’t go back to them within an hour? Is there a mechanism to do a perishable targetted re-marketing?

How good would it be if my movement within that marketplace could be tracked; for instance which are the shops that I’m entering after leaving one shop. Let’s say if all these shops had an OOH media/ equivalent, it would enable SONY outlet to bombard me with an Ad to avail further discount. Because I was almost prepared to do the investment, the continual marketing campaign has the potential to stimulate me to do the investment.

Re-Marketing
Targeted Re-Marketing

Owing to competition, it is a very common practice in our usual life to offer discounts at the time when the customer is on the verge of leaving the premise. However, when one-on-one personal negotiations are involved, many a time it’s the human ego that accounts for denial for further discount on the face though the seller still has the intention to convey further discount.

Interestingly, eventhough all the shops are the part of a single network called “Lajpat Nagar” there is no tracking of the user that’s happening in the real world and I feel that this is where digital world has the edge. On the internet for instance, if I move from one webpage to another, I carry an identity either in the form of an IP or the cookie setup on my machine that can be tracked, simlarly in the mobile world I share the same base station and the mobile number.

Good news is that, Google has just done it for the marketers – leveraging the power of their own Google Adwords Network. This is just so amazing! So close to the real world practice.

It would really be interesting to see how such a model can be scaled down to either the brick and mortar real-estate network or the mobile network. For me it’s a great tool to do targetted marketing for the perishable needs.

Perhaps the last mile of advertising world.

What Google did, makes me sad

Recently, Google launched landmark-intelligent driving directions for Indian subcontinent and evangelized it globally via four blog posts (1 | 2 | 3 | 4) as an innovative approach to make driving directions better and more meaningful.

When I read the news, I had mixed feelings. On one hand it gives me pleasure that our innovation “landmark-intelligent driving directions” is recognized globally, while on the other hand it’s a big disappointment about how Google has articulated the whole story (refer below)

… During a trip to the Google engineering office in Bangalore, our driving directions engineers got a chance to learn firsthand how drivers navigate in India. We discovered that street signs or names tend to be less important than landmarks … … In India, we have a lot of great landmark data available through user-entered “Points of Interest” in Google Map Maker …

I feel sad for our young and small team, who pioneered the whole concept, put everything in our lives at stake to chase a dream of “changing the way directions are consumed in India and globally” and actively evangelized the idea since 2007 at multiple platforms (Proto, Barcamps, MoMo Delhi/Bangalore, NASSCOM), covered highly by various media groups (like CIOL, ET, CNBC, NDTV, i.t. Magz, Pluggd.in, WebYantra, Sahara Samay and plenty of reputed bloggers) including spending time in educating the Google India team about the suitability of landmark-intelligence based directions to Indian conditions.

Today I understand what my history teacher used to say – “History is always written by the winner of the war”. Seems Google is so keen to take credit for this innovation that they did not even care to mention our brief interaction and their own acknowledgement that this was truly innovative.  For a company with the corporate motto – “Don’t be Evil” this shocks violently. It would have been really nice to see such a respected company patronizing a young and creative team rather than stealing credit in this manner.

I don’t say that Google can’t come up with the similar idea but the fact that it has already been validated and tested over the years can’t be ignored and whole world can’t be duped with the charming story that Google formulates about how their Bangalore engineers observed the problem to eventually bring this innovation to ground.

But one thing I have learnt in my entrepreneurial journey is to pick myself up when I am down, brush off the dirt and get going again and think of what newer opportunities such incidents bring along.

How Google’s launch can be good for RouteGuru?

1. It is certainly motivating as the Google’s launch is a big validation for the fact that landmark-based driving directions are the way to go in countries like India. Google’s buzz brings a lot of credibility to our vision. In fact, we’re already seeing new interest in our technology and business.

2. Learning that the leading independent analysts have pointed out that Google has implemented the concept already established by RouteGuru is very motivating. For us it’s a moment of pride that we could foresee, envision and implement a concept that Google ended up implementing almost 3 years later. Please refer to the links below:

Google Maps Mania,

Pluggd.in

3. A few appreciations and partnership interests have come our way from various parts of the world e.g. North Africa, UK etc. acknowledging our vision, strengths and the splendid work done, soon after this news went public. We’re very happy to see recognition by those who may not have known us otherwise at all. I wish I could let the whole world know about it.

4. Google is struggling to build leadership position in China, Japan and Korean markets for search. Perhaps we can partner with the local search leaders and offer them competing solutions to better Google’s offering.

What now?

This comes as no surprise as it was only a matter of time before one of the Internet giants realized the strategic importance of “landmark intelligence within driving directions”. Many of our admirers, friends, regular users, bloggers and journalists are contacting us to learn, “What now?”, “What it really means for RouteGuru?”, “Is it really the end of story?

I candidly want to communicate that it’s a good lesson for us about what can it really mean when big companies talk to you and how we end up communicating many things unknowingly. It’s an emotional hurt to see someone else reaping the benefit of an innovation pioneered by us and for the small entity that we are, we can only feel helpless.

However, this certainly is not the end of story. On the contrary, it opens up newer opportunities with the global markets waking up to the concept and we hope to build alliances to fight with anyone in our expertise area (I’ll soon write in detail about why I feel the Google’s story looks fluffy and why RouteGuru still has a better solution than Google).

After a period of lull, I feel energetic again and confident that we will come back much more strongly soon.  Stay tuned for more.