Web Feature Discovery Process – Part 2

This article is the second part of 2 articles on the Web Feature Discovery Process. You probably should click here and read article 1 if you are here for the first time.

Ok, so you have finally figured out the key assets and are starting to go down the road of making your new web feature happen… well let’s just say you are only 20% towards the finish line. There are some major hurdles involved for most of us, including even the big guy or gal at the top. The thinking part of discovering ripe juicy revenue or visitor producing features is the easy part. The difficult part is making it happen, navigating the human beings all along the way, especially when you know they are all trying to make sure you either fail directly, fail indirectly, fail just by the fact that you don’t have the energy to fight anymore, fail because you left the job or fail because the job left you. It is a fight to the death my friend and its all because you sorted through the company assets with a flashlight at night when nobody was looking and you had an idea, you brought it into the daylight, and now you are a pure unadulterated target for those who don’t want you to succeed. So how do you proceed in the most murky of environments…

Social Engineering

I first began to understand social engineering, when I was reading a great article about Kevin Mitnick, the infamous hacker who broke into Sprint and stole tons of information about their customers. He was not genius. He was not very technical. He was basically a petty thief. How did he do it? He used social engineering. If you think about it, social engineering (in the Mitnick version) is about figuring out how to use information and people of an organization to think what you want them to think and do, using that information wisely. Mitnick figured out that when executives names where mentioned, people lose their minds and do what you want. “Uh, Dick Lynch the VP said we need that report now!” Minick found out that if you know some small piece of information or just a name, you could easily navigate an entire organization, call around to people and they would hand you off like you were a friend. He would use person X’s name and say hey person Y, Person X recommended me. What really did is say the VP wanted me to get onto System Z, now so get me a login and password…

The point is, you need to understand the dynamics of the organization, the motivations of people in the organization and the hierarchy of decision-making. Getting the organization on board with you is what I am getting at! But ultimately, like I have said before, you can take the high road or the low road. Taking the high road means bring the organization along on a ride towards success (success means getting your feature implemented).

Education Camp

Sometimes unusual methods are needed in order to gain the trust of execs and the whole organization. For instance, some of the features I was trying to get implemented at my last company required me to make sure that the organization understood the features. What did I do about it? I ran a seminar. Now people in my company who came to my seminar looked at me in strange ways as I ran them. Once again who was I to run a seminar? I was just a programmer there, sometimes a manager, but in no way did I have the keys to the kingdom or really was in charge of much there. Fellow employees would look at me with confused looks. Who was this guy standing up there talking about things? I ran periodic internal seminars at the office. This means a short 45 minute talk, on WordPress for instance. I ran a seminar on Whois. I was planning a seminar on a variety of subjects. What was I doing in my crazy convoluted method was starting the social engineering process by planting seeds through my seminars. I wanted this company to adopt certain strategies and methods. Once again, nobody stopped me from running a talk at noon time in the conference rooms. This is a great place to flesh out your ideas and don’t freak if someone shows up to show you up. My answer to them would be, show me how to do it better!

Plan 32

One thing that a great product manager should always have is a pile of ready to go plans in their back pocket. You have all the plans (I mean PPTs, Power Points) that are company planned, on the so called “Road Map”. Actually I am going to digress here and tell you that if there is a Road Map beware! The kind of process and thinking a Road Map can create can be a real negative, because from experience nay-sayers love to use the Road Map as a way to block new Road Entrances. Never let the Road Map not allow the process to be re-prioritized and redeveloped. I have yet to see the Road Map (in the web feature world) be the best guide. Now, as far as plans are concerned, you have the top line plans already planned out from the execs and board. You have the plans that others know about that you are promoting, and you have a dozen others that they are not aware of, but you have them ready to go, in standby mode, in a file on your hard-drive or cloud, just in case the time is right. Why the three types of plans? Well, part of succeeding is not giving it all away too soon. You have to release plans periodically to the organization, who can’t handle all the plans at once. They have to be part of a series of changes over time. Once again, as a champion, of a lot of other people’s ideas (OPIs), you need to map out these features properly and get your presentations just right. Sometimes you have to sit on things and let osmosis occur. You wake up some morning and your brain somehow figures it out. Who knows why things work that way, but often they do. I would highly recommend sitting down with all the guys and gals who thought them up and show them where there idea is now!

The Shadow Government

Sometimes all the education and all the presentations and all the board room brawls are insignificant compared with the reality that something has to be done subversively. It is a rare thing to do, and there are some well documented cases where it is a necessity. A great example is the case of the James Cannavino at IBM. I read a great story about Jim in the late 1960s trying to convince management that he could speed up the IBM Mainframe. They rejected his notion, but in a subversive move, he had the technology developed outside the company and when it was finished went over his bosses and showed it to the board. He faced either being fired or being promoted. Luckily he was promoted. Hopefully it doesn’t come to this, but sometimes getting things done in an organization require unusual activity, because like I have been inferring there are many more forces at work trying to not make things happen than happen, even on the smallest scale.

Project Mercury

Those funny project names, that often mimic Nasa project names are not just wild imaginative words that are spread around at a company. They are used to get your attention, to try to get the organization to recognize a plan. These project names may sound strange and odd, but customer oriented, improved website features are often a shift and they may seem quite odd at first. Social networking stuff like Twitter and LinkedIn and Facebook. These are now household names, but 10 years ago they would sound strange. And it is only going to get stranger. When I say Tweet, Joomla, Droopal, lamp or soap to people in the web world, they better know what I mean… What should be happening in most American web firms is an injection of militarization combined with humor and something to spice it up. That’s what a project name is all about. If project names are not attention-getters, they should be. I would always try to make the name relevant, but a good bit of creativity is a positive not a negative.

Misdirection And The Book Of 5 Rings

Talking about military tactics, people’s military training can go a long way in corporate America. Just because I was not in the army, doesn’t mean we can’t learn from military tactics. They are important. At the end of my MBA program I took a class which revolved around Musashi’s “The Book Of Five Rings“. Musashi is a Japanese expert on war in the middle ages who survived to his old age and therefor, because he was only one of the very few warriors to survive, he wrote about his tactics. One of the tactics listed is a method of drawing an enemy towards oneself and at the last minute let the enemy run themselves off a cliff. In our language we call it misdirection. Sometimes you have to lead people down a path and not stop them from their self destruction. Often your plan has one way of doing things and another person has their plan. If you see their plan is faulty you don’t always have to stop it from failing. Sometimes it is best to let it fail. When I worked back at the phone company we used to leave documents around about projects that were never in existence in order to confuse people about what our real intentions were. Sometimes it is important to not reveal these intentions until you are ready to present and make it happen.

This the second of a 3 part articles. I have not yet finished article 3 about Making the Web Feature Happen.

This is the first article (You should read them in order)


Learning is Earning

A few years ago, and I would love to find this article again, on Yahoo Finance, there was an article about why you should just forget about getting an MBA. Just start an Internet start-up and skip business school! That is what the writer prescribed. Not sure if this was written to get the Yahoo Finance readers up in arms or to make a point. It did get lots of responses, good and bad. And in some ways I totally agree with the writer. In some ways I did not. I had my own answer to this, but my situation was very different than the audience the writer was writing for. Seemed like she was writing for a group of 20 something technology hacking recent grads.

Your GMAT Score Is Inversely Related To Your Ability To Run Your Own Business

Your GMAT score is inversely related to your ability to run your own business. I stole this line from a book I read years ago on how to survive the Harvard business school. Yes, it is true that MBA programs train people to work at companies and deal with big company issues. It is also true the degree is a generalist degree in many ways, kind of like an engineering degree. What you learn in school is not what you are going to be doing in real life. And it may actually be true that those who go to get their MBA are often not able to start and run their own business, but when I ask entrepreneurs if they could have an MBA right now to assist them in their business and their answer is always yes. It is always better to have more education. I would get a PHD, if I had unlimited money, time and resources.

More Learning Means More Money

If you do some research, like here, you will find that the more education you get, the more you earn in general. Obviously we would all love to start a company and make money on our own working for ourselves, but the statistics say that overall getting more education means more money. It is a simple principle. Also, not everybody can go off and start an Internet company. There are as many failures in online business as there are offline. It is easier and faster to start a business online and thousands of new websites every year prove it. You can’t knock people from trying, but don’t argue this start-up method is an alternative to an MBA. You can have an MBA and be in a start-up, in fact that combination is more powerful than a start-up founder without an MBA.

I Went To Learn

My MBA education was not about the degree. Well, it became about finishing the degree in the last year, but overall, it was done over time, at 2 programs and I literally took my time and made often my class work about my day job. This was not about the degree in my mind, it was about my mind. I think it is important to learn and not just be handed a piece of paper. One of the issues that speaks broadly about this, is the lack of ethics among MBA grads. Well, if they are not about learning, and just about the degree, what do you expect them to be like. There are many with no scruples, no ethics and why do we often hear about guys like Madoff attempting to run a scam.

Education Realization

I recently had a epiphany not about my own MBA, but about certain pillars of my own learning in the past 10 years, especially about the web. What I realized is that there are probably a dozen foundational areas of being an expert on websites, such as web design, web programming, web analytics, business development, product management, email marketing, search engine marketing and organic SEO. What I realized is that you can be an expert in one of these areas. Once you become an expert, you will find that your desire to learn more in that specific field may top out, especially after many years in the field.

This just means you need to get knowledge in the other areas, if you work in the web. Our brains can handle the same thing day in, day out for just so long. And learning something new does not mean giving up what you know, it means building on what you know by learning a new area, especially if it is related. Maybe I am nothing like the rest of the web workers out there, especially if their answer is I am happy knowing my little silo of information and that’s that. This is a rare person, and in fact, this kind of person is the perfect company person.

Ford’s Assembly Line

If you look at the original concept of Ford’s Assembly Line and why it was so ground breaking, its because of specialization. Each person in the factory would specialize in one small area of the making of the car and just do their job. I probably would have quit that job at some point, or maybe I would have moved around the plant and worked on the fenders for a while. I need to get around and learn more about different areas after I master an area of business. I had for the longest time been considered a web analytics expert. This expertise, which is somewhat uncommon in the market, is in my opinion, not an end unto itself, but one of many disciplines needed to truly understand the web. It is foundational.

The Designer Becomes The Programmer And Vice Versa

I have actually seen web designers start out writing a few PHP programs here and there and turn into a full time programmer. I have seen designers become directors and engineers become writers. We seem to migrate towards not what we know, but what we are good at. In fact, maybe initially we did not even know we were good at these things, but when we found out, by chance, that we were good at it, be decided to like it. I stole that idea from the New York Times article on why Chinese Mothers are superior (They make their kinds learn something. They say be good at something, and then one day you will learn to like it!).

Web Education

Let’s face it, you can get an education on any subject in like 15 minutes today. I use Youtube.com when I cook and watch videos on how to make Indian food. I use Instructables.com to figure out how to do this or that. I research facts that make me as knowledgeable as any doctor, on certain matters, in a matter of minutes. I even found out at a retail outlet going out of business recently, the approximate value of a painting on the wall, before it was sold to me. We are empowered with the ability to discover and learn at a moment’s notice. Think about the impact of this on future generations who will have an answer to any question imaginable in a second. Still the web doesn’t give us the core part of an education that we get in the classroom, and that is working in teams, directly with an instructor that can’t exactly be mimicked online. The day is coming with Skype, Wifi and iPads where this will not be true anymore…