Twitter Guys take it all too seriously and may have lost the plot

Twitter’s slow user growth is doing the rounds in every circle and subsequently share prices have slide down 20% plus in the last month, which has forced a sharp movement from the management team, where Dick Costolo led an investor analyst day (#TWTRAnalystDay) and come out with a product roadmap, that includes emphasising Direct Message (DM)  and increasing engagement with non-registered users. Also there are some changes in team. Kevin Weil has been given the product management role and CFO Anthony Noto becomes the new face of the company. In fact Noto has recently being involved in a DM gaffe where he is accidently disclosed an intention of buying a start-up.

If we go in more detail on how recent product updates work, first, Twitter has made available their archive via search i.e. a person doing a search on twitter can see all tweets since 2006. This update is targeted at non-registered users who usually arrive on Twitter via referral traffic to see results on a profile or hashtag. Second, to improve the direct message experience, the user can now DM any tweet just by tapping on tweet. This is to let people use a highly untapped feature of Twitter and try to leverage recent success of DMing apps like Snapchat and WhatsApp.

On expanding their business, there are always rumours of Twitter acquiring start-ups like SoundCloud, and recently a selfie app (backed up by) Bieber. Twitter is also talking about an app video feature; however they have a separate video app, Vine App with a considerable number of registered users. And under Adam Bain/Nathan Hubbard (ex Ticketmaster CEO) Twitter is trying to venture into Twitter commerce, where they are enabling some selective businesses to offer in app purchases of their products and services.

On the personnel front, they have a strong team of executives with a background of Google, Facebook and giants of the media industry like BBC, Fox and LiveNation.

I think on paper all look ideal to lead the company in whatever it can do to take their business to a stage where both shareholders and end users can enjoy the success of the product. However, sliding share prices and declining user growth may be forcing outsiders to think otherwise. So where exactly does the problem lie for a platform which host top personalities and celebrities from the Pope to the Clintons to Cristiano Ronaldo to Justin Bieber, and has become the rage since the 2009 Obama election?

I think, the problem is that Twitter has taken themselves too seriously. That may sound funny for a company listed on NASDAQ ($TWTR) but let’s not forget Twitter was launched on the back of mobile text messaging  limitations and was intend to enable us to send messages on an open platform with ease. Thereafter, they have opened up their technology, which triggered the development of apps like Hootsuite, TweetDeck, and many more, which not only enhanced product features by introducing entities like @, #, RT and @reply, but also took the popularity of this product to another level.

And when the guys at the helm realised that this was a very engaging product, what they did was clip the developers’ wings and brought people from Google and Facebook to recreate the magic, and that’s where the problem is, because Twitter is not another Facebook or Google; it is unique, and is perhaps the first crowd-sourcing social network product with a cult developers’ following.

Looking at the success of Hootsuite, TweetDeck, Bluefin Lab, DataSift, GNIP and many more tools, I think in order to seriously monetize their service, Twitter has to take unique approach and maybe hand back power to developers/hackers, and should take a role of technology facilitator. For example, if Twitter continues their focus on speeding up in app features like payment, multimedia DM, in app video & audio and lets developers create products, then it would be far more of a success story than it is now.

If I didn’t make myself clear above, what I am trying to say is that the amount of success or creative satisfaction third party apps have enjoyed at the back of Twitter technology could not possibly have been achieved on any of other platform, including Facebook and LinkedIn.  And what Twitter must continue to do is to encourage developers to take more risk and come up with more innovative products. That would means that their business model is more based on Apple (App Store) than Google and Facebook (Display Advertising), which is an unique model for a data or information hosting company, but don’t forget  Twitter is a unique product.

Overall, what is making me nervous is that this platform is a by-product of crowdsourcing and now a group is trying to control its monetisation, which may be too much and too serious an approach for a product which is uniquely poised to serve various sections, topics, demographics and geographies of societies, and covers topics from the Football/Soccer World Cup to the Arab Spring.

And, I would like to finish on a positive note, that we all agree this is great product and those who use this platform know the power of 140 characters. Personally, I have managed to engage many journalists, VCs, CEOs, and celebrities and have made valuable contacts, which I could not have dreamed of in the pre-Twitter era, and with my aspirational entrepreneurial hat on, I am also trying to build a purely Twitter-based commerce tool, Tweepforce, which I think can really capture people’s intent and convert that to sales. I hope that we all prevail in what I see as keeping alive one of the most liberating platforms ever introduced in the post dot com era.

Agile product development for Startups (Part two) – Getting the initial Product Backlog

Agile startups

In the first part of this article, I provided some high level steps to get you from an idea to a user-centred Product Vision supported by personas.

In this final part, I’ll touch on one of the tools you can use to build on those artefacts and get an initial version of the Product Backlog.

Now, irrespective of how you are going to deliver this product or service, you will need two vital foundation elements to make sure you build the right thing, and build the thing in the right way.

The first is a business value model. What are the goals you are trying to achieve from this product or service? You should have a pretty good idea of these from the work you did in defining the Product Vision.

The second element is a list of the critical success factors that will determine if you have met those goals. In short, how are you going to measure if you are delivering the value you want, and how are you going to ensure that you are not wasting time and money over-engineering this to a point beyond what is actually needed. Agile organisations and teams are focused on delivering “just good enough, for now”, and no more.

A simplistic example might be to have a goal for the next car you are going to buy of “carrying my immediate family”. Initially, that might be just you and your partner. You only need two seats. But over time, your family may well grow, and you’ll need more seats. But you don’t need them right now.

The element of time, and the order in which the product or service may evolve over time is missing from the Product Vision. So we move to use the next Product definition tool in our toolbox – The Product Roadmap.

Again, I’ll refer you to the excellent resources made available by Roman Pichler. His Go Product Roadmap is an excellent tool, although of course other roadmap formats are available. The Go Product Roadmap was published late in 2013 by Roman, and I have recommended it to clients ever since.

I won’t go into the details of how to work with the roadmap, as Roman does an excellent job of that.

So I’ll skip forward in time to a point when you have completed your roadmap. I suggest you read through the presentation and explanatory material on Roman’s site before going further.

Now with your roadmap completed, you have versions of your product or service identified, each with a target completion date, goals, a high level list of features and the metrics you will use to track if you have met the goal for that version. It will look something like this

Product Roadmap Example

Now if you look at the features, goals and metrics across the different versions of the roadmap, and rotate them by 90 degrees, you might end up with something like this.

product backlog example

Let’s review what we expect to see in a Product Backlog, at a very basic level.

1.A Prioritised list of features.
2. Each feature should have an associated business value that aligns with
the overall business value model.
3.Each feature should have measurable success factors associated with it to
ensure we deliver to the right levels of quality – “Just good enough for
now, and no more”.

You have created a very high level Product Backlog!

Going through the steps in part one and two of this article will give you a simple framework to get you to this initial Product Backlog. It can be considered the Launchpad for the project.

Be aware though, that there will be a lot more work that will be done on reviewing and refining the backlog throughout the life of your project to make this brilliant idea into a successful product or service.

I wish you all the luck in the world.

Agile product development for Startups – Part one – First steps

Agile Product Development

So you think you have a brilliant idea that will become a hugely successful product or service. Congratulations!

But how do you turn that idea into a well considered, structured game plan for how you will turn your concept into reality?

Traditionally, you’d do a bunch of stuff around market research, business plans, big project plans and a whole heap of things before you get anywhere near building the thing. But you’re an Agile startup right?

In these short posts, I’ll be referring to the great work of Roman Pichler. I consider Roman to be at the top of the tree when it comes to Agile Product Management specialists. His site has loads of detailed background and resources on the areas I will just skim over.

So how do you quickly get from a concept to an initial Product Backlog you can start working with? Here’s a high level of the first steps you probably want to take.

Step 1 – Understand your users. You should create personas for the different types of user your concept is aimed at. A persona is a fictitious person who represents as closely as possible a typical type of user of your product or service. Personas are important because they remind you that you are developing a product for people, not generic user types like “Author”, “Editor”, “Administrator”, “System User” etc. In most cases, you’ll have multiple personas to represent the different types of people your product is for. Make your personas visible in your team space to remind you everyday whom you are designing for. You don’t have to define loads of detail up front. Your personas will evolve as you learn more about them through user testing and other forms of feedback. Here’s a short definition from the Agile Alliance.

Step 2 – Develop the Product Vision. In short, you need to define who are your users, what of their needs are you going to address, a super high level view of the capabilities your product or service will provide to meet those user needs, and finally, what’s in it for you? You should also define a one sentence “vision statement” to encompass the whole concept. A vision statement for YouTube might be “A free online video hosting, sharing and streaming service funded by advertising”.

The Product Vision is important because it provides scope boundaries. We know that things move in and out of backlogs as we gather insights and inspiration.

We may define a Product Vision for a new car, and as we learn more about our users and our needs, an initial view that they want four seats may change. They may want six seats, because in our target market, people often travel with the whole family. But it’s still a car.

However, if our Product Owner explains that we need to provide 50 more seats, spread over two decks, that’s not a car any more. It’s a bus, and that doesn’t fit within the overall Product Vision.

That’s not a bad thing. It doesn’t mean we say “No, we’re building a car, so we won’t do that”. If our users really need a bus, we should reset the product vision and the steps that follow it. What we have discovered is that the car is not the right product to build.

The Product Vision is also very important to align understanding and expectations early from stakeholders. If you are going out to angel investors or other routes to seed funding, the PV and other artefacts will be absolutely vital to get your concept across concisely and professionally.

Roman Pichler’s Product Vision board is a fantastic resource that I have introduced to many teams. I wholeheartedly recommend it. Here’s a link to Roman’s site.

Once you have your Personas and Product Vision established, you have a solid foundation to work from. The PV is vitally important, but it lacks a critical dimension – time. In my next post, I’ll explain how you build on the Product Vision to move towards creating that Initial Product Backlog.

Why is Google launching new products; and why isn’t Apple?

Google vs Apple

Synopsis
“Apple has failed to introduce new products recently and yet Google is launching a stream of products – This article looks into possible reasons.”

Apple recently bought “Beats,” making headlines around the globe and again put the company in the spotlight, triggering many debates about the future direction of the company. The overall verdict is that Apple may be losing its cutting edge advantage and have taken the routine growth route via acquiring companies like Beats and Topsy.

Whereas Google have lately launched many new products including Google Glasses, a self-drive car and Chromecast, which is a change from their traditional growth strategy under Eric Schmidt, when they successfully acquired companies like YouTube, Blogger and Android to expend their product range.

So, have Apple and Google gone into role reversal with Apple playing it safe to appease shareholders and Google trying to find the next big thing while their search engine algorithm has reached maturity?

Missing Steve Jobs or Playing waiting Game

I think probably the answer is yes, and we may need to accept the fact that without Steve Jobs’ drive, leadership and vision, Apple is lagging behind in introducing new products. Also, Apple might be playing waiting game this time, unlike in the smartphone launching war, where they took all the initiatives and then Google and Samsung copied those to build their own brands in that market.

Next Wave of Semantic Technology Not There Yet

Another reason for Apple to not to introduce new products might be the slow advancement in semantic analysis, which is going to help the next wave of innovation in smart gadget product lines. We still don’t have the technology to understand human emotions, graphics, speech and physical movements, and until we have a robust sentiment analysis algorithm, the next wave of smart phones, TVs, cars, watches, home or wearable technology may not be successful. The recent failure (or at best quiet response) to Google Glasses and Nike’s smart bands substantiates that argument.

Meantime Keep Cash Flow Momentum Going..

And in the meantime, until they are ready to launch a new product, Apple is doing what Google was doing seven or eight years ago, getting the momentum going by acquiring content and data companies like Topsy, and music content and hardware companies like Beats. Both acquisition will give content (plus data) to keep the cash flow rolling.

Google Needs to Find Next Big Thing after Search Engine Algorithm Peaked

On the other hand, as I mentioned above, Google have reached a stage where they have to find the next big thing after their search engine algorithm has peaked. Their efforts in social media (Google+ and Glasses) and mobile technology (Motorola mobility) are not reaping many rewards. They have therefore rightly gone the way of Apple in the late nineties, when Steve Jobs took over and launched multiple products like iTunes, iPod, iPhone, and iMac. Google’s recent product lines includes smart glasses, cars, watches, tablets, to thermostats and smoke alarms (after acquiring Nest), and they are also venturing into the space program.

So What Could Happen Next…

Now it remains to be seen whether this role reversal becomes permanent or leads the two companies in completely different directions (Apple becoming retailers and Google turned into an R&D Company) or causes a fall from grace like Yahoo, AOL or Microsoft to certain extent!

Five quick tips for start-ups and entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurship

Being involved with two start-ups and working through the nitty-gritty of daily operations to ensure that both ventures can survive another day makes me wonder if there is any light to end of tunnel, where I can reap the benefits of the problems we are solving and the pain of building solutions from scratch. This start-up life is a very vicious circle for any entrepreneur. We usually fall in to this out of sheer love of what we are doing and the gap we’ve identified in the market. However, taking an idea to a successful conclusion is altogether a different kettle of fish, and if we believe the stats over 95% of start-ups failed to see their fifth birthday!

In between the madness of taking these start-ups to the next stage, I scribble some notes whenever time permits, and that helped me to write my earlier blog post on highlighting critical factors to develop a product. For this one too, I have jotted down some additional factors or reconfirmed old factors that have become quite prominent and inspiring in my current start-ups’ journeys.

Luckily in this very social-media-oriented world, I can easily find and embed some references to reconsolidate my thoughts, which I have attached to each point to summarise my findings.

1 . Focus, Focus, and Focus

It may be an old cliché but the internet has made this world very small and resources have become readily available and inexpensive, which means that distractions are easy to come by, especially things are not going their way. For example, after the success of Eventbrite, we (i.e. tikbuzz.co.uk) could have been lured into becoming ticket suppliers rather than remaining a price comparison engine for the entertainment ticketing industry. But we stayed focussed to make sure that we develop a product that can help fans to find the best deals among the many already existing suppliers. Result: we are now one of the top three price comparison sites in the UK.

2. Create convenience for users

From Google to Facebook to Microsoft, mission statements categorically say that we want to make world better place and that basically means making things accessible and simple to use, and this is very true for start-ups too i.e. whenever, you envisage a product or service, always make sure that it will create convenience for your target audience. Like they say, build what you like to use, not what you’d like to leverage for a fat bank balance.

3. Learn to say no

Start-up life is all about long hours and doing things which you don’t do in a 9 to 5 corporate job. You might have to do all the jobs from receptionist to CEO, so there might be some distractions that you try to avoid in order to save some quality time for business development. For example, Dharmesh and Naval don’t take any business phone calls, communicating only by email, which means they can save lots of time on exchanging pleasantries or topics that they need to confirm via email anyway.

4. It’s never too late

I know, early successes from Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and then Mark Zackenberg, all in their twenties or early thirties, have given an impression that youth is the predominant factor for successful entrepreneurship, but if we look at the following Infographic, there are many examples where success came later in life, so don’t give up until, you achieve your goal.

5. Set Short Terms Goals & The Journey is J Curve

Having a vision is very important, as this confirms where you want to take your company. However, when it comes to execution, the focus must be on achieving short term goals. Richard Branson summarized this really very well in his LinkedIn post!

Plus, Life is a roller coaster when you run a start-up; one day you reach the ecstasy of ultimate success and the next day you might get so depressed that you feel the world has come to an end. I have found a quote from my LinkedIn contact that summarises this journey. Have a read and be prepared to smile in the end when you reach to your ultimate aim of setting up a start-up. Good luck!
entrepreneurship journey

Five factors that can go wrong with software development

Software development projects

I have been lucky enough to be involved in many software development projects and the best or worst thing about each project is that every project throws you in the deep end with a new challenge. There are many experts, methodologies and tools that promises businesses that projects can be understood and implemented in the desired way without much hassle but very rarely are projects developed smoothly.

Based on my experience as a business analyst and project manager, I have brought together various factors that could constitute a project delivery and noted what could possibly go wrong with these ingredients and, from my limited experience, how can we resolve them!

Even though it might be old cliché all development projects are about people, processes and technology. However, there is always a debate about the weighting of these which factors in order to ensure successful delivery.

People

People or stakeholders are the most critical aspect of any project, and if we believe into experts’ stats, 80% of project success relies on how satisfied people are with the outcome

What can go wrong with stakeholders?
When stakeholders with conflicting objectives are not looked after well, the project can end in disaster!

How can this issue be resolved?
The mantra is to build relationships (via continuous communication with pure honesty and integrity) with each stakeholder to win their trust and understand their objectives. And once you know their goals, it becomes easy to lead from the front and be proactive so that you can tell your stakeholders how you are looking after their interests and create a win-win situation.

Process

Business processes are the heart of any project because these aspects define how businesses works in order to make successful proposition. And all projects are meant to either enhance existing processes or implement a new process in order to improve operation.

What can go wrong with processes?
Too much focus on people and technology can cause business process ignorance. I have seen lots of projects which, after a successful implementation, are scrapped due to their failure to implement the right processes.

And Solution is…
My experience is that the best way to ensure that processes are implemented correctly is to conduct a thorough analysis so that the precise scope can be defined and aligned to businesses. Strong leadership is then necessary to ensure successful implementation.

Technology

Technology helps companies to implement processes and let users operate their business.

What could go wrong with technology?
Over the, last decade or so we have seen great advances in technology that have led to us being carried away with the wonders it can do when it comes to project implementation, and that’s where things go wrong, be cause technology might force stakeholders to compromise on their objectives and can led to a non- business- relevant project i.e. either a project which is too advanced for the end user or not really implementing the right process.

How can this issue be resolved?
A Simple one liner is that the best way is for the business to lead on what technology should do, and not the other way round.

There are two more additional factors that can lead a project’s failure.

Development Methodologies

Two types of project development methodologies (Agile and Waterfall) are very prevalent in project management. They help to define various stages of the project and how to manage them.
But the problem is that sometimes, I have seen that the PMs and BAs get so obsessed with methodologies and their artifacts that they deviate from the main business objectives and deliverable, and that leads to delays or scope creep.
How can this issue be resolved?
Projects that adopt these methodologies loosely in order to put more emphasis on deliverables become more successful than those that wrangles between tightly- coupled methodologies and artifacts.

Development tools

To implement the above methodologies, there are many tools out there that already have templates in place to create everything from project plans to project initiation documents and requirements capturing documents, but .
again the issues is that PMAs and BAs gets too fixated with these tools and forget about real project deliverables, focusing more on tools.

We should limit the use of these tools and methodologies to ensure smooth project delivery, rather than putting in masses of time and effort to than mastering the tools.

Conclusion

No project can be delivered successfully until, as PM and BA, you have a grip on stakeholder objectives and, project scope, and then an understanding of technology to ensure that process are implemented as per business requirement., However, don’t forget no project will be implemented entirely without hassle, and the old saying is that every project has three phases: “storming, norming and performing” – I leave it to your imagination to interpretate what this means!!

Kabir , Frank Underwood, Mark Zuckerberg, WhatsApp – hey ho 2014

Facebook and WhatsUp

I have finally managed to get a moment or two to spend writing a blog post. Following birth of our first baby, the last few days were as hectic as I have ever known in my life, with no respite from changing nappies, reorganizing furniture and looking after both mom and baby, however, during all this madness, I also watched house of cards series two, which like season one is full of Frank Underwood’s antics around Shakespearean emotions to gain ultimate power and made me rank this soap along with Thick of it, and Yes Minister!!

Let’s rewind the topic to kid again, we have called our new-born “Kabir”, a name that caused some disagreement with my other half, family and friends. Kabir being an ancient Indian saint, some find the name too dated and others question whether such a name is controversial because it could symbolise a certain section of society or religion. But luckily, with some deep convincing and back channelling (Frank Underwood, #HouseofCards), I managed to persuade everyone that Kabir was the right name for this kid;

My reasons were very simple. 1) It has a nice, simple, easy ring to it, unusual but easy for everyone to pronounce. 2) The original Kabir (The saint from India) did rise above cast, gender and religion and showed society that humanity is the best thing going forward, which always inspired me and influenced me to name my son after him!

OK, that all was personal. It’s rare for me to post personal stuff but emotion is pouring out from me. Everyone says life takes different turn after a child and it may be that that is forcing me to show personal emotion on my tech blog!!Probably this is the first and last time I will talk about things other than tech and product development here!

Let’s get back to business. Looking back to when I last blogged, the main stub was that Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) bought WhatsApp for $19bn. Looking at the stats, WhatsApp has 450m active users with over 1bn of messages exchanged every day. Facebook is valued at almost $42/user despite the fact that per user revenue is just under a buck – as a result many questioned if WhatsApp was really worth that much. At MWC14 Mark replied to that question with some hesitant affirmation i.e. he thinks it is but he might be wrong for the first time!

So what does this mean for Facebook and especially for Mark Zuckerberg?

He Continues to Lead from the Front
I think Zuckerberg continues to show his astute foresight and strong leadership skills when it comes to social media or new age communication tools, because first he managed to buy Instagram and then WhatsApp, despite both Google and Apple (far more cash riche than Facebook) being on the lookout for new generation tools!

Most Respected Among 21st Century Entrepreneurs
It also show that Zuckerberg enjoys high respect among start-ups or 1st generation entrepreneurs because, if rumours are to be believed, Larry Page from Google tried to offer a higher price to WhatsApp before Facebook bought it. The same is believed to be true for Instagram, which Zuckerberg managed to grab despite Jack Dorsey (Twitter co-founder) being on the Instagram board!

Facebook won’t be vanishing in 4/5 years’ time
Despite promising that WhatsApp will remain as independent as Instagram after buyout, Zuckerberg has managed to expand the Facebook product inventory, especially when some reports suggest that Facebook has already reached maturity and a downhill path might now be inevitable.

But what does this mean for the product development industry?

The Cross-platform Subscription Model has Legs!
WhatsApp is a cross-platform subscription-based messaging service which is not a new phenomenon. Similar services existed from the inception of dot com in the shape of Yahoo, Hotmail and AOL chat and then BBM brought that in on the mobile platform, but WhatsApp made the money. i.e. a lesson can be learned that a product which is better than anyone else’s and accessible from any device can leverage its success!