My posts on other websites

This is a page of my posts featured on other websites. They cover topics across product management, delivery, transformation, and engineering.

Implementing Product Operations in Your Organisation

Introduction:

Welcome to Part 3 of my series on Product Operations. In the previous parts, we have delved into the concept, benefits, challenges, and real-world applications of Product Operations (ProductOps). In this final instalment, I’ll provide practical advice on implementing ProductOps in your organisation. If you’ve been following along, have any questions, or want to share your experiences, please don’t hesitate to contact me at mike@mike-dixon.com.

How to Implement Product Operations:

The first step towards implementing ProductOps in your organisation is understanding your current product management processes and workflows. This involves auditing your current tools, technologies, and methodologies to identify gaps and areas for improvement.

Once you understand your current state, you can start planning your ProductOps implementation. This typically involves the following steps:

  1. Define your objectives and KPIs: Before implementing ProductOps, you should clearly understand what you hope to achieve. This could be anything from improving efficiency and consistency to enhancing collaboration and data-driven decision-making.
  1. Assemble your ProductOps team: A successful ProductOps function requires a cross-functional team with diverse skills. This includes operational skills, technical expertise, and a deep understanding of product management. Business Analysts often make great ProductOps people as they understand processes, business value, are great communicators and love solving problems with pragmatism.
  1. Standardise processes and procedures: ProductOps involves creating standardised processes and procedures that can be used across all your products. This includes everything from product planning and prioritisation to communication and collaboration.
  1. Implement tools and technologies: ProductOps teams often manage the tools and technologies used by product teams. This might involve selecting and implementing new tools or optimising existing ones.
  1. Measure and optimise: After implementing ProductOps, it’s important to continually measure performance against your KPIs and look for opportunities to optimise. This could involve refining your processes, upskilling your team, or investing in new technologies.

Conclusion:

Implementing Product Operations can be complex, but the benefits make it worthwhile. By implementing ProductOps, organisations can drive efficiency and consistency, enable data-driven decision-making, and free up Product Managers to focus on strategic, higher-value activities.

Remember, ProductOps is not a one-size-fits-all solution, and the best approach will vary depending on your organisation’s unique needs and circumstances. Be prepared to adapt and evolve your approach as you go.

That concludes our series on Product Operations. I hope you’ve found it informative and insightful. As always, I welcome your thoughts and feedback, so please don’t hesitate to contact me at mike@mike-dixon.com.

The Role of Product Operations in the Real World

Introduction:

Welcome to Part 2 of my series on Product Operations. In the first part, I explored the concept of Product Operations (ProductOps) and its potential benefits and challenges. We also looked at which types of organisations can get the most value from implementing a ProductOps function.

In this part, I will delve into real-world applications of Product Operations, illustrating how it works in practice and its impacts on Product Management and the wider organisation. If you are a Product Operations specialist or your organisation has implemented ProductOps, I’d love to hear about your experiences. Please feel free to get in touch with me at mike@mike-dixon.com.

Real-World Applications of Product Operations:

Having spoken to Product Operations leaders across Europe, it is clear that there is a definitive need for this new strategic function. There is more pressure than ever for Product Managers and technology teams to be focused on constantly delivering value.

To illustrate the real-world applications of Product Operations, let’s consider an example of a fast-growing tech company with a diverse product portfolio. This company has a team of Product Managers overwhelmed with operational tasks, such as defining processes, managing tools and technologies, and facilitating communication and collaboration.

In this scenario, implementing a ProductOps function can significantly ease the burden on Product Managers. A dedicated Product Operations team can take over operational tasks, allowing Product Managers to focus on higher-value activities, like strategic planning, innovation, and driving customer value.

This team would work closely with Product Managers and other cross-functional teams, identifying areas for improvement, driving efficiencies, and helping to streamline workflows. They would also be critical in driving data-driven decision-making, ensuring product decisions are grounded in solid, reliable data.

Moreover, the Product Operations team would work to standardise organisational processes and procedures, ensuring consistency and efficiency. This standardisation is particularly valuable in a company with a diverse product portfolio, where consistency in process and procedure can lead to inefficiencies and misunderstandings.

The team would also manage the tools and technologies used by Product Managers, ensuring they have the resources they need to do their jobs effectively.

The Impact of Product Operations:

Implementing a dedicated ProductOps function can have far-reaching impacts across an organisation.

Firstly, it allows Product Managers to focus on their roles’ strategic, higher-value aspects, potentially leading to increased innovation and more customer-centric product development.

Secondly, a dedicated ProductOps function can drive efficiencies across the organisation, particularly in companies with diverse product portfolios. By standardising processes and procedures, ensuring efficient communication and collaboration, and driving data-driven decision-making, ProductOps can reduce inefficiencies and optimise workflows.

Lastly, ProductOps can foster a culture of continuous improvement within an organisation. By constantly looking for ways to improve and streamline workflows, ProductOps encourages everyone in the organisation to think about how they can work more effectively and efficiently.

Stay tuned for Part 3 of this series, where I will explore how to implement Product Operations in your organisation.

Staying True to Agile: A Guide to Identifying and Correcting Common Missteps

In the early days of Agile, the intended focus was on collaboration, adaptability, and delivering value to customers. The Agile Manifesto, penned by seventeen software developers in 2001, was a reaction against cumbersome, process-heavy methodologies. It was a call to focus on a more human-centric approach to software development.

Fast forward to today, and it’s not uncommon to see Agile environments where processes and procedures have taken over, sometimes overshadowing the very principles that the founders championed.

The Agile Manifesto

As a reminder, the Agile Manifesto states:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

While there is value in the items on the right, the manifesto asserts that the items on the left are valued more.

The Slippery Slope of Anti-patterns

The anti-patterns described below often arise from well-intentioned efforts to achieve the values on the left side of the manifesto. In our pursuit of efficiency, collaboration, and adaptability, it’s surprisingly easy to slide into the practices on the right inadvertently.

Regular reflection, tracking progress, and maintaining accountability can help navigate this fine line.

Through the lens of TechPulse, a fictional SaaS company based in the UK, we will explore some common anti-patterns that have emerged in the Agile landscape and how they identified and overcame them.

Individuals and Interactions over Processes and Tools

Value: Empowering our team and fostering collaboration is central to Agile. At TechPulse, we believe that human connections drive creativity and innovation.

Anti-pattern Scenario: A new tool was introduced to automate communication, but it reduced face-to-face interaction, leading to misunderstandings, low morale, and a decline in team cohesion.

Identification: TechPulse noticed a drop in creativity and collaboration, prompting a review of communication practices. Surveys and feedback revealed the tool was hindering and not helping this scenario.

Turnaround: Encourage regular team meetings and use tools that facilitate, not replace human interaction. Balance technology with personal connections and ensure tools align with team needs.

Working Software over Comprehensive Documentation

Value: Prioritising functional software ensures that we meet customers’ needs efficiently. At TechPulse, we focus on delivering value through working products.

Anti-pattern Scenario: Obsession with documentation delayed a release and caused confusion. The extensive documentation quickly became outdated, causing inconsistencies in the project.

Identification: Delays and confusion led TechPulse to evaluate its documentation approach. A review revealed that excessive documentation was hindering progress.

Turnaround: Implement a “just enough” documentation approach focusing on what’s essential and ensure that code is written clearly with clear unit, integration and end-to-end tests.

Customer Collaboration over Contract Negotiation

Value: Engaging with customers for success is key. At TechPulse, we believe in building products that resonate with our clients’ needs.

Anti-pattern Scenario: A rigid contract with a major client led to a lack of flexibility. When the client’s needs changed, the contract’s inflexibility hindered our ability to adapt.

Identification: Client dissatisfaction and strained relationships alerted TechPulse to the need for more flexible agreements. Regular feedback sessions revealed the contract was too restrictive.

Turnaround: Craft flexible contracts that allow for ongoing collaboration. Regularly review and adjust agreements to align with evolving project goals and maintain open communication with clients.

Responding to Change over Following a Plan

Value: Flexibility and adaptability are core to Agile. At TechPulse, we strive to be responsive to market trends and customer needs.

Anti-pattern Scenario: A rigid product roadmap led to a loss of market share when unable to adapt to a competitor’s disruptive technology. The inability to deviate from the plan cost us valuable opportunities.

Identification: Falling behind competitors prompted TechPulse to reassess its planning approach. Analysis revealed that the rigid planning process was stifling innovation.

Turnaround: Adopt an adaptive planning approach, focusing on fewer measurable outcomes, allowing for regular reassessment and realignment with market trends. Encourage a culture that views change as an opportunity, not a threat, and foster team collaboration to ensure alignment.

Conclusion

The Agile Manifesto is about finding the right balance. At TechPulse, our fictional journey illustrates how over-emphasising the items on the right can disrupt our goals.

By recognising these anti-patterns and implementing the suggested turnarounds, we can embrace a balanced approach that truly reflects the Agile philosophy.

Our experience with TechPulse reminds us that the Agile Manifesto is not a rigid set of rules but a guiding philosophy that requires understanding, adaptation, and balance. Continual reflection on the values and principles of the manifesto helps us avoid common pitfalls and ensures that we remain aligned with our core objectives.

Understanding Product Operations

Introduction:

Creating value for customers and driving business growth is paramount in product management. However, Product Managers are often burdened with operational tasks that take away valuable time and energy from strategic activities.

This is where Product Operations, or ProductOps, comes into play. In this article, we will explore the concept of Product Operations, its benefits, potential challenges, and how it can empower Product Managers to focus on creating the most value for customers and businesses. By balancing operational efficiency and strategic innovation, organisations can maximise their potential for success.

Are you a Product Operations specialist? Has your organisation implemented ProductOps? If so, I’d love to hear from you and hear your stories on what went well, what didn’t, and what you’d do differently in the future – email me directly at mike@mike-dixon.com.

What is Product Operations?

Product Operations, or ProductOps, is a strategic function that shares similarities with DevOps in its objective and philosophy.

ProductOps encompasses a range of activities, including streamlining workflows, defining processes, driving data-driven decision-making, managing tools and technologies, and ensuring efficient communication and collaboration.

While DevOps focuses on operational challenges to enable software engineers to focus on writing good software, ProductOps aligns people, processes, and technology to optimise product management efforts. It acts as a bridge between product management, development, marketing, and other cross-functional teams.

Not all organisations have a dedicated DevOps team; ProductOps can be approached similarly. Instead of establishing a separate Product Operations team, organisations can empower their Product Managers to streamline their work and share their learnings with their peers, benefiting the entire organisation.

If the conditions are right, establishing Product Operations as a dedicated function within an organisation, much like DevOps in a software development context, companies can unlock the full potential of their Product Managers and drive sustainable growth.

Is Product Operations for Every Organisation?

While the benefits of Product Operations are considerable, it is essential to note that there might be better fits for some organisations.

Like many strategic functions, Product Operations can provide the most value in organisations with mature product practices where specific operational challenges may be inhibiting the performance of Product Managers.

When an organisation is discovering or refining its product management principles, introducing Product Operations might add more complexity than streamline processes. The focus should be on first establishing a strong product management foundation.

However, for organisations with mature product practices, Product Operations can play a pivotal role in operationalising and automating a lot of the busy work that takes away from the core responsibilities of Product Managers.

A mature product organisation often has well-defined processes, clear product strategies, and an established product culture. However, operational tasks can still become time-consuming or unwieldy due to the complexities of scale.

It is in these scenarios where Product Operations can truly shine. By handling the operational burdens and optimising workflows, ProductOps frees Product Managers and technology teams to focus on higher-value activities such as strategic planning, innovation, and customer value.

Therefore, while Product Operations can be a powerful strategic function, organisations should consider their current product maturity level before evaluating the need to establish a ProductOps function.

Regardless of an organisation’s product maturity, the ultimate aim should be to ensure that Product Managers can focus on what they do best – creating outstanding products that deliver value to customers and drive business growth. Stay tuned for Part 2, where we will dive into real-world examples of ProductOps.

Leadership: My First Meaningful Experience

I have always prided myself on my management and leadership skills throughout my career.

I have always tried to be extremely conscious of leading by example, giving colleagues freedom to make their own decisions and to foster trust, self organisation and ownership within teams that I have managed.

In hindsight, I feel that this has been the illusion of leadership dressed up as good management and I have only had my first real experience of myself as a leader very recently.

One of the teams that I am responsible for is recruiting for a new team member. I had left the team’s director and team leader to run the recruitment process and I would only be involved at second interview stage to sense check and offer a second opinion.

The two people that I met with were very different and I had quite strong opinions on whom we should hire.

Being relatively new to my role, I have already built up a strong relationship with the team’s director and I know how long it has taken him to build up his team and to build a great level of trust, self organisation and ownership – much like how I have prided my teams in the past.

There I was, sat with him and his Team Lead trying to convince him that my opinion was right. I caught myself doing this and very quickly realised that I had been on the other side of the table on the receiving end of such a conversation in the past and how I had felt.

I’m meant to be helping, coaching, and mentoring; not dictating, persuading and influencing like other managers had done to me.

Very quickly I stopped what I was saying mid-conversation and apologised. I explained that I was letting my passion for doing what I felt right for the team, cloud what I should have been doing… Trusting my team to self organise and own the process. Going against the very principles that I had prided myself on.

This has been a very important lesson for me and this is definitely a moment where I can see my leadership qualities starting to come out.

Being self conscious and striving to lead is important, but it really needs to come from within and be a part of you. It also takes time to learn and for it to be a natural part of your everyday being.

I have read many books and blog posts on leadership so I know the theory. Even though I have been putting these things I have learned into practise, it’s only now that I feel that I am taking that important first step into being a great leader.

Is Responsive Enough?

I originally posted this on my LinkedIn profile, but felt that it was a good one to make available on my blog as well.

Responsive web design, if done correctly, can be a great way to ensure that your users get a consistent experience across all devices. The idea is that you have one code base (html and css) that covers different screen-sizes and renders the same content differently for these different screen-sizes. When a change needs to be made, it only needs to be made once – but still needs to be tested across multiple platforms.

Before responsive became more universally used, you would have separate code bases for each rendering of your web site – so for desktop, mobile and tablet, you would have three different code bases. This means that when a change needs to be made, or you add a new content type etc, your developers would need to make changed in three different places and still be tested across multiple platforms.

On the face of it, responsive solves a lot of problems. It ensures that only one code base needs to be maintained and that users get a consistent experience across all devices. All this sounds great, but I can’t help but think that we are missing something – motivation and context.

Motivation and Context

Users access the web across different devices for different reasons at different times of day and by using different methods of discovery. Does one design/experience suit all of our users?

With a responsive site (in most cases), the navigational architecture of the site is consistent, the homepage hierarchies are consistent, the related articles are consistent, the most popular articles are consistent etc.

I find that both from my own experiences and from the data that I am seeing from my position as Analytics Director is that users want different content depending on which platform they are accessing a site on.

When I am on a desktop device – whether its at home or at work – I tend to use Google more to find things that I want to know about. I’ll search for something specific and will only want to really read about that one thing. It will lead me to bounce and not be very valuable to the web site that I am visiting.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some sites that I am very loyal (mainly centered around social, news and sports) that I am very loyal to, but outside of that I find that I am a serial bouncer when it comes to the Desktop. I need one hit information. I am not in browsing mode here.

My mobile phone browsing is driven a lot more my social media. Again, I have my loyal sites that I will frequent directly regardless of device, but overall, my mobile web consumption is driven by what I see on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. I am more likely to be accessing the web during down time – traveling, breaks from work, boredom – so I am much more likely to browse and enjoy my experience.

My tablet is more used as a second screen. I don’t tend to be using it as a second screen based on what I am watching, but more as a way to keep me entertained when my wife is watching Secret Eaters, Celebrity Big Brother, Come Dine With Me etc. So my behaviour here is a hybrid between Desktop and Mobile – which I suppose is one of the main points of having a tablet!

The data that I have access to is showing me the same thing. I find that Google dominates acquisition for Desktop, social for mobile and an equal mix for tablet.

This leads me back to my question – is responsive enough?

I could not agree more that having a single code base makes the most sense. I also agree that content should render correctly across all devices. But what I do not agree with is that one experience suits all.

What happens when users on desktop are more interested and only access content that ranks highly on SEO? So news stories, one shot pieces of information that are important at that moment in time.

And on mobile, what happens when that gallery is proving popular or a top 10 list drives traffic. This is very different to the desktop experience.

Likewise with Tablet being a hybrid of the two.

So what do I suggest?

I am not and have not come up with a new concept for web site design. What I am suggesting however is that we take a step back and see if there is some form of hybrid – where we can take responsive design but make it adaptive to the context of the user.

Ensure that we can change the experience to better reflect what a web site is offering to a specific individual based on behaviour exhibited by others and their context.

To assume that those users that visit your site across multiple devices is arrogant – its something to strive for, but in my experience it is just not the case.

I think that different devices should be designed for differently based on behaviour and that we need to be more fluid in site hierarchies and functionality that best suites the devices that the content is being consumed on.

I would really like to hear what other people’s experiences are and whether you feel that responsive is enough – or if you think its missing something and if you can put your finger on what that is!

Marissa Mayer – The before and after becoming a CEO

Marissa Mayer seems to be everywhere at the moment. Whenever I am on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, I’m seeing news in all my feeds at the moment. Obviously since taking the CEO and President of Yahoo roles her profile while already large when at Google, seems to have increased exponentially.

One of the things that I realised was that I had never actually seen a video of her speaking. All I ever really saw was a similar shot taken of her smiling when on a forum or during a presentation – much like the image above. So I thought I would search on YouTube for some videos and I stumbled across this relatively short video interview of Marissa Mayer with Charlie Rose for the IAB.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6zP1p8ZTCio

Mayer on The Importance of Listening

In the video, Marissa Mayer discusses what its like to be a CEO and her early successes. One of the main things that she said that resonated with me was this:

I think the most important thing I have learned about being a CEO is the importance of listening. People talk about what changes as you grow in your career. Someone pointed out to me which I think is really true is that early in your career you get ahead by following the rules perfectly. Like getting things done on time, like following the rules and meeting expectations.

Mayer on Breaking the Rules

Another pertinent point that Marissa Mayer went on to say was that its important to understand when to break the rules and when the rules do not apply.

When you become an executive it becomes knowing when to break the rules or knowing when the rules do not apply.

I must say that I have been impressed with Marissa Mayer and her leadership of Yahoo. They have seen traffic increase, been building new products and innovating.

I believe that to grow in the digital space, you need to be doing all of those things. Without building new products, innovating and focus, you will be left behind. Big businesses are competing against small start ups who are amassing large groups of users without worrying about how to monetise this audience until much later.

Too often I see big companies shooting great ideas down because of lack of investment or lack of resource. While I understand how traditional businesses work, this is not how the company with grow. They need to take more risks. They need to start pushing the boundaries.

When faced with a new platform, they tend to just try to repurpose their existing products on to it, rather than taking advantage of the technology and trying something new.

I’ll be keeping a close eye on Marissa Mayer and Yahoo as I think that they are on course to grow further and surprise a lot of people on the way.

Leadership – What makes a great leader?

Leadership is something that I am really passionate about – and reading articles to help me to be a better leader is hugely important and I just read an article on LinkedIn entitled Great Leadership Starts and Ends with This which really resonated with me.

The Best Leadership Advice EverI was struggling to engage the audience. Okay, forget struggling — I was dying onstage. Maybe I was having an off day. Maybe they were having an off day.

Embedly Powered

In short, Jeff Haden (the article’s writer) was talking in front of a number of CEOs and senior managers and out of the blue asked them what makes a great leader.

Not expecting any response from them, one of the CEOs chirped up with No one cares how much you know until they first know how much you care about them.

He went on to explain that you can convey to employees what the company strategy, vision and goals are and they might care for a short period of time, but they will then go back to what they normally do. It doesn’t resonate with them and doesn’t necessarily change their behaviours.

Only when a leader demonstrates their passion and how much they care about their employees will it really make a difference. He went on to say:

“We can try to communicate and engage and connect all we want but no one really listens. They just smile and nod and go back to doing their jobs the way they always do.

“Our employees don’t really care about what we want them to do until they know how much we care about them. When employees know — truly know — that you care about them, then they will care about you. And when they know you care, then they will listen to you… and then they will do anything for you.”

This really resonated with me. I have had a few different managers in my time and by far the best one was the one who cared about me and my career. Others who have either just barked orders or dictated what needed to be done and how didn’t inspire me or motivate me.

A great leader trusts their employees

It was under this manager who cared that I really progressed through the company. I completely bought into his strategy, which in turn allowed my team to buy into it as well. I learned that you need to nurture a good working environment and build up a level of trust to really engage with your employees and for them to engage with the business.

This really is the only other point I would make on this. Not only does a great leader care about their employees, they also trust them. Great employees are able to make decisions, try new things, feel comfortable to fail and learn from their mistakes.

My recipe: Great leaders create great employees which in turn makes these leaders even better – repeat.

I know that there is a lot more to it than this, but I felt that this article was worth highlighting as it gave a slightly different, tangible and achievable example of great leadership.

App referral traffic to your web site and how to track it

Measuring referrals from mobile and tablet apps to web sites is extremely difficult – actually, its practically impossible. Over the past few years you will have seen traffic from direct/typed/bookmarked sources increase steadily as app usage has increased. Unfortunately this is not because your web site has become a destination for your chosen content, but instead its because your analytics platforms are unable to attribute traffic to apps.

I am specifically finding traffic from social media apps, so Facebook and Twitter, the hardest to track down. There are techniques that I discuss below that can help you to track content that you post yourself, but unfortunately this doesn’t help with organic sharing.

While Facebook Insights for domains does give you some level of overall referrer information, it does not breakdown the traffic between desktop and mobile.

This post explains why your analytics package is currently unable to track this traffic and tries to find some solutions to help you to make sense of it all.

So how do analytics platforms track referrals?

Most analytics packages use header information contained in your user’s web browser to determine which site the user had been to previously to visiting your web site. This header information only appears if a user clicks on a link to your site. For example, if I am on web site A, click on a link to web site B, then the header information would show that the referrer was web site A.

Just so we are clear, if I am on web site C, then type web site D’s domain name into my web browser, then there would be no referrer and the traffic source would be Direct.

No referrer in the header

This latter example explains why measuring app traffic is extremely difficult; an app is not a web site, it is not viewed in a web browser and they do not contain header information when linking out to a web site.

There are two different techniques that apps can use to open up web content:

  1. Open the content in a native mobile or tablet browser – such as Safari, Chrome, Android Browser, Opera etc
  2. Open the content in an in-app version of the native browser

In both cases, because the app is opening up a new instance of a web browser, whether its the native browser app or the in-app version of the browser app, there is no referrer in the headers. So when your analytics package is seeing the user visiting your web site, it is seeing that there is no referral and  it will deem the traffic to have no source and therefore assign that referral as direct.

So how can we track app referral traffic?

There are a couple of things that we can do as content creators to get around this:

Google’s UTM Tracking: https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/1033867?hl=en

If you use Google Analytics, you can use the built in UTM tracker to track links that you post to other web sites or platforms. Quite a few URL shortening services and sharing plaforms such as Buffer, Bit.ly and Owl.ly allow you to add these dynamically so you don’t need to keep adding the tracking manually.

When a user visits your site using a UTM tracked link, this will override what is contained in the web browser’s header and attribute the source of the traffic to relevant keyword that you add to the tracking. You need to be very careful here as I have seen instances where these have been setup incorrectly and links posted to Facebook with Twitter as the source have been shared which makes the data inconsistent and unreliable.

One thing to note on this, is to only use this method for external, inbound site links. You should not use these links on internal links as they automatically start a new site visit – meaning that you will see a spike in visits whenever someone clicks on your tracked links.

Using a similar service for other analytics platforms:

Many other analytics platforms have a similar method for campaign tracking. While these have been primarily used for more traditional marketing campaign tracking, there is no reason why you cannot do use this same method for the sharing of content.

Limitations

This would only work for content that you share yourself. There is no way to enforce this for any organic shares – so when a user copies and pastes a url from your web sites into a social status update for example.

Also, as you cannot post content to a specific device or platform, you cannot differentiate easily between a social media’s desktop, mobile web or mobile app experience. So while you may get closer to tracking Facebook traffic, you will still not know the make up of desktop, mobile web or mobile app referrals.