Chief Customer Experience Officer

img src: seriousstartups.com

Follow-up to a mini post on a very pleasant customer experience with Bigbasket. I strongly feel that, any company which is interacting with customers on a regular basis, should have a Chief Customer Experience Officer.

Penning down some thoughts on the same below.

  • I did think for a little while, that this should be a major responsibility of the product leader, but on hind-sight, I do not think so. It is a large responsibility on the product leader to think about the customer and evolve the products/services of the company towards that, but there is much more that the product leader does.
  • I strongly believe that, a role focussed solely on the customer is much more beneficial than, it being part of the role, of another executive. It demands and deserves a separate role.
  • The CCXO (sure, it is a four letter acronym, and overlaps the generic CXO, but this is purely hypothetical) should have far ranging powers that span cross-functional domains.
  • The CCXO should be comfortable with tech, marketing, business, field, operations, and most importantly with the consumer landscape.
  • The CCXO should be the person who knows the most about consumer environment, pain points, and behavior.
  • The out reach of the CCXO evolves over time, because the environment, pain points, and behavior evolve over time.
  • The CCXO should have be the voice of the customer and be emboldened enough to argue against any/every other function in the company and fight for them.
  • The CCXO and Product Head should work very closely in planning out current features and future roadmap.
  • CCXO should have his/her own data sets and inferring mechanisms to make sense of the customer base, and impacts being made.
  • CCXO should also work closely with customer support and ensure delight and redressal happens without fuss. Processes and exception mechanisms, and empowerment of the team are important here.
  • End of the day, the CCXO is charged with creating beautiful customer experiences that are worth remembering.

Big Basket – Morning Cheer

img src: livemint

Is Big Basket doing any form of soft skill training to its delivery staff, or was my today morning delivery an exception?  The delivery person smiled a cheerful smile and said Good Morning.

Came in. Stacked the 9 items that I had ordered neatly on the floor. Read it out. Checked it. Collected the cash. Smiled.

And said, “Thank you. I hope you have a great day Sir.”, again with a very genuine smile. 

Wow. That sealed it. It goes to show how such a simple upgrade to the mundane delivery process, can affect the customer, in a good way.  Good going Big Basket. I hope you are doing this as a process.

How many of you would agree that, this should be the differentiator for such experiences?

Idea meritocracy

Was listening to this awesome podcast from the Knowledge Project (of Farnam Street fame) with Ray Dalio, where he talks about idea meritocracy. Found it fascinating. Such clarity in thought.

“There are two things that one needs to do to be successful in anything. 1) Take the right decisions, and 2) Have the courage to execute on these decisions.”

Ray, then talks about how he makes decision. Over the years (he has been running Bridgewater Associates, one of the largest hedge funds in the US), he has developed an algorithm on how he makes decisions. He also writes in what he calls a decision journal, where he documents the criteria for making the decision, information that he takes, and his process to take the decision.

One of the things that he talks about is idea meritocracy. Some of the key points that I understood were –

  • All ideas should be treated clearly and put on the table.
  • Each idea should be considered without a bias.
  • He talks about thoughtful disagreement ~ where one needs to agree/disagree and dissect the idea with an objective view.
  • Two kinds of decision makers – autocratic and democratic. Neither work.
    • Autocratic – the bossy types – who eventually make the decision, based on their own thoughts/opinions.
    • Democratic – who always lean towards public opinion and consensus.
  • He believes in making a decision based on discussion (and hence thoughtful disagreement) with people with high believability scores. Believability is based on competency and experience.
    • Example that he gives – I need a medical opinion. My believability score is pretty low. Doctors who specialise in this field have much higher believability scores. Get at least three of them to discuss ~ preferably even disagree and debate between themselves.

I think, I will definitely read his book – where he outlines a lot more. And will update here then.

Communication of bad news

img src: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

I just read T.N.Hari’s excellent write up on “Firing someone you deeply admire.” Brought back a lot of memories of the last few days of Stayzilla. There were anxious moments, and then resignation to what had to happen, and the morbid planning sessions. Morbid because, they are just emotionally taxing, but it has got to be done. What has to be done, has to be done. And in the most humane way and with utmost empathy. A lot of thoughts flew through my mind, as I recollected those days, and I thought I should jot them down here.

  • Proper crafting of communication is super super important. And I feel I am still understating it. The message, the timing, the tone … all of it should be crafted very carefully. These messages touch raw nerves.
  • Communication should be consistent across the organization. What the sales leader communicates to his team should be exactly what the Engineering leader does, and what the Product leader does, and of course, exactly similar to what the CEO says, in the last townhall.
  • In the event, the above cannot be done – sometimes it happens that some functions need to be given a different message – all leaders need to know what the different messages are, and why they were different. Because, there will be questions, and you should answer them.
  • Timeline of events on the D-Day is very critical. There should be absolutely no ambiguity. For instance, in the first instance of letting go, at Stayzilla, in the town-hall, it was announced that, some of the folks are going to be let go, and their managers would let them know. We timed it in such a way, that we had the emails ready to be sent, and were fired off the minute the town-hall ended. Folks should not have to wait and second-guess stuff like this.
  • Empathy is the single most important thing during these times. And by that, I mean genuine empathy. It is extremely difficult when the decision goes against folks whom you know well, and especially hard, when you know it is not fair on that individual (decision was not made based on performance).
  • Organizations tend to be uneven and imbalanced sometimes. It is important to share the load of communicating bad news and lending emotional support, between leaders. For example, the dev team was much larger than the product and design teams put together. Hence, the product leaders took on some of the engineering conversations too.
  • Of course, care has to be taken, that the leader communicating the news has to have had some professional relationship with the person on the other side. Else it is just apathy.
  • I had superb leaders from whom I learnt from, during this very difficult time. One must dispose of one’s ego, and be open to learning and sharing, during these hard times.
  • I wish, this is one thing that founders, and other leaders, get coached on. I have seen and interacted with several people who fail miserably in these soft people aspects. And I think it is incredibly important. God forbid, such an eventuality should never occur in your org, but one must be prepared.

The above points are in no particular order. I just did a tweet-storm on it, and subsequently expanded them into this post. Would love to hear your thoughts/experiences on this.

Decisions, decisions, decisions …

Much has been written about the functions of a Product Manager (PM). I usually do not subscribe to the ‘textbook’ definition of a ‘mini-CEO’ of a product/feature. I feel that, while there are a few overlaps between the roles, it is unfair for the CEO and for the PM to be called the ‘mini-me’ of the other.

One of the overlaps that I find very interesting is that of decision making. For a PM, and more so, for a PM leader, this is one of the key attributes. In fact, as you rise up the ranks of PM-ship, more and more of your tangible time would be going towards decision-making.

There are a few things that I wanted to talk about in this post, about decision making – in no particular order.

  • A lot of times, you would have enough data that you can lean upon, to make a decision. Why do I say ‘lean upon’? If the decision is perfect, then kudos, but then human tendency is to fall back on the data as a crutch, when the decision is wrong. The key thing in the latter scenario, is to learn from it. There is nothing more you can do from it. Accept that, data, can sometime fail you, and try and find a pattern that you can recognize in the future.
  • There are definitely times, when you would not have enough data. In a subset of these times, you also do not have the luxury of waiting for data to be got/collected. In these cases, a seasoned PM would need to take decisions based on extrapolating whatever data she has, or to be able to correlate with an analogous event/incident/feature/project and take a gut call. The key thing here, is to stick by the decision, immaterial of its outcome. Human tendency is to exhibit ‘excusitis’. Like in the previous point, learning is key.
  • There are three typical classes of decisions that PMs make on a regular basis – assumptions/trade-offs ; prioritization/road-map ; go/no-go.
    • Assumptions and trade-offs occur during mostly the planning phase. During the planning phase, the PM, along with business, and the tech-lead, need to freeze on assumptions/trade-offs to be able to ship within a certain deadline, or be able to ship with constrained resources. Resources, here, can be team, compute resources, or technology stack. These decisions sometime creep in during the execution phase – typically due to late realizations or plan changes etc. The PM’s negotiation and influencing skills also play a key role here, along with the decision making skills. Example – Given that a new feature would be hand-held by the feet-on-street teams, the first version of the feature need not have as many educational prompts.
    • Many think that prioritization and road-map decisions occur during planned times (month/quarter beginnings etc). It definitely is not. The best PMs are continuously prioritizing. Devs get sick. Servers go down. Unexpected bugs turn up. Features get new requirements. In an agile environment, a PM needs to manage all of this, and still be able to ship reasonably on time, with adequate communication to all stakeholders. New ideas do not wait for quarter beginnings to pop-up. As and when they pop-up, PMs prioritize and add to the road-map. Again, a continuous process. Example – The biggest issue is to identify if IMEI numbers of returned products match the ones in our system. Let us build a first version that will let the call-center support team do just that. Further versions can be fancier and accept direct requests.
    • Lastly, a go/no-go decision. This is when a PM works closely with QA and business teams to decide, whether a feature can go live (or not!). Time pressures and business requirements often require a feature to be shipped at a certain date/time. A lot of times, this is non-negotiable. However, a PM can take a call to go live, with a version that probably has a non-show-stopper bug. Breaking design perfection paralysis also falls into this bucket. Example – When the seller does not have stock of products, and he is prompted to give multi-tier pricing, the UI might break. Ship the feature, and fix the corner case UI in a subsequent merge.

I have not counted hiring decisions in the above list. PM leaders would need to make hire/no-hire decisions for hiring PMs in their teams. In some companies, PMs are also called up on to do an interview round for senior dev leads and designers.

PMs – have I missed anything? Let me know in the comments below. Would also love to hear examples of key decision making techniques that you follow.

Modiji, Bullet trains, and the Prioritization conundrum

PM Modi and the Japanese PM Abe jointly laid the foundation stone for the first bullet train in India. Enough has been ranted about this in social media. About, why this is not the thing that is needed now. And why the Govt should fix all the issues that is plaguing the railways and so on.

I think this is a problem that Product managers face too (Hmm. Just a coincidence that, they are PMs too.).

The feature prioritization conundrum is the scenario where a PM is faced with a host of small urgent + Important  issues/features to deliver in a short time-frame ; and a smaller bunch of longish important but more challenging hard problems to solve. The engineers want to do the latter, but the former are very important too.

A PM cannot keep prioritizing the smallish important problems higher, because they will never end. You will never get to the largish challenging problems. This will lead to your engineers getting demotivated and doing mundane familiar stuff. But at the same time, you cannot just prioritize the challenging projects – this will keep your engineers happy – but the business suffers. Some of these urgent+important tasks are most likely important for the business.

One of the solutions to this is to assign more than one task to engineers. This should be a mix of the smaller urgent tasks and the longish exciting tasks. This will keep your engineers happy and the business going.

So, does that make, what our Prime Minister did, with the bullet train right? I do not know, since I do not have enough context. But if I see the PM as a PM ( 🙂 ), then I guess he is doing the right thing.

What are we shipping today?

Ask any of the PMs who have worked with me, they will say that this is my favourite statement. I ask this statement at least once a day to them.

I was talking about this with one of the PMs who works with me, and I thought I would share some of the conversation highlights here.

  • Shipping is the most important outcome that any PM needs to aspire towards, at any given time. The more you ship, the better you are.
  • The primary reason for existence for a PM (in my humble opinion) is to ship. Sure, programmers code. Designers make the product beautiful and usable. Business folks give their requirements. Marketing folks get out the word. Customer support teams are on standby. But what is the use of all of this, if you do not ship. The PM is the glue that enables all of this to come together and ‘happen’.
  • Example of ‘shipping’ being considered a real (and an important) thing — the famous ship-it awards in Microsoft. Every stakeholder who was part of a release used to get a Ship-it award (a tiny trophy kind of thingie). MS folks proudly display these ship-it awards on their desks.
  • A lot of PMs that I know (including yours truly) come into this field from Engineering, Marketing, and various other fields. In most cases, we have boarded this ship, as a leap of faith. As a matter of fact, the best PMs are the ones who learnt on the go. It is incredibly hard to ‘explain’ to someone, or to ‘teach’ someone about ‘PM-ship’ (no puns intended). In these cases, the only way to ward off self-doubt (which is bound to happen) whether you did the right thing — is to ship. You keep shipping. And the spiral is always upward.
  • Shipping creates tangible outcomes. And it reinforces.
  • Ship incrementally. If this is not an option, get your devs to at least commit incrementally.
  • Lastly, you are known by what you ship.

The original conversation was a very free-wheeling conversation during our 1-1. And so, was this recollection of thoughts. The above is in no particular order.

 

(Cover image source)

 

Hiring decision should not be democratic

A hiring decision should never be a democratic decision.

The interview panel gives its recommendations -> and then the hiring manager gives his observations. It is the hiring manager’s single call – with the recommendations factored in.

Some mechanics and rules (such as categorization between hire/no-hire/weak-hire etc) can be brought in to break ties and help the hiring manager strengthen his view point, but it should be just that.

The hiring manager should have his veto call over the others. The accountability rests on him to hire whom he thinks is the best hire. The buck ends with him. The minute it becomes democratic, the buck starts circling. The accountability dilutes and spreads out. There is no skin in the game. Too safe. No risks. This can never end well.

Demo day at Shotang

Earlier this month, we, at Shotang, held our first demo day. It was a Friday afternoon event on our terrace. We could not have had better weather that day. The intent of this event is to showcase the technology and the product that is being built to enable the first large scale retail distribution platform. This would hence enable all the functions of the Shotang family to literally play with the product and gain a deeper understanding.

This was driven by the awesome product team at Shotang, ably supported by the equally awesome tech team. The product team coined a name for the demo day as well – Shotgun. We ran with a Wild West theme through the communications.

This being the first demo day, the event focused on the journey of an order on the Shotang platform. We wanted everyone to experience the full flow – from the retailer placing an order through the Shotang retailer app, to how it flows through the seller dashboard ecosystem, and the falcon logistics apps, which powers our pickers and the delivery executives.

We had set up POD stations on the terrace – one each for the retailer experience, seller experience, and the logistics platform. Engineers and PMs manned these booths and explained the flows with pride. There was a complete test bed that had been created on a test city, where guests could place orders, and trace their order through the entire platform.

It so happens that in a company such as Shotang, day to day agility forces each function in the company to focus deeply on their own domains. For example, the corporate finance team spends its waking days poring over the sales and spends numbers, but often do not get enough visibility into the actual product. Similarly for other teams such as our customer delight team, our commercial finance team, alliances team, and so on.

What did we get out of this?

  • Singular pride for each PM and engineer who showcased the products that they develop. You should have seen the energy on the floor.
  • Zonal leaders (P&L owners) from each of the 7 cities that we are live in, got insights into what is the current state of product and tech, and what is in store for the future.
  • Greater visibility on the amount of tech that goes in to developing our platform
  • Increased empathy for our end customer and what she goes through.
  • So much feedback that came in from non-tech folks on improvements that could be made with respect to user interfaces.

Moving forward:

We intend to have a Shotgun event every month. Product and tech developments since the previous month would be demonstrated. We would sync the event to the monthly planning meeting of the Zonal managers. We anticipate that the local field leaders and the zonal leaders would take back to their respective field teams, the latest developments and future plans.

At the end of the day, It is also a fun event, where we celebrate all the hard work that has gone in, to do, what we all love doing – ship!