Getting Products 
out from under the 
MIDDLE of the Bell Curve 
and Exceeding Expectations 
Preston Smalley 
SVPMA Septemb...
Cable Communications 
Cable Networks 
Broadcast 
Film 
Parks
App Store Launch
Preston Smalley! 
Karlyn Neel! 
UX Designer! 
Max Mancini! 
Alan Lewis! 
Product Manager! 
Ken Sun! 
Product Manager!
Ask for 
Forgiveness 
Not 
Permission
Frequently heard when products 
aren’t exceeding expectations: 
• My team often ends up building “pet” features 
requested...
If you give a good idea to a mediocre team, 
they will screw it up. 
If you give a mediocre idea to a brilliant 
team, the...
Don’t do their homework for them!
Avoiding Exec “Pet” projects 
• Exec: “I think you should build <feature>” 
• PM follow up questions: 
1. What customer pr...
How the “why” helps you as a PM 
• Aligns UX Design on the purpose behind 
the customer problem they’re solving 
• Motivat...
USING LEAN CANVAS!
Adapt Ash Maurya’s Lean Canvas 
to fit within your company 
Problem 
Solution 
Unique 
Value 
Prop 
Customer 
Segments 
Un...
Life is too short to keep 
building something nobody 
(or not enough people) want.” 
- Ash Maurya 
“
EX: Plaxo Personal Assistant 
• Started out okay… User Research in 
indicated customers wanted help 
keeping their address...
Measuring customer value 
How would you feel if you could no 
longer use this <product/feature> ?! 
1. Very Disappointed "...
Don’t just swing for homeruns 
Ideation 
? “Seed” 
? “Series A” 
“Series B” 
or 
“Acquisition” 
? 
Hack Days
METRICS & ANALYTICS!
Mediocre Approaches to Metrics 
OR 
?! 
• Our analytics team is “busy”! 
• We’re adding metrics… next sprint! 
• I don’t k...
PMs cannot “outsource” analytics 
• You must define your key metrics. ! 
• You must know how they are doing and 
what did ...
Dave McClure’s Pirate Metrics 
Ash Maurya (practicetrumpstheory.com)!
Retention as a Cohort 
Retention chart as produced by MixPanel!
SKETCHING & PROTOTYPING
EX: Storyboarding @ eBay 
24 
• Integrated dozens of plans 
across org to create one vision 
• Leverage comic sketching to...
Sketching as a core competency 
INFORMAL! FORMAL! 
Lots of Pens! 
& Paper! 
Part of Job! 
Professional tools! 
Sketch as D...
Sketching to Prototyping 
LOW FIDELITY! HIGH FIDELITY! 
Sketched ! 
Storyboards! 
Mockups ! 
Linked Together! 
Interactive...
“Benjamin Button 
Prototyping”! 
Young!Mature! 
MVP! 
Test!
10X Product Launch 
# Customers! 
10 ! 
100 ! 
1,000 ! 
10,000 ! 
• High Touch! 
• Market Risk! 
• Qualitative! 
• Self Se...
Testing your ideas with real users 
is probably the single most 
important activity in your job 
as product manager. 
- Ma...
Avoiding the MIDDLE of the Bell Curve 
1. Ask for forgiveness, not permission 
2. Avoid “pet” projects—start with “why” ! ...
Success is not delivering a feature; 
success is learning how to solve the 
customer’s problem. 
- Eric Ries 
“
Getting Products 
out from under the 
MIDDLE of the Bell Curve 
and Exceeding Expectations 
Preston Smalley 
SVPMA Septemb...
Getting Products out from under the MIDDLE of the Bell Curve and Exceeding Expectations (SVPMA)
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Getting Products out from under the MIDDLE of the Bell Curve and Exceeding Expectations (SVPMA)

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I was the guest speaker at SVPMA (Sept 3, 2014) and discussed how Product Managers play a profound role in creating the environment around product development teams. I explored various ways they can influence these products to move up from mediocrity and how to avoid micromanagement and “flavor of the month” feature ideas.

I discussed specific ways to set clear goals and establish the right metrics. Dipping into my eBay days, I shared a little known story of the importance of asking for forgiveness rather than permission in driving innovation (eBay iPhone app).

Some other takeaways from this talk include:

How to focus on the right, few, customer adoption metrics (e.g. AAARR). More is often not better and can distract from the main goal

How defining your product’s purpose often improves working relationships with designers and engineers so you aren’t left arguing about the “what” or the “how

How to avoid getting in the executive micromanagement web especially if they are distracted by the “flavor of the month” or “pet feature” ideas

How to drive stealth projects or go through quick business case or product prototyping within a big company

The event was held at the Comcast Silicon Valley Innovation Center where I work.

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  • Comcast ranked #46 ($62B in Revenue, $6B in profits)

    You probably know Comcast for offering the #1 TV subscription service in the country but over the last few years we’re really now at the Intersection of technology and media. We provide everything from managing the 3rd largest IP network after the DOD and China and with the acquisition of NBCU from GE now dozens of programmers including NBC to Universal Pictures and Parks.

    I run product management at an Innovation Center for Comcast I helped cofound out in Silicon Valley.

    But you may be wondering how to get something like that setup at your company so I’ll share 6 pieces of advice.
    An example from time running user experience design at eBay
    How we started the Comcast Silicon Valley Innovation Center (from one of its founders)
    Adaptations of lean at a big company and what to watch out for
  • Comcast ranked #46 ($62B in Revenue, $6B in profits)

    You probably know Comcast for offering the #1 TV subscription service in the country but over the last few years we’re really now at the Intersection of technology and media. We provide everything from managing the 3rd largest IP network after the DOD and China and with the acquisition of NBCU from GE now dozens of programmers including NBC to Universal Pictures and Parks.

    I’m a product management leader here at the Innovation Center for Comcast.

    But you may be wondering how to get something like that setup at your company so I’ll share 6 pieces of advice.
    An example from time running user experience design at eBay
    How we started the Comcast Silicon Valley Innovation Center (from one of its founders)
    Adaptations of lean at a big company and what to watch out for
  • Share how eBay mobile app launching with the iPhone App Store nearly didn’t happen.

    eBay was asked to be a launch partner but the mobile team had recently been disbanded by executives for other priorities. This was when most were concluding it wasn’t worth it to invest in “smartphone” apps.

    It took the foresight of several middle managers at the time that knew we couldn’t pass up this opportunity. Talk about how we “hide” resources for a few months to make it happen.

    Alan Lewis, Ken Sun, Me (Karlyn Neal)

    http://alanlewis.typepad.com/weblog/2011/01/ebay-for-iphone-why-it-almost-didnt-happen.html
  • Ask for forgiveness not permission
    - Importance of mid-level leadership @ big companies
    - MVP can actually be a BETTER product / actually led many to consider how we could simplify the core website experience too
    - $6B business today
  • Ask for forgiveness not permission
    - Importance of mid-level leadership @ big companies
    - MVP can actually be a BETTER product / actually led many to consider how we could simplify the core website experience too
    - $6B business today
  • Creativity, Inc. (2014)
  • Simon Sinek on starting with the “why”
  • Talk about how we’ve modified the lean canvas for large companies

    Cost – Often reflects the internal resources committed (e.g. 2 engineers for 6 weeks)
    Revenue – Can benefit an existing product by improving retention
    Strategic Fit – Why would your board or exec team care about this concept if it took off? Who would champion it there
  • Plaxo example also showed that you don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

    First decision is based on CSV Management. Second decision based on innovation steering committee.

    Importance of finding a partner to support scaling or incorporation.

    Mix of products you can scale vs. other that get incorporated

    How Hack Days can generate ideas which we run every few weeks with a longer one week version each quarter
  • Many of remember drawing as kids… I know I really enjoy seeing what my son, 8, draws. So if a child can do it, shouldn’t everyone in this room? And yet as we grow up we learn to tell ourselves that “I’m not good at sketching” but we’re more comparing ourselves to what a professional sketch artist might do. And yet I’ve found that if you democratize sketching and in fact encourage everyone… engineers, business analysts, and not just designers… you’re able iterate and co-create the solution much faster than you would otherwise.
  • We even created a comic book in 2008 that was distributed throughout the organization. Not only was it fun… it captured the attention and focus of the organization in a way that bullets on a page never could.
  • There’s a full spectrum of ways to integrate sketching into your company. Everything from simple pens (I like Flair) to comic storyboards to it being part of the job description for one person on my team.
  • Bill Buxton talks a lot about this concept that as the fidelity increases in fidelity, the cost (both the real cost and opportunity cost) increases.
  • Product Vision inspires the MVP Test which ultimately becomes the MVP
    Live-Data Prototype shows what’s possible today and validates that your proposed concept can work in at least a limited way.
    Live-Data Prototype ≠ Production Software
  • Talk about how we use this methodology to know when to move onto the next stage.
  • Comcast ranked #46 ($62B in Revenue, $6B in profits)

    You probably know Comcast for offering the #1 TV subscription service in the country but over the last few years we’re really now at the Intersection of technology and media. We provide everything from managing the 3rd largest IP network after the DOD and China and with the acquisition of NBCU from GE now dozens of programmers including NBC to Universal Pictures and Parks.

    I run product management at an Innovation Center for Comcast I helped cofound out in Silicon Valley.

    But you may be wondering how to get something like that setup at your company so I’ll share 6 pieces of advice.
    An example from time running user experience design at eBay
    How we started the Comcast Silicon Valley Innovation Center (from one of its founders)
    Adaptations of lean at a big company and what to watch out for
  • Getting Products out from under the MIDDLE of the Bell Curve and Exceeding Expectations (SVPMA)

    1. 1. Getting Products out from under the MIDDLE of the Bell Curve and Exceeding Expectations Preston Smalley SVPMA September Meeting! ! Comcast Silicon Valley Innovation Center! ! prestonsmalley.com @prestons
    2. 2. Cable Communications Cable Networks Broadcast Film Parks
    3. 3. App Store Launch
    4. 4. Preston Smalley! Karlyn Neel! UX Designer! Max Mancini! Alan Lewis! Product Manager! Ken Sun! Product Manager!
    5. 5. Ask for Forgiveness Not Permission
    6. 6. Frequently heard when products aren’t exceeding expectations: • My team often ends up building “pet” features requested by our <big shot execs>. • We can’t agree on what we should be building OR my designers/engineers don’t support me. • We can’t get analytics support OR we track everything —but it doesn’t impact decisions. • We don’t have time to sketch or prototype and are actually already behind in building v1.
    7. 7. If you give a good idea to a mediocre team, they will screw it up. If you give a mediocre idea to a brilliant team, they will either fix it or throw it away and come up with something better. - Ed Catmull “
    8. 8. Don’t do their homework for them!
    9. 9. Avoiding Exec “Pet” projects • Exec: “I think you should build <feature>” • PM follow up questions: 1. What customer problem does it solve for? 2. What key metric would that feature drive? 3. May I work with the team to look at other solutions to that problem to drive that metric? 4. How does this compare to <top priority y>?
    10. 10. How the “why” helps you as a PM • Aligns UX Design on the purpose behind the customer problem they’re solving • Motivates engineers on why they should care about your project • Helps you as the PM stay focused on what matters to your product
    11. 11. USING LEAN CANVAS!
    12. 12. Adapt Ash Maurya’s Lean Canvas to fit within your company Problem Solution Unique Value Prop Customer Segments Unfair Advantage Metrics Channels Cost (adapted) Revenue (adapted) Strategic Fit (added)
    13. 13. Life is too short to keep building something nobody (or not enough people) want.” - Ash Maurya “
    14. 14. EX: Plaxo Personal Assistant • Started out okay… User Research in indicated customers wanted help keeping their address books current. • A series of engineering setbacks turned a 4 mth project into > 1 year Missed opportunities: • Gauging customer value early (pay $) • Understanding product “substitution” • Focusing on an easier MVP
    15. 15. Measuring customer value How would you feel if you could no longer use this <product/feature> ?! 1. Very Disappointed "2. Somewhat Disappointed! 3. Not disappointed (it isn’t that useful) 4. N/A I don’t use! Keep using this ! <product>?! OR! Question #1 by Ash Maurya (Running Lean)!
    16. 16. Don’t just swing for homeruns Ideation ? “Seed” ? “Series A” “Series B” or “Acquisition” ? Hack Days
    17. 17. METRICS & ANALYTICS!
    18. 18. Mediocre Approaches to Metrics OR ?! • Our analytics team is “busy”! • We’re adding metrics… next sprint! • I don’t know, that’s another team! • We already track EVERYTHING! • We just added Google Analytics tags to every page, figure it out later!
    19. 19. PMs cannot “outsource” analytics • You must define your key metrics. ! • You must know how they are doing and what did or did not impact them.! • You must share these metrics with your team and your execs. !
    20. 20. Dave McClure’s Pirate Metrics Ash Maurya (practicetrumpstheory.com)!
    21. 21. Retention as a Cohort Retention chart as produced by MixPanel!
    22. 22. SKETCHING & PROTOTYPING
    23. 23. EX: Storyboarding @ eBay 24 • Integrated dozens of plans across org to create one vision • Leverage comic sketching to communicate actual fidelity • Shared with VPs across corp.! and 600 employee all hands RESULT: Alignment on the “Why”
    24. 24. Sketching as a core competency INFORMAL! FORMAL! Lots of Pens! & Paper! Part of Job! Professional tools! Sketch as Deliverable! (scanned / wireframes)! Software: Comic Life!
    25. 25. Sketching to Prototyping LOW FIDELITY! HIGH FIDELITY! Sketched ! Storyboards! Mockups ! Linked Together! Interactive! Prototype! MVP! “Test”! COST!
    26. 26. “Benjamin Button Prototyping”! Young!Mature! MVP! Test!
    27. 27. 10X Product Launch # Customers! 10 ! 100 ! 1,000 ! 10,000 ! • High Touch! • Market Risk! • Qualitative! • Self Serve! • Technical Risk! • Quantitative! SOURCE: 10X Product Launch by Ash Maurya (Running Lean) ! Problem! Interview! Solution! Interview! MVP! Test! MVP!
    28. 28. Testing your ideas with real users is probably the single most important activity in your job as product manager. - Marty Cagan “
    29. 29. Avoiding the MIDDLE of the Bell Curve 1. Ask for forgiveness, not permission 2. Avoid “pet” projects—start with “why” ! 3. Adapt Lean Canvas for your company 4. Don’t just swing for homeruns 5. Create focus using AARRR metrics 6. Leverage Sketching & Prototyping prestonsmalley.com!
    30. 30. Success is not delivering a feature; success is learning how to solve the customer’s problem. - Eric Ries “
    31. 31. Getting Products out from under the MIDDLE of the Bell Curve and Exceeding Expectations Preston Smalley SVPMA September Meeting! ! Comcast Silicon Valley Innovation Center! ! prestonsmalley.com @prestons

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