Thursday, October 1, 2015

Challenge Accepted.

The past two weeks have been fun filled with company work related events, two of which were on leadership.  I was able to participate in our Women in Leadership meeting & our Leadership Summit.  The best part of these meetings was the interaction with leaders throughout the organization, sharing stories and learning from their experiences.  Even though I’ve been with my organization for 6 years, I was able to make new connections and learn from new peeps.  These types of events always instill a new energy in me. 

The one non-work related event in all of this was a book-signing event for Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson.  The author drove home what it means to be a leader, is the definition of authentic, vulnerable and brave and is impacting many people’s lives by sharing her story in a very public way.  I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to hear her speak and feel inspired after hearing her.  She’s a reminder that great leadership is around us and we need to watch, listen and learn. 

The past couple of weeks weren’t just about being a better leader…but being a better human. Challenge accepted. 

If you haven’t heard about Jenny Lawson, please check out her blog

Friday, August 7, 2015


Like many people, public speaking makes me very uncomfortable.  Fifteen years ago, I was co-presenting a training class to 100+ people and my voice quivered for the first 30 minutes of the session.  Eight years ago, a different organization sent me across the country to present our product roadmap at a variety of user groups.  I was presenting on things I didn’t even understand (mainframey things).  What that year did for me was get me more and more comfortable speaking in front of people until I was almost sorta good at it.  

I speak annually at our user conference and have spoken over the course of the year to smaller audiences (<25)  as a regular part of my job.  I’ve come so far that I don’t want to lose that level of comfort (comfort is a relative term). To keep that edge, I elected to present at our local PechaKucha gathering.  Yep you read that right – “I elected to” and “PechaKucha”.  

I’m presenting this Sunday at Octane. It’s been an interesting process because its 20 slides/images, 20 seconds a slide.  Seems so simple – 6 minutes and 40 seconds.  I’m known for my less is more approach when it comes to words so this seemed relatively easy.  The template I received in powerpoint auto advances every 20 seconds.  During my first practice run the first slide advanced mid-thought.  How can that be? I’m not verbose.  

What I’ve learned in my limited preparation (I've got a lot of work to do Saturday) is that I better focus on getting my point across as quickly as possible, while still being engaging & using compelling images (no bulleted  powerpoints in this format).  It’s been a good exercise and I'm almost looking forward to Sunday night.  No matter what happens, I know it will be over in 400 seconds. If you’re interested improving your presenting skills in a safe environment look up your local PechaKucha, they are all over the world.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Races for Peace

Last week ended with the news in Charleston where hate took the lives of too many people...yet again. 

The violence in Charleston seems like a never ending cycle of violence based on hate and the undertone of racial divide in the country (although the hate runs much wider than race - just ask the friends/family of Mercedes Williamson). The events in Ferguson, Baltimore, NYC, Charleston... seem like a never ending wave of violence.  It ends up in the same cycle:

  1. Outrage
  2. Social media debates
  3. Community protests
  4. Key politicians and entertainers speak out
  5. And eventually back into resignation that nothing will change

This time a friend of mine decided to do try and stop the cycle.  She posted on Facebook enlisting friends to work with and raise awareness and respond with something other than resignation.  She decided she is going to organize "Races for Peace".  She plans (or "is") to start a series of 5K's around the country raising awareness and let folks know this has got to stop. Several of us have signed up for in this journey.  I do know posting messages on social media doesn't help and definitely sitting on the couch binge watching the latest TV doesn't do any good - so it's time to step up.

Someone posted that money is the primary way to get change.  It worked in Indiana, financial pressure led to the religious freedom law being modified (and likely stopped other states from adopting something similar).  Similar pressure could (and should) be done in South Carolina to remove the confederate flag from flying at the capital building.  But that isn't solving root cause, I would also say education isn't the only answer either.  I was volunteering yesterday and missed the last one due to a vacation. Many of my clients commented on the fact that I missed the prior weekend. They noticed I was gone.  One remarked about the rookie driver not having a clue about where she was going. I serve those that on the surface appears that I have nothing in common with...yet I do. That's when I realized it is about connection.  We all have a tendency to stay in our lanes, in our comfort zone...for things to change, we need to change and get out of our lane.

What are you going to do?  Are you going to volunteer outside of your community in a way that breaks down this divide?  Are you going to work with the kids in your family/community and educate connect?  Are you going to start a Races for the Peace 5K in your city? #DoSomethingThatMatters

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Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Geeked out! My Day at the Mind the Product Conference

Last week I was able to attend the Mind the Conference for the first time. It is now one of my favorite conferences of all time – I felt like I was with my tribe.  It’s like ProductCamp but exponentially bigger.  I’ve come back jet lagged and inspired.  I’m motivated to continue to learn, get better and to take some of what I learned and infuse it into my day-to-day job as a product leader.

The diversity of speakers resulted in a diversity of topics for the day.  They ranged from the immediately actionable to inspirational as well some good reminders of what we often already know but too easily forget. Topics included Embracing Conflict, Learning to say No, Rapid Prototyping, Story Telling and Product Failures. My favorite topic of the day was by Kathy Sierra.  Her talk was inspired by her book BadAss Making Users Awesome.  It was a reminder that our products are supporting our users in a much larger context.  To support them we need to help them find flow through challenges and to help them feel more like a human being.  It was about reducing “cognitive leaks” and not making our users think about the wrong thing.   My co-worker has a great post on this topic and the overall experience for a user. This book is now at the top of my reading stack! 

A theme throughout many of the sessions is the concept of testing your hypothesis (your problem statement), creating experiments, getting feedback and pivoting.  Getting feedback throughout the process…not waiting until the end.  Most organizations believe they’re practicing agile development but are only applying it during the build process – this is something that needs to be expanded throughout our processes.  It’s a great opportunity for us to get back to the basics of agile and take our product teams to the next level. The speaker, Marty Cagan, posted about it after the conference - it's a great read.

Finally, my favorite part was the people.  The networking was a-w-e-s-o-m-e.  So many great folks that were willing to share their ideas and what they’ve learned.  I met many product people that I’ve been reading their books/blogs for years.  This would be the equivalent of someone meeting Sandra Bullock (or for me Tatiana Maslany of Orphan Black fame) but for the product space.  In addition to big names, it was so great to meet product people across industries.  I met a product manager also navigating through ACA but for the education space.  Who would have thought?  I can't wait to go back next year!  

Monday, March 30, 2015

Customer Conference 2015

I spent last week at our annual customer conference.  While tweeting about the conference I received a tweet from a fellow product manager on how it’s a good sign that it’s more party than complaint desk.  That tweet inspired me to write this post. Our conference was a good balance of customer feedback, brain candy and fun.

With over 1800 users at our conference, it was a great way to get customer feedback.  At breakfast and lunch we mingled with our customers and received a range of feedback across the entire experience: from product, to customer service and everything in between.  That type of interaction is invaluable because it gives one a more holistic view into the good and not so good of how your organization is doing.  I also gave (& attended) a variety of sessions.  Here I received more targeted feedback based on the area the session was about.  It was also a great reminder that it’s always the ‘simple’ stuff that gets customers jazzed up.  Solving those things can save customers tons of time.  

I also received many customer business cards so in the future I can set up customer visits and interviews.  An easy way to fill up my customer queue.

A leader at my organization refers to attending conferences as brain candy.  Time spent out of the day-to-day, learning and thinking about what-if.  Our customer conference had the same learning opportunity – where else can you hear Magic Johnson, Simon Sinek and Erik Wahl all speak at the same event.  Awesome to hear them speak and they really get one thinking well after the conference ends.

I showed some of my friends pics that were taken at the event.  They asked if I did any work…any one that has gone to this type of conference knows it’s a ton of work…but yes we did have fun.  And no, I’m not talking about the evening events (although they too were fun)  My co-workers made everything fun.  We had one co-worker bring his mom; she was in many pictures with co-workers and even had her own hashtag. There was a bounty on my head to see if peeps could get a picture of my being hugged (*sigh*), etc.  It was a good reminder that life is made to be enjoyed.  This level of energy makes it more fun for the folks working and your customers.

All in all a great week. 

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Elephants and Toasters

I volunteer for an organization that delivers meals (not meals on wheels).  I’ve been delivering for them on weekends for many years. I like delivering for this organization because I can see the impact, interact with the clients and it’s well run.  As a volunteer they’ve made it very easy for me to volunteer.  I show up, collect my route, someone loads the cooler into my car and I go.  Easy peasy. 

I know when a new person is in charge of the volunteers and that they are responsible for those of us that deliver meals. There is always a new change that is intended to make things better.  Some times it takes a step back and some times it’s a leap forward.  One of my favorite changes was the color-coding of the meals with the meal routes.  The route sheet not only indicated what meal the client was getting (i.e. Sunday dinner only) but highlighted it in a florescent color.  The bag that contained the meal had a sticker. It included the name of the meal and highlighted the words in the same color as the route sheet– reducing my room for error.

They made two changes recently that made things more difficult for me as a volunteer.  They eliminated the florescent colors and switched them to black and white cutsie looking animals. 

Eye roll – it felt like someone made a change to make a change and not actually improving anything – but it did make for some fun water cooler talk with other volunteers. 

The second change made is they started using brand new cooler bags.  They look so much better than the old ones and I have no doubt they keep the food cooler longer.  The problem is that they’re significantly bigger. 

It makes it hard for those loading the bags into the car – they can no longer sling it over their shoulders.  It also makes it more difficult to put into the volunteer’s car.  I’m lucky my car is a hatch and that my route only has 1 cooler.  If my route had more than one cooler – I would no longer be able to volunteer or I would have to switch from the route that I’ve had for 10 years.  I’m not sure what others are doing to get around the new space issue with the coolers. 

These changes got me thinking to my former role as a product manager and my current role as a people leader.  Before making changes to a product or a process understand how it impacts your stakeholders.  Watch them perform the function in the as-is world, talk with them, understand their challenges and make sure when you roll things out communicate the why of the change.  This will allow you to minimize the water cooler talk and get more buy-in.  It will also ensure that not only are you fixing the problem but you are not introducing yet a new one.