All About the Creation of Disney’s MagicBand Program

The story of how a group of Disney engineers worked on a secret project to breathe new life into an aging Walt Disney World audience.

Disney’s MagicBand is part park ticket, part credit card and part room key. But the result, and the story behind it, is typical Disney magic.

The technology is, obviously, very cool. But what’s particularly inspiring about these articles is how it tells the story of Disney designing this wristband as the way to remove every friction point from a Walt Disney World vacation experience.

These are pretty long reads, but are totally worth the time.

Creating an Environment for Creativity

To best foster your team’s creativity, focus less on the solution and keep talking about the problem.

You know the feeling of a new idea. It’s exciting to think about, to wrap your head around, and to whiteboard ideas for.

We all want to be part of a team just like that: high-functioning, high-output, and creative. Product leaders play an important part in the psychology of a team. And as a product leader, we are incentivized to be concerned not only with what we’re building but how we’re building it.

Our roadmaps, our backlogs, and our discussions are usually focused on the solutions: build this API, extend the UI this way, create this landing page, add this button, etc.

We like talk about solutions because talking about solutions is fun. It’s exciting to be part of a conversation that ends in a bunch of fun projects with fun codenames.

But think back to the last time a project or initiative went wrong. That retro is almost always full of the same themes: unclear expectations, ever-changing priorities, or the super-helpful “communication issues”.

What happened with all that excitement from the beginning of the project? This time was supposed to be different! Here’s exactly when it happens:

At some point, we stop talking about the problem and only focus on executing the solution.

The same solution that we designed, estimated and planned weeks (or months!) ago has been in motion for a while. At some point, we start nitpicking UI or over-thinking micro-optimizations.

We lost focus of the original problem and started polishing. That’s when the problem solving ends, when the creativity slows way down, and where the fun ends.

A team does their best work when they’re in a creative environment. To bring the creativity back to software development, bring the problems back into focus:

  • Your roadmap should be a list of problems to focus on, not solutions.  Your roadmap should reflect a list of the problems your team is going to try to solve. Keep talking about the problems and their relative priority, and be able to clearly communicate why they’re ranked the way they are.
  • Repeat the problem more than the solutionTo get the most out of your team, make sure that the problem is well understood by the team. Be sure the whole team can communicate what the problem is, why it’s important to address, and why it’s important to address now. I find it useful to kick off grooming and planning meetings by re-stating the problem and our current progress. Then let your creatives discuss how it gets solved.
  • Be stubborn about the problem you’re addressing, but be flexible about the solution. There’s a reason the problem is prioritized on your roadmap, so changing the problem you’re attacking should be painful. However, discussing and embracing new solutions is part of a healthy creative process. Challenge the team to explain why “this new solution” is the best way to address the problem, especially when taking time constraints into consideration.
  • Agree on how to measure the solution before you start building it. The objective judge of a solution is the impact it has on the problem. Figuring out how to measure the solution is sometimes as hard as figuring out how to solve the problem in the first place. Before you write a single line of production code, discuss the metrics you’ll use to define success, what tools you’ll use to monitor those metrics, and any work the team will need to do to facilitate accurate reporting. (I like Mixpanel)
  • Your problem should have a clear “re-assesment date”, not a “target ship date”. The team can’t read the future, so you realistically don’t know if the current solution is going to solve your problem. For every problem on your roadmap, you should be able to communicate how long you’re willing to invest in solving it. Whether this is purely for planning an coordination (for example, a user conference in November) or for financial resourcing, make sure there’s a date in which you will re-evaluate the problem’s priority if it hasn’t been solved.

Increase the time your team spends talking about the problems you’re trying to solve, and you’ll start seeing more creative solutions immediately.

You should follow me on Twitter @SparkleClarkle

What is Micro-Management?

Leaders are managers, whether or not they have direct-line responsibility for the people on their team. And part of being a great leader is understanding how to take advantage of the experience that the creative members of your team have.

But nothing kills a creative soul more than feeling micro-managed.

“Micro-management” is a phrase that get thrown around a lot – especially by younger, inexperienced teams.

The problem is: most of the time, the team isn’t being micro-managed. They’re just being managed… but don’t want to be.

There’s one, simple difference between being managed and being micro-managed:

  • Management: identifying and assigning the problem. Someone assigns you a problem, a goal, and asks you to figure out how to get there. An example of management: “Increase SEO traffic 2% in 30 days”.
  • Micro-Management: identifying and assigning the problem and the solution. Someone assigns you a problem, a goal, the solution, then tells you to do it. An example of micro-management: “Increase SEO traffic 2% in 30 days by building blue landing pages that match this mock-up for these 150 long-tail phrases.”

That’s literally the entire difference. If someone is assigning the problem and dictating the solution, that’s micro-management.

But before you send this article to your manager, consider your role on the team for this project: You may actually be in a tactical or execution role.

  • On a marketing team, you’re a “specialist” or “assistant”. Your role is to execute the SEO strategy and tactics defined by management. You get to decide the most efficient way of doing it (Squarespace site, hand-built HTML, etc.), but you need to get these landing page designs up in 30 days.
  • On a landscaping team, you’re the apprentice. Your role is to put the dirt over there, as prescribed by the site foreman. You get to decide the best way of doing it (truck, shovel, wheelbarrow), but you need to put that dirt over there before you leave today.
  • On a development team, you’re a junior developer. Your role is to build this feature. You get to decide the best way of doing it (Rails, React, hand-built HTML), but you need to get this feature live in two weeks.

But even in those cases, you still have the flexibility to decide how to get the thing built. You’re not being micro-managed – it’s just that your scope on the team is different.

Having the problem identified and assigned to you is not micro-management. It’s how aligned, efficient teams work well.

How to Hide Google Sheets Template

Hide Google Sheets Templates

Finally.

A few years ago, Google had the great idea to add a “template gallery” to the top of Google Sheets and Google Docs.

It took up 25% of the screen and was completely useless if you consider yourself a power user of Google Docs. Or just a person who isn’t going to use Google Sheets to create a calendar.

Well, good news: Google finally, finally added the ability to hide that banner!

To hide the template gallery in Google Sheets:

  1. Go to http://sheets.google.com
  2. In the top right corner of the big grey template gallery, you’ll see three vertical dots
  3. Click that, then click “hide template gallery”

To hide the template gallery in Google Docs, do (almost) the exact same thing:

  1. Go to http://docs.google.com
  2. Find the three vertical dots in the top corner
  3. Click the three dots, then choose “hide template gallery”

Passive Income: My Goal for 2017

I’ve set a personal goal to make $12,012 in passive income in 2017. Here’s why and how I am going to do it.

On New Year’s Eve, I had a couple of drinks with some people that I like. We started talking about what we wanted to achieve in 2017, and I blurted out that I wanted to start a business “on the side”. My ultimate goal is to make $12,012 in passive income in 2017.

Why $12,012?

Not a Thousand Dollars in Passive Income

This is not twelve thousand dollars. Twelve thousand dollars is way less impressive.

Simply: $12,012 is $1,001 a month for a year.

$12,012 in passive income isn’t life-changing money, but it’s more than beer money. It’s a decent amount of spending cash if you’re going to spend it, and a  million dollars if you bank all of it for 30 years.

A thousand dollars a month in passive income is a million dollars in 30 years

But this isn’t necessarily about spending money or saving money. It’s really just to prove that I can figure out how to do it in the first place. I like a challenge.

Why passive income?

Active income typically requires time. Since I have a full-time job and a 1-year old, I don’t have the luxury of a lot of time. So for the sake of this experiment, if I can figure out how to make $1,001 passively in one month, I will consider it a success.

Why don’t you just ask for a $12,012 raise?

I have a great job that I love, but my ultimate dream is to one day run my own company. Not necessarily to become rich, retire early or have a private jet (although that would be perfectly fine).

I want to make $1,001 in a month to prove to myself that I can start a business for the same reason that people build a cabin in the woods completely off the grid:

The ability to rely entirely on oneself for sustenance.

Same Idea, Different Execution

Same basic idea, but a little different.

I don’t feel shackled to my job. Like I said above, I actually love my job (and I’m not just saying that in case someone reads this).

My wife and I have an emergency fund, and we have no debt besides our house. But the idea that somebody else gets to decide if I get a paycheck next week makes me irrationally anxious – even when that risk is extremely low.

Picking a strategy to generate $1,001 of passive income in a month

I’ll be completely honest: I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to pull this off. I don’t have any sure-fire ways to make this work. I don’t even have any probably-will-get-me-500-dollars ways to make this work.

But I think I could actually use that to my advantage.

For my first experiment, I’m going to try the most passive of all revenue channels, and one that I used to great success in the past.

Affiliate Marketing and SEO

The Internet, and SEO, is serious business - especially for passive income.

The Internet, and SEO, is serious business.

For those not “in the know” (aka: for those “who aren’t nerds”), SEO stands for “search engine optimization”. SEO is a strategy in which you write and organize website content in a specific way so that the search engines rank your website high for specific search terms.

Affiliate marketing is a revenue stream by which you drive traffic from your site to someone else’s site. Then, when the visitor makes a purchase, that site gives you a cut of the sale (5-10%).

So, for this strategy to make money, I need to drive traffic enough traffic to my site so that an even smaller amount of traffic ultimately buys enough stuff from another site to make me $1,000 in a month.

How do I make this work?

  • Target search terms that are warming up, so that my website can rank highly in popular search results as quickly as possible, and for as long as possible, since search engines are my preferred traffic source.
  • Target relatively expensive items, so that 5-10% of a sale results in more than just a few cents, since only a portion of my traffic will ultimately convert to a sale (especially early).
  • Target a market that is interesting enough to spend nights and weekends on, since this is supposed to be passive income 🙂

Dude, check out my new thermostat

…is not something you would have expected me to get excited about a year ago, but here I am.

My new Ecobee thermostat

Actually a picture of my new thermostat installation. Harder than expected. Prouder than expected.

As a new homeowner, I find the idea of making my “normal” home smarter to be a fascinating challenge. The idea of being able to monitor, control and automate major parts of my house is a very cool idea in my mind.

While researching how to add a new heating zone to my house, one huge thing stood out to me:

The smart home market today is incredibly fragmented.

We’re in the early stages of this new technology where everyone is attempting to create the standard. We’ve seen this happen recently with HD video (remember HD DVD’s?) and cell phone chargers (is it mini or micro USB?).

Smart Home Wireless Protocols

This isn’t even close to a complete list of competing smart home protocols.

In the smart home market, there are still standards for communication: Z-Wave, Zigbee, Insteon are just three of about ten. Some protocols are open source, most are proprietary.

Despite these protocols being in the market for years, companies are still trying to create their own standards! See: Apple Homekit.

Standard fragmentation makes it hard to understand what you should buy, and even harder to know what’s still going work in three years.

This is really annoying for anyone trying to build a smart home (especially those who are starting now), since you generally want your devices to communicate easily with each other.

Homeowners need a way to know what they can, and should, use to make their home smarter and more efficient.

I’m building a tool to help you pick smart home equipment that will work best for your home, based on what you want to control, how you want to control it, and the equipment that already exists in your house.

Homeowners want help finding smart home devices that will work well with the existing equipment in their home, and that they would use a tool like this because buying the wrong equipment is a frustrating (and expensive) mistake.

So how is a device selector going to get you $12,012?
How I am going to make $12,012 in passive income

These are lightly educated guesses.

Whenever the tool suggests a device, it will direct you to purchase it from Amazon using the Amazon Affiliate Program. Smart home devices are typically $50 or higher, so each closed sale should net $2-10 each.

I am expecting 0.25% of traffic to convert to an Amazon purchase at an average of  $5 per commission. If these conversion and average amazon commission holds up, I can theoretically make $1,001 by driving 80,080 visitors to the website in a month.

Starting Now

I’ve started working with a data analyst to collect data on every single device that you could use in a smart home: door locks, lights, thermostats, music systems etc.

While he’s collecting and organizing this data, I’m working on building SEO for the new site by writing long-form articles targeting search phrases typical for someone searching for smart home devices, like smart hubs or Alexa.

What’s Next

I’m continuing to work on writing articles to build some search relevance for my new smart home website, and have begun working on the selection tool. In typical MVP style, I’m hacking it together with as little effort as possible, to see if it’s even useful.

If you’re interested in knowing when it’s available, enter your email address below (or just click here):

How to Write a Great User Story

What makes a great user story?

A great user story should be:

  • “I” ndependent (of all others)
  • “N” egotiable (not a specific contract for features)
  • “V” aluable (or vertical)
  • “E” stimable (to a good approximation)
  • “S” mall (so as to fit within an iteration)
  • “T” estable (in principle, even if there isn’t a test for it yet)

A good reminder, especially as you start your 2017 planning.

Are You a Better Wartime PM or Peacetime PM?

A great (and relatively old) post on Ben Horowitz’s site outlines the differences between a peacetime CEO and a wartime CEO:

Peacetime CEO focuses on the big picture and empowers her people to make detailed decisions. Wartime CEO cares about a speck of dust on a gnat’s ass if it interferes with the prime directive.

Peacetime CEO spends time defining the culture. Wartime CEO lets the war define the culture.

Peacetime CEO always has a contingency plan. Wartime CEO knows that sometimes you gotta roll a hard six.

Peacetime CEO strives not to use profanity. Wartime CEO sometimes uses profanity purposefully.

Peacetime CEO thinks of the competition as other ships in a big ocean that may never engage. Wartime CEO thinks the competition is sneaking into her house and trying to kidnap her children.

Peacetime CEO aims to expand the market. Wartime CEO aims to win the market.

A great read for product managers. Sometimes you should let the team decide if they want to use Scrum or Kanban, and sometimes you just need to get the work done regardless.

Read: Peacetime CEO/Wartime CEO

The Weekly Update Template That Increases Team Alignment and Group Coordination

The weekly update is one of the most effective ways of keeping teams aligned and coordinated. This weekly update template guarantees it will get read.

How often do you think about team coordination, or alignment between teams?

If you’re like me, it’s constantly on your mind.

Team coordination and alignment are one of the most-discussed topics in sprint retrospectives. And every team I’ve been on or led comes out of it with the solution of more communication.

Easy solution: have more meetings or send more emails!

Barf. Who doesn’t think their calendar or inbox is already too full?

What we actually need is more effective communication.

I’m going to show you how you can spend less than 20 minutes per week to keep your team coordinated and aligned.

First, let’s stipulate a couple of things:

  • Electronic delivery is better than a meeting. This gives people a chance to ingest it when they have the time to and you get an archive.
  • The update should be digestible by the team in less than 5 minutes. The shorter the better: If it’s too long, nobody’s going to read it. Nobody has ever complained that an email was too short.
  • We shouldn’t spend more than 20 minutes putting it together. If it takes you longer than that to produce an update, it’s likely there’s some kind of dysfunction somewhere that’s probably more important to solve than coordination.

Clearly a short weekly update delivered via email is the best possible delivery here. It’s short, so people will read it. It’s weekly, so they’re not going to feel overwhelmed.

Here’s what my weekly update looks like (click for a bigger version):

Weekly Update Template

The weekly update includes only charts and lists. Two of the most scannable elements in all of existence.

You may think that’s a long email, and technically you’d be right. But it’s not that nobody reads emails anymore, they just don’t read crappy ones. This one is always worth their time.

Want some proof? Here’s a designer on my team giving feedback to a group tasked with “improving communication” at our company:

screen-shot-2016-09-28-at-7-53-49-am

More proof? Here’s a fellow PM committing a crime:

screen-shot-2016-09-28-at-7-55-36-am

Designers and PMs agree: this weekly update template works.

So, what makes a good weekly update?

  • Progress towards goals, including the confidence in hitting those goals. One of the best ways to keep your team aligned and moving in the same direction is to keep your goals top-of-mind. Putting your goals and the progress towards those goals at the very top of every weekly update reiterates what direction you’re moving, and more importantly, why you’re moving in that direction. Adding a confidence indicator of hitting those goals makes it easy to scan, and shows you where you may have opportunities to change course.
  • A list of last week’s priorities, and whether or not we accomplished them. A quick “yes” or “no” is all you need. Some teams like to include information about why the task wasn’t accomplished, but I like to err on the side of brevity for readability’s sake. Someone will reply to the email if they really want to know.
  • What we should be doing next to make progress towards those goals. This is a list of three or four P1 priorities that your team should accomplish this week to make progress towards your goals.  This list isn’t every single thing your team should do this week, just the P1 priorities. They should be meaty and impact your goals directly: “deploy feature X to 100% of users” is meaty. “Agree on scope for iteration 2 of feature P” is meaty. “Talk to Squad Y about broken feature Z” is not.
  • A list of things keeping us from making progress towards those goals. Almost like the standup meeting in Agile, this is where you openly discuss things that are slowing your team down. Don’t call people out here. Being objective in this list makes the medicine go down smoother. For example: “The automation infrastructure makes our test results unreliable, so we need to run them three times before we can accept their results. This adds an hour to the release cycle when there are no failures, and up to a day to the release cycle if there are any.” is way different than “Patrick takes a long time to QA.”. Both tell you the same thing, one gives you something to fix.
  • General notes: important stuff that doesn’t fit into one of the sections above. I use this for interesting releases or results, team birthdays, out of office notes and occasionally calling out specific team members for remarkable work.

That’s it. Just 20 minutes of your week will pay back dividends in team alignment. (It took me longer to write this post than it does to write my weekly update.)

Weekly Update Template

Do I have to use email? No. I actually use our wiki and post the link to a couple of channels. If you have an internal wiki, I recommend that you post it there and share the link broadly. This gives everyone on every team a chance to read, comment and respond publicly.

When should I send it out? I do Monday mornings, but I’m starting to think about doing it Friday afternoons instead.

 

How do you know if everyone read it? Believe me when I tell you that it’s obvious when someone hasn’t.

Keeping teams aligned is a big problem in every company ever. Change the way you communicate to (and about) your team with this format and you’ll see the results immediately.

Reading Today: September 16, 2016

Today’s collection of articles that may or may not be directly related to product management.

Meetspace says that a “Value Study” is a much cooler way of saying that you’re executing a “Price Sensitivity Survey”.

Dropshipping may have relatively low margins, but it’s also a relatively simple way to start a business with low risk.

As they start it’s 20th season, the creators of South Park wonder “Oh, fuck, are we that old—do we need to go? Should we?”