Sunday, May 30, 2010

How I am on-boarding a new colleague into my team and making him comfortable and productive

There have been many reorganizations in my company recently. Looks like almost always we are getting new colleagues, who are required to start contributing immediately.

Recently, James, one of my rock star colleagues from the sales enablement organization moved on to a new job and a new person, Steve, took his job. I have been researching about the best way to on-board colleagues into a new role. The people I spoke to said that the most important thing is to be part of a community of people who will "re-pot" them into the new job without the shock and stress of "re-potting". So i decided to delight the new colleague with a community of people to support him.

When Steve sent me an email asking for access to a demo system, instead of just replying to his email, I created a learning space for him and shared the information with him in the learning space. I suggested a book he should read and told him how to get access to the book. I invited my product management colleagues to join the learning space, specifically set up for Steve. More importantly I also invited James, who played the role very well before, to join the learning space so that Steve can ask him questions and guidance. Steve now has access to content, software and people to on-board him into his new job.

When required, I plan to invite the partners who have integrated with my product to Steve's learning space so that they can share info about the partnership and technical integration with him.

All this interaction is captured in a learning space where Steve is surrounded by two product managers and the person who had his job before. Every one who joined Steve's learning space gets an update on the activities of the space in their mobile phones and can reply directly from their phones if required. I can already feel that Steve is comfortable and is on his way to high performance.

I used SAPStreamwork to create this learning space. If you like what I am doing and would like to try it out in your organization, check out You can have up to 5 activities for free. Go ahead. Delight a new colleague and get the best out of him.

Don't worry about the message on the home page that says, SAPStreamwork is for making decisions. Of course it helps you make decisions. But it can do much more.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Linchpin - Are you Indispensable?

Reading the book Linchpin by Seth Godin
Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?.
He says that the book is about somebody in an organization who is indispensable, who cannot be replaced—her role is just far too unique and valuable. And then he goes on to say, that you need to be one of these people, you really do. To not be one is economic and career suicide.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Product Managers, You can out teach your competition even if you don't have a budget

I am an admirer of the company 37 signals. In their book Rework, the founders of 37 Signals talk about how they out educate their competition even though they cannot out-spend, out-sponsor or out-market their competition.

I agree with them and want to share an example of how it worked for me.  Since I manage a product that brings several ten of millions of dollars to SAP, you may think that I have all the marketing budget in the world. That is not true. It is easier for me to get an $8000 plane ticket to Frankfurt approved than to get a $20 book purchase approved. Don't ask me why. That is how things work in large companies.

I realized that my product, SAP Enterprise Learning, was getting drowned not only among competitors products but also among other SAP products. Competitors were spending heavily on advertising, sponsoring events and marketing. Since I was not in a position to out-spend, out-sponsor or out-market the competition, I decided to take matters into my own hands and out-teach the competition. I started by writing a book to educate customers about my product. Teaching customers about your product creates a bond between you and your customers that you cannot get from traditional advertising or marketing.

Once the book was published, the term "SAP Enterprise Learning" appeared in thousands of web sites and started showing up on "Google Suggest" list when anyone typed "SAP Ent".

Publishing a book can have this kind of incredible effect on the product. Hundreds of potential customers bought the book and it was a big driver of customer education and revenue for the product. The publisher also released an eBook version, which made it easy for customers from Asia to order, access and search the book quickly.

Although I cannot put a dollar value on the training and education received by customers, I am certain that it is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars if not millions of dollars.

Add information about your product to a public wiki. Adding product related information to a public wiki or blog will significantly increase the information available to your customers and engage them.

Create informal learning activities in SAP Streamwork
Recently I have started creating informal learning activities for sharing information about my product with customers using SAP Streamwork. The response from customers is promising. You can read more about it here.

Go ahead out-teach your competition. Write a book. Create a wiki page. Post a blog or create a very personal learning activity for your customers using SAP Streamwork.

Engage - The Book

Started reading the the book Engage by Brian Solis. I like the information covered in the book, especially the Chapters  named "New Media University".  More updates after reading the book.
Engage: The Complete Guide for Brands and Businesses to Build, Cultivate, and Measure Success in the New Web.

Why you are better off saving your money with ING Direct than Wells Fargo

I bank with both Wells Fargo and ING Direct. I opened an account with Wells Fargo, because they had banking stores in the West Coast and the Midwest, where I was living a few years back. Then, I opened an account with ING Direct because Wells Fargo's saving rates were 1% or so less than that of ING Direct's.

Since then, I have realized that the reason I wanted to bank with Wells Fargo does not matter much anymore. Well Fargo, to its credit, works very hard to make sure you don't come into a branch to see a real person. You can deposit money, deposit checks, deposit cash and withdraw cash from an ATM. If you go into a branch for any unusual service, the bankers normally say that it is better to call the contact center. For example, if you want a deposit verification letter, you have to call a contact center. Wells Fargo will charge you $10 and take more than 10 days to send you the letter. All this despite the fact that I am what they call, a PMA customer. Supposedly a very important person. I have a checking, savings, mortgage, home equity and brokerage account with them.

ING Direct pays you more interest and provides you a better service
Apart from the obvious benefit of a better interest rate, ING Direct shines when it comes to customer service. When you call their contact center, they will send you a notarized, deposit verification letter electronically within a day and send you a paper letter in 3 days. If you mention their name on Twitter, they track it and respond. In other words, they have not only have adopted social media, they have also designed their operations to meet the expectations of their customers.

Brick and Mortar banks do have some advantages. For example, they have lockers. I thought for a while and really could not think of any other major advantages.I used to believe that being local matters and brick and mortar companies can provide better service. That does not seem to be the case with Wells Fargo.

So if you are a Homo economicus, or Economic human who cares only about the money and efficient execution, ING Direct makes sense because they pay you more interest. If you are a regular human being who cares about efficient service and support, ING Direct makes sense. Not much need for Wells Fargo, or the likes, really.

Can you think of a reason?

Update: A few days after this post, I had a conversation with @JohnFMoore about this. After my conversation with @JohnMoore @Ask_Wellsfargo contacted me via twitter. Let's see what they do.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

How I am improvising on the support process of my company.

There are hundreds of customers who use my product. Sometime the problems they have are not issues with the software code, but with the design of a certain feature or question about a certain concept.

In situations like that my support colleagues reach out to me or the customers, who know me, reach out to me directly. Rather than handle this via email, I have always relied on a web site or a collection of collaboration tools.

Recently I started using a new tool called Streamwork, from my employer SAP, to manage such interactions with customers.

1. I make my customers feel special.
A quick reply email is important. Now, I can create a special space for this customer and invite all people involved for an asynchronous conversation, with just one email. The moment I do this something interesting happens. It is almost as if I have invited them over to visit me, in a place I created just for them. The tone of the message changes from irritation to conversational. We start talking in a human voice (and not a formal and sometimes phony 'support' voice) about the actual challenge in front of us.

2. I give colleagues in my company a choice and an opportunity to meet a customer
Unlike an email, where a timely reply is expected, an invitation gives the recipient an option not to join. In most cases colleagues around the world love a conversation with a customer. Many of them, who never talk to a customer, see this as an opportunity to interact with a customer. Since this conversation is asynchronous and not always a directed email, colleagues have the choice to contribute, when they can and  what they can. This produces amazing results. You discover brilliant colleagues who are normally quiet in a meeting or email chain.

3. The participants of this activity understand other participants better.
Normally when you invite a few people to join an asynchronous conversation via email, the recipients of the email have little idea who the other recipients are. I had to take the time to introduce everyone, explain everyone's background and expertise, explain the context in which I am sending the email and  watch what I am saying very carefully to ensure that I do not step on any toes. Now Streamwork takes care of that for me.

Participants in an activity can explore the profile of the other participants and understand what they are doing now. If they are interested, they get a peek into who the other people are and what other activities they are involved in. They can do all this without leaving the context of the activity. It is almost like a quick introduction of a group of people to each other in a coffee corner where interested parties can carry on a conversation or tune out and enjoy their coffee.

4. I expand my network.
Even though I own the activity, In many cases, I do not know whom can provide inputs. So I leave it open and the participants of my activity invite the appropriate people, who they think can contribute. This way I get educated about the experts in the company. All this happens without multiple emails going around.

5. You can ignore idiots who hog meeting time or hit the "Reply All" button
Unfortunately, many meetings have one or two idiots who ramble on with no purpose or no respect for other people's time. You can avoid such idiots here. They can still ramble on, if they join. But no one will listen to them and their stupidity will be preserved for ever, for others to see.

6. You can do it to for free
If you like what I do, you can try Streamwork out too. It is free for up to 5 activities.

You don't have to be an account executive, sales person, functional manager, or someone with an IT budget to do this. Go ahead. Improvise on your company's business process, engage your colleagues and start a conversation with your customer. I promise you. It will be one of the most fulfilling parts of your job.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Why I Don't Let Business Processes Interfere with my Business

I like to do two things. I like conversations with smart, intelligent and energetic colleagues. I also like to do intelligent, interesting and creative activities that add value for me, my company and my customers. The low points of my day are when I have to follow a business process designed by a well meaning, yet clueless, colleague, with no insight into the context in which I operate. I normally face three type of processes.

Poorly Designed processes that I cannot avoid
I tolerate the business processes that I cannot avoid. Expense reporting, leave application and time recording. I just put up with the mediocrity of these processes. I don't question them. I apply the experience and patience I gained from working for the Indian government, which is a poorly implemented version of British bureaucracy.

Poorly designed processes that I can and do ignore
These are the dreaded excel sheets or PowerPoint based templates designed by over enthusiastic colleagues who genuinely believe that they are helping others. Some of them are so motivated that they conduct two hour training programs on how to "fill out these forms in just 15 minutes". I just politely ignore such processes because they add no value to me or the business.

Clearly defined goals supported by simple flexible tools
Conversation, design and content creation are the best part of my work.  I enjoy activities such as talking to customers, understanding their problems and gathering their requirements. I also enjoy capturing my ideas, sharing them with colleagues and solving problems or designing things together with them.

I design my own business processes
Interestingly enough no business process can help me earn the trust of customers, help them solve their problems efficiently, create world class products and beat the competition. So I take tools that give me basic capabilities and come up with my own processes and templates that I design for myself. I add or remove features based on the context of my work. I invite people who will add value to the work and let them modify the process or template based on their context.

For example I use Atlassian Confluence wiki, which for all practical purposes has only two buttons. Edit and Save. I use this tool for almost every content creation work. Even though there are prescribed (and poorly designed) templates for content creation, I use Confluence for everything I do and transfer the content to the prescribed (and poorly designed) where required by policy or law. For content creation Atlassian Confluence is way better then any tool in the market.

For activities other than content creation, I use Streamwork. I create an activity in Streamwork, provide the context and invite only the people who matter. If they want to add more content to the activity, they can. They can also invite other people who they think can help. The open nature of Streamwork activity enables intelligence people shape their business process. I use stream work to manage my own performance, educate customers, bring people together to solve specific customer issues, manage exceptions, discuss design ideas, get feedback and take critical design decisions.

If you like what I do with Streamwork, you can try it out for free.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

How I am recruiting customers as trainers for my product for free

I recently recruited a current customer to mentor another customer, who is implementing my product, SAP Enterprise Learning.

Customers trust advise from others who have ran into the same problems
We all read product reviews in Amazon and restaurant reviews in Yelp. Yet, as product managers, we think customers should trust us when implementing or using our products. Customers may like us. But they trust others who have been through the pain. Customer trust other customers from their industry more than they trust the product manager who has, at best, second hand information about the industry.

Customers want to teach
Customer love to share their thoughts and advise others in their industry. Because it is a learning process for both customers.

Customers are honest. 
Unlike product managers, who are bound by a lot of red tap, legality, policy, accounting laws, lawyers with a lot of time in their hand, marketing people who are out of touch with reality, clueless managers with competing priorities, and office politics, customers tell it as it is.

You are not in control any way.
If all this makes you feel that you may lose control of you message about the product, I have news for you. You are not in control. If you think otherwise, you just don't know that yet.

Can the software build a customer relationship for you?
By the way, I already had a good relationship with both the customers. You got to have that. Even a cool iPhone app cannot create a relationship for you. You got to work to create trust and  lasting customer relationship. Although I read somewhere recently that women prefer men with iPhones.

How much did it cost me?
Nothing. I just created a learning activity in SAP Streamwork and invited both customers to participate. They started the conversation the moment the second customer joined. All it took was a polite nudge from my part. You can do this too. Try it out. Be the CEO of your product. Recruit customers to train other customers.

You can make a big change by Nudging people in the right direction

I am listening to the audio book Nudge. It talks about how designers of policy, products and services can do small, simple things to make a big difference in the lives of people. For example, you can design a form, frame a question, design a layout or design a sequence to significantly alter behavior in people.

The book talks applying choice architecture to influence people's lives. Software product designers have a lot to learn from this book. I am applying some of these concepts in the people management system I am designing at work.

Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

How I am mobilizing minds across companies and building a trusted network

I was required to train a partner on the requirements of a key component in my product, SAP Enterprise Learning. They are developing an add-on solution for my product and it is critical that they develop it within the framework of the core architecture of the product.

It was a perfect opportunity to innovate.
Knowledge about this key component resided in the heads of 4 very busy experts working for multiple companies across the globe. I was transitioning to another project and could only spend 10 percent of my time on this activity. I had very little time, no budget allocated and a huge challenge in front of me. It was a perfect opportunity to innovate.

I invited partners to register for an informal learning activity on the subject
Rather than conduct this learning activity via multiple emails or expensive workshops, I created a learning activity in SAP Streamwork, and invited the partner to 'register' for the learning activity by accepting my invitation.

I encouraged the partner to invite their service providers as well
Since the tool I am using is in the cloud, there are no technical restrictions on who they can invite. So the registration to this learning activity was viral. Consultants who work for the partner and external service providers, who need to understand the detailed requirements joined the activity as well.

I have complete administrative control over the activity
Yet, I have complete control over the participants and can remove any participant any time.

I invited the experts from around the globe
I invited product management colleagues, architects and experienced consultants from another partner to share their knowledge

I shared my views to set the stage
I seeded the activity with some thoughts and views based on my own research. The moment I did that multiple experts chimed in with their views and fine tuned my inputs. All participants get daily or immediate automatic updates of all activities.

The partner is pleased and very motivated to build the add-on solution that will provide value for customers, make then successful and drive revenue of SAP Enterprise Learning.

It is not just a learning community. It is a trusted network
Even without realizing it, all these experts, who have not seen each other face-to-face are turning into a trusted network of professionals with common goals. I am sure their relationships will extend beyond this learning activity.

I use SAP Streamwork to create this informal Learning activity. If you like what I am doing, you can give it a try too. Streamwork is on the cloud and it is free for up to five activities. The home page of SAP Streamwork will say that it is a collaborative decision making tool. Yes. It helps you do that. But it can do much more than just help you take a decision. Please leave a comment here with your thoughts and ideas.

Go ahead. Be the CEO of your product. Take charge of the ongoing education of your partners and your ecosystem.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

How I am delighting a customer with an informal learning activity about my product

A large life sciences company in the San Francisco Bay area is implementing my product, SAP Enterprise Learning. I ran into them at the annual conference and they had some questions, wanted to learn about the product, the experts who can help them implement the product, and the resources available.  I rattled off several information resources they can use, mentioned some customer implementations similar to them, spoke about how some customers have scaled to hundreds of thousands of users and so on. They were a little anxious and wanted some guidance.

After I came back from the conference, instead of sending them a polite follow-up email or just introducing them to an account executive, I decided to delight them with an informal learning activity stream.

I recalled their questions and shared key resources with them.
I created an learning activity stream in SAP Streamwork, added the books and resources I mentioned to them during our conversation. I also outlined my thoughts about some key issues we discussed.

Registration for the Learning Activity is viral and open to anyone even outside the customer organization.
Customer can invite other colleagues or implementation partners to join the learning activity. I made it clear to my customer that he can invite others to participate in this ongoing learning activity.

I am also creating a community with common learning goals
I sent an invitation to my product management colleagues who have never met this customer and my development colleagues who are intimately aware of the implementation details of the parent company of this particular customer. They love it because this gives them a heads-up about what is going on with this customer.

I plan to invite another customer from the bay area to join this activity to share his thoughts
Since this customer has questions about landscape and scalability, I offered to connect them with another large customer, who has a lot of experience in this area. It is just an informal introduction. How they learn from each other depends on their relationship.

The tool I use automatically recognizes the people who are part of this activity and knows they are a community in this context and only in this context. They know each others contact information, the context in which they worked with each other and the exact information they shared with each other. The connection is implicit. It is up to individuals to make their connection richer by engaging more.

Not a replacement for any formal process my company has in place
I made it clear to the the customer that this is not a replacement for formal support processes or training programs.

Not a place where we discuss very confidential matters.
This is a place for learning and information exchange. Not a place to post sensitive information about the company. I almost treat this like a classroom training program for the product where everyone knows the instructor is there to share knowledge, not to provide solution to all problems.

When I transfer my responsibilities, I can ask another "instructor" to take charge
I may transition to another responsibility some time in the future. At that time, I plan to transfer the ownership of this learning activity to another colleague who will then lead the activity.

You do not have to be an account executive or a sales person to educate your customer.
You don't have to conduct an expensive 3 day training program that takes six months of planning to educate your customer. You do not have to travel across the world to do this. You can engage your customer in Seoul, from your home office in Amsterdam or Hyderabad.

I use SAP Streamwork to create this informal Learning activity. If you like what I am doing, you can give it a try too. Streamwork is on the cloud and it is free for up to five activities. The home page of SAP Streamwork will say that it is a collaborative decision making tool. Yes. It helps you do that. But it can do much more than just help you take a decision. Please leave a comment here with your thoughts and ideas.

Go ahead. Be the CEO of your product. Take charge of delighting your customers.
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