Wayne Chen on Avoiding Common Mobile Product Mistakes
Our latest Champion is Wayne Chen. He wrote an article recently that caught my eye called "Top 10 Mobile Product Management Mistakes And How To Avoid Them (Part 1)".
He introduces his article by saying that there's no magic formula for success in the mobile world, but "there are a few mistakes that almost certainly guarantee failure." To start, innovative products don't come from marketing and sales teams, he says. "Even smart customers don't necessarily know what they want...As an innovator, that's your job"
"Top product managers often combine engineering and business backgrounds. When they see an unmet need, they can envision new and innovative possibilities. Meanwhile, product marketing should communicate what the product does to the target market, and support sales with the tools to sell effectively."
On the other hand, Wayne's advises product teams against "innovation for innovation's sake." We've all seen products with plenty of sizzle and good execution that failed in the marketplace because they didn't solve a real problem or meet a need better than what people were already using. He warns that "Passion when not directed properly becomes a pitfall" and says that "innovation needs to happen in the context of a vision and printed strategy."
Similarly, many products are doomed from the start because they try to do too much ("boiling the ocean" in Wayne's words). He suggests a lean approach by keeping the scope small, wireframing at a low fidelity, and starting with one platform or version before expanding to others.
Another common problem he mentions - and one that can't be repeated enough, in my opinion - is to avoid saying yes to every customer request. Granting that this is much harder than it sounds and that it can often lead to customer frustration, he says "Listening to customer pain points and seeking to understand what drives their behavior will go a long way to alleviate those situations and find a solution that doesn’t compromise you but still keeps them happy." He also suggests addressing rejected customer requests directly by explaining why you aren't adding the feature, or at least why you're not doing it right away.
From a process perspective, Wayne provides some ideas for keeping things moving and staying on track. His recommendations:
- Start with a fixed timeline and stick to it
- Make resource and task assignments clear
- Agree on a common format for documents and assign one person to incorporate the final changes
- Have a daily scrum meeting
- Over-communicate when time is short
To see all of what Wayne has to say, read his article here.
I've seen many of the mistakes Wayne mentioned in my previous positions, so I truly enjoyed reading his strategies for preventing them. I reached out to Wayne, who happens to be a big fan of Balsamiq Mockups, to learn more about the experiences that have taught him these lessons.
Q&A with Wayne Chen
What do you do and how do you differentiate yourself?
I run Pocket Square Media, a mobile product and digital consulting practice. I split half my time turning napkin ideas into pilot or commercial-ready products for small and Fortune companies.
On the other end, I help treat struggling apps with new product, user experience, and marketing strategies. Many mobile companies and software shops practice the software development lifecycle, but often forget or fail to incorporate a strong marketing strategy to win and engage customers. I evaluate, design and guide clients through user acquisition and engagement, which is critical to their overall mobile success.
What trends do you see in your role or industry?
Mobile app marketing is becoming a high priority for many companies, product managers, and developers. Getting downloads used to be easy but those days have faded. To be competitive in a red ocean, managers must have a clear product and marketing strategy that meet app discovery, engagement, and loyalty standards of their target audience.
What tips do you have for someone looking to succeed in your role or industry?
Be willing to listen. Many of us think that our idea, design, and app are perfect. Reacting well to constructive criticism can therefore be tough if not welcomed. While becoming defensive is easy, it is important to take a step back and see if there is a grain of truth in the opinions of others. Obviously, not everyone gives good advice, but some feedback can add value and insight to your product strategy. By actively soliciting feedback, you also show humility, which is a greatly underrated quality.
What's challenging about your job and how do you deal with it?
The top two challenges that I have learned from my agency and start-ups include the stakeholder buy‐in and staying focused on value-driven activities. I believe these are fairly common and here is how I deal with them:
- Customer / Stakeholder buy-in: Getting stakeholders’ buy‐in for your product is nearly impossible if they don’t see what’s in it for them. Overcome this challenge by understanding their pain points and craft your initiative to benefit theirs. Then communicate this information clearly and consistently. Remember, your success isn’t just about the product launch or numbers, but about the people who back your endeavor and how you treat them throughout the process.
- Value-Driven Activities: Collaborative teams can spend a great deal of time brainstorming in meetings, but they are counter productive if no one acts on the action items. Challenges arise when the teams spin their wheels on technical or even design activities, which devour precious time from the overall delivery and cost. Try to move the team to the state of action and reflection by posing the following questions:
- Does the activity directly meet the need of the current objective or goal?
- Is there an alternative solution that will do the job?
- Will it affect the end‐user if BLANK feature slated for another release?
- Do we have the time, resource or budget to solve this now or later?
What other tools do you use for your job?
I have worked with many tools over the years, some are good, but there are a few that truly standout and make a difference in the overall product and project development cycle. In addition, many of these tools are free, inexpensive and/or time‐savers. Here are the tools that I have found most useful.
- Basic Mockup & UX: Balsamiq, Omnigraffle and Paper Pad!
- Testing & Management: TestFlight, UTest, and Jira
- Mobile Advertising: mMedia, TapJoy, and JumpTap
- Project Management: LiquidPlanner, OmniPlan, Google Drive, and BaseCamp
- User Engagement: Social Networks and App Growth Engine by Hook Mobile.
What do you like most about what you do? / What inspires you?
I love solving problems, especially if it involves working with talented individuals toward a shared vision or dream. One of the best things about working in mobile is that it allows me to apply my creative ideas and structure to improve the lives of people and organizations. Many people working in start‐ups probably share that passion: we all want to make a difference, such as volunteering at a veteran’s hospital and helping them transition from the military to the civilian world.
Why do you use Balsamiq Mockups?
I've used Balsamiq Mockups regularly since early 2009. It is a rock solid product and saves my team time, which is critical in getting the work done in the world of mobile. Today, I use it primarily for mockups and workflows, which many designers and customers struggled with conventional design tools and iterations. As consumers and owners, we expect to see everything in pixel perfect layouts. Unfortunately, this creates bottlenecks in project delivery and stakeholder buy‐in.
Whenever Balsamiq is not used, clients waste tens if not hundreds of hours of work by going over little details before agreeing to the final work flow and then coming back to change it.
The product shines when it comes to agile development and communication, it cuts down time and forces the customer and developer, product and design team to look and feel the app purely from the user experience perspective. Most end-users will care more about your app experience than about the background’s hue.
Balsamiq is also great for those who are not Photoshop or Illustrator experts; anyone who knows how to use PowerPoint can be a Balsamiq Rock Star in minutes. In fact, I actually make it an effort to get non-technical or design stakeholders to experience the creation of a simple wireframe in five minutes via WebEx or in person.
Overall, it is a super useful tool for anyone who wants to envision the final product. In my start up days, I have seen angels and investors pitched solely on their Balsamiq designs. Can't disclose who but they are doing well. ;‐)
Can you tell me about a specific project where Balsamiq Mockups was especially useful?
I was already knee‐deep in three mobile projects when we won another project for a well‐known Fortune firm asking an aggressive schedule. I could not afford to lose the client; mobile engineers suggested Balsamiq. I checked out the product and was quickly amazed at the rapid UI wireframe features and how easy it was to use for web and mobile.
After the project ended, I conducted a project review and noted that Balsamiq reduced our overall design efforts by 60 percent, which I was very happy about on the project profitability end. The client was equally thrilled when they saw how good the app wireframe without spending weeks perfecting the wireframe and graphic design when using mainstream design tools. In fact, the VP of Engineering loved the tool and mandated all internal designers and product managers to use it moving forward.
Thank you, Wayne, for sharing your insights and recommendations. You are a Champion!
Do you have a story to share about the awesome things you do with Balsamiq? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with your stories or blog posts!