Solve complex problems or solve consumer problems?

As a technologist or product owners, we have a choice – Solve complex problems or solve consumer problems? Believe me, there is a huge difference.

Being techy it gives us people a thrill to solve complex problems even if the problem has zero correlation to a real consumer.

As long as its complex we want to solve it :). Let’s not get into why of it? Maybe it gives a mind thrill or gives a good massage to our ego.

But then what’s the point of product & technology, if it does not solve consumer problems? or real-world problems?

I would say this is one of the biggest learning for me, now that I have my own startup. And I can safely say this makes a huge difference between a successful techy and an average one. Anyone who gets this prospective can not only deliver things much faster but adds tremendous value to the product.

I learned it the hard way, here is how it happened:

Initial days as a techy I had very little interaction with clients who were using our software. But one day I had a call with one of our biggest clients to explain (We use to provide a platform for sellers to sell their items and ship it to the consumer, something similar to eBay) why a major release got postponed leading to shipping & tracking problems. The Client was losing a lot of money because of this issue.

I was dreading the call and was ready with all the tech explanations why it happened, what are we doing to fix it, etc, etc…

The call started, my sales colleague did a quick intro along with the business side updates and handed over to me …

I started with all sorts of technical jargon and then tried explaining that the architecture of the dashboard was scraped and rebuilt for scale…blabbering as much as possible to convince him.

Off-course he couldn’t understand a single word.

But here comes the surprise:

Me – “Sir, the release got delayed because blah blah…we are working day and night to get it live by next week and again blah blah blah more jargons”

Client – “That’s fine but can u please enable my shipping address in the success page”

Me – After long pause….“Sorry, didn’t get, Please tell me again..”

Client – “You guys have removed my shipping address from the success page to make it more prominent on the next page, and hence my customer couldn’t find it easily. ” Client Continued – “Because of this, my customers are not able to understand and have been canceling orders. Also, I need to coordinate with every customer on the phone/mail and losing money…”

Me – Again a longer pause, but some sense of relief and guilt for making this guy and others suffer for our favorite “Dashboard Release”
“Sure Sir, I am sorry for the issue it might be a product bug let me fix it asap”

Client as politely as possible – “I am not much concerned with when the dashboard goes live but please fix this asap and I am more than happy”

Me – Now with more confidence, since its just a shipping address to be added to the success page.
“Sure Sir, I assure you, we will release it by tomorrow”

We fixed the shipping address display issue in the success page, The Client(s) was happy and we released our dashboard in next two weeks (BTW – there were very few usages of the Dashboard but that’s a different story)

This was a life-changing moment for me, I couldn’t understand what happened for some time, why is the client not bothered to use Dashboard built with great technology and supposedly help him so much.

Later I figured that most of the clients had a simple system to show the shipping address and get their team to process it thru excel. Why would they want their team to learn Dashboard and make it difficult, learn a new skill set and invest more?

If we would have understood their problem a bit deeper and had integrated excel into it. It would have been much easier to implement, much faster, and would be very helpful to them. But we were solving a very difficult problem of integration of data from different sources into a single Dashboard and was being proud doing it.

Remember 80-20 Rule

To all the techies and product folks, remember – 20% of product & product features are used 80% of the time hence if we can hone this 20% we are winners. Of course, it’s difficult to identify the 20% and that’s where our focus should be.

So next time if you see a complex problem to be solved, first raise questions what & why, is it really helping someone? and if it does not go solve a complex puzzle to massage your ego 🙂 but please ignore the complex problem.

How to filter the best candidates in a telephonic job interview in 20 Minutes…

Being an entrepreneur I know how critical it is to get the right candidates, but at the same time, it’s impossible to spend a lot of time interviewing and screening each candidate. Hence I started researching how to screen the best candidates in the fastest way possible.

Here are a few learnings which I started using and gave surprisingly good results the best part it requires much lesser time for screening the “A candidates” from “B & C candidates”. (Some points are taken from book WHO – The A Method for Hiring)

Target: The initial screening interview should be short, phone-based, designed to select the best-suited candidates for our requirement.

Lets first start with the “DO NOTs”

Never start the interview by telling about yourself, company, or JD (Job description).

Unless you already know the candidate is the right fit, why waste time on this?. If she is the right candidate she would have already gone thru JD and website/company etc details.

Also, I have seen once you elaborate on the JD and your expectations, the candidate revolves around it and sometimes says those exact words. Kind of killing the whole process at the start.

You will get plenty of time to sell yourself & company later once you figure she is the right fit.

Don’t ask “Tell me about yourself and your profile?”

This is an over abused question and a waste of time, the candidate is so used to this question that it never touches any new information different from CV/Resume. Moreover, once it starts it’s difficult to control the candidate not to elaborate unnecessary details wasting further time.

Now let’s start with the screening questions:

#First Question: What are your career goals, or in the next 3-4 years what you see yourself doing?

The question gives a good opening dialog for the candidate, there is also a bit of surprise element to this question. It allows her to elaborate on her dream and what she wants to do in the future.

What to expect:

Notice whether her goals are matching your requirements. For example, if she is looking as a managerial position and your requirement is more of an individual contributor role, there is a red flag.

Secondly, if she lacks a goal or is saying a copy of the job description she got from the consultant or website, screen the person out. Talented people know what they want and shouldn’t be afraid to tell us.

Lastly, this question should reflect passion and energy in the candidate, after all, it’s her career goal(s) she is talking about. If it’s dull and monotonous, I would screen out the candidate.

#Second Question: What are you really good at professionally?

The question allows the candidate to further elaborate with plenty of points to talk about. Try to get as many traits (At least 5, the more the better) with real examples in some cases, it should give us a clear picture of her strengths.

What to expect:

If there are some key strengths that do not match the job requirement, again a red flag.

For example, if she keeps coming to front-end technologies and you already have a strong person in that technology it does not makes sense to continue unless you are specifically looking at expertise in that area.

Also, look at the passion, this is her area she should ace and should come out to be impressive.

#Third Question: What are you not good at or not interested in doing professionally?

This gives the other side of the equation about her, directly asking whats your weakness leads to a canned and self-serving answer like “I am impatient for results” or “I work too hard” not providing any productive details.

What to expect:

Again try to identify 3-4 areas that she is not interested or good at, if required put fear of reference check into the person. Saying what will be the reaction of your manager if we ask this to her? but ensure its in a soft tone so that it doesn’t disrupt the candidate.

#Fourth Question: What is the one single product/project you would say as your best and why?

This tells us what excites her, motivates her at work. Is it a technology solution, which is exciting, or design or architecture, etc, there is no right or wrong answer for this. Also, why part tells you where she likes to pat her back and tries to excel.

What to expect:

If the product/project was done long back, let’s say 3-4 years earlier, this implies there are not many exciting things she has done in the past 3 years, which is a red flag.

The reason for success and recognition should somewhere match the strengths we are looking for. Also, the reason for the best project shouldn’t digress a lot from your job requirement.

For example, if she says her best project was delivering high performing interface for email marketing and getting good results, but you are looking at SEO digital marketing profiles. There is a mismatch, this not exactly counts to reject but gives you an alarm to grill more on the SEO side.

#Fifth Question: What is the one single product/project you would say was your worst and why?

Again this gives the other side of the balance sheet, why part is most critical.

What to expect:

Failure is an important part to understand the candidate’s approach to a problem. Did she learn from it? What happened to similar future projects and how she came back from this.

It’s important that this also be a recent project, not 3-4 years old because failure is critical for growth, and unless she is recently out of her comfort zone learning would have not been possible. A person’s resilience towards failure is an important part of learning. A really talented person will learn from failures and handle it successfully going forward.

This ends our initial screening process.

All the above questions will give you pretty good insights about the candidate. Moreover, the candidate would have gone thru a really exciting interview.

Somewhere in the middle if you don’t like what you are hearing, simply collapse the call by accelerating your questions. It can be finished in much lesser time if the initial response is not positive. On the other hand, if you hear a strong potential match to your requirement, you can continue spending more time or ask to schedule more time later.

Remember for A candidates you can give more time and for B/C candidates cut short things, you own the process. But if there are doubts, skip and go for the next candidate, we all know how much worse it becomes when we hire a mediocre.

Effort and value…

One of my blogs took more than a week to write, 4 hours a day. Another took a total of 3 hours. Both attract the same traffic. The quicker one outdid the other 20 to 1 in traffic.

2 years of product work solves almost exactly the same problem as a one-month product work.
The effort of something is largely irrelevant, people are paying attention to its value.

Your customers don’t care what it took for you to make something – Effort. They care about what it does for them – Value.

You Can’t Over Prepare for a Presentation…

Writing a speech or presentation is challenging, and memorizing it takes even more time and effort. But whether you’re speaking at a conference, setting a direction for your team, or persuading upper management to greenlight an idea, it’s important to know your presentation cold.

Transitions can be especially tricky, so break your talk into sections and rehearse the shifts between the sections. Note any troublesome segues and practice them repeatedly. Then, spend time each day memorizing your speech. You might consider recording and listening to it whenever you’re driving, exercising, or running errands. Or you can rehearse a portion of your script right before bedtime or multitask as you brush your teeth.

Finally, have a plan for any slip-ups. Prepare two or three go-to phrases, such as, “Let me refer to my notes,” or “I’m struggling to remember my next point. Let me take a moment and step back.” The lapse will be less awkward for everyone when you don’t panic and do what you need to move on.

Keep Writing Simple…

When you’re writing for work, it can be tempting to rely on industry jargon or big words to puff up your ideas. But overblown language doesn’t make you sound smart, and it can be off-putting to readers.

Most people are drawn to a more conversational tone. So, choose shorter, more familiar words and explain things in a way that anyone could understand. For example, write “things that could affect the merger” instead of “issues potentially impacting the successful completion of the merger.”

Also, whether you’re writing an email or a formal proposal, make sure that your content is glanceable since it probably will be read on a screen — and these days, often a phone.
Assume that your readers will be distracted, busy, and on-the-go.

Formatting can help: Try using subheads, bullet points, diagrams, and tables to highlight your key takeaways. Short sentences and short paragraphs help too.

A good rule of thumb is “one thought per sentence.” If there are too many linked ideas in one sentence, your readers may get lost and just give up.

Focus on the Positives…

Any situation whether its career-related, personal or social we tend to focus on negatives.

“Oh! I don’t know this topic what will happen in Job Interview? “, “let me skip this interview”

“I am not good looking enough to meet her/him”

“My English is not good enough to speak”

There are many such statements that goes in our mind. The main reason to focus on negatives is our ego, in other terms fear of failure. It pushes us to edge, why this happens to me? “The Ego Ahem”

As an intellectual, we always turn to logic in failures while in the success we assume it’s because of self. Whereas this might not be always true.

In any environment, there will be positives and negatives, it’s our choice to focus on one. So which one to focus? Why?

There is a 50% chance of success or failure whether you select positives or negatives. Our best bet is to focus on positives because that’s where we are good at!

Also focusing on positives makes us happier and we are willing to work harder.

Hence let’s focus on positives, be happy and achieve success more often than failures.

Should You Disagree in a Job Interview?

When you express your honest opinion during an interview, you present yourself as you are, not as who you think the employer wants you to be. But disagreeing with an interviewer isn’t always easy because of the imbalance of power. Navigate the potential downsides by doing a few things before and during the interview.

First, research the company. Is the culture one where people are receptive to new ideas? Are the organization and its founders are known for inclusion and open-mindedness or do they have a slow-moving, legacy mindset? During the meeting, if the interviewer asks a question that gives you pause, resist the urge to answer immediately.

Take time to formulate a thoughtful response. And ask for permission to provide a different viewpoint. Say something like: “I see this differently. May I share my perspective with you?” Of course, follow your gut. If you think disagreeing won’t be well-received, then bite your tongue.

If the interviewer made you uncomfortable — if you felt dismissed or unheard — trust your instincts. When expressing differing opinions isn’t welcomed in an interview, it probably won’t be encouraged once you’re part of the company.