3 Tools for Lean Product Managers

During my Skillshare class I cover a wide variety of topics on Lean Product Management to give my students a good overview. One topic we get into before the workshop section is Tools for Lean PMs. These are web tools for creating MVPs, measuring analytics, and watching user behavior.

Here my top 3 that Product Managers should consider using when running a Lean experiment. To get the full list and find out how to put then into practice, check out mySkillshare class. I know not everyone can use all these tools below, but there are many others out there to help you run lean. Feel free to ask me about them.

1. Emails

When I think of Lean, my mind automatically goes to Emails. Man, I love emails. I’ve been testing things leanly with them the past year. They’re cheap, easy to set up, and you get instant results. Amazing.

One of the projects I tested with emails at OpenSky was the implementation of a product review program. It took all of 2 days to put this in place before we spent a month building a full-fledged review program. I sent an email out to about 2000 buyers asking them if they would review the product they bought. When you clicked on the email, it took you to the existing product page and just scrolled down to the Facebook Comments section where they could enter the review (no coding done on the page at all). We proved implementing the feature was worthwhile as the percentage of comments we received doubled, showing customer interest and commitment.

If you’re an existing company, you’re probably already using MailChimpSailthru, or another client. You can easily recycle one of your templates to send out an email explaining a new feature or asking them to do a task. If you have a small subscriber list or are just starting out, check out Mailchimp. You can send up to 12,000 emails per month to 2,000 people absolutely free. They also have a bunch of premade templates, so no coding required. (And after you sign up and pay for your service, they send you a free t-shirt. Love my t-shirt. Good marketing Mailchimp!)

Once you send out that email, you can instantly gauge interest from your customers with clickthrough rates, opens, and conversions. All the clients track these things for you. Then you’ll be able to tell if your feature is a good idea or not in a day or two.

2. Optimizely

Optimizely provides a way to change the look of your website without a release of code. You can enter buttons to see if someone will click, change text, or implement a whole new section. It’s very versatile. For this one, if you want to get fancy you’re going to need some HTML and CSS. If you just want to edit text, rearrange things, etc you can use their editor without coding. So there is potential need for a developer if you don’t know HTML or CSS.

They do all the split testing for you, so you can AB test against your normal site at the same time. Optimizely also allows for multivariate tests to save time. You have total control over the length of test and the target audience. To get setup you just need to copy and paste their unique javascript on your HTML header. Then you can run projects within Optimizely. They do the analytical tracking for clicks and revenue, so you can see instantly what’s winning at the end of the test.

3. Crazy Egg

If you want insight into where your customers are spending time on your site, Crazy Egg is your tool. Their heatmaps will show you where your visitors are clicking and scrolling. If you’re planning on altering an existing page or testing a new UX, this is a great way to track if people are seeing your changes. This data is essential in making sure your customers are using the features on your site to the expected levels, and so you can iterate fast if they are not.

I found this particularly useful when trying to determine if our customers scrolled down to the end of the product pages. We had so many products for sale on one page, they could be scrolling down for a whole minute. Everyone was convinced we needed to change this layout because our customers would give up scrolling and not see half the products. There were long talks on how we could do this most effectively, but all the solutions were going to take a while to implement. So we popped Crazy Egg on the page, and found out about 80% of customers scrolled to the end. We were shocked and didn’t change anything.

There are a few downsides to CrazyEgg. It doesn’t work well on dynamic pages. If your info is changing from day to day, you can’t see where people are clicking and scrolling accurately. You can add it, but your results might not be that accurate. Also, you need some magic if you want to see clicks and tracking behind log in walls. Other than that, I think it’s a great tool to get customer insight.

5 Lessons Learned in 2012

 1. You can be the change you wish to see in the world

In January 2012, I lost my college roommate to cancer. It was a hell of the way to start off the new year. Kevin’s goal in life was, “to make a difference in the world.” With time running out, he was afraid he wouldn’t be able to accomplish that.

Kevin’s mom started a chain, asking for letters from all of Kevin’s friends telling him how he changed their lives so she could put them in a book. Hundreds of letters poured in, even from people Kevin didn’t know but who were inspired by his blog and his journey. It was obvious from looking at that book and looking around his funeral at the hundreds of people who traveled from all over the country to say goodbye: Kevin had accomplished his goal at only 23 years old.

Kevin taught me to be optimistic in the face of insurmountable odds. He taught me that anything is possible, and you can make the world a better place just being one person. I miss my friend.

2. Giving is better than receiving

When I was little, I was the worst gift giver. The. Worst. So I tried to make up for it at Christmas last year. I took my whole family to Puerto Rico for a week in March 2012 as their Christmas present. It was super expensive, but definitely worth it.

It was great to spend a week with my whole family.

Even if my dad complained the entire time about it being hot, and the beach was too sunny, and the rainforest was too mountain-y. Since he is still complaining about it, I know it was at least memorable.

Now I face the problem of trying to get Christmas presents that live up to that.

 3. Loving unconditionally is possible

As a newly single New Yorker, I was feeling kind of lonely after a few months. So in the course of a week in May, I decided I wanted a dog, and got one. Maryann, my new roommate, had just moved in and she approved the choice as long as he was hypoallergenic. I was looking at adoption sites, but my mom went on craigslist and saw this girl had to give up her newly adopted maltipoo puppy. He was just so damn cute in the picture. I was unsure about this transaction, but we went to see little Oscar.

Did you know love at first sight exists? I do now.

Oscar crawled right up into our laps and started playing with us. He was 5 months old, a giant ball of fur, 4 pounds. My heart melted. Another family was coming to see him after us. I made up all this crazy stuff about how she couldn’t possibly give a puppy to a family with a new born baby because the dog will bite the baby and he will be given up again (this is actually true). I seriously sabotaged this family. And I do not regret it one bit.

I completely and hopelessly love this little ball of fur, who is now 1 year old, 5 pounds, takes up my entire instagram feed, and really likes rolling on rugs.

4. Passion and direction are necessary for happiness

If you asked me a year ago what exactly I wanted to do, I wasn’t quite sure. Over the course of this year, I discovered I love startups and I love Product Management. Specifically, I love Lean Product Management and Design.

In March, I went to the Lean Startup Machine weekend. It was the most grueling 3 days ever, but in the end it was worth it. I met a ton of great people I still keep in touch with today. I discovered I was incredibly passionate about lean methodology. I went back to work and changed the way I operated my projects, making my team more successful.

If I had never gone to LSM, I would have never drank too much coconut water, got into ridiculous arguments about trial sized wine delivery services, learned about so many new startups, met amazing people, and found what I’m truly passionate about and started to teach it. Having that direction and knowing what I want to do is irreplaceable.

5. Doing things on your own is empowering

The 2011 me used to never take trips alone, go to the movies by myself, or go around the corner to a restaurant I really like and eat by myself. I’ve done all those things in 2012, and looking back on them they are some of my fondest memories. I still prefer doing things with friends, but I would rather go it alone than miss out on something I want to do.

This year I traveled to San Francisco and had a blast. I met some great people, learned new things in a conferences, and reconnected with old friends. I also had dinner with Alice Waters, nothing to sniff at. I really had a ball, equally on my own and with other people there.

There’s something to be said for being able to do exactly what you want to do when you want to do it. You stop missing out on things you want to do because no one will do them with you. In 2013, I’m looking forward to doing more things on my own, taking more risks, and traveling to new places. Although, I also hope I can encourage more people to get off the couch and do them with me.