How to make decisions with large groups

One of the things I have learned in my career as a product manager is that you are in positions to make decisions every day. Quite often, these decision are hard, and impact a lot of people. In a simplified world, there are two ways to go about doing this. You can do this by pushing, or you can do this by pulling.

What do I mean by pushing?

Some people manage to push their decisions to others. Many of these people are very smart. Many of these people have the respect of the organization. Quite often, these people are right. Like I said, they are smart.

Often these people are the fast thinkers, the experts in their field. If you think about it, these people are the ones that are the “go to” people for an organization. If there is a question that comes up, people are often quick to point this person out. “Run this by Bob, he will know.” See, Bob is smart.

What do I mean by pulling?

Others in the organization are seen as influencers, consensus getters, trusted counterparts to do what is seen as right for the organization. No, this isn’t the opposite of the people who push decisions as we discussed, it’s just that the organization sees these people in a different light.

People in this realm are ones who seek out opinions, try to see all sides to a decision, help collect and collate the data to help everyone understand what the answer could be, and pull everyone along to what the answer is.

When the organization has hard conversations and choices to make, these people are often brought in as a balance to the pushers in an organization.

When is a pusher the right way to drive an answer?

There are times and places for both types of decision makers/getters in an organization. Quite often in your career (and in your life), you will be asked to fill one of these roles. When do you need to use the proper technique, and why?

It could be a standard Thursday night, your family is happy the weekend is coming, and nobody wants to cook dinner. Someone needs to take control and make a choice.

What is the impact of that choice? Well, we need to eat tonight. The decision will impact my family, likely only my family, and will be a short-term consequence for the call that is made. Now, I am an expert in my family. I know what they like. I know what they don’t like. I know the budget we have. I know around what time we’d like to eat. These are all factors in my ability to be the pusher in this situation. Considering this type of decision has happened often, it increases my chance of success here.

With a reasonable expected outcome, I can take all of the factors that make me the expert here, and I can decide to make the call. I will pick a place that everyone will enjoy, it fits our budget, is available now (because we are all hungry), and I know it’s close. Decision is made, and communicated. In all likelihood, the outcome here is going to be ok. If it’s not, at least we know the consequences are relatively short term.

When is a puller the better call?

Let’s take a different scenario. My family is getting ready to buy a new house . We have lived in the same house for a few years, but we are ready to move. The consequence of this decision is not short term. We plan on living in this place for a long time. RED FLAG #1. This decision will impact a group of people over a very long period of time . I should recognize this.

Now, I know everyone wants a place to eat, sleep, play and relax. These are facts. I can be the expert, right? Hmm, let’s pause there. Do I really know the factors that each person is thinking of for each of these checklist items?

We don’t go through this decision on a regular basis like we did the dinner choice. I’ve never actually sat and talked with family about what they like in the current house, and what they’d like to change in the new house. RED FLAG #2. This conversation is infrequent enough that likely nobody is the actual expert here. I should recognize this. We all have inputs, but varied by person/role.

So, what is the right way to pull people along?

We want to ensure that we satisfy the needs of the collective whole. In business terms, who are the stakeholders? Well, in this case, for me, it would be my wife, mother in law, and me. (We don’t have kids, and I am not letting my dog try and talk me in to a swimming pool).

In order to make sure that we satisfy the key items, we have to approach this differently. What do we know?

  1. We are buying a house
  2. We want to eat, sleep, play and relax in this new home
  3. What other factors do we need to consider in making this choice.

This is where some guardrails on a decision come in to play. Often we will call these the principles of the decision. What this really means is, what are the rules by which we will make our decision, so we can collectively arrive at a reasonable set of narrowed choices, that match these principles, and hopefully satisfy our collective needs.

In order to do this for our house, we could brainstorm on things like:

  1. Style of house
  2. Color of house
  3. Location
  4. Price
  5. Number of Rooms
  6. Amenities
  7. Wood Shop

It’s easy to weed out a couple of items that may not matter to the list of core principles here. First: Color. Color is something that can be changed later. It is not a long-standing impact for us collectively. This is a short term impact, and it’s not high. Second: Wood Shop. I am really the only person who cares deeply about this. Since this does not impact everyone as a long-standing core principle, we can weight this lower.

Now, if we arrive at a set of criteria like this:

  1. Style: Craftsman or Log Cabin
  2. Color: Ignored
  3. Location: within 15 miles of our current house, but not east of I-5
  4. Price: $300k-$2.5M (whatever, it’s my story here)
  5. Number of Rooms: Minimum of 4
  6. Amenities: Nice to have items include workout space, long driveway, lots of trees
  7. Wood Shop: Nice to have, not core

OK.. so now that we have our principles by which we want to make our decision, this is how we can pull everyone along as the person driving towards this decision. Think of them again, as guardrails that help us stay in our lane. If we can get consensus around these principles, it is likely that we have a good chance to arrive at the same (or similar) decision in the end.

If we find an amazing house that matches all of our criteria, but it happens to be east of I-5, this house violates principle #3 of our decision criteria. In theory, everyone agrees that this house is not a viable option. No complaints. We all agreed up front that east of I-5 is out.

OK, so what happens if someone says “Nope, this IS the house. We are getting this one!” . Well, you have to re-visit the principles to ensure you all still agree. Why does this person think principle #3 doesn’t matter any more? Why are they willing to violate this rule and be east of I-5? If you discuss this together, and can all agree that “No houses east of I-5” is a rule that can be violated, you can adjust your principles. You have collectively agreed that the framework by which you make your decision has now changed. If you don’t agree to that, you must all come to the conclusion that this house is off the list.

How do I close the decision by pulling everyone along

As the person responsible for driving closure to this decision, it is key that you are able to pull everyone along. If you end up in an argument about the house that violated a principle, you are now arguing on emotion or flawed logic. This won’t work long-term. You must ensure that you have clarity on the rules by which you make decisions is agreed, and then you work towards your decision within those guardrails. Once you collectively get to a decision, it is one that everyone can agree upon based on the rules.

What happens if you get close, but are stuck on one factor?

It is not uncommon to get through some basic principles and still end up with two differing answers. The easiest way to solve this is to find the variance in the two options, and then decide on what the principle is that can help you make this decision. The principle is usually aligned towards a joint goal between all parties. By narrowing the rules by which you make the decision, you can guide the answer based on the new principle.

Know when to use the right method

It is up to you to determine how you make decision. You must recognize that sometimes people do want to be pushed. You know the answer, you can make the call. Sometimes it is ok to push a decision.

You must equally know when it is important to pull people along. Often, this decision process takes a lot longer. It often has longer-term impacts and will affect more people. This is were pulling helps. Guide people with principles by which you make the decision, and then collectively you will likely arrive at the same answer. Then, it’s a joint decision. Building out that framework is key. If the framework is wrong, the answer is wrong.

Hopefully this helps in some thinking on how to make decisions in your family, or your organization.

The auto industry is approaching Car Apps in an interesting way

I saw an article today on Ford and Toyota launching a Consortium to get developers to build on the Smart Device Link (SDL) platform. You can learn more about it on the SDL homepage.

The strange thing is, SDL appears to be a declarative way to express your application while still giving the auto manufacturer the control over how things actually lay out in the car. I am curious, don’t the brands building want to own the display for THEIR application?

The other thing that comes to mind is “what value do I get out of building for a car platform?” Does this make my users more sticky? Is it just the PR value for the announcements and ongoing press? (which does have some real value) Are companies able to not only build, but keep up with the platforms in the auto space as it gets more fragmented?

I was curious, I am sure there has to be a handful of key apps that motor companies want on their platform. If they think it is a differentiator, or something that partners of the Open Source SDL platform could benefit from, why not just build it for them?

Taking Ford as an example.

Assuming nobody was kicking in money but Ford, and they ate all of the costs, it is probably still worthwhile. (but they could spread the cost over each SDL partner and encourage other car manufacturers to sign up for the platform)

Ford made $7.2B in revenue in 2015. (with a gross revenue of $23M) That’s nothing to sneeze at for top line. Now, let’s say you wanted to ensure you got the top 20 applications on your platform. Things like weather, music, podcasting, traffic, etc. You could hand select a couple from each category and build the winners with no cost to them.

You can see that even at an estimated cost (wild ass guess) of $500k per application to build, getting the top 20 apps would be roughly 1/10th of a percent of Ford’s top line revenue.

Now, let’s say they could convince just 4 other companies to help share the cost. This becomes a much better value for them, and others; something each company could easily justify to expand from the top 20 apps, to the top 50 apps if it show real value as a differentiator.

There are probably arguments to be said about doing what SiriusXM did with building the cost of the services in to the cars, that would be a whole separate discussion.. but it is something interesting to think about.

EDIT:  I should have taken the extra step to calculate additional car sales against competition due to the advantage, and top line growth due to that number.. but I was running under the lazy assumption that Ford/Toyota did that work, and that’s why they are investing in the platform.  It wouldn’t take long though to make up  the revenue..roughly the Equivalent of 1 days sales or less.

Urgent vs. Important work

Urgent vs. Important work

We have been having this recurring discussion at work lately about the difference between Urgent work vs. Important work.  Understand how this fits in your decision making process is key in my view to being productive, yet understanding the proper interruption cycle when things are not going as planned.  I thought I’d share the matrix that is going around just because I find it valuable.

When you are getting ready to think about a piece of work, or more importantly engage with others.. where does the work fall in this matrix?  And is it the same for them as it is you?



How I am using Evernote for Presentations now

How I am using Evernote for Presentations now

OK, when I say now..I mean from now on.   I think this is my new found time saver.   How may times are you taking notes and working in Evernote, just to turn around and format those notes in Keynote or Powerpoint just to show them to somebody else?

I know that sometimes it makes sense in the context of a full on business meeting, but when you are quickly capturing thoughts and need to get info to your team, and responses back.. this is SOOOO much better in my view.  Enough already, how do I do it you ask?


I know you have heard that you can do presentation mode in Evernote.  This is not new.  (although recently updated)  I see a couple ways to use this.

One thing I like to keep in mind is to do an outline for a real presentation first.  This gets your mind thinking ahead of time about the story you are telling, the goals, and the supporting data.   If you can’t get this down simply in text first, you will struggle.  I also feel like too many people focus on existing slides they have, how to squeeze them into their story and the deck grows to 70+ slides.  This is never good.  Stop, tell a concise story and do it simply first.

Here is how I think about a presentation:

Presentation Goal: Demonstrate to COMPANY X how they should focus their BLAH to attract additional users of the Mobile Internet.


  • Titles should always read the key point. If you read only Titles, would you get the point of the deck?
  • Titles should always be framed in the affirmative
  • Data is supporting the key point in the Title


Goal: Demonstrate that COMPANY X should look to other carriers to learn where they can get incremental Mobile Internet adoption
Title: Company X is lagging behind in Y that is causing a lack of mobile adoption
Data: A graph that shows % of X,Y,Z and compares


This is where Evernote shines.  Creating an outline is great for this.  It’s easy and quick, and when you are done you will have your simple presentation. So long as you don’t need to do a formal Keynote deck.. you should be able to get your point across to your organization quickly.


Presentation in Evernote using a Single Note

This to me is the quickest and dirtiest way to get some information captured and present it.  You can create your outline and go very quickly.  You don’t need tons of fancy graphics and animations.  You are just trying to sell something internally for buyoff, or get people informed of something.

I usually make my slide title all capital letters, and bold it.  This helps it stand out in presentation mode.  Then I provide any text, data, key bullets and images below, all in a very concise format.  Think about adding more “slides” vs longer ones with more data.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Sed sodales libero sit amet urna aliquam, sagittis pulvinar enim condimentum. Etiam dui justo, tincidunt vel odio a, mattis egestas lectus. Duis sed congue nibh.
 * Key Point: Details of the point
 * Key Point: Details of the point
 * Key Point: Details of the point

Now, I’ve found if you keep this concise, you can use a horizontal rule after each “slide” to cause Evernote to separate them in presentation mode.  I’ve found it not to be perfect every time, but it’s darn close. Now, just add each section with your outline, and data.. Rules in between and you are done.  One note that also acts as a presentation.

If you want to see a sample deck with Horizontal Rules as separators, check out this note.  You can add it to your Evernote and try the presentation.

Multiple Notes to Create a Presentation

The other way to do this is to create a single note for each key point you want to make.  Then, once you are done you can select all the notes and select “create table of contents” as shown here:


This will create a note with a table of contents that links to each separate note.  This makes it easy to reorder your “deck” and select items to present.  Re-title your note and you are ready to go.  This is also a great way to have an agenda slide and track where you are in the presentation.

Evernote_Premium 2

The great thing about this way is you can be a bit more modular and reuse portions of other presentations.  It also makes it easy to include documents, videos, notes from meetings, etc.

I am going to start using this internally from now on at my work.  I see this as a huge time saver when presenting for quick signoff internally.  Focus on the content, not the format.

I would love to hear how others are using this, and to what extent you are having luck.





Music and technology coming together in a big way for me

Music and technology coming together in a big way for me

Today was my last day at Microsoft.  One of many jobs that has shaped my career.

I’ve been in the tech space for quite some time now.   To be more precise, I have really been focused in mobile for the past 14 years.  My life in mobile started out in 1998 when I was working as a developer on the AT&T Pocket Net Service.. the first yellow pages on phones in the US.   Think back to 1998.. were you using data on your phone?   Most likely not (a reason that product never really took off I guess)   I am pretty sure my family and friends thought I was on crack for wanting to bring mobile sites to cell phones.

It was a long-fought journey to get to today… but for all the pain and lack of glory, I am thrilled with the accomplishments I have made to mobile.  The things users got to do based on work that was done by teams I worked with.  Strategy and planning that ultimately panned out.   As many of you know, mobile is a passion, not for the feint of heart.   If you don’t LOVE it.. and I mean TRULY love it, you will burn out.   It’s a pain.

For the first time in well over a decade I am going to be doing a new job that is not 100% focused in mobile.  Sure, there will be some mobile components to it, but it’s just a portion of what I am doing.   I am heading over to Rhapsody.   WOOT!   I have been a Rhapsody subscriber for nearly a decade.. love the product and I am thrilled to have a chance to work with the team.

I’ll get more details out on @torgerson on Twitter as things get rolling.  It is an amazing opportunity and I can’t wait to start.   Bringing my passion and experience in the industry I know.. to learn a whole new business.   I am up for the challenge.  There is something to be said for doing what you love.


Don’t get religious on your stance for web design

Don’t get religious on your stance for web design

While responsive web design has been around for  a while, it really seems  like the past 6 months or so it’s bounced back into the spotlight.  I have seen a lot of articles talking about the pros and cons of using such approaches. Some of these articles are quite prescriptive on the approach.   For those who are less familiar with it, let me give a quick summary.

Responsive web design is a technique that can leverage standard markup, CSS, and Javascript.  There is no magic or trickery..other than the actual know-how to get such a site designed and built properly.  By no means do I know a ton about Responsive Web Design, I am merely using this as a tool to help make my point.

Many groups recommend you actually start with the mobile view first.   The mobile first movement suggests you look at the key things your user will want to do in mobile (assuming the most simplified view) and then build up to the tablet or desktop view from there.

Progressive Web Design is another tactic that is leveraged in these common approaches outlined above.  The idea here is to use basic markup; then based on browser capabilities you can “enhance” the experience.  In simple terms start with a basic level 1 experience, then you test to see if your browser is advanced enough to get experience level 2 (or 3, or whatever you want to name it) and then if so, the code gets executed.

This seems like a great approach to solve my problem of building multiple websites!  Right?  Well, all good things come with a catch.   If you think about a news style site, like, it doesn’t matter if the user is on their desktop reading articles or on the bus viewing the site on their phone.  They are doing the same tasks, just optimized for a screen type.  If you have different scenarios for your mobile users that are unique, does this mean it’s broken?

This is where my frustration comes in on the articles I’ve seen.   Too many people are taking the view on one of two dimensions.  FIRST:  Responsive is the end all be all approach and really solves world hunger. (ok, maybe a touch over blown).   Yes, it does great things that appear magical, it helps me build to a single code base and it helps my SEO story with a single URL approach.    SECOND:  Responsive doesn’t help me because I need to optimize my business for mobile differently than I do on the desktop site.

By all means.. both views are important, and both have merit.   What you need to realize is this:  Getting religious on how people should build sites is a bit like.. well, getting religious about your religion vs. someone else’s religion.  Neither one of you may be wrong.. but you have your beliefs.

I’d say take what you need from each approach.  (back to the tech talk here, not religion).   There is no reason you can’t leverage the great flow layouts from a responsive web design and still have very mobile specific approaches to solve for specific scenarios that are different across device types.   These can be handled on the server side with some intelligent code at run-time.

Leverage Progressive for building up capabilities on the fly.  Be smart, be adaptive.  Leverage business intelligence at the server layer to make content choices, optimize images, custom deliver CSS and optimize where you can.   Finally.. go with Responsive for a single code base for rendering across devices.   PAR… this approach of Progressive, Adaptive and Responsive is a way to be smart while still leveraging what others have done without handcuffing you to a single approach.

The purist view of responsive means you do everything client side to determine what shows on devices and how it renders.   We just know that we have certain things we want to be smart about given ample opportunity. This is why with an adaptive approach you can:

  • Not send a single image and scale it via % widths from desktop to mobile.  Do try to optimize and load the right JPG based on device width
  • Use EM for fonts.
  • Using @media-query options is great at run time.. but could you save code on the download and optimize on the server side based on device width?  (rather than user-agent)
  • Be smart about content, not all content has to be sent back.   Send content ABC where it makes sense and mix/replace XYZ with proper events when triggered.

So.. this is just a suggestion, but don’t get overly critical about how people are approaching their site design and implementation.   Personally I have always found the thing that works best is to leverage the best of all approaches and make it work for me.  PAR just happens to be a good blend of capabilities as I see it.



The USPS is a business, run it as one

I am annoyed at all the press lately about the USPS and how upside down they are.   The government is doing it’s effort to try and turn things around, but in a big typical government fashion.   Don’t get me wrong, doing all the assessment of the full operations for the USPS is not my intent, but I wanted to show a couple of key things that irritate me.   Let’s take a look as if I were actually running a business in this space.


I didn’t have all the USPS data at hand online, I will update if I find more data.  


What I did pull was a comparison from the USPS Annual Report, Fed Ex and UPS data to compare.  I am a Product Manager by trade and have had to deal with the pressure of showing profitability on products or a plan to get there.   When you are investing and growing a business it is not uncommon to lose money for a period of time.  When you are a mature business, trend lines on projections should definitely be one of your bellweathers of things to come.


First.. if I am comparing myself against competition, how do I stack up as a business.  I have general mail (high volume/low price) delivery.  I have some specialized products that have more competition in the industry from the likes of Fed Ex and UPS.   I also have direct shipping which is exactly in the line of site for my main competitors.  Again, we are running a business here.   How does my top line revenue stack up against my competition?

APAC Mobile Tour Lesson: Don’t do Product Management from your office

I've been spending the past week traveling around meeting with a couple of our customers and a variety of content providers in the APAC region.  Keep in mind, I've been involved in the mobile space for over 12 years now..  but even after all the knowledge transfer from co-workers, reading of countless articles and a good solid effort to understand pre-paid markets, there was one thing that stood out for me.  Music and radio in India over the voice channel.  

The concept of someone dialing into a number to listen to songs on their phone was baffling to me.. but then again, it is a different market and even I should have known better than to be stunned.  Most of the users of this service have no other means for internet. So.. how do you listen to your radio station when you don't have a radio, don't have internet?  Just dial a number and burn some pre-paid credits with live radio.  It's a few seconds (ten-ish) delayed.. but very useful for those markets with a similar demographic.  

I've become immersed over the past week in many great conversations with smart people.  It goes back to the philosophy that you can't do Product Management from your office.  I try to practice this road trip education as often as I can.. no better people to learn from than the actual markets and customers.  

Continuing week two.. let's see the joy and fun this brings.  

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WindowsPhone Omnigraffle Templates

I am working on a project at work going through some product concepts on WindowsPhone, seeing what sort of interesting things I can build.  The problem I have had so far is doing mockups.  The PSD files Microsoft gives out are not so friendly.. and honestly, I prefer to use Omnigraffle for my mockups anyway.  Unfortunately there were no Omnigraffle WindowsPhone templates.

I went over to the Microsoft site here…  to grab a PDF they had on their design templates.  I am now trying to re-create these in Omnigraffle.. one by one.  It’s a little slow.. but will be helpful for me when done.

Eventually I plan on creating a Stencil..but for now I am just creating them as individual canvases.  If you are interested in using these. (the pics are just a few examples).. download the attached ZIP file.

Also.. jump over to Microsoft’s site and download their design template ZIP file. It has the font files you will need for this to work right.  They are using a font called SegoeWP. It is a clean metro style font.. and required for the templates to render correctly.

Get the files here:

Give me any feedback you have.. I will be posting updates as I go.
– jeff

Struggling with Google Buzz

OK, I’ve really tried to giv e Google Buzz a run and see how useful it can be.  My problem is two fold. First is the lack of integration into my GAFYD (Google Apps for Your Domain) email, the second is lack of integration into the linked sites.

GAFYD:  Lack of integration is a source of constant frustration with this tool.  I personally love the Email, Docs, Calendar.  Don’t want to give it up.  The problem is feeling like a second class citizen because GAFYD does not include things like Reader, Voice or now Buzz.  (sure it’s coming.. but..)  What is the purpose of that little checkbox on the dashboard to get new features if we REALLY don’t get things early?  or at all?

Without Buzz being integrated into my REAL email account, it forces me to go to yet another location for information.  I now have Google Reader, Twitter, Buzz, Email, Facebook.. hmm.. too many.  It isn’t really a solution to fix that problem and just caused a NEW location to look.  If it was part of my email, it might be ok.

LACK OF TIE IN TO LINKED SITE:  My second beef is the lack of tie in back to the social site.  If I am following someone on Buzz, they post something on Twitter.. then I have to either respond in Buzz, and people using Buzz can see it.  The problem is the loss of conversation on Twitter?  I have now moved conversation from the main site (where presumably MOST people follow) to Buzz, where it is a parasite, leaching the good value off to allow itself to live.  Had it not been for the host, Buzz wouldn’t exist.. hell, even parasites provide SOME value back to their host (like cleaning bacteria, etc).. Buzz is just migrating traffic from other sites to their own!  If you are building a nice following on Twitter, it is detrimental to your core group of followers.. unless they all use Buzz.

Here is how I keep track of things.  I’d be interested to know if others have found Buzz to be useful in a way to help consolidate my current sources of news.

Google Reader:  I use this for my blog reading and following.  This link is to my shared items.. but I keep track of around 40 blogs.  It is a lot per day.. I need to find a way to remove dupes… too many people post the same news.

Twitter:  I have found this to be a great source of news.  I use Twitter to keep up with things.. not typically to reach out or communicate.  I’m a consumer, not a producer.

ReadTwit:  I use Readtwit to pull links from Twitter into my RSS feeds.  This helps me while on the bus and using Google Reader on my iPhone.  It finds links in the posts of people I follow on Twitter, pulls in the content and makes an RSS feed for me.  Nicely integrated.

Any additional news consumption is through random surfing, reading or links emailed to me.  My open question then is this.  How does Buzz help?  I would like to benefit from a tool.. I just don’t find this one useful.


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