You can build something that the cool kids love. You can build something that the bystanders love. Or you can build a cult favorite. Best to do it on purpose.

Via Seth Godin’s new podcast, Akimbo.

A Product Lead is a Quality Driver

As my product lead role evolves I’ve started to see patterns emerge in my work across WordPress.com teams at Automattic. Two that keep coming up for me are focus on people, not technology and be a quality driver. I’d like to dig into the Quality Driver aspect in this post.

A Quality Driver navigates all the levels, end-to-end

Here’s a recipe for success as a product lead that I’ve now written down on a paper card near, and placed on my desk. I’m working on internalizing it as I put it into practice.

+ Obsess over customers.
+ Know how we want to communicate our message.
+ Understand our business goals and core mission.
+ Keep in touch with where the technology is headed.

Driving quality as a product lead takes place at many levels, from strategy to operations to tactics. At the highest level we write stories — sometimes framed as bets — to set the vision. Then working with teams on projects, schedules, organization — all the way through to the details of design, engineering, marketing, and support.

The key for me as I grow into this role is to synthesize everything as I navigate through the various levels. (For more, see my previous post on Synthesis: Navigating Levels Effectively.)

Another way I’ve to frame this Quality Driver  is in the form of a job description. A bit aspirational and ambitious to motivate me to grow and scale my product leadership. It’s my new mindset.

Quality Driver as a job description

Strategic — Raise awareness for the top issues facing our customers, and coordinate with teams to make the needed product changes. Pay attention to the end-to-end experience of our products, acting as the chief quality officer. Hold a holistic view across the business and own every aspect of the customer journey.

Operational — Act as an effective facilitator between developers, team leads, and company leadership. Align team resources to company goals and product initiatives. Engage with product teams for effectiveness, motivation, and project management. Build a culture of trust, quality, and high performance.

Strategic — Communicate a strategic vision and turn it into action. As a compassionate and effective product steward, use the ability to succinctly communicate our CEO’s vision to teams, as well as communicate everyone’s aspirations to the CEO. Find the gems, bring them to light, and move the needle. Work on the right things, avoid crashes, and be a few steps ahead of everything — knowing how every change fits in with our plans. Help everyone understand the context of their work and the broader vision for our products.

Knowing my success

Following the recipe I started with above, I can measure my impact as a product leader by watching for:

  1. Business growth for a sustainable and profitable future.
  2. Better customer engagement and satisfaction.
  3. A natural and healthy flow of communication.
  4. The happiness and effectiveness of teams.

Is Your Product The Hero?

Craig Menear, CEO of The Home Depot, used a phrase I’d never heard before in business or marketing, “The product is the hero.”

Via NPR’s Marketplace “Corner Office” podcast, How The Home Depot became an e-commerce giant (December 20, 2017).

Update: Mike Davidson made a great point via Twitter about improving this to frame the customer as the hero:


The tools are not heroes to be used by you, the hero. You use them to win. Great point.

Online Marketing Summit, Seattle

I attended the Online Marketing Summit, Seattle on August 7th, 2008. OMS is geared towards marketing professionals looking to improve their skills and network with their peers. The summit was well worth the time. Kudos to Aaron Kahlow, his staff, and the speakers for a focused, relevant conference.

Conference themes included social media, user-generated content, and user-centered design. The most consistent message I heard during the day is that marketing is about improving communication, “It’s about people, not technology”.

The content was a great mix of theoretical discussion, “What are the leading minds in marketing thinking about?” and practical advice, “What can I do today to improve my communications?” The best example of the latter, in my opinion, came from the talk titled “Email Marketing Boot Camp” by Joe Colopy. I’ll be posting my notes from that talk in a later post.

Below I’ll share the thoughts and notes I jotted down throughout the day that were particularly pertinent to my web design business. There were many other ideas presented, but this is what stuck with me.


If marketing is about communication, usability is about making your communications easy to use.

Usability is achieved by adapting the system to the person, not by building a system that requires the person to adapt and learn it. Usability is 80% information architecture (IA): labels, categories, and good organization. Good IA bridges the gap between visual display and content—in other words, between the “user” and the “system.”

Start with conventions of human behavior (don’t reinvent the wheel), then define your audience-specific elements. What is a convention, you ask? If over 50% of people are doing something a certain way, it is considered a convention. Unconventional functionality will require lots of testing.

Be sure to keep in mind universal cognitive behaviors: images trump text, group like items together (good organization is a big deal), and remember that humans scan big to small, dark to light, irregular to regular, and saturated to less saturated.

Write well: people scan websites—they don’t read. Use headings, put the conclusion/summary at the top, and be concise. Put elements in conventional places: home link at the top left, help and shopping cart at the top right, and navigation along top or sides (on the left is the most common).

Relevant Ads

Display ads when it is opportune to do so. “Pull, not push,” meaning you should wait to hear what a person wants before you send ads their way. After your customer accomplishes a goal on your website, you can then provide relevant ads to them. Don’t display ads that aren’t appropriate to the task at hand. If it doesn’t relate, it will be (1) ignored or (2) be very annoying.

Being relevant means solving a problem people don’t even know they have. For example, Amazon suggests items that other people purchased; this type of relevancy can be very powerful.

If your ads are relevant, they can actually boost your customer’s trust in your communications.

Social Media and User-Generated Content

Danielle Ferguson, speaking at the conference, said, “User-generated content means conversations are happening between you and your customers as well as conversations between your customers without your intervention.”

These customer conversations (without your intervention) can have positive side effects: it can drive up search engine rankings, provide company transparency, and engender loyalty and trust.

The big trends in social media marketing include video, mobile, and conversation-builders like blogs and forums. Several of the sessions were about social media specifically (which I did not attend), but every single session I attended mentioned it at least once.

Marketing With Limited Resources

Choose low-hanging fruit to get immediate results:

  1. Define your goal: what action do you want people to take?
  2. Make priorities, tackle the highest first, and say no to the rest.
  3. Digital marketing can be done low-cost (website, blogs and other social media).
  4. Use free tools like Google’s Website Optimizer to perform basic tests for your campaigns and landing pages.

Buzzwords and Industry Jargon

I am not immersed in the marketing industry, so it was interesting to hear industry jargon and accronyms, some of which I knew and some of which were firsts for me. Here are several of oft-mentioned terms: B2B (business to business), B2C (business to consumer), SMB (small- and medium- businesses), ERP (enterprise resource planning), ECM (enterprise content management), “user gen” (short for user-generated content), and CRM (customer relationship management).

Thanksfully, most presenters did a great job of staying away from the hype and buzzwords such as “leverage”, “Web 2.0”, and “synergy.” Overall the message was: if you communicate your brand and products clearly, meet your customers’ needs, and maintain a trusting relationship with your customers, you will be well on your way to success.

Note: I found about the conference through the Digital Web events feed.