How Marty Cagan measures Team Empowerment

Marty Cagan was in Berlin recently and did a talk about why teams are not truly empowered, and what teams might do about that.

He shared his “True Test of Empowered Teams”:

1. The team is staffed with competent people with the necessary range of skills.
2. The team is assigned problems to solve, and they are able to decide the best way to solve those problems.
3. The team is accountable for solving the customer or business problem (outcome).

This is a powerful lens to use to look at a team – either one that you’re managing, or one that you’re a part of – and assess the level of true empowerment.

The framework also fits well with the general idea of using OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) as a tool for managing autonomous teams:

1. The team is staffed with competent people with the necessary range of skills (the pre-requisite for any team to be productive and impactful).
2. The team is assigned problems to solve (ie, OBJECTIVES), and they are able to decide the best way to solve those problems.
3. The team is accountable for solving the problem – which you measure with metrics or other measurable outcomes/KPIs (ie, KEY RESULTS).

Basically this is a recipe for using OKRs to drive empowered teams:

Objective = problem to solve
Accountability = measurable outcome

You can use this framework while evaluating the teams in your company. It could also be used as a tool in a retrospective: the team can each provide a rating, say out of ten, to the extent that they feel they are empowered, measuring each of these three trajectories, and you can track this self-evaluation over time to monitor the trend.

You can watch a recording of the talk here.

Printable sketch sheets for wire-framing by hand

I have always believed that the best place to start when designing a new feature or product flow is with a pen and a piece of paper. I think if you go to quickly to screen/UI design, it’s harder to take a step back to focus on the actual user problem. Instead, you immediately start thinking about pixels and your thinking is by default limited to your current UI.

I just came across these printable sheets for wire-framing by hand. It’s been put together as a side project by Pasquale Vitiello.

You can choose Mobile devices, tablets, desktops, or even just plan grids.

An example of the printable desktop wireframe

An example of the printable mobile wireframe

A photo of a stack of printed wireframe templates with sketches

Software engineers are more valuable to companies than money

CNBC posted an article last week that really resonated with me.

From their article:

A recent study from Stripe and Harris Poll found that 61 percent of C-suite executives believe access to developer talent is a threat to the success of their business. Perhaps more surprisingly — as we mark a decade after the financial crisis — this threat was even ranked above capital constraints.

I’ve been working on recruiting for FATMAP for the past few months. Whether for internal positions, or freelance, not only are qualified engineers more and more difficult to find, it is increasingly they who are alone dictating the terms of their employment.

When I first started recruiting engineers back in the early 2000s, engineers applied for a position. The employer set the terms of the employment. Now, it is increasingly the engineers who set the terms.

It’s no longer companies interviewing candidates. It’s candidates interviewing companies. Companies must convince the employee, rather than the other way around.

This is of course great for employees. But when I look at the candidates coming through, sometimes I worry that this generation of developers are being conditioned by the extremely employee-friendly environment to respond to the wrong incentives.

With so much competition for engineers, is there less incentive for engineers to focus on doing great work and developing themselves…?

There are so many companies with so much capital, which leads to so much competition for engineers, and when the demand for something goes up, so does the price. That price is being borne out not just in salary, but in an expectation of perks and other benefits.

At FATMAP, we place a lot of focus on finding the right people for the team. We look for missionaries rather than mercenaries. We want people to be in it for the mission; people who share our values but most importantly who believe in our company and want to share in our success.

We believe that building the most talented team of missionaries is the key to success. We’re not climbing on the mercenary engineer treadmill.

I only hope that the next generation of new software engineers follow incentives to build great products that customers love and that make a difference – and don’t just chase the big money and free snacks.

Branch, a deep linking SDK, is now a unicorn

From TechCrunch:

Branch, the deep-linking startup backed by Andy Rubin’s Playground Ventures, will enter the unicorn club with an upcoming funding round.

The four-year-old company, which helps brands create links between websites and mobile apps, has authorized the sale of $129 million in Series D shares, according to sources and confirmed by PitchBook, which tracks venture capital deals. The infusion of capital values the company at roughly $1 billion.

I remember seeing a talk from these guys when they were brand new at the (now defunct) Where 2.0 conference in 2014. Back then, deep linking was novel and new, and was not widely supported by the mobile platforms.

We use Branch at FATMAP, and I can say it’s a very easy way to get deep links set up across a range of content types in a mobile app.

That they are now worth a billion dollars is on one hand a bit odd: they are basically packaging platform functionality in an SDK and charging app developers for it. There is nothing particularly unique or defensible with what they are doing, and it’s nothing a medium or bigger sized app developer can’t build on their own.

On the other hand, it’s a signal of the health of the app development platform industry. I have to wonder what their exit strategy is though. An obvious potential acquirer would be Google, while would buy it for the data, or Microsoft, who would buy it for the developers and make it part of their overall developer platform.

Either way, they are now a rather expensive acquisition.

Apps caught sending location and other data to advertising companies

From ZDNEt:

A team of security researchers behind a popular mobile firewall app say they’ve identified tens of iOS apps that are collecting location data from iPhone users, data they later pass on to monetization firms.

In all cases, researchers say, the collection occurs via packaged tracking code monetization firms provide to developers to embed in their respective apps.

The only surprising thing about this is that there are only “tens”, not hundreds, or thousands.

Back when I was at Nokia/HERE Maps, I was managing a product with several million active users. I was contacted nearly daily by advertising or data monetisation companies, offering us easy money to just add their small SDK to our codebase…

These companies make an offer for developers that’s easy to accept… spend a few hours implementing their SDK, and forget about it… and in exchange, receive “free money” for every active user. These companies are especially interested in apps that collect or handle location information.

I do have some sympathy with the developers who accept the bargain… the app business is a brutal, hard one, and when you’re trying to turn a profit, a few extra cents per MAU for essentially no effort can seem like a great deal… but you’re selling your customers’ privacy, and in the long run that’s going to backfire.

My advice to app developers is to reject the seemingly free money, and stay focussed on building great value for your customers, and building your monetisation model around that. Going for the easy money might make your ARPU look momentarily better, but it’s not what your customers are paying for.

On Strategy…

I came across this quote in a fantasy novel* I was reading:

“Strategy is just a fancy word for a special kind of common sense, the ability to see options, to make them where there were none. It’s not about knowing the rules. It’s about knowing how to break them.”

When it comes to building Product, There are thousands of frameworks, books and ways of looking at strategy. But at the end of the day, no framework will replace the ability to see… to be able to look at your situation, at the strategic context of your product, and see your options.

Frameworks can help you organise and explain what you see, and sometimes even deduce or discover things you might not have otherwise seen. But the strongest Product people I know use a strong combination of instinct and pattern recognition to see their strategic options and deduce the right way forward.

* The novel is called “A Conjuring of Light“, and it’s part of the Darker Shade of Magic series by V. E. Schwab.

Distribution-centric beats product-centric product companies

There is a lot of gold in this interview with Marc Andreessen.

The key insight for me was the notion that a superior product can easily be beaten by an inferior product with superior distribution.

“The general model for successful tech companies, contrary to myth and legend, is that they become distribution-centric rather than product-centric. They become a distribution channel, so they can get to the world.”

You need a great product, and the right product, to get to product market fit. But to scale beyond your early adopters you need distribution.

For consumer products, that’s going to be your growth loop: how to turn one cohort of users into another cohort of users.

Great interview.

A general plea on all App Store and Google Play users

If you have time to leave a review, you have time to respond to the developer when they reach out to you to try to solve your problem.

Behind every app in the App Store, behind every game, sticker pack and camera filter, is an app developer.

These individuals, or most likely team of individuals, got together and decided to spend their working hours building something that they hope brings joy, utility, or both, to people’s lives.

App developers work hard to make sure the app works on hundreds of different types of devices and screen sizes, across smartphones, phablets and tablets, in tens or hundreds of countries around the world.

App developers want you to have a great experience with their app. Their business, and their livelihood, is directly influenced by how successful their app is, which is directly influenced by how well it works for you, the user. So it’s in their interest for you to have a great experience.

But a smartphone app is a piece of software, and software is never perfect. Software is complex and software developers are humans, and humans overlook things, they make mistakes. Sometimes they even cut corners to meet a deadline or they rush to deliver value to you, the user, faster. And sometimes that means the software they release has problems. It has bugs.

When you’re using an app and it doesn’t work for you, or it does something unexpected, by all means write to the developer and tell them. If you’ve paid money for an app, then you have every right to expect, and to demand, that it works. So send a message to their support teams. Most developers will get back to you quickly and will be more than happy to help you get your app working.

When you have a problem with an app, it’s always polite, and good karma, to try to solve it directly with the app developer first, before posting a negative review on the App Store.

App Store reviews have a direct impact on the developer’s ability to find new customers and generate profits to keep their business running and their pay cheque coming. I would ask you to think about this before posting a flaming review on the App Store.

There are two genuine reasons to post a negative review on the App Store:

  • You have a problem with the app (it crashes, or behaves unexpectedly) and you contact the developer – and you don’t get any response, or the response isn’t helpful.
  • The app is obviously trying to trick you by providing fake or misleading content.

My final plea: if you do post a negative review on the App Store, and then the app developer responds to your feedback and offers to help fix your problem: then take the time to respond to them. If you have time to leave a review, you have time to respond to the developer when they reach out to you to try to solve your problem. And if the developer can solve your problem or at least tries to, then update your review. Help others see that the developer is willing to try to help their customers have a great experience.

Don’t be that person who leaves a flaming review and never takes the time to respond or update their review. Be kind to app developers. 🙂

On solitude and taking a break for a day

On Friday, I did something I nearly never do. I took the day off, and spent the day outside in a Kayak.

The simple act of being outside, alone on the water, was not only fun, but it was refreshing and energising. I relaxed. I had nothing to do, nowhere to be, no emails or slack messages to read: just me, my kayak and the water in front of me. It was nearly meditative.

It took me an hour or so to relax. I couldn’t paddle fast enough. The kayak kept going in circles. The rudder was tangled. I was stressed. I pulled up at a small jetty to try to fix the tangled rudder cables, and as I was getting out I did the classic kayaking newbie trick and rolled the kayak over and fell right into the water. I suppose in hindsight that could have made me even more annoyed, but the unexpected dunk into refreshing cool water actually calmed me down. I laughed out loud at myself, and at the silliness of it. Then I untangled my rudder cables, got back into the boat and set out for a totally relaxing few more hours on the water.

Just from taking one day off, and spending it in solitude, has worked wonders. I woke up this morning feeling energised and happy.

Solitude can be a rare thing to find for someone with a young family. Between the office and home, it’s rare that I spend more than my 35 minute bicycle commute on my own. But the value of solitude to your stress level and focus can be profound.

Many of the greatest thinkers rely on long bouts of solitude to get any thinking done, from Carl Jung to Bill Gates. Cal Newport talks about many of them in his book “Deep Work”.

The act of stepping outside of the daily routine is refreshing and energising. Our weekdays are full of meetings and work, and the weekends are often full with friends, family and other plans. So take a day off. Just one day. And spend it doing something by yourself. Go to a museum, go for a hike, hang out in a park. It doesn’t matter; just take yourself, maybe a book, and step outside of your daily routine.

There’s something nice about doing it on a weekday. Sure, you could do it on the weekend too, but something about knowing that the rest of the world is carrying on, and you’re stepping away from it, just for one day, makes it special. For extra impact, make it a Friday: then you get the bonus of waking up Saturday, refreshed and energised, with your whole weekend still ahead of you.

I’m planning to do one of these “think days” once per quarter. For my mental health and overall productivity, I see only upside.

Kayaking in Berlin, Wannsee

Kayaking in Berlin, Wannsee

The new way to display outdoor maps on your website

There is a new way to embed beautiful 3D Maps into your website.

Meet the new Map Embed from FATMAP. There is no better way to embed a high-resolution 3D map onto your website.

Chamonix, France

The map is fully interactive: use your mouse or trackpad to move around, and hold the SHIFT key to adjust the tilt and rotation. Or just use the map controls on the right hand side.

Map embeds are super easy to add to a page on your website, or a blog post. You just need to insert a snippet of HTML in an iFrame (similar to how embedding a YouTube video works). You can customise what types of outdoor adventures are visible on the map, whether the map shows summer or winter imagery (where winter imagery is available), and of course what location you want to see.

Map embeds are currently available in Beta for partners. Contact us if you want to be part of the trial program.

COMING SOON: Embeds for single adventures. Soon, you’ll be able to create your own adventure on (by drawing a route on the map, or uploading a GPX track) and then embed that in your blog on your own website. If you’ve wanted to show the world what adventures you’ve been on in the outdoors, or what you’re planning – this is how you’ll want to do it. Adventure embeds will be completely free and available for everyone to use. Email me if you want early trial access.