Bruce McCarthy is Founder and Chief Product Person at UpUp Labs, where he and his team are at work on Reqqs - the smart roadmap tool for product people.

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Find Your Triple Plays

So often in life (as in product management) things are about trade-offs. The latte tastes better with caramel but it adds unwanted calories. The LX model comes with intermittent wipers but you have to pay for the power seats you'll never adjust too. And the custom code will perform faster but will take longer to implement and be harder to test and maintain.

Sometimes, though, there are win-win situations. In fact, I've recently been finding a number of win-win-win situations - triple plays, I call them - in my every day life. These are situations where I can make a lifestyle choice that pays me back in multiple ways. Usually these pay-backs are in the areas of health, wealth and ecology, but there are other benefits.

Here are some recent examples from my life.

  • A brown bag lunch. Actually it's an insulated red and black bag, but the point is I assemble the lunch at home and bring it with me to work. This takes only a few minutes work in the morning. (I have simplified my lunch to allow for quick assembly.) It pays me back in health because I can control what I eat and the portion size more easily than eating at a restaurant or getting takeout. It pays me back in wealth because it is incredibly cheap compared with a bought lunch every day. And it is more ecologically responsible because my (uncooked) lunch uses much less energy, packaging, and transportation to prepare than a restaurant meal.
  • Avoiding fast food. I used to eat fast food once or twice a week because it was, well, fast. It was also reliably filling and comforting. Giving it up seemed like a hardship but I motivated myself by recognizing the multiple benefits that accrued every time I skipped a fast food meal. The health benefits of avoiding fast food should be obvious. The wealth benefits are real as well. If you add up a $4.00 meal at a major chain twice a week for a year, you come to $416 a year for just one person. A family of four could be putting good money away for education every year with the savings. Fast food is tough on the environment as well with all of the packaging, transportation, mass production of food, artificial ingredients and such that go into it. Some chains are trying to improve, but no one can argue they are a positive force overall.
  • Avoiding soda and Starbucks. I'm telling ya, caffeinated beverages are a near-perfect system for sucking money out of your wallet. (Cigarettes are more addictive but their more dramatic health effects make people want to quit.) Just one grande latte per day adds up to over a grand a year. And a grande caramel Frappucino with whipped cream (my wife's one-time fave) adds 380 calories each time. Add that to your gut every day for a while and see what happens to your health. The environmental impact of transporting coffee beans all over the planet is real as well, adding CO2 to the atmosphere and increasing global warming. Starbucks at least uses recycled paper in its cups. Soda, on the other hand, has all of the downsides of coffee plus the creation, distribution and disposal of all of those plastic bottles. Most are returnable in states that require it, but I see a lot of them in trash bins. Too much caffeine doesn't really agree with me so I had switched to decaf and tea (which seems to affect me less). But the budget and environmental arguments have gotten me to drop all of that in favor of good old water. Oh, and that's water from the tap (with a filter). Dasani and Evian and all of those new smart waters and fruit waters are no different than soda on the cost and environmental dimensions, and some of them have sugar as well. And some of those brands turn out to be - guess what? - filtered tap water.
  • Buying local and organic produce. Local produce doesn't have to last as long during transportation so it has time to vine ripen and you get it fresher, often the day after it's picked even at the supermarket. Organic produce uses less pesticide which means you're ingesting less pesticide. Between these choices you get more nutrition and less toxicity. Local foods in season can also be less expensive (not usually true for organics at the supermarket) because the transportation costs are lower. And, of course, less transportation and lower use of pesticides is good for the environment.
  • Driving the speed limit. Okay, this one was the hardest for me. I like to drive. I like to drive fast even more. I was the one always complaining at people who didn't start up right away at the green light or who dawdled on the highway. In one week recently, though, I read an article about how much I could improve my mileage just by driving the speed limit, and another one suggesting my greatest statistical risk of dying was from a speed-related accident. Now I tell myself I'm saving money, saving on CO2 emissions and saving my health all at once by cutting a few miles per hour off my speed.
  • Taking the train to work. This one may be a quadruple play. Perhaps that's a home run? I started commuting on the train when gas prices went up a while back. It saved me money on gas. And of course, not burning that gas has an environmental benefit, too. I also started walking from the train station to the office (about 20 minutes) each way, which provides terrific exercise benefits. I also discovered how much less stressful riding quietly on the train is than fighting traffic and worrying about being late. I figure the stress-reduction is just another health benefit, but then I also discovered how productive the train time can be. I bring my laptop and my Blackberry and I get two hours more of work time in every day. I now think of driving to work as a waste of time and resources.

It's hard to make changes just because you "should." It's easier, though, when you get paid back in several ways for those changes. Reminding myself of this multiplier effect motivates me to keep going on these things.

Product managers get good at trade-off decisions (usually cost and time vs. features) because they have to make them so often. I suspect, though, that there are hidden triple-play opportunities here as well. Here are a couple of ideas:

  • QA automation. Taking resources away from your current release cycle is hard because it means you deliver less "stuff" (features, bug fixes, etc.). Putting those resources onto creating automated testing tools, though, pays off in multiple ways later. Once you start using the tools, QA goes faster which means you can test more features in less time, increasing the amount of "stuff" you can deliver. Good tools will also increase quality (fewer bugs), which will, in turn, result in higher customer satisfaction. This should lead to more business, which will allow you to grow and hire more engineers and testers to deliver and test even more "stuff." A triple play.
  • User testing. Bringing customer in to test prototypes product designs will no doubt improve those designs through the natural feedback process. At the same time, contact with customers will improve your designers' understanding of your customers and their needs which will result in better initial designs. And finally, bringing your customers in and listening to them will cement in your customers' minds the idea that you care about their needs and are working on their behalf. This should result in greater sales growth over time. Another triple play.
What are your personal or product development triple-plays? Post your comments below.

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    Find Your Triple Plays - Blog - Product Powers

Reader Comments (4)

ya know what would be fun? some kind of regular green lunch gathering. maybe once a month or something. people could get together and talk about this or that thing they've tried in the past month and how it worked out for them, we could trade ideas, or just chatter...

for that matter, we could probably also do with some kind of monthly "good ideas" lunch meeting, where people brainstorm about how we can meet needs in the company while working within constraints...

in general, i find sitting around brainstorming is good :)
August 6, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterkatja
Great list of suggestions. I try to ride my bike when possible, but unfortunately, in my current situation, I need to take a train because its too far away.

share your startup stories: http://startupflames.com
August 6, 2007 | Unregistered Commentercarlity
I have another suggestion. Stop watching TV. Instead learn how to sing or play a musical instrument (not electric guitar!). It will be more entertaining for you and your family and it will save a lot of electricity. There are many other family-oriented things that could be done in place of TV watching. If you can't think of them now, you will when you are sitting around a silent living room wondering what to do now that your TV has been thrown out. Despite what we may think, people were NOT bored before TV was invented.

I can think of one more thing, I got this orginally from the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Meditate on your own death. It will help you prioritize your life correctly. If you do this very seriously, you may very well be surprised by the reordering. It also has a tendency to set people on a search for the meaning of life (especially their own).
By the way, don't bother reading the 7Habits books, they are overrated.

August 20, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterDan Guilderson
You know, evenings spent playing my (acoustic) guitar and singing with my family are some of my fondest memories. That's good advice, Dan.
August 20, 2007 | Registered CommenterBruce McCarthy

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