Success at Agile Australia 2012

Several months ago, eBay colleague Megan Folsom and I flew out to India to train our outsourced development teams in the concepts of Agile.

To provide a bit of background, we had spent almost 6 months banging our heads against a wall trying to get teams to collaborate with each other, the internal eBay product team, and the eBay business stakeholders. After many painful attempts to move our teams in the direction of Agile, we realized we were going about it completely wrong. We were trying to put in place processes representative of an Agile environment, but the teams didn’t understand some of the fundamental concepts behind the movement. So it was time to start from scratch and return to basics.

At a high level, we devised a week-long offsite for the teams that explored the concepts of agile via playful and non-threatening exercises. We ran the workshop without any specific goals or expectations – we were only hoping to make in-roads.

To our surprise, the workshop turned out to be more successful than we could have hoped. We were so moved by the experience we felt we had to share our learnings (as well as yet-to-be addressed challenges) with others.

And thus, we attended Agile Australia 2012 this week to share our story. The conference had 800+ delegates, with ~300 attending our presentation. Our format was a combination of video of our developers during the workshop, impromptu Q&A between Megan and myself, and open questions from the audience.

Honestly, I wasn’t sure what reaction to expect. Telling this story felt a little bit like talking about your kids. You know you’re interested in your kids..but no one else is. Would it be like that?

Most definitely not! We received tons of amazing feedback. People loved seeing firsthand the positive change in our developers from the beginning of the workshop to the end. They loved the honesty that even a big company like eBay doesn’t have it figured out. And most of all, they appreciated the validation that off-shoring and outsourcing present unique challenges in Agile adoption. In fact, following our presentation, I felt a bit like a therapist. People came up to us to share that they faced the same challenges. Many didn’t even ask for our advice on addressing the challenges….they just wanted to talk, have someone listen, and validate everything they were feeling.

Outsourcing a a reality. Agile is a reality. But how do you combine the two to create a positive, successful, and human experience? I don’t have the answers. I’m not sure if anyone does. One thing I do know – everything we’ve done with our developers to date, especially all the time we’ve spent building face-to-face relationships has made a HUGE difference.

I feel very lucky to have been part of the dialogue on this at Agile Australia 2012. First, thank you Megan for all your hard work and dedication, helping me address challenges I had no idea how to tackle. Secondly, thank you to our manager, Robin Whyte, who supported us in our efforts, despite the fact that we weren’t sure of the outcomes. Thank you to the organizers of the event, who believed we had a valuable story to tell and invited Megan and I to speak. And finally, thank you to everyone who attended our presentation. Your feedback and support was amazing!

For those interested, here are a selection of posts that floated through the Twittersphere during our presentation. My apologies to those that posted these Tweets…I wasn’t able to figure out how to export your Twitter IDs and profile links along with your posts.

eBay expectations around collaboration, continuous delivery and trust weren’t working with outsourced teams #AgileAus

someone admitting they were far from agile. Quite refreshing! #eBay #agileaus

team at Ebay was silo’d and operated in a vacuum before their agile transformation. #agileaus

Goal for ebay teams- build trust & collaboration @mfolsom @robinzaragoza #agileaus

Face to face time with offshoring team at #eBay. Best single offshoring practice in my opinion, definitely worth the cost! #agileaus

No surprise- show respect to the offshore teams, build trust, create face-to-face relationships. Reassure people, defuse stress. #AgileAus

Safety exercise at retrospectives. Useful and well known but often forgotten! #eBay #agileaus

eBay team showing the penny game used with offshore teams. I love that game. We even use this with execs #agileaus

Create Team manifestos – the things that resonate most with the people #AgileAus

How to get people to trust each other and work with each other? Share food! #agileaus

#ebay empowers their offshore teams to collaborate and trust the power of a team @robinzaragoza @mFolsom

Takeaways from Indian ebay team: Do what you can; Eliminate waste; Trust each other. Great to see engagement and enjoyment grow. #agileaus

Agile has to be across the whole organisation not just within development teams #ebay @robinzaragoza @mfolsom #agileaus

treat your external vendors as your team member and empower them. Don’t treat them as service providers. #ebay #agileaus

ebay speaker not confident they can influence the culture sufficiently within their outsourcing partner. Big issue with vendors. #agileaus

Culture impacts a teams ability to agile @robinzaragoza #agileaus #ebay

building trust, the right culture within and with the overseas team is key to offshored projects #agileaus #ebay

#AgileAus Agile has to be across the entire organisation, not just the developer teams, the business must embrace it as well:eBay

Don’t underestimate the power of face to face when empowering agile offshore teams @mfolsom @robinzaragoza #ebay #agileaus

Difference in language from ebay Europe speakers: they say “being agile” rather than “doing agile”.

Quick note: Unfortunately, our presentation was not videotaped. We will be looking for another opportunity to present (and record it) in London in the coming months, so we can share it online. If you have any ideas for events at which we can present our story, please let me know. Thanks!


May 31, 2012 at 5:41 am 4 comments

Huge letdown by Zappos

Unhappy customers are the loudest. And today, I’m going to be pretty loud.

I’m a major advocate of Zappos, and historically I’ve told all my friends about them – their shoe inventory (and now other products as well) is exhaustive, their customer service is typically un-matched, and they provide free overnight shipping to their VIP customers.

But now I’m wondering if they’re getting too big for their britches, and perhaps customers may suffer the consequences.

From what I can gather, Zappos seem to have gone through a software upgrade which caused some orders to get backlogged and delayed in showing up for the warehouse. As such, my order that was placed 2 days ago has still not arrived, and is not due to arrive until Monday (7 days after the order was placed,  and definitely not in keeping with guaranteed overnight delivery for VIP customers). Being in software myself, this is totally understandable to me, and I’m sympathetic.

Long story short, while customer service can see that my order is in the system, they can’t tell whether its been packed and shipped. And in the words of the customer service supervisor, “we have no way to validate the status at this time.”

What?! Your entire business is predicated on proper inventory management, and you don’t have a way to validate the status of my order with the warehouse? Furthermore, customer service, while nice enough to talk to me on chat for an entire hour, didn’t seem empowered to do anything about it except give me a credit, which really doesn’t help me with  my current dilemma.

For the company that prides itself on customer service, this is a huge fail. And maybe the credit they gave me will entice me to give them money one more time, but this experience does nothing to engender my long term loyalty (and others who have experienced the same).

So does this most recent software glitch at Zappos affect the lifetime value of a Zappos customer? Only time will tell, but I guarantee my lifetime value to Zappos has definitely decreased.

[full customer service transcript provided below]

Please wait while we find an agent to assist you…

Thank you for chatting it up with Zappos today, my name is Clarissa and I’m happy to assist you.

Clarissa:  Good Morning Robin.

Clarissa:  How are you?

Clarissa:  I’m sorry Robin, the order still has not yet shipped.

Robin Zaragoza:  Hey Clarissa. I’m feeling a little let down. I’ve been a Zappos customer since 2006 and this is the first time this has happened.

Clarissa:  I understand you are leaving the country soon. Is that correct?

Robin Zaragoza:  Yes. I’m headed out of town today, I come back on Saturday night, and then I fly back to London on Sunday.

Clarissa:  I’m very sorry. It has been released to the fulfillment cent but not yet processed.

Robin Zaragoza:  What does that mean? Can you please explain?

Robin Zaragoza:  Meaning they haven’t picked and boxed them yet?

Clarissa:  Correct.

Robin Zaragoza:  Has someone actually been in touch with them to understand when it will happen?

Robin Zaragoza:  (and that it’s on their radar?)

Clarissa:  If you asking if the warehouse has been notified of your order number and to place a rush on it. No, I don’t believe they have.

Robin Zaragoza:  Ok, well I feel like waiting for them to notice the order isn’t going to help the situation. Is there anything you can do?

Clarissa:  No, I’m, sorry. I’m in a different state from the fulfillment center.

Clarissa:  It is queued to be filled soon but I can’t say what time. Most likely it will arrive on Friday.

Clarissa:  Sorry, delivery will most likely be on Monday.

Robin Zaragoza:  So the guaranteed free shipping means nothing here?

Robin Zaragoza:  I’m not really sure how a Monday delivery fits in with that

Robin Zaragoza:  sorry, meant guaranteed free overnight shipping

Robin Zaragoza:  I placed this as a VIP customer

Clarissa:  If you no longer want the order, I can put in a request for UPS to return the order to us and give you a refund.

Robin Zaragoza:  hold on a sec…..I’m not really sure what UPS has to do with this. You said earlier that the order hasn’t even been packed yet.

Robin Zaragoza:  So I don’t know why UPS would need to return the order if it hasn’t been shipped.

Clarissa:  Robin, if Monday delivery will be too late for you due to leaving the country, Once this order ships, I can put in for UPS to return the order before delivery.

Clarissa:  You asked what does UPS have to do with it. UPS is the delivery service. I have to set a reminder to check the order. Once it has been processed to ship and has a tracking number, I will need to notify UPS.

Robin Zaragoza:  I see, ok. Yes, it would definitely be too late, I will no longer be in the country. But I also feel like you’re not answering my question. As a VIP customer your site offers free next day shipping. I’d really like to understand why this does not hold true in this circumstance. And I’d also like to understand if there is someone else who would be able to check on this order directly with the warehouse.

Clarissa:  I’m sorry, we had a system upgrade several weeks ago and all of the bugs have not been ironed out. They are doing their best but many of the orders, even VIP gets caught in a back log. I do apologize.

Clarissa:  I have emailed a coupon for $75.00 off a future order because of the delay.

Robin Zaragoza:  That is understandable, but it feels like you’re telling me we’ll just have to wait for the warehouse to see the order, rather than doing something about it.

Clarissa:  Unfortunately, no one is able to speak directly to the warehouse We are here in Las Vegas, NV and the warehouse is in Kentucky. Again, because of the system upgrade of our parent company, we are saddened by the fact that we cannot always meet all of the requests. We do our best.

Robin Zaragoza:  So there is no escalation process when agents are unsure whether an order is showing up in the system for the warehouse?

Clarissa:  I know it is showing because it states released to the fulfillment center. Robin, again, your order is queued. At this present time, I am the highest you can receive in live chat.

Clarissa:  You are welcome to call and speak with a superviser. Customer service is 1-800-927-7671.

Robin Zaragoza:  Are there supervisors working at this time?

Robin Zaragoza:  Also, can you tell me the date on which the status showed “released to the fulfillment center”?

Clarissa:  Yes. your order was released 11/21/11 at 12:46 PM PST.

Robin Zaragoza:  Thank you.

Robin Zaragoza:  I will speak with a supervisor before cancelling the order.

Clarissa:  Sorry, Robin, I was in deed speaking with a supervisor. I

Clarissa:  You are welcome to.

Clarissa:  I had to call by phone.

Robin Zaragoza:  ok

Clarissa:  She will be with you in a moment.

Robin Zaragoza:  How does that work? Do you transfer this chat to her, or shall I call?

Alicia B:  Hello Robin! Thank you for being so patient and waiting. I see that there is a problem with the delivery of your order and your leaving town soon.

Alicia B:  My name is Alicia and I am the Supervisor on duty.

Robin Zaragoza:  Hello Alicia, yes, that is correct

Alicia B:  I want to apologize for the inconvenience. Clarissa is correct, we recently updated our systems and are having a few hiccups along the way. However, a few orders are a still being affected. I totally apologize.

Robin Zaragoza:  Alicia, I totally understand the problems software can cause.

Robin Zaragoza:  Where I’m a bit mifffed is that Clarissa tells me the software glitch has caused some orders to get backlogged, but at the same time she’s telling me she’s sure the warehouse has seen my order since the system says it was released to them 2 days ago, almost immediately after I placed the order.

Robin Zaragoza:  Those statements don’t match up. It seems to me that if the normal process is an order is packed when its released to the warehouse, and my order hasn’t been packed yet, its highly likely my order is not showing up for the warehouse

Robin Zaragoza:  Especially since I’m being told the new software has some bugs and is causing some problems, my expectation is that there is something that can be done to confirm with the warehouse that my order is showing up.

Robin Zaragoza:  Just waiting for it to show up for them isn’t what I would expect from Zappos.

Robin Zaragoza:  I realize I’m being a bit demanding, but I don’t think I’m being unreasonable. I have to believe Zappos is quite a sofisticated company that there are business processes to support investigating orders that seem to be “lost” in the system.

Alicia B:  Robin, you are not being unreasonable at all. I can understand where things got a little confused. Your order was placed and went into processing (which is picking) but never left that status. At this time I don’t know if the order was picked, processed and shipped out. That where the glitch in the system. Again, I totally apologize.

Robin Zaragoza:  Ok, so is there a process to try to validate the status with the warehouse?

Alicia B:  Robyn, unfortunately we have no way to validate the status at this time. Our warehouse is shipping over 100,000 orders a day or more at this time and the glitch has made it where we can’t confirm at this time. I apologize.

Robin Zaragoza:  If I were to place an order today, and assuming the software glitch did not affect the order, when would you expect it to arrive. Secondly, how likely is it that the software glitch would impact a new order (i.e. how prevalent is this bug?). What I’m wondering is….what if we cancelled my existing order, and placed the order again today. Is it likely enough that it would arrive on Friday or Saturday and that is possibly how we solve the problem? Is this worth doing?

Alicia B:  Robin if were to place the order for your today the order will not arrive on Monday because of the Holiday. We have gotten word from the warehouse that the glitches are all worked out. No more should be occurring.

Robin Zaragoza:  UPS is not delivering Friday and Saturday?

Alicia B:  I apologize for the delayed response time. I was trying to make sure I was giving you correct information regarding the update. UPS is attempting to make delivery on Friday but I can-not gurantee is on Friday. Monday I can. Unfortunately we do not deliver on Saturdays.

Robin Zaragoza:  This is unfortunate Alicia. I feel pretty helpless in this situation, and I feel let down by Zappos customer service as well. I only visit the US several times a year, and Monday I will no longer be in the country. So my order is pretty useless at this point.

Alicia B:  Again Robin, I apologize. This is the first time Zappos has done anything that effected some of our customer’s in the past 11 years we have been in business. We pride ourselves on our service and there is really no excuse for what has taken place. I wish their was something that I can do to make sure that you get this on Friday but with the Holiday and the time of year that it is, I just don’t want to disappoint you again if it arrives on Monday.

Robin Zaragoza:  Go ahead and cancel it.

Alicia B:  I will go ahead and cancel it. I also want to extend instead of a $75.00 coupon, one for $150.00 for your next Zappos order. I really and truly feel bad that you can’t receive this order. I know that doesn’t help you know but I hope it will give you faith to shop with us again in the future.

Robin Zaragoza:  ok, thanks.

Alicia B:  Thank you Robin, I will email you the coupon. The coupon is good for 90 days but if you don’t use it, please call us and we will reinstate it for you. We are open 24/7.

Alicia B:  You will receive conformation of the order being cancelled. The Authorization will take 72 hours to drop off.

Alicia B:  Is there anything else I can assist you with this morning?

Robin Zaragoza:  No, thanks. Have a nice day.

Alicia B:  Have a wonderful Holiday!! Thank you for shopping at

November 23, 2011 at 12:50 pm 3 comments

My most favoritest product document

I recently worked with a client who asked me to help them redesign their site architecture. As part of my proposal, I suggested we back up and really define the customer, the market, and the product’s position within the market. Fully expecting a “No thanks, just redesign the site” (start-ups are notorious for putting the cart before the horse), I was delighted when they agreed.

As we went through the process, I continuously heard “It’s like you’re putting to paper everything in my head.” Amen brotha! Its so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day execution of your product and forget to ask once in a while, “What is it again that I’m trying to do?” That is why I’m such a fan of the product positioning statement. It really can be, when used properly, your guiding light.

Before going further, I’ll clarify what I define as a product positioning statement. In a nutshell it answers the questions: for whom, why, and how. There are lots of different templates out there, so find the one that’s right for you. Personally I use a modified version of Pragmatic Marketing’s template, addressing the following:

  • Describe the problem in the market
  • Describe the ideal solution (without describing your product)
  • Main product message (kind of like a tagline that sums up your product in 10 words or less)
  • Main feature sets* of the product that solve customer problems

Now, here is why I think a positioning statement is so important…

Its gets everyone on the same page
Assuming you can rally support among your team to spend time on this effort, putting together the positioning statement is a great way of gathering all the disparate information in your teams’ heads and getting it all in a centralized location. Once you’ve done that, it’s much easier to come to a collective agreement about your product strategy.

It keeps everyone focused
Not only does this document serve to remind you of the main goals when you’re stuck in the weeds, it also acts as a way to prioritize work efforts. There are lots of great ideas flying around, but does that great idea help you accomplish what you’ve defined as your positioning statement? If not, then it either gets deprioritized or perhaps it’s time to revisit whether your positioning in the market should change.

It gets everyone thinking like a marketer
Its so easy to think about your product in terms of its functionality…especially for those in a technical role. Raising the conversation to the level of market problems and feature sets (as opposed to individual features) helps the entire team think in terms of building a product that will answer the broader market problem rather than individual features.

Your marketing team/copy-writers will love you
Having written copy myself, I can tell you its infinitely more difficult to do when you don’t have a sense for why the heck your product is worth its druthers. The product positioning statement serves as a starting point for any major customer messaging. This includes sales materials, fund-raising decks, etc. So perhaps I should change the header of this paragraph to “Anyone who has to sell the product will love you” instead.

If you’re reading this, I’m probably preaching to the choir. So what if others in your organization don’t really understand or believe in the positioning statement’s value? Do it anyway and keep it in your back pocket for the right moment. Then when there is a question of “should we …..?”, you can ‘wam bam thank you maam’ them with why they should or shouldn’t based on whether it helps solve the market problem. When they ask where you got your moment of brilliance, pull out that positioning statement.  Look for every opportunity to use the positioning statement to inform decisions and I promise they’ll learn its value. And thus, you prove yours.

Yah Product Positioning Statement!

* A feature set is multiple features rolled up into a larger offering that solves a market problem. Example: an inbox, comment board, and instant chat on a social network would be part of a feature set for “Messaging”, which helps the user communicate in whatever way is most convenient at the time.

April 14, 2011 at 11:20 pm 3 comments

Rebuttal to “Why its harmful to listen to users”

I find writing blog posts very difficult. They require time, thought, revision, etc (I haven’t learned the art of posting small tidbits). But earlier this week,  this blog post was sent to the London Open Coffee mailing list to which I subscribe. I was pretty much fuming after I read the article and felt compelled to write a response. Below is what I sent back to the mailing list, and I figured I might as well commit myself to my opinion and post it on here as well. Comments welcome, as always!

I’m possibly going to start an argument here, but I really dislike this article.

Why?  The author uses the terms “User-led innovation” and “User centric” synonymously. They are not. User-led innovation is when “users play an active part in the development of new or improved products and services”, but user-centered design is “a process by which the needs, wants, and limitations of end users of a product are given extensive attention at each stage of the design process”.

The first implies that the user designs the innovation, which the author argues does not work. I agree, users often don’t know what they want and generally work within the confines of their experience, which is limited. The second implies that users needs (read: problems) are taken into account when the product is designed.

These two situations play out VERY differently when it comes to product design. Let’s imagine we’re the creators of the Sony Walkman, before we’ve actually designed it….

User-led innovation would ask “How would you improve the design of the Sony Boombox.” The user might respond with: “I’d make it smaller so I could carry it around to more places.” Great, so now we have a smaller boombox.

User-centric design would through research & observation get to the bottom of a) When do our customers use our product and why? b) When do our customers not user our product and why? c) Why do non-customers not use our product. Just some of the discoveries you could find about the boombox through this research:  customers want to, but don’t take it to the beach because it doesn’t fit in their bag with the rest of their beach stuff, and it disturbs other people on the beach, including their husband or wife. That makes it much more specific for how small a design should be considered and it makes a case for no speakers at all, but externalizing the sound to a set of headphones.

I could go on. The point is, you should always always always understand customer problems. In the case of Apple, while I don’t know exactly how they innovate new products, I highly suspect they’re all working off their current dissatisfaction with something they’re using. So they’re still understanding the customer problem, but they are the customers themselves.

I’m not saying that an innovation that answers customer problems will always succeed (there are so many other factors involved), but it definitely increases your probability of success and it helps you analyze possible innovation ideas. This article seems to say “Ignore the customer” and I’m wholeheartedly disagreeing.

February 17, 2011 at 5:18 pm Leave a comment

London is Giving me a Learning

Right now! Time to resuscitate this blog. What better topic to help us along than the curious and interesting things I’ve learned since moving to London back in August:

Morning Wars
Every morning when I leave my flat, I slip into an offensive walking style. London has a huge international population…most of whom drive on the right hand side of the road in their home country. But the natives drive on the left. Thankfully driving laws are quite clear..but not so when it comes to walking on the sidewalk. There is no “correct” side, making it a free-for-all war of whoever walks more dominantly. It’s kind of like the game of chicken: continue in a straight line giving off signals you don’t intend to alter course. It helps if you growl. Then, at the very last second as your opponent is just in front of you, turn your torso so it’s perpendicular to your lower body and barely squeak by without touching the other person. If you’re lucky, your opponent doesn’t have a brief case, otherwise you’ll get assailed by the bag during their mutual torso turn. Broods of children are actually the most dangerous opponents, as they haven’t learned to play chicken yet. In such situations, just roll up into a ball and wait for them to pass. Or, my personal favorite, try to flatten yourself against the nearest building hoping their impulsive walking pattern does not lead in your direction. Finally arriving at my destination, I can let my guard down. Time for a cup of tea!

“Two nations divided by a common language”
This is SO true! British English and American English are just not the same. On one occasion, I told a female friend I needed to shop for pants. She paused, scrunched up her face in confusion, then relaxed into a giggle 20 seconds later in realization: “You want trousers!”
“Yes, that’s what I said,” I replied.
“No, you just told me you need knickers.”
Now I’m really confused: “Maybe, what are those?”
“Hmm…what do you call those…underwear?”
Case closed!

Local Heros
Growing up in New York and then spending another 13 years in Boston, I had all but given up faith in my local weatherman. He just always lied to me. Even worse, its like all weathermen were part of a cult that agreed to concurrently provide mis-information so that we the innocent viewers were never able to plan our daily outfits accordingly. Given this breach of trust, you’ll forgive me for doubting British weathermen. To my pleasant surprise, they’re always right! “Over to you in the weather room, Thomas.” “Thanks Elisabeth. I do wish I had better news. It’s going to be cloudy, a bit chilly, and oh yes, we’ll have some rain.” “Right, thanks Thomas. Sounds quite similar to yesterday’s weather. Perhaps we’ll see something different tomorrow.” Thanks Mr. Weatherman – at least I know what to wear!

If you’ve spent any time in London, or currently live here, I’d love to hear your own experiences!

October 29, 2010 at 11:48 am 3 comments

Product Management Mentorship Program

A head’s up for those in the Boston area….

The Boston Product Management Association (BPMA) has developed a Mentorship Program for 2010.

As I understand it, mentors have already been found, and they are now accepting applications for mentees. Think you’re interested? Download the BPMA_Mentee_form and send it in by December 24th. Information on where to send it is in the application.

My apologies for not posting this information earlier, but it completely escaped my notice until I saw it mentioned in a LinkedIn group a few days ago.

December 22, 2009 at 11:41 pm Leave a comment

Customer Interviews made easy


If you’re a product manager, you probably spend a portion of your time doing customer interviews – trying to understand the needs of your customer, and how your product does or doesn’t fit those needs.

What tool are you using for this activity? You’re not likely to use a video camera – you’re on site at your customer’s location, or in a coffee shop, etc. A camera would make the customer uncomfortable. You might be using a digital tape recorder, but how much of that interview do you really go back and listen to? Its just too long and tedious.

So if you’re like most of us, you’re relying on good old pen and paper. My handwriting is chicken scratch to begin with, so when I’m writing really quickly (the customer shares so many great insights and I don’t want to miss any!) it gets even worse. When I review my notes later, there are portions I just can’t remember and my handwriting really isn’t helping me out.

Enter the Pulse Smartpen – it records the conversation, keeps track of what you’ve written, and syncs up the two click on parts of your notes to hear that part of the conversation. Watch this video to see it in action:

I haven’t bought this product yet, so I can’t speak to how well it works, but if it does what it says it does, I see this as being an indispensable tool for customer interviews going forward. Can’t wait to try it!

Have experience with the product? Let me know what you think by leaving a comment!

October 22, 2009 at 6:29 pm Leave a comment

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