Thursday, September 25, 2008

Visual Misinformation (and a bit about offshoring)

I tripped across an article by McKinsey about the changing offshore landscape (short registration required). The low dollar and rising wages in BRIC countries are eroding some of the cost savings of offshoring - something most of us already know, and further proof that you shouldn't hinge your entire offshoring and outsourcing strategy on costs savings.

I read the article expecting to come away with several interesting insights, however I got sidetracked by one of my biggest pet peeves - blatent misrepresentation of the facts by skewing the scale on a graph.

Check out Exhibit 1 in the article (graph: A changing environment for offshoring)

The graph shows trends in world wages. The Y axis - wages - goes from 1000 to 8000, then suddenly jumps to 40,000. The graph makes it look like the wages in emerging countries are about to overtake US wages at any moment.

People put a lot of stock in visuals, especially graphs, which are meant to convey the hard facts - the unbiased data from which you can draw your own conclusions. However journalists (or editors?) frequently skew graphs to make their point. A more common trick is to start an axis at 100,000 rather then 0 to make a trend seem more dramatic. This however, is one of the worst I've seen. A real disappointment coming from McKinsey.

Reader beware.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Living with a MacBook Air

I finally did it. After years of making fun of Macs, I am now a Mac owner and a member of the fully converted.

Not only that, but I went whole-hog and bought a MacBook Air, against the recommendations of my colleagues, and virtually every reviewer on the Web.

I LOVE this machine.

One of the things I admire about Apple is they don't succumb to design by wish-list, a very common antipattern. In many companies, the product manager is a requirements secretarys - they gather lists of requirements emailed by users (who are typically power-users), prioritize them, and mold them into a spec. What you get is a product stuffed with features that aims to please everyone and please no-one.

Apple got it right. Not that the reviewers are wrong, but what they fail to realize is that they are not the target market for this machine. Reviewers are power users. Reviewers are geeks. I simply need to get s**t done. Reviewers complain about the lack of DVD drive. I haven't used a DVD drive in 3 years. They blast apple for not including an Ethernet port. I have Wi-Fi at home. I spend an unhealthy amount of time working from cafes and airports with Wi-Fi. Most of the hotels I stay at have Wi-Fi, and for the few times I need Ethernet, I bought a little USB-Ethernet dongle. I travel once a week. It's light (nothing worse then carrying a 10 pound laptop around an airport), fits perfectly on an airplane tray, has a backlit keyboard for working on late-night flights, and darn it - this is one sexy looking laptop!

What can we learn from Apple? As a product manager, your job is to know your market and your target audience, and devise products that will fill their need - tools to help them get jobs done. Avoid the temptation to try to fit in every incoming request for features from customers who may or may not represent your target market.