What Product Doctor did in 2017…

I spent the largest part of 2017 in corporate-land working with different levels of the organisation to embed the decision making structures, behaviours, processes and leadership required to enable teams on the ground to embed a more “lean” practice.

It can be suicidal to coach teams on the ground to adopt lean innovation practice without having the decision making structures further up in the organisation to support them – attrition is the most likely outcome. 

Here you are adopting best practice identifying risky assumptions; designing experiments to gather evidence to reduce those risks and asking for small amounts of incremental investment to do that…but the budget pot is not there – there is no money assigned to test out hypotheses.  Solving this problem requires a commitment from high to set aside some money for “innovation” or “experimentation” or “early stage ideas”; allowance for the line in the annual budget and commitment from Finance to know how to administer and account for it.

Imagine that you are working on a new idea or an improvement plan to an existing product only to find out after 6 months of effort that it is no longer “on strategy”.  A well communicated sharp strategic focus is one of the most important things that leadership can provide then innovating teams will know which trees to bark up and which ones to leave alone. I remember myself being set a task to “innovate” back in my corporate mobile operator days – it was 2004 (4 years before Apple launched their app store) and after lots of customer observation and qualitative insight (of course!) I came up with two ideas: (1) The concept of the mobile as the remote control and (2) The disappearing picture message – only to be told that they were not “on strategy”. Guess what – that was the trigger for me to leave!

Certainly gratifying was working with decision making cross functional management teams on asking the right questions at the right time to the right people to enable efficient, transparent and effective decision making. The principles of lean innovation are rarely under question (after the right level of debate!) and no one really argues with taking the “product lifecycle” approach to identify what to do / and not to do at each stage. Of course each business unit needs help to apply models and toolkits practically to their particular products and there are process changes and supporting documents that need to be in place to estabish a standard approach in a way that are not required in small businesses.

Through coaching a senior propositions manager at Pearson I also got the joy of winning a classic piece of Product Doctor qualitative research where I carried out some value proposition based qualitative insight work with both parents and children. The respondents were recruited in particular around their levels of drive to do well at school / college.  Without giving away anything about the innovative product in question of course, here are a few insights that I enjoyed discovering:

(1) These “driven” students are very aware of what distracts them and many will switch off their phones / move them into a non distract mode / give them to parents to look after when they have homework / revision to get through

(2) Many referenced that they find they can concentrate better with online /  mobile study and revision guides (as long as social media notifications etc are turned off) – they find that looking at screens can really focus them

(3) Social elements are really important for many of them – learning / revising with friends; creating good relationships with teachers and equally, if these are not good relationships it can negatively effect their study

(4) Parents of these particularly “driven” GCSE age teens are really listening to them – trying to let them make their own decisions

My workshops for UCL continued with startups in their Hatchery, under-grads, post-grads, researchers and staff. My trilogy of workshops is (a) Developing Value Propositions; (b) Getting off the Starting Block (using business model canvas); (c) Working with Risky Assumptions (defining experiments to gather evidence and my DIY User Research Toolkits).

I was delighted to extend my engagement with Sussex University Physics PhDs to Sepnet – the South East Physics Network, a consortium of physics departments in nine universities (Herfordshire, Kent, The Open University, Portsmouth, Queen Mary, Royal Holloway, Southampton, Surrey and Sussex. It’s incredibly stimulating working with such bright brains who have been solving physics based challenges, helping them discover commercial and sustainable models for their work.

2018 is already high energy – I am coaching a private company; my series at UCL has started; my series at Sepnet is about to start and I am getting ready to deliver the first of my new style “DIY User Research training programs” for a corporate client. As always, the participants will have the space to work on their own products throughout and the new element for 2018 is that when the series of four workshops is over, they will be presented with their very own bespoked “DIY User Research Manual” which will contain all the workshop guidance and toolkits plus the real examples they worked on during the sessions.

Continuing to love the diversity in my work, I always leave time for new projects – so do get in touch if you get a calling!

Thanks to great clients throughout 2017, whose testimonials you can read here. 

What Product Doctor did in 2016

In 2016, as Product Doctor, I worked with an interesting and diverse range of clients:

  • As a Product Coach at Pearson Education I continued to work with teams across the business to improve efficient and effective decision-making deploying best lean practice. Some call it the “Lean Enterprise”. It strikes me, having worked out of Hong Kong, New York and London that their offices really do have the best views (although London is obviously the best!!)
  • I ran Customer Development / Research masterclasses at University College London (UCL) for a range of small to medium businesses
  • Designed and ran a series of qualitative user research sessions for a new mobile messaging app with young teens helping develop brand, value proposition, feature set, roadmap and usability
  • Designed and ran bespoke Customer Development workshops for notonthehighstreet.com
  • Workshop-ed Risky Assumptions and Experiment Design with World First helping them with Customer Development by incorporating real customer interview sessions
  • Formed a series of workshops for a group of Sussex University Physics pHDs to help them develop sustainable business models and get out of the building to start talking with customers
  • Delivered mobile industry history classes to new hire at GSMA (a large industry trade body)
  • Delivered a presentation for Product Tank which was recorded here

You can see testimonials from those clients here.

I am always open to and always leave time for new projects and I enjoy diversity – in particular where the challenge is around Customer Development / User Research, so feel free to get in touch!

PHD Students at Sussex Uni with their fab mentor Colin Hayhurst

Where are we?! At notonthehightstreet.com

View from Hong Kong Pearson office

World First Workshop

Synthesising what we learnt about real customers from practice research interviews held during our Customer Development Workshop.





How the team felt they could improve their own research skills – thanks to observers for both keeping quiet during the customer interviews and providing such great feedback back to the interviewers!

Outcomes from The Mobile Academy

Please flick through this report that I put together to show the outcomes of this project – the bringing together of a very diverse group of people for real life business learning.

I love how one thing leads to another; my specialist “Lean” Tutor on the academy brought me in as a Product Coach to support the Lean Enterprise program he was pioneering at Pearson Education. I really enjoyed the move back from Start-Up to Corporate – an environment I had not been in for 10 years. Working through how to apply best practice lean innovation was of course much more in-depth and the implementation required far more design thought including decision making structures, empowerment and availability of “innovation funds”… all for another post!

What Product Doctor did in 2015

2015 Brands I worked with

Some Clients from 2015

First off – here’s to a happy, healthy and rewarding 2016!

In 2015 I worked with innovators from startups to large organisations; practising, teaching and coaching people-centred brand, proposition and product/service development. (Some call this “Customer Development”).

I have further evolved my range of “insightful and engaging” workshops, designed to reduce wasted time and money by making sure we deliver what end users and customers want throughout the product lifecycle. My next workshop is a “User Research Masterclass” – one of the CPD Certified “Short Courses for Entrepreneurs” at UCL and is on 8th March. UCL have kindly offered my contacts 50% off (reducing the price to £100) with discount code: “ProductDoctor”. You can book here: http://bit.ly/1OVeyrD. Let me know if you plan to come along – be great to see you!

To maintain diversity in my portfolio, I always leave time for new projects, so read on – I hope it will spark opportunities for us to work together:

1. Large Organisations
I have been helping Pearson, the largest education company and book publisher in the world, get lean (i.e. to become more profitable). Over the past 9 months I have established a new Product Coach programme to expedite digital innovation across the product lifecycle using lean, data driven and user-centred approaches. I have focussed on contextualising toolkits and methodologies to help product teams become more relevant to their target segments. We received Best Innovation Culture and Best Innovation Program awards at the 2015 Corporate Entrepreneur Awards in both US and UK, beating Unilever, Guardian Labs and Coca Cola.

As part of this programme, I have been running my workshops encouraging participants to admit risky assumptions they are making about how people think and behave, turn these assumptions into testable statements, design research to gather evidence to reduce those risks, choose the right research methods and practice how to have the most effective customer conversations. From these workshops, I produced a series of internal training videos which are to be watched across the global business.

While the internal challenges for large organisations to innovate has not changed over the past 10 years, there is an explosion of startup and SMEs harnessing opportunities offered by new technology, finding innovative and relevant ways to reach their target customers. If you are experiencing these challenges in your organisation and want to sharpen your approach, perhaps we can start talking…

Here I am with lovely Pearson colleagues: Shannon, Hope, Shirley, Stef (and said award!)

2. Smaller Organisations & Startups
I have had a brilliant range of hands-on research projects this past year – including a new holistic fitness app called Kiqplan from Fitbug; a service helping the visually impaired; a pay as you go music service and an innovative messaging service. I have helped them develop brand, value proposition, feature set, roadmap and usability.

So before you engage expensive agencies or decide not to do it at all (arghhh!) give me a shout – I’ll also offer to train your staff as we go through the process.

3. Industry, Community & Education
I hosted a Startup Village at Apps World (Informa) for Mobile Monday London where 12 companies had the opportunity to showcase their new products and make great connections. I was a judge at Battlehack London, Braintree’s flagship hackathon (part of PayPal) and for the IPA’s (Institute of Promotional Advertising) annual awards.

I worked with the newly awarded OBE Dr Sue Black, creating new business models for #techmums, which set her up to get a place on the Barclays Accelerator.

Through my Directorship at Azenby, I have continued to work with GSMA (the global association for the mobile telecoms industry) providing mobile industry training alongside the wonderful Bill Best – we have a great deck covering technical, regulatory, business models and ecosystem changes – industry history lessons also offered in the portfolio!

In addition to UCL, I have delivered workshops for General Assembly, Apps World Startup Launchpad (as part of a “DIY Series” with Hai Media), App Promotion Summit, London Agile Practitioners Meetup, Accelerators and finally returning to my annual stint at Over the Air Hackathon.

Presentations, insights, outcomes and testimonials are here on my website. Be great to hear your news and about any interesting ways we can work together in 2016 – feel free to also pass on the discount code to my Masterclass.

Best and thanks for reading!


User Research Masterclass – CPD at UCL 8th March 2016

1-day User Research Masterclass: Developing User Driven Products delivered by Julia Shalet, Product Doctor download

When is it?   Tuesday, 8 March 2016 from 09:00 to 17:00. The course is part of a series from UCL Advances at UCL in London

Who is it for?   Entrepreneurs, Product Managers, Designers and Marketers who seek a deeper understanding of their customers and users to inform proposition and product development.

What does it cover?   Many products fail as they are based on assumptions about the problems that people may have, what solutions they want and how they are going to behave when you put that solution in their hands.

This workshop will encourage you to face these assumptions; take a scientific approach to validate them using a structured framework and to develop your ability to carry out effective research – with lots of hand-on practice with your own case studies throughout the day.

The Workshop is in 4 parts:

Part 1 – Identify the risky assumptions we have made about how people feel, think and behave
Part 2 – Design research experiments to test out those risky assumptions with the right people
Part 3 – Get tips on how to carry out the different types of User Research to get at those assumptions
Part 4 – Work out what to do with results you get

Enter “ProductDoctor” for a 50% discount, reducing the price down to £100. Book here


Guest Post from Bill Best on Apps & Mobile Operators


Bill Best – my first ever boss’s boss’s boss!

I went along to ExCel for the 7th edition of Apps World to find out what’s hot and what’s not. Apps World claim 10,000 visitors over the two days and 350 exhibitors from across the planet of the Apps.

A long standing friend of mine and a fellow frequent attendee to Mobile World Congress and its previous incarnations used to call that event the annual bump. He didn’t mean everyone is continually walking into each other – but with 80,000 attendees there is more than a bit of that going on. No, he meant it’s where you continually and regularly bump into so many people you know from the industry. So for me the big difference here is no bumps – what does that tells us about where the MWC crowd are and what’s important to them these days?

MWC has striven over the last few years to fully represent all seven layers in the classic OSI model as well as the ever burgeoning mobile eco-system. So layer 7, Applications, is well represented at MWC. Here at AppsWorld this is all about layer 7 and only layer 7. As the name implies, this is the Apps show! It does what it says on the tin. Are Apps important to Telco’s and Tier 1 vendors? It would seem not judging by their lack of interest and participation at this show. And isn’t that very strange because Apps is not just where it’s at today – it’s where the money is and where contact with the billions of mobile device users occurs. Without doubt, mobile device user’s moments of truth are though the apps they use.

So why stacks 1-6 are away doing whatever they need to do today, stack 7 comes out to play and takes centre stage. Much of what goes on at AppsWorld is about sustaining the App eco-system and it’s largely a B2B show but small B to small B in the main. Of the 300 or so exhibitors here this week, how many will be big and even very big B’s in the coming years? Who are the ones likely to get to escape velocity and become a moon-shot? I wish I knew. I am sure there are some who will make it big which does increases my amazement on why so much App activity carries on under the Telco radar. Have they given up getting in on App monetisation?

Perhaps that’s the case but I note a distinct change of tone coming from MNOs recently and an acceptance of the argument put forward by OTT and App players that they help carriers sell more data and that is good for the carrier. Certainly Vodafone’s recent half-year results seemed to support this. They told us that Data traffic in H1 grew 75% and the desire for Apps drives smartphone adoption meaning that Vodafone now have 29.9 million 4G customers across 19 countries with 9.7 million of them coming in H1 alone! Although these numbers are impressive that still only equates to 20% of their European customer base taking a 4G service. And here is the nub of it all: customers who move to 4G typically buy bigger data packages and see their data consumption double, and average usage per smartphone customer in Europe is up 39% year-on-year. I can hear Silicon Valley saying ‘told you so.’ The real growth is still ahead of us and is it customers’ desire to use apps that will encourage them to take up 4G price plans.

Let’s get back to what the data generators are up to. Well, Apps for everything is the phrase of the day as you would expect. There really does seem to be an App for everything you want to do and a whole lot more for things we never thought we needed! Innovation and invention is what will make the difference to the winners and the losers and we know that the vast majority of Apps on the market never make any money. So taking some time to get your App proposition right seems a very good thing to do. Our very own Julia Shalet was on hand to give start-ups some vital tips in the Launchpad zone. Julia told us “Don’t build it until you have looked users in the eye and see what their response is. Go validate all the assumptions you have made about how people feel and behave before you go too far”. Sound advice indeed. You can see Julia’s full presentation here:


Having the great idea is one thing. Getting the App built these days seems pretty straightforward judging by the sheer number of App builders there were promoting their services at the show. The tough part has always been the turning the App into a commercial service. The quality assurance, the de-bugging, the payment method (it’s really nice to get paid!), the customer experience, the analytics, the asset inventory, and anything else that’s needed to make the App a commercial success. It is here I saw a big difference between the show this year and that of a couple of years back when I last attended. The support eco-system is now very strong. An App developer doesn’t have to go it alone and reinvent things that are necessary but don’t add value to the proposition. The plug-ins are now abundant.

I hope next year I may bump into some of my colleagues from the MNO and Tier 1 vendor world. There really is a lot that they can learn from a day out at Apps World 2016!

Defining Experiments at OTA 2015

It was back to Over The Air last week and a new way to get people to think about reducing risks in the assumptions they make about people. I ran a very interactive workshop where people got to work on their own products. My intention is to make Product Doctor experiences INSIGHTFUL and ENTERTAINING so I was pleased to get a few laughs and the comments below:

“…a challenging but fun workshop on product development at #ota15…just a pity it wasn’t longer…I am going to use what I have learnt today at my workshop on Monday to design some research experiments”

OTA Session 2015

We were working on the honesty to admit assumptions we are making and then how to turn them in to SMART research experiments (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely). I didn’t use this acronym in the workshop itself so as not to expose my 1990s corporate experiences, but frankly, it does work well as a checklist. The participants worked in groups around great real-life case studies offered up by people working on them in the room using the process you will see in slide 4 of this powerpoint.

It’s great working with examples from the room – the range always fascinates me and we got to some really tightly defined experiments. The products ranged from testing out whether reminding people on a daily basis of their achievements improves their self esteem; whether children would still use phones if they had child-lock on them; whether an online whiteboard would improve willingness to study; whether different people in a business need different security levels on their internal systems; whether there was an appetite for business to buy “speed enhancing software for their e-commerce sites and finally how to improve take up of a co-working area “oystercard”.

Key areas of discussion were:

1). How important looking in the eyes is rather than using surveys when trying to assess pain levels and whether they are great enough to pay for solutions. How can you assess real pain without doing that?!

2). How easy it can be to get face to face in the natural environment rather than sending out a survey or getting on the phone. There seems to be a natural tendency to shy away from meeting people in the flesh, which is why we do a practice session later on in the workshop. e.g. if you are researching how people behave in co-working spaces, go there to observe and question people.

3). How easy it would be to do a smoke and mirrors mock up of a product to get it in to people’s hands and test out the reactions that you think it is going provoke. e.g. set up a manual text service sending positive messages to people rather than asking them whether they might like the idea.

4). Making sure that you are using evidence already available before designing your own experiments e.g. in the realm of education, there must be a lot of research showing the positive impacts of white boards used in the right way. Massive savings on time and money.

5). How important it is to research with customers who are buying the product, as well as the people who might just be using the product e.g. in the case of parents buying products for their children – research assumptions you have made with both groups.

6). How research output can be turned into the key proposition message. e.g. using quoted e-commerce site owners description of their pain as the proposition messages to others in their position.

So that was it for another year – always delighted to be a part of the grassroots hub-bub that is OTA. Big thanks to the participants of the workshop, all of whom got involved and to Dan, Margaret and Matthew & Team for having me back.

Product Doctor offers training, workshops, consultancy and qualitative research to help innovating product owners, marketers & entrepreneurs develop meaningful propositions, brands & products. Contact: Julia@productdoctor.co.uk.