Alex Cowan, Author at General Assembly Blog

8 Things You Can Do to Be More Innovative

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innovative ideas

Innovation: everybody wants some! Below are 8 practical tips anyone can apply. These ideas are meant to propel the kind of actionable learning the drives innovation. Let’s get started.

1. Start with the Individual

When I hear “our market is males 25-35” I can’t see how that leads to innovation. When I hear that, I think “I’m worried for you.” I worry competitors are going to re-segment their market, deliver something more relevant to their sub-segments, and dismantle their business piece by piece.

Creating prescriptive, actionable learning based on observing the individual has always been central to design research and the practice of needfinding. Product inspiration comes from relatable experiences and those start with the individuals.

I recommend anchoring your understanding of the customer with personas and then attaching trios of a) problem scenarios b) alternatives and c) value propositions to drive to insights that are vivid, actionable, and testable.

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Create an Awesome Business Model Canvas in 3 Steps

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The Business Model Canvas’s chief virtue is its transparency, and that transparency helps create focus. That said, to create a meaningful and worthwhile take on the Canvas, you want some depth. Here we’ll walk through 3 steps that will help you dig deep into what your business is about and how to frame that using the Canvas.

What is the Canvas

The Business Model Canvas is a tool for articulating and innovating business models. It has the nine blocks shown below. You can probably sit down right now and fill out a version of it for your business.

If you’re prefer something printable, here’s a PDF.

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What Every Product Manager Should Know About Agile Development

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Agile Product Management

Agile product management was first developed as a reaction to various challenges that occurred in more sequential forms of project organization. As technology projects became increasingly complex, many product developers needed to replace their old style of management with a more iterative and flexible one–leaving room to refine long term requirements as the product advanced.

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The Full Stack Product Team in 3 Sketches

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Alex Cowan is an entrepreneur (5x), intrapreneur (1x), author, and instructor at General Assembly. He’s also the author of Starting a Tech Business. When he’s not teaching at GA, he’s often found advising companies and posting instructional materials for innovators and instructions on alexandercowan.com.

In “7 Essential Skills for the Full Stack Product Person” I introduced this idea of a “full stack product person”:

the-full-stack-product-person-v4

The response was great and thanks again to everyone who got in touch with the stories and perspectives. Based on that correspondence and some personal experience, I wrote up three quick sketches (before and after) about the concept’s practical application.

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6 Easy Steps For Animating User Acquisition with Storyboards

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My favorite framework for thinking about the customer lifecycle is “AIDA” (attention, interest, desire, action). I also like to add an “OR” (onboarding, retention) since these are so important to many of the products I deal with today. Fun fact: this framework is ancient by the standards of today’s business press- it was introduced by marketers in the 19th century (yes, the 1800’s).

AIDA(OR) is one of my favorite storyboarding topics simply because lots of product teams I meet with haven’t thought through the whole acquisition process in vivid, actionable, testable terms. You should absolutely add more panels if you feel you have more detail for them but here’s a simple 6-panel reference for an AIDA(OR) storyboard: Continue reading

7 Essential Skills for the Full Stack Product Person

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Meet Alex Cowan, entrepreneur (5x), intrapreneur (1x), author, and instructor at General Assembly. He’s also the author of ‘Starting a Tech Business’. When he’s not teaching at GA, he’s often found advising companies and posting instructional materials for innovators and instructions on alexandercowan.com.

I’m always pushing myself to be the best possible product person I can be, and these days I tend to earn a lot through my work as an instructor. My classes are on the interdisciplinary topics of product design and venture creation, so I get to work with business people wanting to understand the technical side and engineers wanting to learn the business side.

Often times, students from the business side are thinking of learning to code and students from the engineering side are thinking of going to get an MBA. While both might be advisable in certain situations, I’ve found that there are a few simple foundation skills that drive the interdisciplinary cooperation at the heart of so many successful projects:

the-full-stack-product-person-v4

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Exit Flatsville: Using Storyboards to Energize Your Agile User Stories

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Meet Alex Cowan, entrepreneur (5x), intrapreneur (1x), author, and instructor at General Assembly. He’s also the author of ‘Starting a Tech Business’. When he’s not teaching at GA, he’s often found advising companies and posting instructional materials for innovators and instructions on alexandercowan.com. This is the second post in Alex’s series on Storyboarding. Click here to read his introductory post

Outstanding products are the accumulation of many thoughtful details. Particularly in more mature categories, consistently thoughtful execution is probably more important than grand inspiration.

Agile’s primary input, user stories, have always been a great way to get that consistency. Sadly, they’re not a silver bullet and their impact is often marginalized because of weak stories. Quality stories that really represent users should thread back to personas & problem scenarios, meaning that you have a vivid depiction of who this user is and what underlying need the story’s addressing. Without this, the user stories may end up as a specification for something thought up ‘inside the building’ as opposed to out in the market. Furthermore, the story will end up in out there in the real world without a clear trail back to why you thought it was a good idea and a ready criteria for whether or not it’s delivering the outcome you intended.

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Storyboard It

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Meet Alex Cowan, entrepreneur (5x), intrapreneur (1x), author, and instructor at General Assembly. He’s also the author of ‘Starting a Tech Business’. When he’s not teaching at GA, he’s often found advising companies and posting instructional materials for innovators and instructions on alexandercowan.com. In this first entry of his series on storyboarding posts, Alex lays out the basics and explains how storyboarding can help anyone, in any career path.

Communicating is hard and arguing is worse. And we’re probably much less effective communicators than we think — possibly as much as 20x less effective. In 1990 a Stanford researcher performed a study where on one party (“tapper”) tapped out a simple song a a counterparty (“listener”) tried to interpret the song. The tapper thought their listener had recognized the song 50% of the time where they’d actually only got it 2.5% of the time (this from the book ‘Made to Stick’). Unlike rhythmic tapping, storyboards inherently make us better communicators.

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