“42 Rules of Product Management” Book Notes

Here are my big takeaways from this book:

[Rule 5] Learning to say “no” to customers – this is perhaps the one takeaway I’ve heard time and time again from PMs. Understanding your customers is paramount, but that doesn’t mean every detail and request from them is appropriate for your product. This is much easier said than done, but I think the most important skill in the practice.

[Rule 16] Get out of the office – this rule is to get a better understanding of the customer viewpoint, but I think it is probably one of the most misunderstood…amongst your colleagues. For all other roles on a team in an Agile setting, staying in the office is typically a rough indicator of commitment, work output, and availability. It may not always be clear why you are spending time outside the office, especially if you are unreachable. As a PM, it’s important to stay available as a PM outside of the office because the team is relying on you.

[Rule 35] Act like a child – the book describes the core of this rule as someone who continuously asks, “why,” such as in the common “five whys” exercise. I think this rule could further extend to physically getting a child in front of your product. One of the best user feedback sessions I’ve ever had was when testing an iOS app that I developed with my young cousin when he was about 8-10 years old. I asked him to perform an action on the mobile app’s map screen, and watching him use the wrong buttons told me that I needed to simplify the UI and remove unnecessary features.

Conclusion: 42 Rules of Product Management is a good reference to pick up from time to time as a PM. It’s a bit light on examples but can give you a good exercise or two when you really need it.

Click here for 42 Rules of Product Management on the publisher’s website.

Switching from Google Chrome to Mozilla Firefox

Google Chrome’s ties with all things advertising and tracking have led me to switch to the Firefox web browser. Firefox (and Mozilla, its parent company) are aiming to differentiate their software offerings with an emphasis on privacy protection and security, and at least for me, their strategy is working.

I thought crossing over would be more difficult, but it was actually a simple process. Here’s what I migrated and how I did it:

  1. Bookmarks: Export bookmarks from Chome, Import those bookmarks into Firefox.
  2. Settings: Browse through Firefox’s settings and make some tweaks. Most notably, under Privacy and Security > Cookies and Site Data, I tweaked the settings to clear Firefox’s cookies when I close the browser. I also added some exceptions for sites I use daily, like Google.
  3. Extensions/Add-Ons: I found the Firefox versions of Momentum, Grammarly, and Adblock easy enough. Since the impetus for my switch was privacy, after talking with my brother, I also installed the fantastic Multi-Account Container extension. It lets you isolate Facebook into its own browser process, and lets you sign in to multiple Gmail accounts, all in the same browser window. It took a few minutes to setup but was well worth it.

Air Travel 101 – Trip Tips

MBA students travel a surprising amount, and after our recent trip to Israel as part of Cornell Tech’s iTrek, we compiled the list below of important travel tips. Some of us are seasoned travel veterans, and some are new to the game. I’m somewhere in-between, but I think this list will help anyone who is about to take flight.

  1. ticket prices increase the closer to your departure date – this one is pretty simple. Don’t wait to book! The sweet spot is 54 days before your travel, and the best days to book are Tuesday through Thursday – not weekends!
  2. finding a direct flight should be significantly preferred – unless you enjoy sleeping in airports, avoiding layovers reduces the possibility of a lost bag and eliminates the possibility of missing a connection. An overnight layover that I recently had in London totaled $140 in taxis and a hotel – not exactly a bargain.
  3. travel light – packing less and leaving a little space will give you the flexibility to buy things on your trip and carry less when traveling.
  4. signup for miles rewards programs – rewards programs these days are basically just currencies controlled by airlines. They give them away, for free, when you travel with them. Warning: keep an eye on the expiration dates.
  5. in a hurry? Carrying on is always faster – even if you get a free checked bag, carrying on will be less waiting and less of a headache. Be sure to board first so the overhead bin doesn’t fill up.
  6. TSA Pre-check is inexpensive and the greatest thing ever – $85 for five years ($17 a year) gets you the best kept secret that most casual travelers don’t know. TSA Pre-check will make you (almost) enjoy breezing through a shorter security line at US airports. CLEAR is a more expensive alternative that is also available internationally.
  7. always make an attempt at language/cultural understanding – locals always appreciate it when you attempt to meet them on their level. Struggling through a phrase or two can be worth it, and you might even learn something or create a great memory.
  8. travel comfortable – This is mostly preference, but travel can be uncomfortable. Sweatpants and comfortable shoes make everything better!
  9. think ahead about your sleep schedule – Doing this will really help alleviate jet lag. There’s even an app called Entrain developed at the University of Michigan that uses science to help you adjust to your destination timezone.
  10. always use the best resources to plan (and book)

Bests of Baltimore

I’m leaving Baltimore, a city that I’ve called home for the past ten years, and thought it would be fun to list a few recommendations. Enjoy!

Best Coffeeshop: The Bun Shop. Fantastic coffee and small eats, friendly staff, and unique urban styling won this category. The Bun Shop, including its second location downtown, is an absolute gem. If I had to sum it up in one word, it would be, “chill.”

Best Restaurant: Joe Benny’s. When this place first opened, I was so impressed that I made a Yelp account to leave a review. Since then, other people have discovered Joe Benny’s, and it’s currently the #1 reviewed Baltimore restaurant on Yelp. Granted, Yelp isn’t the judge and jury of restaurants, but Google reviews and other sites agree – Joe Benny’s is nothing short of fantastic. I think it’s a matter of time until the restaurant expands; it currently only has a dozen or so small tables. Get the Fiore – focaccia with meatballs.

Best Italian Market: Trinacria. Trinacria beat out Di Pasquales, another excellent choice, because of better overall pricing. I usually ransack Trinacria for their selection of Italian wines, but the Deli is excellent as well. Buyer beware, both Trinacria and Di Pasquales are dodgy areas. Leave nothing in plain sight in your car.

Best Fine Dining: Charleston. Yes, Charleston is expensive, but it is also the best dining experience you can find in Baltimore. There is no question about it. Expect $100-200 per person including wine, and a number of tastes and flavors that you never knew existed.

Best Cocktail Bar: WC Harlem. If candlelight is your thing, then WC Harlem needs to be added to your list. WC Harlem is impressively unique, both in atmosphere and in menu. Check it out, if you can find it. It’s more of a speakeasy, so it doesn’t have any huge neon signs that can be seen from the road.

Best $/lb Sandwich: Chaps Pit Beef. I don’t think any Baltimore list would be complete without Chaps, aka the world’s best sandwich place in the parking lot of a strip club. My favorite is the Raven – Beef, Corned Beef, and Turkey. Definitely get some of their homemade Tiger sauce too, but be careful, it’s a bit spicy.

Best Sandwich Selection: Take It Away Deli. I know sandwiches, and this place knows them too! They have over 40 sandwiches on the menu, making Take It Away the best Deli downtown. Oh, and the staff are super friendly and fun, too.



Certifying a Home with LEED v4

The goals of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) target climate change, resource management, biodiversity, and quality of life. To get a home project certified, the most important note to remember is that you must engage and register your project before designing or building it. Large parts of the LEED certification focus on site selection, so aiming for a certification after construction has commenced will not work. The LEED process is rigorous, and is not for those with shallow pockets.


Building must be on a “permanent location on existing land.” For example, mobile homes are not eligible for LEED. Prefabricated homes (that are gaining in popularity) are eligible, as long as they are part of a permanent installation. The LEED project seeking certification should include the entire building and the total scope of work, not only the building itself. This includes hardscapes like driveways, bushes, trees, and other landscaping. In addition, local building codes must define the structure as a “dwelling unit,” in order to be eligible for a LEED housing certification. The international residential code stipulates that a dwelling unit must include “permanent provisions for living, sleeping, eating, cooking, and sanitation.”

LEED Certification Levels

Which LEED certification level your project receives is based on an often-debated point system. For LEED Homes, the maximum point potential is 110. The chart below shows the possible points by category for homes. Most categories have a points-for-performance path in
addition to the more standard path.

LEED v4 Home Categories Possible Points
Integrative Process 2
Location and Transportation 15
Sustainable Sites 7
Water Efficiency 12
Energy and Atmosphere 38
Materials and Resources 10
Indoor Environmental Quality 16
Innovation 6
Regional Priority 4
 TOTAL: 110

from http://www.sigearth.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Capture.jpg

The Points

I recommend approaching the LEED point system by reviewing each of the 110 points (including the required pre-requisites that do not award points values) and assign a dollar value to each. This method will help determine both a home design and the LEED certification level target. Once the home is built and ready for review, the $300 cost to pursue LEED certification goes to the US Green Building Council in order to book an onsite certification survey.

Many of the points are awards based on some kind of technical, sliding scale. For example, reducing water usage by 10% is one point, and 20% is two points, etc. I selected a handful of “easy” points below and summarized each category. Achieving all 14+ “easy” points below will put your home project well on its way to reach 40 points for a LEED certification!

Sustainable Sites – This category focuses on the site environment, and supporting the natural ecosystem of the site.

  • 1-2 points for locating trees or non-absorptive materials to cover >50% of roofs or other hardscapes surfaces.
  • ½ point for designing landscape features to provide a minimum 18-inch (450 millimeter) space between the exterior wall and any plantings.

Water EfficiencyThis section rewards points for efficiencies in indoor and outdoor water use, and water metering and management.

  • 1 point for the average toilet flush volume across all toilets not exceeding 1.1 gallons (4.1 liters). Each toilet fixture and fitting must be WaterSense labeled.
  • 1 point for all clothes washers to be energy star qualified (or performance equivalent outside the US).
  • 1-4 points for reducing grass areas and increasing native plantings, as percentage of total landscape area.

Energy and Atmosphere – The bulk of this section (18 of the 38 points) focuses on the degree to which energy efficiency can be improved compared to a baseline standard. More efficiency awards more LEED points.

Materials and ResourcesThis category primarily addresses building materials, including transport and disposal.

Indoor Environmental Quality – This section focuses on air quality, including thermal, visual, and acoustic comfort. This section is one of the most health-conscious parts of the LEED certification.

  • 1 point for a control for the use of the local exhaust fan in full bathrooms, such as an auto-off timer or an occupancy sensor.
  • ½ point for including a non-carpeted mudroom
  • ½ point for sealing all permanent ducts and vents after installation to minimize contamination from construction. Remove seals after all phases of construction are completed.
  • 1 point for multiple thermostat zones for both heating and cooling. Single-family houses with less than 800 square automatically meet the requirements of this credit.
  • 2 points for NOT installing any fireplaces or woodstoves. These can still be installed for 1 point if they are EPA-qualified.

Innovation – The LEED authors largely leave this section open to accommodate future innovations in building design and construction.

  • 1 point for having at least one principal participant of the project team with a LEED Accredited Professional (AP) certification and a specialty appropriate for the project.

Regional Priority – This section awards points to specialized priorities based on region. The point values vary by region. 

Points spreadsheet sample from US Green Building Council

A Common Pitfall

According to a Philadelphia architect who I spoke with, a common pitfall in LEED certifications is shortcuts in construction. Builders may substitute less green materials – say a ceramic floor instead of something more sustainable – on their own accord. In defense of the builder, such a shortcut may be more cost effective and faster to install. Unfortunately, removing the error and installing what was originally needed for LEED points generates even more waste. To avoid this, hiring a LEED-certified builder is strongly recommended.

Resale Value & Conclusion

As of this writing, hard evidence for LEED certifications yielding higher selling prices does not exist. However, several studies and articles support a correlation with energy efficiency improvements to a home and a higher selling price. This makes sense because both LEED and green homes have lower utility costs and are healthier for occupants. Extremely green homes such as those with LEED certifications may sell for as much of a ~30% premium, while homes with moderate energy efficient accommodations and certifications may sell for a ~10% premium. Data is spotty, since US property markets vary widely, and finding both a LEED home and a comparable non-LEED home is difficult. Nonetheless, although the LEED brand may still be new to some home buyers, the benefits of greening a home (that LEED requires) appears to almost always be a smart investment.

For more information about the LEED certification for homes, here’s a link to the US Green Building Council: http://www.usgbc.org/credits/homes/v4


Investing Experiment Wrap-Up

After a year of ten novice investors, ten accounts, and $10,000, we have some RESULTS. Market indexes such as the S&P 500, Dow Jones Industrial Average, and the Nasdaq Composite each outpaced the return on investment for the group as a whole. Once the twelve months had passed, the group lost 4.95% of the original $10,000, and most indexes only lost about 1%-1.5% over the same time period.
As you can see, one participant did exceptionally well. Bryan’s boost from February through June was primarily from a well-timed purchased of AMD stock. Another participant did exceptionally poorly, jumping from one losing position to another. As you can see from the graph, most did not break even.
As the organizer of the experiment, I was able to see and track all trades. Now that it’s complete, the following investing fundamentals are now proven once again:
  • Cutting Losses: Never watch an investment of yours continue to drop with the hope that it will bounce back. Once you’ve lost 15%-20%, it is almost certainly time to cut your loss and sell. According to Warren Buffet and Benjamin Graham, cutting your losses is the most important investing concept.
  • Acting on Impulse – The stock market – and most investors – are driven by impulses and short term market news. Taking 24 hours or more before placing a trade will help to alleviate speculative purchases. Many participants changed their minds from one stock to another in a matter of hours.
  • Beating the Market – Only one of the experiment’s participants managed to beat the market, and he did so by buying a risky stock that fluctuates wildly. Especially for novice investors, index funds are your friend. They will keep pace with the market. Why? Because that’s exactly what they are designed to do!

One opportunity that the experiment uncovered was in text trading. Given the convenience of trading through me, a majority of participants opted to text their trades via SMS. I don’t think many major brokerages support this functionality at this time, so text trading may be an unmet need in the investing market.

Investing Experiment Kickoff

On July 1st of this year, ten individuals and I kicked off a very unique investing experiment that will last 12 months. Using $10,000 of real money, I allocated $1,000 to each participant to invest how they saw fit. We’ll see who does best (and ask why) after 12 months pass. Although it costs nothing to participate, to better emulate the outcome of real individual investing, profits will be shared with the participants. I will foot the bill for all commissions. On the first of each month, I share a monthly update to all participants showing exactly how their investments are performing.

After less than two months have passed, I’ve observed the following:

  • Participants make trade requests using written communication (not verbal), notably via SMS and Email.
  • Order types (market, limit, etc) vary based on the previous investing expertise of each individual.
  • The only investment that more than one participant purchased was stock in Disney (NYSE: DIS).

The goal for this experiment is not to make money, although that would be a fun bonus. Instead, we aim to analyze participants actions and their investing results. We aim to answer simple questions about individual investing, such as: What triggers an investor to take action? When given $1,000 and zero risk, what do investors buy? What impact does competition have in this group of 10?

Tracking is accomplished using a shared Google Spreadsheet.