“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.

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


Pinnacle Engineering – Ignite Baltimore 14 Conference

At heart I’m an engineer. One of my favorite ways to screen suck on the internet is to review the biggest buildings, bridges, ships, and planes. For Ignite Baltimore 14, I pitched a presentation about gigantic, “Megatall” skyscrapers – how they are built, the challenges preventing their construction, and which Megatalls stand as the tallest in the world today.

Pinnacle Engineering began by describing our current golden age of engineering. As of 2014, eight out of the top ten tallest buildings in the world were each built within the last ten years. There are many companies and plans vying for a chance to join these ranks, but a long list of factors prevent more skyscrapers from breaking ground. Skyscrapers must withstand natural disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes, and floods, and even non-natural disasters like terrorism. Those engineering challenges, combined with the local laws, zoning regulations, and cost, are part of a long list of reasons why skyscrapers are not more common. 

The United States pioneered this engineering era with the Empire State Building in New York City. The Empire State Building stood as the world’s tallest building for ~40 years, and was the first building in the world with over 100 floors. Present day, much of the Megatall building construction occurs in the Middle East and Asia.

  • As of 2014, the tallest building in the world is the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Reaching over a half-mile into the sky with over 160 floors, you can tell from the design that the benefactors were clearly aiming for the “world’s tallest” title.
  • The Makkah Royal Clock Tower Hotel in the holy Saudi city of Mecca is the tallest hotel in the world with 120 floors. It overlooks the Kaaba – the black cube building that Muslims all over the world face when praying.
  • One World Trade Center was completed in 2013, and stands at a symbolic 1776 ft. It is one of seven skyscrapers in the new World Trade Center complex. Two and Three WTC are planned to be built within the next few years, along with the 9/11 memorial/museum and new transportation hub.
  • In Taiwan, the Megatall Taipei 101 held the title of the world’s tallest from 2004-2010, but now it has dropped all the way to the 5th tallest in the world, which gives a sense of how golden this golden age of Pinnacle Engineering is. The Taipei 101 incorporates traditional Asian design elements, and features a 728 ton steel mass dampener between the 87th and 92nd floors. The dampener, suspended on a pendulum, acts as a counterweight during earthquakes.

Another engineering technology that is gaining popularity is prefabrication. Similar to building a Jenga or Lego tower, prefabricated buildings complete each building component offsite, and then ship the pieces to the building’s location for assembly. Prefabrication has shortened the amount of time it takes to build from months to just days. A prefabrication example I touched on in the talk was a 30-story hotel in China built in just 15 days. You can watch a time-lapse of the hotel’s construction on YouTube here.

Baltimore also has some significant skyscraper development on the horizon. Baltimore city approved a controversial billion-dollar Harbor Point development project between the Harbor East and Fells Point areas of the city. The tallest building will reach a height of 350 ft, and the complex will feature the new headquarters of Exelon Corporation, the same company that recently acquired Constellation Energy and BGE (Baltimore Gas & Electric). I closed the presentation with a mind-blowing comparison of Shanghai’s skyline in 1990 and its skyline in 2010. As you can see below, the change is incredible.



Wikipedia is an absolutely great reference for well-organized, up-to-date skyscraper information. Check out the list of the tallest buildings in the world on Wikipedia here. Click the video below to view the presentation on YouTube. 

Yahoo! CEO Mayer’s Four Pronged Strategy for Success

Acquisitions and Strategy

The age old expression “you have to spend money to make money” drove Yahoo (YHOO) and CEO Marissa Mayer to acquire Tumblr for $1.1 Billion. Yahoo already owns several social-media focused business units like Flickr, GeoCities, Koprol, Snip.it, and Bix. Buying Tumblr caught the most headlines, but Yahoo also acquired eight other companies in the second quarter: Summly, Astrid, Milewise, Loki Studios, Go Poll Go, PlayerScale, Rondee, and Ghostbird Software. The Tumblr acquisition adds a massive blogging platform to accompany the successfully rebooted Flickr photo service. Tumblr focuses on blogging in the purest form – simple paragraphs and heavy use of media, with a nod to extensive community commentary. A quarter-million new blogs are created every day, and each creates more internet real estate for Yahoo’s display advertisements. Mayer’s strategy is to focus Yahoo on four key areas: Search, Mobile, Display, and Video. The advertising market in these segments looks to be held by Google (GOOG) and Facebook (FB). If Yahoo is to continue to exceed financial expectations in CEO Marissa Mayer’s four areas of focus, success hinges on driving searches and advertisements with user-generated content.

Earnings and Revenue

Yahoo continued to buyback shares as part of the $5 Billion buyback program announced last year. On the Q2 2013 earnings call, CFO Ken Goldman announced that $1.9 Billion in shares remain to be repurchased. With less common stock shares outstanding YHOOepsperelatedin the market, buybacks will drive earnings per share (EPS) higher and the price-to-earnings ratio (P/E) lower. A positive EPS and low P/E are both fundamental indicators of a healthy, profitable company. Yahoo’s relatively low P/E of 7.91 is not uncommon for similar companies [see graphic, right].

To help pay for the share buyback and all of Yahoo’s acquisitions, the company sold $846 million of their preferred shares of the Alibaba Group, the Chinese E-Commerce giant. With new companies being acquired at an increasing rate and a $1.9 Billion left to buyback, Yahoo is burning through cash. Between the end of Q1 2013 and the end of Q2 2013, the company’s cash stockpile decreased by $600 million. $4.8 Billion in cash remains on their balance sheet after Q2 2013 though, so Yahoo is not at risk to dip into the red anytime soon.

YHOOsurpriseFurther fundamental analysis suggests that Yahoo is still an attractive investment even after the stock has gained over 60% in the past year. The Beta of just 0.83 shows that the stock is less volatile than the rest of the market. A low beta is ideal for a long position in the stock, since the share price is less likely to have sweeping changes and fluctuations, potentially giving investors more time to contemplate a change in position. The PEG ratio average for Yahoo’s industry is 2.97%, while the entire S&P stands at 1.98%. The PEG ratio – the P/E divided by the expected growth rate – is 1.28% for Yahoo, showing that Yahoo is less expensive compared to the rest of the market. Quarterly earnings reports are a huge perception of performance and health, and Yahoo’s Q2 results continued the company’s earnings beat.

CEO Marissa Mayer’s Strategies are Working


The revolving door of candidates at Yahoo’s CEO position for the past few years left the company misguided and lacking a vision. Mayer’s leadership has energized Yahoo’s employees and given the company a firm direction. With the Tumblr blogging platform now a part of Yahoo, Mayer is looking to solidify Yahoo’s business in mobile and display, as she mentioned in the Q2 earnings call. Aside from turning Yahoo’s financials around, Mayer has changed the culture at Yahoo immensely. Since Mayer started at Yahoo in July 2012:


  • The stock price has gained over 50%
  • Falling revenue ($7.5 Billion in 2008 to $5.5 Billion in 2012) has stopped falling
  • Employee attrition has decreased 59% year over year
  • 12% of new hires are Old Employees returning

In one of the most clever business moves in recent memory, Mayer decreed that employees would no longer be able to work remotely from offices due to widespread reports of an unproductive remote workforce. Any employee who cannot adhere to this policy “should quit.” Without the morale impact of a layoff, Mayer effectively trimmed resource costs and increased efficiency. I doubt that this move was a layoff in disguise, but the result of better teams and cutting costs is very similar.

With a clear business strategy in four key areas, a competent leader who is reshaping the culture, and rising earnings results, don’t be surprised if Yahoo’s stock continues to rise.

Editing a WordPress Theme – Image Replacement



In the Sundance theme by Automattic, a simple feature is glaringly omitted – a theme link to your LinkedIn profile above the right sidebar. The theme has links to Twitter, Google+, Facebook, and even Flickr, but LinkedIn is oddly missing. To build out this feature, I shopped together a LinkedIn image that matches the other images using the Paint.net simple (and free) image editor. Since I did not plan to use the built-in link to Facebook, my strategy was to replace the Facebook image on both the front end and back end with a new one for LinkedIn. After replacing the Facebook-ico.gif with my new LinkedIn image, I edited a PHP file in the theme so that a mouse hovering over the image would display “LinkedIn” instead of “Facebook”.

Building the New ImageImageEdit

But how did I get the colors correct and the dimensions matching? The images to Twitter and Google+ aren’t even rendered as images on the page! Simple – I fired up FileZilla, navigated to wp-content/themes/sundance/images and found the .gif files for Twitter, Facebook, and the other options the theme provides by default. I pulled the facebook-ico.gif down from the server to my local machine, and added it to Paint.net into its own layer. I then added a LinkedIn logo from Google Images that I would tweak to fit the theme. I matched the color from the Facebook logo, and using Paint.net’s magic wand tool, painted the matching color to the LinkedIn image. Then I deleted everything except the LinkedIn layer, resized the canvas to 28×28, and saved the LinkedIn image as “facebook-ico.gif”. The last step was to copy the finished product back into the same directory (wp-content/themes/sundance/images) using FileZilla. 

Editing the PHP

PHP Edit

From your WordPress dashboard, navigating to Appearance > Editor, will allow you to tweak several files that make your theme work. After some searching for the term “Facebook”, I found the PHP file called “sidebar.php”, and replaced the “Facebook” text with “LinkedIn” as shown in the screenshot. That’s all it took to change the mouse hover text!

Disclaimer: Some hosting companies block the WordPress Theme Editor that I used to prevent users from breaking elements on their site. As always, keep a backup and use at your own risk. 

Rally Corp’s Recent IPO and Outlook

Rally Corporation (RALY) is a company based in Boulder, Colorado, and just had a very successful IPO in April. The offering price enjoyed a nice 30% bump on the day of the IPO, making any institutional investor who grabbed pre-IPO shares pretty happy. Rally develops software as a service tools for organizations that use the popular Agile Development Methodology. Agile is a methodology for teams to plan work into short “iterations” of a few weeks. This contrasts the traditional Waterfall methodology, where project requirements are defined and then developed over many months or years. Rally Corp is brand new to the public market, so the stock price doesn’t have much history for us to refer to, but we can look at the fundamentals to set the stage for our analysis. Rally is a tiny company with a Market Cap of just over 400 million, and has been burning through cash at a widening rate over the past four quarters, while increasing revenue at the same time. Founded in 2001, Rally has never been profitable, even with a strong upward trend in revenues and an upward trend in margins since 2009. Those encouraging trends may point to untapped potential and future returns. Let’s breakdown the software market, economic factors, and the company’s leadership before we make any conclusions.

Economic factors benefit Rally immensely. The Technology sector – the primary user group of Rally’s products – still enjoys unemployment around 5%, well under the national average. A healthy tech sector that shows no signs of slowing means more users, demand, and growth. Unlike the automotive industry, which is tied closely to overall economic health, Rally’s products are not cyclically tied to sweeping changes in the economy. Like other software services, adopting Rally’s core product can be a subject of great debate in a workplace, purely for the fact that software adoption is difficult to change quickly, and because software developers can be very opinionated. Just as a company can take forever to shut down a legacy system, a long time is needed to migrate away from Rally, especially in slow moving, monolithic companies that Rally is increasingly providing services to. For investors however, this ensures that Rally’s revenue stream will remain consistent and protected, thanks to the slow-to-change clients and the still booming tech sector.

Rally is the market leader in agile development software. The twelve year old company has an impressive customer list, with more than 1/3 of Fortune 100 companies as clients according to their S-1 filing. An important trend to consider that will continue to support Rally’s income is that more and more companies are adopting the agile development methods that Rally is designed to complement. The increased effectiveness of Agile shown by numerous studies has turned thousands of CEOs in all industries to lead their organizations to adopt Agile. With more organizations operating in the Agile framework,  Rally’s customer base continues to expand.

Regarding profitability, Rally has tried to expand its product line horizontally, by offering another SaaS product called Rally Portfolio Manager that plugs into the existing suite, but at an additional cost. I attended the company’s RallyON conference in 2012 before the company went public, immediately after the launch of Rally Portfolio Manager. Both users and employees admitted that the product was lacking in features at the time. While the Rally Portfolio Manager is the logical next step for the company, at this time I wouldn’t expect it to quickly start adding to the bottom line. I’m extremely familiar with Rally’s core product, and must admit that nothing is stopping another company from offering a similar product for a lower price – or worse – for free. The barrier to entry in the big business market is too great for a small start-up though, and such a competitor wouldn’t be able to pop-up overnight and immediately steal all of Rally’s Fortune 100 clients. From an investor perspective, due to the high visibility of the B2B software industry, any competing company will be seen and analyzed by Wall Street analysts well in time to make any trades.

The leadership at Rally Corp is exactly what an investor would like to see at a recently IPO’ed start-up. CEO Timothy Miller has been with Rally for the past ten years, continuing his career in technology. Ryan Martens, the Founder and CTO, has prior start-up experience and extensive experience in application development. CFO Jim Lejeal has founded and managed several companies, and has the most experience of the bunch in regard to publicly traded companies. These leaders are well-positioned to guide the company to customer growth and financial success.