Werner KrebsBetter decisions through data
Bio

Data scientist with Ivy League PhD: I'm a rock star engineer, marketing and product person who's done it all: recruited and managed elite teams of engineers, scientists and product managers at some of the world's most selective employers, including a top-5 high-frequency hedge fund and a boutique marketing analytics consulting firm advising 90% of Fortune 100 CMOs on global marketing strategy. I've held FINRA licenses and worked for software companies and on the faculty in academia. This is my company: http://www.acculation.com This is me: http://www.wernergkrebs.com/‎ http://www.linkedin.com/pub/werner-krebs/2/259/755



Recent Answers


Have led one engineering team and worked with a much larger geographically distributed team, the answer depends on your specific situation.

Many advocates of Agile insist that it can only be done properly if engineers and your internal product experts are the same location, or at least in the same time zone. You mentioned "Scrum" but didn't say this was case.

Unfortunately, "Agile" and "Scrum" are these sexy buzzwords that entrepreneurs and managers like to promise to investors even when they cannot possible practice Scrum because their engineers and internal project managers are on separate continents. They practice some sort of non-Agile methodology, although to keep the investors under the illusion of Agile they'll hold "Scrum" meeting and use Agile buzzwords. They will doing something very specification heavy, or with much slower iterative cycles, but they'll still run around insisting they are doing Agile.

Google and other large corporations apparently have mathematical predictive models for figuring out the number of engineers required on any one project. "Lean methodologies" like six sigma may also try to build these from your existing client data. There is a group at Carnegie Melon that studies (and consults on this) and has found that geographic distribution plays a major role in the optimal type of methodology (Agile versus non-Agile) you should be using on your given project.

So I would need to know a lot more about your project management and engineering organization to answer this question. Are you a small start-up or a large organization? How existing data, if any, do you have on completed projects? Will your software engineers be nearby or on a different continent.

If need help figuring out the ideal methodology for your project, the CMU group I mentioned has published a number of books available off Amazon that can help you make the optimal selection. If you are a new organization starting from scratch but really are doing Agile/scrum (and not just running around saying this to impress investors) there are, of course, very good books and YouTube videos on scrum methodology.

If you're an existing mid-size to large organization, your PMs or in-house six sigma experts might be the best people to ask. Regardless of whether or not you already have a six-sigma (or equivalent) style organization in house, getting access to the past project data that these sorts of experts look at can be extremely valuable. You can figure out the pain-points in each project, and the amount of engineering and time resources that each pain point typically requires to address.

I'd be more than happy to further share my expertise on a Clarity call.


My company specializes in Internet of Things predictive analytics. "Internet of Things" includes wearables, so we closely follow this market.

This market is constantly changing. You'd need to better define what you mean by best. Is price a major consideration, or is your main concern having access to the data? Does it absolutely need to have a heart-rate monitor?

If you had asked six months ago, and ignoring the data openness issue, the various wrist-wearable Fitbit models, the MisFit Shine, Nike Fuel, and Jawbone models would all have been strong contenders on price/performance measures. The BodyMedia offered a heart-rate monitor, but received poor reviews and complaints about the monthly subscription fee as well as the bulkiness of the product.

Fast-forward a few months, and you have much better options for "inexpensive" heart-rate monitors that can provide completely open data and do so much more. Again, you didn't mention price. But the Samsung gear just came out with a smartwatch with built-in heart-rate monitor. It runs Android. With the right apps (and there are many), this should do exactly what you want. (It's sounds like you're pretty technical. Since this is Android, you can even write your own app to capture the data if absolutely necessary. You can't get more open than that in terms of data openness. With unlimited time or money you, or a contractor, can write your own app to make this fitness tracker do exactly what you want.)

Are the Samsung Gear models in your price range?

Of course, the iWatch is rumored to be coming out soon. It's not clear if it will include a heart-rate monitor or not, but it might very well. Judging by the reception other Apple iOS products have received, if this includes a heart-rate monitor it will likely be close to the "best" one available, at least judging by market acceptance. You'd likely have a huge selection of pre-existing and free fitness apps to chose from. If you're technical or have access to technical resources, custom coding is also open to you.

I'd be more than happy to take more about wearables and the Internet of Things, as well as predict analytics for fitness, air quality, environment, and marketing. Feel free to set up a call using Clarity.


I've been heavily involved in building marketing, financial, and other mathematical predictive models.

In general, what customers spend (revenue) over some unit time (week, quarter, year, etc) is more important than how many customers you have, and is easy to define and measure. Where this question often comes up is in calculation Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) which can be used to justify greater marketing spend, even spending at a short-term loss, if it is believed customers will remain with the firm over long periods of time.

One of the ways customers are tracking is using the concept of a "Cohort" which tracks which point in time that group of clients first became customers. Similarly, you need a definition of when a customer is no longer a customer. (Perhaps they don't renew for a period of time, no longer visit the website, etc. In your case, not using the smartphone app for a given period time might be exiting a cohort.) You can then track customers in a given cohort. (The numbers will always decline.) If the customer renews after exiting the cohort, they become a customer in a new cohort. Your total number of customers at any given time is the sum of customers across all cohorts.

In your case, you may have multiple groups of cohorts. One cohort tracks air might track app installations. Another might track app usage, with customers entering and exiting cohorts after renewing their use following a lengthy absence.

This is a common way to build models of customer behavior. It may be far too detailed for your application. However, by constructing the dataset this way, a skilled modeler will be able to slice and dice the data to their needs, and thereby come up with estimates that are useful in predictive modeling.

I'd be happy to discuss this further in a Clarity call.


Although not specifically a PR person I've been involved in mathematical model of media (including PR). I've also been involving in hundreds of hiring decisions in the financial and other industries. (The financial industry has significant licensing requirements that are specifically concerned with this situation. They also train all employees on media relations. I have also worked in enterprise risk management for a major bank.

You are facing three different business risk issues: PR (aka reputational risk), legal liability (lawsuits from non-employees) and HR risk (lawsuits from your employee, loss of employee productivity as he/she deals with this issue, as well as potentially licensing issues depending on your industry). You need to consider these in parallel.

Let's start with the HR and legal issue before even moving to the PR issues. You need to discuss the HR side with a good HR person. You will also need an attorney in the loop for a number of reasons, including advice and conversation confidentiality. Obviously, you'll want to given your employee benefit of the doubt and presumed innocence. However, he or she may now experience sub-par job performance due to these personal issues. Also by retaining this person you may be accused of negligence or vicariousness, particularly if the person holds a position of responsibility. Obviously, there may be PR fallout which we'll consider in a moment. In some industries, there are licensing requirements, and state or federal regulators may help make some decisions for you. These are issues your HR and employment law attorney will need to sort through. Note that a number of firms provide HR outsourcing services, so you may be able to retain top-notch HR expertise even if you lack it in house.

The PR side is much simpler. As it turns out, with unlimited financial unresources, academic models suggest you can pretty much spin anything anyway you want. (The bad news: of course, most businesses don't have unlimited resources. It becomes harder to must financial resources if the firm is also fighting off lawsuits from employees, or customers, losing sales in the immediate aftermath of the incident, or is itself fending off investigations by regulators or law enforcement. Under these kinds of conditions, reputational damage can sink a firm. This is why companies invest so much on trying to hire the right employees as well as carefully manage compliance and reputational risks. The idea is to try to prevent these kinds of crises from happen in the first place.)

There are generally only two distinct states to consider: (1) effectiveness of PR for given $$$ with the person remaining employed and (2) effectiveness of the same PR spend without that employee remaining associated with the company. (There may be circumstances where there are other states. Some government agencies may have to first suspend the employee.)

This is where a huddle with your HR and legal risk advisors will come in handy. They can estimate the risks of legal or regulator action from your employee or customers in both of those two conditions. You can then weigh that risk against the effectiveness of PR in the two different conditions.

In general, PR is in many ways similar and complementary to advertising. (And running an advertising campaign in the immediate aftermath of this incident is one possible response.) You can estimate the impact of PR from what you already know about how consumers respond to your advertising messages. Although what I said earlier is certainly true (for an unlimited amount of money you can spin anything to your advantage), for limited amounts of money you may note that advertising (and PR) are not always as effective as you'd like them to be. You need to balance your expected legal risks against your expected PR & marketing in the two different condition I've described.

One other point: I mentioned that the financial industry trains all employees in media relations. After discussing with your legal & HR advisors, you may want to put in a crash training program for your employees (aka company email.) On hire, many financial employees are told to refer all media contacts to company media relations. Financial employees are often told at hire that unauthorized discussions with the media are potentially grounds for termination. Of course, different industries have different conventions. It's also important to keep your employees happy during a crisis. (If employee morale is a concern, there are crisis management firms that specialize in crisis employee relations. I have seen "LiveStrong" type bracelets passed out and employee loyalty oaths signed, with unclear effectiveness.)

Legal disclaimer: I'm not an attorney. You will definitely want to seek professional legal, PR, and HR advice in this situation. If the suspected crime involves on-the-job fraud, you may also want to consult with a forensic accountant.

I'd be happy to discuss my knowledge of marketing and managerial decisions in greater detail over a phone call here on Clarity. I'd also be more than willing to give advice on screening employees and putting in place adequate enterprise risk controls to try to avoid these issues in the first place.


I know of companies that hire contract Product Managers. I've interviewed a number of PMs over the years and otherwise been involved in PM hiring decisions while leading engineering and scientific teams.

Although most firm prefer W-2 (direct) PM hires for a number of reasons (including legal), sometimes the applicant will request 1099 status. They might be former W2 employees we are now part-time in business school or raising a family, and can't commit to the full-time workload. There might be temporary Visa issues that allow 1099 but delay a W2 hire.

The most common reason I can see is if the firm is a start-up that is rapidly scaling up and doesn't want to commit to a full-time hire until either they've secured additional funding and the person has proven themselves in the lighter 1099 role (or possible both). This is the way some temp hiring works: the employee will be on a W2 from the temp agency, but is a contractor to the employer. That's a route some better funded start-ups will pursue if they're desperate to make a PM hire, but don't want to take the legal risk on a direct hire. Later, when finances are more certain, they might convert the temp to a direct hire.

It doesn't sound like you're in any of the situations I just mentioned. The term "PM" potentially encompasses a wide range of skill sets. It could be anything from someone with some simple time-management and prioritization skills all the way through very technical or client-facing PM roles that may require valuable technical, sales, marketing, branding and management skills. You mention you're former "VP Product" so it sounds like you're probably at the high-end of the PM skill range. Therefore, it's doubtful you could find a position through a temp agency.

Start-ups that are rapidly scaling will try outsource their non-core functions, including more senior-level positions. You have firms specializing in outsourcing entire HR departments, business development departments, engineering and IT departments. See advertisements for start-up advisors on places like Clarity that say they are "a timeshare CTO."

So those are some strategies you could try. You could work as a project manager for an outsource engineering or IT firm that presumably requires an elastic workforce to handle client requests. You could try rebranding yourself as an "timeshare Chief Product Officer" that saves start-ups money by providing them with a part-time experience product person at a fraction of the full-time hire rate.

I have experience in a number of areas, and have started on Clarity by listing myself as an expert in analytics and predictive modeling. But I've interviewed hundreds of engineering and PM candidates over the years for extremely selective employers, and have worked closely with PM roles while leading my teams. I'd more than happy to take a call and answer any follow-up questions you might have.


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