Smart Cities – Every Adventure Requires A First Step

Smart Cities Every Adventure Requires First Step

A Product Manager opens up a bar but decided not to sell alcohol. “I noticed people come to bars and talk talk talk. Alcohol is just something they like to hold in their hand.”

All were shocked.

“Anyway, getting a liquor license is hard. And, I had to start somewhere.”


Remember when everything was ‘e-‘? Then everything was ‘i’? And, now we have ‘smart’.

However, they are all same. They use the technology of the day to bring in efficiency and effectiveness. How successful they were is a matter of debate. But with each iteration, the scope has increased. The scope of ‘smart’ is now being labeled as transformative.

In the imagination of any city dweller in India, the picture of a smart city contains a wish list of infrastructure and services that describes his or her level of aspiration. (

That is interesting. However, today conversations around Smart Cities are all about IoT, ICT, etc. We had to start somewhere. But this is not where we want the conversation to end.

“You’re entirely bonkers. But I’ll tell you a secret all the best people are.” – Alice in Wonderland

Smart Cities in its current hyped-up form may be bonkers of an idea, but it has a great opportunity to be best of an idea. All we have to do is step out of the IoT/ICT box.

I have found the concepts of Canvas, Frameworks, Modifying Frameworks, etc a very useful way to force self to think in a certain structured way and not lose track of big pictures. So naturally, I proceeded to create a framework for a Smart City.

But first I wanted to have a definition to start with.

Smart City – Definition

A smart city is not necessarily a digital city. Nor is it applicable to mega-cities or metropolitan cities only. Any city can become a smart city. This can be accomplished via retrofitting, re-development or greenfield development.

An aspirational definitional is not what a smart city is. Rather, what a smart city does. It should aim for and work towards this 9-point balance:




Human Framework

Tech Framework

Institutional Framework

Smart City Grid – Examples

“Alice: This is impossible.
The Mad Hatter: Only if you believe it is.”

– Alice in Wonderland

I tried filling this up based on Smart City conversations I encountered. Especially ones that were critical about something being ignored. This is what I have today:

Smart Cities 3x3 Grid

If this framework is followed to guide a Smart City, we will surely have a city that uses technology to serve the people.

Our Children and The Digital Future – A Manifesto

Our Children And The Digital Future

[Note: Author is creator of Roo Kids App, an Instant Messaging app for children where parents have access to the contacts and always know who the kid is chatting with.]

Easing Children into Real World

As automobiles started to became a commonplace on the roads, parents started teaching their children how to cross a road. Our schools started talked about safety habits around the roads. School buses added STOP sign, so traffic could give way to a kid crossing the road.

The Digital Future

Digital future is inevitable and some argue we are already there. As the 4th Industrial Revolution rolls in, how do we ease and educate our kids into such a world?

Not Just The Parents

No, it is not the responsibility of just the parents. It is everybody’s concern. Especially those who are involved in creation of products (including startup founders who are re-inventing the world). Will it be easy for kids to step into this re-invented world? Or, will they stumble and fall prey to it?

Manifesto For Children Inclusive Digital Future

We (Startup Founders, Product Managers, Product Designers, Product Business Managers, Technologist) are developing products and helping others do it while keeping children in mind.

Through this work we have come to value:

  • Products that provide an overlap of safety oversight & digital access over products that are command-control tools or promote digital ignorance

[Rather than building products that isolate tech or isolate kids, we will build products that 1/ expose enough for kids to learn & explore and 2/ provide tools to provide sufficient oversight to maintain safety.]

  • Products that consider incidental or accidental use by children over products that assume otherwise

[Never assume that a child will not incidentally or accidentally access our product. Have we considered that in our design, implementation and usage guidelines? Responsibility towards children is not restricted to products created for children.]

  • Products that respect individuality, intelligence and privacy of a child over products that make stereotypic generalization like age ranges, gender, etc.

[Standardization makes sense when we can’t customize at scale. Digital products allow for customization and personalization at large scale. Digital products should adapt to a child and present a match but without violation of privacy and then providing for sufficient anonymity. Privacy also includes providing children enough space where they are assured privacy in context of parents too but always within a safe space.]

That is, while there was value in the items on the right in early days of digital evolution, we value the items on the left more.

Inspired by the Manifesto for Agile Software Development and Roo Kids App. Picture Credit:

Manifesto For Children Inclusive Digital Future. We are developing products and helping others do it while keeping children in mind. Through this work we have come to value: Products that provide an overlap of safety oversight & digital access over products that are command-control tools or promote digital ignorance, Products that consider incidental or accidental use by children over products that assume otherwise, Products that respect individuality, intelligence and privacy of a child over products that make stereotypic generalization like age ranges, gender, etc. That is, while there was value in the items on the right in early days of digital evolution, we value the items on the left more. Inspired by the Manifesto for Agile Software Development and Roo Kids App.

Competition Analysis in 3 Simple Steps

Article on Competition Analysis

Want to get with Competition Analysis in 3 Simple Steps? Yes, only 3 🙂

Step 1: Being Competitive Means?

What does it mean to be competitive? What is the purpose of competition? And finally, when all does it mean to compete? Every business needs to be clear on these questions.

I have used this very often with the client to get them to focus on right competition and the expected outcome of being competitive:

Competitive Advantage

Step 2: Listing Competition

Competitive landscape is a spectrum. Not all competition is a threat. We need to list our potentials across the whole spectrum. I have used following 4 heading to help clients list out competition.

Competition Analysis Spectrum

Step 3. Competition Deep Dive

Identify key competition(s) from each block and do a deep dive. Here is one canvas to help structure it:

Competition Analysis Canvas


To revisit some thoughts:

  1. Be clear why business need to be competitive and expected outcome
  2. Competitive lanscape is a spectrum
  3. Not all competition is a threat (at a given point)
  4. Identify competitions from each block on the spectrum and do a deep dive

One Degree of Separation

warofga art

Startups are exciting!


Everyone believes so. But what is that’s so exciting about a Startup? You can almost use this question as a Rorschach Test to find out what is lacking in their career now.

Everyone has something they feel/think is great about startups: the transparency, lack of bureaucracy, connect with client, knowledge about vital stats of an org, flat hierarchy, ability to control your own fate within org, see effects of your contribution, struggle to find answers for basic questions like how will the org make money, fact that we own the problem and not blame others, so on and so forth.

The Other Side!


While we tend to get enamoured by the opportunities startups throws at us, the other side is hardly discussed. Something that all entrepreneurs surrender to, live through and ultimately succumb to. But that is a conversation for another day.

The One Degree Separation  


One thing that startups offer (and is root cause of many things exciting about it) is that founders and early employees are just one degree away from the consequences of their work/decision.

They know revenue generated, cost incurred, potential and compromises, success first hand and what product/decision caused that.

There is no alienation from the consequences of the product they produce.

So What?


This is one thing large Enterprises and Software Services company specially can adopt/imbibe from startups world:

One Degree of Separation from the consequences of our work.

Once we are aware of the consequences of our work, finding, owning and solving problems will be self-motivated. If we are are not aware, we will continue to be a cog in the wheel that is unaware of its importance.

Also, Software Services companies work with a clients on a product/project. They are inherently always few degree away from the consequences of their work. At times the department they work with (example Engineering), itself is few degrees away from the department which faces the final consequences of the work (example Support).

So This Means?


With each degree of separateness, the context, sense-of-ownership, the awareness for value delivered decreases exponentially.

So, What Next?

In order to adopt/imbibe this key lesson, the challenge is how to be one degree separate from the consequences of the work. That can be best answered by the organisation itself.


Note: Images are owned by respective copyright holders and hyperlinked to the source.

Are Startups a MVP for Maslow Hierarchy?


What’s a MVP?

MVP has features just enough to prove a value and justify continued development.

mvp minimum viable product

We have all seen this. The MVP cuts across the value hierarchy and delivers a bit of each level.

What’s Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs*?

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a motivational theory in psychology comprising a five tier model of human needs, often depicted as hierarchical levels within a pyramid.


We have all seen this. The theory stated that people are motivated to achieve certain needs, and that some needs take precedence over others. Once that level is fulfilled the next level up is what motivates us, and so on.

Startups and Maslow’s Hierarchy

One reason why startup excites us is that in one go it satisfies each of these needs. A la how the MVP cuts across the value hierarchy and delivers a bit of each level.


While they may not pay a lot, the basic needs are covered. There is a strong sense of belongingness to the startup and each other. The awe and aura of being a entrepreneur boost the esteem. Finally, the opportunity to create a business, a brand, make difference is ultimate realisation of personal potential.


Startups represent that thin vertical slice across Maslow Hierarchy making it an MVP for it. That explains the fascination with it. This insight can be used by other orgs to create avenues for employees to have same experience with leaving to start a startup.


* There are bunch of criticism and changes to this theory. But this idea is applicable still 🙂

Hackathon: From Idea to a Product in a Day

Product Management Canvas (PMC)

I have been running these 1-day workshops for IIM’s Entrepreneur Cell and various offices of ThoughtWorks. We start with a new idea or an existing idea, work through it over the day, focus on one key product to come up with a clear picture of what it will be and an MVP for it. The audience has been folks who came in just with an idea, startups that came with a prototype or startups that have started seeing some customer traction.

Over time a structure has emerged. This is what I am sharing here. And, this is going to be a long one.

My commentary with use startups who have spent sometime on the idea and have a prototype in market as a typical example. However, this approach work for the who spectrum I mentioned above.

Here is what a typical agenda looks like:


9:00 AM Our Approach, Objectives and Ground Rules 0:30
9:30 AM Product in a Box 0:30
10:00 AM Elevator Pitch 0:30
10:30 AM Business Model Canvas
Value Prop., Customer Segments & Channels
11:30 AM Break 0:15
11:45 AM Business Model Canvas
Cost & Revenues
12:45 PM Lunch Break 0:45
1:30 PM Product Strategy
Products line-up & Prioritization
2:00 PM Product Management Canvas
Idea, Market, Customer Segment, Business Value & Metrics
3:00 PM Break 0:15
3:15 PM Product Management Canvas
Features, Evangelism, Go To Market, Visual Identity & Key Resources
4:15 PM Break 0:30
4:45 PM Identifying MVP

Using Product Management Canvas to identify an MVP

5:30 PM Done

The day is run over a very tight schedule. So keeping time is important. Also, the aim is breadth-first and cover all rather than depth-first and iron out details.

This allows the attendees to get familiarity with the methods and they can do a do a detailed version on their own.

Our Approach, Objectives and Ground Rules

This is similar to Inception. One thing I always bring out that we will be discussing each idea with the team. Folks attending should be comfortable to share their idea with the group.

I always allow mobile phones. Folks are going to be here all day, typically a Saturday. A few minutes of phone calls related to family and work is not very disruptive.

Product in a Box

At times referred to as Product Box[1], it is a fun activity in which everyone is asked to imagine if their product came in a box, what would the label of the box look like. I provide this empty sheet to participants:

Product In A Box Guide

In order to help them visualize and organise their thoughts, I show them this slide for reference and walk them through each section and give some examples.

Product In A Box Guide

Usually people struggle a bit with this. Either they will be lost for words or write too much text and are frozen! Also, this being the first session, folks are bit slow to get started. I suggest to them is to just start writing. Once they do, words follow words and they are able to finish.

Once all are done (15 mins), I request each to read out exactly what they have written and add nothing as an after thought. I then as all if they will be willing to buy/invest in the idea.

The very exercise of having to write out the thoughts, read them aloud, not add in ad hoc manner to it and then hear responses, sets the time for rest of the day. I stress a lot on brevity and simplicity.

Elevator Pitch

We have a very good format for Elevator Pitch[2] that is part of the Inception Deck. I often reuse that. We give them a printed page which has outline of an Elevator Pitch that they have to complete. Having gone through the Product in a Box exercise earlier, heard the feedback, folks just go swiftly though this and are able to come up with excellent articulation. The format looks like this:

Elevator Pitch

Note: I have reversed the order and done Elevator Pitch first and then the Product in a Box. But in either case, attendees struggle with the first one and then do the next one rather fast and nicely.

Business Model Canvas

Business Model Canvas

We do Business Model Canvas[3] across two sessions.

Session 1

I first ask them to write down key Value Props. This is followed by writing down the various Customer Segments. They key is to narrow them as much as possible. So using words like ‘All’ are discouraged.

Then I ask them to make a line for each Value Prop to each Customer Segment it serves. Ideally, all Value Props should serve some segment and all segments should have some value prop for them. If none, the customer segment needs to go.

Then I ask them to name a channel for each Value Prop. At least one channel for each stage of Brand Awareness Funnel. That is, Awareness, Consideration, Engagement and then Purchase. In my previous life, my work on Brand Awareness Funnel was converted into a patent by my then organization.

Session 2

In this session we focus on Cost and Revenue. Surprisingly, helping startups that been been around realize their cost is the most a-ha / oh-sh*t moment. Perpetual optimists like Founders rarely internalize the cost of getting things done and this serves as a good eye-opener. Lots of time is spent on revenue side of things.

I usually help them with quick back-of-envelop calculations. Salaries of founders, office rent, internet bills, laptops, furniture, folks for sales, support, development, CA, filings, buying compute power, licenses, fees, etc and soon the estimate balloon.

Session on revenue is smaller. I ask them to write down all possible avenues of revenues and then estimate revenues it can bring in over time and the complexity of making that revenue. This helps them prioritize one avenue over another.

Product Strategy

This session was added after 2-3 such workshops. When asked what all products does your company build, what is your key product, what all components does your product have or what all products are you working on to enable your key product, I used to get very vague answers. Most of them would start talking about their awesome app.

The thing is, that without realising how much effort the company is putting into various products (in house, customer facing, partner facing, admin tools, 3rd part integrations, that 3rd Parties can use, etc), it was often apparent that they were not look at whole picture when prioritising.

So I came with this Product Stack[4] template:

Product Strategy Stack

I ask them to fill this up with all things they are using and have built. The output surprises everyone. Once they have listed them all, I ask them to mark out ones without which they can not proceed as business. This eliminates lots of random / legacy products they have accumulated over time and focus on ones that really matter.

There are two things that also happen while we do this exercise:

1. We force them to think beyond Channels (like Apps, Websites, etc) and think in terms of the whole Platform.

2. Get them into exercise of prioritizing engineering output and not jump into creating apps, websites, etc without creating a roadmap at an strategic level.

Note: In case of new ideas, I ask them to list down things they will need to use and build. They then prioritise based on that.

Product Management Canvas

Once the key product has been reinforced, identified or agreed up, we use the Product Management Canvas[5] to describe it.

Product Management Canvas (PMC)

Lots of content flows in from the canvases and work done in previous sessions. That makes filling up this canvas faster. Only thing is that these are not at the level of entire business but at level of this product. This means the slice of whole business canvas that this product addresses.

We recommend they do it for each of they key product. Product Managers can use it for their products. More about Product Management Canvas here.

Identifying MVP

One thing that the Product Management Canvas helps with is identifying a MVP. Here is how I put it:

“Specific Features that deliver extreme value to a specific Customer Segment and helps attain specific Business Value using specific Key Resources measured using related Success and Failure Metrics with right Visual Identity and Go-To-Market support.”

The Product Management Canvas helps identify that MVP that should be rolled out first.

Preparation for the Workshop

As preparation, I printout some canvases. Here is the list and size of paper on which they are printed.

Product In A Box A4
Elevator Pitch A4
Business Model Canvas A3
Product Management Canvas A3

Using A3 gives some real-estate to write down on the Business Model Canvas and the Product Model Canvas.

Never Alone

These sessions were not always done alone. I want to acknowledge these fellow ThougthWorkers for contributing in various sessions I held: Nagarjun Kandukuru, Shaun Jayaraj, Sachin Sapre, Sharath Satish, Suganth Chellamuthu, Kiran M, Prasanna J Vaste and Arjun Dev.


[1] Know more about Product in a Box in Innovation Games by Luke Hohmann.
[2] Know more about the Elevator Pitch format on Jonathan’s blog.
[3] Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder, Yves Pigneur (
[4] & [5] Created by the Dinker Charak and can be shared under Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Product Thinking Sessions at IIM Ahmedabad IIMAvericks Event


IIM, Ahmedabad continues to be the best B-School of India. They have a startup incubation center called Centre For Innovation, Incubation & entrepreneurship (CIIE) at IIM, Ahmedabad.

From their website:

Centre for Innovation, Incubation and Entrepreneurship was setup at the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIMA) with support from Gujarat Government and Department of Science and Technology (Government of India) to promote innovation and entrepreneurship in India.

Their Young IIMAvericks Program enables graduating students who want to startup.

After the Business Modelling sessions earlier, we were invited again to hold a Business Modelling Workshop. The workshop was conducted by me and my fellow ThoughtWorker, Sachin Sapre.

We added a topic on Product Thinking (both of us being Product managers) along with conversation on how to use the Product Management Canvas.

This was their first day / session at CIIE. The response was good and they found the workshop useful in understand the business and question their assumptions.