Developing your Note Taking Skills

As someone who has always fancied themselves as a 'good note taker' - though not sure I've ever quoted that on a CV or during the course of an interview - I was unaware of the role that James Madison played in the development of the American Constitution until recently.

When James Madison and the other 56 delegates to the Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia in May 1787, they intended to amend the Articles of Confederation. They ended up creating a new constitution, and Madison, representing Virginia, became the chief recorder of information (he took A LOT of notes).

As the president of the Constitutional Convention, George Washington rarely actually participated in the debates. However, when the Constitution headed to the states for approval, Washington took an active role in the ratification process. It was actually the notes of Madison that allowed Washington to get a clear understanding on the outcomes of the proceedings.

Lesson ... continue to develop your note taking skills as you'll never know what MASSIVE IMPACT they could have at a later date.

The three rules of Agile Club

More times than I care to imagine, you get locked into an Agile versus Waterfall discussion that normally results in ... so what's the key difference?

In short:

  1. It's not necessary to start a project with a lengthy, upfront effort to document all requirements.

  2. It's not necessary to start a project with a lengthy, upfront effort to document all requirements.

  3. It's not necessary to start a project with a lengthy, upfront effort to document all requirements.

Typically, a 'Scrum' team and its product owner begin by writing down everything they can think of easily. This is almost always more than enough for a first sprint. The Product Backlog is then allowed to grow and change as more is learned about the product and its customers. In term of initiation or kick-off, use an initial sprint (called Sprint Zero, Iteration Zero, Inception Sprint, etc) that has the following three goals:

  1. Get some quality items on the Product Backlog ... get the list of Epics captured as well.

  2. Provide a minimal environment that enables the writing of quality code, and

  3. Write a piece of real code, no matter how small.

Referencing the Scrum Alliance ... Before we define Sprint Zero, let me say that the long system test phase before the release can actually be an automated regression test. Each sprint can create automated test for the features it implements and add that to the regression. The need for automated tests is much discussed in Scrum and Agile literature, so we will skip it here for now.
Now for a working definition of
Sprint Zero:

  1. Sprint Zero should be used to create the basic skeleton and plumbing for the project so that future sprints can be truly add incremental value in an efficient way. It may involve some research spikes.

  2. Minimal design up front is done in Sprint Zero so that emergent design is possible in future sprints. This includes putting together a flexible enough framework so that refactoring is easy.

  3. For minimal design up front, the team picks up a very few critical stories and develops them to completion. Since these are the first few stories, delivering them includes putting the skeleton/framework in place, but even Sprint Zero delivers value.

Note: The velocity of Sprint Zero may be very low compared to that of other sprints.
Remember also that the
product backlog is a living document. Stories are added, modified, and split into small ones all the time. The backlog can be begun during project initiation. From then it grows and is refined as needed. There should be a few stories in the product backlog at the time of Sprint Zero's start, enough to help us demo at least one working feature.

VSOE for Dummies

According to Wikipedia … In accounting practices, vendor-specific objective evidence (VSOE) is a method of revenue recognition allowed by US GAAP that enables companies to recognize revenue on specific items on a multi-item sale based on evidence specific to a company that the product has been delivered.

In other words, VSOE is Fair Value for Software.

Although some industry analysts suggest that these rules can constrain the ways companies sell their products, chew up a lot of management time, and put off some investors – VSOE ‘typically’ means that at least 80 percent of sales prices should fall within 15 percent of the median price. Some CFOs are more conservative, but in different ways; deviations from the median at 10 percent or maybe, sticking with the 15 percent band, but applies it to 85 percent of your sales.

Found a helpful guide below – albeit is a little outdated – however as always, seek financial counsel before deciding YOUR approach.

How to Cope with VSOE

1. Keep careful records of the actual selling prices for products. Most experts say a price list is not enough.

2. Make sure the sales force is with you. Establishing VSOE precludes allowing salespeople to cut one-off deals or regularly offer customers special concessions.

3. Consider establishing multiple VSOEs, if pricing varies significantly by size of customer or by geographic region.

4. Don’t think you’re out of the woods just because you’re not in the software business. SOP 97-2 applies to any sale in which software is a “more than incidental” part.

5. Be prepared to explain to analysts how SOP 97-2 is affecting the revenue stream, and when portions of deferred revenue will hit the bottom line.


What makes a good information product?

So … what do you think makes a GOOD INFORMATION PRODUCT?

According to Clay Collins, there are three types:

  1. Identity-based products

  2. Mechanism-based products

  3. Goal-based product

Henri Junttila suggests a 12 step process for creating one:

  1. Pick a Problem to Solve

  2. Create a Freebie

  3. Tell People

  4. Get Curious

  5. Develop Your Promise

  6. Create Your Course Outline

  7. Outline Your Sales Page

  8. Draft Classes

  9. Build Buzz

  10. Launch

  11. Get Feedback

  12. Create Home-Study

And Leevi Romanik outlines how to create an information product that sells. All very interesting but not particularly helpful when preparing for a recent interview with a very large, UK based information services provider.

Courtesy of the Pandecta website: Strictly speaking, information products include all books, reports etc. In the Internet context, the term refers to electronically deliverable, knowledge-based products. Information products are also referred to as "digital goods" and "knowledge-based goods". If it delivers knowledge and you can e-mail it to the customer or offer it as a downloadable file, then it qualifies as an information product.

  • Information products can be created with little or no money. When I started I paid for a domain, hosting and a copy of Acrobat so I could make PDF files. That's it.

  • Information products can be reproduced in any quantity - it is as simple as copying a file. Even if you sell a million copies, production costs stay zero.

  • With information products, inventory and the problems around keeping an inventory are completely eliminated.

  • With information products, shipping costs and problems around shipping are completely eliminated.

  • Because it is delivered electronically, the time-lapse between purchase and delivery is negligible.

  • Information products are cheap, easy, convenient and fast. The kind of thing you can create and sell all by yourself.


  1. E-books

  2. E-zines & newsletters

  3. Reports & research data

  4. Tutorials, courses & help files.


The major disadvantage of information products lies in its perceived value - in other words what the customer thinks it is worth before he / she buys it.

If it's a real book, she knows that it probably wouldn't get published if it were no good. She knows it has been spell-checked. With an e-book, these assurances are not there. Anyone can slap an e-book together and offer it for sale.

She also ends up with some data on her hard drive - not a book in her hands. People simply like to hold things they buy. Many people shop to feel better.

There are a couple of effective ways to add to the perceived value of information products.

You could reassure your potential customer by showing testimonials from happy customers, by offering a free download of part 1 while offering part 2 & 3 for sale, by offering a full, money-back guarantee etc.

You can also add to the perceived value of information products by increasing the price. Every product has a level of price resistance. The ideal is to find yours by experimenting and then set is just below that mark. Don't make the mistake of pricing low because production cost is zero. Price it according to the benefits it provides.

As a starter for 10, seems to make sense.