Costume contests are a popular office tradition every fall. Axcient recently hosted its annual Halloween Costume Contest to showcase our creativity and win gift cards. Fellow employees were the judges, and contestant(s) receiving the loudest applause won the prizes. This year I wanted to win this costume contest. To do that, I treated it as a product of my own, following the same principles I use in my Axcient role as a product manager.

 

1. A great product often stems from a simple, uncomplicated (yet interesting!) idea.

Axcient Program Manager Nancy L and I decided to dress up as the Mario Brothers for Halloween.

As product managers, we always need to come up with ideas to improve our products but it’s important to keep in mind that a great product often times stems from a simple, uncomplicated, but very interesting idea.

2. Team motivation and buy-in from the rest of the organization are necessary to plan for a product.

Now that the idea of the Mario group was born, I needed to recruit others to join our group. I knew that if I could pull off having a big Mario group we could potentially win the contest.

Resource #1: Princess Peach. With both Mario and Luigi played by two females — Nancy L and myself — I knew it would be very funny for Princess Peach to be a male. I walked around the building attempting to find the perfect Peach. Naturally, the idea of asking a male to dress up as a princess was not that well received. But just when I was about to give up on my search for the perfect male Princess Peach, I thought of recruiting our Sales Engineer Steve. Persistence paid off as Steve happily agreed to this fun challenge. A product manager does not give up after the first try knowing that the idea is solid.

Resource #2: Boo. As I walked around the building to recruit, I was able to convince our UI Designer Alan to join the team. At the time I didn’t have a specific character in mind for him. Instead, he went back and thought about it, later volunteering to be Boo, the ghost enemy of Mario. This reminded me of the planning stage of a product, when not all requirements are fully thought out and internal team feedback is required.

Resource #3: Princess Peach, dog edition. Here at Axcient, we welcome dogs. One of these is Leia, who regularly comes to work with her owner Brian from Operations. As part of my effort to build the winning costume group, I also recruited Leia to dress up as Princess Peach. I knew having Leia on the team would get us tons of brownie points from the judges. However, I did not get a definite buy-in from Brian prior to the event, so I could not yet market Leia to the rest of the Mario team. This reminded me of the restraint product managers must have in resisting the desire to market nice-to-have features before knowing whether or not they will make it into a release. However, product managers should always think of nice-to-have features that can potentially be product differentiators.

3. Always try to utilize resources that are already available.

When planning a product, it is important to find out what already-available resources can be utilized.

As I walked around the building to understand what everyone was dressing up as for Halloween (like a product manager tries to understand where the current business stands with its available resources), I found resources that we could utilize: 1) Roger from Customer Success, who decided to dress up as Toad. 2) Diana from Engineering who already had plans to dress up as a dinosaur, which meant she would make the perfect Yoshi. Their buy-in was fairly easy to get once I painted them the overall goal.

4. Execute according to the plan, and expect the unexpected.

I routinely checked up on the participants in the days leading up to the event to make sure that everyone was still on the same. So when Alan (our Boo) tore his ACL and was unable to come to the office on the day of the contest, I had to make a decision: was this particular character critical to win the contest or could we move forward? At the end, we entered the contest without Boo. As product managers, it is essential to be able to make that call on whether a product should be shipped even if one of the planned features does not make it into a release on time.

While it was unfortunate that Alan was unable to join us as Boo on the day of the event, Leia actually came in dressed up as Princess Peach! While product managers cannot always hope to have every feature we dream of, if the product is evangelized well, chances are the team will do what they can to help.

5. Ship and package the product.

The entire Mario team rallied together to make sure everyone in the office saw our costumes prior to entering the contest. We also played the classic Mario theme song as our group was announced. As important as it is to ensure that a product contains the right set of features, it is also very important to ensure that it is marketed well. A product manager needs to work closely with engineering and marketing to ensure the product is delivered and the right strategy is in place.

Needless to say, we won the costume contest in the “Best Overall Costume” category. And I realized that the principles with which we approach both costume contest-winning and Product Management here at Axcient can also serve as principles for an award-winning approach to almost anything in life. In summary:

  • A simple idea can turn into a great product.
  • First evangelize the idea, then get buy-in from others. Don’t give up if the first try was not well received – especially if you truly believe in it.
  • Always understand current resources and utilize them to minimize cost and impact.
  • Execute, execute, execute.
  • Package the product in a way that wins the crowd.

Nancy Chu is an Axcient product manager by day and a beauty blogger by night: http://www.msnancysfancies.com

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