Adding/Creating Value

Reading “Rational Optimism”, Great book if you have not, do. one theme is that individuals engaged in tech will solve problems not outside regulators.

A great section speaks of how Innovation in products as well as technology that helps those products become accessible to more through lower costs or percentage of earnings. This is the result of not investing in monetary assets but investing monetary assets in products that save people time.

Then that time is invested back into the system and the multipliers kick in! It seems though that a larger percentage of that value created is in entertainment not products, Hamburgers and Haircuts! value to see a concert adds more value than time used to do a marathon Television day!

In my humble opinion our culture is less one of learning or building than it has become about the third screen passive engagement. No I have not become that “GET OFF MY LAWN” old man. And no things were not better in the old days, but I do see a trend toward having learned and being an expert than learning and being a student.

We talk so much of experiments in product development but what is an experiment? Many times the exercise seems more to prove than to explore at and after the MVP stage. Bias is taking that third screen approach to your testing. Ask yourself what is the value you are creating and how downstream will it create time or lower costs. If we truly want to do something create for the world then we should think about quantifying that downstream value as well as what we do with the value we extract for the value we have created.  

Innovation Never Sleeps, nor should your search for Solutions

You always find a lost item in the last place you look!IMG_1518


Simple you stop looking!


So don’t stop looking and be bold!

This can never happen in Product Development! Enterprise software product managers are those who evolve from managing backlogs to managing solutions for a market. Great Product managers have a bias for action, we do things and get things done. The idea that life-cycle management is small features and updates is a self-defeating reality. Take a look at your backlog, there are groups of features that define new solutions, that open opportunity for innovation and new product.

Nor should you sit back and rely on buying a start-up!

M&A is fun work don’t get me wrong, offsite teams are fun groups but today Lean practices are available to the enterprise team. Why would anyone not integrate the best people and skills in the company with everyone and create a great culture? The idea that large companies cannot innovate is garbage myth, or that they need to set up an outpost in Silicon Valley to get their engine going.

In the 1920s Shell bought every successful well from the wildcaters’   this is how they grew their business. It worked for them as 1+1=2 in the market at the time. Today in most markets that is not true and if 1+1 does not equal at least two your value goes down over time.

Remember when your company was young and marketing and product were tied at the hip? 2016 is the year of the enterprise software product manager, my prediction! The Internet of Things is an enterprise endeavor, the larger the data the more business operational insight is a high value. The more points in your data collection the more point to point application solutions can be created and those need robust systems monitoring.

Persona driven portfolio configurations

Product managers that choose, yes choose to manage feature after feature through their dev teams are not being product managers. This is the work of project managers and project managers. Today many Business analysis can even do market valuations against costs that provide sufficient Business case ROI.

Subscription fatigue is very real requires of what some are saying, Go to a local finance meet up and ask! This is a primary driver toward the enterprise solution suite, but not if your solution is lame. Quality of solution is king but less mission critical less full featured applications can be bundled together to a customer if your company shows commitment in product development and support.

Act like a group of Start-Ups!

Design and sales drive an integrated product portfolio. It has always struck me odd that the larger the company the more it depends on other than direct contact between product and customers. Sales is a great information source about their customers advocating for those that help them fulfil the compensation plan goals. Product teams deal with markets and learn from contextual interviews, skill sets that are not elsewhere in the company.

As a Product manager focused on innovation inside a large company you get folks to help you with the back log. Your core value is smashing your conceptual sculptures, constantly deconstructing your own business both inside DevOps and products. If you don’t some new start-up will! This practice will build rapid decision skills in the organization and so much more. Your team will practice thinking about markets and changes.

The strength of the start-up is rapid decision matrices, high risk tolerance and many touches with the customers/market. Conways Law of organization defining your product output is very true in organizations today. If you are structured horizontally you can produce a horizontally balanced portfolio or suite of products with critical resources going not to the squeaky wheel but to the market opportunity. If you maintain a top down executive driven operation you will release product that meets select customers’ needs only. This is the trap that the enterprise needs to escape!




Risk & Innovation in Dynamic Stage-Gate

CB on bridge

Innovation in any company regardless of size is about guiding and stewarding not managing a process. That said even the best start-up has an advisory team or board of investors that keep them accountable for decisions. Being lean or agile is great when the path is clear but in the fuzzy days of pivot or perish, sanity checks are critical as is being held to good decisions based on good data.

The needs of the large enterprise are structural for many reasons: revenue management, accountability, public performance metrics all adds up to managing RISK! Stage-Gate processes work at assessing and managing the risks very well in developing new products. 

Great new product processes require that the product portfolio leader can balance focus on agility, action, and other functional needs regardless of process or framework. Keeping the concept moving forward is incredibly important, but just as important and often overlooked is making sure the destination is clear.

The traditional process is often set up with strict phases of work or gate criteria that fail the disruptive ideas. How to balance risk and ensure that leanness is not lost to painstaking planning and frugality requires evolution in thinking. Phases and Gates define patterns of inclusiveness and review for the enterprise that prevent bad choices and help leverage the value of multiple domain inputs.

Stage-Gate holds up innovation only if you don’t evolve! The dynamic version shepherded by an experienced leader who understands multiple needs internally drills into concerns so that they become value adds to the product effort. We have all seen New Product Development that moves through a Gate based on executive sponsorship without critical thinking. This is as wrong-headed as any product development that does not test in the market repeatedly.

Stage-Gate manages risk in a dynamic process while promoting innovation with  accountability! Keep your Innovation Sprints accountable, do what you say, no task sliding, no rollover, just good professional behavior. Innovation or lack there off is being driven by your company culture not anything else. The Stage-Gate process is the road to delivery, test and successful launch not the problem.

Each concept is tested and along that path finds its proper place in the portfolio. Early on if concerns and ideas are added to the effort a product can be moved into a feature or extension, not all concepts belong int eh third horizon. Evaluating market integration or company integration issues can drive a pivot, uncover new go to market opportunities. Internally the phase process also alerts cross functional teams when it is critical to interject,

Many times I have seen new product concepts move right up to the end before having “small issues“ pop up, that were lost in the big gate meeting issues. Other times big projects get momentum without broader review and miss a critical market data point. Shorter issue based gates get reviewed closely and folks are more apt to interject a concern, we all have personal bandwidth constraints. Agile development teaches us that small chunks drive effective production.

Artifacts: Key to Dynamic Stage-Gate Success

It is said in the start-up world that you receive funding based on two things: First is promise that includes team and idea, Second is performance, success gaining traction in a market with your solution. This explains the labeling of Start-up early investors as friends, family and fools. In the enterprise world the early stages use executive sponsorship and sales leaders, could we use the same labels!

The need to present and sell on performance starts early in the innovation stages or as I call it Stage Zero as you interview customers about the problem and solution set you are proposing to deliver. Traction that is demonstrated in this early stage fails if it is overly qualitative rather than quantitative. Entrepreneurs make the mistake of falling in love with their solution then bending the data which only serves to create skeptics of investors. Founders bias has killed many potentially great solutions.

How to fight this? Data, quantities of process, result and decision data. Trustworthy data like this is created in real-time allowing the reviewer to walk through each day in the life of your progress. So the question is how to create artifacts that do this without hindering cadence, while delivering value to all for time invested.

I have successfully managed a few Dynamic Stage-Gate teams now and am honing in on a base set of artifacts for the process. Here are some of the ideas that are essential.

Undeniable Truths
Every great process needs a map any time line from which you can all documents off.
Framework style documents work, Frame the ideas, Frame the Hypothesis, Frame the findings
Ends statements – You can’t get there from here is you don’t know where you are and where you are going!
Decisions are derived from data not pulled out of the air so show that, If… Then… next step is….
Documents tell your story better than you then allow a reviewer to embrace it over and over again
Data works when you keep metrics that are important and constant, Sample is critical
Accountability comes from commitment! SIGN HERE!

So what I am working on
1. A time based map to hang other documents and show volume of activity that is easy to see work done
2. An overall canvas of idea, expected action and traction. The Lean canvas Rocks here. Keep every iteration!
3. Interview sheet that after 20 becomes a report from a survey tool capturing all Quantitative and Qualitative data
4. Test concept form, Hypothesis, test methodology and expected results – this does not evolve
5. Test concept Report, What happened? From that do you continue, pivot or kill
6. Overall Traction report against metrics and plan – this is the Board/Advisers one pager
7. The ask, From here based on activity we ask ____ to do ___ by (Date)
8. Commitment statement from Board and Advisers

Good luck and let me know what you would add, remember that the best story is the shortest!

Leadership is Vision, Ideas are for Godot

The greatest compliment I have ever received in my life is excellence in leadership and driving vision. Ideas are as common as grass, they are clouds floating and many have them waiting for history to catch up with them. These are the; I am right and always right in hindsight because I did nothing folks.

Leadership and vision are active states, one holds and drives leadership, makes choices and fails. Vision is an end definition, you have to choose a point on the horizon and take actual steps to get there. Driving a vision for your life, your family, your business is not casual or passive.

Yes the leadership role has a shadow, actually many classic architypes can show up from dictator to magician. But no goal has been achieved without vision. Even Columbus had a vision of getting to the East Indies when he bumped into North America. Perhaps our visions get hijacked by new data or reality but nothing gets hijacked in the parking lot.

Respect follows leadership not ideas, we may like a great poet or philosopher but we respect and follow visionaries from Steve Jobs to Martin Luther King.

The great Innovation melting pot happens in the US for very specific reasons.

For great innovation to happen these four things are essential for large-scale digital innovation to flourish:

  1. Great research universities, big fundamental pursuits
  2. The rule of law and respect for contracts and property, intellectual and civil protection
  3. Large pools of innovation-seeking capital
  4. A cultural acceptance of risk and failure.

America’s combination of these is “unprecedented and unparalleled in the world. I note that one other country I can think of with all four of these in ample supply is Israel, which has a large (especially for its size) and thriving tech sector.

Innovation Culture not Internal Tribes

I have run into this directly, the concept of an Innovation Tribe or Digital Tribe has been pushed recently by a large consulting firm. As rare as it is this is just WRONG!

What leadership team wants “tribes” within their organization? Your organization is a team, all focused on delivering product, growing the customer base and maintaining a leadership position in the market.

Innovation “Tribes” or even Tiger teams are separate special cultural elements that rarely integrate well. If your culture does not accept the new hot company that you just acquired then work on the culture, learn the new work ideas, lead the integration.

Change your own style, too many CEOs that have been around don’t change their own behavior. Everyone is a contributor, creating and authoring work, Step up! Don’t take the easy back door path. Get a coach in this for you and the company. Call me I can help!

Your MVP: In there a Question in there?

Throughout our educational lives from grade school through university we test to prove we have mastered a topic. Inicon_profile engineering school we even back test our hypothesis to prove them accurate predictors of future trends. Given this it is understandable that testing for failure is tough to learn.

The images of success are the first electric lightbulb providing a steady warm glow or the voice over the telephone “Watson, can you hear me?” Today we strive for those 3.5 or better stars in our app rating still focused on getting a pass to the next stage of the lean framework. Looking to move past questions or concerns not embrace them.

Working with product teams it is culturally challenging to learn the balance of getting it right and learning the failure points. We have all had the interview questions “what are your strengths” “what are your weaknesses” my challenge is how we answer those same questions for our work output as product managers. What are the areas of concern? Collect issues from your test like a roadmap in the future, “Release ready” is a choice not a grade, it is your choice. Form great questions ahead of time for all your experiments, wait for feedback and clarify what you see what you hear. Clear communication is your responsibility.

A well designed test asks questions, watching the user explore the product rather than the documentation. Finding the tricks as someone would in a video game is not what a test is interested in as much as where they go in the search. Create tests that test single performance items, causality can obscure results. Create questions and think If so, so what? It is a potential trap for product professionals as we are problem solvers, we want to jump in and fix. It is painful to watch our work struggle.

Some may say, I enjoy asking questions to much but for me the process of discovery trumps the answer and if I have an idea in my head I am eager to be wrong. This is the difference between a learner and a know it all. Learning is about the answer you get, not telling the correct answer or having proof your idea is the correct one. Getting another to agree with you is not a test, getting your prospect to learn how to use your product through painful steps is not success, learning how their intuition works with your product is the test.

I like to tell the story of the US and USSR rocket programs, in the US the modeling and test work was mostly done through simulation and micro test. IN the USSR they built it and blew it up, then built it again and pushed it to complete failure. The result, the USSR rocket engines are still the core of space launch as a result of their robust performance, the US engines are a risk and have a documented launch failure history under heavy loads. The message is don’t be afraid of blowing it up once in a while but always learn making incremental changes.

Strive to walk away from tests with new data, with new insights, not a pass go card. This is not easy trust me, focus groups and early trail customers want you to succeed. Frankly they are more often giving people or they would not be trailing your MVP, investing their time also. The platitudes are great to hear but should be taken with the mindset that I learned from my first sale course, “Customers lie three times”. This is not a negative, it is more positive about people’s good intentions and your need to learn weakness of your offering.

Test to failure and that means at times finding the failure that is unspoken.

A healthy disregard for the Impossible!

The title is a quote attributed to Larry Page, it is also the core of a curious thinking soul. Early most of us are taught that Impossible is a permeate state. How can things be thought of as impossible and later become real?

There are actually three levels of Impossible

1. Perceived as Impossible – these are the things we want to do but can’t become real today because one or more elements are missing, a platform or core technical element is not invented.

2. Impossible, would require new core element – as core element I am talking about creating a new element, in the Ironman move Tony Starks dad build a power reactor but could not create the element with tools of his time so he left a message for his son on what the element would look like so it could be made in the future

3. Impossible by laws of Physics – to work it would take a change in the laws of physics as we understand them

Life imitates art, future vision is often found in art, and Innovators are often SIFI enthusiasts. We see the Jetsons with a family robot, coming soon! We see a pocket communicator on Start Trek and we have the flip phone. Star Trek gave us the vision of taking to an omnipresent computer, actually possible today, it gave us the replicator and today we have 3D printers, it gave us doors that make that swoosh sound, I ask someone to get on that, it was cool.

So what is impossible?
Great innovation happens in stages. We all get excited when what may have been launched in stages over the years and failed finally makes it, but often the change happens over time and in stages.

We hear references to the US effort to put a man on the moon as a great achievement. So great that it spawned the term moonshot in today’s innovation vernacular. The term for most refers to a single event, the truth is that centuries of rocket technology, decades of guidance systems, decades of space science led to the first satellites which led to sending a monkey into space and back then a man.

On the road there were many failures including the loss of life in a Launchpad explosion. The original moonshot was a higher risk venture than any of us would dream to take. When setting innovation or product goals it is best to break them down to stages and think what other industries will need to be created, infrastructure installed. Rare is the innovation that is a single effort even by one multi-divisional company.

Work over time in collaboration is half the story, the other half is cultural, getting people to embrace each step even if they are unaware that the product they are using is one frame in a bigger picture. The impossible may not be impossible for ever.

Effective Corporate Product Process

Years ago I was on a business trip and one in which a clean dress shirt and jacket was required. In my usual last minute packing I grabbed a couple of shirts direct from the cleaners. So the second day I pull out the last shirt only to discover that it was not mine, it looked like a shirt I have, the right color and size but not the right cut and it had French cuffs!

As someone who is eager to literally roll up my sleeves and work with clients and the French cuffs made that uncomfortable. On the flight back reviewing my trip I had not felt that I gave the session my best, it was all just a little uncomfortable and rough. I remember returning the shirt to the cleaners and the clerks comment, “Why would you wear another mans’ shirt?” Truly prophetic.

All this to draw the analogy with companies who try to install innovation frameworks rather than guide the team to create one that works for them. You are never comfortable in another mans’ shirt even if it seems attractive.

On the other end of the spectrum, some years ago I was brought into a company to run a tiger team. The company was growing rapidly and focused on creating a new products funnel for the core products. The CEO hired a big national frim to install their modified version of the most popular framework of the day.

The team worked to customize the framework but had never actually worked it and the product mangers rapidly took advantage of the situation customizing it so they could do as they wanted with little accountability. This mistake ended up costing the company a few million dollar in wasted infrastructure spending. The team started projects outside the company mission wasting key resources and chased ideas over market data.

Custom build your Product Process from a Core that serves the business today to more dynamic models for your New Product Development. Never wear another mans’ shirt!