Drills not holes; buying tools over results, means over ends.

I challenge the marketing adage by Harvard marketing professor Theodore Levitt: “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole.” We buy so much more and if you drill down, pun intended, you can expand to buying a shelf or desk or place to study………You may argue latter that in all these examples consumers are buying the end product, I counter and say more today in our fast moving world we are buying the means to that ends.

So we can finally put that to rest in the grave yard of old advertising adages that no longer have merit. Besides in today’s world if I really just wanted a hole I would borrow a drill from the UBER drill lending site. I suggest what you really want to do is build!

First case is how often do you hear investors say it is all about the team. When you build a great team they can pivot and change with the market. What investors are really buying is a team that will find a way to return 10x on their money in short time. If their needs were less than they would buy other more secure investments. Investors are buying a risk return profile they can embrace or work with. Some buy friends or people, but in the end results count on that investors return.

Second case is in B2B sales where you buy tools for process and that process changes. If you buy SharePoint what are you buying? A process tool or a process? The application by its’ self is mostly useless out of the box. If you are selling collaboration software it is useless without people sharing ideas and content. Your team already collaborates and may document tat collaboration but what you are really buying is a tool that sustains that process for a given time. Tools are what you buy, what you do with those tools is amazing and hopefully always changing.

Third is consulting, you buy an end vision, an issue solved. That consulting approach of experience to teach. Here the feature function of the drill is the most important. I get hired to get Product Mangers and Innovation culture working. I know full well that the minute I leave entropy takes over and it is rare that the pending system dysfunction is not blamed on me. But at time I do get that second call to prop up the culture and those are great days. Great not for the repeat business but great in that they understand the solution is morphing as the company situation and staff evolve.

Lastly is building innovation, culture is amorphous and will add value to your offering over and over. Tools, people and advisers are drills to the companies that understand adding value over a long period of time in as many ways as possible is the core expertise required in today’s market. And customers will pay a premium for that commitment to the market and them.

Innovation process 101 – Sculpting and Smashing!

1smashedIn martial arts you use your strengths, then allow your opponent to over extend their attacks grabbing that energy for your advantage. Corporations have unique skills in building processes and analyzing markets to produce accurate probabilities. This is also the root of the “paralysis by analysis” trap. Innovation is about understanding probabilities. The key for larger companies is grabbing agility and high risk courage from the start-up while increasing your chance of success with your broad assets.

 

Corporate incubators can rapidly build and understand the processes of others, build in market factors and understand the best opportunities for innovation. There is strength in large operations organizations that is often undervalued by product groups and R&D. The challenge is how to use the strong analytical power while not burdening innovation.

 

We all enjoy creating and process teams are no different. We enforce process as a way of validating the process, good process covers all situations right. What if the creation of process is not for use but for change? What if you can build a culture in your analytical teams that is about documentation with the intent to break the existing process? I have a term for this, Sculpting and Smashing!

 

                                          Sculpting – Design and document the activity of the target segment or persona.

 

 

 

                                          Smashing – Break that process through automation and innovation to eliminate wasted                                                                                                             activity or entire steps. Basically add ease or productivity that create value.

 

Sculpting and Smashing is fun, it leads to a very full idea funnel that leads to solid innovative features and products. What is amazing is experiencing business analyst get energized. Teams often do retrospectives or plus/delta sessions without optimizing a process immediately. What if that learning can become positive immediately, what if you change the culture to one where learnings are quickly institutionalized in a positive manner then celebrated.

 

For example:

 

Culture of innovation requires, breaking down the Moonshots.

Successful work fails, great innovative companies always fail forward! Experimentation and failure is the result of taking predictive risk or as I like to say, “Thinking outside the box working inside

 

Break down the flow or your product into each area and innovate within each before bringing them together. What helps is to have first the Crazy moonshot vision like say driverless cars. Now you can break down every step of driving and automate it!

 

A recent capital equipment company I worked with was passionate about staying ahead of a market where they already lead. As the company expanded internationally the CEO and I spoke of how to build innovation proactively when the history of the company was winning through rapid response to any RFP. The moonshot thinking was complete automation, the steps were: First automated with operator, then automated with operator outside as observer, followed by automated from a distance, and lastly only to give the equipment a task then read a report of the results.

 

OK so the last two steps are still quite a bit in the future but the process accomplishes three things.

  1. Build trust in market that this moonshot is achievable in steps. Building trust is important for the partnership with the market.
  2. Take steps that you can achieve that build confidence in your own capabilities, learn, and fail forward at a reasonable pace.
  3. Be agile to changes in the market, in technology and the Moonshot goal itself.

 

We followed a hybrid IDEO/Blue Ocean footprint by breaking down the core product into the various systems, Mechanical, Fluid, Control, Power Systems, Usability and finally company support services. Taking a look at all the systems they begin to optimize, (Sculpting and smashing). The customers were excited about each idea however they had expected incremental innovation from the company.

 

Where the market sat up and applauded first was on the company services improvements. Not to say they were insufficient but the market just shocked to see them step in and listen to their customers business issues and be willing to be a true partner. The back story on this innovation is that a customer service agent speaking with a customer captured a comment about the equipment being like his new car and send him an e-mail on how it is.

 

In a market where the pain of downtime is great and a product already outfitted with sensors only connected to the operators’ panel it was a simple task to have a capture of sensor output and use data sent. Customer reaction was overwhelming. Users would pre-order warn parts and be confident planning big projects, now the company was building a trusted relationship based on data sharing. The camel’s nose was under the tent, the first step to the moonshot.

 

The opportunity would not be identified without understanding how the market consumes the product, understanding the wear cycle of parts and pain of the customer. All this through the data and experience of an established producer with a focus on innovation and optimizing patterns.1smashed

Inbound Tele-sales/Appt. Setting

Pet peeve # 451 – Yes the numbering here is not random this burns me but more so burns companies in the B2B market. We get calls all the time for services and I often take as many as I can to learn how they are approaching me. BTW, We have three different businesses, a Consultancy, a Software SaaS company that was enterprise two years ago and an Analyst firm.

All three get calls from B2B services firms and for the most part the cold callers have not even used a search engine to look up the company. This simple step would save considerable bad calls and would even lead to increased success rates.

Dialing for Dollars is as old as Alexander Bell himself, he was trying to sell Watson a phone! Call list today have greater potential than ever so if you have a defined market target or even hypotheses of how a market would respond to your product you can get great large sample feedback.

Calls are market feedback period. Who listens, how long, what questions are hang ups, which are interest inducers? If your script caller is not logging and listening to the other side you loose data! Calls per hour callers are a waste of time, annoy the market and foul the waters for the rest of us!

Tele-marketing is Inbound! You push then listen to what the prospect responds to!

Bad Innovation?

Ok are you focused on innovation or problems? Focused on the Problem is the best Strategy! Recently I am seeing innovation that is not problem focused, no evidence of design thinking or contextual interviewing. One of the essential books in business innovation is the “Innovators Dilemma” sadly though many new start-ups don’t seem to have read the book.

They are over shooting the market potential for integrating any innovation but also you can spend big cash on something that has no main street potential. Bad Innovation is a reality, a clear example is home automation, many great ideas with reach beyond current environmental but also beyond what folks anywhere in the bell curve would want.

We can use software to read any sensor data but do we want to “live stream” the lawn sprinklers? There are things that are automated so you can forget about them and some try to automate what we want care take. Do you want to automate the great martini? Or feeding your baby? Those may be clear examples but others fall in the bell curve.

Why do player pianos also allow manual play? Baking cookies to some are an act, to others it is an art. Frankly I am on the burnt side of cookie cooking while many are on the gewy/chewy side.

Yes there is bad innovation that does not add value.

The Value of Competition

I have shared before my belief that if you have no competition you have no market. Competition makes us smarter in everything we do. We get better as we are challenged and if we are willing, as we watch others react to ideas or influences in the environment.

Environmental impacts are happening everyday with every new thought, work around or impact. Everything impacts the market from ideas to investigations to innovations in parallel markets.

Just looking at a market affects the status actually, your focus group has started water cooler conversations, your test documents or interface gets others thinking.

Competition is not always another company but an idea. A recent product I built impacted my other consulting work as the teams moved from a concept and framework to online tool that captured everything their collaboration changed.

Now ideas were captured, some slowed down on sharing, others stuffed the idea box to get noticed. Open sharing became a liability and political tool. The effects are just now beginning to soften however the cultural impact has a legacy. Introducing new ideas changes the market if only for a moment.

Your competitor could show the market a new prototype that sucks or rocks, that will affect you if you are also picking or if you are the current vendor. How are you built to respond? Are you snapping your head to change? Are you ready to fast follow?

New competitors are an opportunity to respond and deepen your conversations with your current customers. To many time I see the sales knee jerk to “they saw this and we need that!” Wrong it is time to sit again with your customer and in context uncover what they found interesting or valuable. Large companies think they can lead a market and often leave room for an agile sharp firm to innovate and create new intimacy with your market. Do not be afraid of that intimacy, embrace it! Few Do!

Portfolio decisions based on RRV

Balancing Resources, Evaluating Risk (market and development) to estimate Value. Yes a simple formula RRV! Risk is the wild card that takes experts from all areas, Resources are finite unless an investment is warranted and Value accuracy can be managed.

Seems easy right Risk, and Value are no strangers to the Product Professional. We have magic frameworks and tools that help us determine I mean rationalize our judgments. Honestly technical risk of completing R&D on time or mounting a big problem in a way that separates your product from the pack is tough stuff.

If the value is there the risk is worth it and the resources a math problem. Value is not the end product, it is the ends statement. Think about it! I go back to the five levels of impossible, if we are not breaking the rules of Physics as we know them then it is time and money that separates the current state from the future state where you put the most valuable product in the market into the market.

Creating value from R&D efforts is mostly a linear process, yes sometimes that wow moment can move the ball forward or you can be leapfrogged but intelligent minds move through tests, eliminate poor choices and see the answer on the horizon.

Great teams feed R&D with market info on what others are doing and much more to keep the thinking on path. So if you do things well your teams will bring in the innovation that will set you apart from others and create high value in the market. Simple but there are many things to “Do Right’ on the business side of the equation.

Product managers drive many things at once and often are the single point of failure if a market opportunity is missed. Like anything success has multiple fathers and failure as single Product Manager. Portfolios require executives to balance those resources and time horizons so many PMs feel their Executive did not give them the window. As an executive PM, I say you did not make the argument.

Interviewing Customers

We all know how to interview but how well do we know how to ingest the information. My mom is in her late 80s and when she tells me on the phone that she had a fall yesterday it is different from when she fell 5,10 or fifteen years ago. When we are five or fifteen a fall is a scraped knee. When we fall at 70 it is a recorded event, when we fall at 85 it is a flight of stairs and a potential symptom, broken hip or bad day. Interviewing for customer problem is not that different. One operations user observation is not an enterprise problem. On the other hand an executive perception may not be aware of a user work around. Context, it is all about Context! It is critical to keep your ideas out and not lead clients as we all know, recently I had a new one hit me directly. Using known clients and friends seems like a great way to reach product market fit until. So for years I have worked with boards in non-profit and for profit boards helping them build processes that allow them to be agile in their response and leadership. I focus on a derivative of the Carver methods that begin with a problem statement that describes the issue first then moves directly to an end statement allowing the team to determine the means or build a compelling case to alter the ends statement. I began to build a tool that would help them do this on line as well as keep the process in place after I left them. All went well until the experience of using the tool captured all comments in a permeate record! Wow, now thing got real! Their comments were in a compliant record and it scared them. It seems the concept and tests were fun, the real discussion on issues was not! Context extends to the real issues. So learning, testing and doing can be different. Who and what is affected? Is your MVP real to the tester or user, is there a training period to learn and perhaps long term what seems like a cycle saver has a productivity cap. We try to see everything but life always reserves the right to shock, this makes it fun!

It’s all about the work!

My favorite book is “The Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand. In the book the primary character is Howard Roark, an innovative and gifted architect punished by the silly media critics for his greatness. Those who can’t do judge greatness in a manner that reduces them.

In the closing scene of his trial his speech is magnificent as can only be written by Ayn Rand. The focus of his argument is that your life is about your work and what you do with your efforts. Passion, hard work, commitment to principles and ideas overcome the garbage that comes.

As product managers, and designers we are like Howard, we gather data and execute with a balance of art, data and gut. As with anything that is in the creative and functional arena Product Management is a skillset that take enormous amounts of practice.

Book learning is important and all product manager are aggressive consumers of information and ideas. However like playing music or building skyscrapers nothing is learned without doing! No two products have the same product lifecycle, they always need to be viewed as they are in the market cross tabbed against their development challenges.

This is one reason why PMs work in frameworks and take time to “get up to speed” in any new role. It is all about the work, what you do and how you build!

Quality is the only choice we have in execution of our daily work. Each of us defines our qualities and how we execute on them.

Effort to Viability work ratio?

In sales, product or any work we all do a viability calculation. What are our chances of success or limited success? How much effort are we then going to expend on that opportunity or event.

In sales we look at value of contract, change or adoption potential of customer and lastly how much pain they are in currently. The result of all these mostly qualitative evaluations determines how much we are going to invest of our time that could be used for more high return potential activities.

Yes there is also the evaluation of how much other activity is on our plates. This can be the reason that new sales pros have early success, often called the dummy curve. The truth is we tend to talk ourselves out of effort rather than into effort, the new sales pro doses everything and anything to learn, that filter of success potential is thin.

How does this play out in your evaluation of new ideas, features or product innovation? We all hear “tried that back in 2002” when ideas come up. Not knowing what happened then compared to current idea of market dynamics allows the history to win.

Learning organizations must, yes MUST maintain domain knowledge to overcome that trump card statement. Be the new sales guy and evaluate the viability of an idea on the current team, market environment and resources. Perhaps there is the capital now to mount a better R&D effort. Perhaps new technology will allow better costing or more real-time delivery.

When we do these evaluations of “worth it” they do best to look at it with the new sales guy eyes not outdated or potentially jaded filters. The best way to do this is not ignorant of the past but aware of the past, placing the past in context to the present.