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!




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!

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.

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.

Ideas to Innovation to Market Successful Innovation

Market Tested and Accepted Innovation is the goal of all Innovation process. There first appears the idea! That idea evolves through process to a product or service. That product is then placed in the marketplace and marketed to target groups. Some will buy on novelty, some on interest, some see their lives improved through the product.

When those products are deemed successful is when a customer repeats the purchase cycle or independently endorses the product to others. Many would claim this as to high a standard for innovation, not me. Over the last 5 plus years I have worked with innovation helping companies not only capture ideas but deliver on product R&D efforts.

Many times the one time buy or trial period at a discount is deemed success, truthfully without a customer commitment demonstrated through promotion or repurchase something is not right about the product. Many times it can be pricing or promotion that is outside the consumers’ price/value equation. Other times the product itself is a one-time curiosity purchase.

Then of course there is the product that never presents value enough for a consumer to trial it in manner. These are the difficult innovation failures to face as money, time, and heart has gone into them. Have had a couple of these myself, often there is a missing part of the value that is significant to the consumer. Today recovering that value and launching again is tough, consumers are more anti second chances as there are more options. The best strategy is to launch under a new brand entirely.

Many of the early efforts at innovation by companies are thought to be best if unbounded by process. This is wrong, the capture and evaluation of ideas is critical and must be systemic, complete and measured by the same yard stick each time. When ideas get variable measure innovators shy away from presenting ideas. Standing up for your idea in a politicalized environment is painful and empty even when accepted.

When your process is complete on the front end the ideas flow and evaluation is perceived as fair, and the company becomes a learning organization rather than politicized. Innovation that fails to deliver to the market an ROI to the company is wasteful. Where is your company Innovation? How are you, measuring and evaluating ideas, success and finally what have you learned?

Your Sample Value and “Bar Talk”

Professional focus group facilitators call it various terms like group think. When I was tending bar in NY putting myself through school I listened to folks in the bar pass around ideas or observations that spontaneously became facts.

How are you evaluating your UX or features? How big or diverse is you sample? Is your success with you MVP based on two very loyal early adopter friendlies?

There is a very trusted UX application vendor who I like but often tests in coffee shops based in a very technical town with an average age of 28. Not very diverse and a sample that thinks they are smarter than whomever developed the app. The result is predictable, ever first evaluation shows significant would needs to be done and guess who helps them out.

This is not planned fraud but also not a faithful review. We all have done it, just last year I had a board application I did used by three boards that already were using the governance school that I based it on. My MVP test was great but the market for the application was limited to Boards that already were faithful to a school of governance, the mass market potential was very limited.

Coffee shop or bar talk is limiting, like minded talk like minded. Courage is to stretch outside and broaden the scope of your sample. Broaden it in ways that define new personas both by demographics and technical perspective. Technically there are users of a competitive product, non-users you need to convert and technical phobic or friendly minds.

This is stuff that makes sense and we all trip up on. Testing needs to be robust, samples need to me deep and diverse. Testing both market and pressure is always the first thing deleted from the project plan when time lines compress. Just don’t do it!