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!

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!

Policy and Principle

When policies are built on principles not as a tool to define or manage behavior they can be empowering rather than punitive. Polices are thresholds rather than brick walls to great teams. When a policy starts with “don’t” or the softer “You shall only” it begins down the punitive road.

Children get it when the parents are saying No, no! NO! The third no is a boundary that crossing will cost them, why or how does this play in Management? It doesn’t! Yet so many companies have no rules or Policy rules that are intended only to enable dismissal or worse.

Leaders of highly functional teams have principles and share them with the team allowing them to adopt them. Adopting a set of principles allows for policy development. If a principle of your team is cross-training the policy may be that you work actively each quarter with another in a deliberate action with a certain skill learned.

Other great principles are presentation, teaching skills, 1:1 coach/mentor sessions within the team. Research is a great principle of a learning organization. The policy would be to quarterly pick a topic and become the student, learn and teach the team.

Policies are also behavioral, teammates who know and are comfortable with their role or level of decision making embrace limits as to signing authority or customer contact. Customer interface almost always is a cross functional policy, teaming with sales or support groups. How you approach that and engage is often an unspoken policy that needs to be a spoken one.

Policy over rules allows teams to agree that on this customer visit we may deviate for this reason. The Policy is a baseline from which a simple change can be agreed on in a clear manner. Rules need to be escalated to alter. Policy over rules also allows deviation within a team, certain teammates may just be overwhelmed and be granted a by on team responsibilities from time to time while still meeting performance.

Communication is the core of policy governance. Clear, written, understandable policy tied to principles that are universal across the company and team are powerful. Policies should be reviewed much like a retrospective. Is this still working? Should we change? What needs to change and why?

Curious or Commanding – What type do you hire?

What is your Leadership and Marketing style? A core skill of all product managers is curiosity. When hiring or evaluating a team curiosity lives on two levels, first is the individual and second is cultural. Founders have enormous passion and vision but often fail miserably to share or communicate to others what they see. I worked briefly with Steve Jobs and saw in him what some say was him being a jerk but in my understanding it was a visionary man who lacked the vocabulary to communicate or pin down what he saw as wrong.

It may seem commanding thereby sucking the innovation out of a team when a leader is lacking the verbal tools to communicate. We have all heard the term “I can’t tell you but I know when I see it”. To some measure this is a cop out for someone who has not pushed themselves to learn to communicate in terms or be definitive.

The old product idiom that customers talk in terms of solutions not problems is true throughout our culture. Problems are painful, talking to them is considered a sign of failure. The leader is one who openly has the courage of character to walk through the problem definition and explore ideas in the divergent phase then take the risks to select ideas in the convergent stage that may in fact be poor choices.

This is part of the reason that hiring outside Product executives is so hard. The interview process is one of Q&A not idea exploration. To overcome this many teams work on use cases with staff hires so they can witness thought behavior in action. This is not even close to standard practice in the executive or portfolio level hiring process.

Clearly in smaller companies the founder still in the leaders chair often gets into debates with outside experts. I can’t tell you how many times I hear “they just don’t understand us” from founders! Portfolio level execs that come in with deep multi industry experience work in terms of models at the top level, they explore and need to get context before offering solutions, not what founders hitting a wall of change want!

To be a founder or start-up you risk everything so ego is required, and frankly a lot of it! So don’t get me wrong I love founders’ energy but at some point like a parent with a child one needs to let go! Allow that product to live so it can have a “Life Cycle”. Doing this is not easy emotionally and if you have not developed new vocabulary and behavioral skills you will destroy the curiosity of others, create a culture of “do – don’t think” and limit your dreams.

The first trigger in emerging companies is hiring in executive talent. This can be positive layering if you do two things: first is demonstrate that you seek experts in areas, listen to them and celebrate their value. Second is bring up your existing teams through training or coaching to the point you have a culture of outsider support, no “not built here” thinking.

Measure Cut, Cut Measure

This is a theme that is growing in my mind lately. At first I was describing the to a group how Agile methodologies in development differ from the business functions. If development has good market data they are a measure cut function. We give them a firm goal in story form and they in short order deliver product or prototype.

The remaining functions of a business act more in a Cut Measure mode. We observe or discover, then probe or create hypotheses to test. Those test results are inspected and a new hypostasis is created that may require more testing or is put into development and market.

Product management has been pulled into the Agile Development world so far that I see PMs losing their identity as problem solvers and business side gate keepers. When Sales and customer service fill your back log then you work that you are being assimilated into the development team!

Let me get clear I am a big proponent of Agile methodologies and soon to launch a  web service that connects the dots between proper Policy Governance in board and team management and Agile methodologies.

You see whether you call it a story or an ends statement it is still a clear unit of deliverable and accountable work that adds value to stakeholders. How you create strong productive scrums code delivery is also how you deliver a growing profitable company.

It is Newt Rockne football, ten yards at a time! Just there is a difference on the business side, when you need to cut first then measure. Work units change in time and unit in/ unit out of work is defined in words or research. Documentation still exists because the work unit is often communication and variable. An answer can be 5 rather than 3, Done is rare.

Even in marketing campaigns success is based on not a single mail but a trend line that often is relative as to when to jump of, if things are strong great but as they soften the rate of decline and the readiness of a new concept determine sunset activity. Agile for the Business is a cut measure and can be supported by core Agile concepts, Let’s figure this out together

Data Planning to Search

Much has been written about “Planner and Searchers” however as we know writing and practice are often miles apart. After spending the most of last month in Nepal and Hong Kong I am seeing things in the Buddhist concepts of balance, Yin/Yang.

The artist believes that comfort brings complacency and disruption is the key to creation or innovation. The folks that plow the fields believe in planning and hard work built on a foundation of learning over time.

As in most things there needs to be balance. Searching without check points is just random and if you are lucky you stumble on greatness. Frankly the planners have much to do with decision making today in business and technology as we struggle to keep velocity at all-time highs and satisfy the ADHD like social appetite for new!

As we search we need to be able to identify the flash of a strong response and reconstitute that into more moves in a given direction. The tools box is rich with technologies, more than many companies can learn to apply with skill.

Data is generated and darn we are good at that. Searchers know data needs to be generated and Planners know what data to seek for the next action. Great teams are balanced between the two modalities and sincerely respect both foundations.

Planners can think about data in action and usefulness frameworks. They are not touted as the flashy key to success that our culture places on new ideas but they are the ones that see the potential next steps or mitigate risk with data that helps great companies respond in a manner that reflects the most critical issues.

Plan not just to get data but to get data on the parts you are pivoting on or testing specifically. Planners know that evolution not revolution wins, evolve rapidly!

Communications Platforms

Just a quick word on strategy over action. Finding that Product/Market Fix is not an end as much as it is a starting point. IF in fact you are getting the interest and convergence rate you would like then you should understand why?

Personas, Segmentation, Value, Targets you should understand them all. Now write them down. I call this a communications platform that you can use in campaigns both DR and viral. You can also help you customers describe their success and repeat that to their friends.

Also as you grow you can look at your customer demographics to understand if you are hitting the targets you set or if perhaps a new persona is emerging that you can expand on.

For the last few years I have ranted on Process, how it can help and how to design it to accelerate rather than imped activity. Proper process empowers good decisions, but how to drive that in today’s rapid, lean world?

November is my month of vacation, going to Asia! And on my return will be launching a new blog and practice based on a few years of work on Process. Basically I have taken great time proven models of Policy Governance and adapted them to the enterprise.

Ends and Means definition combined with good management training will allow you to change culture to one that has clear guidelines that empower your staff to take rapid action on means since they clearly understand the ends, values, principles and Policies of your company.

Agile means having a clear understanding of where you are and where you are going. This process allows true Agile to take root on the business and management side of the company. Watch

Don’t Comment, Create

Some call this the twitter generation, there is such simple tools that allow you to comment on almost anything.  But is that healthy for us as a culture or even further as innovators. Creation takes ideas yes but more so it takes inspiration which means input, observation and communication. Communication works so much better live and face to face, yes face time, Go to meeting, video!

Comments without domain are low value in Product definition we all know this. Yea there are the blue birds but honestly nothing take the place of conversation, observation and real-time interaction. Virtual has no context it is soft data.

Think of the time you invest writing and reviewing comments, take that energy and create. I have a desk item that has the phrase “Energy Flows where Attention Goes” and lately the energy of business is focused on comments and process over execution.

My challenge to all is use energy in a productive manner much like I invest my money. Do I chase the fed actions or look at fundamentals of a company. Is the energy at our companies focused on regulatory action or grant funding when perhaps it can be used to build.

Is your team commenting or creating. Are they commenting in a productive manner? Are you establishing systems that weed out domain based comments from just open your mouth comments. I ask team to think about why they are commenting and add that to their comment internally.

This is a culture changer when the comments go from the UI sucks, to as a left handed person the UI is grossly disconnected. How about this instead of this is sloppy code, to from a sys admin and performance perspective we could combine some of these calls and cut traffic and errors.

Tell me where you stand before you tell me where you sit!

Enterprise, What is it!

Recently reading a book on President Coolidge and in this clip from Richard Branson use the word Enterprise in a way that is not common today. Enterprising individuals are creative, willing to work hard, sacrifice long hours building and changing their ideas to meet a market.

en·ter·prise (From

1. a project undertaken or to be undertaken, especially one that is important or difficult or that requires boldness or energy:

2. boldness or readiness in undertaking; adventurous spirit; ingenuity.

3. a company organized for commercial purposes; business firm.

Read the words that make up the definition and ask if you and your team are there? Values I seek to build in a team, in my company and most importantly to pull from myself. This is not PC fluff but hard core well understood terms for all

The Whole is Smarter than the Individual only when…

  •  Communication matches the task. Communication is additive when complete, clear and measured. Like oxygen to little and you starve, to much and you get lightheaded then things start making no sense.
  • Manage Egos, the big one that sucks energy out of the room is the big ego! There is a value to experience and knowledge but when that is thrown into one person or from one person the team retreats and stops listening or asking questions. More stiffing than any single item can be.
  • Compromise, is an art that many think they have but are mistaken. The trick to compromise is taking the time to understand and respect both sides of each point. Compromise is best when looked at each item level not at a team level. This is the core of political compromise that looks at teams, sides or functions win/loose scorecards
  • Respect for all and all ideas as evenly as possible. All ideas are good, many are not reasonable at a given moment.
  • A team that knows who they are and what they are doing this is principle based not action item based.