September 2014 – Scala CEO – Create High Value Companies through Great Products

Brochure CoverDelighted to be working with great companies as part of the Irish Software Skillnet’s  Scala CEO programme. This programme is targeted exclusively at the CEOs/Founders of Irish technology companies and focuses on product management driven approaches to help these companies to scale and grow.

Through this programme participating companies are learning how the application of a product management discipline across their organization can help them to:

  • Create scalable and repeatable revenues through products that customers value
  • Ensure future revenue growth through the continued progression of innovative ideas
  • Ensure the organization is focused and moving in the same direction
  • Ensure that the organization works to a clear business model that meets corporate strategic objectives
  • Prioritize the finite set of resources available and deliver the right projects

The programme incorporates a corporate capability assessment, two day workshop for the CEOs and two separate 1/2 day mentoring sessions with each individual company.

IntegratedThinking are delighted to be delivering this programme for ISA Software Skillnets and we are very much enjoying the interactions with the participating companies to date.

 

 

 

Product Management Festival – Zurich September 2014

Badge-03_SpeakerWas great to get the opportunity to speak at the Product Management Festival in Zurich this year. I presented on how portfolio management techniques could support corporate ideation – had some great conversations on the topic with other attendees after my talk and there seemed to be a lot of interest in the area of innovation.

It was fantastic to be part of a great lineup that included Ellen Gottesdiener, Rich Mironov, Teresa Torres , Michael Eckhardt to name but a few. It was also really great to meet so many European counterparts – so interesting to get their perspective on how product management is working in their organization.

The event offers great opportunities for Product Managers to network and is certainly not just about listening to speakers. It is really great to see an event focused on Product Management. Unfortunately I couldn’t get to all of the speakers but here were just a few short takeaways for me:

Michael Eckhardt – 7 Deadly Sins to Avoid

Don’t just talk to current customers – talk to mainstream customers who have not yet adopted your solution. Understand your customers compelling reason to buy. Ensure your messaging is clear – communicate a “superior selling proposition” – good template provided.

Thomas Bauch – Crossing the Strategic Gap with Product Portfolio Management:

Thomas walked us through some really useful tools in the area of Product Portfolio Management: 9-Array Matrix, Extended ABC Analysis, Project Value Contribution Index.

Gaurav Katyal – Gamification for Product Managers:

Gaurav helped us to recognize how gamification techniques could support other real world examples. Understanding what makes games engaging and how they motivate user behavior. How to drive user engagement of our products.

Teresa Torres – Moving Past Vanity Metrics:

Teresa presented a very insightful case study from a company where she worked previously in where they recognized that they were really capturing metrics that just made them feel better rather those that would really show if the product was successful. She encouraged us to “define product success in terms of when your user has success – not in terms of business success”. She also recommended “evaluating every idea, every decision based on expected impact on your goal”

IPTV Portfolio Funnel – Thomas Haas

Thomas reinforced the importance of  portfolio management techniques and he described how he applied this technique in an IPTV case study – defined criteria for prioritization that included cost of delay, duration and weighted the prioritization based on shortest job first (WSJF). Requirements prioritization is a key function of product management and good to see focus on this throughout the conference.

Nikolai Mokros – Product Management Training on the Job

Encouraged us to hold “Quick Product Management Intelligence” sessions on a weekly basis – no more than 30 minutes. Understand your “golden nugget” learning of the week – building up a suite of topics that can be accessed even by those who could not attend on the day – very useful idea.

Ellen Gottesdiener – Rope your Scope

Understand “what” you are building – the 7 product dimensions, “who” you are building it for – reign in your scope creep.

Mentor and Support Companies Establishing a Product-Oriented Discipline

The Challenge

Many companies over the last few years have made the bold move to establish a product management discipline in their organization. They understand that to be successful they need to:

  • Create scalable and repeatable products or services that customers love
  • Continue to generate and prioritize innovative ideas
  • Ensure the organization is marching not only in the “right direction” but in the “same direction”
  • Work to a clearly defined business model that meets corporate strategic objectives
  • Prioritize and resource many projects, with a finite set of resources, whilst achieving maximum ROI

This requires someone to hold it all together and keep the company focused. As Steve Jobs said “You need a very product-oriented culture… lots of companies have great engineers and smart people. …there needs to be some gravitational force that pulls it all together.

Initially, when the company is small, the CEO or CTO will fulfill this role – but as the company begins to scale it is important that the CEO looks for support. Adding a product manager to the team is the right next step… but what exactly does this product manager do and how will they integrate with the existing team? Often there are a myriad of political obstacles that need to be addressed as people’s roles change and the organization settles into a new way of thinking.

The Product Management Dilemma

The new product manager has a myriad of functions that they “could do” – the question is what functions “should they do” that align best with the organization’s structure, vision and strategic objectives? Although there are many organizations that provide great frameworks to help product managers understand all aspects of their role, quite frankly the breadth and depth of areas to be covered would give any new product manager palpitations! You would need to be superhuman to address everything effectively! So, how do you decide which aspects of the framework make sense for your new product manager? How do you ensure that your new or existing product manager has the right level of domain expertise, can perform key aspects of the product management discipline, can communicate effectively and can earn the respect of engineering?

Addressing the Challenge with In-House Mentoring

Applying a product management discipline does not need to be an overwhelming challenge for a company.  I think it is best to start with a “lean” approach to product management – don’t overwhelm yourself and your new recruit from day one.

For many new and established product managers they exist in a state of constant bewilderment and despair as the enormity of the role becomes apparent to them. They often have a very unclear definition of the role, unachievable expectations are set by senior leadership or often no expectations are set at all (which is even worse), there is no clear prioritization of projects and they have to juggle the demands of a sales and engineering team who expect their undivided attention 24/7. This situation can become a cycle of despair where the product manager becomes increasingly disillusioned and the leadership team begin to dismiss the product manager as ineffectual.

Things do not have to be this way – understanding who does what in your organization and clearly defining the role and Org-Structure 2boundaries for each group is a first step. Then, applying a structure and discipline to product management that aligns with the stage your company is at is crucial. Helping the product manager to apply methodologies in areas such as portfolio management, value proposition creation, requirements management, agile development, customer validation, ideation, ROI analysis, sales management and leadership alignment will undoubtedly help alleviate the pressure.

As someone who has performed the role of product manager and ultimately managed both a portfolio of products and a team of product managers I understand more than most how to make this demanding role effective. I learned quickly that applying structure and discipline ensured myself and my team could work effectively.  We can all read books or attend courses that will give a good grounding in the product management discipline but the application of this discipline and the understanding of what works in reality comes with experience.

Don’t wait until either you or your product managers have reached the point of despair – seek the support and help of those who have done this before, who have been at the coalface and who understand the demands of the role.

 “Start-up success is not a consequence of good genes or being in the right place at the right time. Success can be engineered by following the right process, which means it can be learned, which means it can be taught.”  Eric Ries, The Lean Startup

Contact: Siobhan Maughan, IntegratedThinking (www.integratedthinking.ie)

Approved consultant with Enterprise Ireland – funding available.

Articulating your Value Proposition – Not Just for Startups

The Challenge

As someone who has helped startups with their business plans I understand that to capture the interest of the investor Strategy2acommunity it is hugely important to articulate your value proposition. Clearly representing the problem or need you address for your target market, listening to your target customers and understanding how you will drive revenue growth is essential to ensure you get the kick-start of investment you need to scale your business.

Strategy is based on a differentiated customer value proposition. Satisfying customers is the source of sustainable value creation.” Robert Kaplan and David Norton (Strategy Maps)

Business plans typically only get shared with a targeted group – generally the CEO and potential investors. The continued articulation of the value proposition within the company, especially as the number of new employees grows, can be ad-hoc at best.

A company that has captured initial investment through a clearly defined business plan will move quickly to focus on the execution of this plan – hiring engineers, marketers and sales personnel. As time progresses and they learn more about their target market they may change their initial corporate strategy and re-evaluate their initial hypotheses of what the customer needs. Somewhere along the line their value proposition changes but often this is not captured or re-communicated clearly to everyone in the organization.

Once the company begins to execute the business plan different dynamics will occur across the organization. The background and focus of the engineering team will mean that they will generally position the product from a technical standpoint, often failing to understand or demonstrate the “business value” of what they are creating. Marketing will battle to understand the technical complexities of the product and will fail to create compelling positioning material. Sales will struggle without a clear view of the target market, the value the company brings or the product’s unique selling points. Without a defined value proposition the company will struggle to position the product and potential opportunities will be missed.

Articulating your value proposition and articulating across the organization allows you to:

  • Create an aligned and collaborative organization that shares a common understanding of how the business will create value
  • Ensure the organization remains focused on corporate strategic objectives
  • Maximize ROI for corporate resources and ensure all resources are delivering effectively
  • Support decision making for all employees
  • Enable Sales and Marketing to clearly position the products and solutions to the target market and thereby drive revenue growth
The Solution

Whether you are a startup or SME you should take the time to ensure that your Value Proposition is clearly articulated inside your business so that everyone can clearly represent it outside your business.

Product development, sales and marketing teams are often too busy delivering current project objectives to focus on the company’s value proposition and ensure that everyone is aligned around a common message.

Undertaking this exercise takes time and focus.

IntegratedThinking can help through a short-term engagement that will provide tools and methodologies to support your teams to:

  • Understand the market segment you are addressing
  • Review and define the value proposition for each of your target customer segments
  • Articulate this value proposition to the wider team with clarity
  • Validate this value proposition with your target market
  • Support the marketing team to articulate this value proposition through corporate messaging

“Working with Siobhan enabled us to really understand the market we are addressing and the problems and needs of our customers – we learned to recognize the huge benefits that can be achieved from an “outside in” approach to product management. As a result, we have strengthened our value proposition”
Bill Walsh, CEO Aspire

The Approach

We will provide an initial free consultation to ascertain your requirements. We will then provide a project proposal for review and approval that will articulate what needs to be done, how long it will take and how much it will cost.  In a busy environment, where the time of your key resources is precious, you need someone who has done this before and can drive the project to completion.

Please feel free to give me a call or contact me via email and I will be happy to discuss this further.

Contact: email siobhan@integratedthinking.ie for more details

Siobhan is the founder of IntegratedThinking and has over 20 years experience in the software industry. As Vice President of Product Management at Openet, Siobhan was responsible for the entire portfolio of Openet’s products. She was directly responsible for building a team to manage product strategic direction reflecting both external market needs and Openet’s corporate strategy. Siobhan has clearly demonstrated the ability and focus to drive and manage significant organizational change within a large, distributed software company and was key to the evolution of Product Management within Openet.
Siobhan chaired the Irish Software Association’s Product Management Working Group – established to promote the development of the product management discipline within the indigenous software industry in Ireland. She is also a founding member of the ISA Product Management Forum – a collaborative assembly of Product Management industry peers.
Siobhan’s proven technical expertise has allowed her to gain the respect of engineering teams across a number of companies and to bridge the gap between technical, commercial and marketing disciplines.

Since the establishment of her consultancy business in October 2013 Siobhan has been providing in-house mentoring to scaling companies.

Top 10 Indicators that your Company should adopt a Product Management Discipline

mentoringPosition your company for revenue growth, future investment or value realisation through a strong product-oriented approach

Whether consciously or not, most companies adopt some aspects of a product management discipline from their inception. The founders often perform the product management role – defining product strategy, setting revenue targets, meeting customers, capturing requirements, supporting marketing initiatives, and managing investment priorities. However, as the company grows it becomes more difficult to cover all bases and the essential parts of a true product management discipline need to be part of a more structured function within the company. 

The transition to a point where product management is a necessary part of an organization can be gradual and the signs may be missed. Here are my observations on the top 10 indicators that a company needs to reposition to adopt a product management discipline – you may not experience all of these but it will hopefully give you some pointers:

1) Absence of Customer or Market Focus – “Inside-Out” rather than “Outside-In”

Although your company is having conversations with customers they are typically driven by a handful of people, often senior leadership, and there is inconsistent feedback to the product development team. There is little understanding across the organization of the target or addressable market resulting in ad-hoc capture of competitor, customer or market data. This lack of customer focus means product requirements are not linked back to a customer need or problem and there are no formal links between marketing and product development. With no mechanism in place to support proactive engagement with customers your company is struggling to create products that customers truly value.

2) Lack of Alignment to Drive Strategic Objectives

As your company has grown it has become increasingly difficult to align everyone towards a common goal. Engineering, marketing, finance and sales teams have grown organically but are  operating in silos with little cross-functional alignment. This has led to  a lack of cohesion on how these functions will drive corporate strategic objectives or prioritize product strategic direction. It has become difficult to benchmark or measure the effectiveness of these teams.

3) Lack of Focus – Unclear Product Direction

In your early stage company  your founder worked to a clearly defined business plan and growth strategy which ensured they captured necessary investment. As the company has scaled the focus has shifted away from the customer or market and the product strategic direction has become predominantly driven from personal hunches. In the quest to win more business there is little focus on customer validation and tentative links to corporate strategic objectives. The “Highest Paid Person in the Organization (HIPPO)” is having a huge influence on how individuals prioritize their work and in this culture of the priority du jour there is a large element of confusion and an unhealthy lack of focus.
In order to cope with fluctuating markets, requirements are changing continually – business priorities are not articulated clearly and the product direction is not aligned across functions. Engineering is calling the shots and often drop or change features with little or no consultation with key stakeholders. Requirements are not understood during development so are regularly re-scoped to suit tight deadlines with little understanding of market or customer impact. Resources move frequently between projects and there is a developing culture of “fire fighting” or “organized chaos”. Engineers are creating and testing code but if asked to link back to a clear business case they are struggling.

4) Adopting a Tactical rather than Strategic Approach

In order to win business your company has  approached each customer engagement as a bespoke deployment, with solutions tailored to the customer’s exact needs. This  has resulted in a lack of cohesion or repeatability between customer releases with a large “services” component for each deployment. Code has become difficult to manage across customer sites and the development team are struggling to manage an increasing number of customer quality issues with a knock-on impact to release dates. Engineering priorities are predominantly driven from sales opportunities with little focus on the strategic direction.

5) Ad-Hoc Product Positioning

Although your company may have initially created a technically masterful product they are failing to articulate its value to the market. When asked, Engineering position the product from a technical standpoint and fail to understand or demonstrate how the product relates to a customer need or problem that can be addressed. Consequently, Marketing battle to understand the technical complexities of the product and with a lack of a defined value proposition the company is struggling to position the product to their own sales team and ultimately to the market.

6) Unclear View of Product Commercial Performance

Development resources are assigned arbitrarily to projects, with little focus on “return on investment” or any link back to corporate objectives. It has become difficult to ascertain the cost to develop a product release or to link these releases to a value proposition or product strategy. Marketing promotions are failing to associate upcoming releases with value to the customer. Win/Loss analysis does not exist or is ad-hoc at best and customer data is not fed back to the product development team. Product pricing is  arbitrary and unclear. There is no mechanism to associate product releases with clear revenue targets. Pricing varies across customers due to the bespoke nature of the deployments.

7) Too Many Projects and Too Few Resources

Due to an uncertain economic climate or investor pressure to grow revenues key decision makers in your company are feeling the need to say “yes” to any new revenue generating projects. In this tactical environment, resources are scurrying between projects with little focus on the end-game or corporate strategic objectives. The company has no gating process to prioritize project investment based on ROI.

8) No Innovation/Ideation Strategy Established

Due to the tactical nature of your business there is no clear process for capturing new ideas, prioritizing these ideas or bringing them through a gating process. You have a team that have the potential to generate lots of ideas but there is nobody to catch these and prioritize investment.

9) Unconscious Decision Making

With a lack of market or customer data product decisions are being made in a vacuum. The company is moving so fast that it cannot recognize that it is in a cul-de-sac.

10) Lack of Competitive Differentiation

Your competitive landscape is crowded and customers are finding it difficult to find compelling reasons to select your company’s products. You struggle to identify unique selling points for the products or solutions and it has become increasingly difficult to position your company competitively.

These indicators can manifest themselves to varying degrees in companies, depending on their stage of growth, but are a useful litmus test for the need to adopt a product management discipline.

Understanding what product management means to your organization – irrespective of your stage of development product management principles will help to align key stakeholders in your organization to deliver your growth strategy, supporting you:

  • To create scalable and repeatable products or solutions that customers truly value
  • To ensure future growth through the continued progression of innovative ideas
  • To ensure the organization is focused – marching not only in the “right direction” but in the “same direction”
  • To ensure that the organization works to a clearly defined business model that meets corporate strategic objectives
  • To allocate the finite set of resources available to the company to resource the right projects and achieve maximum return on investment


Innovating to Stay Ahead

Innovation2

Research has indicated that potentially six in every seven new product ideas will fail. To innovate successfully companies need a strong ideation process in place. Without ideas you will have nothing new to sell – but too many ideas will lead to a lack of focus.

Ideas don’t always have to be ground-breaking. A winning idea could simply be a new twist on what you do already – it could be a better way of addressing an existing problem; a new approach which will encourage new business or a feature that ensures that your current users remain loyal.

There are many reasons that new product ideas will fail – the timing may not be right – you may not clearly understand or address the customer’s key need or problem or you may not have the right business partners. In a fiercely competitive market where the margins between success and failure are tight you need a strong process and culture of innovation management to ensure you have a strong portfolio of ideas, and that you focus on the ones with the best chance of success.

Innovation Management is key to the progression of ideas that will evolve your core strategic objectives. As a start-up entrepreneur or established company you cannot afford to chase every new idea – and “gut feel” is an often used but ultimately poor litmus test of an idea’s potential. So where do you place your bets? Which ideas are worth investing in? What criteria do you use to rank new ideas and pick the ones that will yield the best ROI.

There are tools and methodologies that your company can use to:

  • Foster a culture of innovation – encourage people to think outside the box.
  • Manage a portfolio of generated ideas – only invest in the ideas that are likely to deliver the best return.
  • Ensure you have the right balance in your portfolio to mitigate against exposing the company to only “high risk” projects and ensuring you don’t forget about the “bread and butter” projects that keep the lights on!
  • Validating your ideas with the market – ensuring you have a compelling problem to solve that customers will be willing to pay for?

Having a more structured approach to innovation management can only increase your chances of success –so seek to apply methodologies that will give you a fighting chance of being the 1 idea out of 7 that will succeed!

Understanding your Value Proposition

ValuePropHow many start-ups (or possibly even established companies) can really claim that they clearly understand the problem or need they are addressing for their target market? How many actually know who their target customer is and what makes them tick? How many companies really understand the “value” that they will add to the world by existing at all?

Often companies start with the “inside-out” approach where they have some clearly bright people who have created a whiz-bang new technology that they really believe everyone is going to need. They take this whiz-bang concept and invest heavily in engineering, marketing and sales to bring this idea to the market. It is only at this stage that they discover that nobody really cares! They fall into a hole where 6 out of 7 new ideas end up – and it is a very black place! This is often a costly mistake and one that could have been avoided.

There are many reasons why a new product concept just does not hit the mark in terms of revenue generation. In my view one of the stand-out reasons is a lack of understanding of the value proposition for the product or service.

When someone comes to me with a new idea I start by asking what problem or need it addresses – more often than not the person (certainly in the technology industry) starts by telling me how great the product will be, how many cool features it will have, what a fantastic, real-time, highly-performant engine it is built on… what they cannot articulate without some help is the “why will anybody care about this?”

Clearly, defining the problem is an art – it takes a whole new way of thinking and a little coaching to put yourself in the “mind” of the customer but everyone can do it with a little training – and everyone in your company should be able to think like the end customer – everyone should be able to articulate your “value proposition”.

Of course, once you think you know what your “value proposition” is then you need to validate your hypothesis with your target customers – apply the “outside-in” approach. You do this before you invest anything in engineering, sales or marketing. Talking to the customer in the right way is critical – these are not “sales calls” – they are “validation calls”. You simply need to validate that your customer is “excited” by what you have to offer and they believe you have identified an “urgent” problem to solve.  Put simply, you need to validate that your hypotheses about your target customer are correct?

I have been pleasantly surprised over the years at how target customers will open up to you when you approach them in the right way and talk to them in a language that helps them to understand the value that you bring.

The Value of In House Product Management Mentoring

mentoringMany companies over the last few years have made the bold move to establish a product management discipline in their organization. They understand that to be successful they need to:

  1. Create products or services that customers love.
  2. Ensure the organization is marching not only in the “right direction” but in the “same direction.”
  3. Work to a clearly defined business model.

This requires someone to hold it all together and keep the company focused. As Steve Jobs said “You need a very product-oriented culture… lots of companies have great engineers and smart people. …there needs to be some gravitational force that pulls it all together.”

Initially, when the company is small, the CEO or CTO will fulfil this role – but as the company begins to scale it is important that the CEO looks for support. Adding a product manager to the team is the right next step… but what exactly does this product manager do and how will they integrate with the existing team?

Often there are a myriad of political obstacles that need to be addressed as people’s roles change and the organization settles into a new way of thinking. There are a lot of functions the product manager “could do” – the question is what functions “should they do” that align best with the organization’s structure and vision.

Although there are many organisations that provide great frameworks to help product managers understand all aspects of their role,  quite frankly the breadth and depth of areas to be covered would give any new product manager palpitations! You would need to be superhuman to address everything effectively! So, how do you decide which aspects of the framework make sense for your new product manager? Well, it depends on the stage of your growth as a company.

I think it is best to start with a “lean” approach to product management – don’t overwhelm yourself and your new recruit from day one. For many new and established product managers they exist in a state of constant bewilderment and despair as the enormity of the role becomes apparent to them. They often have a very unclear definition of the role, unachievable expectations are set by senior leadership or often no expectations are set at all (which is even worse), there is no clear prioritisation of projects and they have to juggle the demands of a sales and engineering team who expect their undivided attention 24/7. This situation can become a cycle of despair where the product manager becomes increasingly disillusioned and the leadership team begin to dismiss the product manager as ineffectual.

Things do not have to be this way – understanding who does what in your organisation and clearly defining the role and boundaries for each group is a first step. Then, applying a structure and discipline to product management that aligns with the stage your company is at is crucial.

Helping the product manager to apply methodologies in areas such as portfolio management, value proposition creation, requirements management, agile product management, customer validation, ideation, ROI analysis, sales management and leadership alignment will undoubtedly help alleviate the pressure.

As someone who has performed the role of product manager and ultimately managed both a portfolio of products and a team of product managers I understand more than most the demands of the role. I learned quickly that applying structure and discipline ensured myself and my team could work effectively.  We can all read books or attend courses that will give a good grounding in the product management discipline but the application of this discipline and the understanding of what works in reality comes with experience.

Don’t wait until either you or your product managers have reached the point of despair – seek the support and help of those who have done this before, who have been at the coalface and who understand the demands of the role. I loved this quote from Eric Ries of the Lean Startup because it is so applicable here – “Start-up success is not a consequence of good genes or being in the right place at the right time. Success can be engineered by following the right process, which means it can be learned, which means it can be taught.”