Project Planning

Product Management Is Really Innovation Management

What is innovation? Innovation is not new.

Humans are creative by nature. Innovation is written into our DNA. We have our wits, not our strength or speed, to thank for the fact that we didn’t end up as just so much smooth-skinned lion food thousands of years ago.

When faced with challenges, we conceive innovative solutions that change the way we live our lives.

Driven by humanity’s intense need communicate, our ancestors innovated from pictures painted on cave walls to spoken language, then to written language, then from handwritten books to the printing press and newspapers, and on to radio and TV. The spiral of innovation has continued into the Internet age with the creation of electronic books, social media, and search engines that deliver information from all over the world at light speed.

Each step represented a significant improvement upon the previous solution.

Given that humans instinctively innovate, we have to ask the question, “Why do so many companies fail to do so?”

Innovation defined.

This definition is critical because the term is so often misused. Many organizational leaders use the word “innovation” simply to refer to anything new or different.

What is missing from this conception is that innovation is not simply change; it is change that creates value.

Daniel Scocco of the Innovation Zen blog writes, “The first confusion to dismiss is the difference between invention and innovation. The former refers to new concepts or products that derive from individual’s ideas or from scientific research. Innovation, on the other hand, represents the commercialization of the invention itself.”

From a business perspective, effective innovation changes the market by making possible the delivery of increased value to the customer, creating a competitive advantage for the organization.

Jim Andrew, author of Payback: Reaping the Rewards of Innovation, puts it more bluntly: Innovation is about making money.

Innovation occurs when:

  • A currently unsolved problem is solved, fundamentally changing the way that things are done
  • A new solution to a problem emerges that is significantly better than any previous solution, where “better” can be defined as faster, cheaper, easier to use, more reliable, etc.

Importantly, incremental improvements or feature enhancements devised to counter a capability from a competitor or to address a problem impacting product performance do NOT constitute meaningful innovation. This process does not result in significant leaps in product value.  

Products logically step through a gestational period within the organization, followed by an introduction period in the marketplace. The natural arc of a product’s lifecycle is from growth to maturity to eventually decline.

Companies that innovate extend the lifecycle of a product, essentially creating loops back to earlier points in the arc. A genuinely better version of the product can mean a return from maturity back to a growth stage or from decline back to maturity. The introduction of broadband connectivity, for example, dramatically extended the lifecycle of Internet access delivery, forestalling the maturity of the product by over a decade.

Companies that fail to keep pace with innovation see their products and even their reason for being dissolve into irrelevance. A company selling only dial-up Internet access simply would not be in business today.

IBM CEO Samuel J. Palmisano comments on the need for innovation: “The way you will thrive in this environment is by innovating—innovating in technologies, innovating in strategies, innovating in organization model.”

Lafley and Charan, authors of The Game Changer, argue that innovation puts companies on the offensive. Through innovation, companies create a step change in value for the market, thereby surpassing competitive threats.

For innovation to yield rewards, innovation programs cannot simply be laboratories for testing and launching new ideas in the hope that one of them takes flight in the marketplace. Such an approach is a costly exercise, akin to a gambler paying the ante for one poker hand after another, waiting endlessly for the day when he is dealt a royal flush.

There must be a method for identifying lucrative opportunities and a process for execution. The goals of innovation and product management are inherently aligned. Product managers launch and support products in a dynamic, competitive marketplace. For a product to be successful, it must deliver value to its users, value that no competing alternative can match.

A product delivers value to users when it:

  1. addresses a need, solves a problem, or meets an end goal; AND
  2. is delivered at a price point that convinces buyers they have received a fair exchange for their money.   

For a product to remain successful, it must continuously deliver unique value. Achieving this goal is not easy, as competitors constantly enter the market, giving buyers more choices at more prices. Profits therefore tend to be driven downwards over time. Product managers must always be searching for a competitive edge that they can exploit to combat this effect.

Strategic Product Management should therefore be defined as the delivery and maintenance of products that, within their target market:

  • Deliver more value than the competition (user focus)
  • Create a sustainable competitive difference (buyer focus)
  • Generate ongoing benefit to the organization (organization focus)

Scott Berkum, author of The Myths of Innovation, deciphers why most companies are not innovating, noting that:

  • Teams don’t trust one another and hence collaboration is nonexistent
  • Managers are risk averse
  • Innovation is hard work and takes time

According to Berkum, “The main barriers to innovation are simple cultural things we overlook because we like to believe we’re so advanced. But mostly, we’re not.”

Robert Tercek, an innovation consultant, has also pinpointed key reasons for failure. He states that, “The physical environment needs to be conducive to innovating. An office space similar to a rabbit warren will not inspire innovation teams to think creatively.”

Tercek observes that a second reason why innovation fails is that the innovation team often lacks the authority to bring ideas to completion.

Thirdly, innovation fails because those innovating may lack the necessary skills to “sell” new concepts.

Poor product management is a barrier to successful innovation.

From a product management perspective, organizations may struggle to innovate because their product management teams focus on day-to-day minutia, failing to prioritize activities that deliver new solutions to the market.

The entire structure of product management in these organizations runs contrary to the goal of innovation. Product managers cannot perform strategic tasks if they are constantly loaded down with operational and maintenance activities. They cannot discover and understand emerging customer needs and problems. They do not have the opportunity to engage in conversations, ask questions, or even simply observe their customers.

This scenario is a consistent product management problem across many industries. Far too many organizations see product management as a support function to sales, marketing, and engineering. But product management should lead an organization rather than serving it.

Effective product management leads innovation.

Ideas can emerge from anywhere within an organization. Quantitative market research, contextual enquiry, qualitative market observations, and customer visits or complaints can all spawn new ways of thinking.

Importantly, these ideas must be collated and channeled through a review process to determine which have merit. A persistent point of failure in innovation is the inability to sift through a large pool of ideas and identify the ones that are worthy of development.

In our opinion, all ideas should be fed into a product management framework to assess and distill them, leading to eventual action on only the strongest ideas, turning them into profitable products.

A recent Nielsen study (June 2010) of the FMCG industry showed that successful innovators have precise new product development processes:

FMCG companies with rigid stage gates—decision points in the process where a new product idea must pass certain criteria to proceed forward—average 130 percent more new product revenue than companies with loose processes.

Idea Phase

During the ideation phase, product managers should use the market potential formula to:

  • Filter ideas to find those worth pursuing
  • Understand the financial rewards to be gained

To calculate the market potential for a product or service, determine the size of the market problem, the value of the problem to consumers, and the price or the duration over which consumers are willing to pay for the problem to be solved.

Product Strategy Phase

Once a promising idea has been identified, the next stage of the product delivery process involves elaborating on the idea, determining if the business has the capability to develop the idea, and refining projections of the financial return.

During the product strategy phase, the product manager should prepare:

  • A more detailed proposal of the idea
  • A business case to determine the idea’s capability to obtain some or all of the market potential, the costs of delivery, and the likely return on investment

No matter how creative an idea might be, if it will not deliver a return to the business, it is NOT an innovation and should be abandoned during this phase.

It is important to note that during the product strategy phase, the business case is conjectural, since the product idea is still in its infancy.

Product Planning Phase

During the product planning stage, the project management team further defines and assesses the target market’s need for the proposed idea. Seeing the idea through the eyes of a potential customer drives further crafting of the concept.

The product planning stage defines user requirements and sets the boundaries of the new product or service. A market requirements document is the resultant activity of this phase.

Product Definition Phase

During the product definition phase, product managers initiate one of the following activities in order to create a product requirements document that defines the features and functions of the product in detail:

  1. Develop an interactive, high fidelity prototype to test the product idea and to help finalize the requirements before development.
  2. Engage with a technical team to rapidly prototype the product idea and, consequently, discover and describe the rules governing creation of the product.
  3. Create low fidelity, paper mockups of the product to test the idea without exhausting technical resources, basing the product requirements document on the outcomes achieved with the mockups.

 

Activities within the product definition stage are NOT onerous. Without clear documentation of product requirements, an informed final go/no-go decision is impossible.

Final Words

At their cores, product management and innovation have the same goals. Both practices look to the market and to users for problems that are worth solving—problems that, when solved, will deliver value to the user and rewards for the business.

To be successful in achieving these goals, both product management and innovation require continuous effort, time, and a robust, repeatable process. If product management is effectively resourced and outwardly focused on understanding users and buyers in the marketplace, it can become a company’s engine room for innovation.

However, if product management is forced to focus on day-to-day operational activities, opportunities for innovation will seldom arise, and will be overlooked when they do.

Organizations that seek to deliver innovation to the market should therefore resource their product management teams to enable them to focus on emergent market opportunities and potentially disruptive market change.

 

About the Author

With almost twenty years of experience in program and product management, Rachel Everett has led and coordinated large product development efforts across a range of industries. Ms. Everett’s research focuses on customer-centric product design and development. She has written extensively on the topic and lectured at conferences and universities.

How to Avoid the Seven Deadly Project Management Sins

Project management planning relies on the proper
communication of ideas as well as the give and take in vetting those ideas
among the creative team you’ve assembled to tackle the project. Standing at the
helm of this team, the project manager has the power to bring the project down
by turning the ideas and team against one another, or leverage it by using a
few guidelines that might seem elementary, but are often forgotten in the fray
of project management scenarios.

1)  Drill
Down on Specifics:
Make clear to your team what is expected of thSeven-sins-of-pmem. You
might want to save time by dolling out the minimum of information for them to
work on, but they’re not mind readers. Just because they’re on the same team
doesn’t mean they inherently know what’s going on in every scenario. Take the
time to fully inform each team member of all the details they’ll need to add to
the project.

2)  Respect
Your Team:
Spirited projected management meetings can get intense, but
always respect the opinions of those on your team and use a tone that conveys a
sense of acceptance to the ideas that are being tossed around. Sarcasm has no
place in the project management planning process, nor do rude, condescending or
threatening behaviors.

3)  Embrace
Conflict:
Great ideas are born out of a necessity to defend one’s position.
Sometimes the best idea is the only one that is offered and it’s a total
failure. Empower the team to come up with original ideas that might defy
convention. This doesn’t mean good ideas need a counterbalance, but never
stifle an idea because it challenges your favorite solution.

4)  The
Process Isn’t Everything:
Rules are meant to be broken. The project
management outline is an important piece of the puzzle, but don’t let the
outline dictate the outcome if the positive flow of the process begins to drift
outside of what was originally intended. Often times, the project management
team feels secondary to the process. Don’t forget that it’s the team that
delivers the goods, not the strictly structured outline of the process.

5)  Vote
Early. Vote Often:
What’s true in crooked elections is true in successful
project management planning. Each task the team embarks upon needs to be
analyzed and tested to see if they’re actually making an impact. Testing will
provide the systematic alert system that will raise the red flag when something
is going south.

6)  Helicopter
Bosses are a Distraction:
We’ve all heard about helicopter parents who
hover, watch, listen, and swoop in the take control of a situation, thus
micromanaging every process of their children’s life. This happens too often in
project management. The project manager needs to lead, not wait for a train
wreck to clean up after. In some cases, the project manager can actually cause
the wreck when they suddenly become a working “member” of the group without
having spent the hours in the trenches with them.

7)   Focus on
the Positive:
Don’t be a downer; you’ll sink the team. Acknowledge the
failures but don’t dwell on them. Reward the behaviors that you see as
desirable instead of harping on the negative. This type of behavior has a “pay
it forward” effect and can infect the team.

Remember, it is possible to create, facilitate and support a project management
environment without conflict, but the tone must be set from the top down. If
you make professionalism and success your priority in the strategy you create,
adjusting as needed, you’re bound to enjoy more profitable operations.

 

Zen Leadership

If you master Zen you’ll be a great leader. But if you study Zen just to become a great leader you’ll never master it. – August TurakZen

The practice of Zen in both business and daily life is centered on the paradoxical acceptance above. As instinctually conflicting as it may seem, to truly be a great leader you must release yourself of your innate desire to lead. We no longer live in a world where the business model of leadership is intimidation, and seeing oneself as the all-controlling dictator will only lead to failing performances of your employees. Demands and thre

ats only create fear and sub-par work. If someone is only concerned about being ‘adequate’ enough to maintain their position, then they will never have those singular breakthroughs that occur when they are genuinely interested in the success of the business.

Now this doesn’t mean you have to brew up some green tea and roll out the yoga mats though. Zen leadership simply means that the success and well-being of the entire team has to come before your own personal needs. Experiential wisdom should be the driving force in your organization’s growth, rather than a focus on theoretical knowledge and pre-formulated business models. You need to be willing to grow, adapt, and expand right along with your staff. Here are the 10 Keys to Zen Leadership that will help reveal the potential Steve Jobs inside us all.

1) Lead by Example

– Make sure that you personally are living up to the same expectations you have in others. If you insist on punctuality and enthusiasm, then you too need to be on-time and excited in order for others to live up to your requests. No matter how loud you may talk, people will always be more apt to do as you do then as you say.

2) Communicate Clearly

– You want everybody on board to have the same vision of objectives and success that you do. If Bill Lumberg taught us anything in Office Space, it’s that silence will get you nowhere. On the flip-side, you also don’t want to over-complicate things with too much information. Be clear and as simple as possible. Honesty is essential, as you don’t want anyone to think you are trying to manipulate them in any way.

3) Encourage Constructive Argument

– Allow for open debate and questioning within your personnel. Not only does vocalized disagreement lead to potential problems being resolved before they happen, but it also alleviates any potential angst between co-workers. People should feel free and willing to discuss issues with one another.

4) Accept Input and Welcome Change

– It should be as easy as possible for persons to give you feedback – both personal and business related. You should have an open channel for any and all comments, and you can not have any fear in potentially revising your vision. The best idea you haven’t thought of may come from the most unexpected employee, and they should not be deterred in any way from expressing their concept. Always believe in the potentiality of someone coming up with a better or more-efficient plan.

5) Give Credit and Acknowledge Others

– Never let anyone doubt that they aren’t an essential member of the team. Acknowledging everyone’s addition to the project, no matter how menial the task, will only improve enthusiasm and work-output from all angles. Do this throughout the course of a project, not just at completion. If praise is lavished upon you, then redirect it to people for whom the credit is actually do. Show pride in your team, while remembering there is no shame in being overly humble.

6) Review and Adjust – Don’t Rank and Punish

– If a goal wasn’t met, then figure out what errors occurred and how they can be resolved. Punishing someone for mistakes will only make them fear thinking out of the box again. Finding the problem and making the necessary adjustments will not only prevent a repeat of the error, but will promote further expansion of new ideas.

7) Have a Clear Vision of Defeat

– Make sure to have a clear understanding of what the warning signs are for a potential disaster. Rather then deny any occurring down-slope, recognize any happening failures before they completely fall apart. Don’t be afraid to start again from the beginning.

8) Be Willing To Adapt

– Feel no necessary commitment to previous business models. Evolution is constant and more rapid than ever – feeling that you need to stick with only one game-plan will result in you losing out to newer and upgraded networks. If there’s an easier way to do something, don’t be afraid to embrace it. Simplify, simplify, simplify. Don’t make things more complex than they need to be.

9) Relinquish Power

Your goal as a Zen leader is to enable your team to operate successfully without you. Levels of trust should be utilized for maximum output from your employees. You should feel secure in your people’s abilities, and be confident enough to delegate more responsibility once they are prepared. An appreciation for worker’s efforts will make them want to live up to the confidence you hold in them, and subsequently create a desire within them to do as much as they can for the team.

10) The Zen Leader is In All of Us

– Forget the notion of being a ‘natural born’ leader. The true Zen leader can arise from any and all of us. When leading through Zen, you are not controlling a group of people but rather uniting a group in a way that brings out the full potential of what their combined efforts may produce. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and the Zen leader has the delicate vision to know how to correctly add them up. The humble desire for the overall success of the greater good is the first and most important step. Once these notions are realized, the beneficial ramifications, both business and personal, are vast and expansive.

The First 100 Days…

100days Taking over a software project halfway through can be difficult depending on how well the transition is managed. In the first 100 days of the job, your top priority should be establishing trust between yourself and your team members. You need to trust your team to execute the plan and they need to believe that you will give them what they need to accomplish the plan. To gain their trust, we suggest using the following strategies:

Listening: One of the qualities of being a great project manager is communication. As someone new to the team, practice active listening. This is important because each project team is unique in terms of its culture, strengths and problems.

Learning: Ask the crucial question “Why?” about elements of the project’s schedule and solution. Take time to understand the project’s current status, past project decisions, team members’ strengths, and stakeholders’ expectations. Being able to understand your stakeholder will help you to better communicate/manage expectations for the path forward. Knowing your team members’ strengths will enable you to effectively align the planned tasks with the right individuals.

Leading:
In order to earn your team’s trust and the stakeholders’ confidence, act with highest integrity and transparency. How do you accomplish this in your day-to-day activities? By consistently communicating what you plan to do and doing what you planned.

There are always bumps and bruises along the way, but by the end of the first 100 days, your team and you will trust each other to accomplish the goals we set forth.

Iterative vs. Fixed-priced Projects

Waterfall_large

For those of you familiar with a traditional project management process, you’re probably familiar with a usual project life cycle- plan, budget, design, develop, test and release, A.K.A. waterfall. This style of management can typically be found in fixed-price projects. You may be less familiar with the percentage of projects that utilize this management process, yet fail to stay within the project’s intended time line, budget and scope.

According to the “Chaos Report”, a project management research study on software development companies:

…35 percent of software projects started in 2006 can be categorized as successful, meaning they were completed on time, on budget and met user requirements. This is a marked improvement from the first, groundbreaking report in 1994 that labeled only 16.2 percent of projects as successful…

35 percent! Almost two out of every three software development or integration projects fail.

My experience with 2 project life cycles:

While there are 4 project life cycles adopted for software and web development, Viderity primarily works within the Waterfall (also known as Serial) and Iterative cycles. While all project life cycles have advantages and disadvantages, these two have been widely accepted and adopted by software, IT, and web companies.

Both were developed to manage project risks, but one is probably more suited than the other depending on the amount and type of risk involved in your project. To explain, let’s start by providing a brief overview of the Waterfall and Iterative life cycles.

The Waterfall Life Cycle

Using the Waterfall life cycle, your team is supposed to be able to first obtain every possible requirement (Project Planning and Strategy). Based on those requirements the team moves into design. Once everyone agrees on the “big picture”, the team starts developing or building. All pieces are developed, completed and integrated before testing begins.

Waterfall life cycles take longer because the team is tasked with predicting how much a project costs, how long it will take to implement features, and how quickly defects can be fixed – things that are inherently unpredictable.

Many business stakeholders prefer waterfall life cycles and fixed-price projects up front with a very high-level overview of features and services. It’s very reassuring to know exactly how much a project will cost before you spend any money on it. Small projects (e.g., basic websites that include static, brochure-type pages) flourish from this type of development process because there are less complex programming requirements. However, if your project is more complex (e.g., a website with advanced functionality such as e-commerce integration), I recommend using an iterative, incremental, life cycle. A waterfall approach on these types of projects may result in failure.

The Iterative Life Cycle

Viderity uses an iterative life cycle for projects that require more complex planning and development. The iterative life cycle looks a bit like the waterfall approach at the beginning of the project for the requirements and analysis phase, but uses monthly “sprints” through the remainder of the project. Sprints align and manage expectations by permitting the customer and project team to see working prototypes as they are created. Early review allows greater flexibility for development and testing so that the customer gets exactly what they want.

Instead of spending 2-3 months in low-level requirements gathering, and then building out all features and testing them before release, we recommend spending 2-4 weeks defining the feature sets, determining which features are most important to the customer, then developing, testing and releasing features in monthly sprints.

While the project’s time frame and price are not fixed at the start of the project, the intrinsic nature of developing this way has proven to reduce cost and increase the potential for success.

How iterative processes reduce risk

    • Product features are continuously analyzed and negotiated based on need, price, and timeline.
    • Project estimates are based on very small chunks
    • Business requirements are not written in stone and can be changed
    • There are rapid development and feedback cycles early in the project life cycle