Innovation at the Speed of Thought!


Innovation Definition

Few expert quotes to kick off:

There’s a way to do it better – find it. — Thomas Edison

Innovation is seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought.  — Dr. Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, Discovered Vitamin C

According to a 2016 survey on innovation, it’s only 20% who perceive the definition to be concrete.

Survey

Innovation is one of the most misconstrued terms in modern day information technology (IT) industry, a truly confusing buzzword yet many people love to use it.

Let’s take a step back and approach it bottom-up. The word innovation comes from the Latin root innovatus, which means ‘to renew or to change’. In general, innovation refers to the creation of better and more effective ideas, products, and processes that solve problems and/or enrich people’s lives, and accepted by members of a social system.

Why Innovate?

Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower. — Steve Jobs, Apple

The day I took on my new role I said that our industry does not respect tradition, it only respects innovation. — Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsoft

Why Innovate

The underlying message is that businesses have to innovate more often to consistently delight their customers and be relevant to them, make it part of their culture, else companies and brands will become obsolete and irrelevant to their target customers

It’s a challenge to both businesses and individuals, and that leads to the next section which is about achieving faster product-market fit.

Being First To Market Is Not Important, Achieving Faster Product-Market Fit Is

Remember, it’s not innovation until it gets built. — Garry Tan, co-founder Posterous

Jump, and you will find out how to unfold your wings as you fall. — Ray Bradbury, American author and screenwriter

Waiting for perfect is never as smart as making progress. — Seth Godin, author and former dot com business executive

If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late. — Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn co-founder and venture capitalist

The way to get started is to quit talking and start doing. — Walt Disney, Disney co-founder

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work. — Thomas Edison, GE

Failure is an option here. If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough. — Elon Musk, CEO Tesla

Why Innovate2

 

In today’s highly competitive world, especially in the IT industry, being first to market is not important at all, competition will catch up fast and we will become irrelevant if we are not innovating.

Instead, being first in achieving product-market fit is supremely important. A faster fit means the product will enjoy maximum differentiation for long and that is the key to long-term business success and market leadership.

There is no dearth of ideas. Ideas are everywhere. Ideas are useless if they are not useful and are not usable. For a faster product-market fit, Execution Loop and its velocity are of paramount significance.

Execution Loop is about doing whatever it takes to win and doing it fast, really fast, at the speed of thought. Typically, it is about:

  • Defining your hypotheses
  • Validating each of them
  • Favoring decisions today over tomorrow
  • Iterating based on learning and decisions

Execution Loop.png

Innovation Myths

Whilst there are many myths on innovation, a few important ones are worth discussing here:

Myth 1: Innovation is about building new products

New products are important, but it’s not all about new products alone. Innovation can beArrow with word  Fact breaks word Myth. Concept 3D illustration. in functions, business models, and processes. Some examples include Toyota’s Global Production System, Dell’s SCM, and even Starbucks’ perception of the coffee shop.

Myth 2: Innovation is for geniuses

The very essence of innovation gets defeated with this myth, especially in the IT industry. Companies waiting for ‘eureka’ moments from geniuses may well die waiting. It is worth that founders of WhatsApp, Facebook, and Twitter were not geniuses prior to their respective innovations.

Myth 3: Innovations happen in R&D labs

Well, not exactly true, Anyone can contribute to solving problems in new ways.

Hope you enjoyed the read!

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Backlog Prioritization *Further Refined*


continuous-improvement.png

A few months ago I shared a blog post on updated prioritization of software backlog. This has been further refined to simplify the field values and effectively signify the cumulative effect of various parameters.

Check out the new framework here.

For more details on the prioritization approach and right mix of features, see the original post here.

Cheers!

Emotional Intelligence – a product manager’s perspective


According to Wikipedia, Emotional intelligence (EI) is the capability of individuals to recognize their own emotions and those of others, discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior, and manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt to environments or achieve one’s goal(s).

EI wp

As product management professionals, we need the EI skill to master our job of product management. We interact with so many different types of people in and outside our company and so it’s extremely important to have complete control over our emotions.

I’m just sharing my views on EI based on what I’ve read in different articles & books. Hope you like the post.

What EI is NOT about!

  • First of all we need to understand that EI is NOT IQ — IQ is mostly about ‘how smart am I?‘ whereas EI is about ‘how smart is my relationship with others?
  • EI is NOT about the triumph of heart over head
  • EI is NOT the opposite of intelligence

What is EI!

  • EI is a unique intersection of heart and head
  • It is about self-management and self-control
  • It is the ability to refrain from making knee-jerk reactions to our emotions
  • It is the ability of listening to our emotions and acting in the best interests of ours and others

In fact, researchers have found that more than IQ it is EI which determines our success and happiness in life. Let’s practice EI everyday, literally:-)

3 qualities of engineers I most enjoy working with


It’s very common for product managers to work with software developers (i.e. engineers) on a daily basis and needless to say there’s a variety of different characters that we come across.

3

Here are the three qualities of engineers I most enjoy working with, and they’re self-descriptive:

  1. One who understands the problem statement, knows the system well, and contributes to the solution in innovative ways
  2. One who can articulate his stand/version clearly without ambiguity
  3. One who is humble enough to validate his/her technical approach with fellow/senior engineers and architects

There are more, but for me these 3 stand out as the top most. Cheers!

Synopsis: The Art of Product Management


I was fortunate enough to bump into a presentation from Sachin Rekhi (@sachinrekhi) called The Art of Product Management.

VSDE

It was an excellent read. Here’s a synopsis from it, for my product management friends.

Product managers drive the Vision, Strategy, Design, and Execution of their product.

Vision – articulates how the world will be a better place when you succeed

  • A compelling vision articulates how the world will be a better place when you succeed
  • Get excited about being at least one step forward, one step closer to it
  • Best format: write a customer oriented vision narrative. Jeff Bezos expects a 6-page narrative!!
  • A vision is valuable only if it inspires the entire team
  • Communicate the vision — the power of repetition — just as it takes 7 impressions to garner a response to a marketing message, you need to constantly repeat your vision. Ask your team about what they’re doing and gauge if they are communicating along the lines of the vision, using words & phrases from the vision.

Strategy – iterate & refine until you find product-market fit and you are dominant in your market

  • It’s about how are you going to win
  • A vision should be stable, but your strategy needs to be iterated on and refined until you find product-market fit and until you are dominant in your target markets. Again refine to expand to new markets and find product-market fit there.
  • A better fit leads to a more appealing product for the target market
  • A faster fit means the product will enjoy maximum differentiation for a longer period of time
  • Best format: Product-Market Fit Hypotheses
    1. Target Audience — bulls eye of your very best potential customers
    2. Problem You’re Solving — it’s important to articulate the problem independent of the solution, get to the root of the problem than scratching the symptoms, fall in love with the problem you’re solving for your customers and not with the solution
    3. Value Propositions — not the feature list, but the promise to your customers on the value you will deliver for them
    4. Strategic Differentiation — why is your solution 10x better than the leading alternatives
    5. Competition — how will your solution win against direct competitors and indirect alternatives
    6. Acquisition Strategy — how will you find & attract your potential customers in a cost-effective way
    7. Monetization Strategy — what are your primary and secondary ways to make money, is there strong willingness to pay
    8. KPIs — what are the right metrics for you to know if you are headed in the right direction. Spend time frequently (almost everyday) reviewing critical metrics & dashboards.
  • Minimize your dimensions of innovation. Don’t innovate on all aforementioned dimensions, instead innovate on few and use best practices for the rest.

Design – keep it simple and bring emotional intelligence

  • Work hard and iterate to keep it simple
  • A compelling design delivers a useful, usable, and delightful experience to your customers, by bringing emotional intelligence to your design
  • Develop personas – a persona typically describes the goals, pain points, behaviors, and psychology associated with members of a particular segment. Give them a name, a profile image, and sometimes associate a background history with them. A team usually develops one or more personas to represent the core audience of users they are optimizing their product/experience.
  • Increase Exposure Hours — it is the amount of time your team spends with observing customers
  • Delight through attention to detail and by making people feel accomplished
  • Measure delight through NPS

Execution – it’s not about project management it’s doing whatever it takes to win

  • Be relentless, it determines whether you’ll make your vision a reality
  • You must spend about 60% of your time in execution, else it will go wrong
  • Execution is not about project management, but doing whatever it takes to win
  • Ensure you’re pointing the team in the right direction. Reward engineering velocity.
  • Execution Loop: Define >> Validate >> Iterate
  • #1 Goal: Increase execution loop velocity
  • Establish yourself as the curator, not the creator of great ideas. Everyone contributes great ideas.
  • First nail it, then scale it — first build software quickly (no elegance required in architecture, etc.), validate it, and then scale it with elegant architecture.
  • Invest in retrospectives

Hope you found this blog post useful. Thanks to Sachin Rekhi @sachinrekhi. Cheers!

 

 

 

 

3 qualities of leadership folks I most enjoy working with


The leadership team is ultimately responsible for the success of their companies.

They have teams of their own — product, marketing, sales, engineering, etc.

Being product managers sitting in offshore offices across India, as we are not part of the leadership team in the headquarters (due to timezone differences, onsite office vs. offshore office mindset, etc.), it is essential the leadership team attempts to take the product managers along with them in their journey of steering the company.

Essentially, there are some qualities we expect in our leaders and below are the top 3 qualities of leadership folks I most enjoy working with:

Three fingers

1. Groom team members into future leaders
2. Share business, company, and priority updates instantly
3. Give credit to team for successes

Would love to hear what others think!

Product Company Org Structure. A Wild Aspiration.


 

Gopal Shenoy,  product management leader and a famous blogger, made a blog post on how a product manager is not the CEO of their product, and one of the main points of contention was that, unlike a CEO, a product manager has no authority, and hence product managers are encouraged to work in the lines of influencing cross functional teams and position themselves as the Chief Influencing Officers (CIO) of their product.

Whilst I agree 100% with Gopal Shenoy’s view of product managers as CIOs, I’d like to make a proposal on how to achieve the CEO tag which will make us better product managers with higher levels of responsibilities.

Definition of a Product Manager

Here’s a good definition of a ‘product manager’ that I bumped into recently.

Product Manager - good definition

Source: Anonymous

One of the key aspects in this definition is the product manager’s responsibility and ownership over the product deliverable — we all agree we have that responsibility.

The Reality

Based on my experience, I feel the ‘responsibility & ownership over the product deliverable‘ is extremely challenging to exercise with the org structure of today’s tech companies. Engineering management has too much control over their engineers, especially around working on a defect vs. a subtle refinement based on product manager or dog-food feedback — this is because they think they own the delivery of the software features. Just too much authority based thinking. Engineering’s focus is more towards securing their position, name, etc. rather than shipping a great product that has market/customer acceptance. The hands-on engineers tend to listen to their bosses more than the product manager because they have to look good to their bosses around performance assessments.

No matter how much there is excitement about flat/matrix organizational structure, layers get developed within engineering teams over a period of time for reasons such as career advancement, retention strategy, etc.

Proposed Org Structure

As an aspiration, I’d like to propose an org structure for product companies, with the intention of ensuring fairness to product managers in fulfilling their responsibilities.

Product Manager

  • Reports into VP/Head of Product Management
  • One or more projects assigned to each product manager
  • Engineers assigned to the project will officially report into the product manager
  • Works with the assigned designer, architect, and engineers in delivering increased customer value, eventually leading to exceptional product-market fit
  • At the end of the project, or on a periodic basis (e.g. quarterly), provides feedback to head of engineering on the performance of engineers
  • Team reporting into product manager for each project

    • Designer
    • Architect
    • Developers
    • Testers
    • Scrum Master
    • Analyst

Engineer

  • Reports into assigned project’s product manager
  • Reports into Director/VP/Head of Engineering on a dotted line
  • Collaborates more with product-manager vs. his/her boss
  • Works with Architects to groom their technical skills
  • Brings innovative problem solving ideas to the table

Director/VP/Head of Engineering

  • Works with VP/Head of Product Management in understanding project priorities
  • Align with rest of the leadership on resource assignments across projects
  • Use feedback from product managers to assess performance and rewards for engineers

Benefits

  • True matrix org, with no middle management or authoritative layers
  • Focused on the products’ success vs. team glory
  • Engineers will focus their efforts in building great products & experiences, and not in pleasing their bosses
  • Engineers need not be in a dilemma about who to listen to — their line manager or product manager

Cheers!