The Benefits of Painstorming

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Another excellent tool to develop creative ideas and innovative solutions is Painstorming. The purpose of Painstorming is to document a comprehensive list of “pains” that affect the customer. Map every step of the product usage and identify the pains within each step. Focus on frustrations, annoyances, hassles, stresses, inefficiencies, etc. Prioritize the list and then determine which “pains” to solve to drive the most value for your customers and develop competitive advantages.

SCAMPER

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Systematic innovation requires using a process to develop creative ideas that become innovative solutions. Using proven tools and techniques to improve ideation allows for improved idea formation and more efficient innovation sessions. A great tool that can be used to help generate ideas for new products and services. SCAMPER allows users to think creatively, with multiple perspectives, to improve products. SCAMPER stands for:

  • Substitute
  • Combine
  • Adapt
  • Modify
  • Put to another use
  • Eliminate
  • Reverse

The tool is extremely effective as you go through each element for the product or service. The process allows you to come up with new methods to improve the product or create new products from the new ideas or modifications you develop. Using systematic innovation techniques provides a clear process to better develop new and innovative ideas.

Sabotage for the Office Worker

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Business has been referred to as war multiple times, though there are some key differences (if you did not know already). However, war involves killing other people, sometimes using attrition to decimate the opponent, and does not involve customers. Yes, we can use many military strategies within business, but who would have thought the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) developed ways to sabotage corporations from within.

Never heard of the OSS, well it was the forerunner of the CIA. Back in 1944 its legendary Director Wild Bill Donovan (read about this guy, really amazing) commissioned the Simple Sabotage Field Manual. Mainly written for individuals abroad to help the war effort (WWII), the manual had a long forgotten section titled, General Interference with Organizations and Production. The items mentioned are a how-to list how to disrupt and slow-up the corporate enterprise. The following are some examples:

  • Insist on doing everything through “channels.” Never permit short-cuts to be taken in order to expedite decisions.
  • Make “speeches,” Talk as frequently as possible and at great length. Illustrate your points by long anecdotes and accounts of personal experiences. Never hesitate to make a few appropriate
  • When possible, refer all matters to ‘ committees, for “further study and consideration.” Attempt to make the committees as large as possible – never less than five.
  • Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible.
  • Haggle over precise wordings of communications, minutes, resolutions.
  • Advocate “caution.” Be ureasonable” and urge your fellow-conferees to be “reasonable” and avoid haste which might result in embarrassments or difficulties later on.
  • Multiply paper work in plausible ways. Start duplicate files.
  • Multiply the procedures and clearances involved in issuing instructions, pay checks, and so on. See that three people have to approve everything where one would do.

So if you wondered why the structure of organizations wastes resources and reduces efficiencies, or when that meeting seems to never end and you just want to rip your hair out, just blame the CIA.

Lean and Six Sigma

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I’m a big proponent of using Lean and Six Sigma to improve business. As W. Edwards Deming stated, everything is a process. Thinking in terms of processes, it is critical to understand the process you work within and develop ways to improve. Lean focuses on eliminating waste while Six Sigma focuses on preventing defects and solving problems. Both techniques have a wide-array of excellent tools that Product Managers can use to improve all aspects of product development, marketing, and various processes.

Lean tools such as 5S, standardization, process flow reviews, and voice of the customer are immensely efficient at helping to reduce wastes and simplify processes. The main tool from Six is the DMAIC problem solving tool, that involves strong data analytics and voice of the customer feedback. Combining both techniques can truly help to improve the business, improve efficiencies and solve problems to ensure improved customer satisfaction.

 

Osborn Verbal Checklist

 

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Alex Osborn developed brainstorming in 1939. The tool has been used for problem solving and the development of creative ideas for decades. In his book Applied Imagination, Osborn explained additional ways to change perspectives and look at problems from new angles. The Osborn Verbal Checklist provides nine elements for innovators to review when searching for new ideas. These elements are excellent and easy ways to analyze current products to modify for incremental innovation or completely redesign for radical change.

The nine elements are:

  1. Put to Other Uses?
  2. Adapt?
  3. Modify?
  4. Minify?
  5. Substitute?
  6. Rearrange?
  7. Reverse?
  8. Combine?

Listing these nine elements and systematically reviewing each within the context of the product or problem, can provide new insights for strong differentiation. Structuring your ideation eliminates wasted effort and provides a strong foundation for additional ideation to develop innovative solutions.

DMAIC

DMAIC

Product management requires a diverse skill set. A critical skill Product Managers (PMs) need is finding and solving problems. A great tool to ensure a systematic problem solving methodology is the DMAIC model. DMAIC is an acronym for define, measure, analyze, improve, and control. DMAIC is the problem solving tool within Six Sigma. Analysis is the foundation for successful DMAIC.

The ability to effectively use data to drive analysis and decisions is the backbone of DMAIC. DMAIC allows for strong creativity and the development of innovative solutions to carefully analyzed problems. You do not need a Six Sigma black belt to use DMAIC. Just some basic statistical understanding and strong inquisitiveness. The following is a general overview of the model:

Define – requires a deep understanding of the problem that culminates in a simple and straightforward problem statement. PMs can use voice of the customer (VoC), data analysis, customer contacts, warranty claims, etc., to understand the problem.

Measure – using basic statistical tools allows the PM to identify gabs between the expected and actual targets. The goal is to develop key data baselines to start the analysis.

Analysis – the goal of this stage is to carefully review the data and various information acquired, and develop a root cause of the problem. This step is critical and it is necessary to avoid focusing on obvious issues as they usually mask underlying causes.

Improve – this stage requires the team to create, test, and implement a solution. deBono’s Six Thinking Hats is a great tool to develop a beneficial solution.

Control – after implementing the solution it is critical to monitor and measure its performance and modify as necessary.

DMAIC is an excellent tool for systematic innovation. With similar foundations to plan, do, check, and act (PDCA), PMs can carefully yet quickly understand the root cause of a problem, develop and implement a solution, and ensure the problem is solved.

The 7Ps – Are You Ready?

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So you have done all the hard work researching, experimenting, testing, and evaluating the market. The product is ready to go and you are ready for the big launch. You have determined the proper pricing, analyzed the competitive specs and made sure your product had a clear competitive advantage, and you have positioned for optimal differentiation. The messaging is crafted and the studio and location shots are done. Catalogs are being printed and the website is being updated. Everything is on pace for that big launch. But wait! Are YOU ready? Have you made sure your presentation to the troops effectively explains the advantages and how you plan to win? Have you practiced the presentation multiple times until you know it cold? Do you have a backup of it on your laptop and on a couple of memory sticks? Is it saved on a network drive in case your laptop dies?

No, this is not overly anal-retentive behavior. This is the core of the 7Ps that the U.S. Marine Corps drill into their teams. The 7Ps = Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance. Yes, clear, simple and oh so true.

Did you get to the hall where you will present the day before the big launch to meet with the audio visual (AV) guys to ensure all your videos work, the sound is good, all your images are there (especially if there will be a transfer of files from a Mac to a PC). Are the microphones working? Is the clicker easy to use? Do you have a laser pointer?

Not only is a checklist an essential requirement, but a run-through in the actual facility you will present in is critical. You want everything to look smooth. No hiccups, no stuttering on stage, no missed slides. All that work will pay off when the presentation goes well and you avoid looking like a fool. Remember the 7Ps and you will ensure a great launch!

Trend Analysis

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Trend analysis attempts to predict the future based on past occurrences. Managers often focus on major trends, ignoring less obvious but increasingly important trends that can affect business. It is increasingly important for managers to focus on the core market trends as well as peripheral trends. Firms in turbulent markets need to develop a strong competitive knowledge intelligence system.

Managers need to be continually informed regarding competitive actions when operating in high velocity environments. They need to balance intuition and rational decision-making to leverage experience and data. The ability for leaders to obtain real-time market information allows for faster decision-making. It is critical that the information that managers receive is based on strong foundations to ensure proper decision-making.

Ensuring that managers accurately identify trends is critical for long-term firm health. The accurate collection of industry and peripheral market knowledge is critical to identify future trends. Nike successfully identified the iPod craze by developing the Nike+ and allowing fitness and technology savvy consumers to combine both products for market success. Ensuring trend identification within and outside the core market allows firms to capitalize on trends in infancy for long-term product success and the avoidance of negative effects on the firm. Leaders need to ensure understanding between trends and fads, and compile proper market knowledge to successfully identify and capitalize on trends for optimal competitive advantage development.

Cheng and Chi

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It is important to keep your competitors off-balance. You need to do the traditional blocking-and-tackling that your competitors expect. However, you have to develop surprises to keep them off-balance and gain market advantages. Two concepts from ancient Chinese strategy texts are cheng and chi. Cheng and Chi are concepts you should keep in mind when developing both strategy and tactics. Cheng are the basics and Chi is what surprises the competition (and customer). First is the concept of Cheng (orthodox or expected) and then Chi (unorthodox, unanticipated, irregular, surprising elements). Some things to consider:

  • Do not Cheng unless you Chi
  • Engage with the cheng, win with the ch
  • Chi is basically to find and exploit (it is the magical element that should be what gives your enterprise focus and direction)

Some military examples of chi are was the double envelopment, used by Hannibal against the Romans at the Battle of Cannae in 216 BC,  Rommel’s use of Blitzkrieg during WWII, General MacArthur’s invasion at Inchon during the Korean War, and General Schwarzkopf’s invasion of Iraq. These maneuver-type of operations were completely unseen and successfully surprised the enemies for quick and total defeat.

The Decathlete and Product Manager

HELSINKI, FINLAND - JUNE 28:  Roman Sebrle of Czech Republic celebrates during the Men's Decathlon 110 Metres Hurdles during day two of the 21st European Athletics Championships at the Olympic Stadium on June 28, 2012 in Helsinki, Finland  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

Just like a decathlete, the Product Manager needs to be proficient in a wide range of skills. The ability to use many different business tools and techniques makes the job not only challenging, but fun. The following are eight key skills that Product Managers should improve upon and impart within their work.
  1. Politician – work with multiple cross-functional teams and understand the needs of all work groups
  2. Presenter/speaker – create professional decks, and be extremely comfortable in front of crowds
  3. Marketer – develop key marketing strategies and positioning for effective market success
  4. Salesperson – have the ability to sell the product to executives for approval, and team members for buy-in and market support
  5. Researcher/Analyst – ability to interact with customers, understand needs, sift through data, and discover unmet opportunities
  6. Innovator – use systematic innovation tools and techniques to develop and implement creative ideas
  7. Leader – inspire team members to follow direction, even without formal authority
  8. Strategist – position the product for optimum market success and competitive advantages

These are not in any specific order, and depend on the how the organization defines the roles and responsibilities. However, most Product Manager roles require all of these at one time or another. Understanding the key elements of each and continually studying and practicing them, will allow any Product Manager to provide ongoing value to the organization.