Better Meetings

Meetings

Ok, who hates meetings? How often do you hear employees complaining about no time to do any work as they sit in unproductive meetings all day? Well, it’s time to not blame the concept of the meeting anymore, and understand the true root cause of horrible meetings – piss-poor-planning and facilitation. When there is no agenda, no focus, rambling discussions, and lack of leadership, meetings are doomed to be wasteful.

Meetings are critical to ensure strong communication and collaboration. It is critical that all team members are up-to-speed on the various projects and that nothing comes as a “surprise” to any team members.

Even though meetings are a necessity, especially through the value of face-to-face interaction (or via video conference), they must be planned, organized and efficient to ensure valuable team member time is not wasted.

 

When to Do It

  • Whenever you decide a quicker way of communicating would not be good enough
  • Whenever a real need for a meeting is apparent

 

How to Do It

  • Call together only the necessary people
  • State the purpose of the meeting. Have an agenda, with major points, and tell the attendees about it ahead of time
  • Set a time limit. Any company-level meeting more than 30 minutes long is probably ineffective. One way to make meetings end on time is to schedule them 30 minutes before lunch or other mandatory activity. Another way to keep them short is to have “stand up” meetings with no chairs
  • Make a habit of starting meetings precisely on time. Anyone who comes late – make them feel a bit uncomfortable. Don’t let them slip in and sit down in the rear.
  • Stick to the subject. Best way to do this is to write down the objective of the meeting, and the agenda, on a whiteboard or a piece of chart paper.
  • When issues are to be discussed, make sure participants do their “homework “ ahead of time.
  • Don’t let unresolved issues go unanswered. If it’s a “one-man” issue, talk to that man after the meeting.
  • Summarize what was covered in the meeting and who’s going to do what.
  • Write down the results of the meeting so people who didn’t attend can find out what happened.
  • Don’t schedule meetings unless you think they are absolutely necessary. About half of the usual, scheduled, “routine” meetings are a waste of time.
  • A 20 minute meeting early in the morning is usually far more effective than a 60 minute meeting later in the day.
  • For off-topic items, have a “parking lot” and list the items there for future discussion.

 

How to Know When It’s Done Right

  • Participants show up on time and are prepared
  • Discussion focusses on the topic
  • Meeting adjourns on time
  • Meeting objectives are accomplished

 

Set an example by showing up on time, not missing meetings due to a lack of poor scheduling, and educate all team members the value of efficient and well-planned meetings.

Create and use a meeting template. This should also be part of the product folder for a record of all meetings, etc. Many times there is confusion regarding decisions that were made previously, by having a well-documented and organized record of meeting minutes, will ensure accuracy and flexibility and speed during various projects and development.

Always take complete notes during every meeting and distribute immediately after. This will ensure all attendees are on the same page.

Once team members understand the necessity and benefit of meetings, they will not be complaining so much when they experience well planned and executed meetings.

Strategic Agility

Cheetah

The ability to develop and sustain strong growth is difficult due to increasingly turbulent and complex global business markets. Competitive global organizations are becoming increasingly aggressive as the fast pace of competitive change causes organizations more-and-more difficulty in capturing opportunities. Firms need to create organizational flexibility to increase market knowledge and reconfigure resources as markets continually change. This shift can create competitive advantages based on agility and a thorough understanding of the environment.

Leaders cannot rely on rigid strategies to create long-term, sustainable competitive advantages. Increased globalization has created an environment of aggressive competitors, shortened product lifecycles, emerging technologies, and decreasing consumer loyalty. Leaders need to create agility and flexibility to avoid predictability, move from one advantage to another, and continuously create new advantages as competitors quickly attack opportunities. Firms must stay ahead of fast-moving competitors, accelerated innovation, and temporary advantages.

Highly competitive business environments require organizations to exploit opportunities hastily. These environments require an organizational structure that rapidly moves resources to areas of higher opportunity. The ability to shift key assets requires organizational flexibility and agility. Developing a clear, focused, and adaptable business model, supported by customer-centric, flexible strategies, and tactics allow firms to adapt to changing environments.

Strategic agility can position organizations to adapt to increasing competition within a fast-changing global business landscape. Global markets are requiring firms to move from continuous improvements to continuous innovation. Firms need to reexamine long-standing, ingrained strategic mindsets to compete in a faster and more complicated business environment.

Strategic agility consists of three key elements:

  1. Collective commitment – Senior leadership working together towards a unified goal, laying aside internal politics to improve decision making and ensure success
  2. Strategic sensitivity – Clear and focused attention on the ongoing awareness of internal and external environments
  3. Resource fluidity – The internal ability to quickly modify processes and systems, and rapidly move resources based on changing situations

Leadership needs to use all three elements in unison to ensure the development of agility. As leaders work together for the good of the firm, clearly understand the market, and create the ability to shift resources to areas of opportunities, without fighting internal turf wars, the organization will increase internal speed to create ongoing competitive advantages based on proactive and reactive abilities. The use of strategic agility has strong, positive potential to improve overall firm performance in the challenging and changing business environment.

Strategic agility can create strong competitive advantages within increasingly turbulent environments. The need for agile business models is expanding as the global business environment becomes increasingly turbulent. Firms need to adopt a unified executive team, which has a strong sense of the market. This market sense is built through ongoing knowledge access to create quick decisions. As leaders make fast decisions, they can quickly move resources as needed. The ability to have leaders dependent on one another and avoid interdependencies causing delays or confusion is critical for successful agile implementation.

War Games

Wargame

How often do you launch a new product and discuss potential competitive reactions? If you are like most teams, probably little to never. Teams are so focused on analyzing the competition, ensuring competitive pricing, pre-loading the distribution channels, and other tactical operations; competitive reaction planning is most often ignored. Months of planning typically results in rigid strategies and a lack of desire to discuss potential problems.

War games are a great exercise to simulate plans against potential competitive reactions. Utilizing representatives from key departments, a game can be as simple as two teams or complex as six teams, dependent on the competitive landscape. Ensuring strong support from senior management and a an open environment for retaliatory-free communication, war games are an excellent method to identify any weaknesses in a plan.

War games have several key benefits. Most importantly is allowing deep communication with team members to discuss the launch and uncover any potential obstacles or roadblocks. The ability to proactively brainstorm potential competitive reactions and develop effective counters is another excellent result from war games. Finally, the deep insight to better understand competitors is a strong benefit to share with other organizational members.

War games do not have to be complex. Simple war games are relatively easy to plan for and conduct, and require limited resources. The ability to get key team members in one room for one day to discuss launch plans will pay for itself the first time the competition counters a sales or marketing action, and your team quickly and effectively maneuvers to allow for ongoing positive momentum. War games can be strategic, operational, or tactical.

An example of a potential war game is an automobile OEM rolling out a new vehicle. The teams anticipate strong opposition from two key competitors. One team plays the OEM and the other teams realistically role-play the competition. Management decides to focus on one key sales region for the war game. This will allow the teams to stress test promotions and communication plans, and determine if and to what effect the competition will react in this key market. This simple game will allow team members to better understand the competition in that local area, and generate proactive thinking to prepare for any unexpected activities. Inviting in trusted local retailers can also add to the realism and provide different yet valuable perspectives. Preparing competitive overviews (e.g., number of sales reps in the region, number of retailers, local media overview) will ensure a deep market understanding for the game and future tactical operations.

A war game is a powerful way to get your firm to look outside and see how the competition may view your organization. Most importantly, a war game creates an excellent environment for ongoing internal communication, launch plan refinement, and a better understanding of competitors. In addition, the activity helps to develop flexibility within the organization to monitor market launch activities and pivot as needed. War games do not have to be complex, cost a ton of money, and require special training. All you need is an open-minded team, a desire to win, and strong senior level support.

Launch and Beyond

Rocket launching

Does your organization have a formal launch process to manage new product introductions? Are post mortems conducted on a regular basis to ensure goals are met? Are there even measurable goals beyond unit volume targets? Do you monitor market feedback to ensure momentum is not lost?

Too often firms lack a structured product introduction process. Lack of process results in poor communication and lack of a unified message to the market. Worst-case, the wrong consumers are targeted resulting in wasted resources and failure to meet goals. Typically the lack of a launch process also uncovers lack of metrics and a formalized post-launch review process. Remember, you can’t manage what you don’t measure. Sure, this is a cliché, but it is extremely important. You must have clear key performance indicators (KPIs) that align with overall goals and objectives for the new product.

The benefit of the process is getting all the appropriate teams in one room on a regular basis. It is critical that the sales and marketing teams understand the background of development, who the target customers are, which competitors they need to focus on, and the overarching strategy. Product managers need to develop clear strategies and communicate these appropriately. Sales and marketing teams need to focus on how they will achieve the over-arching strategy through frontline tactics.

Product managers need to lead the process through launch and monitor the product as it lives within the market. Too often firms launch a product and ignore it, thinking the sales team can manage it alone. The whole point of the process is that dirty four-letter word, TEAM. Everyone needs to continually work together to ensure long-term success with ongoing sales momentum. Ongoing communication, analysis, and adjustments are critical to win.

Product Innovators – Time to Skill Up

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Those of us lucky enough to work within product development, need to continually search for new ways to improve our existing products or develop new products. To be effective at our jobs, it requires a diverse set of skills and behaviors. Most importantly is an ongoing drive to understand the customer and solve existing and future problems. All of us need a deep toolkit of various skills to succeed.

If you are just doing what your organization has always done, you are not going to win. Too often I meet product professionals who lack the desire or initiative to self-improve. As we spend so much mental and physical energy to ensure our products become what we hope they become, it is crazy to “sit on your laurels” and be satisfied with your current knowledge and skills. Ongoing self-development and practice are critical to achieve what you want.

Professional athletes, musicians, writers, painters, car racers, and a host of others spend countless hours practicing and improving their skills to gain advantage over competitors. Why is it that most business professionals never do the same? Too often, we are trapped in jobs we are not motivated with anymore or overwhelmed with life’s requirements. Well, too bad. If you do not like your current situation, want a better job, want more money, want a nicer car, want to live in the country, doing what you are doing now will not cut it. You must become the best product professional you can be. We owe it to ourselves, our customers, and our companies. What does it take?

Firstly, read and read and read. Stop staring at your phone and pick up a book. Next, get off the couch and get some new experiences under your belt. Hang out with different people, go to a weird play, visit a strange city, volunteer with the homeless. Whatever you do, expand your perspectives. Also, attend workshops and conferences both within and outside your industry. Listening to other professionals will provide inspiration and spark the creative juices. Most importantly, build the key skills a product innovator needs.

Learn basic research skills to get to know your customers and competitors in more detail. Improve your presentation and storytelling abilities. Work on your speaking skills. Most importantly, become a great salesperson. We have to continually sell our ideas, findings, and recommendations to a host of stakeholders so we better be good at sales. If you are not polished, no one will listen. The more you know, the more you share and help others, the more people will listen and trust you, and provide you with more freedom to develop great things. Oh yeah, one more thing, read!

Find Problems with Research

Man with magnifying glass looking for coins

The first step in most innovation projects is identifying a problem. The problem is usually market driven or technology driven. Once the problem is identified, the innovator needs to learn as much as possible of what caused the problem, who is influenced by it, how competitors have addressed the problem, etc. A critical step in this discovery stage is the use of research.

Research is composed of two key areas, qualitative and quantitative. Qualitative is descriptive and is gathered by observation. Quantitative deals with numbers and data that can be measured. Combining both is referred to as mixed-methods. Often innovators use qualitative first, get a good general understanding, and then perform quantitative research. Both types of data gathering are composed of open-ended and closed-ended questions.

Researchers develop two types of questions, open-ended and closed-ended. Open-ended questions require more than one word answers and typically require expanded explanation. Closed-ended questions are usually answered with either yes or no. Both need to be used to uncover insights on the problem. Innovators need to perform research first-hand.

Can’t my corporate research team do this for me? Why do I need to learn this and do all this extra work? Great question!

To truly innovate you need to clearly understand all aspects of the problem, most importantly how the customer is impacted by the product, problem, or other influencers. Toyota uses the term genchi genbutsu, meaning to go to the spot or source. To develop a solution, and then push your project and recommendations forward you need to be an expert on the issue. The only way to do this is to understand the entire environment. Analyzing the competition, customers, technology, regulations, and all other potential factors that affect the problem is critical to develop a solution to the problem. Innovation requires data from qualitative and quantitative research, along with a deep analysis and synthesis of the problem. As Thomas Edison noted, “innovation is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration”. No one said this was easy.

A3 Storytelling

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Visual communication is an excellent way to share information with team members. Developed by Toyota as a methodical approach to problem solving, A3s create a rigorous and systematic way of thinking, allowing a deeper understanding of problems or opportunities. The name “A3” signifies the size of the paper (in Japan) the report is developed on, closely related to the U.S. 11”x17” sheets. This methodology forces individuals to effectively condense large amounts of data into an easy-to-read and understand format (no one has time to read reams of data). There are many types of A3 reports

The original purpose of the A3 was to clearly explain a problem, its elements, and solution(s). The A3 also is used for proposals and project status updates. It can be used for any type of report. The great thing about developing A3s is it forces the author to be concise and improve skills to communicate simply, though supported by sophisticated thinking. Allowing for a systematic, repeatable process, A3s have many benefits.

A3s provide many benefits to organizations. The tool provides a methodical approach to problem solving, resulting in a succinct format for presenting or reporting facts. In addition, the ongoing use of A3s allows for a document trail that others can follow and use to understand the problem solver’s actions and results (remember, knowledge management is a good thing). Offering a common language and methodology, the A3 methodology develops a shared culture conducive to Lean and Kaizen concepts. Finally, and most importantly the tool provides a foundation and lays the groundwork for future change. Visual management is a key component of an efficient organization.

Visual management is an excellent way to communicate by using visuals instead of text or other written instructions. The goal of an A3 is to use visuals (e.g., graphs, charts, pictures) as much as possible, with the least amount of text. This technique allows for quick and easy understanding, increased efficiency and clarity, and an excellent method to present a clear story. With a beginning, middle, and end, A3s cover a complex topic simply and clearly.

The use of A3s creates efficiency and builds key skills in problem solving, storytelling, and clear communication across the organization. A3s can be used for many processes, not just problem solving. As a great visual communication tool creating structured thinking, clear concise communication, systems thinking, continuous learning, process and results, objectivity and openness, teams should investigate the use of A3s and how it can benefit the organization with a repeatable, systematic method of learning and communicating. Synthesizing, distilling, and visualizing a large amount of data into one page of mostly visual elements provides an excellent way to improve creative thinking resulting in overall firm agility.

A Better Brainstorm

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It’s time to move beyond brainstorms. Too often brainstorming sessions are extremely broad and can result in status quo thinking. The results from the majority of brainstorming sessions usually do not result in positive outcomes. New methods of brainstorming can develop innovative ideas.

Brainstorming was developed by Osbourne in 1939 to improve group creativity. Brainstorming is built around several key rules such as withholding judgment, encourage wild ideas, quantity counts, and every idea has equal worth. Unfortunately, the practice typically results in wasted time and not reaching goals. Brainstorming’s unstructured format typically results in poor productivity and subpar results. Also, lack of criticism can develop less-than-ideal ideas.

Structured brainstorming can result in improved innovative ideas. Developing a structured process that ensures key questions are formulated to guide group ideation is more effective than traditional brainstorm techniques. Also, ensuring the proper participants are included who can provide original insights can greatly benefit the outcome. It is important to make sure everyone is engaged and participate. Also, the final list of ideas needs to be narrowed appropriately to ensure immediate action. deBono’s Six Thinking Hats is a great tool for effective and efficient group ideation.

The majority of research shows that individual ideation is more effective than group ideation. Once a narrow set of potential ideas are developed (individually), using a group setting to determine the optimal direction is needed to ensure diverse perspectives are part of the decision-making process. Using deBono’s Six Thinking Hats creates highly structured brainstorming and review sessions.

Most of us spend too much time in unstructured meetings that waste organizational resources. It is essential to use tools and techniques that result in obtaining highly effective outcomes in the least amount of time. Stop using free-flow brainstorms and learn to adopt systematic innovation techniques for ongoing competitive advantage development.

What it takes to build an innovative culture

culture-of-innovation

Innovation is an ongoing buzzword. Leaders expect it, employees strive to develop it, but too often the quest for innovation results in wasted effort and resources. Why? There are too many reasons to explain in one post, but some of the key issues are lack of senior management support, lack of skills & ongoing practice, and lack of incentives. Yes, a lot of LACKS.

Strong senior management support is necessary to champion innovation projects. Providing emotional and resource support ensures employees understand the importance of the change in culture. Furthermore, leadership can accelerate the learning curve and implementation through mentoring and reducing barriers to innovation. It must start at the top to change a culture. Training is another key area to develop innovation.
Employees need to have the proper skills to create and innovate. Ongoing training is critical to learn basic problem solving and critical thinking skills. Developing strong habits through questioning, experimentation, and associating is critical for long-term benefits. Practicing skills helps to form long-term habits.

Continuous practice is required to ensure employees use the skills daily. Daily practice increases confidence and develops increasingly sharp observation and questioning skills. As employees improve innovative skills the ability to implement them to improve the business increases. A reward system is also critical to drive ongoing innovation work.

Finally, a rewards system is needed to drive incentives and maintain desire to push forward during adverse times. Rewards depend on the culture, but it does not have to only include money. Trips, training, and gifts are just some of the ways to reward staff. Often, the best method is simply recognition among peers. Rewards do not have to require a lot of resources.

Innovation is critical for long-term organizational sustainability. Without the proper foundation, innovation will remain a fleeting aspect of corporate life. Developing systematic innovation to reinvigorate a corporate culture is an excellent way to create products, develop motivated employees, and attract lifetime loyalty from consumers.