Cheng and Chi

Trojan

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.

 

 

5 Books for Product Managers

Product managers need to have a wide and deep set of skills. The way to improve skills is through constant reading. Here are five excellent books that can broaden the Product Managers’ perspectives and overall knowledge. To become an expert in one’s field requires strong commitment and daily practice. A goal of one books read per week will make you stand-out and be a source of irreplaceable knowledge and expertise within your organization.

The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement by Eliyahu M. Goldratt and Jeff Cox

220px-The-goal-bookcover

Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths And Total Nonsense: Profiting From Evidence-Based Management by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton

Hard facts

Winning at New Products: Accelerating the Process from Idea to Launch, Third Edition by Robert G. Cooper

Winning

Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind by Al Ries and Jack Trout

Positioning

Out of the Crisis by W. Edwards Deming

out-of-the-crisis-deming

 

The Undisciplined Discipline – Product Management

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Working in product development roles for over 20 years has made me a bit biased towards product management. One of, if not THE most important role in an organization, product management is one of the jobs that most have no formal training in, management does not quite understand the role within the organization, and with no formal authority over teams, the product manager in many cases is a glorified, and frustrated, project manager (PM). PMs are critical to ensure consumer-focused products are developed, clear market strategy is created and shared within the organization, and a well-planned and executed roll-out is achieved. This should not be the roles of different groups or an outside agency. This must be an internal team activity, led by the PM.

The true importance of product management is shown when looking at top salaries within some of the largest, most successful firms. Google and Facebook PMs are right below the leading software engineers in terms of overall compensation. This alone should demonstrate how these organizations view product management in terms of market success. Software firms get it, and most of the new theories and techniques for product management are developed in Silicon Valley. Unfortunately, for hardware and service firms, product management is still a confusing role. Product management is hardly taught in a formal setting within business and engineering schools.

The majority of schools do not formally teach product management. Usually product management is lumped under an innovation or entrepreneurship course that does not dive deep enough into what is required to be an effective PM. It is time that schools begin dedicated product management programs to raise the level of importance within the business community. PMs need a broad and deep toolbox of skills.

Most PMs become PMs from a technical background. They know the technology or products, have some marketing experience, so get dropped into the role. Unfairly, these individuals scramble to understand what is expected of this new role within the organization, try and gain new skills as needed, but often never have the chance or space to truly understand foundational PM skills. They do the best they can while internal politics and silos pigeon-hole the overall role and create scattered product direction and strategies.

PMs need a deep understanding of technology and a broad range of skills to effectively perform their jobs. Strong new product development (NPD), research, marketing, strategy, and analytical skills are critical, yet most often obtained ad hoc. Worse, if the PM does not reach out to a community of other PMs or dive deeper into the PM world, they will only continue the limited PM role within that the organization defines. This role was usually created years ago when it was realized a PM was needed and someone in marketing was tasked to develop it. Rarely does the role evolve or a professional (i.e., experienced) PM is brought-in to raise the game. Most often, PMs get burned out from being spread too thin, and working on irrelevant tasks that do not focus on value drivers. Turning product management into a profession, like accounting, legal, and finance is critical to gain the credibility the role necessitates.

Product management is a great career. You get to be involved in the most exciting parts of the business and most often are involved in key decisions and direction setting for the firm. You receive a good salary and many times get to travel and learn more about the business than any other role. In addition, every day is a new experience and rarely is a PM bored. On the flip side, product management requires strong commitment and dedication, an open and creative mindset, and the ability to understand the broad business outside of “just the product” – while balancing stress and ongoing frustration. To improve the overall business community it is critical to start training professional PMs to increase their skills and ability to successfully perform the role, while also ensuring the success of new products and drive differentiation for strong competitive advantages.

Leadership & the Product Manager

leadership

We all have the capacity to inspire and empower others. But we must first be willing to devote ourselves to our personal growth and development as leaders.

Leadership is a critical skill that Product Managers must learn and grow through their careers. These skills can be cultivated through a hunger for knowledge, ongoing learning and the exponential effect of increasing business experience. Product leaders are able to transform ideas, facilitate debate, and process market signals into actionable vision for a product or segment. Some key areas to focus on:

  1. You are always on stage
  2. Stay calm, even when your hair’s on fire
  3. Transformation
  • Learn and grow
  • Employ integrity in everything you do
  • Engender trust
  • Stand for something important
  • Meet your commitments
  • Help others
  • Include others

Below are some leadership behaviors and mindset every Product Manager should constantly improve upon:

  1. Continuous learning
  2. Strategic thinking
  3. Vision
  4. Networking and bridge building
  5. Be human
  6. Serve customers
  7. Facilitate and collaborate on scientific problem solving (root cause analysis, not assumptions)
  8. Empower others
  9. Lead organizational change
  10. Have strong integrity – do what you say

How do you improve your skills and experience to become a strong leader?

  • Exude Trust
  • Be a student
  • Be a teacher
  • Be a facilitator – encourage discussion about the business
  • Be a supporter – help or coach others
  • Be a recognizer – recognize people’s efforts by reinforcing positive contributions and provide feedback
  • Be a thinker – create your own “you” as you form opinions, gain wisdom, and become a sought after adviser
  • Be a product therapist – listen clearly and help others help themselves through questioning, guiding and suggesting

Be sure to always look, listen and ask plenty of questions. What is most critical is to ensure everyone knows where they are going, when they need to arrive, and what they must achieve. This is very evident while managing the Product Launch Process.

As long as the Product Manager clearly understands the direction KMC needs to move towards, and explains it simply to everyone, the chances of success are greatly improved. Remember, everyone has to be focused on the “same sheet of music”.

The best leaders are storytellers, cheerleaders and facilitators. They reinforce their sense of direction or vision with words and actions. They also must have the ability to make decisions and have the courage to act upon them.

And above all leaders must be positive to encourage and convince stakeholders the direction is the best way to achieve success. As General Colin Powell once said, “perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.”

And as classic strategist Clausewitz said, “Once it has been decided … what the war is about, and what it can do, the way to do it is easily found. But to follow the way unerringly, to carry a plan through, not to be distracted a thousand times by a thousand inducements – that calls for strength of character, assurance, and clearness of mind.”

Famed GE CEO Jack Welch felt the following were guidelines for good leadership:

  • Integrity – do not have two agendas, there is only one way, the straight way
  • Setting a tone – the leader’s intensity determines the organization’s intensity
  • Maximizing the organization’s intellect – be open and spread good
  • People first, strategy second – great strategies need great leaders
  • Informality – make sure everybody counts. Titles do not matter
  • Self-confidence – have the courage to be open. Be comfortable in your own skin
  • Passion – intensity covers sins. Leaders care.
  • Stretch – Reach for more than you thought possible
  • Celebrations – energize your organization. Make sure teams have fun accomplishing their objectives.

Above all else, do not be reckless, do not act cowardly, do not be quick tempered, have a sense of humor and be compassionate. Remember your position and how critical it is to the success of your organization. In addition, always work to create a culture of learning & trust, not one of blame.

The Product Manager & the Situational Analysis

SwotAnalysis

One of the most important ways for a Product Manager to fully understand their portfolio is to do a “deep dive” into their products via a Situational Analysis. This should be a habitual task, and not just when products are having issues, but to also fully understand the entire environment that the product competes in, and to identify not just challenges but opportunities to improve awareness and sales. Post launch is an excellent time to understand how the new product is doing and what is needed to adjust.

Other important uses for doing a “deep dive” via this report is to share current model information with internal staff (Sales, Marketing, etc.) and to help R&D with future model direction and strategy. The core of any strategy is to first be an expert in your product and the 360-degree environment it competes in. The only way to properly do this is through a comprehensive Situational Analysis.

As the Product Manager collects and starts organizing all the market intelligence, the best way to organize and analyze is by developing a Situational Analysis. The situational analysis is a method managers must use to analyze both the internal and external environments of an organization in order to understand the firm’s own capabilities, customers and business environment. As described by the American Marketing Association, a situational analysis is “the systematic collection and study of past and present data to identify trends, forces, and conditions with the potential to influence the performance of the business and the choice of appropriate strategies.” The situational analysis consists of several methods of analysis: The 4Ps, SWOT analysis and Porter five forces analysis.

The situational analysis looks at both the macro-environmental factors that affect many firms within the environment and the micro-environmental factors that specifically affect the firm. The purpose of the situation analysis is to indicate to a company about the organizational and product position, as well as the overall survival of the business, within the environment. Companies must be able to provide a summary of opportunities and problems that may be encountered within the environment in order to gauge an understanding of their own capabilities within the market.

Most importantly, do not forget when developing this report you must ensure objectiveness and use quantitative data as much as possible to justify future requests.

Benefits of Indirect “Attack”

Strategy

When engaging with a competitor, it is critical to understand their strengths and weaknesses. In addition, you need to analyze how you will compete. Two methods from military doctrine can be used as a mental guidepost for planning. Two classifications of engagement are indirect and direct methods of “attack”. Most situations call for an indirect approach, since a direct attack often results in prolong and costly “battles” (don’t forget the Yamaha and Honda war, and what it did to both, but especially Yamaha). The indirect concept was developed by B.H. Liddell Hart and calls for armies to advance along the line of least resistance. It is best described in this quote from his papers referring to the theory.

“In Strategy the longest way around is often the shortest way there. A direct approach to the object exhausts the attacker and hardens the resistance by compression, where as an indirect approach loosens the defender’s hold by upsetting his balance.”

There are two fundamental principles which govern the “Indirect Approach”.

  1. Direct attacks on firm defensive positions almost never work, and should never be attempted.
  2. To defeat the enemy, one must first disrupt his equilibrium. This cannot be an effect of the main attack; it must take place before the main attack is commenced.

The direct approach is characterized usually by a frontal assault and unless you have overwhelming force and advantage, this should not be used. This means you do not want to have a strategy where you go head-to-head with a competitor that is significantly stronger. Or as Sun Tzu stated, “avoid strengths, fight weakness”. The perfection of strategy would be, therefore, to produce a decision without any “serious fighting”.

Think of this in terms of business and how effective indirect attacks can be applied to competitive engagements. For example, Dell avoiding big box stores, Japanese automobile brands focusing on small cars and motorcycles and many other indirect “attacks” in the history of business. Focus on the competition’s weaknesses and search for “gaps” that fill customer needs, not yet fulfilled.

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.