Category Archives: Product Leadership

The Courage to Innovate

This is the second in a series based on the book The Innovators DNA and how the research and principles support the discovery, growth and creativity of product leaders and their organizations. I acknowledge the research, content and messages of the authors and personally value the impact it may have on product leaders, especially those in product management and product marketing.

I’ve wondered and often been frustrated with why a company and its management team don’t seem to have an innovative mindset, appear to have an innovators DNA nor care to foster one with product leaders?

This attitude, realized or not, often squelch creativity and innovation in product management and promotes complacency or worse, a division in the teams and their creativity. This post explores why some senior executives don’t think differently, how it impacts product leaders and why courage is a critical step to innovation. We’ll also review a way to assess your innovative DNA.

Why Most Senior Executives Don’t Think Different – With eight years of interviewing scores of senior executives – mostly at large companies, Dyer, Gregersen and Christensen found that when they asked executives to describe the most novel or valuable strategic insights, they rarely mentioned an innovative business idea they had personally generated. “In contrast to innovators who seek to fundamentally change existing business models, products or process, most senior executives work hard to efficiently deliver the next thing that should be done given the existing business model. That is they work inside the box.

Innovating while working inside the box – What happens when you work in an organization where innovative thoughts and actions are not promoted, nor welcome. Usually you have limited choices. (You know what they are. Leave – Stay – or Suck it up.)

As an example, I worked with a company a number of years ago where innovation was often acquired. In that example, innovation was misunderstood and product management left in the shadows to figure it out. The authors share, “Innovators must consistently think different, to act different.” To maintain an innovative mindset, product management assumed the innovators role along with the Chief Technology Officer. Together, with engineering we discovered, experimented and innovated solutions while integrating with our buy, build, partner strategy. Product management stepped out of the shadows and began to infuse new ideas, conversations and associations. The importance of associations will be discussed in another post.

The Courage to Innovate – If you work in a delivery-centric organization, it may be difficult to consistently think and act differently. “In short, it takes courage to innovate– an active bias against the status quo and an unflinching willingness to take smart risks– to transform ideas into powerful impact.” Why? Most executives are focused in delivering and need someone to step out and make an impact.

So, I have the courage and I’m willing to step up, what’s next? The innovators DNA model illustrated by the authors is a great place to start.

Take time to review this and personally assess yourself and then your team to see if you have the behavioral skills required. If you’re not sure, ask yourself:

  • Do I understand how questioning influences innovation, ideas and creativity and do I question enough?
  • Do I observe outside the office and in native habitats where my customers and markets are? Do I observe in other habitats and learn from those environments?
  • Do I effectively network within and outside my comfort zone and am I willing to share my ideas with others?
  • Am I willing to experiment in areas that may not make sense to my organization or me and try not rationalize it away before I try?
  • Who do I know that excels in questioning, observing, networking and experimenting in my organization, team, circle of acquaintances and others outside my circle, and do I learn from them?

Next ask yourself the following:

  • Am I willing to risks on a regular basis?
  • Do I challenge the status quo in my organization?
  • Does my team challenge the status quo on a regular basis?
  • Does my organization handle challenging the status quo?

As we look at our innovative DNA, there will be vast differences in our ideas, answers, and how we build, acquire and obtain more. It’s a progressive process and starts with some level of personal or professional disruption and change.

In summary, as product leaders, we need to determine if we have the courage to innovate and where we lack key DNA to really impact our organizations, people or areas around us. I welcome your comments and ideas on how you’ve acquired and grown an innovative mindset, displayed the courage and any experiences you’re willing to share.

In my next post, we’ll discuss Associations, and how connecting these accelerate ideas. If you like the post, please share it on Twitter or LinkedIn using, The Courage to Innovate, a new post in a series by @jim_holland #prodmgmt #innovation #leadership. 

If you’d like to learn more about formal innovator assessments, check out the Innovators DNA site.

The Innovators DNA: the Core of Product Management

I recently finished the Innovators DNA by Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen and Clayton Christensen for the second time. It’s highlighted, underlined and notes jammed into corners and sticky notes everywhere. As someone whose been a contributor, leader and consultant in product management and product marketing for over two decades, I found it to be the capstone to the Innovators Dilemma and Innovators Solution, although they stand on their own merits. It is a must read for product management, innovators and organizations of every kind.

I’d especially recommend it to those who work and contribute in organizations where innovation is misunderstood, misaligned and misfires and where senior management brushes it aside as a passing fad, a marketing gimmick or something to pacify investors or shareholders.

What’s so special about The Innovators DNA? The book is a culmination of research and a discovery process along with relevant stories and references that product innovators, entrepreneurs and organizations can use and apply to surface, validate and incite disruptive nature or innovation.

The Innovators DNA shares early on, “Everyone knows that (Steve) Jobs is an innovative guy, that he knows how to think different. But the question is, just how does he do it?” The common answer is that “the ability to think creatively is genetic. Most of us believe that some people, like Jobs are simply born with great genes.”

However, the book shares and explores five (5) discovery skills that may be used by product leaders and organization to incite and infuse innovation. The skills include:

  • Associating
  • Questioning
  • Observing
  • Networking
  • Experimenting

I believe each of these five skills must be present within each product team, product leader, product owner or those infusing innovation into new ventures, existing markets or uncharted territory where a product, service or solution may emerge. While we may believe that some executive has ownership for this, such as the founder, a CTO, an entrepreneurial executive or others, the DNA has to reside and be visible in product management and product marketing.

Too often product leaders find themselves believing they are innovators, when in fact as the book shares, “business schools teach people how to be deliverers, not innovators.”  While delivering is a key aspect and result of innovation, it is not innovation.

It’s my goal to write a series of post aligning the exceptional work of the book and bring product leadership new ways to think and act as you surface, obtain and refine an innovators DNA. So, stay tuned and look for more over the coming weeks. If you have thoughts or ideas on the topics, please send them too me. Please share this via Twitter New post, The Innovators DNA: the Core of Product Management by @jim_holland #prodmgmt  or via LinkedIn The Innovators DNA: the Core  of  Product Management 

‘Tis the Season… for Conversations and Listening

I was talking with a client this week and when I asked how she was doing, she responded, “‘Tis the Season.” Now we all know that the holidays are around the corner and a New Year upon us. But the “season” she was referring to is the typical mad dash of month-end, quarter-end and year-end. Sometimes all three rolled up into one. For product management and product marketing, it can be a really quiet or crazy time of year. I asked her how the “season” was going and she said, “I’m getting  so much done and I’m finding there’s a lot of people available to talk to.” WOW. Did you hear that product management?

So, in the spirit of the season, here are my gifts to you.

  • Before the end of the month contact a new customer or one coming up for renewal. Let them talk, rant, wish and tell you what they like, dislike, love and despise about your product, support, account representation or company. Have three questions in mind and then call. ~ The outcome will be amazing. Who knows what you will hear and what innovation or changes it will inspire.
  • Take a development counterpart to lunch. Ask them what’s worked this year and what frustrates them most about product management. Listen, don’t debate and see what you hear.
  • Call one customer who has defected. Before you dive into the diatribe of why your product is better, ask them to honestly tell you why they left. Ask them how it’s going and offer a listening ear in the future. Wish them a Happy New Year and be sure to ask what top 3 things are on their list to accomplish next year. ~ You’ll be surprised what you hear.
  • Buy a salesperson a cup of coffee or favorite drink and then ask them what messages they heard and which ones resonate the most. Is it the same positioning you’ve labored over with marketing? ~ You might find a new way to enable sales next year.
  • Schedule 30 minutes with a junior product professional and ask them what they’ve learned this year and how it’s influenced their product management or product marketing success. ~ What can you learn from someone newer to product management?
  • Spend some time with your product management mentor. Ask them to share where they think product management is heading in 2012. ~ Then ask yourself if you’re heading in the same direction.
  • Contact a friend or family member not your age and ask them about their most recent product purchase, what they liked and disliked. Ask them why they bought and the steps they went through. ~ You’ll experience a buying process you weren’t involved in and personas that are new too you. You might use that information next year.
  • Contact a C-level executive over the holidays and ask if you can talk to them about the challenges of 2012. Create 3 questions and then listen. Write (yes, with paper and pen) a note of thanks. ~ See what you learn.
  • Schedule a face-to-face customer meeting out of the office. Now you’re thinking everyone will be on vacation. They won’t be and won’t it be nice to have a conversation while you’re both not looking at your mobile devices. Let them ask questions about your roadmap, product direction and see what happens.

I’d love to hear what you’d add to the gift list of Conversations and Listening. Feel free to share this via Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+.  ‘Tis the Season for Conversations & Listening – a new post by @jim_holland #prodmgmt #prodmktg #leadership

Why Aha! Turns into Oh Crap! in Product Management

How often have you heard the following remark? “I stepped out of the shower this morning and…” or “I was walking out of Starbuck’s when I got this killer idea…”

Sound familiar? Were the examples too close to home? As product management and product marketing professionals, managing and translating the “Aha moments” can be a full-time job or at least a full-time distraction.

How do you handle the Aha! moments?

From Aha! to Oh Crap!
Product management and product marketing have to know and understand the difference between the Aha and the Oh Crap.  It’s a fine balance. Great ideas openly flow in companies surfacing from internal and some external sources. While some may have value, what’s the difference and how do I know?

Scott Sehlhorst, author of the Tyner Blain blog recently shared with me, “In product management, you have to see the big picture view. Product Management has to be founded in data, data and more data.”

While Aha’s may be great ideas, ask yourself the following questions to discover if your Aha! is worth pursuing or is headed for Oh Crap-City.

  • Where did the Aha! originate?
  • Does the Aha! have supporting data?
  • Does this Aha! add any value to your product strategy or roadmap?
  • Does it overcome any competitive threats?
  • Who’s willing to buy your Aha?
  • Will this Aha! cause any disruption in the company’s vision?
  • Will the Aha! affect any cadence in teams such as development, engineering and marketing?
  • What monetary or internal business value does the Aha! possess?

Aha! – Not a Replacement for Visibility
In my post, “Was that just an Aha! Moment?” I shared the insights from an interview conducted by Art Petty. Art shared, “Product management leaders often struggle in gaining visibility with the executive team because they have not proven they can lead the products and have relinquished ownership to other departments or even worse, decision by committee.”

I’ve often experienced product marketing and product management folks who get swept up in conversations or what if’s that gain momentum and materialize as Aha! moments.

Without an active connection with customers, markets and fresh data, we struggle to build products of value and gain influence at any level.  With an absence of data, influence and credibility, we often resort to Aha! moments that lack insight and evidence. This causes an Oh Crap scenario.

While product management and product marketing will always work in environments where ideas often overshadow real market value and Aha’s are rewarded as innovation, to gain influence.

“The power of influence is perhaps the most important tool in your professional toolkit. It should be a skill that you are constantly working to improve. It blends in a number of your personal traits including likability, compassion, empathy and understanding. But it also requires that you put the effort on your end to be able to justify anything you might need” shared Stewart Rogers in his post Authority vs. Influence.

 I couldn’t agree more. How have you managed the Aha! moments in your organization? Hopefully you:

  1. Can visualize the Big Picture
  2. Represent real problems for real people
  3. Build the right kind of influences
  4. Keep Aha! in check

Please feel free to comment and Tweet this: @jim_holland -Why Aha! Turns into Oh Crap! in Product Management #prodmgmt #prodmgmt

OnBoarding Product Management – Mind the Gap

Recently I was talking with Michael Hopkin, author of Lead on Purpose. I asked Mike, “How often do you see product management and product marketing leaders doing a good job of on-boarding new team members?” His response, “Not often enough.”
I thought about the signs that emerged on train platforms in the London Underground. How can product leaders Mind the Gap and ensure successful on-boarding of newly hired team members?
To understand your responsibilities when on-boarding new team members, read more here.