Category Archives: Product Management Strategy

Associations – the Power behind Innovation

This is the third in the series focused on The Innovators DNA and how product leaders and others may acquire and develop their innovative DNA. It’s my goal to introduce concepts and ideas that will have product leaders of all types, think, act and engage differently. This post focuses on associations, their value and role in the innovation process.

Merriam-Websters online dictionary describes association as:

a) the act of associating.

b) something linked in memory or imagination with a thing or person.

Considering these two definitions, what do associations provide and why are they important?

In my last post The Courage to Innovate, I shared an innovation model from the authors. This model should be at the core of every product and marketing leader and drive our disruptive thoughts and actions. When you think about your role as a product leader, do you possess and use Questioning, Observation, Networking and Experimenting? If you do, then what’s missing?

Associations – “or the ability to make surprising connections across areas of knowledge, industries, even geographies– is an often-taken-for-granted skill among the innovators we studied” shared authors Dyer, Gregersen and Christensen. “Innovators actively pursue diverse new information and ideas through questioning, observing, networking and experimenting– the key catalysts for creative associations.”

Associations aren’t new. Throughout history, they’ve been used and perhaps are the keystone of innovations. In his book, The Medici Effect, Frans Johansson shares. ” When you step into an intersection of fields, disciplines, or cultures, you can combine existing concepts into a large number of extraordinary new ideas.”

Johansson calls this the Medici Effect named for the fifteenth-century banking family who funded creators from a wide range of disciplines.

Where does associating happen?  Today, we recognize Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, Walt Disney and many others as innovators with the creativity to spark ideas in others.

While many organizations believe that innovation happens at home, I believe what Pragmatic Marketing teaches in, “Nothing Important Happens in the Office or NIHITO.” 

However, for innovators, I think we should change it to “No Innovation Happens in the Office.” 

While you’ll agree that you have to get out of the office to question, observe, network or experiment, how often should you get out and with whom and when?

“Innovation flourishes at the intersection of diverse experience, whether it be others or our own” shares the authors. The DNA of an innovator is one that “intentionally maneuvers themselves into the intersection, where diverse experience flourish and foster the discovery of new insight.” How often should you get out and observe, experiment and build new associations? Everyday.

As an example, last year I met Brice Sloan, President of Sloan Security Technologies. Now, I know almost nothing about about the security market where they succeed, however, they do and the Sloan brothers bring vast experience in large scale perimeter and other kinds of high-end security that would require government clearance to talk about. Brice found me through an intersection and the network.

He intentionally found me. Why? He’s has an innovators DNA and was experimenting with new ideas. He sought a variety of people, background, experiences and those that could experiment with him.

Why does an innovator connect with a person that has spent a large majority of his career in software? Simple. To question, experiment and connect with others who may not question “why,” but are willing to say, “Why not.” Since our first meeting, Brice and I have gotten together several times. He’s invited me and others to experiment with his ideas and how it applies his world.

With a strong desire to seek out unique problems and to engage with others that have ideas and expertise, Brice has introduced a series of solar powered surveillance solutions not dependent on the grid. Basically, they’re smart video cameras that run on solar power and transmit video wirelessly to any location. Can you think of hundreds of applications and uses, I can.

Intersections – “Disruptive innovators shine best at associating when actively crossing all kinds of borders, (geographic, industry, company, profession, discipline, and so on) and engaging the other innovator’s DNA skills.”

Where can this happen? For product leaders, it can happen at BarCamps, Product Camps, wondering through a local retailer, a lawn and garden center or a child’s classroom. The intersections are limitless, but we have to be willing to step into them and not expect anything to happen but another idea or the unexpected.

You have to engage with your neighbors, friends, friends of friends, people who say, “You have to meet this person” and a thousand others. I’ve heard stories of people who give time to private investors, angel funds, and micro-lenders as well as volunteer in their communities with start-ups and small businesses to break into new intersections.

To grow your innovators DNA as a product leaders, we need to get out, get busy and extend ourselves. Please join me in taking the challenge this week to jump into some new intersections, collect ideas and experiment outside the office and leave your non-innovative comfort zone. As Edward de Bono author of Lateral Thinking shared, “You cannot look in a new direction by looking harder in the same direction.”

In my next post, we’ll discuss Innovation for the Risk Adverse. If you like the post, please share it on Twitter or LinkedIn using, , Associations, the Power behind Innovation – a new post by @jim_holland http://wp.me/pqeWU-qj #prodmgmt #innovation #leadership. 

Congratulations! You’re in the Top 5, Now What?

There’s always a lot of buzz when a major publication ranks and supports your profession as one of the Top 5 for the next year. Recently, Keith Cline published The 5 Hardest Jobs to Fill in 2012. As an experienced recruiter for startups and high growth technology companies, Cline observed, “Hiring the best of the best is an absolute must if you are going to build a successful company.”

For over 20 years, most technology companies have relied on product management to be the face of the customer, a market instigator and someone creating, seeding or harvesting ideas and innovation and then proving that more than one company or person will buy.

Next year it won’t be any different or will it?

What Cline sees and most smart entrepreneurs value is handing the keys of product innovation and ownership to someone who can focus on it full-time. “It is always helpful for an early-stage company to hire someone who has very relevant and specific experience in your industry.  This is especially true for product management, since the person in this role will interface with customers and define the product strategy and use cases” confides Cline.

While I agree that early stage and any smart company should hire someone who has relevant and specific experience, each organization differs and specific experience versus adaptable experience applies.

As a case in point, my experience traverses a history in enterprise B2B technology. However, over the past 8 years I’ve found that my experience has adapted effectively in B2C companies, cloud-based technologies, consumer electronics, physical security solutions and others where I didn’t have the specific industry experience. Why?

When product management is grounded in sound product principles, has balance, thinks and acts with an agile mindset and is adaptable, industry experience isn’t as important. Now, I’m sure there are some people who will disagree, but that’s my opinion. Find me a product management professional with the attributes and DNA I mentioned, and I’ll take that over specific industry experience any day.

You’re in the Top 5, now what?

With the repeated visibility and recognition product management is enjoying, how can we capitalize on being in the top 5 of the most sought after positions in 2012? Below are a 5 things I believe we all have to do to build more credibility and value next year.

  1. Balanced accessibility – If you’re going to be the catalyst of your products and their direction, you need to balance your accessibility. Everybody wants or needs something from you when you’re in product management and their will always be pressures associated with managing product success. However, you can’t focus on the important things without managing your accessibility. Balancing internal access makes you more accessible externally to customers, markets, new insights and trends. Having this balance will give you a perspective that your executives will value and appreciate.
  2. Exploration and discovery – Is a way of life in product management. Steve Blank shared in The Four Steps to the Epiphany, “You need to leave guesswork behind and get outside the building in order to learn what high-value customer problems are.” Are you planning to explore and discover outside the office this year or just mine the same old internal information and support it with gut instinct? Create a simple exploration and discovery plan for the first quarter, socialize it, justify the expense and then pack. Don’t forget the information you’ll discover needs to be communicated when you return. Your executive team will find the fresh prospective and outside views enlightening if communicated in the language they know and understand.
  3. Innovative mentality – “Innovative ideas flourish at the intersection of diverse experience, whether it be others or your own,” shared Jeffrey Dyer, Hal B. Gregersen and Clayton Christensen in The Innovators DNA. Having the mentality, desire and drive is one thing, but knowing where and how to build intersections is another. While innovation may originate from many sources, it best flourishes when you’re “sparking ideas within others and intersecting with others who can spark the same in you. Plan on introducing yourself to a local startup, give some time to a new entrepreneur and definitely plan to attend and participate in groups such as product management camps at least quarterly. The sparks and ideas that will surface will make you more valuable and diverse.
  4. Product starter/finisher – Product management isn’t a place for procrastination. If you are leading or will lead a new product, service or offering this year or have ideas that need market discovery or validation, create a simple plan, ask for help and  stick too it. Starting is easy, finishing is painful. Before you start, review your skills, the talents around you, your goals and requirements and what you need. Look for ways to involve others in the team or organization, then get busy, delegate frequently and take criticism with a smile. Remember, executives recognize and reward finishers.
  5. Communicator and collaborator – It goes without saying that collaboration and communication are product managements left and right arms. The two are analogous to a traffic policeman stopping, starting, guiding and directing traffic in multiple directions at the same time. Improving your communications upward (executives) and horizontally (with product team collaborators) builds cadence that leads to successful requirements, development, user experience and launch. Take some time to review how you communicate. Do you use all the organizational and personal assets you have access to? If you are directing traffic and communicating from all directions, the organization will recognize your capabilities and leadership.

It’s great to have the recognition of being in the Top 5. Let’s prove we deserve it by earning it and exceeding expectations. If you like the post, feel free to comment and share it. New post, “Congratulations, You’re in the Top 5, Now What?” http://wp.me/pqeWU-mV by @jim_holland #prodmgmt #prodmktg #leadership

The Product Management and Product Marketing Backlog

In the Agile world, the key to product success and a driving cadence is the product backlog.  If managed well, the backlog balances strategic initiatives and tactical features. What would happen if product management and product marketing professionals adopted and used backlogs?Will a backlog drive strategic thinking and provide clarity?It’s my hypothesis that product management and product marketing teams can be more effective, increase strategic actions and build cadence when they identify, prioritize and build a backlog focused on their roles.

From a Historical Perspective

Whether you work in an organization where Agile or Lean principles (SCRUM, Kanban, etc.) have been adopted, I’d bet most of your product management and product marketing thinking is still list or task-driven or formulated on-the-fly.

And forget about priorities. They change with the whim of the organization or the latestFlying Monkey.

Most product management practices, training and tools are focused on non-iterative actions. While their tenants and intentions are good, it’s been my experience that product management and product marketing mask their organizations engineering process and it cascades into their thoughts, actions and focus.

The Hypothesis
My hypothesis was to test this with a diverse group of product professionals (preferably ones I didn’t know) and together surface where we’re spending our time and build a backlog of new thinking.

I attended the DFW Product Camp and led a session of 26 people. The session was represented by the following categories:

  • Product Management (8)
  • Product Marketing (4)
  • Marketing (8)
  • Those leading Product Management and/or Product Marketing (3)
  • Other (Included a CEO and consultants) (3)

The Exercise
With limited time, we decided to choose Product Management to test the hypothesis. In a PowerPoint-free zone, (thanks Seth Godin) we began by identifying four themes that included:

  • Planning and Strategy
  • The Now Product
  • Communications
  • Tools and Process

In each of these areas, I asked the group to identify and write down topics where they spent most of their time and post them under the themes.

It’s no surprise that topics such as; Crisis Management, Tools Implementation, Sales Demos, Customer Issues and Product Features surfaced most often. The picture below represents the number of items that appeared.

I then asked the group to think about and prioritize the areas they would (and should) spend more time. From the image to above, it’s evident that more strategic areas focused on Strategy and Planning, as well as The Now Product were desired.

The highest number of votes included:

  • Strategy development and alignment
  • Market definition
  • Clarify strategic vision
  • The Compelling Why
  • Market Research
Creating a Balanced Backlog
In his article Product Backlog Rules of Thumb, Chris Sterling describes several rules for successful backlogs. For product professionals, I would recommend the following:
  • Keep your backlog simple
  • Define both strategic and tactical areas
  • Prioritize your backlog (The most important is where you start)
  • Select one to three items to focus and work on
  • Infuse these in your daily schedule (If you have to block time, do it)
  • Look to peers for knowledge and help
  • Infuse your strategic actions into your culture

The Results

While the hypothesis is yet to be validated in a live organization (I’d like to hear from the attendees in the future), it shared consistent ideas and challenges, with a desired improvement. Product Camps are a great place to gather input and test ideas like this. Have you committed to attend a PCamp in 2011?

As a product professional, would a prioritized backlog improve your thinking and execution?

I welcome any experiences as well as comments. If you’d like to post this on Twitter or LinkedIn, please share:

Tweet or Link this: The Product Management & Product Marketing Backlog a new post for #prodmgmt #prodmktg #leadership http://wp.me/pXBON-2yK

It’s Watery, Lukewarm and Too Sour

Over the weekend, some neighbor children set up a lemonade stand. You know the location where smiling faces greet you and want to sell you something in hopes to create some quick cash. As a good neighbor, my wife and I stopped by to support the kids, talk to parents and enjoy a sunny afternoon with a great glass of cold lemonade.

As we walked home, my wife said, “How did you like the lemonade?” Before I could respond, she said, “I thought it was weak, not sweet enough and needs ice.” My response was, “you nailed it.”

In thinking about the lemonade, I wonder how often product management and its leadership have been described the same way. Is your leadership watery?  Is product management’s consistency and actions lukewarm and produce sour results? If so, what will you do to strengthen product management and sweeten your leadership this week?

Here are a few things you can add to your recipe to make all your customers (and internal stakeholders) pleased and refreshed with your results.

  • Meet with your team and surface the product management methods that need action. (Let your counterparts know you’re working on the “watery” issues.) 
  • Review the action items and with the current assessment of your team (you have one right?) assign team members to fill the gaps with you. (Your team will appreciate your leadership and decisiveness and forget any previous lukewarm decisions.)
  • Connect with your senior management champion/mentor (you need one) and gain their perspective of “how product management’s doing.” Listen to what they tell you and discuss what actions you’re taking. (This will circulate to other executives and will sweeten your efforts.)  

Whether you’re an individual contributor or leader in product management, improving your actions, methods, credibility this week will strengthen product management’s visibility and capabilities for weeks to come.

Why Product Camps Are Important

I had the pleasure of attending Product Camp Atlanta. With over 300 hundred registered, there was a “buzz” in the air and the organizing committee and volunteers did a fantastic job. The sessions provided product management and marketing professionals with a boost of insight, knowledge and we had a good time learning from each other. 

Recently, through a survey, I asked Product Management’s opinion about where we should go. 

One question I asked was, “Where do you go to expand your product management knowledge?” Offering multiple choices, almost 75% of respondents said “product management associations, including product camps.” It’s interesting to note that 94% value the 100 product management and product marketing bloggers and those who contribute via Twitter, LinkedIn groups, etc. (click on the image below) 

I wasn’t surprised at the response and recognize after attending product camps several times, there are several reason while I’ll continue to attend, support and contribute.

  •  Product camps are a place to relax and engage – Let’s face it. If you show up for something on a weekend day, it better be engaging and provide an atmosphere that complements your role. The “unconference” style venue provides this and all the events I’ve attended, have consistent themes and relevant topics.

  • A Sandbox Where Eveyone Plays – Whether you’ve been in product management or product marketing for two weeks or ten years, each of us has something to offer. The active learning environment of product camps provide avenues for open comments, questions, debates and exchanges of experiences without any pretences.
  • Great way to build team knowledge – Imagine finding a place where your team can gather, have some fun, relax from the office grind and engage in topics relevant to the team.

What do you gain from spending several hours on a weekend day with hundreds of product management peers? 

While sitting in a session conducted by Karen Williams, Eric Holtzclaw and Tumara Jackson on Doing Personas Right, Tumara commented, “personas should play an integral role in roadmap planning.” This wasn’t a new concept to me, but one I hadn’t thought about. It was presented with real experience and she conveyed its value in 5 minutes. 

As you consider participating, volunteering, sponsoring, speaking or bringing your support and knowledge forward, I’d welcome you to join the majority and attend a Product Camp soon. There are several great links to keep you informed of upcoming events. 

Check out: 

Stewart Rogers Blog – the Strategic Product Manager 

Pragmatic Marketing