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 http://wp.me/pqeWU-nz #prodmgmt  or via LinkedIn The Innovators DNA: the Core  of  Product Management http://wp.me/pqeWU-nz 

The World has Changed…

By now, most of you have heard that Kodak filed for bankruptcy protection. The $5B household name for generations carries $6.1B in debt and simply lost its way. As David Gillen, Deputy Business Editor for the New York Time recently shared, “It seemed like a company was stuck in time. The world changed, but Kodak didn’t.”

While these unfortunate events will create a “defensive posture” for Kodak, could this have been avoided? It’s a great question to ask and consider, especially as product management and innovators of all types quite often fight to stay relevant and have their products make a difference in current and expanding markets.

What could Kodak have done differently?

While I haven’t worked for the company, I am familiar with their brand, consumer and commercial products. I expect that many of you know them, but when was the last time you purchased a product or said, “Wow, I really like the problems they’ve solved for me.” In the generation of everyone has a digital camera attached to every device, I find in my house there are Apple devices, Android phones and a litany of devices for photography that do not bear their name. As a person whose family was associated with the commercial printing business for decades, and a person who worked in commercial print shops in high school using their equipment and products, why has their relevance, innovation and market all but disappeared?

Will this same plight happen to current innovators such as Apple and others?

I’d like to have you weigh in on what product management methods you’ve used to stay relevant and how you and your organization has stayed ahead of or found new paths to innovation. With your input, I’ll publish the conversations, ideas and experience here.

To share this post on LinkedIn or Twitter, simply copy the link. I look forward to your comments, ideas and experiences. “The World Has Changed… a new post by @jim_holland http://wp.me/pqeWU-nM #prodmgmt #prodmktg #innovation

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

‘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 http://wp.me/pqeWU-mw #prodmgmt #prodmktg #leadership

Poke the Box… Product Management

Well, the hiatus is over. While some of you may have recognized that I haven’t blogged in a while and Twitters performance improved without @jim_holland in your face, I’ve been listening, learning and watching the product management and product marketing community at large.

One of the things I’ve learned, is there’s a few of us out there that like to “Poke the Box.” If you haven’t read Seth Godin’s latest rant, I challenge you, like Seth, to pick up a copy and read it.

While on a recent trip, I attended and participated in the Minnesota Product Camp. I spent some time with Barry and Jennifer Doctor while in town and I stole (asked permission to read) a copy of Poke the Box.

It’s a great challenge, rant and manifesto meant for product management and those innovating. So what is poke the box? It’s about producing something that’s scare.

The concept originates from a buzzer box built by Seth’s uncle. It was metal, had lights and switches and begged to be poked and messed with by his young cousin. Seth confides, “Life is a buzzer box. Poke it.”

As I read and absorbed, here’s what I heard and thought.

The Initiator – Product management and innovators at large have to be the initiator and instigator. We know that if you’re not, someone else in your organization is. It may be a group that has clout like sales or an executive. Do you want some other group that has less market awareness and understanding to initiate something new? Are you the initiator in your organization or the person waiting for permission to move forward? As Seth describes, “We can’t wait for initiative to be handed to you, take it.” How does an initiator get started? Seth shares, “Excellence isn’t about working hard, it’s about initiative and deciding what’s worth doing.” Who’s better qualified than product professionals to decide what’s worth doing? Are you initiating or is your organization holding you back? Take Seth’s advice if the organization is the issue: “1) Ignore the book (for now) or 2) Start looking for a new gig. ASAP!”

If it’s not your organization, then what’s the problem?

Product Manager or Product Starter – Recently at PCampMN, John Mansour from Proficientz said, “Product management is not a factory, but you could be outsourced.” I’m sure you’re thinking, “Now hold on John!” Well it’s true and I agree. If you are managing products and not starting products, then you may be outsourced or replaced.

Product starters are the ones that poke the box. “Innovation is mysterious and inspiration is largely unpredictable” explains Seth. Most people think innovation is hard. It’s not. “While there are ideas all around us, we have to replace the fear of failure or rejection and replace it with initiative, innovation and starting. Along with starting comes, finishing.” This includes expressing a roadmap, articulating it, believing it can happen and have some passion about it as you share it. There’s some great post on releases, roadmaps and vision and product managers and innovation by Saeed Khan and Scott Sehlhorst respectively.

Poking the Box – means action. It means that you must “insist, push, create, cajole and launch” and  ask why in internal conversations, and get out of your seat and the office and get face-to-face with customers and others in markets that have the experience or can support the poking process. Using your product starting skills, you will discover, validate, refine and often park ideas. While discovery and validation are the actions that come from any insight and decisions, don’t get caught up in the “never ending” cycle of “have I discovered and validated enough?” It’s a product management trap and will consume your time, energy and damage your credibility if it lingers without a purpose. Once you begin poking the box, set goals, targets for when you’ll start, end and decide or not. “Poking requires tact. Without a why, without an explanation, it’s hard to give ideas the momentum they need to spread” comments Godin.

Product Starting – is a way of life in product management but won’t start without you. Why? You are the starter, owner and finisher. Without your guidance, innovation languishes or starves from lack of leadership. Why does innovation get stuck? Godin confides, “One reason organizations get stuck is that they stick with their A players so long that they lose their bench.”

If you lead product management, are you developing all your talent and utilizing everyone on the bench? Do you spend time expanding the team’s talents or limiting them? Do you use mentors to strengthen and grow your bench? If not, why?

If you’re in product management, are you the “A” player” thought of most often as someone who starts new products along with managing the ones you have? If not, what do you lack that keeps you from starting? Do you sit on the bench hoping the team wins for you or do you get involved and get some valuable playing time and experience?

A number of years ago, I was talking with another product manager about a new product he was leading. I recognized this product would satisfy a series of newly discovered problems in the market at that time if it was coupled with some existing products and we could use some technology from a partner. How did I know that? I had my innovation radar enabled and was willing to ask questions, go beyond my normal boundaries and willing to incite thoughts and actions to innovate a new solution.

As I think about Poke the Box, I recognize that to some extent, Seth is poking at us. Product management has to consistently poke, experiment and experience things to produce something scare. What’s scare? It’s not a lack of ideas, it’s a lack of leadership and capabilities to “insist, push, create, cajole and launch.” How will you begin to poke the box? It happens with forward motion.

Thanks to Seth Godin for keeping it real and dishing out some for product professionals. I’d like to hear your ideas and what you do to innovate and start products. Please feel free to comment and share this via Twitter or LinkedIn. Poke the Box – Product Management: a new post by @jim_holland http://wp.me/pqeWU-md #prodmgmt #leadership