Category Archives: Career

Bridging the gap between the CxO Suite & Product Development

 

A challenging role for Chief Digital Officers

Three steps towards successful digital transformation

To successfully respond to the (digital) challenges, there are three simple steps: Have a clear picture on where to go, understand the current situation of your business and ensure the transformation.

The challenge

Having a clear picture of the future is all about understanding what products will be successful looking forward. Already now it is clear that those products will be based on user interactions (“big data”, “social”, “sensored” context, etc.) and therefore will have to be very close to the behavior and needs of customers. The ways how companies will deliver services to their customers will be increasingly digitally driven. Even the pretty much innovative CVS Extra Care only gives an indication on what will be possible in the future. (So far) other companies like LinkedIn or XING are purely digital. XING have started with the vision to manage your professional network digitally and have become very successful with this. Starting from real life groups, its services have evolved into virtual ones. At the same time, XING isn’t limited to online networking only. It is all about a seamless integration of both worlds – with focus on building superior solutions and services for customers.

How to address the challenge

In other words, there is a strong need for a concrete product vision and strategy. If a CDO is not a strong Product Manager, he/she won´t be able to come up with it. And yet this won´t be enough. This strategy needs to be embedded into an overarching corporate strategy – and the entire CxO suite is responsible for that. The CDO needs to apply state of the art Design Thinking tools. The CEO might be that strong Product Manager, in this case a CDO might not be necessary. But how many CEOs of larger companies are good at defining a product vision and a product strategy? And even if they are, a CDO might be a good facilitator of the CxO suite discussions on behalf of the CEO. There is a successful role model for that already: supply chain management. A Supply Chain Manager doesn´t necessarily make the final decisions but is having the whole value chain in mind and facilitates the process. This person makes sure, all decisions are aligned to the supply chain strategy. The CDO needs to do the same: ensuring all decisions are in line with the product strategy of the company.

Understanding the current situation seems to be obvious, but isn’t trivial. The biggest challenge will be to “make the boat leave the harbor” and not to think too incrementally. A CDO will have to be the tireless warner to be more bold while acknowledging reality (e.g. business modeling, the skills available, the time it will take etc.).

Last, the transformation needs to happen in reasonable steps to get to the clear product vision of the CDO. The biggest risk that the steps are mixed up with the final vision. Even the CVS Extra Card is just a first step towards a vision. What will come next? There should be ONE answer, and then it can be broken down into the responsibility areas of the functional experts.

Benefit for companies

The CDO must pave the path into the (digital) future. As Product Manager she/he needs to come up with answers. Building the right products will be decisive for the (digital) future of companies.

Serial thinking doesn´t do the job anymore

 

Being inspired by the lecture of “A whole new mind” by Daniel H. Pink I am realizing why modern product management will really make the difference. Having just started a new consultancy project for a large scale company, I am experiencing a high level of complexity. And how I am reacting to it today as opposed to a couple of years ago.

Serial

Before, I was trying to control the way I was getting on boarded to a new position in the sense of taking notes, collecting to-dos, approaching the complexity etc. etc. As a strong left brainer I was really trying to embrace the structure in a “scientific” way. Very rational, recalling where I had jotted down the necessary information (I am blessed with a kind of photographic memory), always busy, always down to the facts. What was the result?: I missed important points. Such as empathy for customers. Or the openness to really relevant information.

Now, things seem to have changed for me.

Holistic

It feels more like a mosaic that comes to life step by step. All over the place. And: boy, relax. It´s ok. An analogy is coming into my mind: there are two ways of painting a picture. One is nitty-gritty step by step. Form after form. The other is more generous. A stroke of the brush here, a stroke of the brush there. Only slowly the picture comes to life.  As if by an invisible hand. Now think of the observers in the two scenarios. In the first scenario they are feeling assured that something of value is being manufactured. They can even estimate how long it will take and how it will look like. This is the complete opposite of the second scenario. Only very late there is confidence that something meaningful is coming out of the exercise.

What are the two biggest challenges when painting holistically?: first the observers (let´s name them “managers” and “stakeholders”) and second the uncertainty that is in yourself (let´s name that “missing roadmap” or “missing PRD”). Big things only can be created if right and left brain thinking come together. Serial and holistic thinking will do the job.

In that sense: Product Managers, brave the gap!

Why designing for innovation contradicts focus on cost saving

 

Reading about supply chain management educates me that there are basically two dimensions to look at it: risk in supply vs. risk in demand. As long as you can accurately predict the demand of your products, you can optimize your production capacity and therefore reduce costs. But as soon as you have to take risk on the demand side, it will become more important to react quickly to changes in demand. Speed over costs!

And this stuff is not about agile development. It is part of our lecture “Operations Management” @HEC Executive Education. Those concepts are not new. Companies like P&G, Zara and others have optimized their value chains giving good example cases.

I am writing about this because I was very often in the situation where the Executives wanted me and my team to innovate and at the same time precisely forecast the demand and save costs. Intuitively I was reluctant to even try this. Working agile means being able to react to changes in demand. When you are building, measuring and learning this is exactly the same challenge. You need to be able to read the signal of your customers as soon as possible in the process and to adjust the “production” accordingly.

In the traditional supply chain model this would be described as “speed to react upon changes in demand”. There would be a business case for heavy investments – as long as your products don´t fall into the commodity space. Then you won´t achieve high margins. But what else than achieving greater margins is innovation about?

So, companies, believe in your ability to innovate. The reward will be superior margins!

Why We Need Storytellers at the Heart of Product Development | UX Magazine

 

Why We Need Storytellers at the Heart of Product Development | UX Magazine.

Amazing article by @sarahdoody. I particularly liked the right-brain thinker idea and the concept of story telling.

“… and figure out how to distill a vision or idea into a product story.” 

This might also explain, why many companies need a product CEO at their top.

Is a Product Manager sitting between all chairs or leading?

 

If you want to formulate it positively, you might describe the role of a Product Manager as a central one. Working at the intersection of many disciplines. Making sure, the products of your company are viable, feasible and desirable.

But: a Product Manager can very quickly be in a situation where she/he has no real decision power. All the stakeholders expect certain things and one doesn´t have the time to think through everything. And not only that: a Product Manager needs to show the way into uncertainty. And is speaking a foreign language. Lost in translation so to say…

There are also other roles that are pretty central and where people are involved into kind of everything that is going on in a company: project managers, executive assistants etc. Would you see them as the leaders into uncertain areas? You might, but this is not what you will think about first when talking about this type of roles.

So, as a Product Manager you need to assume your leadership role. You need to feel comfortable with showing the way. And especially also to executives. In case this works out, you are in the pole position for an executive role yourself…

When ignoring design thinking destroys company value

 

When employees don’t want to see the limitations of their mindset, it becomes dangerous for their companies. Even more if they are in executive or leadership positions. Not only the diversity of thinking is at risk, but also critical competencies can be missing. But what to do if there is a completely blind spot? If the responsible managers simply are not aware of their open flanks? This can happen even to the brightest people. With great experience and superior thinking. Suddenly they might intuitively feel challenged on a very fundamental basis. A challenge that questions everything they do and have done so far. And believe me, consequences arising from this type of challenge on a very personal level can be really irrational. I have experienced such situations at least twice in my career.

And then comes the moment of truth: how do they react? Do they let this threatening thing happen (for the best of their business) or do they fight it back (for the best of their self affirmation)? Times have changed: technology enables customers to do things that have never been conceivable before. It is time to change perspective and really build great products for them. Which companies will see and use those opportunities? Not those with employees and executives who won´t let go.

Designful companies will outperform the others. It is just a question of time…

 

Stories from the search for fresh digital blood | Russell Reynolds Associates.

Very interesting article about the role of digital leadership in established boards and companies. As a headhunter has put it when I met him on Wednesday: “you are surfing on the right wave, your moment will come for sure”. But one thing cannot be learned with a MBA program: leadership. You need to get experienced with real transformation situations in larger corporations (e.g. in the media and/or telecommunications area). But the more experienced you get in those areas the less entrepreneurial you might become. This explains why those candidate profiles are pretty rare out there…

Leading by vision

 

In interviews one is often asked “how do you lead people?”. Leading your own team is relatively easy. What do you do if you “have to make people listen to you who don’t have to?” (as one NOKIA HR Manager has always put it). I strongly believe that this is the moment to become serious about the content. You cannot solely lead by KPIs or by driving process milestones. Now imagine a situation where you have to lead really strong people like founders or senior engineers. What makes people listen to your ideas?

During the first ten years of my career I believed it was all about money and job titles. You could buy the loyalty of your employees without having to satisfy their demand for great stuff to work on. You could get any UX person if you just offer a nice title and a decent salary. This was the type of arrogance of people wearing suits and owning the P&L. I was so wrong. I found myself in situations where I had to sell the role to an interesting candidate – and had nothing to say.

When talking about “leading by vision” I don´t mean the fluffy high flying vague kind of thing. I mean the concrete and tangible artifact. At my previous company we identified so called “north stars” aka products that would guide us the way. We built a vision type to illustrate the concept as concretely as possible. It is hard and sometimes almost impossible. But you have to try. If you get this right, no, let´s say exciting for your (potential) followers then they will listen. The rest is empowerment and  excellent management. Don´t let go. Also monitor progress and ruthlessly push for the execution of the vision.

No need to be afraid of R&D

 

When I was put in front of engineers for the very first time, I really didn´t know how to deal with them. Quickly I realized that my leadership style didn´t work out anymore. Please don´t get me wrong: I was an experienced manager with almost ten years of leadership experience. Until that point in time I was pretty successful in my roles. My strategy to get myself over this point was to put pressure. “We need to have feature A released by June, otherwise we won´t achieve our business target and our investors won´t like it…” I said. And you know what: my R&D colleagues simply didn´t care. Instead they asked me what to do, how to build it etc. I was not able to answer questions about the product itself and was caught waffling in many cases.

More than that: I always felt uncomfortable to talk about the product to be built. Even tried to avoid talking about it. Incredible, isn’t it? On top of that, I tried to avoid exposure to the teams in charge. Wanted to “manage” it top down.

The result was poor. We launched a product that more or less completely failed. But even worse: I had lost my reputation with my R&D team. They simply didn’t take me seriously anymore. My behavior had increased the gap between “business” and “engineering”.

Now after a couple of years later I understand why. I had to learn it the hard way how to collaborate with my R&D colleagues. But not without having gone to the other extreme: having lost my connection with my stakeholders. Only in the recent years I have been able to balance the needs better. And actually got a lot of satisfaction out of this. Starting with a product vision and then going through technical but also design and customer iterations is something extremely exciting.

The most important thing you need to bear with: accept that you don´t know much. You don’t need to be the one knowing everything and also not the one with the best ideas. In the contrary: the more you step back the more successful you will become. One team gave me a nickname after I had left – “Il Padrino” – the guy behind the scenes but in charge…