Category Archives: CDO

About the gap between hands-on product management and company strategy

 

During the last couple of months I have been asking myself again and again why there is such a big gap between a product owner and the company strategy. You might say: “wait, there is no gap there. How can you claim this?” I have had a couple of interesting discussions with people on different levels (from a startup CEO to C-Level executives). In many cases one gets to hear: “our company vision, strategy, business plan & top level product roadmap are done already. Now we need a CPO to execute it.” Well, at this point, I ask how did you guys come to this roadmap? Here are typical answers:

  • We have identified our competitors so we know what features we need
  • Don´t worry about this. Just make sure to execute
  • We need to achieve our business KPIs and this is what needs to be done to achieve them
  • We don´t want you to restart this discussion. We have no time to lose!
  • etc. etc.

So either these companies already have great product management (and therefore won´t need senior level support) or they need senior product management (but aren´t aware of it). In my opinion this comes back to a misperception of the Product Manager´s role. If we believe that there is a shortcut to understanding the problems of our users by iteratively building and testing potential solutions we are wrong.

Just read today an interesting chapter of the book “Services Marketing” by Zeithaml, Bitner & Gremler. It also discussed the impact on technology on services (along with their framework of four customer to provider gaps). The paths to get closer to what matters most to customers have changed fundamentally. Please keep in mind that technology is not an end in itself.

Therefore the Product Manager is definitely not the “tech guy” (I have already received this feedback after a discussion: “you are a very technical person” - those engineers who know me will be surprised about this kind of feedback, I am sure). A Product Manager should be the “glue” between all of these aspects.

As @BrianSolis has put it in a 60 second video (SXSW in 60 seconds): 2013 is all about making technology serve us instead of technology chase us. This is the moment of great product management. And believe me, these requirements will push companies to undergo transformation. Believing the Product Managers will only have impact on their nice little “feature sandboxes” would be like perceiving them as harmless paper tigers. If they are like that, it is time to fire them!

 

How to recognize a truly “digital” company

 

All discussions around “digital” and the trending role of a CDO don´t really elaborate on one point: what does it take to become digital? As posted earlier, a lot of emphasis seems to be put on Marketing. Plus, one must not forget that digital isn’t about simply being online, this is history. Companies need to use technology to solve customer problems better than others. I would like to focus on a couple of aspects in this post.

  1. SOCIAL: it is all about social. Social in the sense that it is all about human interactions making your digital products more relevant & efficient. This means dynamic (and not static) products. And, please, LISTEN to your users on social media. Listen to what they say, what they really care about, what they promote, what they ignore. Make sure, your mission has a credible purpose (yes, this is getting into the area of branding).
  2. (BIG) DATA: it is all about being able to compute large amount of data and to use it for more relevant & efficient experiences. Also this results in dynamic (and not static) products.
  3. OPEN: consider your destination website to go away latest in a couple of years. Users simply won’t go back to www.yourproduct.com. Think carefully about what really is your core asset and don’t try to market your destination site. Let users interact with your content, build dynamic and information that can be truly shared. But also let application developers build products based on your data. Build a “virtual product team”.
  4. MULTIPLE SCREENS: this is not about building your destination site for PC, laptop, tablet & smartphone. It is much more about 1.-3. Build experiences that are fluid and adapt. Product solutions are only up to date if they address a particular user problem. And, guess what: users are more and more getting the power of technology. They expect more and more and their behavior is changing rapidly.
  5. USER CENTRICITY: with all the potential of technology and design as described above you will go no where if don’t seriously change the way how you build your products. Focus on the problems of your customers that are worth to be solved. And then iteratively find a viable & scalable solution. Don´t fall into the “business trap” aka you believe you do understand the market by counting competitor´s features and calculation market shares. Take the extra product development mile. Either you do it now or later. But you will have to do it or you will die.  And: this is NOT a marketing task.

And please don’t make the mistake to believe that Facebook & Co. will go away. Yes, their usage is kind of declining in some markets. I remember a discussion with someone pretty senior in my previous company who literally said: “Jörg, don´t worry too much about social. Facebook is just a fashion. It will go away.” Even if Facebook went away, the points above won´t. Is your company really up to the digital challenge? As a CEO you have to care…

 

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.

It is difficult for Product Managers to think business

 

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Why do founder CEOs with strong product management skills have difficulties when their companies need scaling? Why are product managers often perceived as the guys who don’t understand “business”? Why is is often so frustrating to manage stakeholders if you are a Product Manager?

I have asked myself this type of questions pretty often. Actually, at times I felt so far away from business that I was proud of being an idealistic advocate of our users. I found excitement in challenging the business colleagues by presuming I had the better (because user related) arguments in discussions. And yes, it is true that there are many articles about this topic. One of my employees pretty often asked me to be less “ideologic” and my strategy papers etc. were often perceived as kind of “bible”. Personally I believe this has been and still is a defensive move of the function product. Let´s try to understand the different historical phases of product management:

PHASE I (TACTICAL MARKETING)

Product was simply one of the four p´s in the marketing mix. Product Managers got a list of features they had to build and to release. That´s it.

PHASE II (STRATEGIC MARKETING)

Marketing became more and more a philosophy for companies to be truly consumer centric. It is the moment where marketing started to ask for seats at the executive table.

PHASE III (R&D COMPLEXITY)

Latest with the arrival of digital, products became too complex to be built based on top down specification. The introduction of agile methodologies has changed they way R&D needs to be led.

PHASE IV (STRATEGIC PRODUCT MANAGEMENT)

With all the agile teams led by Product Managers a new level of organizational challenge arrived: how to make sure all teams are working towards the same goal? Traditional general managers often fail to manage R&D because they are not seasoned Product Managers. They need “help” in steering those teams. The only way to inspire those teams is to have a clear product vision instead of asking for simple features to be built. There is translation needed. Otherwise there will be no real link between general management and R&D and the company will not be successful.

So, if you experience Product Managers not embracing your corporate strategy, this might be due to the fact that she/he is not willing and/or able to challenge it. It might be a comfort zone related issue. On the other hand side, it is always hard to leave the area of your own functional expertise and to broaden your view. It is like a nail that has been driven into a plank and then needs to expand in order to make a real hole…

Broadening_Business_Ambition

 

A big question remains open: how to broaden your view as a Product Manager? I have chosen to do a MBA for this. But if you have colleagues with a solid consulting background and openness towards design thinking this might also be very valuable.

It is time to clean up the mess between CMO and CDO

 

BeforeDigitalPush

Yesterday I read an article about the CMO transitioning to a CDO by Ray. It is only one in a series of articles about this topic. In my opinion this is not showing the complete story.

In simple words: many people believe that digital has created the need to make (analog) CMOs transition to (digital) CDOs. As running (digital) promotions has a strong technology impact, the CIO is also put into the play as she/he is the only one to really understand big data & co.

This jumps too short. Let´s take a step back and clarify the different disciplines involved. In “old” times, it was marketing only. They defined the products to be built, they ran the promotions and built the brand. Marketing was perceived as an overarching philosophy about understanding and serving customer needs. R&D was the department to build products based on marketing requirements. “Our market research has shown that customers want their washing powder come as little red balls, so you guys build our washing powder as little red balls.”

This has changed due to the digital push. The complexity of products has exploded. Building the right product solutions has become an iterative and design resp. technology driven process. Now a quote like the one above would look like this: “In intense individual customer interviews we have found that we able to build the big green boxes that customers love to use as their washing powder.”

AfterDigitalPushAt the same time branding is still playing a major role as it deals with the intangible assets of products (that are by definition neither digital nor analog). There is a need for all three areas. Now you could discuss who should “own” the customer. Or one could agree on applying an overarching philosophy (all have the customer in mind with everything they do).

So, where does the CDO come in? Is this the person to ensure that a “digital” philosophy is being applied? This would require to address ALL functions. Today´s discussions around CDOs seem to limit its role to tactical marketing (aka selling products digitally).  In my opinion, this jumps far too short and does harm to the standing of a CDO in a company.

So, either the CDOs are up to the real challenge or they leave the ground to product managers, marketers and brand specialists.

By Jörg Malang