Category Archives: MBA

Beyond Design Thinking

 

Today on Twitter, I stumbled upon the following article: “Beyond Design Thinking” by @kevinmccull.

Interesting to read that the concept of “Design Thinking” might be starting to become out of date. But then I realized that it is increasingly being absorbed within a much more strategic approach “for designers”.

Main learning: don´t believe in buzz words, but find your own way to use frameworks.

My motto is: “Digital Strategy Implementation & Design Thinking”. How about yours?

Do business thinking and design ambition meet via MBA?

 

If you take a look into the different MBA syllabuses you will rarely find content that is related to product management or to design thinking. I have found an interesting article by Sameer Kamat recently here. It talks about content that Product Managers need to learn.

businessmba

An MBA is by its nature a business degree. So it seems to add the “business” side to more design or technology oriented people. I don´t believe this is the complete picture. It must also go the other direction: business thinkers need to reach out to design thinkers. There is a gap between both.

A while ago I have read an article about the usage of brain when working on different tasks. Also the brain activity of highly strategic people have been analyzed. Interestingly those very good at strategic thinking have shown high brain activity in the right hand side brain hemisphere and in the left hand side brain hemisphere. In other words, people good at strategy also use their creativity, emotion and intuition to come to new findings.

I found this really fascinating: if you leave the ground of immediate actions and focus on longer term thinking, you will be the more better the more “intuitive” you get. Listening to users and understanding them is also very intuitive. Anticipating their behaviors of the future is even more highly intuitive.

Business thinking and design ambition meet if both come with a reasonable portion of right hand side brain thinking. Whether a MBA helps this process might depend more on the individual than one might think beforehand. But it is definitely more than a “business blessing” for Product Managers with career ambitions.

Digital blurs the distinction between product and service

 

For my preparation for the Services Major @HEC I have read some interesting stuff about service blueprinting. What I find really interesting is the fact that digital can be seen as the replacement of front line employees. Or, in other words: the “physical” product is kind of “dissolved” into a service. And this fits very well into the product management concept of finding solutions for user problems on the one hand side and on the other hand side the border between marketing / branding (e.g. intangible assets) is becoming more and more unclear…

In some circumstances, it makes sense to modify the traditional blueprint. For example, when blueprinting an Internet or kiosk-based service that does not have any onstage contact employee activities, it could be beneficial to remove the onstage contact employee action row and replace it with an onstage technology row that would capture how customers interact with the company’s technology (p. 12 “Service Blueprinting: A Practical Technique for Service Innovation” by Bitner, Ostrom & Morgan).

If a company is really serious about providing great service, everything needs to be thought from the customer. In Bitner & Co. framework, this would be Physical Evidence / Customer Interactions layer. This is very close to design thinking. There are also interesting case studies to be read about companies who have become successful due to a radical change in their thinking: from executive level to frontline employees. It is great, not to feel too lonely as a Product Manager and to get support from academic folks in the US (https://twitter.com/WPCCSL) with great reputation. In that sense, I am really looking forward to our Services Major @ The Center for Services Leadership (CSL) in Phoenix, Arizona next month!

Many business people eye away from uncertainty

 

Learning about all the frameworks in a MBA education and dealing with all the business cases leads to a situation where business people might feel over confident in understanding what is going on in the world. More than that: a lot claim to know better and to have a more strategic view than the Product Managers.

At the same time, the Product Manager is forced to justify his/her proposal in a situation where proof of evidence is simply not existing. And not only that: many assumptions are being made. If you forced design thinkers to prove every single of those assumptions, nothing will ever really happen. It is all about intuition and iteration with real customers. It is about dealing with uncertainty. Really dealing with uncertainty – not just pretending to do so.

“The Designful Company” is a great book. It also describes the situation of the earth not being entirely discovered. Maps would only cover part of the globe, many white areas are still left. There are some people who are attracted by those and who are willing to “fight the dragons”. And others shy away.

Digital has created even more white spaces than ever before. The world is full of new opportunities. So why do many business people don´t conquer them? Well it is because of the uncertainty they would have to admit to be existent.

If you have an idea about your target market and a top level understanding of what product you want to build you still have the challenge to build it. Building it from scratch is hard. You can copy cat similar products or you can just tweak your existing UI – both feel more comfortable than jumping into the cold water.

And now imagine the product visionary coming in with her/his ideas. Not using what is out there already but trying to build new solutions to existing problems. And now try to figure out your own emotions in such a situation. You don´t understand the solution, it is different from what you have experienced before. Would you leave your framework castle to deal with it or shoot it down from behind your safe (business) walls? Up to you to decide!

It is difficult for Product Managers to think business

 

Translation_Needed

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.

How does a MBA help Product Managers not to be roadmap monkeys?

 

Achieving to build great products means extensive stakeholder management on the one hand. On the other hand, the Product Manager needs to create an environment where she/he can build those products. This environment needs to be based on clear strategic choices of the company.

I am sure many of you know this graph (taken from IDEO).

Viability_etc

Especially in the area of viability there is immediately the  ”business question” coming up. How will the company make money out of your product? What is your expected growth? A Product Manager is in the situation where she/he has to not only do design thinking but also to discuss company strategy.

As product management involves nearly all functions in a company more or less directly, you could consider the role of a Product Manager as a general management role. Sure, you can argue that there is an overlap with the CEO and the senior management respectively.

But: don’t forget that the Product Manager is the one who should be able to do the design thinking (who else?). Design thinking is the necessary but not sufficient skill of a Product Manager. She/he needs to be able to defend strategic positions from a general management point of view as well (on executive level).

We all know what happens if this is not the case: the Product Manager becomes what I would call a “roadmap monkey”. What could prepare one better for this challenge than a MBA? It´s “business ambition” combined with “design thinking” what makes a Product Manager deliver unique value to the company…

By Jörg Malang

Translating between executive and product speak

 

Working in a senior role as Product Manager is a continuous translation exercise between functional experts. “Show me the revenue” was a quote of one of our @HECParis professors during the last couple of days. And he made jokes about the reactions of the entrepreneurs being asked this unpleasant question.

The big question is: why does it make Product Managers feel uncomfortable? Is it because you run out of explanations? Is it because it is frustrating to leave one´s visionary level and having to go back to much more “trivial” discussions? Is it the mere incompetency of the Design Thinker?

Be it as it is: there is the need to bridge that gap. Companies need senior people who are willing to try hard to make the translation between (absolutely legitimate) business questions and (absolutely critical for survival) radical design thinking.

If this translation doesn’t happen on the right level, two things might happen. Either the Product Manager chases feature after feature without achieving break through and without taking the company to the next (revenue) level or the company dies in beauty because everyone there is living in a dream world.

The ideal situation would be someone in the middle between both worlds having the big picture and being able to translate. That is why we should see many more careers transitioning from product to general management and vice versa. I am asking myself why this is still so seldom. Has it to do with the reputation of product management? Or is it a simple misunderstanding what Product Managers are supposed to do?

By Jörg Malang