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Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management


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One Compelling Question for Innovators

Guest post by David Sturt for Lead on Purpose blog

I recently came across a story in Wired magazine about a radically new technology being developed for heating and cooling. Aside from the exciting product idea to heat and cool a person rather than a place, I was intrigued by this statement about how the idea germinated:

At a point when humans need to take a sober look at our energy use, we’re poised to use a devastating amount of it keeping our homes and offices at the right temperatures in years to come. A team of students at MIT, however, is busy working on a prototype device that could eliminate much of that demand, and they’re doing it by asking one compelling question: “Why not just heat and cool our bodies instead?” (emphasis added).

Asking the right question is one of five key skills that predict great work, as identified from a sample of 1.7 million instances of award-winning work. Continue reading


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How do you build the right culture in your company?

People in countries, organizations and companies tend to behave in similar ways. The term culture has come to represent this idea: the way people think, behave or work. The culture of a company can have a major effect on the value—in terms of products and services—that a company provides to its customers.

A recent Gallup study analyzed data from more than 30,000 employees in various industries to determine what characteristics led to companies creating a high-performance culture that improves top- and bottom-line business metrics. The analysis revealed six crucial components on which companies should focus: Continue reading


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How to use Measurement to Manage Like a Pro

Guest post by Mary Prescott

I’m sure you’ve heard statements like these before:

“My team is exceptionally strong. They seem to be doing well”

“We’ve been improving. It’s hard to quantify, but I am sure we are getting there”

While you might hear these statements from any manager, they all have one thing in common: the lack of specificity. How strong is the team? How do you know that they are doing well for a given time period? How exactly – and based on what specific parameters – is your team improving?

Organizations need good managers and exceptional leaders (at all levels of your business). McKinsey Insights’ Pankaj Ghemawat references a survey of senior executives where 76% of them feel they need to develop global-leadership capabilities, but only 7% of feel they are doing so effectively.

Define Your Metrics

To measure or not to measure: that’s not even a question anymore. If you do not measure, you don’t get anywhere. It’s unproductive to begin without knowing what you want and how to measure your progress. Starting from your own performance metrics, you have to extend individualized and group metrics for your team. A research paper titled Metrics: You are what you measure by John R. Hauser and Gerald M. Katz from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sloan School of Management, notes that metrics are in use everywhere, but if the organization uses the wrong metrics, they will not achieve the expected results.

Define the right metrics to measure individual goals and collective goals of the team. These ought to fall in line with the overall goals of the company.
Define. Create. Measure. Perform. Measure again.

Test your management strategies

How are you managing your team? The only way to know for sure is to test your ideas.
For instance, you might have a hypothesis that sales teams can work better when they meet clients and present their pitches with visual aids using mobile devices such as tablets. How do you know for sure?

Test your hypothesis: pick two groups of sales teams and allow one team to use sales aids such as laptops and tablets. The other group goes without any of these aids. Measure performance of both the groups. If the former group performs better, you’ll know that your hypothesis is right.

Find out if your decisions, plans, and strategies work first before deploying them.

It’s experimental. It’s a work in progress. That’s why most managers don’t risk doing it.

Dig into your data

What comes off from data might not give you the complete picture. It could seem obvious but if you dig deeper, more revelations will surface.

Depending on your goals — and the goals of your business — your data must serve to give you what not’s so obvious. Good managers see what’s not visible from data at “first look”. For instance, your customer satisfaction surveys could reveal that your customers buy X only so that they can avail a discount on Y. Meanwhile, you assumed that product X was a winner. Clearly, it isn’t.

While you assumed that your target audience was largely male, your sales records show that the majority of buyers were female. Have you been targeting the wrong base?
Peel off the “obvious” information from data and you’ll be able to align your business goals better.

Management isn’t just about goals

It’s easy to lose sight of “people” thanks to the inordinate focus on specifics, business goals, projects, and deadlines.

While efficiency and performance are certainly key inputs for effective business processes, it’s still people that you’d have to manage. Individual members of your team could have personal problems, friction points, and many other human elements that you’ll need to address.
Don’t lose sight of the people in the team. Take care of your team and the goals will fall into place.

Trust your guts

If management was only about making decisions based on all the measurements, numbers, statistics, analytics, and performance reports, almost anyone could be a good manager.

Sometimes, management is about guts.

When Bob Lutz’s guts made him leap into action to create what is today’s Dodge Viper, there were many naysayers. After a $80 million investment, Chrysler managed to create an outrageous sports car which was selling at $50,000. The sales team swore that no one would buy it. Yet, the Dodge Viper was a smashing success changing Chrysler’s image overnight.

The story repeats – in other industries – with the Steve Job’s iPhone, for instance.

The stories are everywhere. While you can’t depend on your gut for every decision, it surely plays a vital role in separating ordinary managers from the amazingly successful ones.

Mary Prescott is working as a community manager at WorkZone – A web-based project management software company. She is @MaryP_WZ on Twitter. When she’s not working, you’ll find her reading fiction or hiking with her dog.


The Product Management Perspective: Measuring product performance can be difficult, and it’s not a common practice for many product managers. However, the more specific you are about your products’ performance, the better your team members will understand their role its success. Focus not only on building great products, but also on ways you can measure your progress more successfully.


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Are you a leader in product innovation?

What drives innovation in your company or organization? Do you have a group of “thinkers” who come up with the new ideas? Do you watch the trends of competitors or others close to your market? Do you look outside your corporate world for clues to where you should go next?

In a recent MIT Sloan Executive Education innovation@work post the author Eric von Hippel asserts that company leaders focus too much on what’s next based on their internal product innovators, and they do not listen enough to the people using the products. On the topic of who are the real product innovators, von Hippel says:

It’s consumers not the product innovators who should be viewed as the new experts. A new school of innovation thinking says that product innovators who work for manufacturers have received far too much credit for product innovation, while product users have received far too little


The Product Management Perspective: The topic of product innovation goes to the roots of every product manager. Most forward-looking organizations rely on product managers to innovate their products, to assure their viability to the market, with the end goal of increased sales revenue. Visiting your customers—whether consumers at a tradeshow or large enterprise customers at their place of business—is key to the innovation and future success of your products. If you (or your boss) need motivation for looking to the outside for product innovation, I recommend the article three reasons to visit customers.


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Book Review: The Fearless Mind

“When we learn how to cultivate a fearless mind, we can achieve whatever we set out to accomplish.” According to Dr. Craig Manning, author of The Fearless Mind: 5 Essential Steps to Higher Performance, a ‘fearless mind’ is achieved when we have cleansed ourselves of the barriers that prevent us from reaching our greatest potential. We do this by learning to accept what we have control over (and what we do not). When we understand this we are able to channel our energy into mastering those aspects that we have direct responsibility for, and not wasting energy (emotional, mental, or physical) on those things that are outside our control.

Dr. Manning played tennis throughout his youth, in college (on scholarship) and as a professional. However, through an interesting series of events – which he describes in the book – he discovered his true passion was helping others become masters of their sport. He’s helped athletes in tennis, skiing and track and field become champions. In the book he uses stories from sports to help people in any profession achieve much higher levels of performance.

The Fearless Mind helps you master those aspects of your life that you can control. Dr. Manning takes you through five steps to help you achieve higher performance:

Step 1 – Motivation: The will to keep trying, and the will to win are critical to success. Motivation is fixed in behavior, and behavior is rooted in one of two forms: task or ego. Task-oriented behavior is focused on performance, here and now. Ego-oriented individuals focus on how outcomes affect their self-worth. Motivation is guided by one of these two outcomes. Task-oriented behavior is the key to becoming a master.

Step 2 – Anxiety: Anxiety is “a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.” When we don’t feel like we have control, anxiety increases significantly. Is anxiety bad? Not if we learn how to channel it positively. It can provide us with the energy to get things done much more quickly and efficiently.

Step 3 – Concentration: Concentration is referred to as “attention control” or the discipline to focus on what is relevant, and ignore everything that is irrelevant. Concentration is absolutely critical to becoming a championship athlete or master of whatever you endeavor to achieve.

Step 4 – Confidence: Confidence is a feeling or belief that one can rely on someone or something. Self-confidence is a feeling of trust in one’s abilities, qualities and judgment. Many people confuse self-confidence with arrogance – they are very different behaviors. You cannot have too much self-confidence; store up as much as you can to help you in the difficult moments.

Step 5 – Decision Making: “No individual is destined for greatness. We achieve high performance only through hard work…and a fearless mind.” Making correct decisions is important at every stage of development, whether you’re an athlete or a CEO. Becoming disciplined at task-oriented behavior will instill within us the ability to make correct decisions at every point along the way. Disciplined decision makers become masters.

These principles will set you on the course to success. I highly recommend this book to help you gain mastery over your life. Dr. Manning’s five steps will help you focus on what you need to change to become a master. Don’t hesitate, get a copy of the book and begin developing a fearless mind.

Full disclosure: I know Dr. Manning and consider him a dear friend. His teachings and influence are making a considerable impact on my son’s efforts to become a championship ballroom dancer.


The Product Management Perspective: Product managers deal with a myriad of tasks and distractions every day, and the sheer volume often seems overwhelming. Can you become a ‘master’ product manager? Yes, you can if you focus on the right things. The “right things” will differ from one product (or company) to another; the key is having a fearless mind and being a fearless leader. The five steps in The Fearless Mind will help you master the role of product manager. As a side note, I highly recommend Dr. Manning’s podcast on Live on Purpose Radio.


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Lean startup, lean company

“I explained the theory of the Lean Startup, repeating my definition: an organization designed to create new products and services under conditions of extreme uncertainty.” This definition comes from Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses.

As the title indicates, the book’s content is geared towards people starting new businesses. While that is the primary focus, what I found extremely interesting about The Lean Startup was the number of action items that work equally well for established companies as they do for startups. Innovation is innovation, no matter where it’s applied and regardless of its source.

The Lean Startup delivers a lot of great insight for leadership and product management. Here are some of the things that struck a chord with me:

  • Success can be learned: Successful startups and great new products aren’t just luck. You can put processes in place that will greatly increase the chances for success. “Startup success can be engineered by following the right process, which means it can be learned, which means it can be taught.”
  • Five key principles: The book focuses on five key principles:
  1. Entrepreneurs are everywhere: “The concept of entrepreneurship includes anyone who works within my definition of a startup” (see above).
  2. Entrepreneurship is management: “A startup is an institution, not just a product, and so it requires a new kind of management specifically geared to its context of extreme uncertainty.”
  3. Validated learning: “Startups exist to learn how to build a sustainable business.”
  4. Build-Measure-Learn: “The fundamental activity of a startup is to turn ideas into products, measure how customers respond, and then learn whether to pivot or persevere.”
  5. Innovation accounting: “This requires a new kind of accounting designed for startups—and the people who hold them accountable.
  • Pivot or persevere: The Lean Startup method helps you decide when you need to keep going with an idea or make a change (‘pivot’). “Through this process of steering, we can learn when and if it’s time to make a sharp turn called a pivot or whether we should persevere along our current path.”
  • Build an “innovation factory:” I cannot over emphasize this point: the Lean Startup method works for all companies. “Established companies need to figure out how to accomplish what Scot Cook [founder of Intuit] did in 1983 [he found out people wanted to use their computers to keep track of their check books], but on an industrial scale and with an established cohort of managers steeped in traditional management culture.”
  • Continual learning: A key to success is the ability to learn as you go and make adjustments along the way. “Validated learning is the process of demonstrating empirically that a team has discovered valuable truths about a startup’s present and future business prospects.” Ries gives a detailed personal example of this concept from his work at IMVU.
  • Don’t capitulate: Don’t just give in to what customers think they want. “We adopted the view that our job was to find a synthesis between our vision and what customers would accept; it wasn’t to capitulate to what customers thought they wanted or to tell customers what they ought to want.”
  • Ask hard questions: In every venture you need to ask ‘why am I doing this?’ “The question is not ‘Can this product be built?’ The more pertinent questions are ‘Should this product be built?’ and ‘Can we build a sustainable business around this set of products and services?’” Push your team to answer four questions:
  1. Do consumers recognize that they have the problem you are trying to solve?
  2. If there was a solution, would they buy it?
  3. Would they buy it from us?
  4. Can we build a solution for that problem?
  • Solve problems: In every effort, make sure you’re solving problems. “Success is not delivering a feature; success is learning how to solve the customer’s problem.”
  • Create, then test: Create a ‘minimum viable product’ (MVP) then test to make sure you’re on the right track. “The MVP is that version of the product that enables a full turn of the Build-Measure-Learn look with a minimum amount of effort and the least amount of development time.”
  • Fail quickly: The most successful companies recognized what worked and more importantly, what didn’t work. “What differentiates the success stories from the failures is that the successful entrepreneurs had the foresight, the ability, and the tools to discover which parts of their plans were working brilliantly and which were misguided, and adapt their strategies accordingly.”
  • Genchi Gembutsu: This is a Japanese phrase usually translated as a directive to “go and see for yourself.” You need to get out of the office. “You cannot be sure you really understand any part of any business problem unless you go and see for yourself firsthand.” You need extensive contact with potential customers to understand them sufficiently.

The Lean Startup is replete with stories and real-world examples to help you grasp the concepts. Eric Ries does a great job of bringing out important theories and models that will help you succeed whether you’re starting a new company or creating new products at an established corporation.


The Product Management Perspective: Every product manager in the world should study The Lean Startup and apply its teachings in day-to-day work and strategic planning. Unfortunately product managers get so embroiled in plans and stories and PRDs that we don’t stop and evaluate what’s really going on with the products.

A Good share of development is now done using some form of Agile. Make the effort to be agile in product definition and customer input. Don’t be too prideful to throw away your great idea that customers don’t latch onto. Put your focus and efforts into growing your products’ market share and revenue. Ultimately, nothing else really matters.


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Book Review: The Coming Jobs War

“If you were to ask me ‘From all your research, what is the best predictor of new jobs?’ my answer would always be new customers.” Jim Clifton, chairman of Gallup and author of The Coming Jobs War: What every leader must know about the future of job creation, says that what everyone wants is a good job. He makes the bold assertion that job creation and successful entrepreneurship are the world’s most pressing issues right now. “If countries fail at creating jobs,” says Clifton, “their societies will fall apart.”

To be honest, the first few chapters of the book are quite depressing. Clifton describes how the United States is losing its position, as the world’s economic leader, to China and other countries like Brazil and India. Grounded in findings from the Gallup World Poll, Clifton shows how the current job creation trends could land China as the world leader by the year 2040. Unless…

Unless the United States and other top economies step up and create new jobs at a furious pace, China and other economies will surpass it. Clifton argues that the solution to creating good jobs must be found in cities, not in federal government. Promoting entrepreneurship and job creation must be the sole mission and purpose of cities’ business leaders, government officials and philanthropists.

According to Clifton, cities will succeed by declaring an all-out war: “I don’t use the term ‘war’ lightly. This really has to be a war on job loss, on low workplace energy, on healthcare costs, on low graduation rates, on brain drain, and on community disengagement,” he says. “Those things destroy cities, destroy job growth and destroy city GDP. Every city requires its own master plan that is as serious as planning for war.”

The next big breakthrough, and the one that will help keep the United States on top, will come from a combination of the forces within big cities, great universities, and powerful local leaders:

  • Local leadership: The leadership at the local level is key to creating new jobs. Cities need leaders who will bring in new companies that create new jobs. Companies need to hire the right people. “More money, jobs and GDP turns on who is named manager than on any other decision,” says Clifton. “Fire all lousy managers today.”
  • Entrepreneurial innovation: “Entrepreneurs are the rainmakers,” says Clifton. When enough entrepreneurs gather in a city and create formal jobs, they start a virtuous cycle. Silicon Valley is a great example of this phenomenon. Other cities are showing positive signs of growth. Business leaders who are willing to take risks will pave the way for new jobs and economic growth.
  • Education: A few of the most well known entrepreneurs dropped out of college, and some people believe that college gets in the way of innovation. Not according to Clifton. Great universities are the origin of most highly successful startups. They are a critical part of new-company formation, and America has a decided advantage because its top 100 universities are its most differentiating global strength in the war for jobs.

Clifton concludes The Coming Jobs War with ten findings that are “the most important of literally trillions of combinations of data and opinions Gallup has studied” for the United States to win:

  1. The biggest problem facing the world is adequate jobs.
  2. Job creation can only be accomplished in cities.
  3. The three key sources of job creation in America are: the country’s top 100 cities, its top 100 universities, and its 10,000 local ‘tribal’ leaders.
  4. Entrepreneurship is more important than innovation.
  5. America cannot outrun its healthcare costs.
  6. Because all public education results are local, local leaders need to lead their whole cities and all youth programs to war on the dropout rate, with the strategy of one city, one school, and one student at a time.
  7. The United States must differentiate itself by doubling its number of engaged employees.
  8. Jobs occur when new customers appear.
  9. Every economy rides on the backs of small to medium sized businesses.
  10. The United States needs to more than triple its exports in the next five years and increase them by 20 times in the next 30 years.

I highly recommend The Coming Jobs War to anyone who cares about the future. The book is especially important for every CEO, executive and manager, and anyone who has the seed of entrepreneurism growing within.

The Product Management Perspective: Great products bring new customers, which create new jobs. The role product managers can play in the jobs war is to make sure their products resonate with the market. Clifton writes: “The answer is customer engagement.” When customers love the products we create, companies will grow and new jobs will flow.

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