Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

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Fundamentals of leadership

Companies and individuals often go to extremes in their search for success. They look for the most sophisticated processes hoping they will get a leg up on their competitors. In all their efforts to make their organizations more complex — thinking that will make them more successful — they forget the fundamentals.

Art Petty has some great lessons for leaders in his latest post. He gives four current examples of leaders who overlooked the fundamentals, then says: “How does this happen in a world filled with balanced scorecards and legions of certified quality professionals constantly measuring, monitoring and striving to improve performance?  I suspect that my own answer is that while we have ample tools available for our use in building, the one tool that we haven’t yet mastered is staring back at us in the mirror.”

One of the fundamentals missed by many organizations is people management. Art continues: “Fewer organizations than you might think are doing anything to engender employee satisfaction…which is ironic given the mountains of data that indicate that employee satisfaction flows through to customer satisfaction and strong financial performance.” The people in all parts of the organization need to be “on board” and believe in the purpose of the organization. That’s just one of the fundamentals of leadership.

The Product Management Perspective: Product managers must focus on the fundamentals: market inputs, problem statements, features, requirements, etc. As they focus on getting these things in order, product managers will gain the trust of their teams. When the teams know they are working on the right things for the right reason, they will do amazing things.

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Fixing the conversion-poor company

Conversion-poor companies, as defined in The Innovation Value Chain, most often generate good ideas but they do not screen or develop the ideas properly. Great ideas often die in the budget process due to fear of the unknown. Managers hesitate to take risks and instead emphasize the incremental and certain, not the novel. The inability to convert ideas into products/services can create a risk-averse and bureaucratic process that slows or stops execution.

Companies that lack the ability to move ideas forward to the next level should focus on two innovation practices: multichannel funding and safe havens. Creating multiple channels for funding will help companies avoid the situation where a good manager doesn’t like a particular new idea or doesn’t consider it good enough to use his or her resources to fun it. Other business units can use their funds to open up different options–from discretionary seed money up to full-scale venture funds.

Safe havens provide a way to shield new ideas and potential businesses from the short-term thinking and budget constraints that occupy many organizations that focus on short-term gains. Safe havens can be critical to the conversion of good ideas into profitable products and services.

For more information on this topic, see Leadership and innovation and Identifying the weak link in product innovation.

The Product Management Perspective: Much of the ‘meat’ of converting ideas into products comes in the form of features and requirements, the building blocks of products. The extent to which product managers understand and articulate ideas effectively will determine, to a large degree, the success of their companies. Major ideas are often driven at the highest levels of the company; however, success comes as a result of implementing the correct steps along the way.