Build a Community and Grow your Confidence

Are you a product manager who’s experienced conflict, confusion, or even a lack of confidence that you’re going in the right direction? Do you have the title, but you’re not sure what a product manager does (and everyone at your company wants to badge you with a different job description)? These are not uncommon problems. As we’ve been continuing our “repatriation” to the east coast, we’ve made some discoveries in our growing network. One of these is watching how the confidence of individual players grows, as they build their community or ecosystem. It’s like they are learning their habitat, trying what works, and finding out whose ideas and input they can, and should, trust. We’ve seen tremendous momentum in the east coast startup movement, and if these startups are going to become stayups, we need to continue the community-building at the next level.

Our work has always been about helping people or organizations to get a better understanding of customers, and how those customers interact with their products. This means that product managers are often our clients, and just as frequently, our friends. Depending on the location, the product management community may be very well developed and interconnected, or it may barely exist. But our observation is that once the community begins to take shape, product managers become a lot more confident. They reach a point where:

  • They’re ready to take a stand for what their definition of product management is
  • They know where to find other product managers whose learning and solutions are relevant to their context
  • The solutions they recommend are well-grounded in evidence, from a customer-centric perspective
  • Their skills at customer discovery, user experience management, and advocacy on behalf of the client are continuously improving.

Atlantic Canada is full of bright young (and young-at-heart) product managers (whether that’s by title, or by function) who want to change the landscape for the products they’re building and the customers they serve. If you’re interested in growing your community and building your product management toolkit, join us at ProductCamp Atlantic October 25th. 

Look forward to seeing you there,

Megann and Steve

Megann and Steve Willson Medium

Should You Really Stick to Your Knitting?

Do what you know best, and keep on doing it…what does that really mean? It’s a question we’ve been pondering lately, as we watch clients struggling with the need to grow and adapt, and the desire to hold on to what is central to their culture and narrative. Certainly there’s value to concentrating on one’s core competencies. But what is “your knitting”, exactly? Is it flat, straight stitches, carrying on, row-after-row? Or is it a series of complicated cables, winding in and out, never losing the path but requiring extreme effort to follow? Perhaps it’s a crazy, multi-coloured pattern, like fair isle – traditional, yet different every time. For knitters, it can be all of these things, and more. So the idea that “what you’re best at” can be only one thing is an over-simplification of the concept. 

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Knitting, at its essence, is comprised of two simple stitches: knit, and purl. Similarly with your business or product, there is something fundamental to which you should hold fast. But this doesn’t mean for a minute that there isn’t room for growth or change. Apple, for example, built computers that were simple, beautiful, and easy to use. Yet no one today would think of them simply as “a computer company”. So at your next strategy meeting, when someone says you are straying too far from the status quo, and suggests you might want to “stick to your knitting”, make sure you know what that means. Break down what it is that you do to its pure substance, and decide what it is that you absolutely can’t afford to change. Then feel free to change everything else. As long as you don’t lose track of how to knit and to purl…you can be any kind of  knitter you can imagine. 

Helping unravel your challenges,

Megann and Steve

 

Staring 2013 in the Face

20121231-103111.jpg Happy New Year, one and all!

We’re looking back on 2012 with gratitude for all the exciting opportunities that have presented themselves to us this year. Moving our head office to Nova Scotia has been an exciting challenge. We are especially proud of having maintained our global presence, working with clients in Canada, the UK, the US, Germany, and Belgium. And we’ve stretched our heads around product ranges from drugs for atrial fibrillation, to knitting, to mental health, to energy drinks, and back to cardiovascular health again, all the while helping our clients get a better understanding of what their customers need and want.

So what’s on tap for 2013? Hopefully, more of the same. We’ll also continue to manifest our gratitude by finding ways to fight against hunger, homelessness, and poverty here in Canada. By partnering with us, you help us support these important causes. For that, we thank you.

Continued success for 2013,

Megann and Steve

Clear out the Clutter!

Our year-end is the end of July, so as we always do at this time of year, we’ve been de-cluttering. (Some might say Uncluttering). It’s amazing how much stuff we keep because we’re going to get around to dealing with it someday. Or because it seems wrong to just throw it out. We beseech you, do it. Get rid of those articles you have been meaning to read. Throw away those journals that are six months old and you are sure must contain something important. It’s a very freeing feeling to get things that have been simply weighing you down off your desk.

While you’re at it, mid-calendar year is a great time to re-look at your goals and objectives. (Remember those great ideas you came back to work with in January?) What’s working? What’s not? Now that you’ve thrown or repurposed all the stuff that has been holding you back, you can look at your tactics with fresh eyes – and make some real progress.

Don’t know where to start? Here are four great ways to get going:

  1. Start with the obvious – Pick one area that is very visible to you (hint: it might be your desk – but it could be your desktop or your inbox). Give yourself a time limit (an hour) or a number limit (100 items). Work until that limit has elapsed. You’ll be able to see real progress.
  2. Clean the slate – remove all items from an area you want to sort, and only put back what you is either useful, necessary, or beautiful. Let the rest go.
  3. Take 10 – 10 minutes at the end of each workday to put things in order so you have a clean slate the next morning.
  4. One in, one out – Don’t add anything else to the clutter without throwing something away, giving to charity, or repurposing.

Cleaning up our act,

Megann and Steve

My Company Wants to Control Customer Research from Global…What Now?

Increasingly often, we hear this complaint from our clients. Suddenly they are being kicked out of the loop when it comes to research projects. Global sources the projects and then fields them in local markets – sometimes without even telling or involving the affiliates. These projects can go through many layers of handling and management before a moderator and respondent(s) sit down in the same room. In a worst case scenario, this can look like a game of broken telephone, with muddied objectives and watered-down results. Yet some of our best clients seem to have learned a few tricks for still getting an optimal result. Here’s what they have shared with us:

  1. The researcher or product team at the local affiliate has built a strong relationship with their counterpart(s) at Global.
  2. They have specifically requested that if moderation is to be outsourced, one of their preferred local suppliers should be considered.
  3. Local researchers take time to get involved with the briefings themselves, so they can contribute home field tips that will make the project go more smoothly.
  4. Global requires that suppliers at the top of the research chain facilitate a dialogue between the local moderator or field service and the home town affiliate.
  5. Field Managers or Project Directors ensure that everyone can reach the right person to answer a question or deal with an issue in the fewest number of steps.

We’ve seen some tremendous results when our clients have taken these steps. First, the local researcher has a chance to shine in front of more senior head office personnel. Secondly, there is often an opportunity to adapt questionnaires and discussion guides to eliminate questions that have been answered, or add probes about specific local issues. Some of our customers have also been able to pay for a local “advance copy” of their report, rather than waiting for multi-country results to be analyzed – allowing for faster decision-making – while keeping the field costs as Global’s line item.

These approaches can allow a result that is “glocal” at its finest – perhaps one of them will work for you! We’re happy to discuss how you can make the most of your research budgets.

Always optimizing,

Megann and Steve

How Much Change is Enough?

Imagine you’ve been reaching out to your customers, and they’ve been telling you that something has to change. But it’s a dilemma. You don’t want to change too much, or your loyal purchasers may stop purchasing. You don’t want to change so much that your teammates or employees don’t feel like they’re getting what they signed on for. You want evolution, not revolution, right?

Embattled tech company RIM has been facing just this sort of a decision. The company announced today that its co-CEOs were stepping down, to be replaced by insider Thorsten Heins. But so far the market hasn’t responded kindly. The problem may be that the change is simply too small. While RIM’s fall from grace has been dramatic, in fact, nothing short of meteoric, this change appears, to many, to be miniscule. Herein lays the key to knowing how much change is enough. The degree of change needs to be relative in scope to the level of impact that’s required. So if the problem your customers have been encountering is significant, then the change will likely come with a commensurate level of discomfort. If you want revolutionary change, be prepared for a revolution.

“Yeah, we tried innovating once, and it didn’t work”.

“We’ve had change initiatives before. They didn’t change the
world”

“Let me show you the reports from some of our past innovation days.”

Does any of this sound familiar? So many companies we’ve worked with feel like they’re fighting an uphill battle when they want to do something new and different. This sort of negative self-talk stalls the desire for innovation, and it is frequently driven by past failed efforts.

A colleague of ours used to describe it as the Seagull Syndrome: “Consultants are like seagulls. They swoop in, eat your lunch, crap all over you, and then fly away.” In some cases, that’s not far off the mark. Part of the problem is that there are many consultants out there whose work is to come in, stir up some feelings and ideas, and then to compile a report. That model is broken. It defines the report and recommendations as the end of the project. However what successful companies have demonstrated is that personal engagement and commitment is critical to developing a new product, process, service, or system. For innovation to really start to work, to take hold, and to flourish, here are some things that are vital to the process:

  1. A senior team champion. Without support from the C-suite, it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to drive a revolutionary change.
  2. Critical mass and talk time. This doesn’t mean a few marketers coming together in a room and producing some fuzzy statements about commitment to the future. It means getting a critical mass of the people who will really do the work, in the room, and securing their commitment to make an action plan.
  3. A willingness to do the work. Consultants can’t change organizations. Only individuals, working together to a common purpose, can do this. Expecting that a few hours or days with a facilitator will solve the problem without anyone from the company getting their hands dirty is a clear signal that the corporation is not ready to grow and change.
  4. SMART next steps. At the end of the process, the beginning of the implementation should be clearly mapped out. Each individual
    should come away with a Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, Time-bound road map of what his or her commitments will be, by when, and with whom.
  5. Authority where there is responsibility. This links back to the senior team champion. Once the roadmap is clearly laid out and the projects are developed, the champion’s role is to ensure that those who have been given responsibility are also afforded the authority to carry out their mission.

All of these things are possible, and more. If you’re looking for ways to march boldly forward into the future, we’d love to hear from you.

Moving forward,

Megann and Steve