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

Who is your Customer Now?

During a conversation yesterday with one of our networking contacts (not even a prospect, really, just a helpful contact who shared some useful information about his organization and how it’s, well, organized), Megann listened carefully to a map of how the contact’s workplace functions, and with a few well-placed probes like:

  • “Who makes this kind of decision?”
  • “Who uses this sort of information?”
  • “How does your new role compare to your old role?”

…she was able to get a much richer understanding of this fellow’s world. Because we spend the vast majority of our time thinking about prospects and customers (how to find them, get them, talk to them, and keep them), we’ve learned that everyone has customers of some sort. Maybe not the traditional customers who go to a retailer for everything from a quick transaction to a lifestyle experience. And maybe not the kind that write contracts for delivery of goods and services at an enterprise level. But if we think of customers in terms of customer service, each of us, in our business lives, serves someone. That someone is a customer. Just like that, the right question was formulated.

“I know your role has changed and you’re not responsible for customer insights as you once were, but who is your customer now?”

Asking our contact to frame his activities from a specific viewpoint made it possible to get a great understanding of how he relates to his organization’s stakeholders, and what kind of information he might have, or need, at a later time. So the next time you need to understand someone who thinks they don’t have customers, ask them to:

  1. Think about who they serve with what they do.
  2. Describe that individual as their customer.
  3. Tell you about what they do with, and for, that customer.

We’re fairly certain you will gain a richer understanding of how that contact’s world works.

Customer discovery. It’s everywhere.

We’re asking – and listening,

Megann and Steve

Want to hear more? Get in touch via our website, or meet us at an upcoming event, like Invest Atlantic, or ProductCamp Atlantic.

Is your Startup Growing Up?

As you grow up, your needs, wants, ideas and preferences change. Your attitudes change. You change.

The same can be said for your startup organization. The more you grow, the more roles and goals you’ll have. Pretty soon (unless you took an opportunity to fail fast), you’ll need to work more on staying up than starting up. How will you manage your products?

It’s been our experience that product managers have a pretty tricky list of responsibilities (and the product managers we know tell us that, as well). The key to that is community. As you evolve and grow as a product manager, it’s nice to have others at various stages of their product management career that you can lean on, network with, or use as a sounding board. We’re working to help build that community here in Atlantic Canada. Coming soon, we’ll be sharing more details about ProductCamp Atlantic 2014. For now, you can check out the registration site  …and tell us what you’d like to learn more about at ProductCamp – it’s a chance for Product Managers to have a day, and have your say. We’d love to hear from you.

Staying up and growing,

Megann and Steve

What’s Next for Your Product? A Tree Can Help you Get it Right!

Iterate early and often? Absolutely. But each version change to your product (or products) has the potential to move you further and further from your brand’s core. Eventually your brand looks like a copy of a copy of a…well, you understand. Your messages lose resolution. Your mission lacks clarity.

How do you keep that from happening? We like to use Innovation Games(r) to solve problems, and better yet, to prevent them. In the case of the problem we’re considering today, our clients love it when we play Prune the Product Tree to work through their product roadmap or brand strategy.

Imagine the trunk of the tree is your brand. This is your core. Your heart. Your promise. The thing that supports everything else you do. It should be immutable and unchanging. As you add leaves, flowers, or fruit…make sure they fit with your trunk. If your company is a birch tree, you aren’t going to turn out any apples. Once you’ve mapped out your “where’s next?”, think about the roots of your tree. They’re all the systems and structure that keep you upright, supporting your trunk and enabling everything you do. If your root system is insufficient, the leaves and blossoms will wither…and eventually even the trunk will succumb.

This simple but powerful metaphor is one of the most useful games in our toolkit – it’s helped us help many of our clients stay true to their purpose, and it can help you, too.

Solidly yours,

Megann and Steve

Lalalalalalalala! I Can’t Hear You!

This week has been an interesting study in concept validation for us. We’ve observed several teams in action, and their reactions in the face of customer and stakeholder advice are reminiscent of your average four year old, covering her ears and chanting “Lalalalalalalala” when confronted with an unpopular topic such as bedtime.

One team had the advantage of meeting with a roomful of advisors and mentors. They were convinced that their new concept was sound. How? Well, they had validated it with a handful of potential customers. That was a step in the right direction, most certainly. However their customer discovery pool was incredibly shallow. The number of business advisors in the room was greater than the number of prospects the team had approached with their idea, and they didn’t think the concept would hold water. The collective wisdom was that more validation was required, but this idea was met with resistance.

Organization two gathered their A team together to fine-tune their latest development product. Constraints and challenges were clearly identified at the outset, the team came up with a prototype that met all the user requirements. It seemed to be “just right”. Yet their presentation to their CEO was rejected – he had his own idea as to what the solution should be, and sent them back to the drawing board.

In the last case, the product developer took an idea out to the customers, and was greeted with a positive response. But an advisor with deep domain knowledge suggested the customers’ stated intent might not play out in reality. In other words, that what they said they would do, and what they would actually do, might be different, based on her experience. Presenting the customers with a prototype seemed like the only way forward. But that could be costly. Was there another way?

In each case, changing the research may have given a better outcome. Team one needed to expand the pool of respondents – rejection from no one (or everyone) usually signals that something is amiss. Group two needed to insist their CEO be at the table, if he was determined to have the last word, so his concerns or constraints could be considered at the time, not after the fact. And in case three, observed behaviour, or asking about what the customers actually do currently to solve the problem, might be a less costly approach. Making sure the research approach is right can keep us from looking like we’re just not willing to hear the answer.

Always listening,

Megann and Steve

 

Start it now!

Do you have a project you’ve been hoping to implement – a new initiative or some sort of change in process or procedure, but you just can’t seem to get it going in the summertime? It’s easy to let things slide in the summer, when offices frequently take on a slower pace. You deserve a rest, right? Besides, half the people you need to get that project off the ground are away on holiday! So why not just let it go until after Labour Day?

Here’s why: when those team members return after the holiday, they’ll have loads of catching up to do. They may not be interested in taking on something new. Despite the perception that a “back-to-school” mentality exists in September, the reality is that many of your co-workers may feel like they need a vacation to recover from their vacation backlog.

In fact here are three reasons why it may be better to simply start that project now:

  1. It will give other colleagues a chance to stretch themselves by taking on unfamiliar tasks.
  2. Fresh eyes often result in more creative solutions, rather than status quo.
  3. Those who step up in summer may be more committed to the project than those who do it just because it’s another obligation.

We have a host of new initiatives on the go right now, and it’s invigorating! By September we hope to be reaping the fruits of our labours.

Rolling up our sleeves,

Megann and Steve

Brainstorming Gone Wild!

Recently we’ve been observing a company we know, trying to find a solution to a problem. They have been looking in every direction, but the end doesn’t seem to be in sight. They’ve come up with several possibilities, and tried different approaches, but nothing seems to be working. They’ve put their heads together. So what’s going wrong?

What our friends are experiencing is brainstorming gone wild. We often hear criticism of brainstorming – and it generally takes the form of “We looked at every possible option, but we still didn’t come up with an answer. Brainstorming just doesn’t work.” However what usually doesn’t work is that the team involved has tried to shortcut or short-circuit the process.

Effective problem solving requires a two-phased approach. First, discovery. Getting all the ideas on the table. Exploring every possible avenue. Then, assessment and development. What do the solutions have in common? What are the best elements? Can they be combined? What isn’t implementable or affordable? Most brainstorming failures we have seen have occurred when ideas are rejected, adapted, or assessed during the discovery phase, or when the brainstormers have satisficed – settling for the first, obvious solution. There’s a fine line between stopping too soon, and keeping on looking long after the solution has been revealed, in the hope of eliminating all possible risk.

How can this be avoided? Seek help from an unbiased source – a professional facilitator, or even a successful colleague from a completely different domain. Someone who can hold up the magnifying glass for you, and help you know when it’s time to cross the line.

Throwing ideas at the wall…and helping you choose one that works,

Megann and Steve