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

Which Road Will You Take?

The first week of July features both our national holiday, Canada Day, and Independence Day for our neighbours to the south. For many people, it’s a road trip week – headed to visit family, go camping, or just see another part of one’s town or country. We’ve observed two kinds of travelers during the many road trips we have taken: those who seek out the familiar, and those who prefer a little novelty. The familiars eat at McDonald’s or some other well-known chain, sleep at Ramadas or Holiday Inns, and stick to the highway. The adventurers prefer the back roads, local inns, and take chances on tiny eateries.

Making change in your organization is much the same – you can implement it in a way that feels comfortable, easing slowly into new methods or behaviours. Or, you can have revolution instead of evolution, opting to head boldly toward the unknown.

Either way can work, but by-and-large they are mutually exclusive. So as you forge ahead, decide which works best and strike out in that direction. Which road will you take to make change in how you work?

Going boldly,

Megann and Steve

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. 


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


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


Namaste: The New ‘Normal’


Our friend Taylor and his colleagues had a recent opportunity to travel to India – we’re inspired!

Originally posted on A World Of Oysters:

Sunday, January 19, 

Namaste. Today I had convinced myself that I had already been in India for 3 days, but I slowly realized that not even two full days have I been in this incredible country – less than two days of street food breakfasts, early morning runs, field visits to rural social enterprises and NGO’s, a local flight on ‘SpiceJet,’ and potentially the best part, spending time with inspiring individuals from a unique mix of countries and areas of work, people all passionate in some form about development and social entrepreneurship.

I will start by saying how both my days have began with very early morning runs. My first meal (post Day 1 run) was a traditional Indian street food breakfast of chutney, spice, and everything nice. This morning’s run began in the darkness of Hubli shortly after 6am, after all the travel had me up at 3:15am.


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Why Customer Development is important to your business

There’s a tremendous amount of positive energy in start-up communities around the globe regarding the Lean Canvas. ..for good reason.  When executed properly it’s a very powerful approach to developing and documenting your Business Model.

We can’t explain it any better than Ash Maurya or Steve Blank or many others, so won’t even try.  What we want to talk about is why Customer Development, as espoused by Blank is important to your development.  The practice of creating hypotheses regarding your business model, then getting out of the building to talk with those you think might be your customers, potential partners, and other who could THEORETICALLY play a role in you developing a successful business model.

The reason we feel this is an important part of developing your business model has both a short-term and, hopefully, a long-term influence on your business success.

In the short-term, if you do Customer Development properly, you get out and ask people about their situations, their businesses, and their pain.  You are not going out pitching or selling!  You are starting with their broad perspective, then focusing down to where you  can ask them “Given what you’ve told me, if you had This Thing™, how would that change your life/business/way of doing things?”

The discipline it takes to sit down and really listen to people is a life skill that not enough of us get to develop.  So the more you do it, the more natural it will become