Collaboration, or the Fine Art of Making Your Own Luck

Collaboration Clover

Where should your product or service go next? What will the next iteration look like? Product managers wrestle with these questions all the time. Sometimes they talk to their colleagues or others within the organization. Perhaps they listen to feedback from channel partners. And if they’re customer-centric, they’re finding ways to listen, observe, and discuss the customer journey. Often these explorations occur separately from one another. It doesn’t have to be that way.

As soon as we disconnect a desired new feature set from real things like production limitations, distribution challenges, or plain old price, we’re only considering part of the story. Taking this approach can mean that you as a product manager are setting each of these groups of stakeholders in opposition, weighing the needs of one against another. Invariably this sets a big weight on your shoulders.

We contend that it’s a weight that doesn’t need to be there. Collaboration is the lucky four-leaf clover that can provide everyone with a solution they can live with – without watering down the final result in some sort of “management by committee” scenario. While this used to involve a lot of expensive, time consuming travel and research, modern collaboration tools and techniques mean it’s much easier to get all these people around the table. Having a chance to explain their rationale, answer the big “why” questions, and see their feedback having an impact during the planning process is much more effective that having to explain why they didn’t get what they want. Moreover, it could even result in an even better approach than any one group had thought of alone.

Imagine investing a little talk time up front to come up with a product that’s truly wanted, efficient to produce, and easier to deliver. If that sounds like the sort of lucky outcome you’ve been looking for, we have the tools that can help.

Collaboration makes it happen,

Megann and Steve

This October, Make a Gratitude Adjustment

CornucopiaThanksgiving It seems October is a busy month, whatever your business. Farmers are busy preparing for winter. Teachers are halfway through the term, and checking kids’ progress. Businesses are working hard to make the last quarter a profitable one. Sound familiar? All around us, an abundance of things to do. Yet we still hear plenty of complaints.

It’s our plan to do our part by taking a gratitude adjustment. We’re remembering all the great things we have going on this autumn, like ProductCampAtlantic15, or EngageHalifax. It’s about the people and companies who we work with or who have supported us in our projects and our business. We’re healthy, busy, and surrounded by gorgeous views and smart people every single day. For that, we’re truly thankful.

So if you’re feeling busy, overloaded, challenged, good for you. We hope you’ll take it all in stride with an attitude of gratitude this October. While you’re at it, consider giving something back. Your local Food Bank might be a good place to start.

Gratefully yours,

Megann and Steve

When You’re In The Weeds, Start Weeding!

Dandelion“You reap what you sow.” Are you familiar with that adage? It makes sense, right? Plan in advance. Prepare what you want to achieve. Sow the seeds. And eventually, harvest what you planted. All those self-improvement books must be right. (Right?)

We asked our @Panoptika followers about what they had planted, that they’re harvesting now, and one of our friends at Spring Loaded Technology said they were harvesting weeds. They were being tongue-in-cheek – they’ve really got their act together. Of course, it got us thinking anyway. The weed metaphor was so useful, we had to work on it right away. And when Rick Nason got involved in the conversation, we knew we were onto something.

So what about the things that are growing profusely, that you didn’t sow? How do you deal with behaviours, beliefs, habits, or patterns that have established themselves in your team or organization, that weren’t planted on purpose? That’s where weeding comes in. Just as you can prioritize what’s important to do, you can prioritize what is important not to do. Your weed may be someone else’s beautiful flower, so you need to be intentional as you tidy up your garden. When deciding what to do next, what to get rid of, what to elevate, and how to move forward, we like to use metaphor-based approaches. They’re simple to understand and everyone can understand their common language. Some of our favourites come from our friend and mentor Luke Hohmann, creator of Innovation Games.

What if the weeds seem overwhelming?

  1. Involve the whole team. They need to be involved in figuring out what to reap, what to simply get rid of, and whether some of the crops need to be rotated next time. They’re experts about what’s really going on.
  2. Get help! An outside neutral party like a facilitator comes in handy for keeping the crew on track, managing the weeds that are deep-rooted, and observing patterns that might not be obvious when you live with them every day. (Kind of like having a great gardener come by and help you get things in shape in your own back yard).
  3. While you’re at it, move some things around. Once you clear some of the weeds, it becomes easier to see what needs to be done.

So if what you’re reaping doesn’t seem to be what you sowed, try removing the weeds, and prepare for a more bountiful harvest.

Need help with your business garden? We’re happy to dig in.

Megann and Steve

For a Fresh Start, Start with a Clean Slate

April is a month of rebirtClean Slateh, renewal, and fresh starts (although as the snow continues to fall in Nova Scotia, it seems that including “spring” in that list may be an overstatement). The first quarter has come and gone, and now you’re either evaluating those great ideas you came up with in January, or you’ve given up hope that they will come to pass. Is it too late for a fresh start?

It’s never too late for a reboot, but for new ideas to take hold, it’s important that they not be crowded out by the same old, same old. That calls for a clean slate. Clean slate thinking allows you to ask the question, “what if we were building this new thing from the ground up, without any of the constraints we experience in our current business?” One technique we like to use is one we apply regularly in our own business. It’s an Innovation Game called Remember the Future. In our adaptation of this game, we imagine the new offering, or activity, or expansion at the height of its success. Then we look back, figuring out all the steps we took to get there, without considering the impacts or effects of what we’re doing now. That lets us really see the possibilities. Then, and only then, do we explore what we would have to change or not do, to make it happen.

This kind of thinking is only possible with an attitude of abundance. Scarcity thinking forces us to hang on to what we have, and to fear what we might have. So clear off your slate, imagine what your business or product could be, and kick that reboot you’ve been toying with into high gear.

Thinking clearly,

Megann and Steve

Check your pockets for luck!

City ShopperHave you ever pulled a coat or purse you haven’t used for awhile from the closet, only to discover money inside? Even when it’s a small amount, you feel richer. Lucky, even. You can do the same thing with your business.  Whether it’s going back through your idea file (you do have one, don’t you?) or getting together with colleagues to review some back-burner projects, or even meeting with clients to review what’s changed in their agenda or strategy recently, there’s an undiscovered opportunity awaits. We have all sorts of facilitation techniques we use to make these tasks easier and more fun, like the Innovation Game® Me and My Shadow. If you’re not making interesting, useful discoveries to move your business forward, search through some of those “coat pockets” you haven’t looked in for awhile. We’re sure there’s some luck waiting in there somewhere.

Try these steps today to find it:

1. Call a client you haven’t seen recently, and set up some time to observe them while they’re using your product or service.

2. Think back to January and the projects you were going to start but haven’t, then pick one, and get going!

3. Pull out a file on an old sale or project – and see if you can figure out a better way to approach it, knowing what you learned in the process.

Happy discoveries,

Megann and Steve

Get Out of the Building!

We had a chance to see Steve Blank in conversation with a couple of hundred entrepreneurs and their ilk on Friday, at Canada’s Business Model Competition. To be precise, he was chatting by video conference on a giant screen with Drs. Mary Kilfoil and Daniel Boyd, at Halifax’s Rowe School of Business.

It was a wide-ranging chat about all things entrepreneurial, but one of the key messages was the importance of getting out of the building – to talk to customers, of course, but also to just get a fresh perspective, and to look around.

As we’ve done this, we’ve discovered that in our corner of the world, at least, entrepreneurship is the new normal. Maybe it’s because we’re attuned to it, but businesses and business ideas are springing up everywhere. Within an easy walk of our home office we have conference organizers, forestry consultants, big data analytics experts, shopkeepers, software developers, and more. So while the prevailing wind of conversation says our province is on a downward trajectory and may soon implode, we’re sensing otherwise. Times are changing, most certainly, but outside of our building, they’re changing for the better.

So as our moms used to say, “you kids, get outside!” You’ll be amazed at what you’ll discover.

Megann and Steve

Left…Right…I’m their leader. Which way did they go?

Has the time come to get rid of the Left and Right labels in politics?  Given the recent actions on the part of Nova Scotia’s NDP government…it appears maybe.

To misquote The Who; “and the Party on the left is now the Party on the right.”

It’s supposed to be right-of-centre governments which give grants and tax breaks to private business, but things work differently these days in Nova Scotia.  In recent weeks we have saved a paper mill in Cape Breton,  “stolen” engineering jobs from Calgary, outsourced government IT jobs to IBM, and are now looking at buying back forests from bankrupt Bowater.

And the Irving shipbuilding contract hasn’t even started yet!

Public opinion seems divided as to the benefits of these moves, but it does make for exciting times in the province which, at the time of Confederation, was once the richest corner of the nation.

It’s actually refreshing to see a government sticking their neck out to try and create an atmosphere of sustainable success.  Not all of these scenarios will work out to everyone’s satisfaction, but that’s business!

Here’s to Nova Scotia…land of opportunity!