Take Time to Save Time

A schedule change in the morning can throw off your whole day. That’s why prioTime Management Listritizing what’s important is a vital part of our “winding down” time at the office. We’re pretty sure you’ve experienced one of those days that have gone from manageable to jam-packed in a heartbeat. So can do you manage?

One of the best tools we use is to identify our lifeboat task. What’s that, you ask? If everything goes awry, right out of the gate, and you can only save one task to bring in the lifeboat with you, which task is absolutely vital? That’s your lifeboat task.

How do we use it in practice?

  1. First, at the end of your day, make the list of all the things you need to get done for tomorrow.
  2. Rearrange in order of importance.
  3. At the top of the list, write your lifeboat task. Think carefully about the task. It should be a task that takes you toward your most important objective. (Remember important is not the same as urgent – it’s likely your lifeboat task is both. Check out Stephen Covey’s Urgent-Important Time Matrix.)
  4. In the morning, remind yourself of your lifeboat task. If that’s the only thing you do, other than go to meetings, fight fires, and herd cats, commit to getting it done.
  5. Do whatever’s necessary to make it happen.
  6. Forgive yourself if you have to let go of some of the the other things on your list.

It might seem counter-intuitive to use time to save time, but in the long run, this will help keep you from getting distracted by tasks that get you nowhere.

Throwing you a lifeline,

Megann and Steve

Why time with dear old Dad may be time well spent…

Time Management
Success-oriented managers are often telling us they wish they had more time. Or they tell us they wish they knew how to get more time. All that equates to wishing they could cram more into their day. And usually, that means their work day. No matter how much time they save on one task, we frequently see them trying to simply fit in another. We were reminded by an article we read in HBR today, that it’s really energy, and not hours, that is important to being super-productive. So while you are trying to find a way to schedule one more task here and another obligation there, it’s vital to think about what is really important in your life. Where’s your joy? What gives you energy?

One way lots of winners recharge is by spending time with their families. So although Father’s Day is just around the corner, perhaps it’s a good idea to make a point of prioritizing family time, all the time. The authors of the HBR article, Tom Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy say it can be good for your career health and a real source of energy. It’s tempting to use every new captured moment to do more work. The great Harry Chapin’s song, Cat’s in the Cradle, is a good reminder why spending a little of that hard-earned time on yourself and your family might be the best plan. So whether you’re a father, or you have a father, invest in your family, and have a more productive day because of it.

Fully recharged,

Megann and Steve

Seriously, Solve Something for Somebody Else. That’s the Job of the Inventor.

Science & Invention, November 1928. Volume 16 Number 7There are far more patents than viable products in our world. Why is that? Usually it is because the inventor wanted to create something. Perhaps even to solve a problem he or she was experiencing. What makes an invention really take off is when it solves a problem for somebody else (preferably, for a number of somebodies). How can you validate whether someone else is having the same problem?

  1. Define the problem solved by your invention. (Can’t? Proceed with caution).
  2. Done? Look for others who are having that problem.
  3. Find out if it is serious enough that they are trying to solve it.
  4. Make sure the reason they are using a competitive solution is because they believe they have the same problem as you do. (Management Thinker Clay Christensen says to ask them what job they trying to get done by using that product or service).
  5. Compare your solution to theirs. Is it easier? Cheaper? Faster? More reliable? You may be on the right track. Keep validating your idea with real customers. It’ll save you a lot of real failures if you fail at the drawing board.

Got a customer, contact, or colleague with a problem they’re trying to solve? Your idea may be the invention they need.

Start solving,

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

Hold fast? Or let go?

Poker HandThere’s an old Kenny Rogers song, The Gamblerthat has the line, “you gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em”…

That’s something useful to consider when you are doing a business refresh, rejuvenation, or even a resurrection. If you truly want to do something differently, you need to decide what’s essential to retain, and what you can let go. It seems like an easy decision, but that Drucker-ism to “stop doing something old” is more difficult than it looks.

This exercise is one where the help of a professional facilitator can come in handy. They don’t have the same emotional bond with your “old stuff” as you do. That frees them up to ask hard questions, such as, “from what you’ve told me, that thing you’re clinging to doesn’t really fit with where you’ve told me you want to go”. We like to ask the hard questions – although we’re also keen on making that as painless as possible. One technique we use is to play metaphor-based games, such as Innovation Games®. One called Prune the Product Tree is easily adaptable to just this situation – and can also help you and your team consider the impacts of keeping, versus letting go.

We’re happy to help if you’d need a hand with this or other sticky business problems. And your location is no object – have suitcase, will travel!

Knowing when to hold ’em,

Megann and Steve

An Invention is Not a Synonym of Innovation

Inventors are always coming up with ideas. One thing we’ve noticed in our work with entrepreneurs, is that they sometimes believe an invention is an innovation. But in our view, an innovation is a bit like the proverbial tree falling in the forest. If it doesn’t solve someone’s problem, it’s probably not really an innovation at all. Just an invention in search of a home.

Why does this matter? It matters because of the effort required to convince someone to buy it, or to use it. Convincing someone to buy a product or service they don’t want is push marketing. And push marketing is the hardest kind of marketing there is. It’s that telemarketer that calls you during dinner to convince you that you want to buy auto insurance, when you don’t even own a car. It’s trying to convince someone that they want something they haven’t even been looking for.

On the other hand, pull marketing is creating something that the buyer or user already wants. Something that solves a problem. Something that makes their life easier. Something that they’ve been wishing for, hoping for, or dreaming of. It’s an invention that answers the question, “If only I had a… [Enter Solution Here]”.

How can you know if your invention is really an innovation? Don’t ask your mom (she’ll either lavish you with unfounded praise, or tell you to ‘smarten up’.) Instead, validate with customers. Real ones. Not your friends. Do this before you build the thing. Target carefully, ask people who are your identified and intended audience, and see what they have to say. Accept their advice, and you’ll know whether you have an innovation on your hands, or just an invention.

This weekend we’ll be judging entrepreneurs’ pitches at Canada’s Business Model Competition – an event specifically built around separating inventions from innovations using Osterwalder & Pigneur’s Business Model Canvas. It’s a tool you can use, too. So before you call yourself an innovator, go out and validate, validate, validate – and make sure you’re not just an inventor. And if you need help asking hard questions, let us know. We can help.

Public judging of the finals takes place Saturday afternoon. Hope to see you there!

Megann and Steve

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

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