The Everyday Innovator – Resources for Product M

The Everyday Innovator – Resources for Product M


Discussions with and for Product Managers, Developers, and Innovators


TEI 099: Speaking with confidence and gravitas – with Caroline Goyder - The Everyday Innovator – Resources for Product Managers and Innovators  

Have you ever wondered why some people earn attention and respect when they speak and others don’t? According to my guest, the secret to their success can be summed up in one word: gravitas. With gravitas, you can express yourself clearly and with the passion and confidence to persuade, influence and engage listeners. And that […]

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TEI 098: When product managers’ good ideas are not enough-with Samuel Bacharach, PhD - The Everyday Innovator – Resources for Product Managers and Innovators  

I have a great guest for us to learn from – the author of a new book, The Agenda Mover: When Your Good Idea Is Not Enough. Doesn’t that sum up the challenge of being a product manager – when your good idea is not enough. My guest, Professor Samuel B. Bacharach, argues that in […]

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TEI 097: How product managers pitch and sell ideas to managers – with Chris Westfall - The Everyday Innovator – Resources for Product Managers and Innovators  

The topic of this episode is another in a series of interviews I’m doing focused on the four skills that enable a 25% higher income for product managers and increasing their influence. The 4 skills were discussed back in episode 073 and include: Pitch artist – the ability to present and sell your ideas and […]

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TEI 096: Conjoint analysis for product managers- with Brian Ottum, PhD - The Everyday Innovator – Resources for Product Managers and Innovators  

This episode is about market research – what’s in your toolbox for conducting consumer and market research? Does it include Conjoint Analysis? Well, if not, it will after you listen to this episode. To explore the topic and walk through an example of using Conjoint Analysis, I tracked down a previous guest, way back in […]

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TEI 095: Product line roadmapping for product managers – with Paul O’Connor - The Everyday Innovator – Resources for Product Managers and Innovators  

The last episode was on the topic of product roadmaps and today we extend that topic by considering product line roadmaps - roadmaps for product lines and product families.

The person who has turned that topic into his professional career is Paul O’Connor. He is the founder and managing director of The Adept Group and he has had significant impact on the field of new product development over the past thirty years. During this time, he has developed and implemented a number of innovative approaches to creativity, innovation, and productivity in NPD. He is truly one of the savvy insiders that can go both broad and deep on many topics related to new product development.

In this interview, you’ll learn about:

What is a product line and a product line strategy,
How are platforms related to product lines,
How product line roadmaps differ from product roadmaps, and
Why product line roadmapping is important.

Practices and Ideas for Product Managers and Innovators
Summary of questions discussed:

What is a product line?  Everybody is very familiar with a single product. A line of products has a common thread of several products that share at least one platform. Multiple product lines could create a product family. As an example, look at the Samsung brand. It’s a company that uses its brand across many different product families. They have insurance products, software products, industrial products, and more. I know them for their consumer product family, with televisions and cell phones, and so forth. Each one of those areas, cell phones for example, is a product line, and you would find within each one of those product lines, one or more platforms. What we look for in product line strategy is employing the dynamics of innovation and all aspects of business and all aspects of product management, across the product line.


How are platforms related to product lines? A platform brings what I would call leverage, to the product line. The visual that I typically use is of a triangle with a plank on top of it like a teeter totter. It conveys the notion of getting leverage in the product line. There are different types of platforms. There can be what we call design platforms. An engineering design platform for a computer could be the motherboard. That same motherboard can be used on a whole series of different computers within a product line. Software can be a platform. We also have production asset platforms that provide leverage. Service platforms are quite interesting to look at, such as in the banking and insurance industries. The value of the platform can only come about if the organization is structured in such a way that creates leverage. By leverage we mean, if I put a dollar into it, I’m going to get two dollars out of it. It means I can do things faster on the platform than starting from scratch each time. This is where we get a little bit confused in our own product development efforts over the years. Most all innovation and product development efforts focus on a single product, one at a time, without the relevance of a platform and without the relevance of product line strategies. Instead, most of the innovation has to go into the platform, or a set of platforms, for a product line. When we do multigenerational planning of a product line, what we’re doing is laying out how the platforms will morph and evolve over time. This gives us another dynamic in our product line strategy that is much more powerful than just trying to innovate one thing at a time.


How is product line roadmapping different from product roadmapping? One thing that all these roadmaps have in common is a timeline. You can think of it visually as going left to right – a Gantt chart. Usually that’s all about what is in development -- we call these products in development. Oftentimes we’ll even hear people say that their launch schedule is their product line r...

TEI 094: Creating product roadmaps for product managers – with Jim Semick - The Everyday Innovator – Resources for Product Managers and Innovators  

I've had some requests from listeners to explore product roadmaps, so I had a discussion with Jim Semick. He is co-founder of ProductPlan, which creates roadmap software for product teams.

Jim has helped launch new products generating hundreds of millions in revenue, including being part of the founding team at AppFolio for property management, responsible for the requirements and launch of GoToMyPC and GoToMeeting (acquired by Citrix), as well as spending time at Microsoft.

In the interview we discuss:

The purpose of a product roadmap,
Various ways roadmaps look,
How roadmaps help product teams and organizations, and
The best practices for constructing product roadmaps.

Practices and Ideas for Product Managers and Innovators
Summary of questions discussed:

What is the purpose of a roadmap? A product roadmap is used by most companies to communicate what they’ll be building over the near term and possibly over the longer term. It is also a tool for showing the product strategy, the why behind what they’re building. A lot of companies feel that the product roadmap is simply the backlog, but that’s not the best way to communicate the strategy. A feature list isn’t a product roadmap. The product roadmap needs to tie back to the strategy. A product roadmap is usually a visual document and communicates the why behind what you’re doing.


What do roadmaps look like? They can take on different forms. It depends on the company, the type of product, and where it is in its lifecycle. Examples can be found here. Some startups, for example, use a Kanban-style roadmap, which is simply putting what you’re going to be building into certain buckets: what is planned, what is approved, what’s in development, and what’s been delivered. That’s a typical style for a smaller organization or maybe a new product. The more traditional product roadmap looks something like a Gantt chart, which is a timeline-style. It communicates what you’re going to build and the expected start and end date for each part of the work. Twelve months is a typical time-frame for showing what you’re going to build. But there are some caveats. For example, organizations moving to an agile development process may have greater uncertainty over a longer period. From a product manager’s perspective, showing a 12-month roadmap is a double-edged sword. On one hand, you want to communicate where you’re headed and inform executive stakeholders. But on the other hand, things tend to change. Competitors come on the scene and release different features, the market and the underlying technologies used can evolve, and of course, customer tends and priorities change over time. You need to communicate to executives what is likely to change the farther the plans are in the future.


How do roadmaps help product teams? A couple of areas are creating collaboration and setting priorities. Most product teams use some sort of mechanism to score and prioritize features. Some of them do it ad hoc -- having a conversation about customer value, and maybe T-shirt sizing level-of-effort. The benefit of having a product roadmap and then also a mechanism to prioritize what goes on the roadmap is that you’re having the conversation to begin with. The roadmap becomes an important collaboration tool.


How much detail should go into a product roadmap? If you’re an agile organization and you’re working in epics and stories,the roadmap should be at that epic level. Otherwise, if you’re at the story level, that is a product roadmap that is like a project plan. A good product roadmap brings it up a level where it’s not project management-oriented. You’re not looking at man-hours, delivery dates, things like that. You’re looking at the bigger picture of what are you are going to be delivering beyond this month and this quarter.


TEI 093: Identifying the ideal customer – with Tom Schwab - The Everyday Innovator – Resources for Product Managers and Innovators  

According to my guest, "Marketing at its heart is starting a conversation with someone who could be an ideal customer." Of course, then my first question is how do we find the ideal customer for a product or service.

Thankfully, my guest, Tom Schwab, had some ideas. Tom is the founder of Interview Valet and his previous background is in medical device products.

In this interview you will learn:

Why marketing should start with the customer,
How to identify the ideal customer, and
What we can learn from the ideal customer for a product.

Practices and Ideas for Product Managers and Innovators
Summary of questions discussed:

How do you think about marketing? Marketing at its heart is starting a conversation with somebody that could be an ideal customer. Not everybody, but just that one person. I’ve always looked at problems to be solved, from an engineering perspective, systems to be tuned-up and to get the most performance out of them. So with marketing, we start with version 1.0 of a product. How can we get it better, how can we refine it? While we have opinions, it’s only the customer that’s the expert. They’re the ones that convey what they love and what they loathe. In the Navy we used to talk about needing to be smart enough to know the right answer when told. The same goes here too. If you’re in product development and marketing, you’ve got to be smart enough to know that the customer will tell you the right answer.


How do we identify the right customer? The worst thing product managers can do is assume a product applies to everybody. Instead, identifying the right customer comes down to saying, “Who can be thrilled by the product or service?” Sometimes you have the luxury of already knowing this person or group, other times it’s just putting yourself in that position. A sales force or customer service group can help you find this person, put a name on him, a face on him, put a story behind him. Sometimes we start with demographics, such as as their education level, income level, and home city. While that’s important, you need to go beyond that and consider psychographics -- asking how does this person think, what are their aspirations, what are their fears, what do they already think about my industry or my product,  who influences them, what do they admire, etc. As an example, one of the companies that I founded had different buyers. One of them was called Mary the Motivated Mom. We had a poster in the hallway of Mary the Motivated Mom. We found a picture on the internet and said that’s what she looks like. There was the story of what she was trying to do and how we could help her. We also had another picture of somebody that was a negative buyer persona. Those are the people that you don’t want to work with – the ones you can’t serve.


How do we find the right customer? Go to where the discussion already is. The best way to get into a discussion with somebody is to join a discussion that’s already on-going. If you go to a party, and you stand in the corner, there’s a chance somebody could come up to you and start the discussion, but if you join an existing discussion and introduce yourself, you can quickly determine what value you can add to the discussion. For product managers, that could be forums online, Facebook groups, Twitter, Quora, Amazon, podcasts, etc. People are talking about what they need.


What do we want to learn from them and how do we do that? You want to understand the details of the problem. You want to make sure that you’re solving their problem, not the problem that you want to solve. Sometimes it’s just asking them, “How would you describe this? What do you like most about this?” Sometimes open-ended questions are painful, because they’re not easy to put in little boxes and charts, but I would encourage anybody to ask lots of open-ended questions.

TEI 092: Innovation mantras from R&D-with Dana A. Oliver - The Everyday Innovator – Resources for Product Managers and Innovators  

Research and development is tightly coupled with product management and innovation. To learn how an R&D person thinks about innovation, I talked with Dana A. Oliver, who has 30 impressive years of experience in R&D groups. He now focuses on writing and coaching, after leaving Medtronic, the medical device company, where he was the Senior Director of R&D.

He has also written two books. His first is Mantra Leadership and his second and most recent is Mantra Design.  In Mantra Design he shares 14 principles, or mantras, for innovation and developing premium priced, patent protected, and market share leading products.

We discuss a few of his mantras and then explore the future of R&D. The mantras discussed include:

Innovate, Buy or Die
Learn Your Customer's World!
Innovation begins with the Eye
It Takes a Long Time to Get to Simple

Practices and Ideas for Product Managers and Innovators
Summary of questions discussed:

What led you to creating the 14 mantras for innovation? I started early in my career as a leader using mantras on a regular basis. The reason I use them is that they allow for effective leadership communication. A mantra is short, concise, and consistent. Part of being a leader is your messaging. So over time the mantras just turned into something that was a great tool that helped me lead others.


What is your first mantra? I call it Innovate, Buy or Die. This is also the subtitle of my book, Mantra Design. When I look at businesses, it’s very common that when a business starts and then becomes successful, it’s predicated on products they design. They are very customer-focused, they establish their brands, but then something odd occurs. As they grow and get bigger, the innovative people begin to move out and more finance people come in. The customer focus is replaced with a portfolio focus. Instead, businesses should be doing what I call “dance with the girl you came with.” Look at Intel, Victoria’s Secret, Starbuck’s, or Michelin -- these are companies that have a core technology, a core name, a core brand, and they remain true to these elements. If you remain true to the girl you dance with and you invest back into organic development, you will keep your customers and you’ll be the best in your space. That’s the essence of the “Innovate, Buy, or Die.” The single best thing you can do as a business owner and as an innovator, is understand your customer and/or your technology and just continue to invest in that space.


Tell us about your “Learn Your Customer's World” mantra. Business begins and ends with your customers. If you ever want to be a true innovator, you have to get close to your customers. I have two mantras about this, and the first one is “Learn Your Customer’s World”, and the second one is “Innovation Begins with the Eye.” What I mean by that is everyone talks about understanding your customer’s articulated needs. But, you have to understand their world so intimately that what you begin to see is not only the articulated needs, but the unarticulated needs as well. It’s the frustrations, it’s the pain points. That’s what I mean about “Innovation Begins with an Eye.” I suggest having a simulated environment in your research and development group where your customers can do their work. For me, I had a full operating suite I would bring doctors to. We’d put our new products in their hands and then we’d talk and we would also quietly observe. It was interesting. During a pre-interview, we’d ask some questions and they’d tell us how they might perform a particular procedure. Then when we got in the operating suite and watched, they’d do something different. When you begin to pick up on that nuance that they didn’t talk about, it’s likely that you can get intellectual property around that. That’s how you develop your intellectual property and develop products and brands that get differentiated a...

TEI 091: How product managers can influence virtual teams – with Hassan Osman - The Everyday Innovator – Resources for Product Managers and Innovators  

This episode is about virtual teams. Many of us are part of virtual teams and we have felt the pain of virtual teams that don't work well. Virtual teams are becoming more common in organizations and especially product management and innovation where the product team is often scattered across multiple time zones.

I found someone who has worked with and learned from hundreds of virtual teams. He is currently the PMO manager at Cisco Systems, where he leads virtual teams all around the world.

He is also the author of two Amazon best-selling books. The first one is Influencing Virtual Teams: 17 Tactics That Get Things Done with Your Remote Employees. His most recent book is Don't Reply All: 18 Email Tactics That Help You Write Better Emails and Improve Communication with Your Team. His name is Hassan Osman.

In the interview we focus on:

the nature of virtual teams,
building trust, and
what you need to do to run an effective virtual team meeting.

Practices and Ideas for Product Managers and Innovators
Summary of questions discussed:

What are virtual teams? A virtual team is simply a team that is spread across either time or physical location, or both. It would have been a lot easier to recognize a virtual team 15-20 years ago, when email and internet was starting out. However, today, I could argue that every single team is a virtual team. Let me give you an example. I have a friend who is the CEO of a startup company in Cambridge. They have an office in Harvard Square. One room is a big open floor space where everyone is sitting facing the wall. I said to him, “It must be really cool if you need to ask one of your team members to do something for you. You just swivel in your chair and yell it out.” And he said, “Well actually, no.” He sends them an email. I found that a little bit intriguing and asked why. He shared that it is easier to track what information was exchanged than relying on the verbal interactions and that it avoided interruptions. Even though the team members sit next to each other, they are interacting as a virtual team.


What are some of the common issues encountered managing virtual teams? Simple issues for some virtual teams are dealing with different time zones and speaking accents. Another can be the lack of facial expressions and body language cues. Obviously when you’re dealing with either asynchronous communication, such as IM or email, you’re not getting that flavor of the nonverbal communication. That can result in miscommunication or misinterpretation of intent, which could create conflict. Using webcams, for example, can help. Another thing that really affects virtual teams is that lack of cohesion. We as human beings are very social in nature, and with virtual teams, you may be working alone much of the time. You don’t have the same level of interaction that you have with co-located physical teams.


What are your experiences building trust in virtual teams? Trust is a very nebulous concept. It’s not like an on-off switch where you either have trust or you don’t have trust. It’s more of a spectrum where there’s varying degrees of trust among the team and among managers and their direct employees. So it becomes this very tough thing to manage, right? Because it’s very tough to manage, it’s very hard to kind of nail down. How do you define it? Trust is equal to reliability plus likeability. Meaning, if you want to increase trust among your team, you either have to increase reliability, or increase likeability, or both. Reliability is the simple concept that judges if a person who has been given a job can actually do that job. Do they have the proper skill set to actually accomplish what they need to accomplish? But the other factor, the likeability factor, is something that a lot of managers and leaders overlook. It’s actually quite important from a psychological perspective. So,

TEI 090: Agile product portfolio management- with Brent Barton - The Everyday Innovator – Resources for Product Managers and Innovators  

We have explored the topic of product portfolio management in previous episodes, but not from an Agile perspective. That is the topic for this episode - Agile portfolio management.

Each week I talk with a savvy insider to help us understand an aspect of product management and innovation. This time my guest is one of the very first Certified Scrum Trainers, who has been implementing Scrum in organizations for more than a decade and has another decade of experience in software technology. He is also a Principle at SolutionsIQ, a firm that helps organizations adopt Agile practices.

In this episode, product managers and innovators will learn:

the difference between product portfolio management and Agile portfolio management,
how to create Agile portfolios,
how to navigate some of the common issues encountered with Agile portfolio management,
and the return on team an importance of keeping high-performing teams intact.

Practices and Ideas for Product Managers and Innovators
Summary of questions discussed:

What is Agile portfolio management? We need to start by defining business agility, which is leveraging iterative delivery capability and actively managing organization investments. Long term investments often get the focus but we need to be able to more quickly adjust short-term investments. As the business environment is changing more quickly, we need to be able to respond more quickly. We need to recognize that a few mistakes will be made along the way. We need to be able to adjust our shorter term commitments more quickly. That helps us think about Agile portfolio management, where we still have longer-term investments but also the need to adjust more quickly in the shorter term.


How do you apply an Agile mindset to portfolio management? Agile emphasizes small intact teams. Teams that stay together out-perform teams that are broken apart when a project ends and then rebuilt for another project. This is an important influence of Agile on portfolio management and how project resources are used. Also, technologists need to be involved in portfolio management decisions or you can expect bad decisions to be made. The implication of technology-related decisions need to be incorporated into portfolio decisions. Further, portfolios need to be smaller to move the decision making closer to those best equipped to be involved in the decisions. This suggests that a portfolio of portfolios is needed in organizations so we can move authority and accountability down into the organization.


How can an Agile portfolio be constructed? Start with considering the right size for a portfolio, which can lead organizations to realize they need a portfolio of portfolios. Portfolios are better managed if they are not too large. At the other extreme, not every organization needs a portfolio and portfolio management should be resisted until it is actually needed. An example would be an organization that only has one product. They should enjoy being able to focus on product management without adding complexities by incorporating portfolio management. A portfolio reflects a supply and demand balance and the supply-side constrains the portfolios, which is the capacity of knowledge workers. These employees cannot be easily exchanged and their availability provides the opportunities and constraints. Portfolios should be constructed around value streams. To determine the right size for portfolios and how Agile portfolios should be constructed, use these 5 simple rules (see related blog post below in the Useful Links section):

All work is forced ranked.
Operate on “good enough” data.
Near-term capacity is fixed.
Each unique value-based delivery capability has a portfolio
Each portfolio has one “intake system.”


How is an Agile portfolio managed? Begin by not breaking up teams.

TEI 089: Intelligent disobedience for product managers-with Bob McGannon - The Everyday Innovator – Resources for Product Managers and Innovators  

Are there times that product managers need to be disobedient - not do what they were asked to do? To explore the topic I spoke with Bob McGannon who has great experience with this through the lens of project management. As the purpose of a project is to develop a product or service, product managers and innovators have much they can learn from the field of project management.

Bob is vice-president of Mindavation, a company that focuses on helping businesses increase their capabilities in portfolio, program, and project management. Bob has set up project management programs on three continents. He has 25 years of IT, project management, and project analysis experience, 18 of those years with IBM.

In the discussion you'll learn:

the value of project management,
three key project management skills product managers must have,
what intelligent disobedience is, and
how product managers can exercise intelligent disobedience.

Practices and Ideas for Product Managers and Innovators
Summary of questions discussed:

Why is project management valuable? A project ultimately brings change to an organization. With change, different people have different perceptions of what the outcome should be. Also, there are several approaches to ultimately accomplish an outcome. The project manager works with the team to create a plan – a path – to achieve the desired outcomes in a commonly understood manner. As the project is executed, they’re keeping the stakeholders involved.


What are the important skills a project manager needs? First and foremost, you have to be a good and enthusiastic communicator. That includes being comfortable communicating to a junior team member as well as someone that is in the corner office, and everyone in between. Next is persistence, because you often have to do a number of things at the same time and you have to continue to promote the objectives of the project. Third is what I’ll characterize as a whole-mind. Project management has this left-brain, procedural, build a schedule, predecessor/successor logic to it. At at the same time, stakeholder management is critical, particularly of senior stakeholders in the organization. This is more than just communicating to them. It’s understanding what drives them, sometimes understanding when to ask them a question, when to listen, when to push an agenda. That is a significant art and a right-brained exercise. Consequently, project managers need to be whole-minded.


What advice would you give product managers that are new to project management? Product management and project management are more than just a difference in words. The interesting thing is that product management often looks like project management, and vice versa. So product management is the process of getting from an idea to an outcome. Project management is the same -- you start with an idea and you end up with an outcome. But, project management has some other components, such as the analysis of risk and working with different stakeholders. There’s a difference between the two, but there’s a lot of overlap.


What is intelligent disobedience? The phrase comes from the world of seeing-eye dogs. So picture this - you are in need of a seeing-eye dog. The dog is on a very rigid harness so it can more easily guide you, but it also allows you to command the dog. You may be walking down a street, stop because you need to do something and then you want to start up again. You let the dog know that you want to proceed forward. The dog, however, should not be obeying your commands all of the time, because you might be hit by a car or step into a hole, or run into an obstacle. It’s a characteristic that only 1/3 of the dogs that go through seeing-eye dog training possess. That characteristic is intelligent disobedience: knowing when to obey a command, and when to disobey a command.

TEI 088: Product management for preparing the next generation of innovation leaders- with Youth Digital - The Everyday Innovator – Resources for Product Managers and Innovators  

My son got to meet his heroes. Not sports players, astronauts, or Marvel comics characters. He met the people behind Youth Digital, his favorite source for online tech courses. We traveled to their headquarters in Chapel Hills, North Carolina. What they are all about is creating the next generation of creators, focused on kids ages 8 to 14. My son discovered their courses when he was 10 and he is devouring them as fast as he can, learning about Java programming, 3D graphics and animation, computer game design, and more - and frequently laughing in the process.

While at their office, we had the opportunity to talk with Justin Richards, the CEO and founder of Youth Digital, and Aaron Sharp, the head of Product Development.

The interview serves two purposes. We explore the product management aspects of the company and I expect product managers and innovators will find the topics useful. We also discuss another topic I love - preparing the next generation to be leaders in technology and innovation - which is something their products are all about. Most of us have kids in our lives, whether they be nephews and nieces, our own children, or other children we influence and because of this, I want you to know about the work Youth Digital is doing.
Practices and Ideas for Product Managers and Innovators
Summary of questions discussed:

Where did Youth Digital begin - with a business idea, a market focus, or a passion project?  Justin got a job after college teaching at-risk kids in downtown St. Louis how to make websites. He wanted to make websites when he was a kid and was happy to teach other students how to make them as well. He moved to North Carolina and started tutoring kids as a way to help pay for graduate school tuition. He was able to teach kids how to make apps and video games; the kind of stuff he wanted to learn. He met Aaron, who also helped with the teaching. Soon they many kids who wanted to learn. They would put their laptops and bags in the back of their cars, drive to a student’s house, put their laptops out on the kitchen table, and start teaching. In this way it all began as a passion for teaching kids about web design and other technologies. After about six months of teaching in homes and classrooms they decided to make their first online course. They hoped to get 250 students on their online course in the first year. They had that many after the first month. They knew they were onto something.

What was your first product and how was that chosen? The first online course was Game Design 1. It was the most popular topic in their after-school program. It was also the one they had been teaching the longest.

How do you describe your market and what are the primary segments? What they’ve done up to this point has been mass-market, 8-14 year olds. That’s because it’s caught on so quickly without time to focus on more specific segments. If they can get their products in front of a parent or kid and engage with them longer than three seconds, they gain a customer. This is something the parents are excited about because of the computer science of coding elements and the fun kids have of making something, such as a Minecraft mod. Lately they have been more focused on segmenting customers based on the outcomes they’re looking for the product to fulfill, using the jobs-to-be-done framework (review episode 057 to learn about the framework).

How do you decide the products to create - the topics for your courses? The main consideration is making sure that they’re teaching kids how to make something that they’re excited about making. For example, the Server Design course puts awesome technology in kids' hands that allows them to instantly update Minecraft. It’s just contagious excitement.

What actions have you taken to grow the sales of your courses? Early on they would to go to homeschool conferences. They’d talk with a lot of parents,

TEI 087: Metrics and successful product management – with Saeed Khan - The Everyday Innovator – Resources for Product Managers and Innovators  

I enjoyed a wonderful conversation with Saeed Khan. He started the On Product Management blog and has been a career product manager, working in Toronto, Canada and Silicon Valley. He is also a frequent speaker at product management events, including ProductCamps.

I saw a presentation Saeed did on the topic of successfully using product management metrics. I wanted to explore this topic with him along with what else it takes to be a good product manager, which is what we did in this discussion.

In the interview Saeed shares four categories of metrics and his 6-stage product model:

Build It,
Nail It,
Scale It,
Extend It,
Milk It, and
End It.

Practices and Ideas for Product Managers and Innovators
Summary of questions discussed:

What is a metric? Any type of measurement to gauge some kind of quantifiable component of performance. A sales metric could be revenue or a marketing metric could be leads. For product management there should be specific metrics as well.

Why do product managers need metrics? There are two words that make up product management – there’s product and there’s  management. The old management adage is you can’t manage what you can’t measure. So when we think about management, is it just an ad hoc sort of set of tasks or can we apply some discipline to it? Discipline and business focus help to make our work successful.

What is your model for product management?  I use 6 phases… Build It, Nail It, Scale It, Extend It, Milk It, End It. I’ll describe each in a moment.

How to approach metrics for your model? I look at four broad categories. The first one is business. There’s a bunch of things in your business strategy and business objectives you need to understand. It could be pricing, overall strategy, other things that are more business-focused. The next one is go-to-market plans. Even in the early stages, you need to think about go-to-market. There’s organizational readiness, which is an internal focus. You can measure how well across your company people are ready to do what needs to be done for their product. Lastly and certainly not least, is product. In each of those you could break them down into metrics. I use the term metrics and some people take it very literally like it’s some number you can measure on a scale, but I look at it more holistically. From a business perspective you can look at things like revenue or pipeline or win-loss analysis. You could look at deal size, you could look at pricing, etc. You could look at channel numbers. For go-to-market, it could be things like how good is your positioning? Is it ready? How are you looking against competition? Do you have some way to evaluate that? What’s going on with things like references if that’s what you’re interested in? Anything related to organizational readiness could simply be metrics within the company, is support ready, is sales ready, where are other groups needed in terms of readiness? And then lastly for product, it’s everything from strategy to roadmap to product quality to whatever.

Build It. You start by building. You’re not building in a vacuum, you’re building in the context of market need or customer needs. You’re not building in isolation. Metrics might include the number of customer interviews that we’ve done, with how many people, or the number of needs that we’ve captured.

Nail It. This is the stage after you’ve built it, you’ve got something, and you’re getting feedback. Nail It means you’ve got it really, really well done for a given use case or a given customer segment. Things like Net Promoter Score can be a helpful metric.

Scale It. This means you’re scaling your business as well as your product. So you might be really focusing on customer growth and obviously revenue growth, but if you do that, your business has to be ready for it. I’ve seen companies where they Scaled It before t...

TEI 086: Manufacturing serendipity, open innovation, and product management – with Kevin Stark, PhD - The Everyday Innovator – Resources for Product Managers and Innovators  

You’ve likely heard of the curse of knowledge or sometimes it is called the curse of the expert. It occurs when our knowledge leads us down predictable paths, likely not considering other possible solutions to problems but only those that are familiar to us. This is cognitive bias and is the topic I asked my guest about, which lead to discussing open innovation and how to manufacture serendipity. His name is Kevin Stark and he is the VP of Technology Solutions at NineSigma, a global innovation firm. They have helped Kraft, NFL, NASA, L’Oréal, Unilever, PepsiCo, Pfizer and other companies create an open innovation workplace, leading to breakthrough products.

As you will hear towards the end of the interview, many of these companies share their stories using open innovation on the NineSights website - a great resource for learning what they did. The link is below.

In this discussion, product managers can learn:

how to identify and avoid cognitive bias,
how to create an open innovation workplace,
problems to anticipate and avoid.

Practices and Ideas for Product Managers and Innovators
Summary of questions discussed:

What is cognitive bias? It’s how people filter and respond to information based on their experience and knowledge.  An example is deciding what the relevant solutions to a problem may be, using our experience, while ignoring other possible solutions. People working in siloed industries tend to get used to the same solutions.


What’s an example of cognitive bias in an innovation project? One way to avoid cognitive bias is to break down a problem into its fundamental elements. An example is Kraft food that was looking at a new way to open and reseal a package to keep snack foods fresh for days. What helped them consider different ways of approaching the problem than are normally considered in the food and beverage industry was pursuing items in nature that open and close. They explored biomimicry that led to packaging innovations and new patents. Kraft, a consulting firm, and a Michigan State University research department were involved in creating the innovations.


How can cognitive bias be mitigated? There are a few approaches we can explore…

Inside: better leveraging internal expertise and creating collaboration across existing silos.
Existing partnerships: leveraging existing relationships with partners, such as university research groups.
Outside: seeking new partnerships and other external sources of knowledge to involve expertise the organization does not have.


What is an open innovation workplace? A place to start is to give people permission to be receptive to open innovation – to consider what their core competencies are. Also, a need list should be created that helps to identify what the organizational goals are and what the gaps are in reaching them. Next is a talent scouting capability to identify internal and external expertise. Added to this is an IP strategy and guidelines for employees to know what can and can’t be talked about externally. A cross-functional team needs to lead the work.

How is an open innovation workplace created? Start with a clear and crisp need statement that reflects the organization’s objectives. This leads to identifying the expertise needed. Then the right talent with the expertise can be found. Knowledge management systems can be used to help identify internal expertise.  A needs list can be created monthly, and collaboration champions and others help to find the people who can meet the needs – people with the correct knowledge. Proctor & Gamble has done this with communities of practice.


When moving towards an open innovation workplace, what problems might be encountered? Resistance to change is always an issue. Some barriers are in place for a reason. Start by understanding the risk tolerance,

TEI 085: Managing product teams – with Todd Dewett, PhD - The Everyday Innovator – Resources for Product Managers and Innovators  

Product managers often work in diverse teams and need good team management skills to be successful. To explore managing teams, I invited a frequent keynote speaker and coach who companies invite to teach them about improving teams and their work. He is Dr. Todd Dewett, a best-selling author, popular trainer on, a TEDx speaker, and an Inc. Top 100 leadership speaker.  His latest book is Show Your Ink: Stories About Leadership and Life.  He is also a former award-winning professor who has since spoken to and advised hundreds of thousands of professionals around the world.  When you listen to the interview you will no doubt hear that he has huge enthusiasm for helping people.

In this discussion, product managers can learn:

the value of feedback,
leading when you have no actual authority,
conflict management, and
two actions for being a better team leader.

Practices and Ideas for Product Managers and Innovators
Summary of questions discussed:

Let’s start with a true story of team performance improvement. A short one I remember has the moral that everyone needs feedback. I was working with a product manager in a technical manufacturing organization in the areas of core culture and leadership training. The product manager told me, “I’m glad you’re here, but I have to tell you, my team is humming along. We know each other, we get along, we like each other. I’m not sure some of the observations and survey work that you’re doing are really going to provide much insight, but I’m going to comply and do this for you, Todd.” Later I showed the results of my assessment and I remember this fact: everyone needs feedback. Most who need it don’t realize it or appreciate it. The feedback from his team said they appreciate his competence and respect his accomplishments, but they felt he was cold and they were aghast that he never engaged them personally. On Monday, he never said, “Hey, how was the weekend?” On Friday, he never said, “Thank you. Have a great relaxing, rejuvenating weekend.” He was blown away by the significant power of these small interpersonal issues that he didn’t even know existed. He started to relate to all those people a little bit more personally. I’m not saying that he needs to be best friends, but a little more as a human, a little less as just a professional. And according to him, it completely changed the tone of most of those relationships, and I take great pride in trying to help people wake up a little to the human side of those interactions. That’s one that struck me immediately when you asked me the question. [To hear another example, listen to the interview with Todd.]


How can product managers improve the performance of the product team when they have no actual authority? My answer is that how a product manager becomes successful managing relationships isn’t in and of itself different than how a manager in accounts payable gets their team to be highly cohesive and productive. For example, reducing ambiguity, communicating clearly, giving goals, giving resources and support. All these basics of interpersonal relationships and management apply to any team. Here’s the one thing I see as actually different for the product manager: understanding social dynamics in the organization for where those people work and helping them understand how what you’re asking of them fits into their world, not just your world, becomes very, very important. So if you’re thinking back to my accounts payable manager, I tell them you’ve got to look at your people and care about developing them even more than developing yourself. Now, product manager? They’ve got to do the same thing for a person in a different unit, different geography, different division, different line of responsibility with different bosses, involved in politics and relationships that you only know a little bit about. What that requires is a thoughtful,

TEI 084: Product portfolio management – with Carrie Nauyalis  

Product portfolio management is concerned with selecting the right products to develop, making trade-off decisions, and generally maximizing the value of the product portfolio. It is an important activity in organizations that have more than one product, but it is also an activity that is difficult to learn about. I sought to find an expert who could discuss what is really involved. That expert is Carrie Nauyalis, the NPD Solution Evangelist for Planview. Carrie began her career at Planview implementing portfolio management solutions and training clients around the world. She has the experience and knowledge to know what is involved in product portfolio management. She is also well-versed on many other new product development topics and is an active blogger, public speaker, and guest lecturer.

In this interview, you will learn...

What portfolio management is,
the goals of portfolio management,
constructing and managing portfolios, and
common mistakes you can avoid.

Practices and Ideas for Product Managers and Innovators
Summary of questions discussed:

What is product portfolio management? It the discipline and framework for applying the two most precious organizational resources—your people and your money—to get the greatest value out of your investment. If you think about portfolio management like you do with your 401K, it’s the same concept, but you’re applying it to innovation. It’s about making tradeoff decisions and balance decisions to achieve your corporate or innovation strategies.

What are the goals of portfolio management? The primary goal is value maximization. Dr. Cooper and Dr. Edgett of Stage-Gate fame use that phrase -- value maximization.  We have don’t a ton of research and the biggest pain point is too much work for resources (people). That’s actually a portfolio management problem. You could be looking at one single project or product myopically and saying it is a good idea without the context of a larger or broader portfolio. So you’re missing that perspective of how that one idea fits in the greater good – the portfolio of projects. Some things to consider – do we already have multiple products in that space, will it cannibalize something else, are we hitting one market too hard and having a gap in another one? Many of these questions deal with the need to have balance in a portfolio, for example, reasonable percentages of resources on breakthrough projects vs customer satisfaction projects.

What are the ways to construct a portfolio? This is one of those questions where it depends. There’s no one right answer and it really does vary pretty widely. Automotive or pharma, which have really long cycle times, versus a CPG company that has extremely short cycle times, will have portfolios constructed differently. In most cases, the portfolio is a mix of things. And, you can have multiple portfolios with a project showing up in different ways so that different people in the organization can see it the way that they want and how they think about it. There are top-down portfolios with goals set by senior leadership. As an example, a goal may be to deliver existing products to a new market- to enter the new market and grow revenue by X percent. It’s a conscious decision at the executive level. On the flipside is the bottom-up approach. That might be a situation where product features are driving a particular product, and customer requests are driving features. There are also dozens of other portfolio types. You might have a portfolio by region, by brand, by product line, etc.

How are portfolios managed and controlled? It depends again on the business and the frequency, but a trend is establishing some kind of a project and portfolio management office. They call them Centers of Excellence. Having a place for the discipline, for the people, process, and tools to manage the discipline is a big benefit.

TEI 083: Trend-driven innovation for product managers – with Max Luthy  

Trends can be a product manager's best friend. They can propel products, increasing adoption by customers, or if misread, they may have costly consequences of wasted resources, too much inventory, and lost opportunities.

Product managers know about the importance of trends, but are often already overwhelmed and don’t make time to study trends. Are there ways to make trend identification easier? To find out and learn about identifying and using trends, I contacted Max Luthy.

He is the Director of Trends & Insights at TrendWatching, a company that scans the globe identifying emerging consumer trends and changes in trends. He is also the co-author of the book Trend-Driven Innovation.

In the interview, you will learn the steps to apply trend-driven innovation...

Execute, and

Practices and Ideas for Product Managers and Innovators
Summary of questions discussed:

Let's start with why trends are important - how do trends impact innovation and new product management? We all know things are constantly changing. As a result, what your customer expects from your products, from your services, from your marketing, from your customer service, from your logistics, from your supply chain -- all of the expectations around your brand and your product -- are changing constantly. Tracking trends is really about seeing these changes happen and evolving your strategy to stay ahead of them.

How is watching businesses important for learning about consumer trends and how do you do this?  This is a counterintuitive secret. It would be very easy to think  to understand the consumer, the best thing you can do is ask them. Instead, the reason we’re looking to businesses to better understand customers is because it is the innovations from businesses across industries and around the world that create new expectations and lead to the emergence of new trends. It is a less expensive and more effective means of identifying consumer trends.

What is the process for spotting trends? I’ll go through each, but the steps are Scan, Focus, Generate, Execute, and Culture.

What is Scan? Absorbing information through readily available sources such as newsletters. One recommendation is the Quartz Daily brief at Trends should be tracked in a logical manner and tools like Evernote can make this easy.

Next is Focus. This means to focus on what’s relevant for you. Assess the trends you spotted when scanning and determine how is it relevant for your company in terms of the maturity of the trend, the locality you’re in, and our industry.

Then on to Generate. You need to come up with new products, new services, new marketing, that tap into the emerging insights at the heart of the trend. If you’re just tracking the trends and you’re not acting on the insights, it’s a complete waste of time.

That takes us to Execute. This involves all the actions to get new products and services to the market. It is the culmination of your work acting on a trend and identifying a product or service to capitalize on your observations.

What do you mean by Culture? This is the bonus stage of trend-driven innovation. It means to keep doing these four steps to create innovative products and services, you have to build a culture that understands that change is happening, the rate of change is accelerating, and the need for everyone in the company to be watching out for change, looking out for emerging expectations, and responding within their own work.


Useful links:

Trend Driven Innovation book
The Consumer Trend Canvas
Never miss a trend – subscribe to trend newsletter

Innovation Quote
"Treat different people differently.” –Seth Godin


Listen Now to the Interview

Raw Transcript

TEI 082: Design Thinking and Action Learning for product managers – with Chuck Appleby, PhD  

Product management is about change - the change that creating new products involves. Along the way, product managers need to learn about customers and their needs, consider problems from different perspectives, and collaborate with others. A person with deep experience in doing these things and helping groups and organizations identify and push through barriers of innovation is Chuck Appleby. He is a leadership and organization development consultant with over 30 years of management, consulting, and coaching experience in government, industry, and non-profits.

In the interview we discuss two valuable tools for product managers and organizations wishing to solve problems for themselves and customers:

Action Learning, and
Design Thinking.

Practices and Ideas for Product Managers and Innovators
Summary of questions discussed:

Tell us about the work you were doing that created the need to study Design Thinking. For years and years I had been helping companies solve tough problems using Action Learning. This is a method developed at the Cavendish Physics Lab in Cambridge University by professor Reg Revans, who had gotten very concerned that the world was changing so fast that we would never achieve the kind of speed of innovation that was needed to keep up with change. Action Learning helps people think about problems from new perspectives that lead to better solutions. However, Action Learning is a bit analytical and didn’t have that creative spark that I was looking for. This led me to Design Thinking. Today I use a framework that leverages Action Learning and Design Thinking that is simply Discover, Design, Deploy, and Sustain.


What are the steps to applying Action Learning? There are  five steps, which are generally completed in one group session that is two to three hours long. The steps are:

First: The problem-owner describes the challenge or problem in 3-5 minutes.
Second: This is the framing step and is the most challenging of all the steps. The objective is to get people focused on the desired future state. Consider what is going on in today’s reality, what the external forces are, what underlying assumptions are being made, and what is the core challenge to address.
Third: Next is solutioning, which is a problem-solving step. With the problem now clearly understood, solutioning usually comes naturally.
Fourth: Then we commit to action based on the solution chosen.
Fifth: The final step is reflection on the entire process and assessing how the group did and what could be done better next time.


What is an example of applying Design Thinking? A recent example was with the Department of Human Services in Arlington and the Arlington County Public Library, specifically.  The central challenge, which is seen in all businesses, was not engaging with certain groups of customers. In the case of the library, they were not seeing teenagers, 30-somethings, or recent immigrants using the library. To consider the situation, we created three teams to interview those three cohorts (see link to video below that explores this). The groups didn’t ask about the library. In fact, the questions they developed had nothing to do with the library, except it focused on the library’s mission, which is a love of reading, access to information, and building community. So those were the questions that were asked. The insight that came out was, “We like to meet new people doing fun things.” So the library came up with a couple of great ideas, one of which, designed to reach 30-somethings,  was an annual ball to raise money for literacy. 30-somethings piled in and began to make a connection with the library.


What do you need to have to make Design Thinking successful? You need a driver, which is the person who works with the design teams and the prototyping and testing activities.

TEI 081: Innovation Wars & creating products customers want – with Scott Bales  

How can product managers help their organizations become more innovative? That is the topic of this discussion with the author of Innovation Wars: Driving Successful Corporate Innovation Programs.

The author is Scott Bale, a technology & innovation evangelist. Scott has been a serial entrepreneur, speaker at TEDx, and now runs Innovation Labs Asia, based in Singapore. In the interview, Scott shares a model for helping organizations be more innovative that consists of 4 C's:

Culture development
Capability, and

Practices and Ideas for Product Managers and Innovators
Summary of questions discussed:

Your book Innovation Wars is a guide book for product managers to help their organizations become more innovative. It addresses several tools for taking the guess work out of creating and launching successful products. Let's start by talking about how you get your customers to innovate for you. Can you tell us about that? Innovation is a very creative process. The reason to co-create with customers is to ensure you are building products that customers need and want. There are many examples of companies that have done this but that are not well-known for it, including Apple, Tesla, and Facebook. Also, look at the related problems or jobs customers need to solve. For example, when someone gets a mortgage, they likely will be moving and moving is painful. A bank that provided a mortgage that also helped you move would create a competitive advantage.

How can we start with co-creating? I use a framework inspired from the world of Design Thinking that I call the 4 C model: Context, Culture development, Capability, and Collaboration. Co-creating is part of Capability. Start with what facts you know about your customer. Then identify their aspirations and goals – the job they need done. Knowing that, identify the obstacle or challenge in achieving the goal. Uncover what they have already tried to solve the problem and what their existing behaviors are. These are the early adopters who want to solve the problem but have not found a satisfactory solution yet and represents a persona to find early adopters.

Can you take us through rest of the 4 C model? The first C is context – how do you structure yourself and create an environment for innovation. Next is Culture development, which is developing a culture of curiosity, experimentation, and the role of failure. Capability is the third C. This involves quantifying the value of an idea and the elements we discussed previously. Lean Startup practices can be used here. The final C is Collaboration – look for partners and others in the supply chain of a product to add value.

What else do we need to know? We need to apply Assumption Exploration. This is where hypotheses are created and tested to better understand the customer problem. You need to examine what you are assuming about the customer problem and solution. Focus first on the assumptions with the deepest impact and risk and design an experiment to test these assumptions. Steve Blank's work to test hypotheses is the basis of this exploration. Interviews with people representing the persona you created can be used to test hypotheses. If an assumption is wrong, refocus the persona or the problem to solve and test again. When conducting the assumption tests, look for patterns that invalidate or validate an assumption.


Useful links:

Innovation Wars, Scott’s newest book
Scott’s website
Scott’s LinkedIn Profile

Innovation Quote
“How will you know how to speak to your customers if you never speak to your customers.” –Will Evans


Listen Now to the Interview

Thank you for being an Everyday Innovator and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers.

TEI 080: Innovate like a startup – with Michael Docherty  

When established companies decide they need to be more innovative, they often talk in terms of acting more like a startup. But acting like a startup is much more challenging in reality, especially for larger organizations. Instead, established companies can partner with startups. Doing so is the topic of the book, Collective Disruption: How Corporations and Startups Can Co-Create Transformative New Businesses.  This interview is with the author of the book, Michael Docherty. He is a leading innovation expert and entrepreneur with a variety of broad-based experiences from senior-level corporate roles, start-ups, consulting and venture capital.

I expect you'll find value in the discussion if you have interests in innovation from either the startup perspective or the larger organization perspective.

In this interview you will learn what Collective Disruption is and the 4-stage framework for applying it:

Incubate, and

Practices and Ideas for Product Managers and Innovators
Summary of questions discussed:

Your book, Collective Disruption, is about transformative innovation. Let's start with a definition of transformative innovation. Innovation is bringing new value to market. Let’s call core innovation all those things you need to do to keep your current business healthy and growing at least at a moderate rate. Transformative innovation involves disruptive opportunities, those things that are new business models and whole new sources of growth.


How can startups help larger companies with transformative innovation? You first have to start with the question why do the large companies need help.  Consumers and customers expect more, there’s more competition and options, and product lifecycles are shrinking every year. One statistic talks about 75% of the current S&P 500 being off that list within the next 7 years. What we used to call permanent isn’t permanent anymore, and that’s why the old approach to innovation doesn’t work anymore – core innovation is not enough. Companies need to make transformative innovation a bigger part of their growth strategy. Here’s where startups come in. What makes established companies great are all of the systems and engines of growth they have around optimizing their brands and distribution and business models. But when it comes to starting something new, all of those things that help you optimize a big company, are the exact same things that get in your way in building new business models. That’s really why companies are looking to startups as a way to fuel growth.


What are the benefits to the startup that gets involved with a larger company? First is to have a built-in exit partner. Next is to have a partner that can help you reverse engineer your startup in a way that in the end gives you a better result [examples are in the interview]. Another is that, especially for early-stage startups, the VC market is a very different than it was 10 years ago. Strategic investments from corporates can be a great alternative to that.


You call this ability for startups to help larger companies with innovation "collective disruption". You define a 4 stage framework for applying collective disruption. How does this work? It starts with Discover. The Discover phase is really around leveraging startups and the innovation ecosystem generally, as a way to fuel your strategy.  Companies should be  saying, “Let’s look at, based on the areas where we want to play, who are the key players in those spaces, and what relationships can we build in order to bring new competencies to the table?” So you start to think about developing an innovation strategy that isn’t just about what you can do well, but also about what other companies that you have relationships with or are building relationships with, can bring to the table.


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