Getting Products out from under the MIDDLE of the Bell Curve and Exceeding Expectations (SVPMA)

Given the key role Product Managers play in creating the environment for their teams… what must they do to avoid the bell curve of mediocre products that unfortunately are the norm? I shared my perspective as the guest speaker at the SVPMA (Sept 3, 2014) based on my own experiences and other authors/speakers that I trust.

Presenting @ SVPMA

I discussed specific ways to set clear goals and establish the right metrics. Dipping into my eBay days, I shared a little known story of the importance of asking for forgiveness rather than permission in driving innovation that resulted in the launch of the eBay iPhone app.

Some other takeaways from this talk include:

  • How to focus on the right, few, customer adoption metrics (e.g. AAARR). More is often not better and can distract from the main goal
  • How defining your product’s purpose often improves working relationships with designers and engineers so you aren’t left arguing about the “what” or the “how
  • How to avoid getting in the executive micromanagement web especially if they are distracted by the “flavor of the month” or “pet feature” ideas
  • How to drive stealth projects or go through quick business case or product prototyping within a big company.

I was pleased to host the event at Comcast Silicon Valley where I work.

A full review of the talk posted on the SVPMA website.

A new lens on Myers-Briggs

FIRO-BAs part of my leadership course at UC Berkeley I recently took a hybrid self-assessment, facilitated by CPP, which combines the power of Myers-Briggs’ MBTI with a less well known assessment called FIRO-B.

First introduced by William Schutz in 1958, the Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation (FIRO), analyzes the dimensions of Inclusion, Control and Affection. It also probes on behaviors you tend to express as well as those that you wish others to demonstrate. Recently repositioned by CPP this tool is now rising in popularity.

The assessment and analysis uses the three FIRO dimensions to further color the factors used in the MBTI. The tool really helped me better understand my leadership style. It outlines areas of strengths as well as potential challenges I may face. Finally it provided a detailed action plan that I could utilize in developing my career plan.

Whether you are trying to better understand yourself or are looking for a tool to use in developing a career plan for someone you manage, this assessment is worth a look.

Take Assessment [Cost = $120 for 3 reports Leadership, MBTI, and FIRO-B]

Active Inertia in Business

In the article Why Good Companies Go Bad, Donald Sull outlines why major change in large organizations is so difficult. Ironically in most cases the very elements that enabled the business to initially scale and succeed turn into what holds the company back. Sull refers to these forces as “Active Inertia”.

What holds back change (Active Inertia):

  1. Strategic Frames – Assumptions that shape how the org views the business
  2. Processes – How the organization gets things done
  3. Relationships – Ties to customers, employees, suppliers, etc.
  4. Values – Beliefs held by most in the organization

Examples of companies slow to change:

  • Microsoft’s adoption of the Internet – The many established product lines (esp. MS Office) did not understand how the Internet would affect their businesses. Once they did they have been slow to accept the inevitable changes to their underlying business model. Finally the multi-year release cycle employed at MS prevented them from initially responding to the ever changing Internet release cycle.
  • Palm’s acceptance of color screens & keyboards – The initial success of the original Palm Pilot (with it’s utterly simple b/w screen and Graffiti handwriting recognition) led Jeff Hawkin’s to ignore for years the benefits of color or the popularity of the Blackberry thumb-keyboard. While these were eventually implemented it was at the cost of much of their initial market share.

How to overcome Active Inertia:

  1. Increase urgency
  2. Build the guiding team
  3. Get the vision right
  4. Communicate for buy-in
  5. Empower action
  6. Create short-term wins
  7. Don’t let up
  8. Make change stick

    Excerpt from: Get Off the Dime! by John Kotter

As someone currently driving an initiative that breaks with the tried and true way of doing things, these articles really resonate with me. By employing some of Kotter’s approaches along with my own Emotional Intelligence I hope to turn out a success. I’ll let you know how it goes…

What to know more?

Emotional Intelligence (EQ)

In reading What Makes a Leader? (Goleman) I learned that while technical skills and IQ are important for senior managers to succeed it is emotional intelligence that is actually the most critical. As a long-time believer in soft skills I did not have any difficulty believing this assertion.

Emotional Intelligence’s Five Components:

  1. Self-Awareness: The ability to identify and name one’s emotional states and to understand the link between emotions, thought and action.
  2. Self-Regulation: The capacity to manage one’s emotional states — to control emotionsor to shift undesirable emotional states to more adequate ones.
  3. Motivation: The ability to enter into emotional states (at will) associated with a drive to achieve and be successful.
  4. Empathy: The capacity to read, be sensitive to, and influence other people’s emotions.
  5. Social Skill: The ability to enter and sustain satisfactory interpersonal relationships.
    Above as defined by Daniel Goleman & Peter Salovey.

Personal Reflection

In thinking of some of the most effective leaders that I’ve worked with over the years, I definitely see that they have shown strengths in emotional intelligence. And conversely as I think of hot-head or sell-absorbed leaders who were less effective—they obviously would score low on this assessment. Fortunately for all aspiring leaders most of the leading thinkers on this topic believe that while some EI is innate, much can be improved or learned with time.

For example, I am not always a great listener which hurts my ability to emphasize. Thru conscious effort I hope to improve in this area. If you know me personally, let me know how I’m doing. 🙂

Want to know more?

Evidence-Based Management

I recently read the article Evidence-Based Management (HBR Jan 06) which outlines an emerging movement which applies the scientific approach long used in medicine to the practice of management.

A number of factors inhibit managers’ ability to make good decisions including:

  • specialty bias (e.g. marketers tend to recommend marketing as a solution)
  • hype (e.g. managers taken by the latest pop management theory)
  • dogma (e.g. managers who know that people really only click on items “above the fold”)
  • casual benchmarking (e.g. Shuttle by United’s attempt to copy Southwest)

Evidence-based management aims to avoid these pitfalls by:

  • Investing in Analytics – In order to make sound decisions you must have the sound underlying evidence upon which to do so. This often means a large investment in metrics and analytics.
  • Asking Questions – Recognize gaps in logic and misuse of inference. Often the positive effect touted is unrelated to the claimed cause. Demand that proposals be backed by sound data.
  • Performing A/B Testing – Rather than make an uneducated decision, create a test for your hypothesis. eBay and other internet companies have been doing this for years and it is amazing all that you can learn from it.
  • Showing Humility – By admitting what you don’t know you’ve taken the first step toward learning something. Celebrate mistakes and a means to learning about your business.

Having worked at companies that employ this management theory I think we must pay close attention to each decision made. A poor decision can be made under the guise of what looks like evidence-based management but is in fact not (see pitfalls above).

Want to know more?

Mayfield on the “End of Process”

Ross Mayfield posted a facinating article on how successful decentralization will only come thru less process and more openness. No amount of process in a large company is going to enable the rapid information sharing that is needed in a large organization. Only tools like wikis ang blogs enable that kind of communication.

Speaking from experience, I think he’s hit this one right on the head. I faced many of the same issues in my division of just 100 people and found that a simple wiki helped foster communication. As leaders in our organizations I think we all need to champion open communication as it is the best way to make good decisions and encourage collaboration.

Learning about Bain & Company…

This morning I’m preparing for my marketing class on Saturday and decided I’d look into eBay’s new Marketplace president, John Donahoe’s background. So I started with Bain & Company where he was their Worldwide Managing Director. Here are some articles that jumped out at me…

  • The decision driven organization (Paul Rogers, Bain & Company)
    Several points jumped out at me. The need for clear decision makers, well defined roles, aligned goals and structure. This gives me some insight as to what John Donahoe has in mind for eBay. This diagram shows the 5 steps needed:
    Decision Steps

  • The Last Legacy of the Dotcom Era (John Donahoe et al, Bain & Company)
    Discusses how to properly fund ventures within the corporation. How to decide what adjacent markets and opportunities into which you should move.

  • Putting your leaders where it counts (Bain & Company)
    This is an exciting way to reward and leverage your organization’s leaders. It discusses how executives want to develop their leaders and yet they don’t spend enough time. Bain argues that putting your leaders to good use and developing them is a critical task.

In summary Bain & Company looks like an exciting and interesting place to work.