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The Right People in the Right Roles

Last week, a good friend came to town and we had a chance to connect for dinner and drinks. During the course of the evening, one topic we discussed was related to an article that he read that emphatically made the case that small (and some not so small) companies often look to a single leader for “Sales and Marketing.” The case that was made is that these are two very different roles, and thus, it is nearly impossible to find a single individual who could do both roles well.

This reminds me of the conundrum we frequently face in product management. Often, product managers are expected to wear multiple hats, in particular to play Product Owner for the Scrum team, to be the business owner or the true Product Management function, and to be the outbound marketing expert and wear the Product Marketing hat.

Yet, all three of these roles are distinct, and have different charters, and are best filled with different skill sets. Sure, you can find people who can do all three, but I will guarantee you that everybody has a preference, and will focus their efforts in that direction, downplaying the other 2/3 of the role.

In my experience, the primary overloading of the Product Manager is to make them also the Product Owner. This seems natural, and in the first few programs I worked on that did Agile development, it was natural to just step into that role.

But it was never a primary focus. Two days before the iteration end, I would dive into the backlog, look at the progress in Jira, prioritize, do my mini-estimates, and then build a plan of what to bring to the sprint planning. That worked. Ok. But it wasn’t optimal.

I put a lot of thought into that mini-grooming and prioritization, and I was (mostly) available to the scrum team when an issue or question popped up. But, as the product manager, I spent at least a week a month on the road, and that wasn’t good for the scrum team.

Likewise with the Product Marketing function. All that messaging, content creation, social media activity, meeting with analysts, event planning and execution, working with corporate communications, and handling launch/rollout activities. Far too many places expect their product manager to also handle the product marketing function.

The truth is, for a mature organization, you need all three functions, and three dedicated, suitable people to be in these roles. They need shared goals, and their objectives aligned, but if you are doing justice to the team, you need separate assets for all key roles.

Summary

Like Marketing and Sales, where you are cheating yourself by not staffing with two leaders, product management, product owner, and product marketing need three leaders, who can effectively work together to deliver on the strategy and the roadmap.

It is time to set the team up for success.


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Digital Transformation

“Have you heard the news? Digital Transformation is rocking the business world …”

During the extended holiday break, I am spending time ruminating on the topic, as it dovetails into a key thrust of a project I am working on, loosely “The Future of Work”.

Foundations – The Network

Thinking way back to the first “dot com” bubble, and the insanity, the process for starting a company was pretty uniform.

  • Come up with an idea or business model
  • Pitch that to a dumb person with too much money (ok, VC’s aren’t dumb, but in hindsight, they sure acted dumb)
  • Buy a bunch of servers/racks/networking gear. Mostly from Sun Microsystems, and Cisco Systems
  • Build a datacenter or colocate
  • Lease a buttload of bandwidth
  • Profit
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On Innovation

As I research the Innovation Process in preparation for a potential educational program around Innovation Management, there are several thoughts that are swirling in my head.

Being a long time technical marketer, I am familiar with many of the “Chasmista’s” methodologies (loosely, the body of thought inspired by Geoffrey Moore and his seminal work “Crossing the Chasm”), the concept of disruption, innovation, “tornado” markets are all well captured.

But I have also read practical marketing advice from Theodore Levin (in “The Marketing Imagination”) that innovation is often difficult, and that the leaders in innovation are frequently not the dominant force in the market, that often it is better to get the second bite at the apple (let someone else do that difficult work, and apply their learning to have cost, scale, or other advantages – The irony being that Apple often is seen as an innovator, but in reality, they are far better at that second bite.)

There are several works out in the web space on innovation, and the barriers, these are some of the more common themes.

  1. Innovation is often starved of resources. Either it is poorly funded, or under funded. It takes money and resources to drive innovation. This, in turn, requires commitment, and long term vision for the leaders of the organization, something not common to publicly traded companies.
  2. Risk aversion prevents progress. Innovation often requires a scary leap of faith, and if you apply your normal risk assessment that you do to the normal Run the Business (RTB) projects and programs, it often can lead to innovation being shelved. Sometimes this is buried in the change management realm.
  3. Silos or BU (Business Unit) centric thinking. Innovation rarely falls within a single silo or business unit and thus touches several aspects of the organization. But often the metrics and measures expected from your business units (or silos) are tied to short term, “make the numbers” goals. And often large companies have a culture that “not making numbers will be punished”. Naturally, this can prevent a business leader from contributing sufficiently for success
  4. Time commitments or resource availability. All too often there aren’t enough people time to properly staff a program of innovation. People are either too busy, or there just aren’t enough headcount to effectively execute. Proper pursuit of innovation requires an investment of more than just capital to be successful, but also a commitment of human capital (with the right skills) to deliver.

Increasingly though, the commitment to innovation is being raised in medium and large organizations (for startups, the name of the game is all about innovation and disruption), and the formal creation of roles around Innovation and Innovation management. It is telling looking at what is being sought in these job requisitions. Some of the common “asks” are:

  • Strong project management skill, some demonstrated experience delivering large projects and managing cross functional teams to achieve targets.
  • Business and financial acumen. The role is like a mini-General Manager. While it isn’t a formal P&L, or business unit, leadership recognizes that innovation programs take both funding and business planning.
  • Experience leading by influence. Gaining and building trust relationships up and down the organization, and across groups. Attracting skilled, motivated talent when needed and to guide them into delivering on goals.
  • Ability to work in ambiguous situations, and thrive in poorly scoped roles.
  • Outstanding communication skills, both verbal and written, as well as the ability to connect with all levels within the organization
  • Strong sense of creativity and problem solving.

There are many other attributes, but in short, a strong technical project manager with some product management or strategic marketing skills would make a good starting point for an Innovation Manager. Now to define how to “make” an IM from scratch.


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(c) Can Stock Photo / kbuntu

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The Future of Work

Datestamp: 11/8/2016

As I write this, the US elections are underway, and one thing that stands out is that the concept of “work” in this country, as well as in the world is changing drastically. Beyond the rhetoric around manufacturing vs. outsourcing, clearly the concept of work and workplace are in flux.

The world of my parents, really pre-baby-boomers (I guess that makes them part of “The Greatest Generation”), was simple. You got your high school diploma, and walked to the local factory|steel mill|Textile Plant|etc. and you got a good job. This was post WWII so there was ample work, strong union participation, and the ability to earn enough to buy a house, take a vacation with the family every year, put a car in the driveway, and tuck enough away for your children to go to college.

Or you went to university (like my father did,) get a degree in Physics or some hard science, and have an even better career at one of the rising defense contractors.

A job where you can put decades in and earn a solid retirement with it. There was a sense of security, and comfort. There was a definite progression, a ladder if you will, that if you were so motivated you could progress from an assembly line worker, to a shift lead, to a floor manager, and even, with some luck, grasp the lower rungs of the management ladder.

In short, you had a career, and it might have been at a single company or enterprise. This was largely possible because in the post war economy, only the USA had remained largely untouched, able to scale and grow into the supplier of the world. We ran huge (truly massive) trade surpluses, as our goods propagated throughout the world, to help rebuild Europe and Asia, bolster our allies, and get the world back on track. Of course it wasn’t all hunky-dory, we began the cold war, the arms race, the rapid growth of military and defense spending that to some degree fueled our adventures in Korea and Vietnam.

But that has changed. At first it was small changes. Pensions began to give way to self directed retirement accounts, unions that were already becoming quite corrupt were being broken, and that compact, that you would have a job at a company for your entire career was in jeopardy. By the time I graduated college in 1988, this had accelerated. The fall of the Soviet Union, and the Berlin wall was the beginning of the end of the unfettered defense spending, and me with my freshly minted Physics degree was finding that many of the usual jobs at the Government Labs were closed, that the major defense contractors were merging, and restructuring.

Work was changing even then. Less certainty, more chaotic, in summary, it was becoming more fluid. Of course, the rise of computers, and Information Technology was driving exciting new opportunities, reinvigorating the organizations, and enhancing productivity across the board. This picked up much of the strength that was being drained from the traditional large enterprises. Email, Networks, ERP systems, CRM systems, Web based commerce, and a flood of related technologies both allowed exiting organizations to reinvent themselves, and drove a new playing field of disruptive, nimble players to enter.

Here we are, 2016 is closing out, and clearly the change is accelerating. Regardless of what the politicians running for President say, the world of the 1950’s and 1960’s, where large manufacturing operations will have ample jobs for high school graduates, offering salaries that can provide a solid middle class life are gone. If it requires manual labor to assemble, it will be assembled elsewhere, and if it can be fully automated, it will be built in plants staffed with robots.

This gets me to my point, in this long rambling post. To compete today, we really need to change the model. The old model was linear. You had your education, that lasted until you were ready for your career, then you got a job, and you worked, and then you retired. It was very serial in its nature, with distinct phases, and it was assumed that if your time in your career required education, it was provided, and you were encouraged to take it.

But today, it is different. You can think of it in parallel, Once you have gotten through your secondary school, and your university (increasingly demanded, even for entry level jobs), you are expected to continue to pursue your education, on your own time. You take control of your career, and its direction. Job roles have become more fluid/less defined, and success means that you are constantly adapting, evolving, and improving yourself.

Additionally, it is common to change jobs much more frequently than before. The expectation, by both the employee and the employer is that the compact is much less solid than it once was. The fall of unions, and their built in protections, seniority system, and contractually defined salaries/raises have drastically changed the world. For the better or not, is not for me to decide, but preparing the workforce of the future requires a different paradigm.

Some observations:

  • Job roles are less well defined. Both the scope, and the titles are less structured. Successful employees need to be able to navigate and adjust their expectations
  • Organizations are less hierarchical. The expectation is increasing that throughout the organization, there is more empowerment, and responsibility that can be entrusted to the individuals.
  • The “Gig” economy is increasing. What started as a race to the bottom (competing with eastern European contractors is difficult for US based contractors) is becoming a solid portion of the workforce. This contingency workforce provides flexibility to both companies who hire the contractors, as well as the contractors, who are empowered to work when and how much they want (note: There needs to be some attention to the rate scales of this. Unfortunately, I suspect some regulation will be required to ensure that this doesn’t just drive the contractors into poverty level earnings)

The future? Working to help drive this transition. The convergence of technology to make it all work, to help educate the workforce, giving them options that just a few years ago seemed fantastic. Make it all a reality.


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Feature Request – Reply All

(Dream sequence: Sometimes, lying awake with some passing insomnia, I muse about one of my major pet peeves: over use of the “Reply All” button on Microsoft’s “Outlook”. I dream of submitting a feature request …)

Brief Description: As unfettered access to the “Reply All” option in Microsoft Outlook encourages people to over use this feature (i.e. replying to all recipients even when, or especially when, it is not appropriate), and that the concept of the BCC: (blind carbon copy) is too complex to be implemented (and hence why it is hidden by default on the create an email form), there needs to be a limiting factor that prevents over-use of Reply All.

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Customer Success – an important role

Digital Transformation, it’s all the rage, and doing a simple Google search yields a plethora of hits, from training to consultants, to the big market research companies, all weighing in. This wave of disruption continues to grow, and brings with it myriad opportunities to completely change the business.

In a nutshell, in the late ‘oughts, with the introduction of the Apple iPhone, the convergence of ubiquitous network connectivity, and the rise of the “*cloud*,” the stage was set for yet another transformation of business. Suddenly, the paradigm of where you work, and what tasks you perform were being disrupted. From the simple: an app on your smartphone to approve purchase requisitions, to the complex: integration of the CRM, the Marketing systems, and the ERP system to provide deep insight into the function and flow of business, and much more were realized every day.

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The Importance of the Product Owner Role

A recent gig has me investigating the topic of Business Transformation, or as is also referred to as the Digital Transformation of the Business. If you do even a cursory Google search on it, you will discover reams of information about it.

In a nutshell, it is how the pervasive confluence of cloud computing, big data and analytics, the rise of software, and rapid development are all coming together to greatly disrupt the organization. Pick up any of the big analysts reports, Forrester, Gartner, and even some publications by the largest consultancies (EY, McKinsey, and others) and it is impossible to miss out on this trend.