You’re an Entrepreneur. Or you’re a Product Manager charged with launching a new product. But how can you know if your new product or service idea is a good one? How can you minimise the risk of an expensive flop? The answer is to build a Minimum Viable Product – an MVP.
Like some of the best of our Big Ideas, a Minimum Viable Product is exactly what its name suggests. It is the minimum product you could create that is viable in terms of serving its primary purpose. So, let’s put some detail on that minimum viable explanation.
It is a cliché to assert that technology is ubiquitous in the workplace. Yesterday’s innovations will eventually become today’s commonplace tools. So, we all live with and easily manage technology our great grandparents would have found strange and maybe alarming. But some of us are comfortable with the very latest creations – those that will only be deeply familiar to the coming generations. And we might describe these people as having a high TQ: a high Technology Quotient.
The Big Idea, ‘Technology Quotient’ takes its inspiration from IQ, Intelligence Quotient. But what does it measure and is it a useful concept?
Movie stars, celebrities, and sportspeople have managers to take care of their business affairs. So, why shouldn’t a superstar product? And if every product can aim to be a superstar, then they will all need their own Product Manager.
And that’s what we’ll look at in this article; the role of a Product Manager:
Why we need them
What they do
The breadth of their role
So, let’s dive into the world of Product Management.
Voice of the Customer, or VOC, is a process for systematically listening to the perceptions, needs, wishes, expectations, and fears of your customer or end-user. We do it to ensure that the new products, processes or services we are developing will truly reflect what they want and need.
This means we’ll be able to expect people will want what we produce, and so buy and use it.
When you listen to the Voice of the Customer, you learn what the market demands are, and can develop new products to meet them.
The Cone of Uncertainty is a concept from the world of Project Management. But, as an idea, it is so compellingly simple and so widely applicable, that it deserves a place of its own in our Big Ideas series.
So, in this article, we’ll take a look at what the cone of uncertainty is, and how it makes a helpful mental model in many contexts.
We take it for granted when new products appear on the market. Perhaps they were made by elves! Well, they must have been made by someone, who followed a process. And that process was the New Product Development, or NPD, process.
The New Product Development process is now mature and well understood. There are many ways to articulate it, and none is that different from what mediaeval craftsmen would have used. But it’s still a big idea. And it’s an idea every manager should at least be familiar with.
Sometimes a Big Idea gets inflated beyond its carrying capacity. People latch onto it without fully understanding it. It becomes over-used and, despite its validity, it becomes devalued. Such is the fate of Thomas Kuhn’s idea of the Paradigm Shift.
How many times in your life have you noticed that, somehow, there has been a substantial change in the way you – and others around you – think about something important? It seems to happen more and more often. Is this a real effect or what getting older feels like?
Or is it just because we have a label for these changes? We call them paradigm shifts. In the 1980s we might have called them quantum leaps, with even less justification. No, they are just changes.
So, what then is a paradigm shift, and how do they come about?
Some big ideas have become commonplace, and everyone understands them. Others have become commonplace terms, which we often misuse. Lateral Thinking is one example of the latter. Yet it’s had a big impact over the last fifty years and will, I suspect, continue to do so over the next fifty.
Lateral Thinking is the brainchild of Maltese thinker and educator, Edward de Bono. It first appeared in his short 1967 book, ‘The Use of Lateral Thinking’. And it’s currently still in print, as ‘Lateral Thinking: An Introduction’(US|UK). But since then, he’s written a whole library on this and related topics.
These two strikingly simple and obvious questions have been answered rather well, by two British management thinkers, Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones.
Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones
Rob Goffee is Professor of Organisational Behaviour at the London Business School and is a long term academic. Gareth Jones, on the other hand, has alternated between academic and corporate roles, teaching at LBS too, and also the University of East Anglia, Henley, INSEAD, and currently, IE Business School, in Madrid. But he has also held senior HR roles at Polygram and the BBC.
Their first collaboration was a relatively unremarked book, called The Character of a Corporation. But it introduced ideas that they were to return to in their second, breakthrough book, and then again in their recent fourth book.
Their second book was called Why Should Anyone be Led by You? It introduced a mass business audience to the concept of Authentic Leadership. This was emphatically not their creation, tracking back to classical Greek thinking, and the Delphic injunction to first know yourself.
But their articulation struck a chord. It came at the right time and was delivered compellingly. Goffee and Jones argued that companies are led in far too much of a technocratic way, by people acting as managers and bureaucrats. They lack sufficient human connection with their people, and self awareness about their shortcomings.
Real leaders, they argued, are confident in who they are and what they stand for. They are not afraid to put that on show and constantly act with integrity in the way that they live the values they espouse. They are able to communicate well, and remain true to themselves, whilst still coping with and adapting to rapidly changing events. Consequently, they can inspire people to extraordinary levels of commitment.
Leading Clever People
The next book Goffee and Jones wrote addressed the challenges of leading an organisation or team made of smart, creative people. This is a typical challenge for many of today’s start-up businesses. It is also important for established businesses that want to bring together innovation teams, and for professional service businesses that want to create a great culture. The book is called Clever: Leading Your Smartest, Most Creative People.
A summary of the do’s and don’ts might look like this:
Explain and persuade
Give people space and resources
Tell them what
Give people time
Provide boundaries (simple rules)
Protect them from the rain
Give real world challenges with constraints
Create a galaxy
Conduct and connect
Tell people what to do
Allow them to burn out
Tell them how
Give frequent feedback
Expose them to politics
Use bullsh*t or deceive
Build an ivory tower
Recruit a star
Take the credit as a leader
Creating an Authentic Organisation
Goffee and Jones’ latest book is Why Should Anyone Work Here? It applies many of their earlier ideas to making a great organisation. At its heart is a simple mnemonic that spells out the six ingredients they argue are needed for a ‘dynamic and future-fit’ workplace: DREAMS.
Diversity increases creativity, which decreases with uniformity. Don’t do diversity because legislation compels you to. Do it because it has a positive impact on the bottom line: more creativity, better decisions, happier workforce.
(I know – a bit of a fix)
The more open and transparent you are, the happier people will feel. And if being open is likely to expose unfairness that will anger people, radical honesty will compel you to fix the problem, rather than hide it beneath dissembling..
“You need to tell someone the truth before someone else does,” said Jones. “Think of BP’s failure to control information after the [Deepwater Horizon] oil spill. Reputational capital is much more important and much more fragile than we ever thought.”
(This acronym-building is tough!)
This is not just about improving the business; it’s about adding value to the people within your business… as a means of improving your business.
There it is… Their earlier work popularised the concept, so its front and centre here too.
But, reflecting on how the ideas have settled in over the years, Goffee and Jones note that in the US, authenticity is too often read as ‘be yourself… find your true north.’ But their view is that an effective leader needs to be ‘yourself more skilfully.’
This is about ensuring everyone in the business understands the real purpose behind the tasks they do.
(one last shoe-horn!)
Businesses need systems. But this too easily leads to over-bureaucratisation. Rules need to work for the business and enable staff to do what’s right, not just prevent every single possibility of doing wrong.
Exploit an existing market and beat your competition
– or –
Find a whole new market where there is no competition
These two approaches have been championed by some of the greatest management thinkers and corporate leaders. W Chan Kim & Renée Mauborgne gave these strategies compelling names, and championed the latter in in a phenomenally high-selling book. They called it the Blue Ocean Strategy.
W Chan Kim
W Chan Kim was born in Korea, in 1952. After studying at the University of Michigan’s Ross Business School, he joined the faculty, becoming a professor. In 1992, he moved to the prestigious European Business School, INSEAD, in France, where he is The Boston Consulting Group Bruce D. Henderson Chair Professor of Strategy and International Management and Co-Director of the INSEAD Blue Ocean Strategy Institute.
Like Kim, Renée Mauborgne studied and taught at the University of Michigan Ross Business School. They moved together to INSEAD. Mauborgne is an American, born in 1963 (AVGY). The two have been long term collaborators, and their primary work together has been the research and writing about corporate strategy, which led to the concept and book, called Blue Ocean Strategy.
Blue Ocean Strategy
The 2004 HBR article, Blue Ocean Strategy, and the 2005 book of the same name are both best-sellers. The book’s sales are approaching 4 million. So clearly, if you’re a manager with any interest in business strategy, you need to know about this idea.
The concept is disarmingly simple.
A Blue Ocean Strategy sees a business finding a new market that is unexploited, and creating a market space for itself. Kim and Mauborgne’s metaphor is that Oceans represent market spaces.
They contrast new market spaces (blue oceans) with existing markets (red oceans). Companies that adopt a red ocean strategy focus on beating their competition and for this, an understanding of strategic concepts like Porter’s Five Forces will help.
The critique that Kim and Mauborgne level at red ocean strategies is that they often operate in crowded (or overcrowded) markets, offer limited opportunities for growth, and require lower profit margins. The bottom line impact of a red ocean strategy is, at best, conservative.
Instead of this ‘market-competing’ approach, they advocate a ‘market-creating’strategy, which places an emphasis on ‘value innovation’. This strategy should see customer value increasing, while costs drop, because (in Porter’s terms) you are targeting differentiation, rather than cost leadership. Differentiate yourself, they say, by finding new demand that competitors cannot yet address, and meet it.
As you’d expect from two leading academics, Kim and Mauborgne have created a Blue Ocean Strategy Institute, which they co-direct, and built a suite of analytical tools for companies to draw down on.
Critique of the Blue Ocean Strategy
The first critique could equally be seen as an endorsement. Their idea is not new. Numerous business strategy thinkers have developed and published similar ideas, like Gary Hamel, C K Prahalad, Kenichi Ohmae, and even the venerable Igor Ansoff.
The second critique is harder for Kim and Mauborgne to shake. There is little or no empirical evidence that their strategy works, in the sense of creating lasting competitive advantage through its deliberate application.
Without a doubt, businesses have innovated throughout history, creating new markets from nowhere. And many of them have gone on to maintain dominant positions for many years. You cannot argue with the thesis that finding a Blue Ocean and quickly becoming the top predator there works. Their book is full of modern case studies.
But, who has read the book, decided to launch a blue ocean strategy, applied the tools, found some blue ocean, and created a dominant position?
The counter to this argument is: ‘it’s only been a few years’. But as time goes on, we are waiting for the evidence.
So, what is Blue Ocean Strategy?
Is it an innovative management theory that contains a deep new insight backed by rigorous research?
Or is it a brilliantly packaged re-casting of familiar and self-evident ideas, illustrated by a number of compelling case studies?
I leave you to judge.