Failing consciously – Product Managers, make failure your ally to be successful

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Failure. A word that refers to the act of failing or proving unsuccessful.

There have been multiple instances when we decide not to do something because we not sure of being successful. Similarly we sometimes undermined our own efforts to avoid the possibility of a much larger failure.

No one likes to be called a failure, however; what would happen if you knew that you were working to fail or that your work is intended to failing you personally but making someone or something else successful?

Let’s take the example of Toyota Prius. When Toyota decided to work on the concept of a hybrid car, they created 9 teams to work on different engine ideas. So, there were engineers that were trying to create the best hybrid technology possible but they also knew that the probability of creating a successful concept that will potentially revolutionize the automotive industry was very small since there were other 8 teams working on the same idea. ToyotaHybrid2.jpgToyota did not form committees that made decisions on which engine idea to embrace but they tried all ideas in multiple scenarios, kept refining the ideas and finally got to one that proved to be the best. It turns out that in a approach like this, the final design turns out to be a collection of smaller ideas from all teams that come together to create innovative products. For Toyota, Prius became synonymous of hybrid just like Kleenex became synonymous of tissues.

Failures are the biggest allies for Product Managers. The value that Product Managers expect to achieve is based on limited analysis and certainty and huge amount of ideation, adaptation to market and most importantly failing and using the failure to learn and build something better. However; when it comes to failures, what differentiates great Product Managers from the good ones is their mindset of failing consciously and intentionally. Here is why:

Plan for failure – Thought leaders cannot stop emphasizing on the fact that failure is opportunity to learn, improve and be successful. As much as this way of thinking is important to keep the positive energy flowing,  there is a huge difference between failing consciously and failure due to unaccounted or unexpected reasons.

business-plan1-600x353While watching  Olympics a few days ago, I noticed the french sprinter Wilhem Belgian  getting disqualified from the 400 meters race and the Olympics due to a false start. While preparing for an event as big as the olympics, an athlete like Wilhem would have laid down a strategy to get to the finals, he had to end his run at the Olympics for the most unexpected reason possible. He was completely devastated when the failure was caused due to a mistake he never imagined would occur and would have been better of completing the race and loosing to better sprinters.

I am sure Wilhem was not 100% sure of winning a medal but he surely wasn’t expecting to loose the way he did.

Pro tip: If you were conscious of failure, you were sure of success.

Build entrepreneurial character – When talking about entrepreneurial characteristics,  tenacity, perseverance, and resilience are the key attributes to success. However, these attributes are not as common. Elon Musk back in 2013 said that the human brain cannot cope with business failure. But at the same time, a human brain responds differently to failures that were completely unexpected versus failures that were expected and were part of the plan to become successful.

entrepreneurAn entrepreneurial character does not try to conceive a idea that had a 100% chance of being successful. Most successful entrepreneurs started with an idea, knowing what could get in their way in becoming successful but having a strategy to deal with expected failures and leveraging the small wins along the way to make a lasting impact.

Pro tip: Do your best to plan ahead for success but be aware of the failures that may happen along the way to affirm your assessment and awareness of what could fail and what will work.

Encourage creativity and innovation – The reason for success behind most successful products and services companies like the Apple products, Google or Airbnb has been the unique opportunity to ideate, innovate and be creative. Talking about Google, its most successful innovations came by way of the 20% time given to its employees (as much as people question the existence of this policy at Google now) where they could innovate on new ideas and opportunities. What was even more important was how Google employees were measured when it came to tracking success. In this case, the engineers building the product were their own product managers.

The biggest impact of this approach was the freedom to try new ideas, innovate and  feeling safe to fail. This basically meant that they were in total control of the “why”, the “what’ and the “how” of the product. This kind of environment allowed them to keep away from the pressure of making everything successful right from the word go but also consciously make decisions that might prove wrong in working towards the final right outcome.

Pro tip: Many minds can create many ideas and then come together to produce the awesome.

Conclusion: Leveraging failure consciously in making the right decision is a critical mindset shift for product management. An urge to get things right the first time can significantly constraint human behavior in a way that can lead to a negative impact if things were to go wrong. So next time you site down to ideate, be conscious of your failure as much as your success.

 

 

Opinions as impediments. How to have an opinion and share it.

 

 

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 10.56.26 PMHaving an opinion is human. Thought we assume that opinions are regulated by common sense, that is generally not the case. Our entire world is about opinions. We can have a opinion about any and every thing around us, for example; Donald Trump and the US elections in general, opinion about BREXIT and its impact on the world economy and when we have nothing more, we move to creating opinions about people around us. Good or bad, a significant amount of human brain processing power is spent in forming opinions.

Even thought opinions are not necessarily bad, they do have a negative impact if an opinion is formed with a intention of imposing your thoughts on the other person or to demean someone. Additionally, forcing opinion and conveying it as a decision due to your position in the organization or the type of personality you are, takes the impact of your opinion to the next level, where it makes a conversations one sided and forces the other person to eject from the conversation.

Having said that, opinions are not going away. Human mind will continue to analyze situations and people and form opinions based on our experience, knowledge and personal objectives. This does become an issue with teams trying to foster collaboration. How often do you see an Architect telling a team on how a product should be designed killing the creativity of the team or how often do we see a leader force a team to build something that the team know will not add value to business.

Here are some guiding principles that will allow you to not only form a opinion with the right intent but be able to communicate it and leave a positive impression:

  • An opinion is a opinion – A dictionary definition of opinion is a belief or judgment that rests on grounds insufficient to produce complete certainty”. An opinion when communicated as a decision or expert judgement is totally different and hence it becomes critically important for an opinion to be conveyed that way. A good way to share an opinion is to start by saying “this is just how I think and I am happy to be proven wrong”. Being passionate about your views is admirable, but never expect anyone to abandon his or her own thoughts in favor of yours.
  • It is ok to NOT know everything – The key reason why humans are forced into having an opinion is because they do not want to come across as ignorant or unaware about what is being discussed especially when it is current hot topic in politics, sports, technology etc… However; it is ok to not know everything. So in a situation like this, retain your opinion till the time you can ask to be explained more about the topic or if your opinion is requested.
  • Start by sharing the intent – If you feel strongly about something and have a strong opinion, start by sharing the intent. Most opinions result in a negative impact on relationships be at work or family and its outcome can be brutal if relationships and partnerships are formed and end purely based on opinions without either party initiating a conversation to validate opinions. If you cannot come up with an intent to form an opinion or are not ready to validate, opinions can be destructive. Your opinion might hurt some feelings or provoke some criticism, but sharing ideas is how conversations start, communities are formed, and change happens.
  • Who/What is your opinion about – Opinions can be about people, products and opinions can be about opinions. Be cautious if you opinion is about someone who you do not get along with or someone who does not give your opinion adequate weight. Such opinions tend to involve your emotional side and can go a long way and influence the whole objective of having an opinion.
  • Argue internally – Treat your urge to form an opinion as an internal argument with yourself, a mental debate, so to speak. Consider your knowledge on the subject, your intention behind having the opinion and the value your opinion will bring before your speak up. Let go if you are unable to convince yourself.
  • Can you back your opinion with facts – Being able to back your opinion with facts is important. Base your opinion on an article your read or research your did or something you saw on the social media or anything else so that your opinions are heard.
  • Assess if your opinion is really needed – Do you remember the last time you walked into a conversation, listened briefly and in no time shared your opinion about something and were told that you got it all wrong. It has happened with me. Understand that you were not part of the conversation in the first place because your opinion does not carry enough weight and that is fine.

Opinions can and will evolve; sometimes at the risk of reshaping your reputation and credibility. And as much as you are entitled to them, don’t hold on to them too tightly. Opinions have a way of being infused with our dignity – it makes us think that if we change our opinion, them we’re flimsy or weak, when in fact it is a very natural process, kind of like growing up.

Just make sure that your opinion forces constructive and creative thinking, and don’t be afraid to share it.

Chaos with complexity – How to cope with organizational complexity

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Image source: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk

Systems, structures and processes are becoming complex by the day. Generally speaking, human life has reached that level of complexity which makes you question the existence of all the innovation and automation around us.

For the decision makers, environments that were isolated years ago, are bumping into each other causing unexpected results. This causes more decision points getting added into structures and processes causing unintentional  addition to already complex environments.

I was recently watching a TED talk by Yves Morieux titled How too many rules at work keep you from getting things done. In his talk, Yves presents an example of a 4X100 relay race. The name 4X100 relay conveys that each member of the team is expected to run a distance of 100 meters. However; this does not mean that the team member drops the baton exactly at the 100 meters mark. Most athletes end up running on an average 110 meters and most athletes don’t know how much they have run as their focus is to hand over the baton to the next member of the team and achieving the goal of completing the race.

If we were to consider a relay race example in context of an organization, there are specific roles for specific tasks. Arguments over whose responsibility was it to get something done are very common. Again, staying with the relay race example, since a member of the team has only signed up to run 100 meters, organizations end up adding a role that is responsible for passing the baton from one team member to another. The result of this approach is increase in structural complexities and a culture of local optimization.

So how do organizations cope with the complexity or what behaviors would keep complexity in check. Here are some guidelines:

  • Purpose and values – Every role in the organization has a value and purpose. This is how most roles get created but the focus needs to be about the collective purpose of the team or organization. Similar to the relay race example where finishing the race and doing whatever it take to finish first is the ultimate goal. Individual goals do not ensure team success.
  • Decentralize authority – Once shared purpose and values have been established, next step is to decentralize the authority. A relay team might have a leader/captain, someone with experience and leadership attributes, but when it comes to taking a decision during the race, every athlete makes decision keeping the end goal of winning the race in mind. In the end, it is the team that wins and it is the team that loses.
  • Early awareness of unpredictable situations – When dealing with complexity, one needs to identify the variables that create predictable outcomes when they’re within a particular range, and unpredictable outcomes when they are not. In a relay race scenario, weather plays a crucial factor. Teams alter the sequence of the participating team members or make similar adjustments to ensure that the collective team keeps the focus on the end goal. The decisions made are generally subtle and not drastic to ensure last minute adaptation does not impact the overall probability of the team winning the race.
  • Leadership – Leading a complex organization requires an entirely different mindset. Hierarchy works if every level is doing something distinct and specific. However, due to the interdependence in complexity, this is impossible in today’s organizations. By simplifying and clarifying vision and values, core processes and decentralization, and early awareness systems, hierarchy can be complemented by “heterarchy”, the interdependent, networked organization in which every part reflects a different perspective of the whole and which is needed in today’s global business world. The boss no longer needs to “tell” the team members what exactly to do, but rather depend on their initiative, creativity and competence for success. So, next time your team faces a challenge, do not create additional complexity, but trust the team to make the right choice. Teams generally appreciate a nimble setup.
  • Simplify and cleanup – An easy starting point for simplification is to get rid of stupid rules and low-value activities, time-wasters that exist in abundance in most organizations. Look, for example, at how many people need to review and sign off on expense reports; or how many times slide decks need to be reviewed before they are presented. If you can shed a few simple tasks, you will create bandwidth to focus on more substantial simplification opportunities.

So, every time you fix a problem, look at the solution you are proposing and ask yourself a question, “Am I fixing a problem or creating more chaos with complexity?”.

 

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