Category Archives: Product Design

When a plumber gave a crash course in consulting

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Source: rlmconsulting.be

 

The idea of consulting is typically associated with an individual with certain specialized skills that makes him an expert in an area. While the term “consultant” is generally associated with high profile areas of specialization, other kind of areas fit rather well into the definition of a consultant.

A close friend was recently sharing his experience where he needed to call in a plumber to a fix a leak behind a wall, however; he also went about researching the internet about how to solve the problem. Not to mention he used certain keywords while searching like “cheap ways”, “quick ways” and some more. He also searched for specific information about how plumbers have a tendency to exaggerate the problem towards generating a high margin. As it was time for the plumber to arrive, he was ready with how the problem should be fixed, what tools would be needed, how he would ensure that the fix was successful and steps he would take to shield himself from getting ripped.

screen-shot-2017-02-28-at-11-19-47-amThe plumber who seemed like a master in his trade had other thoughts. He was quick to diagnose the problem and suggest the fix which obviously was different from what my friend was expecting. During this period, the plumber was patiently listening to all the research that was done. There was some back and forth and the plumber left without fixing the problem.

Human mind is constantly engaged in the activity of forming opinions about people, society, profession etc. We try to appear smart, knowledgeable and experienced in the most unknown territories. This isn’t necessarily because every human knows everything but because we feel uncomfortable with how the person in front of us will perceive us if we said “I don’t know”. At the same time, this behavior does change in situations when the outcome has a higher degree of risk involved. For example, talking to a doctor about a possible fix to an ailment, we tend to trust the doctor to make the right decision with the end objective of a successful and full recovery. We do not even want to confront the doctor if what our research suggests is otherwise.

While organizations like to have control over what and how consultants solve problems, consultants needs to exhibit certain characteristics and ethics to justify the value for the price paid. Below are some characteristics that identify great consultants from the rest:

  • Listen – A consultant’s first strategy to build confidence is by listening and paying close attention. The 5 stages of listening (receiving, understanding, evaluating, remembering, and responding) supported by active listening (a technique that required the listener to provide feedback of what he or she hears to the speaker) help in empathizing with the situation and subsequently providing solutions or asking relevant questions.
  • Comfortable saying “No” – The fact that consultants are experts in their field gives them a upper hand in making recommendations that are based on skills, knowledge and experience. This also implies that addressing the problem in hand using the right means takes precedence over other measurements including doing things a certain way to keep the client happy. As an expert, a consultant should feel comfortable to disagree with the customer and provide evidence to support it.
  • Align strategic goals and measurements of success – Engagement of a consultant suggests that a certain expertise is needed in order to address a problem which the organization is unable to address by itself. In such a scenario, it becomes vital to understand the strategic goal behind engaging a consultant and the measurements of success both long term and short term. Often these discussions never take place and consultants are asked to follow orders and paint a picture that is expected.
  • Challenge and persist – Great consultants don’t give up. They accept frictions, unforeseen circumstances and negative feedback, they learn from them and they move on. They will analyze and learn from every setback in order to prevent it from happening again.
  • Do not get ahead of yourself – Being a consultant in a specific area does not mean that one works on the same set of problems. For example; the symptoms for the doctor to diagnose a problem can vary from patient to patient. A doctor cannot afford to assume that the second patient has the same problem as the first one given that the symptoms are same. Think and assess before giving a reference to how you faced similar challenges in the past and how they were addressed. Assessment of the problem along with creative thinking should happen before influencing the solution approach.
  • Expose problems and facilitate solutions – Consulting done by providing immediate solutions to problems is done with an intention of creating dependency. A great consultant refrains from providing solutions and instead helps in exposing problems so the organization can solve the problem itself. It is impractical for a consultant to get into a problem solving mode having been with the organization for a short period of time. Instead, a great consultant will use enquiry and facilitate conversations to expose problems so organizations can find the best possible solution(s).
  • Have a exit strategy – A consultant needs to have a well defined exit strategy which should be looked at all along the duration of the engagement. Exit can be a result of a successful solution of a problem or completion of the engagement or a realization where the consultant cannot fathom the value to be added. Either way, exit at the right time goes a long way in building trust with the customer and ensuring a long term relationship. As it a said, the greatest measurement is success if by how soon a consultant can work him/herself out of a job leaving behind a organization that is self sufficient.
  • Maintain transparency – Consultants need to feel comfortable sharing both the good and bad news. Consultants are bought in for a reason that things are not working in the first place. Given the high rates consultants get paid, some consultants refrain from or delay sharing bad news with the client assuming they will address the problem without bringing it to the notice of the customer. The fact is that most issues exposed sooner than later. Consultants should establish transparency as the key criteria of their relationship with the customer right at the start of the engagement. If this is done, a bad news will not come as a surprise for the customer and will only help in building trust and ensure ongoing collaboration in addressing issues and risks.
  • Accept you don’t know it all – Not knowing everything is normal, however; accepting that I do not know everything is difficult. No matter how experienced or qualified a consultant is, s/he will run into situations where the consultant might not have a opinion or an answer. This isn’t necessarily bad news. Acknowledging that I do not know something and then making an effort to research the solution elevates the relationship and provides opportunity to learn something new.

Consulting in the area of business, technology and other recent areas of innovation has forced other business like staffing to get into the consulting fold. Individuals and so called consulting organizations have started using the term rather loosely. While this has resulted in smoke around who consultants are what they do, it is important that consultants practice the above characteristics to bring some credibility back to the professional of consulting and help organization realize the benefits of value consultants offer.

If you are a consultant who exhibits a characteristic not captured here, I would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below. Happy Consulting..

My podcast interview about Agile, Scrum and the Scrum Master role

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Image courtesy: cbc.ca

I am excited to share my latest podcast interview with Vasco Duarte where we discuss about agile and Scrum and get into details about the Scrum Master role all through this week. This podcast was recorded for the site http://scrum-master-toolbox.com/ to discuss various topics around challenges related to the Scrum Master role, some anti patterns to Scrum, change leadership, measurements of success for Scrum Masters and agile culture and mindset.

First 2 episodes are live now. Don’t forget to watch the upcoming 3 episodes (Wednesday through Friday) this week.

Please provide your feedback on the podcast, leave comments and like. Also reach out for any questions or if you would like to record a podcast for your site.

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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.

 

 

Effective Product Management For Disruptive Outcomes

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Sourceswim.de

The world of product design and management is fun, offering opportunities to cause  disruption through ideation and innovation. Product Managers (Product Owners in the agile world) play a critical role in producing great product(s).

The role of a Product Manager is often misunderstood and underutilized of all the roles and gets confused with other roles like that of a Business Analyst, Program Manager, Project Manager and more.Besum4ICYAA1yT0

The job as product manager is to evaluate multiple product ideas and decide which product ideas are worth pursuing, and which are not. If the Product Manager decides to pursue an opportunity, their assessment needs to determine what it will take to succeed.

Source: Sumologic.com

Maintaining a disruptive approach

The product management role needs to maintain a disruptive approach irrespective of whether they are working on a new product idea or enhancing an existing product. Here are some attributes that make good Product Managers great:

  • Think Big – Many Product Managers district their creativity by the constraints presented to them up front. Product Managers need to think big by not getting constrained by the resources available to them in the present market environment. By doing so, they describe large disruptive opportunities and develop concrete plans for how to take advantage of them.
  • Leverage Team To Drive Ideas And Make Decisions – While the “what” and the “why” of a product form the core of a Product Manager’s thought process and focus, it is critical for them to keep the “how” and the economics of implementing the idea in mind. what_is_a_product_manager-300x246This is where a Product Manager is expected to leverage the creativity, expertise and innovation of the team to make the right decision about the prioritization, go to market and other aspects of product delivery.
  • Maintain The 80-20 Thought Process – Key to the success of a product and the Product Manager is to how to get 80% of the value with 20% effort. They do so repeatedly, delivering more value and achieving compounding effects for the product.
  • Communicate Effectively – Effective Product Managers can make a case based on suitable market research along with appropriate feedback from existing and perspective customers. Their decisions are backed by solid analysis that are impossible to ignore or refute. They use data appropriately leading to effective decision making.
  • Visualize The Big Picture -Sharing the big picture of the end business objective, the vision and the overall product helps in getting the team get away from taking a narrow approach to problem solving. Being able to draw a product structure, identifying the various components, drawing the dependencies with close collaboration ensure common understanding of the vision and a collaborative approach to problem solving.
  • Prioritize/Sequence – Product Manager knows how to sequence projects. They balance quick wins vs. platform investments appropriately. They are able to make a choice between projects that grow the business versus the ones that protect and remove drag on the business (operations, reducing technical debt, fixing bugs, etc.).
  • Forecast and Measure – Product Manager is able to forecast the approximate benefit of a project and can do so efficiently by applying past experience and leveraging comparable benchmarks.  MWM-portrait-small-RGB-POSThey also measure benefit once projects are launched and factor those learnings into their future prioritization and forecasts.
  • Focus on Good Design – A Product Manager doesn’t have to be a designer, but are able to add significant value if they can appreciate great design and be able to distinguish it from good design. Impactful Product Managers should also be able to articulate the difference to their design counterparts, or at least design an approach to pursue to go from good to great.
  • Feedback FeedBack Feedback – A significant part of a Product Manager is spent on gathering feedback. A feedback goes a long way in bringing a product back on track from a failure. Most interestingly, great Product Managers do not time a feedback bit make it a ongoing activity. Feedback is not only important to improve new products but eliminate product features that are no more used to bring in economical efficiencies.
  • Let Value Drive Their Thoughts and Writing – Value is the only measure for measuring success and decision making for a Product Manager.  Weather a conversation is about adding new features to a product, removing technical debt or taking a product to market, value discussion is critical in driving every action.

Product Management can be a key differentiator between a successful and failed product and the above pointers can be considered in hiring a top notch Product Manager. Having said that, finding a Product Manager with above mentioned traits can be challenging but the list can be utilized in helping existing Product Managers  strives to develop and improve along these dimensions.

Please share your thoughts on you experience with Product Management and any specific and important attribute that should be added to the list.

More on Product Management coming soon…