Best of Both 2013 Berlin – I will be there

Looking forward to interesting discussions. And also hoping that the “old” economy is not only interested in giving money and the “new” economy is not only interested in receiving funding. At the end of the day it is also about products and strategies to be delivered… Let´s see tomorrow!

A 19yr old explains Top Level Executives how the digital world works

Cover_Werwirsind

Yesterday I stumbled upon a book with the title Wer wir sind und was wir wollen – Ein Digital Native erklärt seine Generation by Philipp Riederle (@Phipz). In English this means “Who we are and what we want – a digital native explains his generation”. This is an amazing book for a “Digital Immigrant” like me, I can only recommend it. Unfortunately it is in German only, and I don’t know whether there is plan to publish an English version soon. Could also imagine German Execs needing a book like this more than US Execs.

Philipp portraits the “Digital Natives” in a very comprehensible way, and I am absolutely sure many Designers will use his descriptions to describe their personas even better.

And for those who are still reluctant to listen to a 19yr old man: if you don’t seize this opportunities, I am sure, others will…

 

Is a Product Manager sitting between all chairs or leading?

If you want to formulate it positively, you might describe the role of a Product Manager as a central one. Working at the intersection of many disciplines. Making sure, the products of your company are viable, feasible and desirable.

But: a Product Manager can very quickly be in a situation where she/he has no real decision power. All the stakeholders expect certain things and one doesn´t have the time to think through everything. And not only that: a Product Manager needs to show the way into uncertainty. And is speaking a foreign language. Lost in translation so to say…

There are also other roles that are pretty central and where people are involved into kind of everything that is going on in a company: project managers, executive assistants etc. Would you see them as the leaders into uncertain areas? You might, but this is not what you will think about first when talking about this type of roles.

So, as a Product Manager you need to assume your leadership role. You need to feel comfortable with showing the way. And especially also to executives. In case this works out, you are in the pole position for an executive role yourself…

Digital blurs the distinction between product and service

For my preparation for the Services Major @HEC I have read some interesting stuff about service blueprinting. What I find really interesting is the fact that digital can be seen as the replacement of front line employees. Or, in other words: the “physical” product is kind of “dissolved” into a service. And this fits very well into the product management concept of finding solutions for user problems on the one hand side and on the other hand side the border between marketing / branding (e.g. intangible assets) is becoming more and more unclear…

In some circumstances, it makes sense to modify the traditional blueprint. For example, when blueprinting an Internet or kiosk-based service that does not have any onstage contact employee activities, it could be beneficial to remove the onstage contact employee action row and replace it with an onstage technology row that would capture how customers interact with the company’s technology (p. 12 “Service Blueprinting: A Practical Technique for Service Innovation” by Bitner, Ostrom & Morgan).

If a company is really serious about providing great service, everything needs to be thought from the customer. In Bitner & Co. framework, this would be Physical Evidence / Customer Interactions layer. This is very close to design thinking. There are also interesting case studies to be read about companies who have become successful due to a radical change in their thinking: from executive level to frontline employees. It is great, not to feel too lonely as a Product Manager and to get support from academic folks in the US (https://twitter.com/WPCCSL) with great reputation. In that sense, I am really looking forward to our Services Major @ The Center for Services Leadership (CSL) in Phoenix, Arizona next month!

How to recognize a truly “digital” company

All discussions around “digital” and the trending role of a CDO don´t really elaborate on one point: what does it take to become digital? As posted earlier, a lot of emphasis seems to be put on Marketing. Plus, one must not forget that digital isn’t about simply being online, this is history. Companies need to use technology to solve customer problems better than others. I would like to focus on a couple of aspects in this post.

  1. SOCIAL: it is all about social. Social in the sense that it is all about human interactions making your digital products more relevant & efficient. This means dynamic (and not static) products. And, please, LISTEN to your users on social media. Listen to what they say, what they really care about, what they promote, what they ignore. Make sure, your mission has a credible purpose (yes, this is getting into the area of branding).
  2. (BIG) DATA: it is all about being able to compute large amount of data and to use it for more relevant & efficient experiences. Also this results in dynamic (and not static) products.
  3. OPEN: consider your destination website to go away latest in a couple of years. Users simply won’t go back to www.yourproduct.com. Think carefully about what really is your core asset and don’t try to market your destination site. Let users interact with your content, build dynamic and information that can be truly shared. But also let application developers build products based on your data. Build a “virtual product team”.
  4. MULTIPLE SCREENS: this is not about building your destination site for PC, laptop, tablet & smartphone. It is much more about 1.-3. Build experiences that are fluid and adapt. Product solutions are only up to date if they address a particular user problem. And, guess what: users are more and more getting the power of technology. They expect more and more and their behavior is changing rapidly.
  5. USER CENTRICITY: with all the potential of technology and design as described above you will go no where if don’t seriously change the way how you build your products. Focus on the problems of your customers that are worth to be solved. And then iteratively find a viable & scalable solution. Don´t fall into the “business trap” aka you believe you do understand the market by counting competitor´s features and calculation market shares. Take the extra product development mile. Either you do it now or later. But you will have to do it or you will die.  And: this is NOT a marketing task.

And please don’t make the mistake to believe that Facebook & Co. will go away. Yes, their usage is kind of declining in some markets. I remember a discussion with someone pretty senior in my previous company who literally said: “Jörg, don´t worry too much about social. Facebook is just a fashion. It will go away.” Even if Facebook went away, the points above won´t. Is your company really up to the digital challenge? As a CEO you have to care…

Stories from the search for fresh digital blood | Russell Reynolds Associates

Stories from the search for fresh digital blood | Russell Reynolds Associates.

Very interesting article about the role of digital leadership in established boards and companies. As a headhunter has put it when I met him on Wednesday: “you are surfing on the right wave, your moment will come for sure”. But one thing cannot be learned with a MBA program: leadership. You need to get experienced with real transformation situations in larger corporations (e.g. in the media and/or telecommunications area). But the more experienced you get in those areas the less entrepreneurial you might become. This explains why those candidate profiles are pretty rare out there…

No need to be afraid of R&D

When I was put in front of engineers for the very first time, I really didn´t know how to deal with them. Quickly I realized that my leadership style didn´t work out anymore. Please don´t get me wrong: I was an experienced manager with almost ten years of leadership experience. Until that point in time I was pretty successful in my roles. My strategy to get myself over this point was to put pressure. “We need to have feature A released by June, otherwise we won´t achieve our business target and our investors won´t like it…” I said. And you know what: my R&D colleagues simply didn´t care. Instead they asked me what to do, how to build it etc. I was not able to answer questions about the product itself and was caught waffling in many cases.

More than that: I always felt uncomfortable to talk about the product to be built. Even tried to avoid talking about it. Incredible, isn’t it? On top of that, I tried to avoid exposure to the teams in charge. Wanted to “manage” it top down.

The result was poor. We launched a product that more or less completely failed. But even worse: I had lost my reputation with my R&D team. They simply didn’t take me seriously anymore. My behavior had increased the gap between “business” and “engineering”.

Now after a couple of years later I understand why. I had to learn it the hard way how to collaborate with my R&D colleagues. But not without having gone to the other extreme: having lost my connection with my stakeholders. Only in the recent years I have been able to balance the needs better. And actually got a lot of satisfaction out of this. Starting with a product vision and then going through technical but also design and customer iterations is something extremely exciting.

The most important thing you need to bear with: accept that you don´t know much. You don’t need to be the one knowing everything and also not the one with the best ideas. In the contrary: the more you step back the more successful you will become. One team gave me a nickname after I had left – “Il Padrino” – the guy behind the scenes but in charge…

It is time to clean up the mess between CMO and CDO

BeforeDigitalPush

Yesterday I read an article about the CMO transitioning to a CDO by Ray. It is only one in a series of articles about this topic. In my opinion this is not showing the complete story.

In simple words: many people believe that digital has created the need to make (analog) CMOs transition to (digital) CDOs. As running (digital) promotions has a strong technology impact, the CIO is also put into the play as she/he is the only one to really understand big data & co.

This jumps too short. Let´s take a step back and clarify the different disciplines involved. In “old” times, it was marketing only. They defined the products to be built, they ran the promotions and built the brand. Marketing was perceived as an overarching philosophy about understanding and serving customer needs. R&D was the department to build products based on marketing requirements. “Our market research has shown that customers want their washing powder come as little red balls, so you guys build our washing powder as little red balls.”

This has changed due to the digital push. The complexity of products has exploded. Building the right product solutions has become an iterative and design resp. technology driven process. Now a quote like the one above would look like this: “In intense individual customer interviews we have found that we able to build the big green boxes that customers love to use as their washing powder.”

AfterDigitalPushAt the same time branding is still playing a major role as it deals with the intangible assets of products (that are by definition neither digital nor analog). There is a need for all three areas. Now you could discuss who should “own” the customer. Or one could agree on applying an overarching philosophy (all have the customer in mind with everything they do).

So, where does the CDO come in? Is this the person to ensure that a “digital” philosophy is being applied? This would require to address ALL functions. Today´s discussions around CDOs seem to limit its role to tactical marketing (aka selling products digitally).  In my opinion, this jumps far too short and does harm to the standing of a CDO in a company.

So, either the CDOs are up to the real challenge or they leave the ground to product managers, marketers and brand specialists.

By Jörg Malang

You cannot discuss finance when you are too optimistic

In today´s lecture this quote was made by the finance professor @HECParis. Again, there is this perception that there is a kind of “solid” world ruled by careful and risk averse people. On the other side stand the “dreamers” that don’t see the upcoming dark clouds.

We have gone through a case study of a very profitable company in a heavy growth situation running out of cash due to the increase of working capital. The founder and his wife were still owning >50% of their company but they had to look for either for new shareholders or to borrow more money. The conclusion was that for the founder it would be best to buy himself some time by borrowing money and to use the won time to sell his company.

Let´s imagine this founder was a product driven person (actually his company was in the software business). Let´s further imagine that all his fantasy doesn’t really help his company in the light of the upcoming cash bottleneck. A fantasy about great new products finding many users who are willing to pay. But the original product visionary is busy optimizing his cash cycle. He can´t build great products. Would this be the moment to hire a Product Manager?

In other words: does the CEO have to be careful by nature and the Product Manager is the optimist by definition? How do they come to conclusions? What is best for the company?

The only way to avoid this kind of situation is to plan very far ahead. Observe carefully early signs of issues and react appropriately. And don’t listen too much to the optimists (aka the Product Managers  ) in your company…

By Jörg Malang