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July 2010

Time to Recharge Those Batteries at ProductCampAustin

Hey ya'll, it's almost time for ProductCampAustin's Summer 2010 event on August 7th! Those of you who read my posting on the last one know what a great event this is. Lots of great brains, lots of fun -- no bs, no sales. It's a great place to get fresh ideas when you're feeling stale. Those of you who haven't been yet -- you're missing out. Hope to see you there!

Learn more and register at the ProductCampAustin Web site.

ProductCampAustin 2010

Is Your Stage-Gate Process Up to Date?

If you're involved in New Product Development, then you're likely using some sort of gated method to manage your product development process. And if you're using a gated process, then you've surely heard of Stage-Gate. And if you've heard of Stage-Gate®, then you know all about THE de facto expert on the process: Dr. Robert Cooper, founder of Stage-Gate International. (Before I continue with this blog post, I must be completely transparent and make a confession: I have a secret, professional crush on Dr. Bob's brain. The man is brilliant, dynamic, extremely engaging during his training classes, and definitely crush-worthy. So yes, I'm biased!) Dr. Cooper has written numerous books, along with his business partner, Dr. Scott Edgett, on the topics of product innovation, NPD, and product portfolio management. These guys definitely know what they're talking about.

To help organizations implement and automate this methodology, further reinforcing recommended best practices, Stage-Gate has created a set of detailed criteria that software vendors must demo to prove that their solution is Stage-Gate Ready. The 200+ certification criteria focus on the areas of idea management, the idea-to-launch process, and portfolio management. The criteria are challenging and the certification process is grueling (trust me, I know). Stage-Gate upped its game by introducing an additional set of 30 criteria (version 2), with more coming towards the end of 2010 (presumably, version 3).

The new criteria do a terrific job of diving into some critical aspects of managing a gated process, including:

  • Post-launch review
  • Product roadmapping
  • What-if analysis on the portfolio
  • Portfolio optimization (computing the efficient frontier)

These features are absolute "must-haves" in order to ensure your company's products are successful in the market and drive revenue.

Additionally, I applaud the folks at Stage-Gate for the amount of attention they placed on portfolio management reporting and analytics in this new version of the certification criteria. New reporting-and-analytics-focused criteria include:

  • Dashboards for reviewing In-Process Performance
  • Graphically illustrating an actual pipeline of projects
  • Graphically illustrating a portfolio for Strategic Buckets

Having helped many companies implement portfolio management processes and solutions, I know that focusing on the desired outputs clearly defines the necessary inputs. But unfortunately, some people get caught up in the excitement of putting data into the system, instead of what type of data they want to get out of the system for effective decision making; analyzing the data, not entering the data, should be the focus. These new criteria will hopefully get companies on the right path.

There were two new criteria added to the Idea Management section of the evaluation, but they weren't earth shattering. This is a big bummer because there is a lot of talk right now around using innovation and ideation to better feed the product pipeline. It's the front end of the funnel and the old tricks of the employee suggestion box simply don't really cut it in the "new normal." Hopefully (wink-wink, nudge-nudge, Dr. Bob), more emphasis will be placed on this section in the next version of the criteria.

Reflections from Disneyland

About a month ago I participated in the Frost & Sullivan 6th Annual Global Innovations in New Product Development Conference in Anaheim, California, home of that hallowed House of Mouse, Disneyland. Like many of you, I've experienced more conferences, summits, huge trade shows, user conferences, etc., etc., ad nauseam, than I care to remember. Few stand out as exceptional. This event, however, did exactly that.

It began on a high note with a networking breakfast chock-full of leaders of innovation and new product development. Also, Frost & Sullivan did a great job of organizing the event and truly making it interactive. Everyone was a participant, not just an attendee. Sponsors, keynotes, and attendees all came together as equals, eager to share, collaborate, learn, and make new connections.

There was a wealth of content about driving innovation, measuring the maturity level of a company with regards to capturing and managing the voice of the customer, breakout sessions and general sessions that demonstrated what these leaders are doing today to drive innovation and accelerate product development in their organizations.

While many of the presentations I heard were valuable, the one that truly stood out was from Malcolm De Leo, Vice President of Innovation at Daymon Worldwide.

Malcolm is an engaging presenter and has transformed the culture at Daymon Worldwide with his "from Innovation to Activation" approach. With a goal of making Daymon more innovative to drive partnerships, value and ultimately more revenue, Malcolm's approach makes innovation a truly collaborative effort by decentralizing the teams and creating a team of interacting innovators that all have a stake in the process and its success.

The process and culture change he and his team have put into action is unlike anything I have seen before. His innovation strategy is a targeted approach from culture to customer. His vision is to make Daymon the innovation network for all of its partners. A truly visionary approach but a practical one based on the work and videos he shared with the event participants.

I think every organization that really is committed to driving innovation across the enterprise can benefit from the work that Malcolm and his team have accomplished. To connect with him, just visit,, or

Strategy as a Team Sport

Last week saw me traveling, which means I had some time to do a little airplane reading. I had the July/August edition of the Harvard Business Review with me and read a few thought-provoking articles.

The first is titled "The Execution Trap." A lot of good thoughts but the main thread is that there should not be an organizational hierarchy when it comes to the segregation of strategy and execution. In fact, segregation is the problem -- employees at every level of the organization should feel empowered to drive strategy as well as execution. Strategy should not be the exclusive domain of executives, but should permeate the entire organization. We should all strive to build cultures that promote the extinction of the "choiceless-doer" (author's term), i.e. the individual contributor that simply executes what they are told. Here, here.

The second article, "Stop the Innovation Wars," in some ways takes an alternate perspective. The authors advocate that driving innovation demands the creation of "innovation teams" that are chartered to break new ground. These teams then propagate their innovations into the core operations (or "performance engines") of the firm to bring the innovation to life.

Should innovation be more like strategy as in the first article? Shouldn't innovation exist in every aspect and every employee in the firm? I tend to think so, but there are some examples in the second article that show that the "teams" approach has merit.

Interesting reading, check out these articles if you get the chance and let me know what you think.

Head Colds, Clam Chowder and the Front End of Innovation Conference

Back in May, I was in Boston for the Front End of Innovation Conference, and also to meet with Dr. Brian Glassman, PhD Innovation Management. Battling a head cold from Austin to Boston, the first point of order before racing down to the Seaport hotel was a quick stop for a hot bowl of clam chowder at Fanueil Hall Marketplace. It didn't eliminate my cold, but it helped! I met Dr. Glassman on the exhibit floor and I discovered that he, too, was suffering from a cold. Must have been that time of year.

After we discussed the Advanced Ideation webinar we were working on, the bells chimed and the announcer let us know it was time to make our way into the next General Session. I was excited to attend this particular presentation as it featured Xerox, a Planview Enterprise customer. The presenter was Dr. Sophie Vandebroek, CTO Xerox & President Xerox Innovation Group who presented "Technology Led Innovation, Tapping What's Next."

What stood out in this presentation was the blending of technology with Xerox's actual customers to help drive their innovation process. The company has definitely spent a lot of time framing its innovation processes, not just from using cutting-edge technology to foster innovation, but by very proactively including customers in the innovation process itself. Customers' needs are the main elements in what Xerox positions as "Innovation Domains," which were Knowledge Work, Sustainability, and Personalization. What struck me was the similarity to what today's marketers do: create personas for your audience based on their functional roles within their organizations.

One section of her presentation that has us all laughing and agreeing with was when she showed old videos of users of high-end Xerox printers and copiers. "Imagine that if the machine goes down, there's a second engine that keeps running your job, so you don't have to wait for someone to fix it! You can avoid downtime and still get your job copied." The customers in the video absolutely loved this! Unlike the old "focus group" model, this was an open-dialogue format with Xerox and its customers at the same table, not hiding behind one way mirrors. They were able to gather not only the product wishes, but to test and evaluate new features in a qualitative and qualitative format to help validate new products or product enhancements: all driven from the actual customers who will be purchasing them again! It was also clear that Xerox is a highly mature and leading technology organization that relies heavily on technology and its customer base to drive the innovation process. This approach helps it achieve and defend its market leadership position and ensures it has an extremely robust and powerful product portfolio.

Another take-away from the conference itself: Innovation is HOT! More and more companies are creating innovation centers of excellence and creating new positions for people to "own" define and manage the innovation process. On the last day of the conference I was delighted to met Braden Kelley of Business Strategy Innovation. He shared some great insights about the conference and also gave me a lot to think about for the upcoming Open Innovation Summit in Chicago this August. If you're in R&D, Product Development, or Innovation, you probably already know about his blog, aptly named "Blogging Innovation." You can also find him on Twitter @innovate.

So -- did you attend FEI Boston? If so, I'd love to hear about your favorite Keynote or General Session!

Agile: Building Better Products with Our Customers

It's no news flash that an agile process -- once set up -- delivers real benefits, quickly, for product management, in terms of collaborative development. The news flash really is that agile brings as much, if not more, benefit to our customers.

One of the most successful programs we have run at Planview gives our customers the ability to participate directly in the agile process -- from the very beginning of user story development, prioritization, sprint demo reviews, and all the way through testing. Most people are visual: when we can show our customers every two weeks how development is progressing in a sprint demo, the feedback and ideas flow continuously and therefore the quality of what we deliver is much higher. Our level of confidence that we are building the right features the right way is exponentially greater with this hand-in-hand customer participation.

The key to success of the program is that we take a good deal of time picking the right customers to participate AND determining the appropriate number of customer for each project. By the "right" customers I mean:

  • Do they have the time to participate?
  • Do they have in-depth knowledge of the subject -- i.e. passion around the project?
  • Are they geographically dispersed so that we have good representation globally?
  • What verticals are they in, so that we have a good mix of markets represented?
  • Do they represent all the personas we need across the different markets we serve?

The "right" number of customers for each project is determined by the complexity, reach of the feature (is it an element that spans the platform, like the UI, in it one module of the product), and importance of the feature to our business. We have run programs that range from 3 customers all the way to 45.

The internal benefits of the agile methodology have been well documented and blogged about. However, as I see it, the greatest value of agile is external, in that our customers truly become extensions of our product management team.

Camps, Parties, and Potlucks… Oh My! (Who Knew Professional Development Could Be So Fun?!?)

Back in late March, a colleague introduced me to the hip and wondrous world of ProductCamp -- a collaborative place where Product Management and Marketing folks get together to eat, drink, and be merry, after our long-suffering days of dealing with product requirements, launches, and roadmaps.

There are several ProductCamp Organizations across the US, but I attended ProductCamp Austin. It was so refreshing to attend this user-organized, "un-conference," where if you show up in a suit or make a product pitch, you'll be asked to leave. Love it!

Even though I'd never attended ProductCamp before, I decided to jump in with both feet and volunteer to facilitate a conversation around a recent benchmark survey of Product Development professionals. I put two of the key survey questions up for discussion to my fellow Campers:

  1. What are your primary pain points and issues when managing your product portfolio?
  2. What are your greatest risks when managing your product portfolio?

(If you're interested you can view the full survey results by downloading the 2009 Benchmark Study: Product Portfolio Management.)

The engaging and interactive discussion around these questions, and more importantly, the solutions to these problems, was simply awesome! Many of us walked away from the session with a pocketful of new ideas we could implement as soon as we were back in the office and some healthy reminders of solid best practices. And while it was a little intimidating to have Tom Grant of Forrester Research participating in the session discussion (he is THE man when it comes to Technology Product Management and Marketing), I will definitely be throwing my hat in the ring again to present at a future ProductCamp. The experience was invigorating!

The nuggets I picked up from the session I facilitated and the 6+ sessions I attended were well worth a Saturday of my time. And from the lively discussions that occurred at the happy hour after ProductCamp (mmm, cocktails!), most everyone walked away equally juiced. (Take that however you like! smile ) Check out a few of the video comments from my new, favorite product peeps and I'll see you at the next ProductCamp Austin on August 7, 2010.

How Innovative Is Your Product Development Portfolio? (And How Do You Know?)

Written by Steven Cristol, Founder and Managing Partner
of Strategic Harmony® Partners

Steven Cristol

iPad. The Flip video camera. Coleman's FlashCell ultracapacitor-powered screwdriver (which fully charges in just 90 seconds). When so evident, it's easy to see a high innovation quotient well before the initial inventory rapidly vanishes and customer waiting lists ensue. But more often than not, whether B2C or B2B, product development portfolio decisions are about incremental innovation rather than breakthroughs. It can be considerably more challenging to gauge the level of innovation across incremental development portfolios, such as enhancements for a new model of an existing product or new features for the next release of a software application. That's where competitive impact metrics can be a powerful tool to help insure sufficient product differentiation for competitive advantage.

For development portfolios in established product categories, a very effective approach is to rate each new product (or service) enhancement's potential to change your brand's competitive standing on key drivers of brand preference -- the attributes that define ideal customer experience -- such as easy to use, for example. If your brand is not already best in class on a particular attribute, is it likely that the new Feature X as currently scoped will move your brand from "parity" vs. competitors to "superior" on that attribute? Or if your brand is currently inferior there, could Feature X at least move the brand to parity? Assign a value to each movement (parity to superior, inferior to parity, inferior to superior). Going one step further, weight each rating by the attribute's relative importance to your customers. When you've done this for each attribute (usually the top 8 to 10), you'll have a customer-focused scorecard for comparison of development projects on differentiation.

There's another big payoff, however. Looking at these scores collectively across all planned projects/features provides visibility into the innovation quotient of the total portfolio. We sometimes see portfolios that are highly aligned with customer needs and yet still result in mostly "me-too" products. The alignment scores across development projects are relatively high, but the competitive impact scores are relatively low. In such cases, your loyal customers may be very happy to buy those products, but market share gains without aggressive pricing are unlikely. And your brand remains highly vulnerable to competitor innovation.

Incremental innovation is still innovation -- if the offering is meaningfully differentiated. The important thing is having a way of knowing, and then allocating product development resources accordingly.

Innovation vs. Maintenance -- How Do You Find the Right Mix?

Every product management job I have ever had, no matter the size of the company, I have wrestled with the question -- "How do I determine the right innovation vs maintenance mix?" In most of my jobs, I have struggled with this question on a daily basis, constantly making sure that the "small" priority decisions that I make don't lead to a shift in focus of our products. Are we taking good care of our client base and at the same time continuing to push innovation and thought leadership into the marketplace? Finding this balance and sticking with it is very difficult for product leaders as we are hit with constant change -- change within AND beyond of our control. Do these sound familiar?

"We will lose this customer if we don't do XXXX"

"We have to build XXXX or we will lose this deal"

"XXXX is killing us in the field"

"We need to take the time to upgrade/rebuild XXXX"

Building and earning the trust of customers, Sales, Development, Consulting, and Customer Support that we are making the right priority decisions is a crucial element to our individual success but more importantly the success of the product -- and the entire portfolio of products.

Having to manually manage this mix is very difficult and the exercise becomes more of art than science. In my previous experience what has been missing has been a way to measure the impact of priority changes after the plan has been established. In other words, after decisions have been made, what is the impact and how does that change my innovation and maintenance strategy/resource allocation?

Now finally, on my fifth product management stint, I have a product that I can use to track, measure, and report on this mix that. I can manage different product scenarios and prioritization to understand where the resources are lacking and how that changes my innovation strategy. I can tell you that, if you're in my boat, automating this prioritization process not only makes the job easier, it lets you give internal and external customers the visibility they need and deserve.

What about you? Is there a tool you use to help you manage the mix? What do you like about it -- and what do you wish it did differently?