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September 2010

Move Over P&G and J&J: Now There's Something a Little More "Quirky" in the Mix

Consumer Goods Growth & Innovation Forum Review -- Part 1 of 3

The 2010 Consumer Goods Growth and Innovation Forum just concluded in South Beach on Friday with a big bang… including a spontaneous and refreshing F-bomb from an amazing new innovator. But, more on him in a moment.

This year's conference, produced by CGT, had a theme of New Product Resurgence: Bringing Back the Consumer and Driving Growth. The conference presenters represented a who's who list of consumer product giants, including Kraft, Mars, Colgate-Palmolive, and Kimberly-Clark. They covered a variety of topics on everything from Brand Management to Developing Leadership and Talent. The sessions and personal exchanges amongst the 50+ executive attendees were rich, engaging, and motivated towards sincere, helpful solutions based on real-life experiences.

One of the biggest highlights of the event was the presentation of the Innovation Awards. Some of the winners included the new Liquid Pencil made by Newell Rubbermaid, the new Jeans Diaper made by Kimberly-Clark, and the big, grand prize winner: MooBella Ice Creamery Machines. While all of the attendees were given a Liquid Pencil (I used mine to draft this blog post -- thank goodness it erases!), we were disappointed that there were no MooBella samples to enjoy. (Hint, Hint for next year, Bruce!)

For me, the two presentations that stood out the most were Ben Kaufman, Founder and CEO of Quirky, on Group Think Tank, and Michael Becker of the Mobile Marketing Association on Reaching the Consumer Through Mobile Marketing because they demonstrated the true spirit of innovation, how quickly consumers are maturing, and how rapidly the products game is changing overall.

While Michael Becker's presentation on Mobile Marketing left many furiously adding items to their marketing To Do List (more on him in Part 2 of this Forum Review), I must first share my enthusiasm for the presenter who left my jaw hanging open. Please allow me to introduce to Ben Kaufman:

  • Ben started his first company, Mophie, the day he graduated from high school.
  • Six months later, Mophie took home the Best of Show award in the innovation category at MacWorld with his invention: the Song Sling for the iPod Shuffle.
  • The next year at MacWorld, Kaufman felt like he had to top the previous year's win, so he handed out pencils and notepads to attendees on the trade floor, asking them to come up with new product ideas for the iPod accessories. The crowd delivered with 120 unique ideas. The Mophie gang scanned them in, allowing over 30,000 people from around the world to collaborate to develop a brand new product in 72 hours: the Bevy.
  • Ben Kaufman was named the #1 Entrepreneur under 30 by Inc. Magazine in 2007.
  • Mophie got acquired around the same time and Ben immediately started his next company, Kluster, to develop the technology platform to gather direct consumer feedback from around the world.
  • Based on Kluster's technology, he then founded his current passion: Quirky. Ben wanted to share the thrill of taking a product to market with the world. So every week, ideas are submitted online, the community votes, submits product names, comes up with a logo, and by Friday afternoon a new product is born. Everyone who participates in the process shares in the profit. Killer, huh?
  • Oh, and did I mention he's is only 23. He'll turn 24 next month. Happy Birthday, Ben!

Kaufman's keynote presentation covered much of his personal history, which, in itself, is completely inspiring and fascinating. But he had some terrific lessons learned to share with the legendary experts in the room, especially as it relates to innovation and the entrepreneurial spirit. Quirky and Kaufman have tapped into the inventor in all of us. Consumer goods companies can certainly learn a lot about the products consumers want to buy from focus groups and customer satisfaction surveys. But the times… they are a changin'. And I believe that innovators like Kaufman are leading the way on how to do this in a new "quirky" way. (Oh, and yes, Ben was the one who dropped the F-bomb during his presentation. It was classic!) smile

Part 2: When Is a Phone No Longer a Phone? When It's a Way to Connect with Your Target Market!

Passion and the "Ideal" Product Manager

What makes the ideal product manager? This is a very timely subject for our team, having just gone through an exhaustive -- and ultimately successful -- search for a new product manager to join the fold, one that forced us to ask ourselves a lot of questions:

  • How important is domain experience vs. product management experience?
  • What is the ideal mix of internal vs. external product management knowledge?
  • How important is working for diverse-sized companies -- i.e. start-ups vs. large corporations?
  • To what degree does cultural fit need to be taken into consideration?
  • Is the ideal candidate happy with being an individual contributor or should they have higher aspirations?
  • How technical does this role need to be?

While all these questions are very important, I must confess that there is one word that describes the ideal product manager to me -- PASSION. I had to laugh out loud that after deciding to blog on this topic, I read a post on the Pragmatic Marketing Alumni blog on LinkedIn that asked the question -- "In ONE word, what makes a good product manager?" To date, there have been over 90 posts to answer this question -- and yes, a few people did say PASSION as well.

So why is PASSION the key for separating the good product managers from great product managers? If you don’t ooze passion for your product from every pore of your being, then no one will! If you can't go in front of Sales, prospects, analysts, Development, other product managers, Consulting, Support, etc. and portray this passion and energy for your product, I can almost guarantee that your product will not reach its potential. The organization looks to us product managers to tell them why they should care and if we can't give them a passionate answer, then product management is likely not going to be a long-term career.

A newly minted MBA student asked me a good question around passion -- "How do I show people passion during an interview when the product is not very interesting?" I told him that you can still show passion for the product management process -- you are passionate about going to solve a market problem and figuring out the right puzzle pieces to build to put together the right product! You need to convince a future employer that the product management process is what motivates you -- then after nailing the job, translate that passion/energy to the product.

I have seen passion portrayed in different ways -- it does not have to be a lot of hand-waving or standing ovations (although those are great!) -- you have to figure out the best style or mechanism to exude this energy in front of key stakeholders -- both internal and external. Anyone that has worked with me knows I am very passionate about passion!

The Capacity Quadrant: Four Keys to Improved Resource Planning

Organizations often cite resource management as their most overwhelming challenge. Despite the best-laid plans, they just can't get a handle on getting the right people available at the right time. Because of this, they sometimes resist taking on new projects and products for fear of the ability to deliver. Or worse, they take on unlimited demand, managing as if they have infinite capacity.

These organizations need a clear picture of resource availability to confidently take on new projects and react to sudden market opportunities. Otherwise, valuable resources are wasted or misused.

While there's no silver bullet for capacity planning and resource management, there are four distinct dynamics that can greatly improve success and help an organization become proactive instead of reactive. Together, these dynamics make up what we can call The Capacity Quadrant. The four components that make up this framework are:

  • Visibility: This includes improving visibility across three lenses, those of Demand, Capacity, and finally, the System lens (i.e., using a systems thinking approach to identify the many variables that can impact resource workload, efficiency, and productivity).
  • Prioritization: This requires understanding organizational goals and priorities, creating flexible scoring mechanisms that can encompass all discretionary work (not just large projects), and awareness of the linkages between projects and products on the roadmap.
  • Optimization: Here you can maximize your resources by focusing them on the most critical work; limiting the volume of primary demand objectives; tightening the resources on secondary objectives; and addressing efficiency issues identified during the whole system analysis.
  • Iteration: This involves planning capacity and demand at varying levels of detail at different points in the planning horizon. Early on, top-down high level plans are appropriate, with more detailed planning occurring as the work approaches. The two views should be reconciled during each planning iteration.

In essence, by understanding the four key dynamics that impact capacity planning, organizations can demystify resource management, make more informed decisions, and maximize their resources toward high value activities.

Stay tuned for an upcoming white paper on this topic, where I'll be exploring the Capacity Quadrant in more detail.

Humility for Development Managers

In his book The Inmates are Running the Asylum, Alan Cooper asserts that developers such as myself were nerdy children who were bullied by less nerdy children (such as he, I assume), and therefore need to take revenge on our extroverted childhood torturers now that, as highly educated and overpaid technologists, we have the upper hand, because we can bully them into submission around points of software construction.

I'm not making this up.

As offensive as this idea is to the average developer, it has a grain of truth in it. No joke is funny if it isn't partially true.

The relationship between Developers and Product Managers tends to suffer from this asymmetry. Developers can do things that most Product Managers cannot. The job a Product Manager, to guide the software development towards a goal valuable to customers, is on the surface something that most Developers understand. Most Developers can speak, and some of them can speak to customers. Most Developers can vaguely understand that human beings use the product, and can and want to think of improvements.

Some Product Managers, on the other hand, may never have written a computer program, and may not even understand some of the terms used by the Developers.

It is therefore possible for Developers to indeed bully Product Management, and I believe it happens. For example, one can overhear developers saying, "We can't do things that way because it isn't a robust approach" or "We absolutely have to migrate to the latest system" or "We need to completely rewrite that system" or "We can't consider that change because it would be too costly." Who has the authority to question such a statement? Even a CEO can be powerless before such mysterious statements, because how can she judge their veracity? When a medical doctor tells you have to have your liver removed, you can at least get a second opinion. Where can a software executive turn for second opinion?

However, rather ascribing this alleged intransigence to the worst possible motive, revenge, I prefer to adopt Napoleon's maxim:

Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence.

Developers are not guilty of aggression; they are guilty of poor judgment. In twenty-nine years of paid programming, I have never personally encountered an example of a developer intentionally lying to management for selfish reasons, and I have never met a developer who was not capable of self-deception. Developers are "human, human, all too human" in the words of Nietzsche. Our enthusiasm and prejudices and limited experience always cloud our judgment. The fact that we are well-intentioned may make it worse; everyone knows the best con-men are those who believe their own con. Self-deception leads to misrepresentation, misrepresentations lead to bad decisions, bad decisions lead to failed projects and, ultimately, failed companies. Therefore, clear and honest interaction between Developers and Product Managers is not a luxury, but rather a fundamental need of the modern company.

The best Developers and Development Managers are therefore humble. There are Four Humilities that are particularly important:

  • Humility of Purpose: Development must accept that Product Management has the final authority on WHAT the product does. HOW it does it is up to them.
  • Humility of Communication: Development must diligently labor to clarify trade-offs. It is never acceptable for a developer to say "Just because I say so", or, equivalently, to shroud an answer in jargon that her audience doesn't understand. That adjusting one's language to the audience takes extra work is a responsibility that Developers must accept.
  • Humility of Status: Developers must strive to keep project status as clear as crystal. To fail is a shame, but to surprise management with a failure is shameful. Executives should demand to hear bad news as early as possible, and create an atmosphere in which bad news leads to rational decision making rather than fear. When projects go better than anticipated, the developer must make this clear, and not expend the saved time covertly.
  • Humility of Verification: Developers must verify their abilities and progress as realistically as possible. A developer may think he is the next Leonardo da Vinci, and more power to him -- but a project's success must not rest for long on a developer's untested judgment. Before a project begins, no one has a right to tell me that I can't accomplish some task in some amount of time. Once a project has begun, everyone has a right and responsibility to ask me to prove that I am making whatever progress I claim. Verification may mean testing the correctness of the program, testing the progress of the project, or even the fitness of the solution for the purpose in question.

I believe that executives should hold their Development Managers accountable for these Four Humilities. These will not ensure success but they will deter many common organizational failures.

How Does Your Company Measure Up? -- Make Your Voice Heard

Written by Maureen Carlson, Partner at Appleseed

Maureen Carlson

Participate in the 2nd Annual Product Portfolio Management Benchmark Study

Take the Survey Now and receive the full complimentary report.

It's time for the 2nd Annual Product Portfolio Management Benchmark Survey!

You are invited to participate and in appreciation for your time and input, you'll receive a complimentary copy of the full report in November, 2010, as well as the 2009 report. You'll also be entered to win a 32GB Apple iPad.

We are excited to be involved again in this research, designed to reveal the state of today's product portfolio management opportunities and challenges. Appleseed Partners, in partnership with OpenSky Research, conducted the first annual benchmark survey in June, 2009, for Planview. There was a tremendous amount of interest in the research throughout the year. Product development pros want to know how their peers manage the innovation to commercialization process, what their greatest pains are, and what tools they use to deliver and manage successful products.

A year has passed since we last surveyed the market, and we're eager to learn what changes these 12 months have brought.

We've already done some initial research, so I can share some preliminary findings with you. In the past two months, we've spoken with VPs, directors, and managers of product management at multiple, large product-driven companies. Our key takeaway: they are all keen to come out of the recession with a better focus on prioritization and better resource management of their product portfolios.

In the words of one participant of a global materials company: "We're trying to have a better focus on prioritization. We need to drive hard, deliver faster and experience a better ROI. In other words, [deliver] new products faster to market and better manage them."

While most companies said they do a reasonable job of aligning product investments with the business strategy, many gave themselves a low score on their ability to accurately forecast resource capacity. In both cases, there seems to be a lot of room for improvement.

"Our biggest challenge is seeing all resources in one place and the demands on those resources," said one global life sciences manufacturer.

From what we're hearing thus far, while many companies continue to use manual processes, spreadsheets and other project tools, there is an increased desire to automate and centralize product portfolio management across several disciplines, from ideation to resource capacity management to the gating process.

With this research, we will benchmark to see what has changed since last year and delve into some new questions. If you are involved in the product development process in your company, please take 10-12 minutes to share your experience and opinion. All results are confidential and are shared in aggregate.

Participate Now

Open Innovation in the City of Broad Shoulders

I recently attended the 2nd Annual Open Innovation Summit organized by the World Research Group in the "City of Broad Shoulders," aka Chicago.

The event was small in terms of delegates, but rich in content about how to commercialize on innovation. Perhaps one of the most interesting presentations of day one was given by Clorox who shared that they actually collaborated with their competitors at Proctor & Gamble to create the Glad® ForceFlex® trash bags, with Clorox taking 80% of the profit and 20% going to P&G -- a true example of open innovation at work.

From large corporations to small innovation teams, most delegates I spoke with wanted to know how they can speed innovation to drive better business results through collaboration with both universities as well as other companies -- including competitors. It’s clear that most companies know a successful future depends on innovation today. In the past your options to innovate were limited. You could develop your own innovation process, or buy it from someone else. Now, you can partner with outside resources via open innovation.

This two-day event offered a healthy mix of experts including Stefan Lindegaard, whom I was honored to meet. Stefan Lindegaard literally wrote the book on open innovation. Author of "The Open Innovation Revolution," Stefan shared his insights and was extremely open to discussing this topic with anyone who approached him. You can learn more about Stefan at his blog. He was mentioned in nearly every presentation and rightfully so, given his passion, experience and insight about open innovation.

A lot of people can talk about open innovation, but it's another thing entirely to make it really work. If the buzz from this summit is any indication, we can all expect more and more leading companies and brands to increase their open innovation efforts.