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Friday, March 27, 2009

Experimenting with the "New Rules of Marketing"

During the last few years I have been learning and experimenting with the concepts of "The new rules of marketing", David Meerman Scott (see his blog). I must say that it has been a great learning experience. The latest exploit is helping my Wife to promote the rental of her mother’s house. We found a semi free website that allow listing of rentals. We made sure that it ranked high in a relevant Google search. Then we created a Facebook group and thus we started to promote it through our online social network, which apart from FaceBook also included Twitter, LinkedIn, and this blog of course. It is really kind of an experiment but I really love to see how it unfolds. My Wife is ecstatic about how quickly you can reach out to people for help in promoting it.  She is constantly on Facebook looking at how many people joined the group. Yes I know that is not directly equal to somebody actually renting it but it still has a certain buzz to it. 

I have been doing similarly in building my personal brand and also marketing the sub division that I live in. We have created a blog that is used to exchange and share information with our members, a Twitter profile to send updates and information around, a Facebook group, and a Google profile. I must say that it has taken much longer than I expected to gain momentum. However I have been receiving very positive feedback about how well this works and more, and more of our members are starting to use all these different resources. Of course there is the added value of promoting our neighborhood allowing people that may be interested in a home purchase to get a peek at our community and the people who live there – hopefully this will also help our real estate value.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Inbound and Outbound Marketing according to Pragmatic Marketing

This may be redundant information but I wanted to make sure that it is persisted somewhere for reference. It is really a summarized version of some of the teachings from Pragmatic Marketing.

Inbound Marketing

Understanding of the markets that are targeted by the company's/products' "distinctive competencies". The idea is to gain unequivocal understanding of the market, the people working in this market, and specifically the problems that they have. The goal is to provide product features that directly solve the problems in the market. In order to do that the product management activities are focused on defining and prioritizing these problems and conveying them to the product development as market requirements. The driving concept is that a product (and its features) need to do a job for the customer. For example: Online bill pay. the job is to pay bills, if you did not have this capabilities you would have to do it manually which is time consuming and tedious. Therefore it is a Market Oriented feature it solves a distinct problem for the customer.

Outbound Marketing

These activities involve the positioning and messaging of the product. It involves traditional marketing as well as what is now widely adopted "the new rules of marketing" using the internet as the main conduit. Using "viral marketing", new media, blogs and eBooks are some of the methods. The goal of all of these activities is to generate demand and leads that can be turned into license revenue by the sales team. One of the methods to expose the products to the market is using a concept called  "Marketecture". The idea is to describe the product (and its features) to the market not by its technical functionality, but by the problems that it solves for the users. In other words it is a market oriented description of the product that is developed as a result of the "Inbound" activities.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Management by objectives. Why?

I just published a post on the Linked2Leadership about Management by Objectives.

Management by objectives, why? What is the perceived goal? What is the origin of this approach and why did anybody in his right mind think that it would work?

Maybe it stems from the thinking that we can impose tasks on people and that, by itself, will motivate them to do what they need to do. Old school thinking, if you ask me. Unfortunately, this is how many companies are managed and this practice usually only works when a high degree of self discipline and self motivation exists in the followers. But what happens when motivation and discipline erodes? How does a leader regain the lost ground when self motivation dies? 

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Hope and Denial and why does it really matter?

In these testing times feelings and emotions run high as people deal with the implication of the financial crisis on both a personal and professional level. One of the many ways that I hear from people is to keep hoping for the best, to hold on, and hunker down so that we will hopefully survive the crisis. The question is: is it not the same as being in denial? Would it not be more effective in the long run to be to take a realistic approach and look the situation in the eye – if you will? I suspect that it may be fear that is driving this behavior. People tend not to show hesitation or lack of hope because it may be percieved as if they have admitted defeat - and that will surely lead to failure. Therefore they rely on a goal setting approach to help drive hope, hope for a bettering of the current circumstance.

However I believe that sometimes this hope may be based on goals that have been set with little regard to the current circumstances and may in fact be the driver for failure. The fundamental problem is denial of what is really happening. In any situation a healthy dose of realism is always needed. We need to both understand the circumstances that we are facing and use this knowledge to navigate towards realistic future goals. We have to be realistic in assessment of a situation in order to truly understand the risks. 

Hope is effectively used by leaders to motivate and inspire people. However this hope has to be based on something substantial. Hope with no grounding in realistic goals has achieved very little. Look no further than the current economy. “This could not happen to us” – they said. Well it did, because the only thing that they had was hope – hope that the bubble will not burst.

People will not follow blindly just on hope and if they do then it usually is detrimental. So what does all this have to do with product management leadership? I have over the last decade experienced time and time again, through multiple positions, this blind quest of companies to grow on false premises grounded in denial of the real market’s situation.  They operate companies based on hope of better times and more market share. While the notion of better times is mostly always true, if you look far enough in the future, it is subjective. The sizing of a market is another one of these elusive quantifications that like statistics can be crafted to support a certain viewpoint. In the new approaches to product management it is important to have a deep understanding of the market, the people that you are marketing to and obviously their needs. Once that understanding is achieved the quantification of the market size becomes much easier. However sizing a marked before gaining an understanding of it is not only dangerous but it is denial – a false assumption that is based on a hope that it is really there. As David Meerman Scott just recently reminded us in his blog post “people just want to do business with people”.

Some markets are well defined - like the diaper market. There is a finite number of screaming toddlers that require these paper based collection devices to keep them sanitized. Yet if we do not understand the market enough we may base strategic product decisions on a hope that the market will increase in size – maybe there is unexplained excremental yield amplification due to organic baby foods (that was a joke). This is of course a gross simplification and markets are rarely as static or as simple as that. Yet the lesson is that based on an understanding of a market one may and should come to a conclusion if there is (or not) a market size to base the growth of future business.  As product management leaders we always hope that our product will be successful – the next big thing. However we all know that in order for that to happen we need to base the product plan on real market needs – yes realistic market needs. Not needs that we assume the market has because we have developed unrealistic what-if scenarios.
The famous saying “Hope for the best and prepare for the worst” embodies this relationship between hope, realistic and adversely denial. Denial is when one only hopes with no preparation grounded in the reality of current and future circumstances. A healthy dose of realism is always good medicine. The test of true leadership is the ability to be realistic. Yes plain and simple, be realistic while at the same time being able to inspire and motivate towards a goal that we all hope will bring better times. Like my wife always tells me when pondering the question: “what will you do if you win a million”? If you are dreaming - why not go all the way, let’s buy an island in the Caribbean, and get a beaming device that can get us there in a matter of seconds. I can only say that I hope that it may be true, but it is just as unrealistic as winning the million in the first place.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

What to do with the politics in systems implementation projects

In the past few months I have been involved in software implementation projects for some big life science companies. It has been a while since I did this type of role so it has been somewhat of an experience getting back in the swing of things. The fact that I have returned to what was once familiar territory gave me a chance to reflect on some peculiarities and phenomena in these types of engagements, one of which as everybody surely knows is politics. In every such situation I really try to understand the pros and cons as well as the causes of these phenomena. 

Let me start with the good things. In a way politics forces the people involved to seek consensus. This process involves a lot of discussion in which the solution and the problems are reflected on with many people providing input. Ultimately this can lead to, in certain situations, to alternative and possibly better solutions. Another result of these “political” discussions are of course the fact that you get to dig into the detail and thus uncover certain aspects of the problems that would have been found later in the process, at a time where design decisions are more costly to undo.
When working in such environment I find that everybody is trying to get as much detail covered as possible. There is a feeling that we need to get all the details hashed out before we move on. Obviously this is result of our “systems theory” upbringing. By that I mean that the way most people, with technical backgrounds, learned to tackle complex problems is by a process of functional decomposition in which the problem is taken apart to an atomic level in the analysis process. 

The underlying assumption for this approach is that everything is known and that from the time the decomposition is performed the “system” will never change again. Both of these assumptions are of course false. We will never be able to uncover all the required detail and once we have most probably the details are irrelevant because the circumstances have changed.

The approach that I usually take is grounded in some of my earlier work understanding complex adaptive systems and Holonic systems or in other words systems that are in chaos. I will leave the detail out at this point and you can read more in some of the other posts on this topic. The bottom line is that in order to be most efficient one has to strive to identify recognizable patterns that may indicate possible problems and solutions. This of course takes a lot of experience and becomes kind of an art to know exactly when enough detail has been gathered to move on. However it is not "rocket science" nor does it require any special natural abilities. All that is required is the ability to embrace a radically different approach at problem analysis. In a way one has to learn learn new tricks -  which of course may be hard for old dogs.

So back to politics…. Obviously the bad part of a politicized process is that it is inefficient, and much time is spent dancing around making sure that everybody is ok with the compromise that regardless of what people tell you will always be part of the solution. Also a lot of time is spent in typical CYA maneuvers, which is also something that will never be admitted to, yet it is human nature. I guess some can draw a parallel to survival instincts. 

The art in of all of this is achieving a balance that like most things in life is important. The approach has to be holistic in that the project has to be embraced with not only the technical detail but an understanding of the social aspects of the project. Looking at implementation projects in this way is no different than a study in social interaction. A balance has to be achieved between autonomy of the individuals, manifested by their personal motivation and goals (political or otherwise) and the goals of the project to effectively provide a system solution. By the way this is exactly the definition of a Holonic system, which leads me back to art of identifying patterns and using them for problem definition and solution design, rather than the traditional functional decomposition approach. On an end note, politics will always be part of any project, it is inherently how we interact in a social system, and it is not necessarily all bad if you understand the causes and use these to your advantage.