Too Busy Chopping Wood to Sharpen the Saw? Try this.

Product Management 101

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You don’t have time for any major capability improvement initiatives.   You’re overloaded. You can’t pull your best people off the front lines.  At the same time, you can’t afford to stagnate. Your competitors get better every day. Investors demand higher and higher returns. You’re stuck between a rock and a hard place.

If only there were a way to get those game-changing initiatives done without bringing the business to a screeching halt.

Don’t Make Improvement the Project

Suppose that you’ve identified a dire need to improve product lifecycle management or maybe adopt a value-based strategy. Both initiatives would affect nearly everything that you do to define, create, market, sell, and service your products. It is not lost on you that each has the potential for enormous payback. However, you just can’t get past thoughts of productivity robbing training sessions, meetings, and bureaucracy.

You think, “Things are just too hectic right now. Maybe next quarter.”

Unfortunately, that’s a recurring thought.

You have a business to run. You can’t put it on hold while you implement a major improvement initiative.  But what if you didn’t need to stall the day-to-day? What if you didn’t need to sacrifice near-term deliverables?  What if improvements paid off along the way?

It can be done. Just don’t make improvement the project. Don’t think of improvement and real work as separate concepts. Instead, implement incremental improvement as business deliverables demand it. You don’t have to stop chopping wood to sharpen the saw.

Adopt Business-Deliverable-Driven Improvement

Let’s say you’ve decided that your company needs to adopt a value-based strategy to gain market share and improve profitability.  However, you don’t have time for another boil-the-ocean improvement initiative.

Here’s what you do. First, zoom in.  Find a specific, critical business deliverable. For example, maybe you need to launch a new product this month. Undoubtedly you’d want to make sure it gets off on the right foot with a value-based price. Making sure the product’s launched with a value-based price would address an immediate business need and represent an improvement over past practices.  Applying new value-based strategy capability to your a product launch is an example of business-deliverable-driven improvement.

If you string enough projects together this way, the next thing you know you’ve implemented a value-based strategy. Moreover, you will have done it without a boil-the-ocean, stop-everything-else initiative.

The Essential Ingredients

Business-deliverable-driven capability improvement requires two things:

  1. A framework
  2. A commitment to continuous improvement.

Your framework outlines the improvements that you intend to make.  It might have its origins in an in-house expert, a book, an outside expert, a training program, or a combination of these.

This framework needs to define the capability that you are determined to reach. It also needs to identify intersections with real work product. For example, a value-based strategy implementation will intersect

  • Product roadmaps,
  • Market requirements documents,
  • Competitive analysis,
  • Product launches,
  • Pricing,
  • Sales training,
  • and so on.

With the framework in hand, all that you need to do is commit to continual improvement every time it intersects with real work product. The formula for that is pretty simple,  Set two types of objectives. Set objectives for both the business deliverable and the desired capability improvement.

For example, suppose that you are pursuing a value-based strategy, and the business demands that a market requirements document (MRD) be completed.  You’d set an objective for the MRD completion date.  That’s the business deliverable. You would also set an objective for value-based strategy capability improvement. It could be something like, “Develop and implement an approach to validate customer value and expected price assumptions for the new product.”

When the MRD is complete, you have both your critical business deliverable and improved capability.

And it didn’t slow you down one bit.