Archive for January, 2016

Creating a brand that lasts.

chillinOne of the best ways to improve your brand is to improve your products.  The most common way is to provide more goodness for less cost – think miles per gallon.  Usually it’s a straightforward battle between market leaders, where one claims quantifiable benefit over the other – Ours gets 40 mpg and theirs doesn’t.   And the numbers are tied to fully defined test protocols and testing agencies to bolster credibility.  Here’s the data.  Buy ours

But there’s a more powerful way to improve your brand, and that’s to map your products to reliability.  It’s far a more difficult game than the quantified head-to-head comparison of fuel economy and it’s a longer play, but done right, it’s a lasting play that is difficult to beat.  Run the thought experiment:  think about the brands you associate with reliability.  The brands that come to mind are strong, lasting brands, brands with staying power, brands whose products you want to buy, brands you don’t want to compete against.  When you buy their products you know what you’re going to get.  Your friends tell you stories about their products.

There’s a complete a complete tool set to create products that map to reliability, and they work.  But to work them, the commercialization team has to have the right mindset.  The team must have the patience to formally define how all the systems work and how they interact. (Sounds easy, but it can be painfully time consuming and the level of detail is excruciatingly extreme.)  And they have to be willing to work through the discomfort or developing a common understanding how things actually work. (Sounds like this shouldn’t be an issue, but it is – at the start, everyone has a different idea on how the system works.)  But more importantly, they’ve got to get over the natural tendency to blame the customer for using the product incorrectly and learn to design for unintended use.

The team has got to embrace the idea that the product must be designed for use in unpredictable ways in uncontrolled conditions. Where most teams want to narrow the inputs, this team designs for a wider range of inputs.  Where it’s natural to tighten the inputs, this team designs the product to handle a broader set of inputs.  Instead of assuming everything will work as intended, the team must assume things won’t work as intended (if at all) and redesign the product so it’s insensitive to things not going as planned.  It’s strange, but the team has to design for hypothetical situations and potential problems.  And more strangely, it’s not enough to design for potential problems the team knows about, they’ve got to design for potential problems they don’t know about. (That’s not a typo.  The team must design for failure modes it doesn’t know about.)

How does a team design for failure modes it doesn’t know about? They build a computer-based behavioral model of the system, right down to the nuts, bolts and washers, and they create inputs that represent the environment around the system.  They define what each element does and how it connects to the others in the system, capturing the governing physics and propagation paths of connections. Then they purposefully break the functions using various classes of failure types, run the analysis and review the potential causes.  Or, in the reverse direction, the team perturbs the system’s elements with inputs and, as the inputs ripple through the design, they find previously unknown undesirable (harmful) functions.

Purposefully breaking the functions in known ways creates previously unknown potential failure causes.  The physics-based characterization and the interconnection (interaction) of the system elements generate unpredicted potential failure causes that can be eliminated through design.  In that way, the software model helps find potential failures the team did not know about.  And, purposefully changing inputs to the system, again through the physics and interconnection of the elements, generates previously unknown harmful functions that can be designed out of the product.

If you care about the long-term staying power of your brand, you may want to take a look at TechScan, the software tool that makes all this possible.

Image credit — Chris Ford.

Selling New Products to New Customers in New Markets

yellow telephoneThere’s a special type of confusion that has blocked many good ideas from seeing the light of day.  The confusion happens early in the life of a new technology when it is up and running in the lab but not yet incorporated in a product.  Since the new technology provides a new flavor of customer goodness, it has the chance to create incremental sales for the company.  But, since there are no products in the market that provide the novel goodness, by definition there can be no sales from these products because they don’t yet exist.  And here’s the confusion.  Organizations equate “no sales” with “no market”.

There’s a lot of risk with launching new products with new value propositions to new customers.  You invest resources to create the new technologies and products, create the sales tools, train the sales teams, and roll it out well. And with all this hard work and investment, there’s a chance no one will buy it.  Launching a product that improves on an existing product with an existing market is far less risky – customers know what to expect and the company knows they’ll buy it.  The status quo when stable if all the players launch similar products, right up until it isn’t.  When an upstart enters the market with a product that offers new customer goodness (value proposition) the same-old-same-old market-customer dynamic is changed forever.

A market-busting product is usually launched by an outsider – either a big player moves into a new space or a startup launches its first product.  Both the new-to-market big boy and the startup have a far different risk profile than the market leader, not because their costs to develop and launch a new product are different, but because they have not market share.  For them, they have no market share to protect any new sales are incremental.  But for the established players, most of their resources are allocated to protecting their existing business and any resources diverted toward a new-to-market product is viewed as a loss of protective power and a risk to their market share and profitability.   And on top of that, the incumbent sees sales of the new product as a threat to sales of the existing products.  There’s a good chance that their some of their existing customers will prefer the new goodness and buy the new-to-market product instead of the tried-and-true product.  In that way, sales growth of their own new product is seen as an attack no their own market share.

Business leaders are smart.  Theoretically, they know when a new product is proposed, because it hasn’t launched yet, there can be no sales.  Yet, practically, because their prime directive to protect market share is so all-encompassing and important, their vision is colored by it and they confound “no sales” with “no market”.  To move forward, it’s helpful to talk about their growth objectives and time horizon.

With a short time horizon, the best use of resources is to build on what works – to launch a product that builds on the last one.  But when the discussion is moved further out in time, with a longer time horizon it’s a high risk decision to hold on tightly to what you have as the market changes around you.  Eventually, all recipes run out of gas like Henry Ford’s Model T.  And the best leading indicator of running low on fuel is when the same old recipe cannot deliver on medium-term growth objectives.  Short term growth is still there, but further out they are not.  Market forces are squeezing the juice out of your past success.

Ultimately, out of desperation, the used-to-be market leader will launch a new-to-market product.  But it’s not a good idea to do this work only when it’s the only option left.  Before they’re launched, new products that offer new value to customers will, by definition, have no sales.  Try to hold back the fear-based declaration that there is no market.  Instead, do the forward-looking marketing work to see if there is a market.  Assume there is a market and build some low cost learning prototypes and put them in front of customers.  These prototypes don’t yet have to be functional; they just have to communicate the idea behind the new value proposition.

Before there is a market, there is an idea that a market could exist.  And before that could-be market is served, there must be prototype-based verification that the market does in fact exist.  Define the new value proposition, build inexpensive prototypes and put them in front of customers.  Listen to their feedback, modify the prototypes and repeat.

Instead of arguing whether the market exists, spend all your energy proving that it does.

Image credit — lensletter

Doing New Work

first rideIf you know what to do, do it.  But if you always know what to do, do something else.  There’s no excitement in turning the crank every-day-all-day, and there’s no personal growth.  You may be getting glowing reviews now, but when your process is documented and becomes standard work, you’ll become one of the trivial many that follow your perfected recipe, and your brain will turn soggy.

If you want to do the same things more productively, do continuous improvement.  Look at the work and design out the waste.  I suggest you look for the waiting and eliminate it.  (One hint – look for people or parts queueing up and right in front of the pile you’ll find the waste maker.)  But if you always eliminate waste, do something else.  Break from the minimization mindset and create something new.  Maximize something. Blow up the best practice or have the courage to obsolete your best work.  In a sea of continuous improvement, be the lighthouse of doing new.

When you do something for the first time, you don’t know how to do it. It’s scary, but that’s just the feeling you want.  The cold feeling in your chest is a leading indicator of personal growth.  (If you don’t have a sinking feeling in your gut, see paragraph 1.) But organizations don’t make it easy to do something for the first time.  The best approach is to start small.  Try small experiments that don’t require approval from a budget standpoint and are safe to fail.  Run the experiments under the radar and learn in private.  Grow your confidence in yourself and your thinking.  After you have some success, show your results to people you trust.  Their input will help you grow.  And you’ll need every bit of that personal growth because to staff and run a project to bring your new concept to life you’ll need resources.  And for that you’ll need to dance with the most dangerous enemy of doing new things – the deadly ROI calculation.

The R is for return.  To calculate the return for the new concept you need to know: how many you’ll sell, how much you’ll sell them for, how much it will cost, and how well it will work.  All this must be known BEFORE resources can be allocated. But that’s not possible because the new thing has never been done before.  Even before talking about investment (I), the ROI calculation makes a train wreck of new ideas.  To calculate investment, you’ve got to know how many person-hours will be needed, the cost of the materials to make the prototypes and the lab resources needed for testing.  But that’s impossible to know because the work has never been done before.  The ROI is a meaningless calculation for new ideas and its misapplication has spelled death for more good ideas than anything else known to man.

Use the best practice and standardize the work. There’s immense pressure to repeat what was done last time because our companies prefer incremental growth that’s predictable over unreasonable growth that’s less certain.  And add to that the personal risk and emotional discomfort of doing new things and it’s a wonder how we do anything new at all.

But magically, new things do bubble up from the bottom. People do find the courage to try things that obsolete the business model and deliver new lines of customer goodness.  And some even manage survive the run through the ROI gauntlet.  With odds stacked against them, your best people push through their fears cut through the culture of predictability.

Imagine what they will do when you demand they do new work, give them the tools, time and training to do it, and strike the ROI calculation from our vocabulary.

Image credit – Tony Sergo

Finding Your Full Potential

The Brain ShowIf you’re all sad or anxious, you’re not operating at full potential.

If you’re sad, you’re thinking about the past.  You’re remembering what happened and wishing it went differently.  You’re compromising the present by spending emotional energy on something that cannot change.  The past is gone, never to return.  Can’t unwind it, can’t undo it. Let it go.  Bring your mind back to your body.  It’s time to realize your potential, and the only way to do that is to live in the present.

If you’re anxious or afraid, you’re thinking about the future.  You’re thinking about what may happen and imagining that it’s not going to go your way.  You’re practicing failure in the future.  It’s not possible to control the future, so don’t try.  And don’t worry about problems that haven’t happened yet because they may not happen at all. Grab your mind and reattach it to your body because the future is not made in the future, it’s made in the present.  And that’s just where you’ll find your full potential.

You operate at your full potential when you apply your full attention to the present.  In the present, all your internal resources are applied to the situation at hand.  If you are in a conversation with a friend, you are fully engaged and practicing full-body listening.  If you are working on a problem, each hemisphere sees it from its own perspective all-the-while discussing it with its better half.  Point is, you’re all-in. Point is, all of you is in the present.

When you find your mind wandering in the past, take a breath and bring it back to the present so you can get back to living at your potential.  When you find your mind worrying in the future, take two breaths and head back to the home of your full potential.

Whether you find it in the past or future, just bring your mind back to the present.  There’s nothing wrong with a mind that wanders.  Minds wander.  That’s their nature.  That’s what they do. Don’t be sad and don’t worry.  Just bring it back.

Image credit – TEDxPioneerValley2012

Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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