Building new product – My experiences

I have consolidated all my earlier blog posts on ‘Building new product – My experiences’ into a document (both .PDF and .PPT) and got them uploaded to slideshare.

Please check them below:

Link to slideshare: http://www.slideshare.net/merragun/new-product-development-my-experiences

The copy can be downloaded from www.productguy.in/resources/

.PDF version

.PPT version

For ease of reference, i also provided the links to my earlier blog posts related to building new products

Ideation phase

Business review phase

Drafting product requirements

Importance of a monitoring plan

Product development planning

Product development

Essential traits of Product Manager for success of new product development

In the next series, i will focus on articles related to product roadmap preparation. I will try to focus on the following

  • Purpose of product roadmap

Product roadmap serves different purpose to different stakeholders, but product roadmap is required by all the stakeholders(product managers, customers, development team, sales, business development etc)

  • Contents of product roadmap

‘Listen to your customers’ is age old adage that is followed by every business and I am not advocating doing anything differently. I am just trying to emphasis that we both listen and understand our customers, but we do not let them decide our product roadmap. On the same lines, I want to quote the words of Henry Ford “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Ford while listening to his customers understood their innate needs of travelling quickly from A –> B. So does listening and understanding our customers alone would suffice? Can the roadmap be filled with customer requirements alone?

  • Ratio of customer vs market focus features in product roadmap

Product roadmap should focus both on market and customer, the biggest dilemma now is to determine what % of the product roadmap would be occupied by both market and customer requirements?

  • Where product requirements originate

Product Manager alone could not be a single source of origin for product requirements, product requirements could be generated by pretty much all the stake holders (including BDMs, sales, development teams, customers etc). Now the larger question, how could Product Manager ensure that there is a free flow of product requirements from all the stake holders to the Product Manager?

  • How to prioritize product requirements

There will be umpteen requirements gathered from all the stakeholders and what parameters does Product Manager use to ensure that right set of requirements are prioritized in each release and how does Product Manager measure the efficacy of prioritizing the product requirements?

  • How to stick to product roadmap without letting your customers hijack it

PMs diligently prepare the product roadmap to reflect the product growth strategy. Nevertheless nothing works as per the plan. First roadblock that every PM face is some unexpected product requirement requests from their customers and that product requirement will be total deviation from the items planned in the roadmap. How Product Managers could stop their customers from hijacking the product roadmap?

Happy Christmas and Happy New Year

 

Innovation – A psychological barrier

This is the concluding part of the 3 part series on ‘How to stimulate innovation’.

When you talk to any of the engineers who don’t innovate and ask them for reasons, as per my experience, the only two responses that I could anticipate are ‘What is in it for me’ and ‘Innovation is not my cup of tea’. Regarding the former ‘What is in it for me’, I have already spoken about it in the 1st part of 3 part series (How to stimulate innovation). Regarding the latter ‘Innovation is not my cup of tea’, the response stems from the self limiting ability of the engineer(s) because most of them opine that Innovation is synonymous to being only complex and big. The self limiting tendency is what I call Psychological barrier to innovation. The thought that innovation is complex is the primary cause for self limiting tendency but the Innovation(s) can be as simple as listed in the blog post ‘Innovations – Keep it simple’ . The efficacy of the innovation is not measured by its complexity and scale but by the impact that it could create.

Self limiting ability prevents us from exploiting our full potential by drawing rigid boundaries around our comfort zone and providing an impression that our true capabilities are limited by those boundaries. But hardly do we realize that each of us have potential to innovate (at least incremental innovations, if not disruptive innovation). Just like hidden treasures in the world, there are definitely hidden talents within us (irrespective of the age). Few of us are fortunate enough to realize those talents by pushing our limits and expanding our comfort zone.

Though the DNA to innovate should have been inflicted in the minds of every individual in the college, nevertheless it is not too late for organization to do the job. Organization can pull engineers to take certain smaller steps that can eventually help them to expand their comfort zone. As a first step, Organizations should strive to break the myth that innovation is not always complex and big. To do so, organizations have to nominate existing Innovators as Influencer (remember Influencer in Tipping Point) to spread the message that Innovation is everyone’s capability and to provide motivational push to innovate.

Next in the sequence is to inculcate the ‘Solution Thinking’ among engineers as outlined in previous blog. Final step is to pull engineer to record their ideas through novel ways such as IDEA DAY or IDEA CONTEST where you coax a group of individual to share their ideas. Initially the focus should be on quantity of ideas and not on quality, later we can identify the patterns of those ideas to figure out what triggers each idea. Also institute mentors to help idea generators shape their idea. In this stage, the focus should be only on accumulating as many ideas as possible into the repository, never burden engineers to provide details such as the approximate $ value, target market etc. Those details should be provided jointly by Sales, Account team, PM after evaluating the applicability of idea to existing or new products.

Starting with above mentioned small little steps would instill stronger innovation culture into the Organization and one day lead the Organization to the cusp of major innovation.

 

How to push collaborative innovation

During IPMA event, I had a chance to interact with Head of Product Management, Wipro and I asked him how service organization could enforce collaborative innovation. He was quick to point out a top-down approach.

Top-down approach is that every BU by default would have certain sales target and he wants to strictly enforce that certain percentage of the revenues had to come from either new solutions/new markets. Even if the overallsales target is achieved and X% of sales revenue is not contributed by either new solutions/new markets then the target is to be missed. Such approach will ensure that the BU heads will persuaded to push for collaborative innovation and they will bring in required process to capture the value arrived out of collaborative innovation. However from the conversation, I could not sense that there is no deliberate attempt to spur the collaborative innovation from bottom-up.

I sincerely feel that there should be some equal focus on the bottom-up approach too for the success of collaborative innovation. As stated in previous blog article, engineers are more focused on their individual component that they often fail to relate their component with every other component in the entire end-to-end solution. We have to facilitate them to think how their components work in relation to other component in the overall solution. Such thinking is also called as Systems thinking and it will help foster a mental map that will provide a holistic view of how each component is related to the entire system or rather solution in our case. System thinking will act as stimulus for collaborative innovation as the engineers would have the urge to understand every component in relation to every other component in the system. But the biggest challenge is to inculcate systems thinking in the minds of engineers.

How –> What –>Why (Are we here?)

Last week I attended P-Camp hosted by IPMA @ IIM B and was privileged to listen to series of talks by some of the leading professional in the industry. One such talk was delivered by Mr. G. Venkatesh, CTO at Sasken. He was talking more about collaborative innovation and how imminent it is in the flat world structure.

Before we delve into the details of collaborative innovation and various reasons for its necessity, we have to take a look at how outsourcing industry in India has transformed over the last 2-3 decades. During early stages of outsourcing, customers used to elaborate WHAT task is required and HOW to perform that task. Companies in India diligently followed the instructions and later delivered the task as instructed by the customers in the west. Later Indian companies started focusing on process excellence, execution excellence and they evolved themselves to decide HOW to perform a particular task. So they never expected companies from the west to let them know HOW to perform the task, rather the focus now is only on WHAT task has to be performed. Such a transformation to happen is really great and over the years most of the Indian companies (especially the top 4) have pioneered the art of formulating a process and have consistently proven in execution excellence. However, the larger questions that loom is that whether those companies have reached next level of transformation or at least inching towards such a transformation. The next level of transformation as the blog title suggests is to ask the customers WHY they would have to perform such a task. Asking WHY would facilitate to gain deeper insights into the core problem of the customers paving way for solution based thinking. More importantly, it will help Product Managers identify/discover new market segments, new use cases.

Let me try to put things into perspective with some simple analogy. Last week, one of our customers is asking us to increase the number of HW entries in our product. Those entries do the functionality similar to ACLs (Access Control Lists). During the design phase, the architect did not see any demand beyond ‘X’ entries and HW limitations too do not allow us to go beyond ‘X’ entries. However, when there was a new requirement, engineers were baffling to find out WHAT should be done to increase those entries. After a long struggle, when they almost hit a dead-end, someone out of blue started asking WHY would the customer need such an enhancement. Later both PM and engineering team found that the customer was using the HW entries differently than it was designed for. Actually, there are alternative means to achieve their requirements. Had the engineering not hit the dead-end and had there been a feasibility to increase the HW entries, there would have been a definite attempt to increase the HW entries costing us few additional dollars. As in this scenario, asking WHY does not always help us to identify either new market segments or use cases. However, it definitely helps us to put things into better perspective. Asking WHY is very simple, but more often engineers are so focused on their individual components that they lose the larger picture of the end-to-end solution. Now let me get back to our original focus on collaborative innovation. Collaborative innovation will facilitate us to move away from the mindset of individual components to end-to-end solution level focus/thinking. Such thinking is imperative for succeeding in WHY transformation

In another case, we found out that our product was bought by a data center company. DC was not part of our market segment so focusing on WHY they want our product rather than WHAT they want from our product will help us in understanding their requirements. Later PM team can factor those requirements to either create a new of the product or position the existing product exclusively for DC customers.

When the World is getting flatter and when India is slowly but gradually losing its status as a low-cost delivery region, delivering more value is the only way to regain the momentum and maintain an invincible position. Asking WHY helps us move in that direction.

Evolution of Apps Ecosystem

After the evolution of Apple’s app store, Apps has become a critical element in the smartphone segment. The craze for apps is so huge that it has become a billion dollar market and all the OS developers are focusing to increase their database of Apps. Apple has traditionally been a closed company and I presume that Apple would have realized that standing alone it would not be able to build a huge collection of apps. Hence it provided SDKs and allowed external world to contribute to the development of apps. The entire process has become an instant hit that it has become imperative for any organization to let the world develop apps for them. Further the advent of Google App Inventor that enables a non-programmer to create apps with ease only exemplifies that the need to empower end-users (most importantly non-programmers) to create their own mobile apps is the most pressing need of the hour. Probably companies has to identify more such innovative methods to increase the database of Apps.

Moreover the existence of apps has become a key factor in the buying decision of any smartphone and it has pushed the importance of apps among OS developers . I am also wondering whether there is any possibility for apps to create a customer lock-in effect. Do apps really have the potential to tie the customer to a particular platform? Reports indicate that average iPhone user downloads 40 apps, considering 50% of the apps downloaded are paid and the average cost of app is around 3$, the amount invested towards apps is around 60$. Is 60$ too big an investment for a customer to get tied to a particular platform. Otherwise would he/she be willing to forego that investment to re-purchase those apps on a new platform. There are no straightforward answers. At least I can conclude that apps have the potential to create a lock-in considering the fact that the average number of apps downloaded by the users is on an increasing trend.
However the bigger question that remains now is whether HTML5 will take the sheen away from native app developers. The emergence of HTML5 might allow the developers to develop apps that are independent of the platform. Such a scenario will re-define the entire apps ecosystem and reduce the significance of OS developers. Until then, OS developers are poised to rule the roost and define the rules of apps eco-system.

Has Android really changed the dynamics of smartphone market

According to me, there are two tipping points in smartphone market. First tipping point is the arrival of IPhone. Firstly IPhone has changed the perspective of user experience in smartphones and secondly it has paved the way for evolution of apps eco-system. Apple has set a benchmark with respect to apps that success of future smartphone OS lingers on its ability to successfully create an apps eco-system. The second tipping point is Android. Android is definitely a force to reckon with in smartphone market that would otherwise been poised to be dominated by IPhone. Android has given new lease of life for all the handset manufacturers to revive their smartphones portfolio and thereby completely changing the competitive landscape of the smartphone market. Most of the smartphone manufacturers like HTC, Motorola have increased their market share in smartphone market after introduction of Android phones.

Now Android OS being free and Smartphone market being on an exponential growth trajectory, most of the companies that do not have any experience in mobile market are launching smartphones. The list includes Huaweii, Dell, Mindtree and it will keep growing irrespective of the success of the earlier mentioned companies. Everyone wants to have a share of the larger pie to quench their growth requirements. Leaving aside the discussion regarding the ability of those firms to succeed in crowded markets, I can assert that Android is on the path to make the smartphones a mass market product by facilitating flurry of companies enter smartphone market. Had it not been for Android, how anyone would justify the entry of so many players in smartphone market. As always, Google has been a game changer in every segment it enters. As a next wave, I feel that the day is not far off where I can buy my own smartphone hardware and load OS of my choice.

Do smartphone manufacturers poised to face the same fate of desktop OEMs?

We all witnessed the fate of desktop OEMs starting early 90’s. After the successful marriage of windows and Intel (a formidable alliance that earned the term ‘WINTEL’), IBM bit the dust in desktop PC market. Both Windows and Intel later went onto capture most of the value in the entire desktop value chain. Therefore they both commanded higher premium price for their products, while rest of the players (mostly OEMs like Dell, Compaq etc) had to be contended with razor thin margins. Though strong brand awareness is the reason for charging premium price, we also cannot discount the fact that both of them had higher share of loyalty among desktop users.

Now the history seems to repeat itself in smartphone market. The recent reports suggest that smartphone users are more loyal to OS. IPhone OS tops the list, while Symbian occupies bottom of the list. So this obviously implies that much of the value in the smartphone market will be rendered by smartphone OS developers. Therefore there will be little value left to be captured by smartphone manufacturers like HTC, Samsung, LG, Motorola etc (pure manufacturers who does have OS of their own). I sincerely feel those players have little left to be differentiated (apart from their UI). Hence would not be positioned to add much value and are bound to be contended with less profit margins. The entire hypothesis is based on the fact that players rendering higher value in the entire value chain will have lions share of the profit. Therefore smartphone manufacturers poised to repeat the history of desktop OEM players.

According to their profit margins, smartphone manufacturers clearly occupy the bottom left quadrant in the ROI analysis. They are relatively risk free because they can switch the OS shipped with their smartphones anytime with zero switching cost as smartphone users change their loyalty between open source OS.

I have carefully avoided mentioning about Apple, Blackberry, Nokia & Google, not because they will complicate the discussion but because they belong to a different genre. Those players are seen more as OS developers than as smartphone manufacturers. In my next series of articles, i will touch upon all those players while discussing about the evolution of smartphone eco-system. It will be also interesting to discuss the impact of open source software (more importantly Android) in smartphone market and how it has changed the dynamics of the market. Further adding Samsung Bada to the discussion will be interesting.

I appreciate any effort to leave a comment or write to me @ murali.erraguntala@gmail.com