Alle Beiträge von fberzau

The art of innovating

A few weeks ago I watched a Samsung keynote. And last week I watched an Apple keynote. What a difference.

As far as the Samsung event is concerned, this was the second I watched. And like the other one I wasn’t able to watch it through until end. The first event I watched was the announcement of the latest Samsung Galaxy IV. I saw dancers on a Broadway stage. A step-dancing child! And I saw a confusing mess of features being mentioned, interrupted by some weird show. A lack of proper demos. But most importantly, a lack of focus. Provided I had recorded the event, then stripped off all bullshit, to just learn what’s new about the phone, I guess I had just a few minutes worth of watching. Let’s not forget I also had to re-order sequences to make any sense out of the presentation.

The latest Samsung event I watched introduced a Galaxy Note and the Gear. A smart watch designed with an obvious lack of taste. I admit this is a very personal thing, and there are maybe people out there liking it, I wouldn’t take money wearing it. Independent of features offered. And that’s the other thing. What on earth has Samsung packed into the device? Why the heck do they think I need that on my arm wrist? Why is there a Galaxy Gear? Just why?

I was thinking for myself, what was driving Samsung? Engineering pride, certainly. It’s very obviously a result of a thinking to pack everything in that’s technically possible. And a bad desire to be first to market. To be the ones who define a new market. The product is just not ready. Lack of device support. Lack of being small enough. Lack of battery life. Lack of doing the things that matter most as easily and obvious as possible. All clear signs of a product that was rushed to market under a deadline. And the end result? I don’t think it’s worth to quote the reviews.

But then, what is „Innovation“?

Many years ago Steve Jobs put it perfectly:

You have to start with the customer experience and then work backwards.

And while that seems so reasonable. So obvious. It’s one of the hardest things possible. The difficulty in any product management or innovation process starts with your ability to imagine. Well, most companies take customer input as the number one source for making product decisions. Sales, support, analysts, press, and an endless list of other stake holders as well. And there’s nothing bad about that. However, what you get from any of these sources is typically pretty good ideas on how to improve a product. And all of these groups are driven be specific, often times conflicting, motivations. Customers are certainly closest to reality, except that in most cases companies don’t talk to the average customer, they talk to their largest, most prestigious, most educated, customers.

But how can you „start with the customer experience“? What exactly is „experience“?

Let me jump to the Apple keynote I’ve seen last week. And let me pick iWork. First I have to admit I tried to use iWork in the past. Simply because there is some reason to try to get rid of Microsoft Office (price being one, too many features being another, and there’s more). But iWork was a bit difficult to use, too. It took me a little to discover the Inspector, to get access to a bunch of features. But this floating thing, with extra floating windows for color selection and other tasks. Argh. So with a few years since the last version of iWork, and with the beautiful Web app they’ve demo’ed at WWDC earlier this year, I was really hoping to be able to get a decent iWork suite. One that would help me move away from Office.

And what I saw made me instantly feel like, yep that’s it. I’m going to give that version another try, and I’m pretty sure I’ll stick with it. Why? Because it looks simple to use. It does the day to day job, in a much more intuitive way than the previous version of iWork. I was really happy after watching the keynote. Now, a lot of people have come up lately and said, this new iWork sucks. Because Apple dropped features all over the place. So I have to go and dig deeper than what I’ve done so far, which was randomly opening Office documents to see whether they import ok, and I can edit the content (which by the way worked fine so far). But I have to do more before I’m convinced I can migrate. And maybe I find a few missing features that will make me hold off until a future incremental update adds them back in.

But the key here is this. I’ve seen so many people – including myself at times – get lost in Microsoft Office when it comes to doing the simple things. And sometimes it’s happening over and over again. I mean the same old stupid things I explained a few times. People don’t use them for a while. And they call again to ask where it was. Why? Because it’s buried under a ton of stuff, feature, options, menu items… that no one ever uses. Except that power user who uses one or two of those exotic features, and another one uses some other exotic feature. And so over the history of doing Office all those features made it in. And Office can be everything ever needed for the last power user on the planet. And at the same time it’s absolutely confusing and frightening to the average user. People who’d like to write a letter. A one or two page document, maybe with a table in it, or some images they import from iPhoto. Here’s your average user. And their experience is what’s to define the product. And the new iWork delivers.

This is not about how complete iWork is. It’s about the process. It’s about how you attempt to do product management.

Creativity

Often times in my life people had looked at me as the go to person for ideas. Product ideas. Market trends. Reading the future. A big part in this is the process of creativity. It’s easy to keep improving on something. You can ask customers. And they’ll tell you what they are missing in your product. Analysts will tell you what other vendors are doing. But in order to figure out something that’s really innovative, a different kind of approach is needed. What I can say is that I truly loved it when I worked in a team, and was able to inspire creativity in a way that resulted in true innovation. Driving a rapid market change. Driving features that were truly unique.

The process behind is beautifully described by John Cleese. If you have about 10 minutes to spare, this is so worth the time. What it, and you’ll understand a lot about creativity. And you’ll understand a great deal of how I’m wired.

 

Cross border M&A and the difference between VCs in the US and Europe

Here’s another great article from our partners at The Revenue Group, including an interview where I explain the key aspects of a cross border acquisition. Looking back at my career at various IT security companies it looks as if my whole life was just a series of M&A activities. I feel blessed for the many great opportunities to learn about different cultures, the benefits and obstacles in M&A, both domestic and cross-border. Together with the technical background and we can offer comprehensive consulting services in all phases of an acquisition – developing or reviewing a strategy, planing, performing a due-diligence and all aspects of a successful integration.

Full article at: http://mikerogerstrg.wordpress.com/2013/05/30/cross-border-ma-and-the-difference-between-vcs-in-the-us-and-europe/

7 Steps to Successful M&A

Great article from our partner The Revenue Group on key aspects of a successful M&A:

There is no such thing as the perfect deal and blending together two companies is never easy. There are bound to be issues that come up before and after you make that agreement, but it all depends on a sound strategy. You can fix a bad deal structure, you can fix a bad integration, but you can’t fix a bad strategy. Based on my experience in corporate development I’ve come up with seven steps to developing and following a smart M&A strategy.

Full article at http://mikerogerstrg.wordpress.com/2013/05/07/7-steps-to-successful-ma/

Conflict

A blog post about „Conflict“? Uh, too scary? Maybe not. I thought there is so much unclear about what conflict is, how we react to it, and how it’s possible to resolve it. There are so many bad examples, so many escalations involving yelling at each other up to violence – in our personal lives, work environments, politics, just everywhere. Also I’ve often been asked, what my consulting or management style is, and I found that it has a lot to do with conflict management. I believe I can’t interact with people without exposing conflict, except if  avoiding  honesty and sacrificing productivity. So, how do I handle it.

First, what is „conflict“? In the Wikipedia article about conflict I find this statement:

„Conflict refers to some form of friction, disagreement, or discord arising within a group when the beliefs or actions of one or more members of the group are either resisted by or unacceptable to one or more members of [the] group.“

Well, fairly simple. At its core, conflict is about different opinion or judgement, and it includes the reaction of „resisted by or unacceptable to“. Seems so common, we should all be very used to it, and dealing with conflict should be something so basic, we’d all be able to master it easily.

It’s not. And the reason it is not, I believe, is the „reaction“ to the friction, disagreement or discord. That reaction involves emotion, and unless you’re an ego-centric person with both no hesitation to express emotion and a position or status with no fear from sanction, that’s a very uncomfortable situation. For nearly every person emotions like defiance, anger, rage are difficult to handle. Even worth the deeper emotions like helplessness, powerlessness. The typical mechanism is avoidance. By ignoring or avoiding conflict one can reliably suppress upcoming emotions – at the cost of a fake consensus, with all its negative consequences.

What is very important is the realization that conflict is practically unavoidable. Since every individual has a unique set of skills, expertise and conditioning it’s only natural that for any given topic or question, there’s as many opinions, or at least flavors of opinions, as people involved. Since humans naturally gather in groups of equal interest, conflict does not arise all the time. Yet it is nearly unavoidable it does. And if smart people gather in groups with diverse, unique capabilities, or teams are built from members of different groups – well, conflict is going to happen. It can take a lot of the heat to just look at that fact alone. Conflict isn’t bad, it’s not a sign that stupid people are sharing stupid ideas. It’s natural. Also, looking at the fact people from different groups, different background, skills, etc. are brought together to benefit from each other, and that conflict is part of that setup, can help dealing with it differently.

The one thing I found difficult is that, since a reaction to conflict involves emotion, and that emotion in itself can cause a reaction… we’re in a loop! Ever seen someone getting angry. Did that make you angry, too? That’s the issue I’m talking about. So, easier said than done, but still to mention. One key aspect of successful conflict resolution is to not react to emotion. Actually, it would be to not react to the conflict itself, if that is possible. It’s the simple emotions that prevent conflict resolution, consensus, productivity. The bigger the impact, in a team, an organization etc., the more valuable the efforts to address that issue. Via internal or external coaching, supervision or similar. Via experienced management or moderation of meetings. Or via taking a break, looking at the facts, and gathering again to resume the process. Another option would be to just let all emotions be expressed freely. As long as escalations (e.g. physical violence) can be controlled, that would be a possible way to go, yet it comes at a price (hurt feelings, time) and, due to the nature of it, may not result in the best possible conflict resolution.

The other thing I’ve often seen as the cause of ineffective conflict resolution is ones own importance, aka. the ego. Looking at the simple fact that people with different background, skills and expertise will naturally arrive at different opinion, it is amazing how commonly every single one believes that his or her opinion is the most valuable in the group, and the one that’s got be the group consensus. It’s amazing, and yet so very natural. Since one arrived at the opinion or conclusion based on all the knowledge accumulated it sure looks like the best possible outcome. The simple fact other people are looking at the fact from their perspective, with the same confidence, yet different accumulated knowledge is usually overseen or ignored. Again, looking at the fact, being aware that this is the way the human brain works, and we’re all victims of our ego-centric existence can certainly improve the conflict resolution process.

At the end of the day, successful conflict resolution depends on just a few things. Awareness of the entire process. An understanding of the working of the human brain. A certain level of consciousness of the ego and its working. An understanding of emotions and a maturity in dealing with them. And, last but not least, the willingness to express an opinion, paired with the respect of other opinions in the group, an open mind to listen to them, and a willingness to agree on what seems the best option. And, of course, time.

Collaboration

Yahoo made the news this week, with a policy change mandating employees to work in the office. A lot has been said about it the past few days, however I tend to disagree with many of them. I think it’s actually far more complicated than what is implied in much of the media outcry. What I should say upfront is that I have worked from home for over a decade, and for the most part I truly enjoyed it. At the same time, I have also seen the disadvantages. Today, if I were to run a bigger company, I am sure that what I would do is neither the ‚I don’t care where people work, as long as they’re productive‘ not the ‚let’s all get together in the office‘. I believe in reality neither of those extreme positions would do justice, and more importantly it wouldn’t be the way to maximize productivity.

First of all, I don’t think there’s a question whether it makes sense to have everybody together in the office. If you think meeting, if you think brainstorming, if you think collaboration, getting stuff – it’s all done much better together. So easy to speak in a conference room, or better yet, the cafeteria, hallway, or the bar after office hours. A phone call, or worse phone conference, can never get close. And video chat doesn’t change much here. So it seems natural, that spending the day together in the office makes sense.

At the same time, there are cases where it’s difficult, or even counter-productive, to spend the (full) day at the office. When you’re working isolated, you don’t need help or collaboration with others, when all you want to do is get some stuff done. Uninterrupted, focused, concentrated. Or if you think about inspiration. Maybe it’s a good idea to get out of the office. For a walk, a coffee, a discussion outside the office. Maybe you have a kid ill and can’t afford to leave it alone. I can think of so many reasons why it makes sense to make an exception. And maybe, if you job is about silently and focused work, it’s not even an exception, it’s the rule that it makes more sense to do it from home.

But here’s the issue. How can you trust your employees to make the right decision. To carefully weigh the needs of the job vs. family. How can you trust everybody to make the best decision, and to do it each day, depending on actual needs. To me, it seems that is key. I guess I would worry about that first. Inspring the team to think as one. To trust each and everybody makes the best decision. To encourage employees to spend more time in the company, so collaboration isn’t sacrificed. But not enforcing it. And, by the way, this is exactly what Yahoo does, according to the memo it says „for [those] who occasionally have to stay home…, please use your best judgement in the spirit of collaboration“.

That to me is the scary part about Yahoo’s move. The enforcement. The apparent no exceptions allowed rule. I don’t want to speculate what lead them to make this decision. But to me it sounds like that’s where I’d start investigating. If my feeling was people aren’t spending enough time in the office, they weren’t collaborating enough, I’d worry deeply. And maybe, to set a sign, a would temporarily enforce a stricter (not one with no exception) policy. Doing so, however, has a price tag on it. You may lose some of your most talented people. It may generally harm the culture and satisfaction of everybody in the company. I’d be very careful with this. Very careful.

And yet, nothing can beat that argument. Collaboration requires people to spend time together – face to face. Period.

Intuitive thinking

I’ve often thought that the ideal Product Manager is an intuitively thinking individual, because that type of thinking enables forward looking predictions, it allows to take a lot of additional, often hard to measure data into consideration. However, Product Managers are quite commonly faced with the fact that other stakeholders‘ are of a different type. More data centric, more concrete. So what is intuition, and how can it be explained to people who have little knowledge or experience in intuitive thinking…

Wikipedia, in the article about the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, describes it as follows:

„[Individuals] who prefer intuition tend to trust information that is more abstract or theoretical, that can be associated with other information (either remembered or discovered by seeking a wider context or pattern). They may be more interested in future possibilities. For them, the meaning is in the underlying theory and principles which are manifested in the data.“
Wikipedia – Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

Contrarily, people who prefer sensing are described in that same article as individuals who prefer to trust information that is in the present, tangible, and concrete. For them, the meaning is in the data.

How to bridge that gap?

Well, very obviously it is a real gift if key stakeholders in the process, decision makers, executive management either are intuitive individuals, or can relate to it. This often happens when positive experience had been made in the past. Predictions of intuitive product managers have become true. Even if the suggested actions had not been approved, changes in the market, the competitive landscape, have proven that the intuitive person was correct in all the assumptions made. However, many times a product manager doesn’t get the time to build a relationship over many years. Or other people are unable to remember what was predicted, and then happened. Or the intuitive product manager simply has given up asking for things he/she would never get anyhow.

How does intuition work? Well, for me it’s a miracle, even though I am intuitive. If I had to describe it, I’d say my brain is a black box. With lots of silence in it. Then, when I get into a situation and I’m seeking for clarity, guidance, for the future, I start to consume information. I talk to people. But what’s important – I have absolutely no plan why I’m asking the questions I’m asking. I have no idea why I choose to read an article but not another. That whole process is based on something, but that something lies deep in the dark inside my brain. After a while I kinda start feeling like there is a complete picture. Still hidden in the brain, still in the dark. I can’t say how it will look like once complete, but I do get „the feeling“ it’s there. Like if you see a sharp object from a distance, but through a wall of fog. I know that, once it gets closer, it will be all clear and obvious. But if somebody, during that process, asks me how far I am – all I can say is that I guess it’s becoming clear, but what I see is fog only. But then things become clear, and the closer it gets, the more information I consume, the more obvious things become. And finally, what I find in my brain is something sharp, shiny, clear – just so very obvious. That, to me, is the process of getting clarity the intuitive way.

To people who prefer data, this is absolutely scary. Often times, when people ask me half-way through a project, how things are going, an honest answer would just be „Difficult to see. Always in motion the future is.“ (Yoda in response to Luke, Star Wars Episode V., by the way). But, no mistake, that’s not the answer that will give a non-intuitive person confidence. The same is true for general product management tasks like prioritizing features. How can you explain, that a specific feature would be the killer thing, the one that sets you apart from the competition – if there is no data supporting it. And here’s the dilemma: There is no data available! We’re talking about future. Sure, a responsible product manager looks at all available data, he/she consumes a lot of data, maybe more about the subject than anybody else. But there’s no way, for an intuitive person, to map a specific set of data to a prediction made about the future. Well, in reality you just can’t map data to future (unless you’re Yoda, but even then, remember „alway in motion the future is“).

The important aspect is a deep understanding, and maybe even more important as a prerequisite, appreciation of the various types of thinking. Understanding the other person is key. And it’s hard work. What this means is that you have to step outside of your comfort zone. It is a time-consuming and tedious task to dig into all the information available. Thinking about what bits of information are relevant to data centric people. Trying to understand what they need to support a decision. Always remember, for an intuitive person things are just so plain simple and clear. But they way to make it transparent, to explain it at a level that makes all stakeholders feel comfortable is a tremendous effort – yet one that can’t be ignored.

Once understood, this process becomes part of the job. You will get used to it to some level. At least you will be experienced in noticing the comfort level of non-intuitive people, and you understand that – if it’s below a given threshold – you have to go back and dig even deeper. Prepare more data. Outline more precisely and carefully how you arrived at a conclusion.

And maybe, and that’s the real beauty of it, and where non-intuitive people have a real strengths – you may stumble upon a fact, a piece of data that – simply spoken – invalidates all your feelings, assumptions, your ability to just see things. At the end of the day, and that’s my credo, both types are critically important, relevant and needed. Or, as Albert Einstein once put it: „The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.“. I’m saying we need both. And we need to honor both. From there, bridging the gap will be possible, it’s just a matter of applying the right tools, the right language, the required sensitivity.

Partner highlight – adyton

I have built some nice partnerships, allowing for more scalability and the ability to participate in some really nice projects. Today, I’d like to highlight one of those partners – adyton:

adyton provides sales and business development services for software companies that need to be successful in the European market. The adyton sales team has extensive international experience in the sale of products and services. They provide access to the Top 500 Decision Makers Network in Europe. They are ideally suited to help you build or expand a European sales team, or as top sales consultants to help you grow your European sales. You can learn more about adyton at http://adyton.de/ or contact me directly for an introduction.

Quality

Quality is what I view as a key topic. I cannot count the number of times I’ve seen marketing material that’s been put together in a rush, with a focus on budget and time constraints. Yet, in my view, anything that’s customer facing (web content, collateral, presentations, etc.) is showing how much we truly value the customer. And customers are generally, whether they’re aware of this or not, very much affected by this.

For many years I’ve put a lot of attention to doing things visually appealing. Simple, clear, precise. And it’s more a question of attention, not time spent. Obviously it does take time to get things done right, however the more work is done, the easier it gets, and results are confirming how much customers appreciate the attention to quality.

Clarity

Clarity to me is a laser sharp focus on what’s really important.

I’ve seen a lot of companies in my career who have great talent to build fantastic software. However, in many cases there is a significant disconnect between technology and outbound communication – as well as vice versa. This applies to many areas, including support, training, marketing, public relations – what I found in many cases simply because people with very different attributes, or talent, are working together, and it often appears far more difficult to bridge the gap left by different language, different ways to express things, and often simply different levels of understanding of technology vs. customer needs.

I’ve come to view this capability as a key strength – bridging the gap, being able to listen very carefully, asking the right questions to extract what’s relevant, and then translating it into meaningful, interesting and appealing material, whether it’s web content, PowerPoint slides, various forms of collateral and other forms of communication.