As a consultant for more than a decade, I’ve had the privilege of working with dozens of technology companies in various lifecycle stages for their flagship products. I observed repeated patterns that had become systemic across various industries. The tech companies had been market leaders during their peak in the late 1990s-early 2000’s. However, they began to lose traction within their mature category by disruptive technology and competitors who had blindsided them.
What happened? Typically the same people and skillsets that helped the company gain the market leader position were still managing the product strategy, without taking into account the product lifecycle, rapidly evolving technology and customer needs.
Observation: the companies stopped innovating, ignored their legacy flagship products and failed to evolve as their customers, technology and the market evolved. The product teams became “order takers” of requirements rather than driving the product roadmap. Typically, the most vocal customers, who may have the biggest impact to the bottom line, would demand the most. Once the product team focuses on defects, bugs and enhancement requests provided by others, they simply shuffle the board and move the hottest item to the top of the priority list.
The product manager becomes more of a fire fighter for the issue of the day, rather than the strategic thinker planning the future direction of the product. I see this approach as providing basic life support to the product as it deteriorates before their eyes in hospice care. It will only be a matter of time before management pulls the plug on funding and the product is sunset.
Perhaps there is a place in a company for hospice care, as it keeps a revenue stream alive, however the clock is ticking. Nimble companies continuously monitor the marketplace to look for, or design their own disruptive technology to capitalize. This is an example of a company that maintains a “Labor & Delivery” ward – they continue to give birth to new ideas and solutions in order to provide even more value to their customers. True innovation lives there.
A couple of questions to ponder….
- How often do management teams get outside of their office buildings to talk face-to-face to existing customers, potential customers, competitor’s customers, etc.?
- How much empathy does management have for their customer base or prospective customer base? Do they truly understand the problems that need to be solved?
Without fully understanding the pain points of customers, and how their product or service truly solves a problem, they won’t be able to keep a finger on the pulse for what’s happening TODAY.
Teams need to ask themselves…
- How much time do we spend in meetings, planning and discussing at great lengths what we ‘should do’… right now, next quarter, next year, etc.?
- Is it just a whole lot of lip service and a whole lot of non-productive time?
- In a 40-hour work week, how many hours are allocated just to talking to customers? If it’s <1 hour a week, that’s a telltale sign that the company is spending too much reacting to issues, and not enough time understanding their customers needs and emotions about their product.
If I’ve learned anything in the past decade, it’s the following 7 points:
- Spend less time in meetings
- Spend less time reacting
- Spend more time talking to customers, prospective customers, and competitor’s customers to gain empathy and truly understand their needs.
- Spend more time clarifying the problem you are trying to solve. As Paul MacCready, aircraft designer and environmentalist says “The problem is, we don’t understand the problem.”
- Spend more time building prototypes, rudimentary ones, to get customer feedback quickly.
- Spend more time iterating the prototype and obtaining user feedback.
Once a company gets into this type of cadence, they will enjoy being the innovator, rather than the legacy provider about to pull the plug on their former leading flagship product.