Archive for November, 2009

FACTS Overcome FUD – and HAC, too.

November 9, 2009

My early product line management PLM career at Rockwell International’s Network Transmission Systems Division and later Alcatel was a “tough row to hoe”. My products were element-layer and network-layer management systems for telecom networks. For the network operator, these products were expensive to purchase, a little mysterious and esoteric for the uninformed, a heavy burden to maintain, and for 99.9% of the time these systems were nearly invisible and seemingly unneeded. Try justifying that purchase to the decision makers… It was a tough sell because there were so few facts to demonstrate a rational need. On the other side of the table, these products were especially difficult for me to garner funds for their development. I was severely challenged to show how much revenue my products would generate when our customers didn’t want to purchase these products in the first place. Worse, these particular management system products were “bargaining chip give-aways” to “seal the deal” if necessary. My customer counterparts and I were often in the most unfortunate position of having FUD as the only sales tool in our PLM toolbox. Measuring the real contribution to the bottom line for my products whether for us or our customers was impossible.

If a justification effort turns to the tools of FUD – fear, uncertainty and doubt, any seasoned executive will recognize the “ploy” from a subordinate and is likely to reject the “amateurish” effort outright. And if the seasoned executive can, they will often wield the tools of FUD themselves on less experienced adversaries to disarm a conflict or force an agreement – FUD is fast to foist and often effectively glosses over many troublesome details.

I learned a number of valuable lessons from the old PLM days, and I continue to pass them onto my clients at every opportunity:

1) In the absence of facts, hire the best salesperson you can to sew the seeds of hope, ambition and confidence – HAC – to counter FUD. In a battle exclusively of metaphor and hyperbole, charisma wins out to justify a “leap of faith”.

2) FACTS overcome FUD – and HAC, too – always! It is always worthwhile to discover facts and master their presentation. Facts tell a story that FUD can not.

Do the Right Things Right!

November 6, 2009

It is not enough to just do the right things Рin life or in business Рyou have to do the right things right if they are to really count. This is my mantra and my credo in my own business: Do the Right Things Right!

A client company in distress recently asked me for some help. Their new cornerstone product was way over budget and way behind schedule. Significant elements of the development effort had been off-shored, and the results so far were disappointing. Success was doubtful. The local engineering staff integrating the product were mired in a hopeless mess, and morale was “the pits”.

This company was attempting to do everything under the sun – and exquisitely, and was simply failing to do the right things right. Doing the right things right is the intersection of two nuances in judgement. The right things come from your customer demands – if you ask, your customers will tell you what the key requirements are – what the right things are for the product they want to buy. An experienced marketer will readily eek out the list of right things. This company’s product manager was only five years out of school and ten months in his chair without a mentor. What had started out as a list of about 400 coarse-grained requirements including about 100 critical capabilities had grown over ten months into a laundry list of over 1600 requirements of varying size and scope and priority. Changes in the requirements were still happening on a daily basis. No wonder there was a mess at hand…

The local engineering staff was threatened by the off-shoring strategy, and they were all trying to prove that they were the essential team and that the off-shore team was deficient by comparison. Their strategy – do everything right – 100% correct and bulletproof. In response, the off-shore staff was leveling the field and trying to do everything right, too. Worse, the two teams were not communicating effectively to engineer their interfaces amidst the ever changing requirements – nothing worked in the product integration lab. It is not necessary to do everything perfectly. ¬†Some requirements can receive short shrift, but some just can’t be short changed in any way – that is the nuance in engineering judgement that is so hard for an engineer to make when determined engineers are naturally driven to refine their work to perfection.

I see this kind of mess quite often. The product manager was not experienced enough to manage the requirements correctly and stem the tide of feature creep. The off-shoring strategy added critical new and unforeseen product requirements that went unstated. The engineering staff was determined to execute everything perfectly. A successful resolution is usually “quite a grind” to accomplish. If you are confronted by this kind of mess, rest assured that you can still succeed. Focus first on your requirements – discover the short list of right things!

Before you settle into a retrospection of culture and purpose, be sure that you are on a new course to do the right things – and do them right!